Laptop FAQ

Please read this FAQ before buying a computer

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

A PC laptop running Windows 10 or 11 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.


General hardware requirements (minimum is listed):


     Other recommendations:

My laptop does not meet this requirements, what do I do?

Please get a laptop that meets these requirements, otherwise you will have a difficult time using Engineering software.  The HSSOE computer labs are available as an emergency option but you need a laptop for class projects.

Do I need to buy a new laptop?

Absolutely not, but please make sure it meets our hardware requirements, otherwise software will not run. 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 just upgrade the RAM?

All laptops are different.  Some laptops have RAM soldered and those cannot get upgraded.  You need to look into it.  Google the make & model and find out. For laptops with up-gradable RAM, there's usually an easy way to get to it underneath.  With some laptops you have to remove the keyboard.

This is something you need to research on your own or take it to a Best Buy or MicroCenter.

I typically refer to this website when I buy RAM 

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 ARM-based processes (starting in 2020) should NOT be used in Engineering.

Reasons to not use a Mac:

I want a new Mac with M1/M2 processor, will this be okay?


Here is a list of known issues with M1 processor:

Can I use my old Mac with an Intel processor?

You should get a a new PC laptop because this Mac with Intel processor is a several years old.  Also, Apple has stopped Bootcamp development & support.   If you're MAE, BME, or CEE you will have  huge headaches because Solidworks will be extremely sluggish. 

What is Bootcamp?

NOTE:  Bootcamp is not supported on M1 processors.  It can only run on intel-based Macs.

Bootcamp is a free utility from Apple that allows your Macbook to dual boot and it installs 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. Your hardware requirements are going to be greater than the average consumer's. 

If you insist on using a Mac, you will spend extra time & effort preparing it.  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.

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.  You will end up using the HSSOE computer labs.

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

If you are MAE, BME, or CEE major:

If you are MSE or ChemE major:

If you are an EE major:

I already have a Mac.

Which software requires Windows? 

CEE Majors




CS majors

ChemE majors

All majors:

Which courses require I bring my own laptop?

The following courses have a laptop requirement as listed in the 2022-2023 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:

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.

FAO 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 & Noble, the ELITE program is no longer available. The Financial Aid Office will discuss options with you.

From around 2010-2015 we had the ELITE laptop program (Engineering Laptop Initiative)  which was a partnership between the UCI Bookstore and Financial Aid office allowing students to purchase a laptop at the Bookstore using financial aid funds directly thus eliminating the need for students to use a credit card or personal funds. The Bookstore covered the laptop cost and they were reimbursed by the financial aid office on a quarterly basis. It was a successful program. Unfortunately when Barnes & Noble took over the bookstore this program was not able to continue due to regulations around financial aid accounting systems.

Again, please contact the Financial Aid office with your questions.

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. 

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

Most likely you will spend $900-$1200 (for a PC).  If you purchase additional RAM, the cost will be closer to $1200-$1500.  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.

What kind of laptop do you you recommend?  I want it to last 4 years.

Shop according to the specifications and your requirements. 

Here's tips if you really want your laptop to last all 4 years.

Which one is better? HP, Acer, Gateway?  Which one should I get?

Each manufacturer has hits & misses. Therefore shop according to the specifications and your requirements. 

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

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.

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 ($800-$1200) for the specifications they offer.

HP and Dell have workstation class laptops.  Take a look at those and get an extended warranty.


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.  Check our Software page for additional software.

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 google the issue and ask your Engineering friends.  Get in the habit of talking and networking with your Engineering buddies.  Chances are someone you know had similar issues.  Please know there is limited computer staff in Engineering and the type of support we can provide you is limited. 

Can you fix my computer problem?  I don't know where to start.