Crazy for buying a Macbook Pro and Gaming PC creating the ultimate programming setup for uni?

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Posted by OHagan (774 posts) 2 years, 9 months ago

Poll: Crazy for buying a Macbook Pro and Gaming PC creating the ultimate programming setup for uni? (62 votes)

No! - Go for it and join the master race! 58%
Yes! - Just get the laptop! 35%

So here's the situation, I'm off to university to study Computer Science and am in with love coding and programming. I'm in dire need of a laptop upgrade and have settled upon either a Macbook Pro or Air - I get a discount being a student but I'll decide upon either the Pro (I'll also wait for the next model to be released) or Air after starting my degree although the extra power of the Pro is pushing me towards it. I have to move across the country to go to school and the idea of having a portable programming powerhouse sounds like the greatest thing in the world.

Now I have some money leftover in my budget and am left wondering if I should get a gaming PC that can also be used for programming / development. It sounds appealing from programming standpoint, due to the benefits and comforts of programming on a desktop over laptop. From a gaming standpoint I'll also have access to the wide variety of PC games and the cheapness of games via Steam sales, GOG, etc. While the PS4 and XB1 do look like great platforms in their own right, my preference lies with Nintendo this generation and I'm already invested in a Wii U and am on the lookout for a great deal on a 3DS.

So am I crazy for spending my budget on an awesome PC and laptop setup to create the ultimate coding environment. Ignoring the PS4 and XB1 going in favor of Nintendo and dedicating myself to coding and programming. It seems like a good idea as of writing but perhaps I've just spend too much time recently having fun coding.

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#1 Edited by Corevi (6795 posts) -

You really don't need a beefy PC for programming, you aren't going to be making anything that couldn't run on a 10 year old system. If you have money to burn and want a gaming PC though go for it.

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#2 Posted by Mike (17288 posts) -

Keep in mind that it's probably going to be quite some time before you do anything that requires more than a text a ton of money on hardware right now may not be the best investment. You may be better off waiting until you actually need all that power to back up the work that you're doing, which could likely be a couple of years down the road or more. That is, unless you're already deep into 3DS Max or something like that.

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#3 Posted by VACkillers (1286 posts) -

I wouldn't go with a Mac Book Pro myself because generally not that powerful when it comes to a PC laptop which you can get for half the price for better hardware. But it is really down to specs, it depends whichever has the better specs for your desired need and then thats the one you want. Macs are getting better when it comes to gaming, but so so far behind PCs when it comes to that but are generally a lot heavier laptops then a mac book. When it comes to computer science, I certainly would want all the power I could muster up because you might be needing to use really specialized software which might require some serious horse power, I've never taken a course in that so I dont know, but after messing around with gaming engines like CryEngine3 and UnrealEngine 4, I wouldn't imagine the software you would use would be a mere text editor and thats it. Just my opinion.

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#4 Posted by NotSoSneakyGuy (172 posts) -

I agree with the previous posts, you're not gonna need power for programming. It shouldn't really be a factor in buying a new computer. That said a laptop can be nice if you want to work or chill somewhere on campus with a computer, other than the computer labs. In general, you'll get more for your money if you build your own desktop, If you are comfortable assembling it yourself.

In regards to your "ultimate programming setup" that'll probably end up being all software. I'm not sure what IDEs you're familiar with, but chances are you'll get introduced to a couple at some point. You'll probably be encouraged to get familiar with linux (if you haven't already), and developing code with open source tools and shell scripts and what not.

I would say don't worry about hardware for programming stuff; get a laptop if you want something portable; get desktop if you want the most for your money.

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#5 Posted by Zella (1252 posts) -

I would totally support a laptop for school, especially for Comp Sci as you can directly follow along in class a lot of the time. I don't really think the PC would be needed as the Macbook Pro should be more than powerful enough to handle what you would likely be doing. My opinion would be for you to view the PC as something mainly for gaming then deciding if you want to go for it, instead of adding in the whole programming bonus as it isn't really needed.

I haven't done much Comp Sci but from what I understand mainly only graphical programming stuff is the real power demanding stuff, the main programming stuff is mostly just using a text editor and is ram and CPU usage which your Macbook should easily be able to handle.

So yeah I would say to view the gaming PC as just that, a gaming device, and not sugarcoat it with the extra coding bonus. That way it will be easier to determine if you really want to drop the extra money on it.

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#6 Edited by sub_o (967 posts) -

I'm a software engineer, and recently went back to get my Master in computer vision.

It depends, on what kind of programming you are planning to do.

  • If you're going for C++ stuff, OS Mavericks are using libc++, while many prebuilt libraries are using libstdc++, and there's no interoperability between them. Most of my libraries (e.g. OpenCV, boost, etc) are using libc++, while other libraries such as PCL (which I wanted to use) are currently only compatible with libstdc++, so you can't use it unless you recompiled all your libraries using libstdc++ (or keep separate set of libraries), which is a pain in the neck.
  • If you're not going for C++, then probably the next thing you might want to consider is whether you're going for mainly C# or Objective-C.
  • If you want to do CUDA / GPGPU stuff, then most of the MacBooks are not using Nvidia graphic cards, so you're out of luck, and stuck with OpenCL which doesn't have as many functionalities as CUDA.
  • If you want to do 3D programming, then you will probably stuck with OpenGL 4.0 on Mac, compared to Direct X on Windows PC.
  • But if you're doing web programming, or general software engineering using python, Java, etc, I think Macbook is quite good for it. With Unix as the core, you can just run most of the shell scripts (e..g to start a server) easily. I also find Xcode bit easier to comprehend than Visual Studio.
  • However if you are into machine learning / computer vision. I'd say go for a desktop PC with good Nvidia graphics card. Training SVM on CPU may take days to weeks, and your machine will get very hot for that period of time.

So in the end, it depends on what kind of programming you're planning to do. For more general ones, MacBooks are good for it. For more specific ones, PC has more support currently.

PS: Managing libraries using Homebrew on OS X is very clean and easy though.

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#7 Posted by clstirens (854 posts) -

@mb said:

Keep in mind that it's probably going to be quite some time before you do anything that requires more than a text a ton of money on hardware right now may not be the best investment. You may be better off waiting until you actually need all that power to back up the work that you're doing, which could likely be a couple of years down the road or more. That is, unless you're already deep into 3DS Max or something like that.


I'm in college, and was gifted a sweet gaming pc when I started. I'm only now using more sophisticated editors (and engines) that justify a beefy computer, and my old one is hella obsolete now.

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#8 Posted by EthanielRain (1331 posts) -

I wouldn't recommend a gaming PC because you'll sit down to study & end up playing games all night instead. You know it's true! :)

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#9 Posted by Sagalla (270 posts) -

You're young and are going to Uni for the first time, to somewhere you haven't been before.. Don't build a gaming PC and take it.. If you find yourself bored and have spare time AFTER you get there (unlikely) then you should think about it.

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#10 Posted by Jesus_Phish (3165 posts) -


You'll almost never need more than a netbook for the kind of stuff they'll ask you to program in college, at least until your later years. Lots of people seem to over estimate the amount of power they'll need. You're going to be writing Hello World and recursive functions for a while. You can do that in notepad. You might do that in notepad. Your instructors might even make you do it in VI on Linux because they hate you. If you want a "desktop" programming set up, just get a laptop and buy a keyboard, a mouse and a monitor and plug them into the laptop. Boom, instant desktop.

Also you said you had to move across the country for your new school. Do you know how much room you'll have in your dorm/living quarters? Will a PC even fit in there? Will your room mate mind that you've got a big PC pumping out lots of heat and potentially noise into a cramped space?

So yes, you would be crazy to spend all that money. But it's your money, do what you want. Personally I'd just get a laptop or a macbook depending on what you're doing and forget about high end PC gaming for the next four years.

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#11 Edited by OHagan (774 posts) -


What you've said makes sense and I didn't even think of buying an external monitor and keyboard until after I had posted. Yes, I would have the space for the PC but a high spec laptop makes the most sense in terms of both portability and money.

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#12 Posted by Jesus_Phish (3165 posts) -

Where I work (software engineer) we do that with laptops so that we can move our stations around without issue. We just hook them up to nice big monitors and keyboards/mice because programming on laptops kinda sucks.

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#13 Edited by medacris (738 posts) -

I just have my MacBook Pro Air, because I'm not a huge specs person, and it can run a good 85-90% of the games I want, anyways. I don't really desire a souped-up gaming engine, or a second computer.

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#14 Posted by Ben_H (3926 posts) -

The MacBook (either will do. I would go with the Pro because those Retina screens are dope and it is only a bit more money) and wait until later for the PC. Chances are you won't have a ton of time to play games anyway (according to Steam I played about 10 hours of games between January and April this year, which was third year for me in CS. I used to average twice that in a week), but the ability to work on assignments on the go (while at school during breaks and things like that, not to mention taking notes in class) far outweighs any benefit the power of the desktop would have (power which you won't really need for the extreme majority of undergrad CS courses. Any time you will need a serious amount of power, you will likely be expected to use school hardware anyway).

And definitely get the Mac. Despite what others will try and tell you, there isn't really anything on the market that comes close to them right now, hardware-wise (specs are irrelevant for CS. Any modern, moderately fast processor will be just fine. Something like a gaming laptop would be complete overkill, and you would massively sacrifice usability for power, which you don't want to do). They have the best keyboard, trackpad, and battery life on the market, if you need you can triple boot them (OS X, Linux, Windows. You have to do some EFI magic for Linux but it isn't hard. This probably won't be required as a VM will cover most cases you would need in undergrad. Also, Linux on Mac hardware is godlike. Since there are only a comparatively small number different hardware configurations, drivers are really easy to deal with, the Linux dev people, at least on Fedora, have it set up so that all the keyboard shortcuts stay like OS X, and the media keys work the same as in OS X), all the major programming related packages you would use on Linux are available on one of the three major Mac package management systems (I'm a HomeBrew guy myself. MacPorts is fine too. I've never messed with Fink before but it is apparently kinda cryptic to use. HomeBrew covers all my needs), which you will need to learn at some point (probably for GCC at minimum since most CS schools I've seen want your C/C++ code compiled with GCC and not clang. I prefer clang myself but alas), and so on.

Also, like others have said, a laptop paired with a mouse, keyboard, and monitor is a great setup that easily replaces a desktop while still allowing the portability of a laptop. That is what I use during school too. A lot of programming shops are moving to using this type of system too since it makes working with others easy since you aren't tied down and allows you to take your laptop home if you want to work from there for a day or something.

Another thing, a warning of sorts. This only happens to some people but it definitely happened to me and a few people I know. Programming may partly kill your desire to play games. I very seldom play anything anymore because, since I spend so much time looking at computer screens doing my work, I try and do non-computer stuff when I have free time to save my eyes from getting worse. Programming, at least for me, also happens to scratch the same itch playing games does. I find them equally fun in most cases (except Assembly. I would rather get punched in the face than write Assembly) but I prefer programming because I feel like I am accomplishing more with my time.

Oh, and there's another thing. Whatever setup you end up with, make sure to install Flux or something similar (on Linux there is Redshift, though there is a Flux beta too that I use). Since you will be looking at computer screens a lot and probably working at night a lot, reducing eye strain is quite important.

One last thing. Get a Dropbox (or something like that) account and save all assignments to it. Not only does this save you from system failure causing you to lose work, but it allows you to work basically anywhere since all you need is the internet to fetch your stuff.

Okay, actual last thing, that dude that is slamming Vi/Vim above is nuts, Vi/Vim is godlike once you learn it.

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#15 Posted by Jesus_Phish (3165 posts) -

@ben_h: I'm not slamming VI/Vim, but it's a pretty intense thing to teach first year CS students right off the bat.

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#16 Edited by ProfessorEss (7957 posts) -

I'd just get the laptop and wait and see how things went. Maybe your room-mate already has a rig. Maybe the school has a better option. Maybe you'll be too busy for games or maybe you'll get hooked on some little addictive asshole of a game on your laptop anyways :P Or maybe you'll get there and realise you need it to program, test and play how you like to.

At the very least I would keep the money in the bank until after I moved and settled. Then if you decide you want it not only do you not have to lug a desktop with you when you move but you'll also get something better for the same price.

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#17 Edited by PeteyCoco (191 posts) -

In my first year (studying physics) I had a gaming PC and boy, what a mistake. It's way too easy to start playing games all the time when you can play almost everything on steam. I currently use a $400 thinkpad with ubuntu and windows and it's good enough for my needs (Basic programming in python, matlab, and C). It's a good idea to put heavy gaming aside in your first year so you can work hard at your studies and have time to try new things or hang out with friends. After that year you'll have a good idea of what it takes for you to do well in school and then you can figure in gaming time.

EDIT: In my opinion, high-spec laptops are a waste of money. They never last as long as a desktop of comparable quality, almost always have fan/cooling problems, cost tonnes of money, and can't be upgraded. If you really want a high end PC, just get a desktop.

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#18 Edited by amafi (1488 posts) -

I'm a fan of the Clevo W230ST, personally.

Gets kind of noisy when going full blast but doesn't get too warm and it's silent when not playing games etc.It's likely you won't find that kind of power in that small a form factor for that kind of price many places.

Can be configured with up to 16 gigs of ram, two msata ssds plus a 2.5" HDD, and they have models up to GTX870m.

Got a pretty decent matte ips panel too. Not a huge fan of the keyboard or mouse pad but they're functional.

Bit thicker than most 13.3" ultrabooks but extremely easy to service and the ability to add extra drives, the fact it's got decent I/O (rj45,4x usb, vga, hdmi, audio) more than makes up. No optical drive but who uses those anymore.

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#19 Posted by erhard (493 posts) -

Get a Macbook Pro, not an Air.

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