What Computer Should I Buy and Why?
This page updatged August 9, 2012.
Dr. Paul Kube has been answering this question for over two decades and has a webpage to answer this question. We've also added the following information on May 7, 2009 to help students make an informed decision.
Any reasonably recent computer (no more than, say, two or three years old) will work out fine. Any other decisions you make past this truly come down to working style and personal taste.
Programming laboratory work is done on university managed personal computers. These computers run either Windows or Linux. The software we use, however, can run on an Apple Macintosh computer. So, if you think you will want to work on programming assignments on your own computer, you might find a Windows computer more like the ones in the lab. You might wish this, for example, if you plan to travel home many weekends. In this case, you'd want a laptop. Laptops are very convenient, especially since the university has wireless available nearly everywhere. You will need to balance out the tradeoffs between weight and screen size. If you're buying one computer, consider getting a larger laptop, with a 15" screen and DVD ROM. Better, consider a laptop with a smaller screen for improved portability, plus an external LCD monitor. Long hours of programming or writing on a laptop can tire one's neck due to the low position of the screen. If you buy an external monitor, consider purchasing a USB keyboard and mouse, too.
Processor speed is not terribly important, but a netbook might be insufficient as one's sole computer. If you're buying new, consider 2GB RAM and 120 GB disk minimum; newer operating systems are storage hungry. For networking, 802.11n is becoming standard, but 802.11g is fine. Three USB 2.0 ports is important, and an ethernet port can be handy in the dorms.
Get a service plan for the laptop that is appropriate for the wear-and-tear that you'd like to cover. Plans vary from one year parts-and-labor to 5-years cover-everything same-day onsite repair. Three years is a good length, and if it doesn't seem too pricey, covering drops and spills protects your investment "in the wild". The campus has an on-campus repair center for Macs and Dells. There is also an Apple Store just a couple of miles away. Other brands would generally be express-mailed back to the manufacturer.
An important peripheral - and often overlooked - is backup capability. If you get a DVD read/write player in the laptop, then you can backup to DVD, although backing up 4.5GB at a time can be tiresome if storing lots of pictures and music. Otherwise consider getting a USB external hard drive for backup, or employing an online backup service.
Lastly on this topic, UC San Diego Bookstore (858- 534-4291) provides computer repair and installation for Dell, HP, Lenovo, Apple, Asus, Acer, Sony, Gateway and others.