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

Computer Recommendations

Laptop Requirement

Iowa State University students are required to own or obtain a laptop computer appropriate to your discipline and program of study. 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 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. If you choose to use a Mac OSX computer, you’ll need to run Windows 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.

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

  • Abaqus
  • Ansys
  • Autodesk
  • Bentley
  • ChemDraw
  • EduPack
  • EES
  • IHT
  • JetBrains
  • JMP
  • LabVIEW
  • Mastercam
  • Mathematica
  • MathType
  • Microsoft Office
  • Origin
  • PTC Creo & MathCAD
  • SAS
  • Solidworks
  • Tecplot
  • And More!

Software can also be found at:

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) General

What is the most important feature I should look for when buying a 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.

Are students required to have a laptop in the College of Engineering?

Iowa State University students are required to own or obtain a laptop computer appropriate to your discipline and program of study. Use of computers is integral to the learning process at the university and students need to acquire these skills to compete professionally and to co-exist socially.

How important is it to have a dedicated (discrete) graphics card as opposed to an integrated one?

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.

Does the brand of computer matter? Why are you recommending Dell over other brands?

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.

If my current laptop is 3-4 years old, should I get a new one?

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.

Do you offer any antivirus software?

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.

Where can I get my laptop serviced?

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.

Can I borrow a laptop instead of purchasing one?

Short answer: No. Laptops and other media equipment are available for currently enrolled students to check-out for no charge, but these are only short term loans. See the equipment check-out page for further details and list of available equipment.

What if I can’t afford to buy my own laptop computer?

Students in need of financial aid to purchase a laptop are encouraged to speak with the Office of Student Financial Aid to review their options for purchasing a laptop. Students can complete a Cost of Attendance Adjustment form for review of the cost of a computer. Only one adjustment can be done while you are attending the university.  Please make sure to include the documentation on the cost of the computer.  If approved, the adjustment would be for additional loan borrowing.

Can I bring my tablet (iPad, Android, etc)?

Though not a replacement for a personal computer, most students bring their smartphones and/or tablets in addition to a laptop.

Are there education discounts?

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

Are all software titles compatible with macOS?

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.

Are there any significant titles that are not compatible with macOS?

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.

Can I use a Mac in the College of Engineering?

It is possible, though we don’t recommend it. We do have some 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.

I already have a Mac. Should I get a PC?

Though we don’t recommend Macs in the CoE, in this unique scenario it really is a personal preference. Purchasing new computers can be expensive! Macs require extra work to utilize Windows-only software titles such as SOLIDWORKS. If you are able to do the prep work (like installing Boot Camp or Parallels) you can be successful using a Mac.