CRON
School of Architecture and Planning
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
77 Massachusetts Ave, Room 9-514
Cambridge, MA 02139
cron@mit.edu

careers

Buying Guide

Need Your Own External Hard Drive?

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:

Need Your Own Computer?

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, most all students bring a computer of their own.

What is Good Enough?

The expected lifetime of a computer is four to five years. While a four-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:

  1. upgrading (especially if you only need more RAM or faster hard drive (e.g. SSD))
  2. buying a new computer.

Please note: if interested in software provided by the School, or desire full compatibility with resources here, the computer you bring must run either 64-bit Windows 7, 8.1, or 10 (PC),  or OS X 10.10 or above (Macintosh).

Baseline Windows PC

[ To view your current computer's specs: right-click 'Computer' > Properties]

Baseline Macintosh

[ To view your current Macintosh's specs: Apple Menu>About This Mac>More Info ]
Desktop or Laptop or Netbook / iPad?

Although laptops (other than netbooks) are powerful enough to run all course-related software, desktops are much less expensive. Students, however, are always on the go, hence laptops/iPad have great appeal. Indeed, 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:

  1. Netbooks/Tablets. These small, inexpensive systems are fine for email, web surfing and light editing of documents, but don't have the power required for serious image processing, CAD, GIS or document layout applications. In the quest for ultra-portability, students use these for note taking, PDF annotation, presentations and the like while on campus, and leave any heavier computing tasks for public cluster computers or home computer.
  2. Ultralight, ultra-thin, ultra-compact. These ultra-books are expensive because of the premium components used to make them so small and light. Some components such as CD/DVD drives, video or ethernet adapters are typically outboard accessories (often at extra cost). These are favored by non-graphics intensive users as they provide the greatest portability and (increasingly) excellent performance.
  3. Desktop replacement. These machines feature big displays, big hard drives, fast processors--and a lot of bulk and weight. These machines are expensive because just about everything you might need in a desktop machine is included. Battery life tends to be short. Students seldom select these owing to their bulk.
  4. Something in the middle is where most students will be looking. In between the above extremes lies the greatest variety of units that vary in their size, weight and performance. Mid-size (13"-15") laptops generally offer the best value with a lot of functionality at a reasonable price. These are favored by graphics intensive users despite the units' bulk relative to netbooks or tablets.

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. This choice is highly personal, though we find students without graphics-intensive needs typically forgo raw performance for portability (which makes the MacBook Air and similar very attractive and very popular).

Macintosh or Windows?

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.

Intel-based Macintoshes Running Windows?

We have much experience running Windows on Apple hardware, and can recommend it. (Indeed, all our public cluster computers are Macintoshes running both OS X 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 recommended. Your computer must also be equipped with an SSD (Solid State Drive).

More information on running Windows on a Macintosh can be found here (Apple) and here (cron).

Which Windows? 7, 8.1, or 10?

Answer: All Windows versions are fully supported, however we will recommend 10 for the fall.

Most all of our installers, configuration scripts, printing, documentation and expertise are for these version of Windows only. For those students purchasing new PCs, do so with Windows 10 Professional 64-bit to accommodate 4->32GB RAM and the software which we make available. Since MIT provides Windows 7, 8.1 and 10 Enterprise 64-bit to students, we require those with other versions of Windows to upgrade, even though this involves 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 recommended if using virtualization), and Windows 10 64-bit Pro/Enterprise.

Recommended Configuration for New Purchase

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 offers a 'Back-to-School' special during the summer.

We will update these recommendations throughout the summer. Please check back frequently!

CRON Recommended Desktop Windows PC (as of April 2016)

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. It is also easy to get under the hood and upgrade/repair as needed. We recommend one (or two) 24" displays. Here is a loaded desktop with SSD for the system drive and regular drive for storage:

XPS 8900 Mini Tower

This system configuration cost $1,525.55 on April 19, 2016 (prices will vary with time). Any desktop PC configured to the same specifications will work just as well.  SSD options from Dell are too 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.

CRON Recommended Windows PC Laptop (as of April 2016)

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:

Recommended Laptop for Graphics Intensive Use:

Lenovo  T460s, $1,745.69
Processor   
6th gen 2.6GHz Intel Core i7 6600U
Memory 16GB 1600MHz PC3-12800 DDR3L SDRAM, expandable to 32GB
Hard Drive 512GB Solid State Drive
Optical drive 8X DVD+/-RW w/Roxio and Cyberlink PowerDVD
Display 14in 1920 x 1080 Display IPS, LED-backlit, Touch screenAntiglare, Widescreen
Camera Light Sensitive Webcam and Noise Cancelling Digital Array Mic
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 520
Ports Docking connector, USB 3.0, HDMI, Display Port, RJ-45 (ethernet), USB PowerShare
Video 14" IPS 1920x1080
Networking Gigabit Ethernet, IEEE 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1
Software Windows® 10 Professional, 64-bit,
Price $1,745.69
Other Internal English Backlit Dual Pointing Keyboard, M.2 slot (for optional WWAN/M.2 SSD)
Notes

3.80 lb(s)

3 Year Basic Limited Warranty and 3 Year Depot Repair Service included

Lightweight Laptop for Normal Use:

XPS 13 Ultrabook (preconfigured) :: $1,487.63
Processor 6th Generation Intel® Core i5-6200U Processor (3M Cache, up to 2.80 GHz)
Memory 8GB LPDDR3-1866MHz
Hard Drive 256 GB Solid State Drive
Optical drive Optional
Display 13.3 FHD AG (1920 x 1080) InfinityEdge display (non touch)
Camera/Mic Light Sensitive Webcam and Noise Cancelling Digital Array Mic
Graphics Intel (R) HD Graphics 520
Ports USB 3.0 (2);  USB 3.1,  Headset Jack,  (note: USB 3.1 Ethernet and Video adapters extra)
Audio High Definition Audio
Networking 802.11ac + Bluetooth 4.1, Dual Band 2.4&5 GHz, 2x2
Software Windows 10 home (64Bit) English)
Price $1,487.63
Other 56 WHr, 4-Cell Battery (integrated)
Notes

3 Year Enhanced Support & 3 Year Accidental Damage Service

2.6lbs lbs.

CRON Recommended Macintosh Desktop (as of April 17, 2016)

Note: Consider waiting for Apple's 'Back-to-School' special, usually held in mid-summer. You might find better prices from third party vendors: MacMall, Amazon, etc. Price below is Apple's 'Educational' price--visit http://www.apple.com/us_edu_363217/shop

27-inch iMac :: $1,969
Processor 3.2 GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 processor (Turbo Boost up to 3.6GHz) with 6MB L3 cache
Memory 16GB (two 8GB) of 1867MHz DDR3 memory; four user-accessible SO-DIMM slots
Hard Drive 1TB 'Fusion' drive
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 and up to two 4096-by-2160 external displays or one 5120-by-2880 dual-cable external display
Support for extended desktop and video mirroring modes
Support for Target Display Mode via the Thunderbolt port using a Thunderbolt to Thunderbolt cable (sold separately)
Graphics AMD Radeon R9 M380 graphics processor with 2 GB of memory
Ports

Two Thunderbolt ports
Four USB 3.0 ports
Mini DisplayPort output with support for HDMI, DVI, VGA, and dual-link DVI (adapters sold separately)
SDXC card slot
Audio in/out

Audio Stereo speakers; Dual microphones; Headphone/optical digital audio output (minijack); Support for Apple iPhone headset with microphone
Networking

Built-in 10/100/1000BASE-T (Gigabit), Built-in 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless networking; IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n compatible; built-in Bluetooth 4

Other Apple Keyboard and Apple Mighty Mouse
Software Macintosh OS X 10.11, iPhoto, iMovie, iTunes, iBooks, GarageBand, Pages, Keynote, Numbers, inter alia
Price $1,999

CRON Recommended Macintosh Laptop : Graphics Intensive Users : (April 17, 2016)

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: MacMall, Amazon, etc. Price below is Apple's 'Educational' price--visit http://www.apple.com/us_edu_363217/shop

2.5 GHz Quad-Core i7 MacBook Pro with Retina Display :: $2,299
Processor

2.5 GHz Intel quad-core Core i7 processor (Turbo Boost up to 3.7 GHz) with 6MB shared L3 cache

Memory 16GB of 1600MHz DDR3L onboard memory. Note: RAM is NOT upgradeable.
Hard Drive 512 GB PCIe SSD flash storage. Note: Not upgradeable except via third party (expensive, void warranty).
Optical drive NONE. Optional external 'Apple USB SuperDrive 'is available for $79. Sold separately.
Display

Retina display: 15.4-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit display with IPS technology; 2880-by-1800 resolution at 220 pixels per inch with support for millions of colors. Native resolution: 2880 by 1800 pixels (Retina); scaled resolutions: 1920 by 1200, 1680 by 1050, 1280 by 800, and 1024 by 640 pixels

Video 720p FaceTime HD camera; Thunderbolt ports (2) with support for HDMI, DVI, VGA, dual-link DVI (requires adapters, sold separately), HDMI port
Graphics

Intel Iris Pro Graphics

AMD Radeon R9 M370X with 2GB of GDDR5 memory and automatic graphics switching
Dual display and video mirroring: Simultaneously supports full native resolution on the built-in display and up to 3840 by 2160 pixels on up to two external displays, both at millions of color (native Mini DisplayPort output)

HDMI video output:
Support for 1080p resolution at up to 60Hz
Support for 3840-by-2160 resolution at 30Hz
Support for 4096-by-2160 resolution at 24H

Ports

Two Thunderbolt 2 port (up to 20 Gbps)
Two USB 3.0 ports (up to 5 Gbps). Note: backward compatible with USB 2.0
SDXC card slot

Audio Stereo speakers
Dual microphones
Headphone port
Support for Apple iPhone headset with remote and microphone
Support for audio line out (digital / analog)
Networking

802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless networking; IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n compatible
Bluetooth 4.0 wireless technology.
Note: 10/100/1000BASE-T (Gigabit) Wired Ethernet: available through optional Thunderbolt<->Ethernet adapter. Sold separately

Other Up to 9 hours wireless web
Up to 9 hours iTunes movie playback
Up to 30 days standby time
Built-in 99.5-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery
85W MagSafe 2 Power Adapter with cable management system; MagSafe 2 power port
Software Macintosh OS X 10.11, iPhoto, iMovie, iTunes, iBooks, GarageBand, Pages, Keynote, Numbers, inter alia
Price $2,299
Weight 4.49 pounds (2.04 kg)
Notes

Consider the purchase of 'Mini DisplayPort to VGA Adapter' and/or 'Mini DisplayPort to DVI Adapter' ($29). These allow one to connect projectors and displays to the laptop.

We strongly recommended purchasing AppleCare Protection ("For up to three years from computer's purchase date, you get access to Apple's award-winning telephone technical support for questions about Apple hardware, Mac OS, iLife, and iWork. And you get global repair coverage for your Mac--both parts and labor--through convenient service options.")

CRON Recommended Macintosh Laptop : Normal Use : (April 24, 2016)

Note: RAM is not upgradeable. No optical drive. Consider larger capacity SSD. A good number of 'Graphics Intensive Users' have used MacBook Airs as their primary computers and have been very pleased with the results. Autodesk have confirmed that the MacBook Air is suitable for running their Macintosh products. Consider waiting for Apple's 'Back-to-School' special, usually held in mid-summer.

Though we are recommending the 13" MacBook Air (see below), there is much to be said for the new 12" MacBook (the one with only ONE connector (shared between power, external display, USB devices)). We've spent only a little time with one of these and are impressed. The unit is plenty fast for most computing needs: email, web browsing, word processing, presentations, light Photoshop work etc. Battery life is superb. The single connector does not appear to be an issue, particularly with the addition of Apple's $70 adapter. At only 2.03 pounds it is extremely portable. In most ways, it is the ideal portable computer for 'normal use'. However given the enormous engineering challenges in designing and manufacturing this unit, we would recommend it more heartily when released in its next version (likely in 2016).

13-inch MacBook Air :: $1,419
Processor 2.2 GHz dual-core Intel Core i7 (Turbo Boost up to 3.2GHz) with 4MB shared L3 cache
Memory 8GB 1600MHz LPDDR3 onboard memory. Note: RAM is NOT upgradeable.
Hard Drive 512GB PCIe Flash Storage.
Optical drive NONE. Optional external 'Apple USB SuperDrive 'is available for $79. Sold separately.
Display

13.3-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit glossy widescreen display with support for millions of colors
Supported resolutions:
1440 by 900 (native), 1280 by 800, 1152 by 720, and 1024 by 640 pixels at 16:10 aspect ratio and 1024 by 768 and 800 by 600 pixels at 4:3 aspect ratio

Video 720p FaceTime HD camera; Thunderbolt ports with support for DVI, VGA, dual-link DVI, and HDMI (requires adapters, sold separately)
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 6000
Dual display and video mirroring: Simultaneously supports full native resolution on the built-in display and up to 2560 by 1600 pixels on an external display, both at millions of colors
VGA, DVI, Dual-Link DVI, HDMI adapters sold separately
Ports One Thunderbolt 2 port (up to 20 Gbps)
Two USB 3.0 ports (up to 5 Gbps). Note: backward compatible with USB 2.0
One SDXC Card slot
Audio Stereo speakers; Dual microphones; Headphone port; Support for Apple iPhone headset with remote and microphone
Networking

802.11ac Wi-Fi networking;3 IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n compatible; Bluetooth 4.0 wireless technology; Wired networking available via optional USB/Ethernet adapter

Keuyboard/Trackpad Full-size backlit keyboard with 78 (U.S.) or 79 (ISO) keys, including 12 function keys and 4 arrow keys (inverted T arrangement) with ambient light sensor
Multi-Touch trackpad for precise cursor control; supports inertial scrolling, pinch, rotate, swipe, three-finger swipe, four-finger swipe, tap, double-tap, and drag capabilities
Other

Up to 12 hours wireless web; Up to 12 hours iTunes movie playback; Up to 30 days standby time; Built-in 54-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery; 45W MagSafe 2 Power Adapter with cable management; MagSafe 2 power port

Software Macintosh OS X 10.11, iPhoto, iMovie, iTunes, iBooks, GarageBand, Pages, Keynote, Number, inter alia
Price $1,379
Weight 2.96 pounds (1.35 kg)
Notes

Consider the purchase of 'Mini DisplayPort to VGA Adapter' and/or 'Mini DisplayPort to DVI Adapter' ($29). These allow one to connect projectors and displays to the laptop.

We strongly recommended purchasing AppleCare Protection ("For up to three years from computer's purchase date, you get access to Apple's award-winning telephone technical support for questions about Apple hardware, Mac OS and bundled applications. And you get global repair coverage for your Mac--both parts and labor--through convenient service options.")

Options for Most All Computers

Laptop Options

Recommendations and Options for Any Computers

How Much Should You Pay?

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 (Thunderbolt, FaceTime cameras etc.) and bundled software. Apple hardware is also of higher build quality.

Which Brand and Where Should You Buy It?

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 T440s 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 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://web.mit.edu/ecat/ecat3/) 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. The CNET Shopper web site makes it easy to compare prices on a product for many vendors at once.

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.

What About Used or Refurbished Computers?

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. 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

Where Can You Learn More?

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 cron@mit.edu. Additionally, the staff at MIT Information Services & Technology (IS&T) can provide help with computer buying questions.

 

• 2016-08-09 10:02:44 •