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MIT student blogger Bryan O. '07

The Ultimate Showdown by Bryan

Making important college purchase #1

The Ultimate Showdown

The Laptop


The Desktop

So you’re about to head off to college, and you’re thinking to yourself, do I need a laptop or a desktop?

I too faced the same question 3 years ago, and thus, I’ll share my thoughts on what’s hot and what’s not.

So I’ll make the disclaimer now that I’m a spoiled first grandchild and thus, I did go off to college with both a laptop and a desktop, but my first laptop was a tad old and without battery life, so it was essentially never used.


The Pros:

– Cheap
– You can build them yourself
– Easily replaceable parts
– Sometimes more powerful

The Cons:

– Not mobile
– A lot of equipment to keep track of


The Pros:
– Mobile
– Lightweight
– Can do most tasks of a desktop

The Cons:

– A little more expensive than desktops
– Battery life attenuates with use
– Can be stolen sometimes (people aren’t all nice)
– Parts can be a nuisance to replace

Now to my own personal thoughts…

Being at MIT, sometimes unless you’re an AIM addict like me, you really don’t need a computer. Athena has got most of the tools you’ll need for classes, but the hike in the snow can be a significant inspiration to getting your own computer.

Using a desktop as my primary mode of computing my freshman year kept me in my room to do work which can be interpreted as both good and bad.

The good: I was limited in my number of distractions.
The bad: I wasn’t distracted. (Sometimes this is a necessary evil.)

After freshman year, I got a new laptop and it thus became my third arm. It goes with me everywhere, and I use it frequently. Even though battery life definitely drops with use, I have a 4 year warranty that covers my battery which is pretty helpful. Unfortunately, I can’t really scrap the desktop. I use a lot of solid modeling/finite element software that is just computationally intensive, and it’s not the best idea to try to run that and ITunes and AIM all at the same time while watching seasons of 24 on DVD.

So what is my suggestion?

Get what you want. If your Google skills are wise and adept, you can find some pretty sweet deals on computers, desktops and laptops alike. If you can’t find them, just email me and I’ll give you the sites (I don’t want my blog to become free advertisements for these companies).

If you’re an MIT student, look no further.

23 responses to “The Ultimate Showdown”

  1. Anonymous says:

    What happens to your desktop over the summer? Do you carry it back home or are there places at MIT where you can store it?

  2. Bryan says:


    Over the summer I store my desktop in my fraternity storage. I think every dorm has summer storage space as well.

    – Bryan

  3. Laura says:

    I just ordered a new laptop with the IS&T discounts, and I’m very excited about it. =)

  4. Jess says:

    Laptop for me. The $1000000 question is, though, PC or Mac?

  5. Mollie says:

    My suggestion is to get both a laptop and a desktop.

    Maybe not at first. But I think there are enough advantages to both to get one of each!

  6. '10 says:

    Are MIT discounts THAT good. Pardon my ignorance, I just want to know if it is possible to get laptops with similar characteristics at lower prices

  7. Jared says:

    Bryan… “- A little more expensive than desktops” is a pro for laptops? :/

    I myself have a laptop, but I might take advantage of the IS&T deals to get a desktop for school. The laptop is pretty handy, I have to say. If you have to choose between the two, I’d definitely spend a bit more money and get a portable.


  8. Phil says:

    if ur debating with either laptop or desktop, a “desktop replacer” laptop may interest u – quite heavy, but powerful. =]

  9. Phil says:

    *debating between a*

    i got a toshiba qosmio series laptop, and im loving it!

  10. Sam says:

    I too considered this very carefully when I lost my laptop last summer… I definitely thought about a desktop, but having a laptop is great for doing work on campus, because you don’t always want to write a paper or have a group meeting in your dorm room. It also helped in my lab classes last semester–we input our data into a laptop and checked all the calculations with our professor as we did them.

  11. Mikey says:

    I’d definitely go with laptop. Now that the MIT campus is almost completely covered with wireless access, it’s awesome to be able to bring your computer wherever you need to go or want to do work. I had a desktop for my first two years here, but it was such a pain at the beginning and end of each year to have to move it in/out of my room and hook up all the wires, etc etc etc (although if you get an iMac, that annoyance is significantly reduced…hehe). My second two years I had a laptop, and…it was glorious. Though, you need to always keep watch over it, because it can “walk off” very easily if you’re not careful…

  12. A '10 mom says:

    Thanks for the info. Any need for having your own printer? Do you have to pay for printing in the campus? How much does it cost (ex 10 cents per page)?

  13. Bryan says:

    A ’10 Mom,

    There’s really no need for a printer. There are printers almost everywhere on campus. Most of them are black and white printers, but you rarely ever need a color printer. Printing in Athena clusters is free. The only thing you have to pay with is your time you wait for the stuff to come out of the printer. Sometimes the queues can be long.

    – Bryan

  14. A '10 Mom says:


    Your speedy response is appreciated – I am impressed too. Do “Athena clusters” reside in most of the dorms? Thanks again.

  15. Mitra says:

    I am all about the laptop.

  16. AnotherMom says:


    Thanks for providing such useful information re: computers. Good news about the printer. Are scanners around the campus as well or do you need a scanner for anything? Do most of you have dual boot capability for linux and windows? Thanks.

  17. Ted says:

    Laptop all the way!

  18. AnotherMom says:


    Thanks for the rapid response. I took a quick glance at the link you provided for the software available. That is excellent. Thank you again.

  19. Bryan says:


    I think I’ve used a scanner twice in my entire time here, and I’ve taken 36 different classes thus far. I use a dual boot on my desktop and on my laptop I just Windows despite my desire to use Linux.

    – Bryan

  20. geofft says:

    As for how good the MIT discounts are, at least Apple’s deal for MIT is just their standard educational deal (which is, though, pretty reasonable – I got the $2k brand-new MacBook Pro for $1800). I suspect that the other deals would only be a little better than “regular” educational discount.

  21. Ruth '07 says:

    Ditto Ted – Viva Laptop!

    Portability is awesome.

  22. Anonymous says:

    This question is coming from outside the U.S.:

    How do online sales tax work? (For example, if I bought from