Welcome to Stanford! We are here to help you with your technology needs even before you arrive onto campus! This Personal Computing FAQ should answer many if not most of your tech-related questions about your individual computing needs, etc. as you prepare your arrival. Should you not find the answer(s) you seek, you can always reach out to us and Submit a Request.
Getting Started: A Personal Computing FAQ
Do I need my own computer?
Although nearly all Stanford students own their own computer, you are not or required to have one on campus. In addition to the residential computer clusters, other public computing facilities on campus provide Macs, Windows PCs, and Unix workstations at several convenient locations. Some students find these resources adequate and get along fine without having their own computer.
If I want to bring an older computer, will it be good enough?
You will probably be fine if the computer meets certain specifications. Basically, any computer less than four (4) years old running Windows, Apple, ChromeOS, or Linux should meet the minimum specifications that Student Technology recommends for reliable use at Stanford. Computers meeting these specifications should remain serviceable for at least your first year and probably longer.
If you do have an older computer, or any other operating system, you should be proficient in its use. The PTS team will always do their best to assist you, but ultimately they are not responsible for your personal computer and should be considered a supplemental resource. Also, regardless of the age of your computer, please bring all backup/restore software/operating system CDs, DVDs, and manuals, because you may need them if there are problems.
Do I need my own printer?
Short answer: No, not at all. Likewise to owning a computer, owning a printer is not necessary as laser printing is available in every residence and public spaces throughout the campus. Printing is 13¢/page for black and white, and 16¢/page for color. Printing is available on every cluster computer and your personal computer can be configured to print to these printers. Given printer and ink costs, this is a cheaper option over time, but may not be as convenient as having your own printer or sharing one with a roommate.
Should I buy a Mac or a PC?
Both Macs and Windows PCs are used and supported on campus. About 40 percent of undergraduates have PCs, around 56 percent have Macs (some have both). Public computer clusters include both operating systems. If you are on the fence, Student Technology recommends Macs over PCs because they have found them easier to support and more importantly, far less susceptible to viruses and network vulnerabilities. Furthermore, all new Macs have the capability to run the Windows operating system should you choose to. If you choose an operating system other than these two, you should be proficient in its use, as trained assistance for alternative platforms may be limited.
Should I buy a laptop or a desktop?
Laptops are overwhelmingly more popular than desktops because of their mobility and the widespread availability of wireless networking on campus. If you will be studying in the libraries, like to work outside, or plan to take your computer home over breaks, consider a laptop. If you will work mainly or exclusively at your desk, consider that desktop computers offer more power and better ergonomics for less money than laptops. Tablets are rapidly advancing as a viable student-device and may be suitable for most uses, but hardly replacements for full-featured computers.
What features should I get on my computer?
Different users have different needs, and the features of your computer (like screen and hard drive size) will depend on what you want and how you work. In our experience, memory (RAM) is more important than processor speed (CPU), but processor speed is more important that storage space (GB). These days, even slower processors are more than fast enough for most purposes, and all students have access to online storage via their AFS account and other supported services. If you are buying a laptop, you may want to consider an external monitor and/or keyboard.
If you are using Windows 8 or 10, you may want to consider the Home Premium or higher (not Home Basic) as these versions are upgradable if you choose to down the road. As for software, basic applications for Macs and PCs (anti-virus, anti-spyware, online storage, etc.) are freely available to the campus community.
What is the policy on game-consoles, streaming devices, etc. on the network?
Our policy regarding devices on the network does not differentiate between device type or typical use cases. As long as does not disrupt or impact other residents' experience, go for it! We'll definitely put forth a good effort to help you get it connected, but we cannot assure a successful experience for every device brought onto campus.
What should I NOT bring?
We have a constantly updated list of device we know do not currently perform as expected on the Stanford network as well as "rogue devices" known to cause issues with the Stanford networks. Please review the list of Unsupported Devices.
Will there be someone to help me set up my computer once I get to campus?
Once you move onto campus, getting your computer connected to the network should be quick and painless. You should be able to get yourself up and running by following the instructions for getting connected to the Stanford network. The PTS team will be available for consulting and to help get you oriented to the Stanford computing environment throughout the year.
If I have a disability, who can help me with my adaptive technology needs?
If you own or require adaptive computing equipment, contact the Office of Accessible Education. The staff there will advise you on system configurations that work best in Stanford’s environment and describe the computing resources available to students with disabilities. The contact information for this office is:
Office of Accessible Education Website
650 - 723 - 1066
Where can I turn if I still have questions?
Please feel free to search our full Help Center for any questions not answered here. While you will have better context and understanding after you arrive on campus, you can send in your questions to us at any time leading up to your arrival. Once on campus, the PTS team is best suited to answer your questions and help you assess your computing needs. If they do not know the answer, they will find out! Keep in mind the best way to understand the computing environment at Stanford is to experience it firsthand!
Is there a better discount if I buy on campus?
The Cardinal Tech Center in the Stanford Bookstore (which aside from the name, is free-standing, independent establishment from the University) negotiates special pricing on both desktop and laptop computers for Stanford students. If you're looking to pick up a pre-configured laptop at a low price and not spend time on customization, you may want to consider looking at the packages offered.
The Stanford Bookstore sometimes run promotions with deeper discounts, especially from Admit Weekend through New Student Orientation. Regardless, you can purchase from the Bookstore in person and get instant gratification, have them send it to you before you come to campus, or have it waiting for you upon arrival! You can see what offerings the Stanford Bookstore has available at the Cardinal Tech Center.