In this post we will explore the computer recommendations of the top two CS schools in the US.. This should give you a very good idea of what you need to get for your computer science studies. We have also compiled a list of what we think are the best laptops for computer science in this CS laptop guide.
To determine what are the best CS programs we have used the list found here. We do not make any assumption that these really are the best programs, but from looking at the list we think it is a fair assumption that the list represents a somewhat accurate reality. If some of the top schools are not discussed below that is because their requirements are not easily available online.
Carnegie Mellon university
First up is Carnegie Mellon university. Their recommendations can be found on this page. For some reason they only have Dell and Apple as supported systems. This is a little strange, but perhaps they have some sort of sponsor deal with Dell. Dell does have good computers and it is not uncommon to see them in business environments.
Their two main desktops that they recommend are the Optiplex 7060 and Precision 5820. Out of the two, the Optiplex has the better CPU. The Optiplex CPU has 6 cores, while the Precision has 4 cores. This is not particularly impressive as you can get 6 cores on a laptop as well. For the estimated price of the Optiplex I would expect quite a bit more than an 8th generation CPU with 6 cores. The main reason for getting a desktop would be the extra power. You can get this performance in a laptop which is a lot more flexible.
Both configurations have 16 GB of memory. Most laptops will come with 16 GB as well, but if you are looking to do anything with machine learning then you might want to go with more.
As far as other specs there is not a lot to mention for Carnegie Mellon.
For laptops they recommend either the Dell Latitude E7400 or the Latitude 7390.They both have the Intel 8th gen INtel Core i7-8665U, although they mention a different speed. The E7400 CPU apparently comes in at 1.8Hz while the 7390 comes in at 1.9 Ghz. Overall, the 8th gen is not the newest CPU anymore so you can get better CPUs than this, but an 8th gen is probably good enough for most things.
The recommended laptops come with either 16 GB or 8 GB of RAM. I would say that you should not get anything less than 8 GB, and 16 GB would probably be best. If you are going to do things like data science or machine learning then you might even want to get as high as 32 GB.
The hard drives are pretty standard at 512GB and 256 GB. They are SSDs and I would recommend that you make sure you get an SSD.
Neither are listed to have a dedicated GPU, which is a bit disappointing. A lot of laptops come with GPUs these days, and for computer science it can be quite important. If you are doing machine learning, which a lot of people are interested in, I would consider a GPU mandatory.
Again, for MIT Dell is among the recommended manufacturers. They also have Lenovo and Apple. MIT also recommends only the Latitude family from Dell. You can find their list here. All their recommendations have an 8th generation i7 CPU. Intel is now getting to version 10 so an 8th gen is starting to fall behind.
All the laptops from Dell have a 16 GB RAM recommendation. This makes sense as 16 GB should be enough even for data science. You can also upgrade this yourself if you are interested.
None of the Latitudes have dedicated GPUs. It is my opinion that for computer science you should get a laptop that has a GPU.
For the lenovos that MIT recommends they are all Thinkpads. They all have a 7th gen CPU which at this point is quite outdated. You really should go with a 9th gen or an 8th gen if you want to save some money.
The Lenovos also have 16 GB of RAM which is a good suggestion I think.
Overall I think the specs recommended by MIT are not that great. You can get laptops that have these specs for cheaper on Amazon than what their price estimates are, but then again these recommendations might be a bit out of date.