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UBC Mathematics: MathNet FAQ [Workstation Choice]

UBC Mathematics: MathNet FAQ [Workstation Choice]

Question: I would like to purchase a PC/workstation. What/where do you recommend I buy?
Author: Joseph Tam, Thê´ Hà
Date: Aug 16, 2004

This a rather complex question that really can't be fully addressed by a FAQ, but here are some questions that you can ask yourself that can provide a hint of what kind of PC which would be suitable for you:

  1. What kind of computer (i.e. desktop vs. laptop vs. other) do you want? In general, the type of PC you want should reflect the uses you intend to use it for:
    1. Thin clients (X terminals)
      1. Good for those people that want nothing to do with devices. It just work or doesn't. No configuration and the hosts that it connects to are managed by somebody else (us!).
      2. Not good for those that want their own PCs, run their own software or have large resource requirements.
    2. Laptops
      1. Is weight and portability the most important criteria?
        1. Feather Light 11" - 13.3" (less than 3.2 pounds)
          1. advantages: lightest and most portable
          2. disadvantages: expensive, small screen, performance lags behind others, may not have internal CD/DVD drive.
        2. Medium size 14" - 15" (4.5 to 7.0 pounds)
          1. compromise between Feather Light and Large.
        3. Large 16"-17"(more than 7 pounds)
          1. largest screen, best performance, usually has built-in CD/DVD reader, most economical with same features.
          2. disadvantage: bulky.
      2. Tablet-Laptop Hybrids
        1. Feather Light 11" - 13.3" (less than 3.2 pounds)
          1. advantages: lightest and most portable with detachable tablet
          2. disadvantages: expensive, small screen, performance lags behind others, No internal CD/DVD drive. Can't install other OS. Windows8 Pro only.
        2. Desktops (what most people want).
          1. Intel based?
          2. AMD based: more power, cost less but needs more cooling -> more noise.

    3. What kind of applications do you run and what OS are you comfortable using?
      1. Usually breaks into 2 camps: Unix (Linux, MacOSX, etc.) vs. Windows. You should choose the OS which best represent the software you intend to use. Notes: new PCs with "Secure Boot" for Windows will make it hard to install Linux. Check with us first before you buy.
      2. Software application may determine choice of features (number crunching -> faster CPU, memory intensive software -> more CPU, etc).

    4. Monitors
      1. Size: major determinant of price (22" LCD or 27 Back-lit LED IPS panel LCD recommended).
      2. Back-lit LED with IPS panel LCD: saves space, aesthetically pleasing, but more expensive.

    5. Peripherals
      1. Do you need backup or portable data storage?
      2. The electrical system here in the Math building is somewhat flaky, so you may want to invest in an uninterruptable power supply (UPS).
      3. Need a printer?
        1. For occasional printing, use the printers provided by department.
        2. For special printing needs (colour) or for large amount of printing, it's better to get your own laser printer.

    6. Noise: do not underestimate the distraction caused by fan noise of a PC. This may be exacerbated by the varying pitch of a variable speed CPU-cooler. If you are sensitive to it, consider a thin client solution or remotely locating the PC, or ask for special consideration from the vendor.

    Specific details of what (and where) we recommend changes frequently because technology and the market place change frequently. To get the most up to date recommendations on pricing and vendors, feel free to contact the IT staff.