Minimum and Recommended Requirements
(Updated for the 2022 – 2023 Academic Year)
- Processor – Intel i3 (Intel i5 or greater recommended)
- Operating System – Windows 10 or Windows 11 (Must have the ability to run Windows-based software.)
*Note: Chromebooks and M1-based MacBooks do not meet this requirement.)
- System Memory – 4GB (8GB or greater recommended)
- Permanent Storage – Hard Disk Drive Capacity –128 GB or greater (Solid-state drive recommended)
- Optical Drive – DVD (optional)
- Wireless – 802.11n or later compatible
- Wired Network – Ethernet or appropriate RJ45 adapter
- Display Resolution – 1024 x 768 or greater
- VGA Video Output (or an appropriate conversion adapter to VGA)
- HDMI Video Output (or an appropriate conversion adapter to HDMI)
What laptop makes and models are recommended by WVWC?
WVWC has a vendor partnership with Dell that we have maintained since 2004. Under this partnership, WVWC serves as a warranty service provider, which means that necessary repairs, including covered warranty and accidental damage claims, can be performed on-campus in a timely manner, resulting in minimal inconvenience for our students. The WVWC recommended models from Dell are mid-to-high quality systems with special pricing for WVWC students. Please refer to later sections of this document for detailed hardware information. It is advisable to compare system specifications carefully when shopping for laptops. Links to our partner site and special monthly promotions may be found at http://www.dell.com/wvwc.
Can I use a computer that I currently own?
Yes. As long as the system meets or exceeds the minimum requirements listed above, it should serve you well at WVWC. Our office also assists our students with advice regarding maintenance, upgrades, and out-of-warranty repairs. Also, should the need for a new computer arise at a later time, the recommended models through our partner are available throughout the year.
Can I use a MacBook?
While many of our students use MacBooks on campus, there are some special considerations that you must address.
- Some courses require the use of Windows-based software, and it is the student’s responsibility to have the ability to install and run Windows-based software as stated within the minimum requirements regarding operating systems. While Windows will run on an older, Intel-based MacBook, at this time Windows is not compatible with the newer, M1-chip MacBooks. To install Windows on an Intel-based MacBook, the student will need to provide a licensed copy of Windows 10 for installation. If assistance is needed, the Helpdesk provides installation and configuration services for a nominal fee.
- Unless through a third party, accidental damage coverage is not available.
- The closest location of an Apple Store is in Pittsburgh, PA.
Can I use a Chromebook?
Chromebooks are unable to install and run Windows-based software, so they do not meet the minimum requirements for use as a student’s primary computer.
What software must I purchase for my use at WVWC?
For Windows and MacOS users, WVWC provides Microsoft Office 365 to our students via a site license. There is no need for you to purchase this software, whether you are using a new system or one you have owned. When your student account is created, a license will be assigned and you will receive an e-mail from our office with easy-to-follow instructions on how to install Microsoft Office. Your license covers up to 5 devices, including mobile devices. Your license will remain intact up to 30 days post-graduation or upon withdrawal from WVWC.
Additionally, some course software, such as IBM SPSS Statistics, is also provided. Some courses will require software that may be purchased or provided through fees of the individual departments. Your professors will provide you with software requirements information for individual courses.
WVWC does not provide antivirus software to our student body. Many new systems come with trial versions of antivirus software, which will suffice as long as the trial is active. Beyond the trials, you should purchase a product, or change to a free-to-use product such as Avast One Antivirus or AVG Free Antivirus, available at Download.com). If you need assistance with installing antivirus software, our Helpdesk staff will gladly assist you.
If buying new, when should I order my laptop?
If ordering a new laptop, we recommend that you do so no later than mid-July. That should allow enough time for order processing and shipping while providing enough extra time to correct any potential problems with an order.
*Note – Some systems, such as those for art majors, have longer lead times that are usually shown on the purchasing page. If you plan on ordering one of these models, please allow for some additional time.
Important Considerations When Purchasing a Laptop
- Hardware Requirements – What hardware requirements are there for the software that I want to run or the tasks that I want to perform? Does my major have distinct requirements?
- Service Contract – What kind of service package comes with the system? How long is the warranty coverage period? In the event that the computer fails, what will be the process to have it repaired? How long will the student be without a computer should such an event occur?
- Portability – How portable is the laptop? Can it fit into standard carry cases and be carried comfortably? How much does it weigh?
- Durability – Will this model of laptop hold up to the rigors of daily use and college life? How many years of service should I expect from a laptop?
- Cost vs. Value – Am I more concerned with the initial cost or total cost of ownership?
Strategy #1: Buy Cheap & Plan on Replacement
The historic trend of computing is that technology continues to advance, new features are introduced, and new systems are faster and less expensive.
Pros – The technology that the student is using is new, albeit at the lower end of the performance and features spectrum available at the time of purchase. The initial investment is relatively low. If the system is popular, parts for out-of-warranty repairs may be available through third parties, such as on eBay.
Cons – The systems tend to be less durable, do not allow for accidental damage protection, and typically carry only a 1-year warranty. Some warranties may also include additional restrictions. During the event of system failure, delays for repair or replacement may be extended, which can negatively impact the student in regards to the need for laptop computing in the classroom.
Strategy #2: Buy Higher-end Systems with Extended Warranties
The WVWC-recommended systems through our partnership have been configured to our recommendations and then provide you the flexibility of selecting warranty and accidental damage coverage that best fits your needs. For lower and mid-range models, the base configuration is a 1-year warranty with accidental damage protection. For higher-end systems, where machine costs and parts availability become concerns, the base configuration is for a three-year warranty with accidental damage protection.
In addition, you have the option of extending the warranty period during configuration. This may appeal to some that want the peace of mind of having coverage throughout their undergraduate experience. If you wish to reduce the warranty coverage on one of these models, you can call the number on the website to speak with a Dell MPP (Members Purchasing Program) representative to make that request.
Pros – WVWC is in a rural area, and knowing that you can get dependable and timely warranty service on campus provides the student with minimal inconvenience in the event of a problem.
Also, higher-end systems utilize higher performance components which tend to continue to perform well as the system ages.
Cons – Extended warranty coverage adds to the initial cost of the system, and it could be argued that the money would be better spent buying newer technology such as a replacement laptop. (This is more often the case with low to mid-level systems.) Also, as the system ages, it may not perform as well as new systems on the market. This is especially true when the system exceeds three years of age.
Strategy #3: Buy an Ultrabook or Convertible Tablet
The newest technology may be found in Ultrabooks and Convertible Tablets. These systems are generally well constructed, lightweight, thin, and are well configured for moderate to high computing performance levels. They incorporate cutting edge technology such as SSDs (solid state drives) that start up fast, transfer data fast, and have no moving parts. Most models feature touch screens for added functionality. When shopping for these models, the consumer must be careful to ensure that the product is not confused with a tablet (such as an iPad or Android tablet), as those products are not compatible with the software that is utilized at WVWC.
Pros – Portability, performance, and style. Solid-state drives, and the lack of moving parts, should reduce service failures. (By far, the majority of service issues that we work with are hard disk drive-related failures.)
Cons – Many models are static configurations from the factory, so items like memory and batteries cannot be upgraded or replaced by the end-user. Like most markets, the newest and sleekest technology is relatively expensive. Finally, many models are limited to the number and types of ports included and may require an adapter for features such as external video output.
Laptop Component Information
Service Contract – There are several different types of service contracts (warranties). For all laptops, warranty repairs must be performed by an authorized service provider. The WVWC Helpdesk is an authorized warranty provider for Dell; therefore, repairs can be done on campus with minimal student inconvenience. This service is available for any Dell system under warranty, regardless of where it is purchased.
- Warranty Type
- On Site – The system is repaired on site, generally by sending a technician to your location.
- Next Business Day (NBD) – After a troubleshooting session via telephone, required parts and a technician will repair the system on the next business day.
- Depot – After a troubleshooting session via telephone, technical support will arrange to have the computer shipped to a central location for repair. (Most retail-system warranties are of this type.)
- Third Party or Retailer – Third party or retail warranties vary widely. Most require that the system be taken to the retailer or shipped to a central location for repair.
- Additional Warranties
- Accidental Damage Repair (ADP) – This service covers damages due to accidents such as impact from dropping the system or spilling liquid into the system. Services, if offered, vary by manufacturer and model. Dell systems with Dell Complete Care can have ADP claims processed on campus.
- Extended Battery Warranties – Some models offer extended 3 year battery warranties. Without such coverage, batteries are only warranted for the initial year since they are considered consumable items.
- Third Party Provided Warranty or ADP – Some retailers offer extended warranty or accidental damage protection through third parties. Although some of these providers may offer quality services, you may also receive inferior service or repairs through the provider. In addition, these claims must be shipped out and result in extended downtime.
Processors – Processors are one of the more expensive components of the laptop and can range from the Intel i3 dual-core (WVWC’s minimum requirement) to the latest Intel Core i9 eight-core processors. If there is specialty software, such as graphics editing software, that you anticipate using, you should check with the software manufacturer’s minimum and recommended hardware requirements. Please note that we never recommend that you buy a new system that is at the minimum requirements since it would likely become obsolete very quickly. Processors are generally not upgradable in laptop computers. All of the processors in the range mentioned above will function well for basic to moderate computing workloads. In addition to Intel, AMD processors of equivalent performance levels are also acceptable for WVWC requirements.
In general, the clock speed (measured in GHz) and the number of cores determine the performance of the processor. Also, as the model numbers increase, so do the features and performance levels. If you want to compare the “nuts and bolts” features of Intel processors, a useful feature comparison chart can be found at https://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/support/articles/000028083/processors.html .
System Memory – All running applications on a system must be stored in system memory where the processor can access the data. In most laptops, system memory is relatively easy and affordable to upgrade later in the lifespan of the laptop, so decisions made on initial memory usually are not permanent, as they are with the processors. The exception to this rule is with some Ultrabook or Tablet models, where memory is typically not upgradeable.
Most new laptops today ship with DDR4 memory, which can transfer data at a faster rate than previous types. (The memory type is not upgradable, but the capacity of the memory on the DIMM chip usually is.) The amount of total memory that a laptop can support is determined by the operating system (32-bit vs. 64-bit) and the system architecture. Most 64-bit operating systems will support the maximum that the system architecture can support (generally 8GB – 32GB ). Although the minimum WVWC requirement is lower, we recommend at least 8GB of total memory.
Most WVWC recommended models have at least 2 DIMM slots for memory chips and have base configurations that utilize only one of the slots (ex. 8GB as 1x8GB DIMM) leaving a slot open for an upgrade at a later time.
Operating System – WVWC requires our students to have the ability to install and run Microsoft Windows-based software on their laptops. Microsoft Windows 10 and Windows 11 are the supported operating systems at WVWC.
Hard Disk Drives – *Note – While some lower-end models continue to utilize hard disk drives, most modern systems have moved to solid-state drive use.
Hard disk drives (HDDs) provide the permanent storage for data and software applications on the laptop. This technology has, in most cases, far exceeded the needs of the typical student as capacity availability for laptop hard drives can range as high as 2TB or more. (Our experience is that most student data profiles range between 10GB – 50GB.) To maintain performance, the HDD needs 10% free space to function efficiently. Given these specs, a student with an exceptional amount of software (100GB) and a 50GB profile, would still have 40% disk free space on a 250GB drive.
The analogy we use here is that HDD capacity difference is like the difference between swimming in 20 ft. of water or 200 ft. of water… if you are not swimming to the bottom, there is no difference or benefit.
- There are a few things to consider with the HDD selection that can impact system performance and durability.
- Spin speed – Conventional SATA 3 laptop HDDs spin at 5400 or 7200 RPM. There are a few new designs that reach 10,000 RPM. Basically, the faster the drive spins, the less time it takes to locate and transfer data (disk latency and transfer rates).
- Conventional vs. Solid State Drives (SSD) – All WVWC recommended models through our Dell partnership now utilize SSD technology. Conventional HDDs have notoriously become less reliable as the technology in capacity has advanced. This is due to the increased capacity, lower clearance tolerances, increased heat, and increased spin speeds of the drives that have moving parts, while utilizing the same physical size limitations of a laptop HDD. Vibrations from use or impact from drops can internally damage drives and result in data loss. New solid-state drives have no moving parts; therefore, their reliability is greatly increased. SSDs also have significantly faster latency and transfer rates than conventional disk drives. The user will recognize this in faster startup times, loading times for program launch, and data transfer times. In the past, the issue was cost, but as with most technology, prices of solid-state drives have drastically reduced in the past couple of years, and they are now considered standard equipment in most systems. If you are shopping for new models, we highly recommend one that utilizes an SSD as opposed to an HDD. Ensure that the option that you choose meets our minimum capacity requirements of 128GB. (Some lower-end ultrabooks use only a 32GB SSD, and you will experience capacity problems.)
Optical Drives (optional) – Optical drives are all but obsolete. Very few systems continue to include them, but they are readily available as an external USB accessory if desired.
Optical drives are the removable media disk drives in the laptop that support CDs and DVDs. Features such as DVD RW (re-writable), provide the ability to “burn” CDs and DVDs. This is useful for data backup, storage, or distribution, but it is not a requirement. A typical external USB multi-function DVD RW drive is about $30 – $60.
Finally, some drives are Blu-Ray compatible, meaning that they support the Blu-ray optical disk format. Optical drives that support Blu-ray are more expensive than those that do not.
Students that need to access a CD or DVD but do not have optical drives can request help from our Helpdesk. Modern versions of Windows and Mac OSX have the ability to mount ISO files as if they were a physical drive, and we can create an ISO file from the disk for the student.
LCD Display – There are a few features that should be taken into consideration with LCD displays, but all of the displays available in today’s laptops are suitable for use at WVWC.
- Resolution – The higher the resolution, the clearer the display appears at close distance and the more “space” you have on the screen.
- Touch Screen – Some laptops offer a touch screen option that allows for “clicking” and “dragging” functions to be done by touching the screen with your finger.
Video / Graphics Controller – The graphics controller determines the maximum resolution that can be output to the display, as well as the number of colors supported. In addition, they may have their own memory or “share” system memory, and they may have advanced chipsets for supporting 3D video. There are two main types of graphics controllers in laptops:
- Integrated – Integrated graphics controllers are built into the processor, are sufficient for most basic computing tasks, and use less power than discrete graphics controllers. Integrated graphics controllers share a portion of system memory that they can directly access without processor interruption.
- Discrete – Generally, discrete graphics controllers significantly outperform integrated controllers the most when graphic performance demands are the highest, such as with 3D gaming, video editing, etc. The differences during basic computer usage are nominal. Discrete controllers generally have their own memory, but may still share a portion of the total memory they use from system memory.
- Dual GPU Devices – Some models offer a hybrid solution that uses both types of controllers and a switching technology that determines which controller to utilize for the best balance between performance and power consumption.
Questions? We are here to assist you and will be glad to answer questions regarding the WVWC laptop requirement and purchasing decision questions. Please contact us.