Computer Recommendations for New Students (NEW)

Thinking about bringing your own computer to Mines? Here are some factors to consider.

Q. Is my high school laptop too old to bring to Mines?

A. The quick answer is that virtually any computer -- desktop or laptop, Mac or PC -- purchased in the past couple of years will be sufficiently powerful for general use (email, web browsing, note taking, word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and social media) at Mines.

A new, high-end (and expensive) computer can be useful for running complex simulations and calculations with specialized software. However, the school has many well-stocked computer labs available to students, sometimes 24 hours a day. In addition, many academic departments make their own extensive computer labs and lounges available to their students. There are even high-performance-computing ("supercomputer") resources available to students. It is certainly possible to earn a degree at Mines without purchasing a computer at all.

But if you wish to run resource-intensive technical software (some of which may be provided free by the school) on your own computer, you'll want something pretty powerful. Currently that means an i5 or i7 processor or equivalent, at least 8 GB RAM, and a large (preferably SSD) hard drive. Some of this software runs only on Windows, so ask some questions first. Ideally, you should talk to students and faculty in your new academic department before buying. Get their advice. Many will suggest a Windows computer, others will suggest a Mac, and a few are likely to prefer Linux.

Q. What operating system do you recommend?

A. CCIT supports recent versions of Windows, macOS (formerly OS X), and Ubuntu Linux. Which one you choose depends on personal preferences and the particular software you need to run. A Mac can, of course, run macOS plus, with some effort, Windows or Linux (Windows via dual boot using Apple's free Boot Camp software, and Windows or Linux as "virtual machines" using auxiliary "virtualization" software like VMWare, VirtualBox, or Parallels). In short, a PC can run Windows and Linux, but not macOS. So if you need to run macOS, buy a Mac. If you will only run Windows, buy a PC. Linux will run on either.

Q. What brand of computer should I buy?

A. CCIT will attempt to provide support no matter which computer you buy. That said, some brands are definitely more likely than others to break prematurely or offer substandard warranty support. The independent testing agency Consumer Reports releases a periodic computer buying guide for subscribers that could be helpful in making a decision. In general, Apple laptops and desktops typically rank high on these lists. Specific PC manufacturers rise and fall in the rankings over time, but Apple, Lenovo, Dell, and Hewlett-Packard have done relatively well over the years (if not every year). In addition, comprehensive reviews of specific computer models are often available at websites such as PC Magazine and CNet. Modest higher-education discounts are available for Apple and Dell products, among others.

Q. Should I buy a laptop or a desktop computer?

A. Laptops are generally more expensive than similarly powerful desktops, but are of course more portable. They're good for taking notes in class. They take up less space on a dorm room desk. They're quieter. On the other hand, they're more likely to break or disappear and their screens tend to be smaller than desktop monitors. Graphics-intensive applications (like computer-aided-design ... or games) tend to run noticeably slower on a laptop than on a desktop. The answer to this question is ultimately a matter of personal preference and budget. Most students seem to prefer laptops for their versatility and convenience.

Q. Should I buy an extended warranty for my new computer?

A. This is a controversial area. Generally, Consumer Reports says no -- on average, extended warranties don't pay their way financially since most people never end up using them. However, you might consider an extended parts-and-service warranty when buying a laptop, since in a school environment it is perhaps more prone to break and certainly more expensive to repair than a desktop computer. If having a broken computer will seriously affect your schoolwork, a comprehensive 2- to 5-year extended onsite parts-and-service warranty can be quite useful. (Note that most warranties don't cover accidental breakage. Read the fine print before signing up.) Again, this is a matter of personal preference and cost. Not all extended warranties are created equal, so do your homework on costs and benefits.

Q. If my computer breaks, will you fix it for me?

A. Generally, no. CCIT will attempt to help you with advice about fixing any brand of computer, but we do not service personally owned computer hardware.

Q. Will Mines give me any free software?

A. Well, it's not exactly free, since the school paid a licensing fee for it, but, yes, the school does provide some software without charge to students. For instance:

  • All computers on campus must make use of an antivirus program. The school provides downloads of Symantec Endpoint antivirus without charge to all Mines faculty, staff, and students for all their school or home Windows or Mac computers (even ones that are personally owned). Linux users should download and install the free, open-source ClamAV antivirus program, available as part of most Linux distributions.
  • Students currently enrolled in at least one class, as well as faculty members (though not staff), are eligible to download most Microsoft software except for MS Office at no charge as part of a Mines agreement with the Microsoft Imagine Premium program (formerly known as "Microsoft DreamSpark"). We are working to make MS Office free to students, faculty, and staff in the future (see more below).
  • Technical software available free to students includes:
  • Various other software may be available to students on a case-by-case basis. Much more software is installed in the various computer labs across campus.

Q. Is there any software I absolutely must have?

A. A full-featured office suite (including a word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation program) is quite useful. Microsoft Office is most often used on campus; any recent version is acceptable and will guarantee best compatibility with Microsoft file formats. Virtually all Mines computer labs will have MS Office installed. If you want minimal hassles and maximum compatibility, this is a safe choice.

[Summer 2016 UPDATE] Mines has a site license for Microsoft Office that will allow access to Microsoft Office. We are still working out the details. See the CCIT Microsoft web page for more information.

Other alternatives exist, may have different features, and may be free, but perhaps less compatible with MS Office file formats and add-ins:

  • For Mac users, Apple now provides Pages (word processor), Numbers (spreadsheet), and Keynote (presentations) for free on qualifying computers. If you bought a Mac after September 25, 2014 see if you are eligible to download these programs without charge. Or buy those programs at the Apple App Store.
  • Libre Office (a more advanced successor to OpenOffice) is a powerful open-source office suite available without charge for Windows, macOS, and Linux.
  • Many students use the web-based Google Docs (word processor), Sheets (spreadsheet), and Slides (presentations) programs -- especially when collaborating with other students online. They are free.

We support the use of free and open-source software such as the web browser Firefox and the email client Thunderbird -- both available to Windows, MacOS, and Linux users.

We also recommend the anti-malware programs Malwarebytes (Windows and Mac) and Spybot Search & Destroy (Windows only) -- available free to individuals for personal use. These typically spot malware that standard antivirus software misses.

Always be sure to apply all critical (usually defined as security-related) updates to your operating system and any software applications installed on your computer. Do so on a regular basis.

Q. What computer accessories should I also bring?

A. A few additional items will make life a lot easier for you:

  • If you are logged into a Windows lab computer and put your data on our servers -- this could be labled your Z: or Y: drive in Windows Explorer -- we will back it up. Some data on Linux lab computers is also backed up. (Here's the full story.) But backups are not always foolproof. If you delete a file, we can't always get it back if you wait too long to contact us. So it's just safer to assume that nothing is being backed up for you. Always back up your own data as well -- preferably with copies on multiple storage devices. A 32 GB USB flash drive or two will generally hold all your research, readings, and assignments for several semesters. If you deal with bigger files -- datasets, photos, video, music and so on -- a large external hard drive (1 TB or larger) is advantageous.
  • A power strip with surge protector -- available in the Mines Bookstore or any home-improvement shop -- gives peace of mind during late-summer lightning storms.
  • If you buy a laptop, a padded case of some kind is a good investment. Laptops tend to take a beating.
  • If you need a network ("Ethernet") cable, they are available at the Computer Commons front desk in the Center for Technology and Learning Media -- the "CTLM Building" -- in room 156A. (Wireless networks on campus will make this unnecessary for most laptop users.)

Q. Should I bring a printer?

A. All Mines academic departments allow access to printers on their networks for students in their classes. Black and white, color, and poster printing is available at nominal cost in the Computer Commons (CT 156). While a personal printer can certainly be very convenient, consider the cost of the printer, paper, ink or toner, and possible repairs necessary over time when making a decision. Laser printers cost more to start but are generally much cheaper per page to operate. If you are living in a dorm room, consider the space required to house a printer. And printers sometimes have a certain ... smell -- important if you are living in close quarters with one.

NOTE: Printing to wired personal printers on campus is permitted. Setting up or printing to a wireless personal printer is not allowed on campus. For detailed information about printing services on campus see the CCIT Printing and Ore-Print web pages. 

Q. How about a smartphone or tablet?

A. Recent smartphones (iPhone, Android, Windows Phone and the like) and tablets (particularly the iPad and its Android equivalents) are fine for email, web browsing, watching videos, or listening to music. But it's hard to take notes, much less write a term paper, with an on-screen keyboard. (A separate, physical Bluetooth keyboard can be helpful there.) Printing from these mobile devices is possible via the Web Print (see Ore-Print). Specialized technical software used at Mines won't run on these devices. Mobile devices are nice complements to full-fledged computers, but are not viable replacements for them in all cases. There is one excellent reason to have a phone -- any phone, not just a smartphone -- on campus, though: You will have access to Mines Emergency Alerts, an up-to-the-minute warning during on-campus emergencies. Sign up for your MEA alerts here:

Q. What kind of network access should I expect on campus?

A. Wireless networking is ubiquitous throughout most of the Mines campus. Most dorm rooms will have a wireless signal available and a number of wired network ports as well. When connecting to the Mines wireless network, please make sure to select the "CSMwireless," not "CSMguest," option. Note: Parents and other visitors may sign in via "CSMguest" for temporary wireless access while on campus.

Q. Actually, I love technology and I'm pretty good with it. Why don't you hire me?

A. We just might. CCIT student consultants hone their tech skills and get paid for it while helping others. Stop by the Technology Support Center (CT 156D in the Computer Commons) for an application.

Q. My question isn't answered above. What should I do?

A. How do I connect to the network? Is there something wrong with my MultiPass account? How do I print to a network printer? How do I "map" a network drive? New students often have a lot of questions.

A database of frequently asked computer questions -- known as FAQfinder -- may have the answers you're looking for. Or submit a support request to the online Mines Help Center (also known on campus as "the Helpdesk"). We'll do our best to answer your question promptly.

Q. Where can I go for some hands-on computing help?

A. If you'd prefer to talk with an expert in person, the CCIT Technology Support Center (TSC) offers tech support by student consultants 7 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday. A professional CCIT support engineer is also on duty there 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday. The TSC is located near the Computer Commons on the 1st floor of the CTLM building, 17th and Arapahoe Street (behind Einstein Bros. Bagels). Or call the Technology Support Center hotline, operated by student consultants, at 303.273.2345. For matters involving your Mines MultiPass account, please bring a government-issued photo ID to verify your identity.

A final note on security: CCIT reserves the right to test all computers connected to the campus and campus housing networks to ensure that security patches and appropriate antivirus software are up-to-date prior to allowing full access to the campus network. Please be good administrators of your system and update your software frequently.

More about Mines IT policies.

Last Updated 1 Feb 2017

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Last Updated: 03/28/2017 07:57:03