Purchasing Guide - Computers

Below are some general guidelines and recommendations to help you navigate through the complex decision of buying a computer. If you have any questions regarding the purchase of a computer, please consult one of our technology staff members if you are a faculty or staff member, or a DMC fellow if you are a student. Columbia University School of the Arts technology staff members are happy to discuss your needs and provide guidance about technology, but be advised that there are no warranties, express or implied, for guidance provided, and users are solely responsible for their own purchases.
 
Columbia University School of the Arts does not make specific recommendations about manufacturers or models, for several reasons: 
  • Product lines, particularly from manufacturers of Windows computers, change so frequently that any recommendation we make is likely to become obsolete within weeks or months. 
  • Users are not advised to purchase equipment sight unseen. We believe that it's very important that users get a computer that suits their needs. For instance, the feel of the keyboard is a critical component for a writer, and the quality of the display may be critical for a digital video editor or a photographer. The best way to get a feel for a computer is to visit the Apple Store or Tekserve for Macintosh computers, or a "big box store" like BestBuy, Target, or Costco for Windows computers, and try some of them out. There is no substitute for hands-on experience.
We recommend the following minimum hardware and software requirements for a basic system for writing, email, and browsing the web:
 
Apple Macintosh System Recommendations (Updated February, 2014)
  • Operating System: Mac OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion), Mac OS X 10.9 (Mavericks)
  • Processor: Intel i3, i5, i7, Xeon or equivalent
  • RAM: 8gb recommended
  • Hard Disk: 250gb minimum, 1tb recommended
    • NOTE: Users should consider ordering a configuration with Flash Storage or a solid state (SSD) drive instead of a traditional drive - the performance increases are considerable. Costs vary and can be considerably higher than a traditional hard drive. See this link for more information on SSDs, and this link for information about Flash Storage.
  • Modem, Ethernet Port/Card, Wireless Connectivity ("wifi" 802.11g or 802.11n)
    • NOTE: Be advised that most Apple laptop computers ship with wifi capability, but  many no longer ship with a built-in Ethernet port for wired network connections. A USB Ethernet or Thunderbolt Ethernet cable will provide this capability, but you will need to factor it into your budget. Apple has not shipped built-in, dial-up modems for any computer for many years. If you need dial-up modem capabilities, check here.
  • AppleCare Extended Warranty
    • We strongly recommend the purchase of an AppleCare extended Warranty for any computing device at the time of purchase. The AppleCare Extended Warranty extends the standard 1-year warranty to 3 years. It does not cover “accidental” such as liquid damage, or dropping the computer from a tabletop. It does cover failure of any hardware component. Users should be aware that Apple has liquid and shock sensors installed in most laptops, and they will know if you have spilled liquid or that the computer was dropped just by opening the case. More details on AppleCare are available here: http://www.apple.com/support/products/mac.html
  • Optical Drives not available on most Apple Computers
    • Users should be advised that most Apple desktop and laptop computers no longer ship with an optical drive to read/write CDs and DVDs. Apple's decision to remove the built-in optical drive from most of its systems is explored in the following links here and here. You may want to consider adding an external CD/DVD drive to your budget, depending on your needs. Virtually any CD/DVD drive with a USB connection will work on a Mac, but it’s a good idea to check with the manufacturer to ensure compatibility.
Windows System Recommendations
  • Operating System: Windows 7, Windows 8
    • NOTES: University IT groups, including SoA IT, do not support Microsoft Vista Vista, and existing Vista users should consider upgrading to Windows 7 or Windows 8. Microsoft support for Windows XP ends in April, 2014.
  • Processor: Xeon, Core i3, Core i5, Core i7 or equivalent
  • RAM: 4gb minimum, 8gb recommended
  • Hard Disk: 250gb minimum, 1tb recommended
    • NOTE: Users should consider ordering a configuration with Flash Storage or a solid state (SSD) drive instead of a traditional drive - the performance increases are considerable. Costs vary and can be considerably higher than a traditional hard drive. See this link for more information on SSDs, and this link for information about Flash Storage.
  • Modem, Ethernet Port/Card, Wireless Connectivity (802.11g or 802.11n)
  • Optical Drive: DVD-RW Drive
  • Extended warranty
Gamers and users who will be working with digital video, multimedia, web development or graphics applications should consider: 
  • Increasing the amount of RAM installed in the computer - the more the better.
  • Choose a larger, faster hard drive if the option is available. Many laptops ship with 5400rpm drives, and 7200rpm drives should give better performance. Users should consider ordering a configuration with Flash Storage or a solid state (SSD) drive instead of a traditional drive - the performance increases are considerable.
  • Choose a more powerful graphics processing unit (GPU) - aka faster video card with more VRAM.
Users are encouraged to choose the Operating System that they are most comfortable with, but they should consider the following before making a purchase:
  • All currently available Apple Macintosh models use Intel processors. A benefit of the Intel chips is that Macs are capable of running Windows XP/Vista/Windows 7, Linux and other Unix flavors via virtualization software such as Boot Camp, Parallels, VMWare, etc. The reverse is not true, however: Apple does not authorize the Mac OS to run on hardware from non-Apple vendors such as Sun, Dell or HP. Users who wish to run Microsoft Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7, or Linux/Unix on a Mac may incur additional costs to purchase licensed copies of the operating system and/or virtualization software from Microsoft, Parallels, VMWare, etc.
  • Apple Macintosh computers are strongly recommended for anyone interested in maintaining compatibility with the School of the Arts Digital Media Center (DMC) facilities and labs, particularly those working with digital video or graphics and imaging.
Users who'd like to read reviews or user recommendations might be interested in the following links:
 
Special Note for Faculty Using FRAP, Startup or Computer Replacement Program Funds
If you are a School of the Arts faculty member and would like to use FRAP, Startup or Computer Replacement Program funds to purchase a computer, please click here to contact the School of the Arts Business Office via email, and they will provide on assistance on the process.

Tax-exempt orders
If you are purchasing a computer using personal funds, you are subject to all applicable taxes. Personal computer purchases are not covered by the University’s tax exemption. Computers purchased by the School or the Univeristy are tax-exempt.

CUIT links for computer discounts and guidance

Discounts: http://cuit.columbia.edu/computer-discounts

Guidance: http://cuit.columbia.edu/computer-sales/personal-computer-pre-purchase-considerations


COLUMBIA apple store

Columbia has a custom Apple Store available below.

Click here to begin your purchase

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