New to Engineering

Joining the College of Engineering? We have collected several resources onto this page to help you get off to a successful start!

Computer Recommendations

Students at Iowa State University are required to own or obtain a laptop computer or other device appropriate to their discipline.

This section provides recommendations to help identify a suitable computer in the market or to compare your computer if you already own one.

For returning students: If you already have a computer that has served you well in the past, it will continue to do so. If you find your laptop can’t handle a particular Engineering application, we have remote options available to shift the processing power from your computer to ISU ones.

This first table identifies the specifications for key elements in a student-owned computer in three categories.  Note that some of the Engineering software is only available on Windows, which will require a Mac OSX system to run Windows 10 in Boot Camp or a Parallels VM or utilize Remote Computing. This should be taken into consideration when choosing a suitable computer to purchase.

Typical Use Web browsing, Microsoft Office-type applications, connecting to a remote computer Running engineering applications for software programming, scripting, 2D modeling, and development IDEs Running engineering applications for 3D modeling and Virtual Reality.
ProcessorIntel Core i5Intel Core i7Intel Core i9
Memory8 GB16 GB32 GB
Storage256 GB512 GB1 TB
Video CardIntegrated1-2 GB nVidia GeForce or AMD Radeon2+ GB nVidia GeForce/Quadro or AMD Radeon/FirePro
Resolution1366×7681920×1080 (Full HD)3840×2160 (4K)

ISU has partnered with Dell and Apple to help students purchase and support their personal computers. Students can buy the computer directly from the company or through TechCyte at the ISU Bookstore. ISU Computer Repair, located in TechCyte, is a warranty repair center for both Dell and Apple. They also provide service for other brands of computers for a fee.

This second table lists a few recommended models for Engineering students which are available through TechCyte for those that wish to purchase directly from the book store. You are not required to purchase from TechCyte. The prices shown for these models are typically competitive as they include extended warranty, plus there is no sales tax added when purchasing through the ISU Bookstore.

DELL Inspiron 15″ 2-in-1 (7506)DELL XPS 15″ (9510)DELL Precision 5560
Processor11th Gen Intel Core i711th Gen Intel Core i711th Gen Intel Core i7
Memory16 GB16 GB32 GB
Storage512 GB SSD512 GB SSD512 GB SSD
Video CardIntegrated4GB NVIDIA RTX 3050 Ti4GB NVIDIA T1200
Resolution1920 x 1080 FHD1920 x 1200 FHD+1920 x 1200 FHD+
Warranty4 Year + Accidental Damage4 Year + Accidental Damage4 Year + Accidental Damage

Please keep in mind these recommendations are just that, recommendations. If you purchase a laptop with other specifications, or from another manufacturer, it can still work! If you find your laptop can’t handle a particular Engineering application, we have remote options available to shift processing power from your computer to ISU ones.

If you have any questions about specific items listed here, please don’t hesitate to Contact Us! We’d be happy to answer any of your questions.

Available Software

We provide many software titles for you to install on your personal computer at no cost. Once semester starts, you can find all of this content on your Okta Dashboard. You will see a new tile called Engineering Downloads.

Please note that this will not show up until the first day of class for a semester. We do not receive final class lists until the start of each semester so cannot grant access until we know who all is taking an Engineering class.

Software Titles

Microsoft Office
PTC Creo & MathCAD

Software can also be found at:

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) General

Yes. Beginning Fall 2020, all students at ISU are required to have a personal laptop.

Of all the components, an SSD (solid state drive) provides the biggest benefit compared to all other components. You should also consider a 3-year (minimum) warranty with accidental damage (if available). The extra expense of an extended warranty pays for itself after the first incident.

By and large either one will work just fine. Integrated graphics have come a long way in the past few years and are starting to approach the performance of previously dedicated graphics cards. If you are doing very heavy 3D work you would want the extra performance of a dedicated graphics card. Majors that have the highest potential to necessitate a dedicated graphics card would be Aerospace Engineering (AERE), Mechanical Engineering (ME), Civil Construction Environmental Engineering (CCEE), Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering (ABE), and Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering (IMSE). Most of that would not happen until Junior or Senior year classes though and we have multiple computer labs with high-end graphics cards if your laptop cannot handle the advanced work.

We recommend Dell because we have good experiences with them and have Dell and Apple-certified support on campus. If you prefer another vendor that is fine! The components are all the same among all the vendors, the differentiation is around physical form factor and available support. If you choose something other than Dell or Apple you will have to work directly with that vendor for hardware support or locate off-campus services for any warranty issues.

In general, laptops have an optimal life span of 3-4 years. If you currently have a laptop that is in that range you can still use it, but it probably won’t last you for your entire academic career in the College of Engineering. Engineering software generally keeps up with the most recent technological capabilities so laptops from 3-4 years ago often don’t have what the latest version of software wants.

We do not offer any antivirus software. Microsoft includes built-in antivirus software in Windows 10 and Apple includes file quarantine and malware checking in macOS. If you want to purchase additional antivirus software for extra precaution you can.

Computer Service, located in TechCyte, is able to help with a variety of hardware problems. There is no charge for in-warranty support on Apple and Dell computers, but other computers may require a fee depending upon the level of warranty and problem being fixed. Computer Service can help you determine whether or not there would be a fee for service.

Laptops and other media equipment are available for currently enrolled students to check-out for no charge. See the equipment check-out page for further details and list of available equipment.

Iowa State University has a large wireless network and most students bring their smartphones and/or tablets. 

ISU faculty, staff, and students have access to education discounts on Dell and Apple computers purchased via Tech Cyte.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) Apple/Mac Specific

It is possible, though we don’t recommend it. We do have students who use Apple Macs for their entire college career without issue. That being said, there are a number of major engineering software titles not available for Mac.

While many of our titles do work on both Mac and Windows, some only work on Windows. For those situations we offer multiple options to access the software.

  1. Multiple computer labs across the college you have access to, some 24/7.
  2. Access our remote Windows sessions through VMware View.
  3. Install Apple Boot Camp and install Windows 10 on a portion of your Mac hard drive.
  4. Install VMware Fusion and create a virtual machine running Windows 10.

SOLIDWORKS is our most common title that is not compatible with macOS. You will have to explore one of the options above if you wish to utilize SOLIDWORKS on your Mac.

It really is a personal preference. Purchasing new computers can be expensive! Both platforms are very good and you could be happy with either one. Macs require more work to utilize Windows-only software titles, but if you are able to do the prep work, you can be successful using a Mac.