General Computer Purchase Information for Students

(Updated May 2022)

NOTE: There continue to be world-wide delays in the delivery of many products, including computers. Students can expect to wait several weeks for delivery after ordering a computer. Older computers that students already own may be acceptable for the first semester. 

Click here for information on recommended specifications for older computers. 

All students should have a full computer, at least an older computer, available for coursework at the beginning of their first year. Using a smart phone only will not work for courses.

ALL departments require students to have a computer with minimum specifications. Computers that do not meet minimum specifications may prevent students from completing course assignments. 

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.

Undergraduate Programs

Undergraduate students should have their computer, with the minimum specifications for each department linked below, no later than the first day of class for the semester indicated.

Macintosh or Windows
Architecture Spring Semester, First Year
(Students should have some device, such as an older computer, available for courses in the Fall Semester, First Year.)
Windows computers are required.
Art+Design Fall Semester, First Year Animation/New Media Students:
Windows Strongly Preferred.
All other A+D Students: Macintosh or Windows
Design Studies Fall Semester, First Year Macintosh or Windows
Graphic Design Fall Semester, First Year Macintosh computers are required
Industrial Design Fall Semester, First Year Windows computers are required

Graduate Programs

All Graduate students should have their computer, with the minimum specifications for each department linked below, no later than the first day of class of their first semester.

Graduate Students Macintosh or Windows
Architecture First Semester Windows computers are required.
Art+Design First Semester Animation/New Media Students:
Windows Strongly Preferred.
All other A+D Students: Macintosh or Windows
Graphic Design First Semester Macintosh computers are required
Industrial Design First Semester Windows computers are required
Landscape Architecture First Semester Windows preferred
PhD in Design,
Doctor of Design
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 Wolfpack Outfitters or by phone at (919) 515-3400 before making your final purchase. The Wolfpack Outfitters’ technology 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:

  • Autodesk provides software free to NCSU students through their Education Community website.
  • Microsoft Office 365, including full downloadable versions of Office products, is available free for NCSU students from the NCSU Office 365 website.
  • Adobe Creative Cloud: Annual subscription discounts are available through the College of Design. Students should watch their email for purchasing information each summer or at the beginning of each fall semester.

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. Financial Aid loans for up to $3000 may be requested using this form.

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 provided by a laptop is appealing, but since students will be spending long hours using a computer, we highly recommend 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 to ensure good 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.

Desktops can provide higher performance options and customization. This is important for many of our students who are doing high-end rendering, 3D animations, building and landscape fly-through modeling, virtual/augmented reality (VR/AR) and more. Much of the software used in the college has minimum hardware specifications only available in desktop computers.

Students should pay attention to the Graphics Processor Unit (GPU), especially on laptops. A Discrete GPU should be used instead of an Integrated or Shared GPU where possible. A Discrete GPU uses its own processing memory rather than sharing memory with the main processor’s memory. Discrete GPU memory provides better performance, especially with the graphics intensive requirements such as 3D rendering, VR/AR, etc.

Macintosh or Windows?

Many times this choice depends on personal preference, but students must consider the recommended or required platform shown in the chart above for their department. Many software applications used in the College are available on both the Macintosh and Windows platforms, but there are exceptions. And some departments have specific hardware requirements for coursework.

As design professions use more higher-end rendering and VR/AR, hardware specifications require higher-level, Windows-based computers and graphics processors. The College of Design teaches for these professions using industry-leading processes and technology, thus requiring Windows-based computers for many students.

Each department in the College of Design has different computer requirements. For example, the Department of Graphic Design uses Macintosh computers almost exclusively and requires 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 must run Windows-based software applications.

Industrial Design requires Windows computers that are tested for use with certain software and virtual reality hardware.

Art+Design prefers using Windows software applications for Animation/New Media students. Fibers/Soft Construction students may use Macintosh or Windows.

Landscape Architecture recommends Windows computers.

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

See the departmental recommendations linked in the chart above for specific information.

Recommended Operating System Versions

For personal computers running Windows, the College of Design recommends Windows 10 Home, Pro or Education Editions. 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 Education is available here.

For Macintosh operating system, we strongly recommend using Mac OS 11.0 (Big Sur) or later. The College provides only limited support for Mac OS 10.14 or earlier. Mac OS version upgrades are free on compatible computers.

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 and may be acceptable for the first year of college.

Students will need to have a computer that meets the minimum specifications for their department to complete course assignments. Students need to be prepared for online courses and be able to complete assignments from off-campus. Computers that do not meet minimum specifications may prevent students from completing course assignments.

Additional Recommended Options and Accessories

There are other things students should consider purchasing:

  • An ethernet connection/adapter and Category 6 ethernet cable, 15′ to 25′ in length (required to use the recommended wired network connections available in studios). Cables are available at Wolfpack Outfitters.
  • A wireless network adapter for laptops (needed for wireless network connection). Most computers include this.
  • An external monitor, keyboard and mouse to provide better ergonomic posture.
  • 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.
  • A good backup system—either an external storage drive or online backup service.
  • 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 will not need their own 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. Some students may find it more convenient to print their documents directly to a printer in their studio or residence. However, compare the costs of a personal printer and supplies. Having a personal printer can be more expensive than many people realize because of the continuing cost of supplies.

Students may also consider purchasing other peripherals such as scanners, digital cameras, etc. Before buying anything, see if the item is available from the College’s William Keating Bayley Information Technology Laboratory. The Bayley IT Lab has equipment available for check out for student use, but some students may wish to have their own.

College of Design students have access to 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. 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 Backups

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 document 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 through homeowner’s or renter’s insurance.

Students are strongly encouraged to purchase an external hard drive or use an online backup service and maintain current, continuous backups of their work. Current operating systems provide easy methods for making backups, but these require some sort of external storage on which to put the backup files. Getting into the habit of consistently making backups 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. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE get into the habit of making consistent backups! Online backup services are also available for monthly or yearly charges. NC State students also have unlimited Google Drive storage, which can provide a good, free place to back up their files, IF they develop the habit.

Computer Documentation, Software and Repair

Students should bring along associated documentation, receipts, warranty information, and software installers with them 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, such as that offered by WolfPack Outfitters. 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.