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Laptop FAQ

Laptop FAQ - Frequently asked question & answers about laptops for HSSOE students



What kind of laptop should I bring?  What should I buy?

A PC laptop running Windows 10 is the best option. Most current hardware should be fine. Anything older than 3 years should be replaced by the first or second year of instruction. Students do not need a new laptop but it should be in good working order and able to run CAD software such as Solidworks or AutoCad.

  • Chromebooks will not work at UCI Engineering.
  • Macs using non-Intel based processors should not be used.
    General hardware requirements (minimum is listed):
  • RAM: 16 GB RAM (more is ok)
    • Embedded or on-board video is adequate for most first and second-year work.  
    • MAE, MAE, and CEE students should consider a discrete graphics card but it's not required.
  • Hard Drive: 250 GB or more.
    • 50 GB hard drives on a tablet will be completely inadequate.
  • Processor: Any  Intel  Core I5, i7, Xeon (OR AMD equivalent)  DO NOT USE APPLE M1.
    • Most Engineering software is compatible with both Intel and AMD processors. 
    • DO NOT use Celeron, mobile M processors, or any processor less than an Intel i5.
    • For AMD processors, do your own homework to find what is currently the i5 or i7 equivalent.
  • Weight
    • Students are expected to bring their laptops to class
    • Please consider weight
    • Usually screen size will dictate the weight.
      • The larger the screen, the heavier a laptop is.
  • Webcam
    • If your laptop webcam does not work, then you should buy an external one or use your phone camera.
     Other recommendations:
    • Laptop cable and lock.
    • External monitor, keyboard, and mouse for dorm room.
    • External hard drive for data backups.
    • Small black & white personal-sized laser printer 
      • Printers are available throughout campus.
      • There is a small fee to print on campus printers. 
      • Inkjet printers are fine but the consumables (such as extra ink) can be expensive over time.

Do I need to buy a new laptop?

Absolutely not. Bring whatever you have. However, if it does not meet our general hardware requirements, then certain software may not run well. If you plan on purchasing a new laptop as a High School graduation gift, then please use our hardware specifications as a guideline. Laptops older than 3 years should be replaced by the first or second year of instruction.

Can I use a Chromebook.

Absolutely not. Almost no software used in Engineering is compatible with Chromebooks.

I want a Mac. Can I use a Mac?

IMPORTANT: Macs with new ARM-based processes (starting in 2020) should NOT be used in Engineering.
Reason 1:  Bootcamp is not compatible
Reason 2:  Virtualization does not support Windows

**AS OF 1/29/2021 there are compatibility issues with Windows and the Apple M1 processor.

Most software used by Engineers is Windows-based and therefore incompatible with the Mac OS. As a Mac person, you will spend extra time preparing your laptop for coursework by installing Windows & Bootcamp. Even after doing this work, software such as AutoCad and Solidworks may not run efficiently due to overheating. Fan control software will help with most makes & models. However, each make & model of Macs has different issues.

The MacBook Air is especially problematic due to the processor being optimized for mobile computing. It doesn't have enough power for 3D graphics used in CAD software.

Follow Apple Supportgaming, and Mac enthusiast forums (and YouTube) for suggestions to help with overheating issues.

Install Windows using Bootcamp. This is preferred over Paralells or VMWare's Fusion.

What is Bootcamp?

Bootcamp is a free utility from Apple that allows your Macbook to dual boot and install Windows natively onto the hard drive as opposed to using a Virtual Machine (VM) such as Fusion or Parallels. This means when you start up your Mac you will be given a choice to use either the MacOS or Windows.  See our "Mac Users Start Here" webpage.

I really want a MacBook. All my friends & family use Macs. The sales people at the store told me Macs are better and I can use Windows with Parallels.

Do your own research and talk to Engineering students. Most salespeople (and many parents) don't understand your computing needs as an Engineering student. Your hardware requirements are going to be greater than the average consumer's. 

Be aware If you insist on using a Mac, you will spend extra time & effort preparing your Mac for Engineering software. Learn Windows if you are not familiar with it. Your faculty expect you to solve simple computer problems on your own such as installing software.

Install Windows with Boot Camp.

The feedback I receive from students using Paralells is that it works fine for a short time but eventually, SolidWorks and AutoCad become slow. This is annoying when you are working on projects and assignments. Paralells is fine for most consumer use but not for Engineers using CAD software.

You can install Windows & Bootcamp on your own or you can use fee-for-service support at The UCI TechHub and pay them around $60 to do the installation work. Or, the Mac Store Geniuses can help you.  Again, see our Mac Users Start Here here page. WIndows is available to you free of charge.

Plan on having a hard drive 500 GB or larger and use half of the drive for Windows.

The HSSOE computer labs have PC's running Windows. In fact most of the School has standardized on Windows so we can be efficient with our resources. If you have Mac questions, the UCI TechHub can better assist you.

I'm a MAE major. Is a Mac okay?

If you are a MAE, BME, or CEE major:

  • You are better off with a PC.  
  • If you have a Mac, install Bootcamp & Windows and hope for the best. 
  • Your laptop situation will be challenging when you do complex design work.
  • You should be okay your freshman year but consider a PC for your second year.

If you are a EE, CS, or ChemE major:

  • You will be okay with either a Mac or a PC.
  • BUT You need to install Windows
  • Your computing requirements generally do not require a high-end graphics card.
  • You coursework will not include CAD software unless you decide to use it for a project, such as a senior design project.
  • If you have a Mac install Windows & Bootcamp.
  • ChemE and EE majors will have software requiring Windows.

I already have a Mac.

Again, install Boot Camp and Windows. Install fan control software.

In an emergency, the School computer labs are available for drop-in use. However, during midterms and finals the computer labs are very busy and it can be difficult to find an available a computer. You need a working laptop to complete homework assignments during your first and second year.
Again, if you have a Mac, please install Boot Camp and Windows. Do this BEFORE you start classes.  Consider using the UCI TechHub services to help you. Visit our MacUsers page for more information.

Which software requires Windows? 

CEE Majors - Basic AutoCad has a version native to Macs but students complain it is buggy and slow. AutoCad Civil 3D requires a PC.
Solidworks works on Windows only. MAE & BME students use this software.
Electrical Engineering software to design and test electronic circuit boards tends to run on Windows. 

For Computer Science majors, programming tools are both Windows and Linux based. You should be okay with a PC or a Mac / Bootcamp setup.

Matlab works fine on both Windows and Macs.

Engineering software is intense. Do I need to spend a lot of money on a laptop?

Most likely you will spend $700-$1000 (for a PC).  If you purchase additional RAM, the cost will be closer to $1000.  Spending more money on a computer doesn't guarantee you longevity. Sometimes Microsoft makes operating system upgrades that render hardware obsolete such as changing the monitor sizes or aspect ratio.

I recommend a good solid "middle of the road" laptop. If you go too cheap, the processor and RAM won't be adequate for CAD work.  Too expensive (such as with a gaming laptop) and you will have driver problems due to the specialized hardware (this is generally true, but not always).

If you have a laptop when you enter as a Freshman, it might run slow by the time you are a Senior.  Software such as Solidworks and AutoCad are upgraded every year. Each newer version tends to have changes that require more CPU & RAM. There is a chance you might need a new laptop by the time you're a Senior so budget accordingly. Keep your laptop in working order.

In an emergency, the School computer labs are available for drop-in use. However, during midterms and finals the computer labs are very busy and it can be difficult to find an available a computer to use.

Which courses require I bring my own laptop?

The following courses have a laptop requirement as listed in the 2014-15 Student Catalog and it's also specified when you register for one of these courses. In other words, if you are enrolled in one of these course, you must bring your laptop to class.

Students enrolled in a course with a laptop requirement who have demonstrated financial need assistance as determined by the financial aid office, may be eligible for financial aid assistance. Please talk to UCI's Financial Aid Office.

Courses with a laptop requirement:
  • BME 60A: Laptop running LabVIEW 2013 or newer.
  • BME 60B: Laptop running MATLAB R2014a or newer.
  • BME 60C: Laptop running Solidworks Engineering Kit.
  • EECS 10: Laptop running Microsoft VisualStudio, Apple XCode 4.1, or NetBeans 7.3 or newer IDEs.
  • EECS 12: Laptop running Python (latest most stable version).
  • EECS 20: Laptop running C/C++ IDE and an LC-3 simulator.
  • EECS 22: Open-source toolchain.
  • EECS 22L: Open-source toolchain.
  • EECS 31L/CSE 31L: Xilinx ISE Verion 12+
  • EECS 40: C++/Java programming IDE plus open-source toolchain.
  • ENGR 7A-B: Laptop running Solidworks Engineering Kit
  • ENGRCEE 20: Laptop running MATLAB R2014a or newer.
  • ENGRCEE 21: Laptop running MATLAB R2014a or newer.
  • ENGRCEE 81A: AutoCAD plus ArcGIS (unclear on versions) ENGRCEE 81B: AutoCAD plus ArcGIS (unclear on versions) ENGRMAE 10: Laptop running MATLAB R2014a or Octave 3.6.4 or newer.
  • ENGRMAE 52: Laptop running Solidworks Student Engineering Kit. 

How do I get financial aid to pay for my laptop?

Financial aid counselors will be advising students and processing the budget adjustments for students who qualify.  Students may email, call or stop by their office for additional information on the budget increases and their eligibility. In general, you need to wait until after July 1st to buy a laptop if you will be reimbursed.

Contact information:

Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships
102 Aldrich Hall
Irvine, CA 92697-2825

Based on the student's alpha last name, they are assigned to a specific financial aid counselor who will process the budget adjustment for them.

I want to purchase a laptop at the UCI Bookstore using financial aid. What do I do?

Because the UCI bookstore is now Barnes and Noble, the ELITE program is no longer available. The Financial Aid Office will discuss options with you.

Do I have to purchase from the UCI Bookstore if I want to use financial aid?

You are not required to purchase a laptop from the UCI Bookstore if you use financial aid. There are opportunities to purchase from other vendors.  However, please talk to the Financial Aid Office FIRST and BEFORE you make any laptop purchase. If you coordinate with the Financial Aid Office, they will let you know of the reimbursement process. There are deadlines, dates and guidelines you MUST follow. In some cases, they will reimburse laptop expenses only when it is purchased after a certain date. Again, please contact the Financial Aid office with your questions.

Are there other ways to finance a laptop purchase without using financial aid?

Talk to your FAO (Financial Aid Office).

Which one is better? HP, Acer, Gateway?

I've had problems with all of the hardware companies. Each one tends to have a business cycle where they are fantastic in regards to hardware quality and service, but then degrades over time.

Most important is strong hardware support and warranty. I recommend some sort of extended warranty.

Need more advice? Search "Engineer laptop student" at

Can I use a Netbook or a ChromeBook?

NO. Absolutely not.  A ChromeBook will not run CAD software. You can use it for writing papers but it will have limited functionality for Engineering work. A Netbook will likely not have enough space or power.

Where should I go to buy a laptop?

If you want Financial Aid to reimburse you then contact the Financial Aid office to make sure you follow their rules.

I will not make any endorsements on where you should go. I typically look at online reviews for particular make & model and I check out sales papers.  Watch out for vendors who talk you into buying something you don't want or don't need. Some vendors will talk you into a Mac when you want a PC. Some will try to up-sell you. 

Again, do your research beforehand. Consider physical and keyboard layout. Figure out what you like, you'll be stuck with it for 3-4 years.

Check out the specific laptops we chose for UCI Engineering students through DellClick "Shop Standard Configuration" to see the ones that meet our requirements.

I have no time or patience for this kind of shopping. Point me to a location where I can just go.

The UCI Bookstore (aka The Hill) has PC laptops available for sale and understand Engineering students computing needs.

The Microsoft Store at South Coast Plaza has a wide variety of laptops and provides onside warranty repairs:
(There are other nearby Microsoft Stores such as in Mission Viejo).

Don't forget about Costco. The website has more options than what is available in the store. They sometimes include two years of warranty when most vendors offer one. Their pricing is very competitive ($700-$1000) for the specifications they offer.

Many people are happy with their Dell purchase (either online or at The Hill). Sometimes Dell offers compelling incentives for students.

What happens if my laptop breaks?

Contact the manufacturer. If you purchased an extended service contract, call the phone number provided. 

The UCI TechHub on campus provides some repair services for a fee and they do some warranty work.

The technicians at the Microsoft Store at South Coast Plaza can also take a look. They can provide some hardware support (usually for a fee) even if you did not purchase the laptop there.

Use the School of Engineering computer labs if your laptop breaks.
You can rent laptops through UCI LIbraries.

What software do I need to install?

Please view What do I need to Install.

Where can I buy software?

Microsoft software such as MS Project, MS Visio, Visual Studio, and Windows is available to HSSOE Engineers free of charge through our Microsoft Azure for Teaching subscription. MS Office is not available as through this program but you can obtain it through OIT.

How can I get Microsoft Office?

You can obtain office from OIT (Office of Information Technology). They are separate from School of Engineering IT support.

You can install MS Office using Pro Plus for students on your personally owned computer. You may not install it in UC-owned equipment. There is a separate license program for that.

What is Microsoft Azure for Teaching? How do I install software?

Microsoft Azure for Teaching is a subscription program that our Engineering School belongs to and it allows our students to install Microsoft Software free of charge.You may keep the software installed on your laptop after you graduate.  Most common software is Windows 10.

Who can help me install software? What if I get a virus, what do I do?

You're an Engineer and it's expected that you have basic knowledge on how to troubleshoot minor PC issues. Generally speaking, you can use Google to find a solution.Use the checklists to get started.

Do I really need a laptop? My parents want to give me their old desktop PC.

You need a laptop because you are required to bring it to some Freshman & Sophomore classes. Furthermore, students who use their own laptops tend to be enthusiastic and motivated to work on projects and spontaneous ideas. You can keep the desktop in the dorm room, but you still need a laptop for in-class work.

Gee, I'd really like to save some money. Can I just use the computer labs?

First and second year Engineers are required to bring a laptop to some Engineering classes. Because of the increased enrollment, these classes can no longer meet in the computer labs. You'll learn the software and do activities in classrooms and lecture halls. The computer labs are impacted during midterms and finals so you should have your own computer.

Is there someone in Engineering who can help me with computer issues?

Your best bet is to ask your Engineering friends. Get in the habit of talking and networking with your Engineering buddies. Chances are strong that someone you know is having similar issues. Please know there is limited computer staff in Engineering and the type of support we can provide you is very limited. We are working on having workshops or drop-in hours available for students.