Updated on 6/30/2020
Buying a computer with the following specifications will protect you from obsolescence for three to five years. If your needs do not dramatically increase, you may be able to keep using your computer for even longer.
Below are the suggested minimum specifications for new computer purchases. This does not apply to users who primarily work with creative media (video editing, photo, music).
- Laptop or Desktop — Sarah Lawrence College recommends a laptop. Though a desktop will be cheaper and more powerful, a laptop’s portability will come in handy on campus.
- Processor — Almost any recent processor will be sufficient, though we do not recommend AMD processors. It is generally best to purchase Intel's i5, i7 or i9 processor 8th Gen or greater.
- Memory (RAM) — 16 GB for Mac's and 16 GB for Windows.
- Hard drive — At least 500 GB is recommended; 500 or greater if you intend to create digital art or film.
**We strongly recommend the purchase of Solid State Drives (SSDs) for all computers. Not only do they last longer, but they save on battery power and perform many times faster than a conventional hard drive.**
- Display size — 13 inches or greater on a laptop; 24 inches or greater for a desktop.
- Wireless internet access — A wireless card is a necessity for both laptops and desktops. Ethernet is not supported in student dorms.
- Disc burning — Many modern computers no longer include a disc drive for CD media. If you absolutely require this, you should either ensure the computer you purchase includes this feature, or examine your options for an external drive (usually inexpensive and portable).
- Warranty — A three or four year warranty is recommended, especially if you have a laptop.
- Removable Media — A 16GB or larger USB flash drive is recommended for quick file transfers, and you can use it for backing up important documents as well.
After you buy:
- Laptop or Desktop?
A laptop’s portability allows you to take it to class, the library, with you on plane flights, and home over breaks without having to ship it through the postal service. A desktop will give you more “bang for your buck.”
- Mac or PC?
Today Macs and PCs are both capable of performing the same tasks in roughly the same amount of time. No matter what platform and what computer you choose, it will be perfectly sufficient for word processing, reading email and browsing the Web. However, Macs and PCs are still very different in their “feel,” price, and software libraries. See below "Should I purchase a Mac or PC?" for a more in-depth discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Modern processors–such as the iCore 5 or 7 6th Gen or greater –are all extremely fast and powerful. However, some manufacturers still sell computers with Celeron processors which are very slow in a misguided attempt to cut costs. Avoid these computers, no matter how cheap they are.
- Memory (RAM)
More RAM allows you to run more programs at once and still have your computer feel responsive. Less RAM will limit your ability to multitask and make your computer feel slower–in fact, not enough RAM is the most common bottleneck a computer can experience. RAM is so cheap these days that even 8 GB is fairly inexpensive. Consider more (16 GB+), especially for extreme multitaskers, video editors, or heavy Photoshop users.
- Hard drive
A larger hard drive will let you store more data (pictures, music, movies, conference papers, etc.) on your computer. Because of the relative difficulty and expense involved in removing and replacing a hard drive, we recommend that you buy a computer with a hard drive you can “grow into” to avoid space cramps later. Again, we strongly recommend the purchase of solid state drives (SSDs).
- Display size
On a laptop, a larger display will add considerably to the weight of your computer, limiting your ability to easily transport it. It will also probably raise the price, too. On the other hand, it will give you more room to work and make multitasking easier. On a desktop, bigger is always better, since the computer isn’t going anywhere. Though 24 inch displays are common, a 23 or 24 inch display is likely to be a better idea, and prices are always coming down. We recommend a widescreen monitor (16:9 rather than 4:3).
- Wireless internet access
Most of today's laptops come standard with a wireless card, but for most desktops you will need to purchase one. Sarah Lawrence College does not support wired Ethernet in student dorm rooms.
- Word processing/productivity
Microsoft Office has become the de facto standard. If you need many of the advanced features of Office but would like to avoid the extra expense, you might consider OpenOffice for both Mac and PC, which is free, does most of what Office can do, and reads and writes Office file formats (.doc, .ppt, .xls) natively. For students, a great option is using the Google Docs feature of your Gryphon Mail account; this includes unlimited document storage and document backup every 10 seconds during composition. iWork is not installed in any Labs on Campus.
A good warranty is essential for any computer, especially laptops, which typically see more wear and tear than desktops. A warranty will protect you from having to pay expensive repair costs should anything go wrong with your computer during coverage, and will have paid for itself should even one repair be required.
Anti-virus and anti-spyware software is very important for any Windows computer. Read our recommendations for antivirus software here.