General Computer Purchase Information for Students

(Updated March 2019)

Each department in the College of Design has different requirements for when students must have their computer and for what type of computer they should have.  

Please read this page AND your department’s information before spending money on computer hardware and software. 

This chart provides links to each department’s requirements and tells you when you need to have your computer. Please review this carefully.

Students should have the computer no later than the first day of class for the semester indicated.

Department/Program Undergraduate
Graduate Students Macintosh or Windows
Architecture Fall Semester Second Year  First Semester Windows Strongly Preferred
Art+Design Fall Semester First Year First Semester Windows for
Strongly Preferred. Macintosh Acceptable.
Design Studies Fall Semester First Year n/a Macintosh or Windows
Graphic Design Spring Semester First Year First Semester

Macintosh computers are required

Industrial Design Fall Semester First Year First Semester Windows Strongly Preferred
Landscape Architecture n/a First Semester Macintosh or Windows
PhD in Design n/a First Semester Macintosh or Windows

Students in the College of Design make extensive use of computers in their coursework and everyday lives. There is a lot to consider when purchasing computer hardware and software. This information should help students and parents make purchase decisions.

Hardware and Software Purchases

The NC State Office of Information Technology and the Wolfpack Outfitters have made arrangements with several computer vendors to offer special pricing to students. Students should compare these prices before making a final purchase, since these prices can offer a substantial savings. For more information, contact the Wolfpack Outfitters or by phone at (919) 515-3400 before making your final purchase. The Wolfpack Outfitters’ computer department is a great resource for students purchasing computers, software, and peripherals.

Many software companies bundle products together for even more savings, such Adobe Creative Cloud. Software companies also offer free licenses for qualified students. Some of these include:

Students should always ask for educational prices wherever they buy. Companies usually offer discounts to students. Students should always compare prices on computing equipment and software. Online searches can provide a good start.

Computer purchases may be included as part of a financial aid package. Please contact the Office of Financial Aid online for more information.

Laptop or Desktop Computer?

Each department has different requirements. The School of Architecture requires students purchase Windows-capable laptop computers. Other departments in the College of Design leave the choice of laptop or desktop computer to the student. A decision on the type of computer to purchase should be based on how which type of computer suits the student’s lifestyle and needs on campus.

Mobility is appealing, but since students will be spending long hours using a computer, consider the addition of an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse at the studio desk. Students not using external monitors are encouraged to consider using a laptop stand or riser in conjunction with an external keyboard and mouse while at their desk. A well positioned screen can promote ergonomic posture.

Laptops provide the ability to work anywhere, anytime. Students can work in their studios and then take their laptops home, to the library, even outdoors to work. Students can use their laptops on class field trips. Since wireless networking is available throughout the College of Design complex and in many other places on campus, laptop users can access the network away from their desk, outside, in classrooms, etc.

Macintosh or Windows?

While much of this choice depends on personal preference, students should strongly consider the recommended platform for their department. Most software applications used in the College are available on both the Macintosh and Windows platforms, but there are exceptions.

Each department in the College of Design has different computer requirements. For example, the Department of Graphic Design uses Macintosh computers almost exclusively and recommends Macintosh for their students. While students could use a Windows computer for graphic design, their peers and instructors may not be able to help them as much if they run into trouble. Graphic Design instructors will use Macintosh for teaching.

Architecture students need to be able to run Windows-based software applications.

Art+Design and Industrial Design prefer using Windows software applications for certain courses as well. Industrial Design has some specific computers that are tested for use with this software.

Landscape Architecture, Design Studies, and PhD students use both Macintosh and Windows computers. The choice is left to the student.

Apple Macintosh computers allow both Macintosh and Windows software to run on the same computer using a dual-boot option. The College of Design’s Information Technology Department uses a dual-boot system on most of our lab and departmental cluster computers. Other options for running Windows applications on a Macintosh using virtualization software are available. We consider the dual-boot method the better option for our students because dual-boot provides better performance. Some of our students are choosing to the use dual-boot option on their own computers. Students interested in running Windows on a Macintosh computer are encouraged to speak with the College of Design Information Technology staff. Please note the cost of Windows operating system and Windows software applications will be in addition to Macintosh software.

See the departmental recommendations for specific information.

Recommended Operating System Versions

For personal computers running Windows, the College of Design recommends Windows 10 Pro Edition. We recommend students NOT use Windows Home Edition because of issues in accessing campus resources. The College of Design will use Windows 10 in its labs for the upcoming academic year. Information for obtaining a free student license of Windows 10 Pro is available here.

For Macintosh operating system, we strongly recommend using Mac OS X, version 10.14 or later. The College provides only limited support for Mac OS 10.12 or earlier. The College of Design will use Mac OS 10.14 in its labs for the upcoming academic year. Mac OS version upgrades are free.

Students are welcome to use other operating systems such as Linux or Unix and other open-source software with the understanding that support by College IT staff will be limited. Other resources for Linux and Unix help are available on campus.

Older Computers

Older computers should meet minimum requirements to take full advantage of campus resources. This chart, Recommendations for Older Computers, will show the minimum recommendations for older computers. Expected useful life of older computers is about one year.

Sometimes parents will purchase a new computer to keep at home and send the older computer with their student for the first year or two. Then they will purchase a new computer for their student to use for the remaining college years.

There are over 150 computers available to students in labs throughout the College of Design. There are many other public computer labs across campus, as well.

Additional Recommended Options and Accessories

There are other things students should consider purchasing:

  • A Category 6 ethernet cable, 15′ to 25′ in length (required to use the recommended wired network connections available in studios). These are available at Wolfpack Outfitters.
  • An 802.11g or 802.11n compatible wireless network adapter for laptops (needed for wireless network connection). Most computers include this.
  • A quality surge protector or uninterruptible power supply (UPS) to protect against power problems.
  • A carrying case or backpack if you purchase a laptop computer.
  • Locks and/or cables to secure all computer equipment. (Students are responsible for the security of their own equipment.)
  • A “thumb” drive or flash-memory drive to transfer files between computers.
  • An external hard drive is strongly recommended for back-ups.
  • An extended warranty or service contract. We strongly recommend an extended warranty for all computers. Third-party insurance options that cover accidental damage should be considered.

Students bringing their own computers to campus may also consider bringing a printer. Using WolfPrint, students may print from any lab computer or from their own computer to a variety of black & white and color printers for a per page fee. However, some students find it more convenient to print their documents directly to a printer in their studio or residence. Compare the costs of a personal printer and supplies though. Having a personal printer can be more expensive than many people realize because of the cost of supplies.

Students may also consider purchasing other peripherals such as scanners, digital cameras, etc. The College’s William Keating Bayley Information Technology Laboratory has equipment available for check out for student use, but some students may wish to have their own.

College of Design students have use of a high-speed data network in the labs and with their own computers. Through StudioNet, the College provides a wired, high-speed network connection to all students taking second year or higher studio courses. StudioNet provides full network access. University wireless networking is also available throughout the College of Design complex, as well as in many other areas on campus. More information on StudioNet is available at the StudioNet website. Students living in an on-campus residence hall or Greek Court chapter house can access the ResNet network. For more information, see the ResNet website.

Anti-Virus, Security, and Back-ups

NC State University REQUIRES use of an approved and up-to-date anti-virus program for all computers connected to the NC State network. Anti-virus software recommendations are available at

Students are responsible for the security of their own computer equipment. Students should purchase locks and/or cables to lock their equipment to their desk. Students with laptops should be especially careful to lock their equipment and keep it in a carrying case when moving from place to place. Also, make sure to write down the serial numbers of all equipment. To discourage theft, students may want to engrave their driver’s license or ID number on any computer equipment they bring to campus. Engraving tools are available from the NCSU Campus Police Department. Students should check with their insurance company to make sure their computer is covered.

Students are strongly encouraged to purchase an external hard drive to provide easy, continuous back-ups of their work. Current operating systems provide easy methods for making back-ups, but these require some sort of external storage on which to put the back-up files. Getting into the habit of consistently making back-ups will save pain and trouble in the future. The question is not IF files will be lost, but WHEN they will be lost. It usually happens when the files are the most critical. Students should do themselves a huge favor and get into the habit of making consistent back-ups. On-line back-up services are also available for monthly or yearly charges.

Computer Documentation, Software and Repair

Students should bring along associated documentation, receipts, warranty information, and software installers to college. These items may be needed to reinstall or reconfigure hardware or software on a computer. We recommend purchasing the full 3-year maintenance and repair agreement offered by the computer’s manufacturer or third-party loss/damage coverage. Documentation and proof-of-purchase may be needed to receive warranty repairs. A member of the College of Design IT staff is certified to make Apple warranty repairs. Other campus resources are available to help with repairs as well.


First, students should read the pages linked above for their appropriate department. Many questions will be answered there. The College’s Information Technology staff will be glad to go over purchase choices or answer any related questions. Contact the IT Staff.