School of Architecture and Planning
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
77 Massachusetts Ave, Room 9-266
Cambridge, MA 02139
Yes. You do. The amount of networked storage space MIT provides is minuscule. Further, some classes require you bring your own. Most all students purchase an external hard drive soon after their arrival. Thumb drives are popular, but they are often lost and the older ones have poor (USB 2.0) performance. We strongly recommend all incoming students bring a 'bus-powered' external hard drive with the following specs:
Strictly speaking, you do not need your own computer for your time at MIT. The School provides computing facilities at all hours of all days (see CRON's web site for more information). That said, all students bring a computer (or two) of their own.
The expected lifetime of a computer is five to six years. While a five-year-old computer may still work fine, technology will have advanced to the point of making a new computer attractive. If your computer does not meet the baseline specifications below, you may want to consider either:
Please note: if interested in software provided by the School, or desire full compatibility with resources here, the computer you bring must run 64-bit Windows 10 (PC) or macOS 10.13 or above (Macintosh).
[ To view your current computer's specs: right-click 'Computer' > Properties]
[ To view your current Macintosh's specs: Apple Menu>About This Mac>More Info ]
Most all incoming students bring laptops, a number bring both laptops and desktops or laptops with large external displays which are left on studio desk or at home.
In their quest for to meet everyone's needs, laptop makers have to make various trade-offs among power consumption, heat generation and dissipation, size, weight, and cost. The result is that laptops tend to fall into four broad categories:
At any point on the scale, however, you will get more computer for your dollar with a desktop. If you are shuttling your computer to school or work daily, then clearly lighter (3.5 pounds or less) and smaller is the way to go. However, if you only take the machine on the road for the occasional trip out of town, you may be more willing to tolerate the weight in exchange for having a more powerful computer the rest of the time.
Both platforms are widely used in the School, with approximately 75% of faculty and staff using Macintosh. Those faculty engaged in GIS and Building Technology applications tend to favor Windows PCs as most such software is Windows only. This is also true for the most commonly used 3D and rendering applications. Approximately 70% of the School's student body own Macs. Interestingly, many 'Windows-only' users, opt for Apple laptops and run Windows on them under 'Boot Camp' or as a 'Virtual Machine' (see below). CRON supports both platforms.
How might you decide which to use? All major productivity software (Microsoft, Adobe, etc) is available for both platforms. What's more, the files are 100% 'binary compatible' which is to say one can use the identical files across platforms. However there is one caveat for those interested in running ESRI's ArcGIS and most Autodesk 3D products (e.g.. 3D Studio Max) on their personal computer. These are Windows applications ONLY. They will NOT run on Macintosh unless your Macintosh is configured to run Windows using Boot Camp or virtualization software as described below. [Note: For those specifically interested in running AutoCAD and McNeel's Rhino, both these products are available natively on the Macintosh platform. There is no need to run them as Windows applications on your Macintosh.]
The Mac enjoys favor among those editing digital video, preparing multimedia presentations and graphics work in general. For word processing, office automation, and web browsing, both do equally well.
In the case of security and maintenance the Macintosh has historically been far less vulnerable to viruses and spyware, and requires less maintenance hassle.
We have much experience running Windows on Apple hardware, and can recommend it. (Indeed, all our public cluster computers are Macintoshes running both macOS and Windows 10 Enterprise 64-bit). Given this, should you buy a Macintosh and enjoy the benefits of both worlds? If you plan on spending all your time running Windows on the Macintosh, then there is not much benefit--particularly as PCs are typically cheaper than Macs. If you are a PC user but tempted by the Macintosh platform, this might be the time to test the waters.
There are two means by which to run Windows on Apple hardware:
Running Windows within VMware or Parallels on the Macintosh gives you both Windows and Mac OS at the same time, but remember that your computer will need enough RAM for both: 16GB minimum. Your computer must also be equipped with an SSD (Solid State Drive).
Answer: Windows 10.
Most all of our installers, configuration scripts, printing, documentation and expertise are for Windows 10 only. For those students purchasing new PCs, do so with Windows 10 64-bit to accommodate 8->32GB RAM and the software which we make available. Since MIT provides Windows 10 Enterprise 64-bit to students, we require those with older versions of Windows to upgrade, even though this may involve a full reinstall of the operating system (OS), all programs and drivers. The primary advantages of Enterprise over Pro is that Enterprise lets you use use Windows VMs (useful for coding or testing software) . This difference is not sufficient to reinstall for most users.
PCs that run Windows 64-bit should have at least 8GB of RAM to accommodate CAD, drawing or GIS use. A faster CPU will also be helpful. The Windows software that CRON makes available and uses in its labs is 64-bit wherever possible.
If a Macintosh user wishes to run Windows on his Mac, then: 8GB RAM minimum (16GB if using virtualization), and Windows 10 64-bit Pro/Enterprise.
First, you can consult the MIT Information Systems (IS&T) official list of recommended computers. These models are meant to suit the full range of computer users at MIT, but since the needs of Architecture and Planning's community are particular, our recommendations may differ. Specifying computers is a moving target as improvements are announced monthly.
If in the market for a Macintosh, Apple often offers a 'Back-to-School' special during the summer.
We will update these recommendations throughout the summer. Please check back frequently!
A desktop will run almost twice as fast as the same configuration in a laptop with the proper multi-threaded apps due to better cooling and more cache. We recommend one (or two) 24" displays. Here is a loaded desktop with SSD for the system drive and regular spinning drive for storage:
- 8th Generation Intel® Core™ i7-8700 6-Core Processor (12M Cache, up to 4.6 GHz)
- Windows 10 Home 64bit English
- 16GB, 2666MHz, DDR4 up to 64GB
- NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 1060 with 6GB GDDR5
- 512GB PCIe x4 SSD + 1TB 7200RPM HDD
- 802.11ac + Bluetooth 4.2, Dual Band 2.4&5 GHz,
- DVD-RW Drive (Reads and Writes to DVD/CD)
- SD Cardreader and lots of USB 3 /3.1 ports
- Dell USB Laser 6-Button Mouse
- Monitor not included.
- 1 Year Basic Hardware Service
This system configuration cost $1,449.99 on April 13, 2017 (prices will vary with time). Any desktop PC configured to the same specifications will work just as well. SSD options from Dell are expensive, but if you want one, get a Samsung SSD and add it as a second drive yourself at half the price. We do strongly recommend SSDs over conventional mechanical HDs for your main system drive.
The MIT recommended Dell laptops listed at http://ist.mit.edu/hardware/laptops will all work in our environment.
Any other model laptop will work equally well, given these specifications or better:
- 8th Generation Intel® Core i5 Processor (3M Cache, up to 2.70 GHz)
- 8 GB memory (RAM).
- 512 GB SSD
- Windows 10 (64Bit) English (MIT students can install Windows Enterprise from MIT).
- 13.3-inch FHD (1920 x 1080)
- 802.11n (or newer 802.11ac) wireless network interface.
Recommended Laptop for Graphics Intensive Use:
ThinkPad P52s, $1,760.64 Processor
8th gen Intel Core i7-8650U Processor (8MB Cache, up to 4.2GHz)
Memory 16GB DDR4 2400MHz SODIMM Hard Drive 512GB Solid State Drive PCIe OPAL2.0 M.2 2280 (16GT/s) + 2nd Drive slot available Optical drive optional Display 15.6" FHD IPS (1920x1080) AntiGlare 250nits Camera 720p HD Camera with Microphone Graphics NVIDIA Quadro P500 2GB GDDR5 Ports 2xUSB 3.0, 2xUSB-C ports, HDMI video, RJ-45 LAN (ethernet), USB PowerShare, SD card reader Networking Intel Dual Band Wireless AC(2x2) 8265, Bluetooth Version 4.1, vPro Software No Operating System, Download Windows from MIT Price $1,760.64 Other Internal English Backlit Dual Pointing Keyboard, M.2 slot (for optional WWAN/M.2 SSD) Notes
Warranty : Think 3 Year On-site
Value Laptop for Normal Use:
Dell Latitude 5490 :: $1,543.66 Processor 8th Generation IntelÃ‚Â® Core i7-8650U Processor (8M Cache) Memory 16GB Single Channel DDR4 2400MHz (8GBx2) Hard Drive M.2 512GB PCIe NVMe Class 40 Opal 2.0 SED Drive Optical drive Optional Display 14-inch FHD (1920 x 1080) Non-Touch Anti-Glare Camera/Mic Light Sensitive Webcam and Noise Cancelling Digital Array Mic Graphics Integrated Intel UHD 620 Graphics for i7-8650U Ports 3 USB 3.1 Gen 1 (one with PowerShare), 1 HDMI, 1 VGA, 1 RJ-45, external uSIM card tray option
1 SD 4.0 Memory card reader, 1 Headset/mic combo jack,1 Display Port over USB Type-Câ„¢
1 Noble Wedge Lock slot
Audio High Definition Audio Networking Qualcomm QCA61x4A 802.11ac Dual Band (2x2) Wireless Adapter+ Bluetooth 4.1 Software Windows 10 Pro 64bit English, French, Spanish Price $1,543.66 Notes
3 Years Hardware Warranty with Onsite/In-Home Service after Remote Diagnosis
Small and Light Laptop for Normal Use:
XPS 13 Silver Touch :: $1,841.41 Processor 7th Gen Intel® Core™ i7-7660U Processor (4M Cache, up to 4.0 GHz) Memory 16GB LPDDR3 1866MHz Hard Drive 256GB PCIe Solid State Drive Optical drive Optional Display 13.3” FHD (1920 x 1080) InfinityEdge touch display
Camera/Mic Light Sensitive Webcam and Noise Cancelling Digital Array Mic Graphics Intel® Iris Plus Graphics 640 Ports USB 3.0 (2), Thunderbolt 3, Headset Jack, Native DisplayPort 1.2 video, card reader Audio High Definition Audio Networking Intel 8265 802.11ac 2x2 WiFi and Bluetooth Software Windows 10 Pro 64-bit English Price $1,841.41 Other 60WHr Integrated Battery Notes
3 Year Enhanced Support
Note: Consider waiting for Apple's 'Back-to-School' special, usually held in mid-summer. You might find better prices from third party vendors: B&H. MacMall, Amazon, etc. Price below is Apple's 'Educational' price--visit http://www.apple.com/us_edu_363217/shop
27-inch iMac :: $1,999 Processor 3.4 GHz quad-core 7th-generation Intel Core i5 processor (Turbo Boost up to 3.8GHz) Memory 16GB (two 8GB) of 2400MHz DDR4 memory; four user-accessible SO-DIMM slots Hard Drive 1TB 'Fusion' drive (If can afford all SDD, then opt for that as 'Fusion' drives not as fast and cannot be used for Boot Camp nor VMs) Optical drive NONE. Optional external 'Apple USB SuperDrive 'is available for $79. Sold separately. Display 27-inch (diagonal) Retina 5K display with IPS technology; 5120x2880 resolution with support for millions of colors Video FaceTime HD camera
Simultaneously supports full native resolution on the built-in display at 1 billion colors and:
One 5120Ã¢â‚¬â€˜byÃ¢â‚¬â€˜2880 (5K) external display at 60Hz with support for 1 billion colors, or
Two 3840-by-2160 (4K UHD) external displays at 60Hz with support for 1 billion colors, or
Two 4096Ã¢â‚¬â€˜byÃ¢â‚¬â€˜2304 (4K) external displays at 60Hz with support for millions of colors
Thunderbolt 3 digital video output
Native DisplayPort output over USBÃ¢â‚¬â€˜C
Thunderbolt 2, HDMI, DVI, and VGA output supported using adapters (sold separately)
Graphics Radeon Pro 570 with 4GB of VRAM Ports 3.5 mm headphone jack
SDXC card slot
Four USB 3 ports (compatible with USB 2)
Two Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports with support for: DisplayPort, Thunderbolt (up to 40 Gbps), USB 3.1 Gen 2 (up to 10 Gbps), Thunderbolt 2, HDMI, DVI, and VGA supported using adapters (sold separately)
Audio Stereo speakers
Microphone:3.5 mm headphone jack; Support for Apple iPhone headset with microphone
Networking Wi-Fi: 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless networking; IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n compatible
Bluetooth 4.2 wireless technology
Other Apple Keyboard and Apple Mighty Mouse Software macOS 10.13, Photos, iMovie, iTunes, iBooks, GarageBand, Pages, Keynote, Numbers, inter alia Price $1,999
Note: RAM is not upgradeable. No optical drive. Consider waiting for Apple's 'Back-to-School' special, usually held in mid-summer. You might find better prices from third party vendors: B&H, MacMall, Amazon, etc. Price below is Apple's 'Educational' price--visit http://www.apple.com/us_edu_363217/shop
Those needing every drop of available CPU and graphics power a laptop can bring, should consider a similarly configured 15" MacBookPro. We believe this 13" MacBookPro should accommodate most all users while being remarkably small and light.
2.3 GHz Quad-Core i5 MacBook Pro 13" with Touch Bar :: $2,199 Processor 2.3GHz quad-core 8th-generation Intel Core i5 processor, Turbo Boost up to 3.8GHz, with 128MB of eDRAM Memory 16GB of 2133MHz LPDDR3 onboard memory. Note: RAM is NOT upgradeable. Hard Drive 512 GB PCIe SSD flash storage. Note: Not upgradeable--be sure to get amount which best suits your needs. Optical drive NONE. Optional external 'Apple USB SuperDrive' is available for $79. Sold separately. Requires USB-C adapter. Display Retina display with True Tone: 13.3-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit display with IPS technology; 2560-by-1600 native resolution at 227 pixels per inch with support for millions of colors. Supported scaled resolutions: 1680 by 1050, 1440 by 900, 1024 by 640
500 nits brightness, Wide color (P3)
Video 720p FaceTime HD camera
Thunderbolt 3 ports (4) with native DisplayPort output over USBC. VGA, HDMI, and Thunderbolt 2 output supported using adapters (sold separately)
Graphics Intel Iris Graphics 655. Simultaneously supports full native resolution on the built-in display at millions of colors and:
One display with 5120-by-2880 resolution at 60Hz at over a billion colors
Up to two displays with 4096-by-2304 resolution at 60Hz at millions of colors
Up to two displays with 3840-by-2160 resolution at 60Hz at over a billion colors
Thunderbolt 3 digital video output
Native DisplayPort output over USB-C
VGA, HDMI, and Thunderbolt 2 output supported using adapters (sold separately)
Ports Four Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports with support for: Charging, DisplayPort, Thunderbolt (up to 40 Gbps), USB 3.1 Gen 2 (up to 10 Gbps) Audio Stereo speakers with high dynamic range
3.5 mm headphone jack
Networking 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless networking; IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n compatible
Bluetooth 5.0 wireless technology.
Note: 10/100/1000BASE-T (Gigabit) Wired Ethernet: available through optional adapter. Sold separately.
Other Up to 10 hours wireless web
Up to 10 hours iTunes movie playback
Up to 30 days of standby time
Built-in 58-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery
61W USB-C Power Adapter
Software macOS 10.13, Photos, iMovie, iTunes, iBooks, GarageBand, Pages, Keynote, Numbers, inter alia Price $2,199 Weight 3.02 pounds (1.37 kg) Notes
This Macintosh is designed for the 'USB-C' future. All peripherals connecting to this Macintosh must be 'USB-C' or 'Thunderbolt 3', otherwise you will need adapters. When purchasing adapters, we recommend those sold by Apple or otherwise Apple-approved.
We strongly recommended purchasing AppleCare Protection: <https://www.apple.com/support/products/>
The sky is the limit when it comes to buying a new computer. One can easily pay $10,000 or more if one really wants to. Few of us, however, are so extravagant. More realistically, a good desktop PC with a monitor and a basic printer will cost between $800 and $2500, depending on the options. On the high end, beyond $3000 provides no benefits except for the most extreme numerical analysis, simulation or video applications. For a laptop, the budget will need to be higher. Plan on spending a minimum of $1,500 on a laptop meeting the specs above (add about $100 to include a basic printer). Macintoshes tend to cost more than comparable PCs at the lower end, though standard Macintosh configurations are sometimes more generous with respect to hardware (5K displays, Thunderbolt, FaceTime cameras etc.) and bundled software. Apple hardware is also of higher build quality.
Disclaimer: You are not required to bring a computer. You are welcome to buy any brand of computer you wish. We do not require you to buy any particular brand or from any particular vendor. You have many options, many of which may be superior to those we describe here. We also cannot vouch that our experience with various vendors will be the same as yours and cannot accept responsibility for any unhappy experiences. These remarks represent our subjective opinions only.
First, you need to make a decision about whether you are going to buy a PC or a Mac. Please see 'Which Platform?' above.
For PCs, we have had good experiences with Dell and Lenovo over many years. (Lenovo builds and sells the computer models, particularly Thinkpads, that were made by IBM in the past.) We have generally been pleased with their products, prices, and support. We like being able to configure PCs to our own specifications, the prices are usually better than those at a retail store, and the machines are typically delivered to one's door within a week or so. When shopping for either of them, start at MIT's personal purchase web pages (MIT Web certificates required) to see the discounts those vendors provide to MIT students. It often pays to look at the regular home user listings too; these may be cheaper if a specific model is having a promotion, or have more up-to-date models and features. The cost of delivery through the education site is frequently less than at the consumer site. The sites change frequently as products and promotions come and go, so you will need to check this yourself when you are ready to buy.
For Dells, MIT tends to recommend the Dell Optiplex and Latitude lines, which are built for reliability, serviceability (on-campus) and long life. Dell's Dimension and Inspiron product lines are oriented towards consumers, with higher performance (especially for games) at a given price. Dell's Precision models are high-end workstations, providing extreme performance and reliability at a high price.
Lenovo has an excellent reputation for its Thinkpad line of laptops. Lenovo consistently ranks at the top of Windows laptop vendors for customer satisfaction and the ease of getting problems fixed when they do occur. Lenovo's T and X series laptops emphasize reliability and long life. We have been buying Lenovo T4xx series models for faculty recently.
Only Apple manufactures Macintoshes. You can buy them from the online Education Apple Store or retail. The price is the same either way. Apple typically offers a 'Back-to-School' special with the purchase of a Macintosh computer (beginning mid-summer). It is not uncommon for vendors such as B&H, MacMall and Amazon to have very competitive prices and bundle deals.
MIT has a special arrangement with the on-line computer merchants GovConnection, Dell and Apple (https://vpf.mit.edu/make-a-personal-purchase/) whereby you can buy computers and other items at a discounted MIT price. This includes academically-priced software; the discount from the commercial version can be quite large. Although GovConnection often has good prices, you may do better by shopping around for say the deal of the week at the Lenovo or Dell site.
Many of the MIT IS&T recommended computers are on view in the IS&T showroom in E17-110 (immediately inside the front door). They do not sell computers there, but they offer pre-sales consulting and the opportunity to look at and touch the equipment before buying it. We also recommend MicroCenter in Cambridge, which has a very wide selection and well priced showroom/store. For laptops this can be particularly valuable. Of course there are Apple Retail Stores with a full range of Apple products and very knowledgeable staff who will help set up a new Mac for you.
As a general rule, avoid second hand computers. Buying a used computer from an individual is particularly risky, as you know little of the machine's history, and many private sellers have unrealistic expectations about what their old computer is worth. That said, we strongly recommend you consider Apple's refurbished wares found on their online store: refurbished link. These come 'as if new' with full warranty. Savings can be up to 40%. As Apple's refurbished offerings change daily, it easiest to track available items through this web site: http://refurb-tracker.com. More info on refurbished Apple products here.
There are a wealth of product reviews available online at no cost! Whatever you are considering, you owe it to yourself to look for a review or two of the product. Here are some good sites for buying guides and computer reviews:
CRON staff can offer you personalized assistance in picking a computer that will work well in and around the School and Institute. You can reach us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additionally, the staff at MIT Information Services & Technology (IS&T) can provide help with computer buying questions.