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Desktop+netbook vs laptop for college

Last response: in Systems
June 1, 2011 6:13:33 AM

Hey guys, back when I built my first computer a few years back you guys were really helpful so I thought I'd come back and get some feedback for my next computer decision. I'm going to be a engineering student next year and I'm weighing the desktop+netbook combo versus a laptop for the same price (under or approximately $2000). I'd likely build my own desktop and buy the netbook (all from newegg) or go to a clevo reseller (probably sager or system76). Sorry if this is in the wrong forum, just tell me and I'll move it!

Approximate Purchase Date: Relatively soon

Budget Range: Max is around $2000

System Usage from Most to Least Important: Gaming, engineering or other school software, browsing the web, movies

Parts Not Required: mouse, keyboard and monitor (if desktop)

Preferred Website(s) for Parts: newegg

Country of Origin: USA

Parts Preferences: N/A

Overclocking: Maybe

SLI or Crossfire: No

Monitor Resolution: 1920x1080

Additional Comments: Ideally, since I'll be dishing out a fairly large sum of money for this build, it'll last me at least all four years of undergrad and possibly

Here are the specs of the laptop (from sager):
15.6" HD 1920x1080 95% color gamut
GTX 560M 1.5gb gddr5
intel i7-2720QM (6mb l3 cache, 2.2 GHz)
IC diamond thermal compound
windows 7 home premium
8gb ddr3 1333MHz (brand unknown)
2 500gb 7200rpm hard drives (one is in the HDD spot and the other is in the optical drive)
I'll be installing a SSD (agility 3 120gb) as my primary hard drive, i'll use one of the 500gb drives for storage of everything but OS and applications and the other for backups
Bigfoot Networks Killerâ„¢ Wireless-N 1102 - 802.11A/B/G/N
external superdrive (CD/DVD stuff, no bluray)

I quickly threw a desktop build together, some of the parts might not be compatible, but the general specs should still stand.
Here are the specs of a desktop (plus netbook) with the same price tag:
Antec 300 Illusion case
WD caviar blue 1 TB secondary HDD
superdrive (CD/DVD stuff, no bluray)
Corsair enthusiast series cmpsu-650tx 650W
G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600MHz
EVGA X58 FTW3 132-GT-E768-TR LGA 1366 Intel X58 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 ATX
ZALMAN 9500A-LED 92mm 2 Ball CPU Cooler
OCZ Vertex 3 Series – MAX IOPS Edition VTX3MI-25SAT3-120G 2.5" 120GB SATA III
Intel Core i7-2600K Sandy Bridge 3.4GHz (3.8GHz Turbo Boost) 4 x 256KB L2 Cache 8MB L3 Cache LGA 1155 95W
ASUS GTX580 DCII/2DIS/1536MD5 GeForce GTX 580 (Fermi) 1536MB 384-bit GDDR5

and the netbook link:
June 1, 2011 5:38:52 PM

I have been thinking about doing just this thing for a while now.

I think you could spend your money more wisely on your desktop, go 2500k as opposed to 2600k and save 100 dollars and maybe considder a Z68 mobo instedad of X58. also, look at tom's Best ****** for the money: may 2011 especially for CPU, GPU and SSD and put a system together based on that. What you are doing here is trying to be frugal with your money and blowing big bucks on a i7-2600 and GTX580 is not a good way to do that.

On the netbook side, go play with one, see if you can happily function on a 10.1" screen and atom processor. For me, netbooks are just too small and weak, thus i would say try to pick up a something like this:
it would be stretching your budget but i would guess you could pick up this laptop and your desktop for around 2300 without sacrificing.
June 1, 2011 5:56:06 PM

You can try go for Leonovo thinkpad edge 11 (one with ultra low power i3 and 6 cell batery). It have one of best keyboards for such small notebooks, its only 1.5kg, cheap and have decent battery life.
For desktop P67/Z68 mainboard such as Asrock Extreme 4 and i5-2500. Unless you plan on quite a lot parallel computing i7 is waste of money for you.
Related resources
June 1, 2011 6:26:03 PM

I'm currently a college student in engineering and I had to make the same decision about a year ago. I chose to buy a laptop and I'm pretty glad I made that decision.

The reason is that most schools offer desktops specifically for use by engineering students. My school offers computers with i7, 8gb ram, dedicated video card, and 24 inch 1920x1200 monitors. These computers are plenty powerful enough for any engineering software that needs to be run. If your school offers something similar then I would definitely advise you get a laptop and just use the lab computers when you need a bigger screen or more computing power.

You are going to need a computer that you can drag around with you to work on group projects, take notes, or pass the time between classes. I find netbooks way too uncomfortable and slow to do these things.

The laptop you have listed is going to be powerful enough to run pretty much any game at reasonable details/frame rates so I'd recommend going with that or something similar as opposed to the desktop/netbook combo.
June 1, 2011 7:01:21 PM

I'm an engineering student as well, and after getting through my intro classes, I HATED having a big laptop (15" MacBook Pro). For a majority of the software you could end up running like MATLAB and other long codes, laptops kinda suck, and carrying a 5 lb computer everywhere was awful.

I built my first desktop 2 years ago, and then my current one last year (with a platform upgrade), and I will never go back to using a laptop for work OR gaming ever. The performance and upgradeability of a desktop are far superior to those of a laptop. Additionally, the labs are never big enough, and running software on your own computer is infinitely better than trying to run it on a network with the other 200 students in your class doing the same. My group projects were primarily done in Office, with a little MATLAB on the side, so a comfortable mobile computer is important regardless of which route you take.

My recommendation would be to spend ~$500 on a good 11-12" PC like the Dell M101z/102z and the rest on an i5-2500K desktop with a good graphics card. You'll have a comfortably portable laptop that can do what you need to on the go, while still having much better computing resources at home than your school will most likely have.

EDIT: I forgot to add that my 15" MBP was replaced by a 11.6" MacBook Air. I can still do all of my Office and MATLAB work on it as well, but it's lighter and easier to work on that many netbooks (I've owned 4-5 in the past).

June 1, 2011 11:36:53 PM

as a recent engineering grad, +1 on the laptop, or even $750 laptop/$1250 desktop.
A good $750 dollar laptop like this one:
will run solidworks, matlab, and pro-e. You may not be able to run 50 part solidworks assemblies smooth as butter, but it will handle all your educational assignments with ease.

$1250 buys you a very powerful gaming computer (i5-2500k + dual 560ti/6950)
June 1, 2011 11:40:42 PM

genghiskron said:
as a recent engineering grad, +1 on the laptop, or even $750 laptop/$1250 desktop.
A good $750 dollar laptop like this one:
will run solidworks, matlab, and pro-e. You may not be able to run 50 part solidworks assemblies smooth as butter, but it will handle all your educational assignments with ease.

$1250 buys you a very powerful gaming computer (i5-2500k + dual 560ti/6950)

+1. You probably won't even need to do that much on your laptop (everybody's experiences differ), but the desktop will be able to handle it if the laptop can't, which is the key point here. Use the laptop and desktop as supplements to each other.

Programs like Dropbox make my life so much easier, since I can access files on my iPhone, MBA, desktop, or any computer with internet access. You could also set up remote access programs to use your desktop while on campus if you really must.
June 2, 2011 3:40:55 AM

The desktop I had listed was just something I threw together after a little newegg browsing haha, so yeah, its probably not the optimal combination for the money. The point I was trying to get across though was that for the same amount of money (~$1700 after the price of the netbook), I could get a really top notch build (borderline excessive) that likely won't become outdated for a while longer than a comparably expensive laptop. And since I like my desktop I build a few years ago (it was around $900), another option might be to get a laptop and bring it to college along with my old desktop. I'm going to bed now, but I'll post its specs in the morning! Thanks for everyone's feedback thus far!
June 2, 2011 1:59:33 PM

Depending on what's in the desktop, you may just need a simply upgrade to P67 and then you can use the rest on the laptop/netbook and accessories.

The only issue with laptops is that they get considerably slow and outdated rather quickly. I'd suggest getting a cheap(er) laptop/netbook that you can easily upgrade (specifically the RAM and HDD) and then throw in more/better RAM and a SSD for a much smoother experience.
June 2, 2011 2:32:52 PM

Depending on the engineering curriculum you may be required to have a computer that you can bring to class that can handle specific CAD programs, MATLAB, etc. So consider that when making your purchase.
My school is still into the tablet pc's for engineering students (not the ipad tablet). That requirement started shortly after I started and I remember that it might have been nice for a few assignments but really wasn't worth the $3000+ price tag that a decent one would cost. I stuck with a laptop but if I had to start over I would consider the desktop/functional laptop combo.
Two other considerations, unless you know for a fact that you will need to be able to use CAD programs immediately, consider getting the cheapish laptop now and waiting 6-12 months before putting the desktop together. Most likely, you don't really need a great computer your freshman year because you will be spending most of your time writing english papers and taking math and science classes. Waiting gives you the opportunity to see what you actually need and save more for the latest and greatest that will be available then.
The other consideration is a professional-level GPU. Depending on what discipline you plan to study this may or may not make sense. For Mechaincal or Aerospace engineering it probaly makes more sense because you'll spend more time rendering parts and assemblies. For Civil or Environmental it might not make as much sense simply because you spend less time in CAD overall. Modeling terrain surfaces may be taxing to your system but you probably won't spend as much time doing that.
Good luck!