Digital design degree: desktop or laptop?

By Route44 · 17 replies
May 2, 2011
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  1. I am coming to my TechSpot family for some advice. I realize that this may not be the realm of experience for the majority of us due to the nature of the specific need but I decided to give it a shot.

    Long story short: My son will be entering community college this fall and will be pursuing an A.A. degree in Digital Design and then move on to a 4 year institution (he has been accepted into Drexel University in Philadelphia but my wife and I don't have $230 thousand!). The core courses he will be doing are Color & 2D Design, Graphic Design, Art with Computers, Web Graphics & Animation, and Web Page Design. I do know he must have access to Adobe Flash CS5 and there will be animation software involved but I have not been able to find out anything else -- I've tried. I doubt he'll be doing 3D Rendering during this time and even if he does the college's systems will have to do. So it looks like he will mostly be doing 2D Illustration/Animation.

    I am going back and forth of a) either building a good solid home system (his current one is a 5+ year old socket 939 with an Athlon 64 single core cpu and XP Pro) and getting him a mid-range laptop OR b) putting the money into a laptop with an i7 processor, 6-8 gigs of RAM, and a dedicated card. In my opinion Option A makes more sense because I will build in order to upgrade as needed but as my son has pointed out to me that in two years he will be moving on and dorm life isn't actually ideal for a PC system whereas a laptop would be. The problem with the latter is that no matter how powerful a current laptop is the ability to upgrade is much easier with a PC system. Also, laptops can get stolen much easier plus repairing a desktop is something I can do.

    It may sound like I have my mind up but I don't.

    Thoughts please and recommend me some hardware. I have no budget in mind at this point but I am thinking even a mid-range desktop would more than suffice.

  2. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 13,031   +2,558

    Well, for digital imaging you really should have an IPS monitor. That said, unless you're going to spring for a Macbook Pro, I don't definitely know what other lappies have them.

    Other than that, I was in Phila Community College a few years back, and one of the security guards was robbing high end photo imaging and computer equipment from the labs. Maybe your area, has a better class of individual.

    The school terminals left something to be desired also, can't speak to nowadays though.

    Personally, I wouldn't spend more for a laptop than I could afford to lose. But, I have the luxury of not even really needing the $300.00 Celeron laptop I have. That sort of nulls the validity of my opinion.

    Anyway, if you decide to go for a home machine, look at the Intel Core i5-2500 as a basis. PC World Magazine tested a couple of souped up desktops with that CPU. They turned in "World Bench" scores of over 200!

    (Granted you have to have been following "World Bench" test scores for a while to have the s*** impressed out of you like I did.
  3. Archean

    Archean TechSpot Paladin Posts: 5,690   +96

    Hello Route (I hope all is well in your part of the woods).

    I don't know if my opinion will be applicable in your situation or not; anyway, I finished Univ. little over couple of years ago, and I think notebook was much more useful for me than the desktop PC. Having said that, as I am considering to replace my DV5, this HP DV6T (again unfortunately) is what I am considering for the time being:

    -Win 7 Home Premium 64-bit
    -2nd generation Intel(R) Quad Core(TM) i7-2630QM
    -1GB Radeon(TM) HD 6770M GDDR5 Graphics
    - 4GB DDR3 (Free Upgrade to 6GB offered in some countries)
    -640GB 7200RPM Hard Drive
    -No Additional Office Software
    -FREE Upgrade to Norton Internet Security(TM) 2011 (I don't care)
    -High Capacity 6-Cell Li-Ion Battery - Up to 5.75 hours
    -15.6" diagonal High Definition HP BrightView LED
    -Blu-ray player &/or SuperMulti DVD burner
    -HP TrueVision HD Webcam w/ Integrated Digital Microphone and HP SimplePass Fingerprint
    -Intel 802.11b/g/n WLAN and Bluetooth(R)
    -Standard Keyboard

    IMO this is very reasonably specd. notebook (for most of the tasks) and it costs about $1050 here. A similarly specd. Inspiron R model which have nVidia 525M graphcis (without the OS) costs about $920. I will most likely be getting one of these.
  4. Route44

    Route44 TechSpot Ambassador Topic Starter Posts: 11,984   +72

    @ the captain - thanks for the feedback. Wow, some experience there at Phila Community College.

    I looked up the i5 2500. Question: What is the difference between the 2500 and 2500K?

    @ Archean - all is well in this neck of the woods. :) Anyway, I have looked at that laptop and will keep it in mind. Thanks.
  5. Archean

    Archean TechSpot Paladin Posts: 5,690   +96

    As far as I remember 2500K have unlocked multiplier; so you can overclock it crazily .......... and I think it has better onchip IGP.
  6. Route44

    Route44 TechSpot Ambassador Topic Starter Posts: 11,984   +72

    I had a feeling that was what the K meant but I didn't know about the onchip IGP.
  7. SNGX1275

    SNGX1275 TS Forces Special Posts: 10,742   +422

    You may have missed our slightly less than friendly thread on that:

    I'm going to sort of go against what I think a lot of others will suggest. And suggest perhaps building a slightly lower end desktop, and also having a low end laptop. You can get some pretty good specs on laptops at less than $500 prices. I think that a university like Drexel isn't going to have super slow workstations for 3D if they are trying to give degrees that involve that type of work. So I almost contradict myself, you could get him a cheap laptop that can do the work (albeit slower) when he needs to be out of his room. And a desktop that is more reliable/repairable/upgradeable as needed. If Drexel has good 3D workstations you likely aren't going to have the budget to outbuild them, so having a desktop for your son that is better than his laptop is going to suffice - and you gain the benefits of both. I don't think you need to spend all the money you have trying to outbuild an entity that might have grant funding to spooge on anything.

    /I've been in a university environment for a long time
    //5 years undergrad
    ///1 additional year for a masters
    ////4 more years working for a non academic department of a university
    ////3 additional years of graduate study
  8. Route44

    Route44 TechSpot Ambassador Topic Starter Posts: 11,984   +72

    Thanks for input SNGX; I respect your experience. :) I am out of my element when it comes to this field of study. The thing I am not clear on is just what he is going to need. I am the kind of person that puts tons of time into research before purchasing and a few things I have been able to glean is that screen resolution is important and certainly the graphics.

    The problem with the majority of laptops is their video chipsets. Most are weak/lacking especially the Intel offerings. It seems that a dedicated graphics card may be the way to go but then it rises the price of a laptop considerably.

    If you ever get the chance to talk to one of your collegues about this area it would be much, much aprreciated. Thanks again.
  9. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 13,031   +2,558

    Are you sure about this? The Clarksdale graphics (desktop) were a huge leap forward from GMA-4500, and the Sandy Bridge IGPs are supposed to be even better.

    If the issue is 2D graphics, integrated will probably work.

    @SNGX...I thought the first post said, "we didn't have $230K for Drexel. If this is so, whatever Drexel might have for workstations is moot, (at least for the next 2 years. Sic:

    And now to the "K" suffix. Indeed, as Archean has pointed out, both the 2500K & 2600K unlocked multiplier CPUs carry a different graphics number, (Intel 2000 locked & 3000 in the unlocked multiplir CPUs).

    So, it would seem Leeky turned out to be right-ly.....uncertain, albeit a bit by default.

    Bothy the graphics clocks are 850Mhz, for those of you that understand or care about such things.

    My low end Clarksdale i3-530 turns in WEI (Win 7) indexes of 4.8 Aero & 5.2 for 3D business and gaming. The new Sandys should be rather better.

    All that aside, I though for CAD you really needed a workstation VGA. Vector graphics vs raster graphics, or something like that.
  10. SNGX1275

    SNGX1275 TS Forces Special Posts: 10,742   +422

    Drexel is a 4+ year institution. I figured if Drexel was mentioned it was someplace desired to go, like after a 2 year A.A. degree. A private institution doesn't actually expect each applicant to pay the full tuition every year - often there are grants/fellowships/scholarships which offset most of the cost and get it "more" comparable with a public institution. The thing with private institutions is getting accepted - the money gets worked out later.
  11. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 13,031   +2,558

    And I thought the Community College programs were designed to allow the first 2 years of a baccalaureat program to be completed before entering the higher priced school. But what do I know?
  12. SNGX1275

    SNGX1275 TS Forces Special Posts: 10,742   +422

    Sure a lot of people go to CC before a 4 year institute.

    Are we arguing semantics now instead of what Route44 asked?

    Ok, lets argue semantics then. Lets pretend R44 can't afford to pay for Drexel right now. But he can afford to pay for somewhere else. Now the kid already got in to Drexel, so as long as the kid doesn't totally fail at CC he's going to still get in to Drexel after a couple years. Now by going to CC, he's basically earning money because he'll be able to get a scholarship/grant/fellowship that perhaps he wasn't able to straight out of HS.

    But what do I know? I've just been involved directly with a university system for the last 13 years.
  13. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 13,031   +2,558

    Actually, whether or not credit hours are accepted from a CC to a 4 year school is either a fact or it isn't. It's certainly not "semantics".

    Route44's first post stated that "he didn't have 230K, and his son was going to a CC" That's not semantic either. So now you've gone on about how to finance an education. By your earlier post, it appeared you hadn't read it, and moved on to student loan counselor.

    I actually was on topic with some information about the graphics involved with the new Intel CPUS. As I further recall, that was the topic, (building a PC, or buying a laptop), which you're no longer adhering to either.
  14. Route44

    Route44 TechSpot Ambassador Topic Starter Posts: 11,984   +72

    I love both you guys...

    Anyway, as for the CC it actually has a very good academic reputation. Both Farleigh Dickenson and Rutgers have working partnerships with this CC and they even have their own campus buildings on the grounds. Students have gone on to such 4 year institutes such as the University of Penn.

    @ captain - the whole onboard video chipsets for laptops is a quagmire; PC dedicated video cards are much easier deal with. The laptop designations are all over the place. I do know the the Nvidia and ATI chipsets are preferred over the Intel as I read the snooty and yet highly informative Laptop Review forums. If you have any further knowledge about the latest Intel 3000 released - or any others - with the 2nd Generation Sandy Bridge it would be appreciated.
  15. Arris

    Arris TS Evangelist Posts: 4,730   +379

    I'd say an i5 sandy bridge laptop should suffice. As others have said they usually have CAD specific video cards (expensive cards) but since you stated
    and also since only a part of the course is "2D design" I don't think i'd invest in pricey CAD/industry graphics solution. An i5 Sandy bridge laptop should be decent enough, maybe with a nice SSD for fast loading of larger graphic files would be of benefit.

    The CS 5.5 requirements aren't particularly high either.
    Web graphics(if just images/animated gifs etc.) and Web page design could probably be done on the 5 year old Athlon 64 without problem.

    Art with Computers could be pretty much anything using 3d or not. I recently started learning 3D Studio Max on my i7 2600k @ 4.6Ghz and the rendering times seem pretty quick compared to those of my friend that introduced me to 3D Studio Max so again an i5/i7 Sandy bridge should be decent enough in laptop or desktop format. The video cards won't matter too much, some software can take advantage of them for some processing but the load seems to still be mostly on the CPU.

    In the UK students can purchase "student" or "evaluation" versions of software offered by Microsoft and others. I guess this is the same in the US, but might be worth seeing about these versions of software from the collage as they will be considerably cheaper than buying the full software.

    The best thing would be to buy the machine after the start of his course. That way your son could ask the lecturers and tutors teaching the classes what they would recommend, most online retailers ship hardware out fairly quickly so it's not like there would be much time spent without a machine. Sounds better to me than buying something inappropriate and perhaps unnecessarily expensive.

    I can happily download an evaluation version of CS5 and try it out on my i7 2600k desktop and i5 450M laptop and post my impressions here if that's of any help ;)
    Not that I know anything about doing anything in CS5 but might be able to find some benchmarking tests to do in it, last time I tried learning any graphics design software was with Macromedia Fireworks MX :D

    Oh, you'll also want something with at least a 1650x1080 resolution, as doing anything on my laptops 1366 x 768 gets busy fast with property windows, toolboxes, plan, front, side views etc. or get him a lower res laptop and a higher res external monitor.
  16. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 13,031   +2,558

    "Academic" versions of Adobe software usually run @ less than 50% of retail in the US. To the best of my knowledge, they're full versions, not crippled in any way. You just need to fulfill certain requirements with respect to enrollment and necessity.
  17. Route44

    Route44 TechSpot Ambassador Topic Starter Posts: 11,984   +72

  18. secretassasin69

    secretassasin69 TS Rookie Posts: 61

    IDK about the US but in the UK there are student loans and bursaries e.g. my sister is doing her LLB degree for three years which will cost around £9,000. HEre it works out that she won't have to pay it back if until they earn £15,000 p.a.

    I'm sure that there must be something like that in the US.

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