Computer Recommendations for New Students

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 Intel i7 or i9 processor or equivalent, at least 16 GB RAM (though an i5 and 8GB might suffice in many circumstances), and a good-sized (preferably SSD) hard drive — 256 GB or above. 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 PC, others will suggest a Mac, and a few are likely to prefer Linux.

Q. What operating system do you recommend?

A. ITS supports recent versions of Windows, macOS, 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. ITS 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, though manufacturers rise and fall in the rankings over time, Dell and Apple 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 from Apple, Dell, and other vendors. See “Purchasing Equipment for Personal Use” at the bottom of this page for more details.

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 (though some research suggests that taking notes by hand, rather than on a laptop, leads to superior retention). Laptops 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. ITS 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 and your Tech Fees paid to license it, but, yes, there is some software available to students without charge. For instance:

  • 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”).
  • Current students, faculty, and staff are eligible for Microsoft Office — online via Office365, and via download through the school’s Microsoft Office 365 ProPlus agreement. (Alternatives: Windows, macOS, and Linux users may also install the free and open-source LibreOffice suite. For Mac users, Apple provides Pages (word processor), Numbers (spreadsheet), and Keynote (presentations) at no cost on qualifying computers. Many students like the convenience of sharing Google documents and spreadsheets as well. That’s also a free service.)
  • 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 other software I might need?

A. An antivirus program is recommended. For Windows users, the built-in antivirus, Microsoft Defender, is probably sufficient. MacOS users should install one of the many free or paid antivirus products available for that operating system (Sophos is a good one that is also free for personal use). Though some suggest that Linux users don’t need an antivirus, we still recommend the free, open-source, and at least moderately effective ClamAV antivirus program, available as part of most Linux distributions, or a commercial third-party antivirus like Sophos, Comodo, or F-Prot (all of which are higher-rated).

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.

Most importantly, 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 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 64 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 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.

NOTES: 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 ITS Printing and OrePrint web pages. Students receive $8 worth of printing each semester — about 100 pages — via their Tech Fee.

Q. How about a smartphone or tablet?

A. Apple iOS or Android smartphones and tablets are fine for email, web browsing, watching videos, or listening to music. (Don’t forget to download The M, the official Mines mobile app for iOS and Android devices!) 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 feature of OrePrint. On the other hand, most 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 and up-to-the-minute warnings of campus emergencies (including the ever-popular snow day). 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.

Another Mines wireless network called “eduroam” is also available on campus and has some advantages: It is a fully encrypted network. And it allows you to connect to other eduroam networks at other schools and institutions throughout the country. However, it does require some initial configuration. For more information see the eduroam information page.

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

A. We just might. ITS student consultants hone their tech and customer-service skills in a friendly work environment and get paid for it. Here’s how to apply…

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.

The Mines Help Center Knowledge Base 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 Mines Service Center (MSC, formerly the 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 MSC 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 Mines Service Center hotline, operated by student consultants, at 303.384.2345. For matters involving your Mines MultiPass account, please bring a government-issued photo ID to verify your identity.

A final note on security: ITS 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