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Audience:  Undergraduate Students

Choosing a laptop is an important investment for college, the Student Computing Consultants have identified the following guidelines to assist you making purchase decisions.

Please note that this guideline is provided for informational purposes.  Any purchases are not endorsed by Rice University or the Office of Information Technology (OIT).

Check with your advisor! Each major has different computing needs.

Keep in mind, these are only suggestions and are in no way fail-proof computers. Please use this only as a resource to help you make your best decision.

When considering a new laptop, first you should decide what you want to do with your laptop and how much money you can spend. Then you should choose the maximum quality from the following criteria which fits into your budget, starting with processor speed, then RAM and HDD or SSD. You can usually update your RAM and HDD/SSD after purchasing the laptop, but you cannot upgrade your processor as easily. Some manufacturers are starting to make it more difficult for computer owners to upgrade even RAM or their hard drives, of note Apple with their Retina MacBook Pros.

Minimum Criteria 

SpecificationMinimum Recommended ValueExplanation
Processor Speed1.6 GHz or higherA higher processor speed will allow your computer to do more at once and run faster
RAM (also called Memory)At least 8 GB recommended.More RAM will also allow you to run more applications concurrently without seeing a slowdown.

HDD (Hard Disk Drive)

SSD (Solid State Drive)

128 GB HDD or more


HDD's are slower but are larger and less expensive than SSD. This large amount of space is useful, because file sizes can grow to be very large and some particularly large filetypes can quickly fill your hard drive space.

However, SSD's are much, much faster than traditional hard drives. Unless you have large numbers of enormous files on your computer (like movies, large pictures, lossless/high quality audio files, CAD files, etc.) then having an SSD will make your computer feel much faster than a traditional hard drive. You can also augment a relatively small SSD with an external hard drive, allowing you to store large files on the external drive if you do not use them frequently, or read/write from them often.

Operating System

Windows: Windows 10

Mac: OS X El Capitan

Windows: All new computers should come with Windows 10. This is the newest operating system from Microsoft, and there is little reason to recommend anything else.

Mac: Similar to the Windows side, El Capitan (OS X 10.11) is the newest operating system from Apple, and has no major bugs or issues. There is little reason to run anything other than the newest version of OS X at this time.

Graphics Card

Integrated Graphics

Dedicated Graphics

Graphics cards come either integrated with your processor or distinctly attached to your motherboard. Integrated graphics are slower, but cost less. Getting a dedicated graphics card will improve your gaming experience, but unless you're a serious gamer that wants to be able to run all games on high settings, integrated graphics will likely be sufficient. Dedicated graphics cards are also frequently included in workstation computers, because they can improve the speed of rendering or modeling applications.

Networking802.11 ac

802.11 is a wireless protocol that allow your computer to connect to WiFi networks, and comes in a few different varieties. These "varieties" are denoted by letters, in increasing order of speed (and price) they are:

worst b < g < n < ac best


USB 2.0 or 3.0

Headphones, Microphone, Webcam

VGA/HDMI/Mini Displayport

USB 2.0 connections are slower than USB 3.0.

The other connectors are pretty standard nowadays

VGA / HDMI / Displayport is for projecting to external monitors or projectors. Only one of these types of connections is necessary, you can typically convert between them if necessary.


Here are a few sites that we use to help us choose laptops ourselves. These websites are generally well-regarded, have a deeper understanding of the current laptop market than we do here, and have the resources to devote to keeping their recommended lists up to date.