College of Engineering Computer and Calculator Recommendations for Incoming New Students


PSU studentsWhile the College of Engineering does not mandate that students bring their own personal computer to PSU, students will be required to use computers frequently for communications and academic activities. Computer ownership will enable students to benefit from the in-class and out-of-class activities and opportunities to the fullest extent.

For incoming students who do not already own a computer or plan to purchase a new system, the following information is provided for a Laptop system configuration; this is a minimum system configuration recommendation.  It should provide acceptable performance for the majority of undergraduate students:

  • Processor: Intel i5 Processor or higher
  • Memory: 4GB RAM or higher
  • Hard Drive: 500 GB or Larger
  • Video Card: While integrated video is an acceptable option, students may want to consider a dedicated video card with a minimum of 1 GB video memory. This will provide better performance when working with demanding high end graphics software.
  • Wireless Networking: 802.11g/n
  • USB Ports
  • Audio
  • Operating System: Windows 7 or 8 with latest Microsoft Service Packs applied, Apple Mac OS X (running, as a minimum, Version 10.9.x) - Note: The Windows XP operating system is no longer supported by Microsoft and is not permitted on the Penn State network.
  • Display: 13 inch or greater Note: Users of Windows 8 or higher may want to consider selecting a system with touch screen capabilities.
  • Lock & Cable (Recommended)

Computing requirements may vary by department and becomes major–specific in one's junior and senior years. In the case of Architectural Engineering, the requirements will become major–specific in the sophomore year. If a student is committed to a major upon entering the University, the student should contact the major's Department for specific computer configuration recommendations.

Software Availablity

Microsoft DreamSpark program:

The College of Engineering participates in the Microsoft DreamSpark program. This program provides currently enrolled College of Engineering Students at the University Park campus no-charge access to a variety of Microsoft operating systems includingWindows 7 and Windows 8 as well as development products like Visual Studio. Incoming students will automatically receive an email with login information for the DreamSpark program. Questions can be sent to

Software at Penn State:

Penn State provides Microsoft Office Pro Plus 2013, Office for Mac 2011 and Windows 8.1 Upgrade to currently enrolled Penn State students at no additional cost. Please note that in order to download the Windows 8.1 Upgrade, you must have an existing operating system already installed on your machine. Information is available at

Symantec AntiVirus software is available at no additional cost to Penn State students. The software is available at

Penn State offers additional software packages at a significant discount to students. Information is available at

Other software applications may be required during a student's undergraduate degree program and will be specific to a major or course. Such software requirements will be conveyed to students by faculty as needed. In addition, each department in the College of Engineering has computer facilities and software packages for high-end engineering applications that are needed by its students for academic assignments.

Special note for Mac users:

Most Apple Mac computers made after 2006 run multi core Intel processors, and can run Microsoft Windows in addition to OS X. This expanded functionality is achieved through the use of a number of software applications, the most notable of which are Boot Camp (free from Apple), Parallels Desktop for Mac, and VMware Fusion. Boot Camp requires the user choose the desired environment at boot time. Parallels Desktop for Mac and VMware Fusion run on top of OS X and allow both Mac and Windows operating system to run simultaneously. You will also need a licensed copy of the desired version of Windows - available through the DreamSpark program (see above). So if you have a Mac and need to run software that is only available for Windows, you may want to explore one of these options.

last updated: June 16, 2015



No specific calculators are recommended or required by engineering programs. The calculator that most students have and use in more advanced engineering courses is a scientific graphing calculator.

A graphing calculator may be a useful study and learning tool for Math courses, but calculators are not allowed to be used in Math exams, finals and quizzes – this includes MATH 140, 141, 220, 230, 231, 250, and 251, the courses that are commonly required in engineering majors. It is the other science courses where a calculator is more often used.

For required Physics courses (PHYS 211-214), whether or not calculators may be used on exams in a particular semester is at the discretion of the faculty member(s) teaching the course. In semesters in which calculators are allowed, graphing calculators are useful and generally acceptable, but questions will be designed so these features do not give one an undue advantage. Devices with radio or infrared communication capabilities such as cellular telephones, pagers, and PDAs are prohibited during exams. Calculators are always allowed for homework, recitation, and laboratory work.

For required chemistry courses (including CHEM 110 and 112), a suitable scientific calculator, specifically one that handles numbers in scientific notation and provides log/antilog functions, is essential. Calculators with text-storage capabilities (such as the TI-8x series) or communication capabilities (such as cell-phone calculators, iPods or BlackBerries) are not permitted during exams.

last updated: July 22, 2014

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