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How Educational Gadgets for Students Can Make College Life Easier (Part 2)

Updated: Mar 5

Our last post mentioned the three main educational gadgets every student will need to survive college. They are your handphone, tablet, and notebook.

Today's post will focus on notebooks, as the other two are relatively straightforward.

The five main components in a notebook are the operating system, CPU, GPU, hard drive, and RAM.

The two main operating systems (OS) running on today's PCs are Windows and macOS. Many brands run Windows on their PC (HP, Dell, Lenovo, ASUS, etc.). However, only Apple Macbooks run macOS. This situation is similar to handphone operating systems (Android vs IOS). The important distinction is that many engineering software does not run directly on macOS.

Most CAD software, such as SOLIDWORKS, Catia, Creo, Altium, etc., does not run natively on Mac and requires Boot Camp or Parallels Desktop to get it running. This not only increases your total cost but also has the added issue of reducing your PC's performance. Many students find themselves getting a Windows PC later when they realize all the additional hassle of getting the software to run combined with poorer Mac performance. Macs also have advantages, such as better security and longer battery life. Unless you know that future software will run on macOS, getting a Windows PC is usually a safer bet.

The CPU is the computer's brain and does most of the work. The CPU is arguably the most important component as everything you do, from typing to web browsing to playing videos, depends on this small component. CPUs are categorized into cores (2 cores, 4 cores, six cores, eight cores, and so on). Typically, the more cores, the more expensive.

How many cores do you need? It depends on the course; chances are you can get by the four years with 4 core CPUs (e.g. if you are taking a non-technical degree, chances are you can get by the four years with 4 core CPUs (e.g., an Intel's i5-10200H). However, if you are taking a very technical degree, e.g., engineering, you should go for as many cores as possible! Some software can benefit from having eight cores or more (Intel i9-10980HK or AMD Ryzen 9 5900HX).

At a minimum, for technical degrees, you would want a 6-core CPU (Intel Core i7-10850H or AMD Ryzen 5 5600H). Software such as SOLIDWORKS and ANSYS can benefit from having more cores, as having more means allows you to increase your simulation speed or create more parts at once.

The RAM is the next most important thing on your PC. In simplest terms, the RAM mainly deals with storing working data. Having more RAM means doing more things at once without your PC slowing down. This means having more Chrome tabs open at the same time or being able to run Zoom and SOLIDWORKS simultaneously without your computer lagging. At a minimum, it is recommended for a modern PC to have at least 8 GB RAM (since Windows 10 uses at least that much!). Again, if you are in a technical degree, try to get at least 16 GB RAM and above.

For storage space, this affects how much data you can keep on your PC without deleting older files. This affects how many programs you can keep installed on your PC simultaneously. There are generally two types of storage: SSD and HDD. HDD is the more traditional storage type and is slowly being phased out. SSD is superior in almost every way, allowing for greater read and write speeds (think how fast you can switch on your PC from shutdown).

Today, we recommend SSD storage as it allows for faster startup speeds and smoother program running, especially for CAD and CAE software. It is typically recommended for students to have at least 1TB of SSD space.

The graphics card (GPU) is where things get fun and expensive. GPUs in notebooks come in two variants: integrated or discrete. Integrated GPUs are built directly into the CPUs and are usually far weaker than discrete GPUs. In most cases, you can "get away" using integrated GPUs; however, some specialized software might require discrete GPUs. Discrete GPUs usually come in two variants, either Nvidia or AMD, and are usually far more expensive.

Most of the time, it does not matter which brand you go for, and you can save some money by going for integrated ones, as CAD and CAE software are more dependent on CPUs. However, as discrete GPUs get more powerful, the range of applications that depend on them has greatly expanded. In recent years, discrete GPUs have come to be seen as the "money-making" component of a PC, with applications ranging from video editing, 3D graphics rendering, and machine learning to cryptocurrency mining. If you dabble in any of these, you could see great returns on your PC!

Starting from SOLIDWORKS 2019 onwards, having a better GPU might improve your experience when using SOLIDWORKS as the updated engine comes to rely more on the GPU.

The five components above are the main things to consider when making a purchase decision on your PC. Other things, such as port connectivity, screen resolution, screen refresh rate, wifi card, and other intangibles such as after-sales service (warranty), are best left for another post.

An animated image of a chinese student holding using his tablet and laptop to study. The theme color is red, pink and white.

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