which computer to get for a student pursuing math

Looking for a new computer (laptop) for our student who plans to major in math.

We have bought computers costing < $500 till now, planning to go for a higher quality one this time, open to all suggestions.

@ShamrockLotus have you checked the IT websites of the colleges he’s considering? Usually they have a list of suggested computers by major. If you wait until he chooses a school and purchase through them, it may come loaded with the necessary software and a 4 year warranty with loaners.

In addition to checking with the college for general recommendations, check with the math department at the college. If the student also has interest in statistics or computer science, check with those departments for recommendations as well.

There’s a section here specifically discussing college computers. It’s not very busy, but I think the recent discussions still stand.

To summarize them, any competent machine will suffice for schoolwork. Gaming and serious video rendering and the like are the only things pushing machines these days. Any serious computation-intensive work will have dedicated workstation-class machines available - no school will expect students to have that type of horsepower.

Any competent i5 or i7, 16GB RAM, 256-512 GB solid state drive will be sufficient. On-board graphics are fine. Size is personal preference - my D likes the compromise between screen real estate and portability of a 14” screen. I think over 15” would get wieldy to carry around and 13” is borderline,

I highly recommend springing for the 4 year on-site, next-day service contract - my D’s school recommends it. It’s a bit pricey, but when she dropped hers, Dell repaired it within 2 days. Her roommate was without a machine for 3 week through typical mail-in service. Away at college is one of the few situations where I recommend such a contract.

Buying from sons college saved us worries and $$$. It came loaded with programs, and had a warrantee.

I’d think a future math major would have a better idea of what he wants than any of us do!

I bought my Mac from Costco because if you have their credit card, you receive 4 years of warranty for free (2 years from them and 2 years from Citi IIRC) AND they usually run sales on Macs and other laptops----so it was cheaper than going through my school’s bookstore even with the education discount as I still would have had to pay for warranty separately. Although some STEM applications work best on Windows, even if you get a Mac, you can always use Bootcamp to install Windows, or use a virtual machine (which some schools provide.) However, as other posters have said, wait and see what your school recommends AND what your school’s able to repair (some schools that sell Macs will repair them, but for Windows it tends to be specific brands like Dell.)

Hope that helps!

My daughter majored in math. She had a mac throughout her college years. However, the intense programs she needed for statistics were only available on the computers in the college library. Not only would she probably not have the horsepower to run them, we couldn’t afford the licensing for the software that would be required.

I am a math minor. I saved up my money and matched my parents 1/2 and 1/2. I don’t game, I occasionally will stream video. I first went to Best Buy to try out all the different models just to get a feel for what I needed. I decided I wanted a touchscreen laptop so I could write equations, a backlit keyboard, lightweight, and good battery life. I perused various discount sites, but eventually just purchased an HP Spectre directly through their website on a summer sale. It ended up being ~$1100, which is a good chunk of money.

Things I’ve learned:

  • Touch screen is cool, but I don’t use it too much, writing equations in notebooks is still my preferred learning method
  • Having a good core/processor is now very important for speed: having a Zoom class open, academic portal, multiple documents, whatever else in background requires good hardware
  • Battery life is still important, less of a hassle, similar with lightweightedness
  • I’m glad I didn’t get a Mac because any programming or exported documents are in different file types than the normal Windows OS and can be a pain for people with Macs to convert

Summation: There are many good options, you must weigh what she will need to run on this computer or do on her own. Read lots of reviews. Try to do hands on testing if possible. Take advantage of Back-to-School type sales. Again, there are so many options, so don’t fret too much about one style or another.

@SuperfrogFan Which languages? I use R and Python and both save with the same extensions (.R, .py, .log etc.) as they normally would on a Windows laptop. There is no native notepad equivalent afaik, so VI becomes your friend lol.

@ShamrockLotus I agree with @SuperfrogFan about processing power, but caution about getting a processor that’s too much for your laptop to handle. I have the 2020 Macbook Air w/one of the i5 10th gen cores and it sounds like an airplane engine from time to time while on Zoom or even when I have multiple apps open. The Air’s amazing for light activities like browsing or listening to music, but they’re honestly not meant for much more: if you’ll be doing intensive tasks like video editing, get the Pro, and your son games regularly, GET AN ACTUAL WINDOWS GAMING LAPTOP. :smile:

I’ll also note that coming from a 17" Windows laptop, adjusting to the 13"
Mac screen was extremely difficult and would have been downright impossible for me to sustain without buying the many, many adapters necessary to connect a monitor (I shudder to think about having bought an 11" Air.) However, I also like using large device screens and have an iPhone +, so that might just be me. :lol: The screen is extremely beautiful, however---- Apple’s known for maximizing their devices’ screens to the fullest.

@PikachuRocks15 I have unfortunately been saddled with Java…

@SuperfrogFan I’m supposed to learn how to use BioTapestry which runs on Java so I’ll probably be in the same boat soon. :cry:

It’s possible that almost any laptop will work fine for Freshman year.

Many math papers are typeset with LaTeX, so a math student may end up using it. Fortunately, it is available for widely used computer operating systems: https://www.latex-project.org/get/