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Desktop vs. Laptop for College

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July 5, 2013 11:24:36 PM

Hello. I am attending college this fall as an Engineering student and I am having a hard time deciding between getting a laptop or a desktop for college. My budget is around $1200. I would like a desktop for performance but I don't see a reasonable way to bring it and my monitor up to college(my college is all the way across the country). I am also having a hard time trying to see the good in buying the laptop because of the lesser performance(for my parents price they will pay). I am having trouble and I hope you guys can help. Also I need to make the decision by July 10th. Thanks

O yea side note I will be doing some gaming such as BF4 once it comes out.

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a b D Laptop
July 5, 2013 11:34:41 PM
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In terms of portability, you can make a desktop work as long as you build for it.

My computer travels with me a fair bit. It's in a Bitfenix Prodigy, which is on the larger side of small cases, but it has handles and is still small enough that I can check it as a carry-on. I have a triple monitor setup, but when I travel, I bring an Acer monitor that was the smallest 1080p monitor I could find that was still affordable. It works just fine for trips back home over christmas, or what have you.

It seems like your best solution is a small form factor computer; just do a little research into the format and take some care with putting your computer together, and it'll treat you right. I'd go with either an i5 or an i7 (or if the programs you're using use it well, an 8350) with a mid-range graphics card and parts to support the small form factor.
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July 5, 2013 11:41:20 PM

DarkSable said:
In terms of portability, you can make a desktop work as long as you build for it.

My computer travels with me a fair bit. It's in a Bitfenix Prodigy, which is on the larger side of small cases, but it has handles and is still small enough that I can check it as a carry-on. I have a triple monitor setup, but when I travel, I bring an Acer monitor that was the smallest 1080p monitor I could find that was still affordable. It works just fine for trips back home over christmas, or what have you.

It seems like your best solution is a small form factor computer; just do a little research into the format and take some care with putting your computer together, and it'll treat you right. I'd go with either an i5 or an i7 (or if the programs you're using use it well, an 8350) with a mid-range graphics card and parts to support the small form factor.


What kind of backpack do you use to carry everything back and forth. Also I have a 24 inch monitor so how would that fit with your carrying device.
July 5, 2013 11:47:52 PM

Great field to go into I just got my mechanical engineering degree and my physics degree and am going to go to graduate school... anyways I had a very similar problem as you.

When I was a freshman I bought myself an ASUS laptop for $1200 and it sucked it broke on me many times it couldn't handle much of any gaming because of the power consumption would burn out different components in my laptop.

I got a new laptop sophomore year it was a Samsung I spent $1000 on and I still have it with me today zero problems.

This is where I can answer your question as an engineering student you won't need anything heavy or important that a laptop can handle for freshmen and most of sophomore year. I ran into this problem when I put Solidworks on my laptop and it would crash sometimes based on how complex my parts were.

Also my laptop didn't run matlab and mathematica programs very fast at times. So I built myself a very nice desktop my junior year and I had zero problems with any 3d edditing parts or running programs or simulations.

If you buy a laptop there will be limitations on what homework you can do on it as an engineering student especially when it comes to doing any 3d parts. Also laptops won't run certain complex math scripts as fast and you will have to wait several minutes vs getting an answer in 30 seconds.

Building your own desktop will allow you to put in a lot more power so that some of the programs an engineering student needs to use will work with ease. Trust me there were nights I would freak when my laptop would take 5min to load a set of parts. If you have a laptop you will learn that you will have to use the schools computers to run a lot of 3d materials.

Unless you will be traveling a lot or need a computer where not very many of them are found, I would get a laptop a $1200 laptop can still do a lot of stuff but it will be frustrating at times. I would advise a desktop, I rarely use my laptop these days unless I got out of town where I need to bring a computer then it gets used, but my desktop can game and do EVERYTHING better then my laptop can.

Good Luck!!
July 5, 2013 11:52:23 PM

Yep, I agree that when doing power intensive tasks a desktop will always beat a laptop at any price point along with most likely having a longer life
July 5, 2013 11:53:55 PM

letsrelax said:
Great field to go into I just got my mechanical engineering degree and my physics degree and am going to go to graduate school... anyways I had a very similar problem as you.

When I was a freshman I bought myself an ASUS laptop for $1200 and it sucked it broke on me many times it couldn't handle much of any gaming because of the power consumption would burn out different components in my laptop.

I got a new laptop sophomore year it was a Samsung I spent $1000 on and I still have it with me today zero problems.

This is where I can answer your question as an engineering student you won't need anything heavy or important that a laptop can handle for freshmen and most of sophomore year. I ran into this problem when I put Solidworks on my laptop and it would crash sometimes based on how complex my parts were.

Also my laptop didn't run matlab and mathematica programs very fast at times. So I built myself a very nice desktop my junior year and I had zero problems with any 3d edditing parts or running programs or simulations.

If you buy a laptop there will be limitations on what homework you can do on it as an engineering student especially when it comes to doing any 3d parts. Also laptops won't run certain complex math scripts as fast and you will have to wait several minutes vs getting an answer in 30 seconds.

Building your own desktop will allow you to put in a lot more power so that some of the programs an engineering student needs to use will work with ease. Trust me there were nights I would freak when my laptop would take 5min to load a set of parts. If you have a laptop you will learn that you will have to use the schools computers to run a lot of 3d materials.

Unless you will be traveling a lot or need a computer where not very many of them are found, I would get a laptop a $1200 laptop can still do a lot of stuff but it will be frustrating at times. I would advise a desktop, I rarely use my laptop these days unless I got out of town where I need to bring a computer then it gets used, but my desktop can game and do EVERYTHING better then my laptop can.

Good Luck!!


I will not be traveling that much it is just I will have to fly by plane. My dilemma with a desktop is mainly I have no idea how I can get my desktop and monitor back and forth. I would only move it during winter break and summer break so I would not be traveling that much with it each year.
a b D Laptop
July 5, 2013 11:56:39 PM

thefabcab said:
What kind of backpack do you use to carry everything back and forth. Also I have a 24 inch monitor so how would that fit with your carrying device.


Either I carry the computer alone (usually what I do) or I throw it in a suitcase. As for the monitor, a 21" monitor will fit into a standard backpack as long as you have a little twine to keep the backpack closed. (it'll stick up the top.) My 24" monitor is a little more problematic, and if I need it for colour accuracy, I usually take my pillow, throw it in the bottom of my suitcase, put my monitor face down on that, and pack my clothes around it as padding.

EDIT: Again, small form factor is the answer. You can have a desktop as small as a shoebox with all the power you need. As for the monitor solution, if it becomes problematic, then just buy your mother a second monitor for christmas. She'll love having the extra screen space, and you can use it when you go home over breaks.
July 5, 2013 11:59:25 PM

Well, if you do get a desktop I would recommend an itx case for the size and weight, should be able to fit in large carry on.
July 6, 2013 12:01:59 AM

You can go with micro tower cases that could fit in a bag and get yourself a smaller monitor and just wrap them up and put them in a bag that would easily work as a carry on.

Here is a Lian Li case very expensive but just an idea to give dimensions: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

It is 12.6" x 9.65" x 16.54" H x W x L

I don't think size will be to much of an issue you don't need a mid tower case if all you are putting in it is the essentials. As long as you don't want anything crazy or fancy in it a micro tower case works perfectly.
a b D Laptop
July 6, 2013 12:08:37 AM

Let's relax, the Prodigy (which I've already been talking about, if you missed that) is far from being a cube, and is on the larger end of small form factor cases, but still works fine as a carry-on even if you don't unattach the handles.

You can also get much smaller, if it would make things easier if the computer is going into a bag.
July 6, 2013 12:14:58 AM

DarkSable said:
Let's relax, the Prodigy (which I've already been talking about, if you missed that) is far from being a cube, and is on the larger end of small form factor cases, but still works fine as a carry-on even if you don't unattach the handles.

You can also get much smaller, if it would make things easier if the computer is going into a bag.


Sorry didn't read your first post, I'm just trying to give the idea you don't need to have something big and rectangular for it to be a desktop. I don't know if op knows that you can get fairly small cases and still be able to do everything you want.
a b D Laptop
July 6, 2013 12:35:38 AM

letsrelax said:
Sorry didn't read your first post, I'm just trying to give the idea you don't need to have something big and rectangular for it to be a desktop. I don't know if op knows that you can get fairly small cases and still be able to do everything you want.


No worries, I figured that was the case.

But yeah, small form factor seems like the answer here; a decent-size suitcase can easily hold clothes, a computer, and a small monitor. Even if you're more cautious about your computer, a SFF rig can be used as a carry-on.
July 6, 2013 10:58:14 AM

DarkSable said:
letsrelax said:
Sorry didn't read your first post, I'm just trying to give the idea you don't need to have something big and rectangular for it to be a desktop. I don't know if op knows that you can get fairly small cases and still be able to do everything you want.


No worries, I figured that was the case.

But yeah, small form factor seems like the answer here; a decent-size suitcase can easily hold clothes, a computer, and a small monitor. Even if you're more cautious about your computer, a SFF rig can be used as a carry-on.


I do like the Bitfenix Prodigy case. When you say carry on do you literally walk through the airport with it or do you at least put it in a carry on case. I think I have a solution for the monitor because I talked to my friend and at his work there are professional video editors. What they do apparently to transport the monitors they just throw it in their suitcases and wrap it with a lot of bubble wrap and with the extra padding of clothes they say it works well. I can't get a new monitor and it is a 24 inch so a backpack will be a stretch.
a b D Laptop
July 6, 2013 1:45:40 PM

I literally walk through the airport with it - it's no hassle going through security; they swab it down, throw the swab in a machine that checks for bomb residue, and you're on your way. You get some funny looks, but that's part of the fun!

Then I just put it in the overhead bin and make sure it's not going to slide around. I should throw out there that, just like any time you take a computer a long distance, you should remove the hard drives and bring them separately.

That's what I do with my 24" monitor if I have to transport it, though I use a pillow for padding instead of bubble wrap. It works just fine. :) 
July 6, 2013 2:55:31 PM

DarkSable said:
I literally walk through the airport with it - it's no hassle going through security; they swab it down, throw the swab in a machine that checks for bomb residue, and you're on your way. You get some funny looks, but that's part of the fun!

Then I just put it in the overhead bin and make sure it's not going to slide around. I should throw out there that, just like any time you take a computer a long distance, you should remove the hard drives and bring them separately.

That's what I do with my 24" monitor if I have to transport it, though I use a pillow for padding instead of bubble wrap. It works just fine. :) 


What kind of CPU cooler should I use because I don't know how they would respond to liquid cooling.
a b D Laptop
July 6, 2013 3:40:06 PM

Liquid cooling is fine as long as you can drain the loop - that's what I do, since it coincides with when I should be replacing the liquid anyways. You should avoid all-in-ones, I would think. (I mean, you should avoid them anyways, but doubly so here.)

I used an updraft CPU cooler before I got into liquid cooling and it worked fine in my prodigy. Just make sure you consider where the CPU socket is on the motherboard. (On mine, almost every cooler would block the PCIe slot, so I had to find one that was very flat on one side.)
July 6, 2013 4:15:03 PM

DarkSable said:
Liquid cooling is fine as long as you can drain the loop - that's what I do, since it coincides with when I should be replacing the liquid anyways. You should avoid all-in-ones, I would think. (I mean, you should avoid them anyways, but doubly so here.)

I used an updraft CPU cooler before I got into liquid cooling and it worked fine in my prodigy. Just make sure you consider where the CPU socket is on the motherboard. (On mine, almost every cooler would block the PCIe slot, so I had to find one that was very flat on one side.)


I have never done liquid cooling before so I was going to buy a pre-built system. If I did that I think I could just remove it for travel and put it in the box it came with. Sorry for all the question its just I want this to go with the least amount of problems I can.
a b D Laptop
July 6, 2013 4:23:34 PM

That seems like an awful lot of work; why not just get an air cooler that you don't have to worry about?

And no, that's completely understandable; it's what we're here for.
July 6, 2013 4:53:26 PM

DarkSable said:
That seems like an awful lot of work; why not just get an air cooler that you don't have to worry about?

And no, that's completely understandable; it's what we're here for.


Thanks for the help. I think I am going to get an air cooler because I doubt I will be overclocking. Now for the hardest part. I need to convince my parents that a desktop is better for my field rather then a laptop. It shouldn't be that hard.
a b D Laptop
July 6, 2013 5:09:04 PM

Weeelll... if the programs you're using can make use of CUDA or STREAM processors, the desktop will quite easily be four to five times more powerful for the same amount of money.
July 7, 2013 3:42:20 PM

DarkSable said:
Weeelll... if the programs you're using can make use of CUDA or STREAM processors, the desktop will quite easily be four to five times more powerful for the same amount of money.


Do you think this case could fit as a carry on? I think it follows the size regulations but would it be inconvienient to carry through the airport. If not I will just get a bitfenix prodigy

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
a b D Laptop
July 7, 2013 6:57:57 PM

It would fit, but you'd want to get a strap for it. (a few people make LAN party straps for cases)

It's kind of awkward, and I'm not sure it would give as good protection as a Prodigy. Is there a particular reason you want that case / the mATX form factor? If not, I'd look at a Prodigy or one of the actual mini-ITX sized cases that you could throw in a backpack.
July 7, 2013 9:16:14 PM

DarkSable said:
It would fit, but you'd want to get a strap for it. (a few people make LAN party straps for cases)

It's kind of awkward, and I'm not sure it would give as good protection as a Prodigy. Is there a particular reason you want that case / the mATX form factor? If not, I'd look at a Prodigy or one of the actual mini-ITX sized cases that you could throw in a backpack.


I was looking at the Corsair case because I thought about getting a mATX case, but majority of the cases are kind of ridiculous if I were to travel with them. The prodigy looks like it was meant for that so I will probably lean towards that. Oh yeah how difficult is it to fit your computer in the overhead carrying compartment and how do you transport your GPU?
a b D Laptop
July 7, 2013 11:18:47 PM

That particular corsair case is also pretty dang big. You want something as small as possible, though you might want to avoid having to use a PCIe riser.

The prodigy is a very, very nice case, and about the best case for modding I've ever found. That being said, it is large for mini-itx; more the size of mATX cases, and there are other, smaller options out there.

It's quite easy; just turn it on it's side. And I keep the graphics card in the case; it's not going to get jostled much and it's firmly in there.
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