Student Computer Recommendations

If you want to take this guide with you when computer shopping, download the printer-friendly PDF version here.

Engineering students are recommended to have a personal computer that is powerful enough to support the demanding video and computational requirements necessary for coursework in their major.

  • Aerospace Science and Engineering
  • Computer type: Laptop or desktop
    Operating system: Windows or macOS
  • Biochemical Engineering
  • Computer type: Laptop recommended
    Operating system: Windows, macOS or Linux
  • Biological Systems Engineering
  • Computer type: Laptop recommended
    Operating system: Windows or macOS
    Other recommendations: USB 2 or greater
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Computer type: Laptop or desktop
    Operating system: Windows or macOS
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Computer type: Laptop recommended
    Operating system: Windows**
  • Civil Engineering
  • Computer type: Laptop mandatory*
    Operating system: Windows**
  • Computer Engineering
  • Computer type: Laptop mandatory*
    Operating system: Windows**
  • Computer Science and Engineering
  • Computer type: Laptop mandatory*
    Operating system: Windows, macOS or Linux
    Other recommendations: 16 GB of RAM is recommended for CS students wanting to virtualize Linux or other OS
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Computer type: Laptop mandatory*
    Operating system: Windows**
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Computer type: Laptop recommended
    Operating system: Windows or macOS
    Other recommendations: Compatibility with Arduino
  • Materials Science and Engineering
  • Computer type: Laptop recommended
    Operating system: Windows, macOS or Linux
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Computer type: Laptop or desktop
    Operating system: Windows or macOS

*Laptop mandatory = Some courses in this major require students bring a laptop to class or lab.
**Operating System advisory = Some engineering applications will not run on operating systems such as macOS or Linux. While some Apple Mac hardware can be configured to run both Windows and macOS, doing so may require more RAM and decrease the amount of available hard drive space.

Computer Recommendations

The College of Engineering does not require or recommend a particular brand of computer. However, a medium-to-high end computer backed by a manufacturer’s warranty will last you a number of years and run most everything you need.

Maintaining personal computers is the responsibility of the owner. While the College of Engineering IT Service Desk does not actively support personally-owned computers, they are always happy to provide limited support and guidance to students and parents.

Note: Chromebooks are inadequate for primary engineering use as they lack the ability to run specialized resource intensive engineering software such as MATLAB, SolidWorks, etc.

Recommended Engineering Computer Configurations

Windows PC
  • Operating system: Microsoft Windows 10
  • CPU: Intel Core i5 or higher, AMD Ryzen 5 or higher, with a 4 core / 8 thread processor minimum
  • RAM: 8 GB is acceptable. For laptops without user upgrade-able RAM, 16 GB is recommended at the time of purchase.
Apple Mac
  • Operating system: Apple macOS 10.14 (Mojave)or higher
  • CPU: Intel Core i5 or higher with a 4 core / 8 thread processor minimum
  • RAM: 16 GB is recommended as Mac user’s may need to virtualize Windows software. Intel based Macs are generally able to run Apple Bootcamp to install a privately purchased copy of Windows 10. This forgoes the need to run virtualization software and the need for additional RAM memory in some cases.
Hard Drive

We strongly recommend a Solid State Drive (SSD). The difference in performance between a traditional spinning platter hard drive and an SSD is stunning. Every time you load a program from the disk, an SSD will make a noticeable difference.

  • 256 GB minimum for a Solid State Drive. A larger drive is recommended if you expect to store a lot of data, music or videos. Do not go lower than 256GB for your drive storage. You will regret it.
  • 500 GB or 1TB if you choose a traditional spinning platter drive (5400 or 7200 RPM). These drives are slower, but cheaper to purchase. They are typically available in storage sizes of 1TB or more.
  • Laptop: Minimum display resolution of 1366x768 (HD). The display should be comfortable for you to read and view. The screen should be at least 12 inches diagonally.
  • Desktop: Minimum display resolution of 1440x900 (widescreen). We recommend at least a 19-inch monitor.
  • Discrete Graphics Card (Dedicated Graphics): Majors using design software (Comsol, Solidworks, etc.) should consider a discrete graphics card for Computer Aided Design (CAD). Unlike on-board video, discrete graphics card have dedicated video memory of 2GB, 4GB or greater. This dedicated independent source of video memory leaves the RAM of your computer system untouched. As a result, the computer will run engineering CAD programs faster. Common examples available for custom computer configurations are NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050, AMD Radeon HD 7970M, NVIDIA Quadro K500 and many others. To see the performance difference of common on-board video like the Intel UHD compared to a discrete graphics card, please view the Intel graphics benchmark chart.

WiFi or Network (Ethernet) Adapter for broadband internet access -- 100/1000Mbps

  • Laptop: Wi-Fi wireless: 802.11g/n
  • Desktop: RJ-45 / Ethernet port to accept a cable and Wi-Fi wireless 802.11g/n

If you have questions about broadband internet access or how fast a connection you may need at an off-campus residence, please visit the Household Broadband Guide.


A webcam is required for the online video conferencing and chat applications used at UC Davis including virtual advising, group learning and academic instruction.

  • Laptop: Integrated HD camera and microphone built into the screen.
  • Desktop: External HD camera with integrated microphone that connects using USB 2.0 or higher.

Warranty the computer for the duration of your planned student experience or life of the computer, whichever is greater. Telephone support is highly recommended. Even a simple keyboard repair on a laptop or screen repair on a desktop computer can be expensive. Eventually all computers need repair, so extended service or warranty options should be purchased (e.g. Apple Care). Many of the name brands such as ASUS, Apple, Dell, HP, Lenovo and Microsoft offer direct warranty coverage which is preferred over retailer warranties offered by the electronic store chains.

  • If your budget allows, consider a “Pro”, “Plus” or “Accident & Damage” protection plan for spills and accidental falls. Otherwise, the manufacturer is only covering repair of components that suffer a manufacturer defect.
  • “Onsite Repair” service may prevent the need to ship a computer to the manufacturer for repair. Shipping a broken device may take a week or more, leaving you without a computer during that time.
Backup and Online Storage

At a minimum, you should back up your important files to an external location, such as a USB device, external hard drive, server or online service. If you regularly back up large amounts of data, such as multimedia and music files, consider a backup drive with up to one-third more storage than your hard drive. Subscriptions to a cloud-based backup solutions are often sold in packages with anti-virus software.

Once new students have a valid UC Davis email address, they can take advantage of free cloud storage through Box, Microsoft OneDrive and Google Drive. For more information, read the article "What does UC Davis offer for cloud storage?".


Consider purchasing a portable lock kit to secure your computer to a chair, table, hotel furniture, dorm room or vehicle interior when you travel or work in public. Sadly, theft of expensive to replace student computers does occur. For example, many coffeeshops from San Francisco to the Nevada state border have experienced grab and go thefts of portable computers.


Anti-Virus: Students will also need anti-virus software. Please note that commercial anti-virus software pre-installed on new computers may be only time-limited trial versions and may not be long-term solutions. The U.S. federal government recommends that you avoid the brand Kaspersky. The college recommends you avoid “free” anti-virus products that do not provide technical support for virus removals and may sell your web activities to advertisers. Common Anti-Virus brands used by students and employees are Norton, McAfee, Sophos and Trend Micro.

Microsoft Office: The campus provides the Office 365 Suite of applications to active students. The software suite included software titles such as Outlook, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Save money, you do not need to purchase this software bundle with your computer.

Virtualization: Apple Mac users may need to install Windows 10 and get virtualization software to run engineering applications. Apple Mac computers should have at least 16GB of RAM to run virtualized operating systems properly with engineering software that also has robust RAM requirements. At the time of this email the college is able to provide one free license of the virtualization software VMWARE Fusion and one free license for Windows 10. Free availability of any software title is not guaranteed in future school years.