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New laptop for (Civil) Engineering student

Discussion in 'What Notebook Should I Buy?' started by jfhslvds, Sep 17, 2007.

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  1. jfhslvds

    jfhslvds Notebook Enthusiast

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    Hello,

    My sister is starting university soon. She's gonna be studying Civil Engineering at Durham University (a British university).

    I've been given the task of finding and buying a laptop for her. I've looked around on some websites, mainly ebay. I know quite a lot about computers (having built some for myself and family in the past) so don't really need anything explaining.

    All I need to know is, as a student studying (Civil) Engineering, what kind of specs do you need? A friend of mine studied Architecture (not the same subject, but kinda related) and he remarked how he regretted not getting a more powerful computer (i.e. his gfx was only an Intel intergrated one etc.), and that he would sometimes have to wait for literally days to render a building.

    Therefore, does my sis need powerful specs? I'm thinking of definitely getting something which is at least Core 2 Duo 1.6ghz+ and 2gb RAM, but the only thing I'm not sure about is whether I should stick with a gfx card which is intergrated (albeit Intel X3100+), or maybe something which is dedicated (i.e. Geforce 7300 Go or even the 8600).

    I've checked around, and the Dell Vostro 1500s seem nice.

    Could someone who knows something about (Civil) Engineering tell me something?

    Thanks,
    J
     
  2. Johnny T

    Johnny T Forum Moderator Super Moderator

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    Welcome to NBR!

    Can you please fill out the FAQ? It would help other people give you quicker replies!
     
  3. jfhslvds

    jfhslvds Notebook Enthusiast

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    1) What is your budget?

    £400 - £700 (max)

    2) What size notebook would you prefer?

    Any (as long as it can handle software used by Civil Engineering students)

    3) Please select your country's flag as a post icon and tell us what country are you buying this in.

    United Kingdom

    4) Are there any brands that you prefer or any you really don't like?

    Any, but I've heard Dell aren't exactly known for (long-term) quality, which is not exactly a good thing

    5) What tasks will you be performing with the notebook?

    Run-of-the-mill daily stuff, such as watching movies, DVDs, listening to music etc. nothing special. She won't be playing Bioshock with all the effects turned on very high. HOWEVER, the computer must be able to run software used by Civil Engineering students quite sufficiently (whatever they may be).

    6) Will you be taking the notebook with you to different places or leaving it on your desk?

    Probably desk (I don't want her to have her laptop stolen)

    7) Will you be playing games on it; if so, which games?

    Not really. Like I said before, just for Civil Engineering software used by students.

    8) How many hours of battery life do you need?

    There will most likely be a plug socket nearby, so unnecessary.

    9) Do you mind buying online without seeing the notebook in person?

    I WILL be buying online (probably through ebay, if it's the cheapest).

    10) What OS do you prefer? Windows (XP or Vista), Mac OS, Linux, etc.

    Windows definitely. Vista included in the price would be good, but I've got a spare copy of XP so doesn't really matter.

    Screen Specifics

    Doesn't matter. Whatever is recommended for/used by Civil Engineering students is fine. Run of the mill 1280 x 1024 should be okay.

    Build Quality and Design

    14) Are the notebook's looks and stylishness important to you?

    Nope. But naturally, it would be an added bonus.

    15) When are you buying this laptop and how long do you want this laptop to last?

    Soon. And naturally, should last quite a while. But like I've stressed before, the most important thing is that it should run software used by Civil Engineering students.

    Notebook Components

    16) How much hard drive space do you want; 40GB to 200GB?

    Doesn't matter. I will be getting her a portable hard drive.

    17) Do you need an optical drive? If yes, a DVD, Blu-Ray or HD-DVD drive?

    A standard, normal, average DVD player is more than enough.
     
  4. colorebel

    colorebel Notebook Enthusiast

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    I'm a civil engineer out in the "real world". I'm looking for a laptop myself but 99.9% of the need is not civil engineering related.

    The first software concern to think about is what type of CAD (computer aided design) software your sister will (or may) need to use. AutoCAD is the most used in the industry, Microstation is another. When I was in school 10 years ago, I didn't "need" to have a CAD program except for when I had a sneior design class and needed to work late hours -- I had one CAD class and just used the computers at school.

    Civil is a broad field with plenty of specific software for specific disciplines. She will probably study water, in which case water modelling for open channel and pipe flow will be studied. In the US, the Army Corps of Engineers has various HEC programs which are free to download and are used in the industry and school out here. Here's their link: http://www.hec.usace.army.mil/software/hec-ras/

    Another software company in the water field is Haestad Methods: http://www.haestad.com/

    Other areas that civil engineers branch out into are structural, traffic operations, surverying, geotechnical, etc. Each with their own industry software as a means to assist civil engineers in their own work.

    My main thought in all of this is that these specific software used in school and the industry should all be Windows XP compatible, but you/she may run into problems with trying to run these in Vista. She may want to find out through the school what programs they use in the UK, then look them up and verify they will work with Vista. I don't know of any civil engineers using Vista in practice and I assume many of them will avoid it as they often use programs several years old (DOS even).

    Having said all of that, when I was in school, being computer adept as a Civil Engineering student wasn't a requirement as much as understanding the theory and performing the math yourself to arrive at a design solution rather than relying on the software to do it for you. Having a computer with all the software installed used in the industry won't make you a good civil engineer either in school or in practice. If the school requires a student to be adept in CAD then I worry it's stressing producing students that are good at CAD but not in design.
     
  5. Macpod

    Macpod Connoisseur

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    Civil engineers are starting to use 3D structural analysis programs. These will only improve and become more prominent with time.

    I would get something with a fast CPU and decent 3D card, at least a 8400GT.

    a lot of parametric programs will be very taxing on a computer and the display port will need a good graphic card to drive it.


    BTW. Rendering is done with the CPU. more CPU the better. Infact 3d programs can utilise hundreds of CPU in a network..............i suppose thats why they are the first programs to benefit from dual core technology.
     
  6. P_Schneider

    P_Schneider Notebook Consultant

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    I would look at a Lenovo, probably the T61p for this application. I say that because it uses the Nvidia Quadro GPU. This is the same as the 8600m that you see listed on the Dells and quite a few other offerings but the difference between the Quadro and the gaming cards is that it has more options for OpenGL enabled and is geared towards CAD type applications. I would also recommend at least a Dual Core 2 running at 2+ Ghz. Minimum of 2 gigs RAM also required for this application.

    So basically you're looking for something with a Quadro 570 card.

    I configured this system over at Lenovo for $1514, which if my math is correct, should be right around 700 British pounds.
    *Note* I upgraded the CPU, battery and memory from the base config.

    ThinkPad T61 15 Widescreen - 1 Yr Depot Warranty
    Edit 6459CTO $1,514.00 1 $1,514.00
    System Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo T7500 (2.2GHz 800MHz 4MBL2) 1
    Operating System: Genuine Windows Vista Home Premium 1
    Operating System Language: Genuine Windows Vista Home Premium US English 1
    Display Panel: 15.4 WSXGA+ TFT 1
    System graphics: NVIDIA Quadro FX 570M (256MB Open GL) 1
    Total memory: 2 GB PC2-5300 DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz SODIMM Memory (2 DIMM) 1
    Keyboards: Keyboard US English 1
    Pointing Device: UltraNav (TrackPoint and TouchPad) 1
    Hard Drive: 80GB Hard Disk Drive, 5400rpm 1
    Optical device: CD-RW/DVD-ROM Combo 24X/24X/24X/8X Max, Ultrabay Slim 1
    Upgrade to a DVD Recordable 8x Max Dual Layer, Ultrabay Slim [add $50.00]
    System expansion slots: PC Card Slot & Express Card Slot 1
    Card Reader: 4 in 1 Media Card Reader 1
    Wireless cards: Intel PRO/Wireless 3945ABG 1
    Battery: 9 cell Li-Ion Battery 1
    Power cord : Country Pack North America 1
    Language Pack: Language Pack US English
     
  7. Dreamer

    Dreamer The Bad Boy

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    Sorry but it doesn't work that way, ThinkPads are far more expensive in the UK, and a similar configuration would cost about £1,900. :eek:
     
  8. Macpod

    Macpod Connoisseur

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    if you can Afford the T61P then get it. its a good laptop. Also look at HP 8510P or W and HP8710P or W.
     
  9. Macpod

    Macpod Connoisseur

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    Just saw dreamers post..............

    scratch that. see, some of us have to pay through the nose for these lenovos.

    HP's cheap in europe apparently so go for that.
     
  10. Dreamer

    Dreamer The Bad Boy

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  11. Johnny T

    Johnny T Forum Moderator Super Moderator

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    Evrything is so expensive in the UK....£700 will not get you decent performance unless if you go for accer or maybe dell...


    Components
    BASE Intel® Core™ 2 Duo T7100 Processor (1.8GHz,800MHz,2MB L2 cache) edit
    OPERATING SYSTEM Genuine Windows® XP Professional - English edit
    HARDWARE SUPPORT 3 Year Business Hardware Support - Next Business Day
    LCD 15.4" Wide Screen WXGA (1280 x 800) Displa
    INTEGRATED WEBCAM Matte Jet Black without Camera
    MEMORY 2048MB 667MHz Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM (2x1024) edit
    HARD DRIVE 160GB (5400RPM) SATA Hard Drive edit
    GRAPHICS CARD 256MB nVidia® GeForce® 8600M GT
    OPTICAL DRIVE Fixed Internal 8X DVD+/-RW Drive
    PRIMARY BATTERY Primary 9-cell Lithium-Ion Battery (85 WHr)


    Services & Software
    ACCIDENTAL DAMAGE SUPPORT No Accidental Damage Support
    SECURITY SOFTWARE No Security/Anti-Virus Protection - English
    Accessories
    CARRY CASES No Carry Case edit
    WIRELESS CONNECTIVITY Intel® Pro Wireless 3945 802.11a/b/g Mini-Card - Europe edit
    MICROSOFT SOFTWARE Microsoft® Works 8.0 - English edit
    Also included with your system
    Gedis Bundle Reference List N0915002 - Vostro 1500 (2)
    Order Information Vostro Notebook Order - UK
    Shipping Documents English Documentation with English Power Cord
    Dell System Media Kit Resource CD - contains Diagnostics and Drivers
    Power Supply 90W AC Adapter
    Modem 56.6k V.92 Capable Internal Modem & Adapter - UK
    Keyboard Internal Keyboard - UK/Irish (QWERTY)
    Standard Warranty Base Warranty - 1 Year Business Hardware Support
    Online Promotion Option for GEDIS Configs Dell Internet Order.


    All for £726.15 from dell.co.uk

    I think thats your best bet:D


    Edit: Dreamer....:p same time! LOL
     
  12. John Ratsey

    John Ratsey Moderately inquisitive Super Moderator

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    That Vostro looks to be good value.

    I'm another civil engineer but I don't have a need for dedicated GPUs (the vast majority of civil engineers don't spend their lives doing 3D renderings).

    Personally, I would cut back on the GPU and spend some money on a higher resolution display. This is useful for CAD, spreadsheets and other tables, and general having more windows open and visible. 1680 x 1050 gives a lot more real estate but the detail can start to get small. Otherwise 1440 x 900 gives more real estate than 1280 x 800.

    John
     
  13. P_Schneider

    P_Schneider Notebook Consultant

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    Ouch! :eek:
     
  14. jfhslvds

    jfhslvds Notebook Enthusiast

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    So a high-X ghz Core 2 Duo is pretty much a necessary yeah? I will get 2gb for future-proofing reasons.

    Do you all think that, for a student, you will need a good gfx card then?. If so medium (don't think the best of the best is affordable) range Quadro > medium range Geforce yeah? Would the difference be noticeable (again, I do stress this is for a student Civil Engineer)?

    Thanks to all for the replies so far!
     
  15. Johnny T

    Johnny T Forum Moderator Super Moderator

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    Actually...true 8400mGS might be a better choice then :D its mean more battery life aswell! :p
     
  16. Macpod

    Macpod Connoisseur

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    Yes, the industry at the moment does not use much 3d programing. but that is changing..

    http://www.bentley.com/en-US/Markets/Building/GenerativeComponents.htm

    Visualizing in 3 dimensions will be essential to engineers in the construction industry.

    however. i agree that these programs are not terribly demanding on 3D hardware but an 8400GS is still nice to have just incase. some programs require hardware rendering.


    And rendering is done with the CPU not the GPU. I would imagine if an architect gave an engineering an archicad model for him to take drawings from it would be nice if the engineer could view the model in 3d without too much hassles.
     
  17. Macpod

    Macpod Connoisseur

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  18. Macpod

    Macpod Connoisseur

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    ESPECIALLY for a student. Because all the cutting edge stuff is being explored in good universities at the moment.........like Catia by Gehry technologies and Generative components by bentley.

    Engineering can be SO MUCH more if you have the will to make it.

    but no. a geforce 8400GS is fine. you dont need a quadro
     
  19. jfhslvds

    jfhslvds Notebook Enthusiast

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    Thank you all so far (especially Macpod - cheers for the links). I'm gonna be able to make a much much more informed choice of laptop because of your help. Thanks!

    Just one quick question. I take it that Geforce 8600M > Quadro FX 350M > Geforce 8400GS > Radeon 1150 Xpress is about right yeah?

    (Albeit, like you said before, the gfx is not as important as the speed of the CPU).
     
  20. John Ratsey

    John Ratsey Moderately inquisitive Super Moderator

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    The benchmark table at notebookcheck gives a good indication of the GPU pecking order. That table suggests that the FX 350M comes after the 8400M GS. However, the FX may have tweaks which improve the OpenGL performance (not reflected in that benchmark table). The Radeon 1150 is a lot further down the list. Either the Intel X3100 or the ATI 1250M are better integrated GPUs.

    John
     
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