Engineering Departments

Information Technology

Computer Requirement Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Below is a list of common questions we have received about our computer requirements. If you cannot find the answer here, please email the Director of Information Technology.

Why do you have a computer requirement?

To be successful all Engineering students need a minimum level of hardware to be able to run required software programs. Professors also count on students having a standard minimum level of technology available in their classrooms. Students with technology not meeting the requirement will be at a disadvantage. Just like course prerequisites ensure a common level of knowledge among students, a computing requirement ensures a common level of technology.  

Why do we need an active digital stylus? 

An active digital stylus simply replaces the need to carry notebooks to class.  Notes taken digitally afford many advantages over paper.  They can be synced instantly to the cloud making lost notes a thing of the past and allowing notes to be easily accessed on any device (phones, desktop computers, etc.)  Notes can be moved and additional writing space can be added at will.  You are no longer constrained by the size of your paper. Handwritten notes can be searched as easily as typed notes. (Check out Microsoft OneNote)  Of course diagramming and equation writing are very easy too. An additional benefit for students is limiting the distraction of the computer and the internet if their computer is being used to take notes.  In class faculty can have students solve problems and digitally display their work on the board or have them turn in their work digitally for grading. Collaborating is now easily done across campus, across the state, or across the world with shared digital whiteboards.  

Why should I use a stylus when I can type faster than I can write?

Studies show students taking notes by long hand may actually learn and retain content more effectively than students who simply type notes verbatim.  It is possible that the act of having to paraphrase notes when writing in long hand helps students better process and understand notes.  Additionally, drawing diagrams and writing equations are clearly easier when using a stylus.  

Why are the computers that you recommend so expensive?

The computers that are pre-configured to meet our minimum requirements at the bookstore are all business class systems.  Business-class computers are more reliable, stable and rugged than consumer-class devices and are designed to take the hard handling that occurs when students carry their computers to class in their backpacks on a daily basis. The active digital stylus technology adds between $50 to $200 to the cost depending on the technology selected. Warranties also add significant cost to the computers. When comparing computers make sure to compare computers in the same class (business versus consumer) with similar warranties.  

Do you recommend buying from the bookstore?

The bookstore provides computers that are pre-configured to meet the minimum requirements and include four year warranties and accidental damage warranties that often drive the price significantly higher when purchased elsewhere.  The convenience of service from the bookstore is invaluable to students who cannot easily coordinate deliveries or service by computer vendors while taking classes. When technical issues occur, the bookstore will work with vendors to quickly resolve the issue for the student.   

If I can afford to repair or replace my computer if it breaks, do I still need a warranty?

No, but few students can afford to replace or repair a computer immediately if it breaks.  Repairs are often very expensive.  One of the most common issues are damaged screens.  Repairs for damaged screens usually start at around $700.  If you can afford to buy a new computer immediately, the warranty is not necessary.  

Accidental damage warranties add a lot to the cost of a computer?  Why should I buy one?

Surprisingly, the bookstore service history shows that more computers are serviced for accidental damage repairs than for regular warranty repairs.  Students are very hard on their computers.  If you cannot afford to repair or replace your computer immediately if it breaks, you should purchase an accidental damage policy.  

I am transferring in as a Junior.  Do I still need to buy a device with an active stylus?  

All students are expected to meet our hardware requirements regardless of level.  We have had an active digital stylus required for our students since 2006.  If your laptop meets our hardware requirements you may wait to purchase a companion device until needed, but you will still be expected to have an active digital stylus if faculty want to use the technology in class.   

Why aren't external USB drawing pads acceptable?

External drawing pads without displays do not completely emulate using a pen on the screen. They require extra cognitive skills to use effectively which distract from the learning process. They also require significant eye-to-hand coordination. Student pilot studies showed these devices were unsatisfactory substitutes for an active stylus. 

How are will we be going to use the stylus in class?  

Styluses are used in various ways in the class.  In some classes you may only use the stylus to take notes or to annotate articles while in others you may actually use the stylus to work on problems and digitally submit them in class.  Each individual faculty member decides if and how they will use technology in the classroom.  

Will I just use the stylus for one or two classes and then never need it again? 

No, if you learn to use the stylus you will find it to continue to be useful. The stylus is like any other tool. Although you may use the tool more your first year where work is required to be turned in digitally, you will find unlike a "critical" textbook which is never opened never being opened after the class is over, the stylus functionality will continue to be useful throughout your career in engineering. The list of classes using the active digital stylus functionality spreads across almost all departments and levels.

Why can't I use a capacitive touch stylus?   

Capacitive touch styluses are very simple and only simulate writing with your fingers.  They do not provide the accuracy and crisp lines required to take notes effectively, draw and annotate diagrams, and write and solve equations.  More information about active digital styluses.

Last Updated:  March 5, 2015

If you have any questions, please email the Director of Information Technology or call 540-231-2117.