System Recommendations and Purchase Considerations

CUIT provides support for both Windows and Macintosh computers. 

Columbia does not require undergraduates to own computers, and CUIT supports computer clusters and labs that are open 24/7 for student use. However, as more and more classes use email to notify students of assignments, many students find owning a personal computer convenient. Several of the professional schools, including the Law School, have their own specific requirements or recommendations. If you are a student or faculty member of a professional schools, please speak to their IT department directly for further information.

Note: Students must activate their computer accounts before they can access their email or use CUIT lab facilities. If you have not yet done so, please visit Manage My UNI. We also recommend purchasing a USB flash drive to easily store and transport your data. A 2GB flash drive is fairly inexpensive and some University-preferred vendors have discounts available.

General Guidelines 

The most important question to ask yourself when selecting a computer is what you're going to use it for. Most personal computers at Columbia are used for five tasks:

Whatever your needs, we recommend that you purchase a computer which meets Energy Star requirements. You should purchase as much memory (RAM) and hard drive space as you can comfortably afford, as these impact the life of your computer and the long-term efficiency more significantly than processor speed. A minimum for extending longevity would be 8 GB of RAM for standard machines, and if you are purchasing a machine with a 64 bit system, we highly recommend increasing to 16 GB for higher performance. Hard drives should have a minimum of 250 GB. We are not suggesting that you purchase a computer with faculties beyond your need, but please consider that your needs may change over time and plan accordingly.

For those performing statistical analysis or writing computer programs, most programming and data analysis tools reside on Columbia's shared central computer systems. Your personal computer is simply used to access these tools, and does little actual processing.

Desktop or Laptop?

Laptops have the advantage of being mobile and light. Desktops are usually cheaper, easier to repair/upgrade and harder to steal.

There are many different types of laptops. Some are ultraportables, designed to be as light as possible (less than 4 pounds). This results in increased cost, decreased durability and fewer capabilities (for example, smaller screen, smaller hard drive, and shorter battery life).

Other laptops are designed to be “desktop replacements,” in that they have most of the functionality and storage capacity of a desktop computer while still occupying significantly less surface area than a desktop PC’s CPU, monitor, keyboard, speakers and mouse.

Whichever you decide, both will do what you need if you first understand your priorities. A 4-6 pound laptop might sound like nothing but it’s heavier than it seems and the laptop weight itself doesn’t include the additional weight and inconvenience of the power supply, laptop bag and possible extra battery—not to mention your books.

Windows or Mac (or Linux)?

The choice of platform (Windows, Mac, Linux) is essentially a matter of personal preference. If you are already familiar with one platform, there is no particular reason to switch. Your school may have more specific criteria, so check with your academic advisor before deciding.

CUIT provides certain relevant software, documentation and limited operating system help for CUIT's supported versions of Windows and MacOS (found at right). No support is available for Linux.

If you know you will need to use a particular software package which only runs on a specific platform, this should dictate your choice.

Word processing and browsing the Internet are accomplished equally with either an Apple or a Windows computer. Many games, statistical analysis and programming tools are available solely for the Windows operating system. Audio/video editing can be done on both platforms but Apple computers tend to have the edge in stability and functionality.

Extended Warranties

You should consider getting an extended warranty with your computer as protection for future hardware or operating system issues. This is strongly suggested if you are buying a laptop or if the standard warranty period is one year or less.

Note: CUIT does not provide hardware repair support to students, and offers limited operating system support focused on resolving issues with the specific programs used to access University online resources. If an issue falls outside of these parameters, a manufacturer's extended warranty is a good backup solution.

Internet Access

Before you access the network, you should have the latest security updates for your operating system. As a Columbia University student, you can install Malwarebytes for free.

For more information about Columbia’s networks, visit the Network and Wireless page.

Choosing a Display

LED display monitors come in a variety of sizes, generally from 13 to 30 inches.

Recommended Display Specifications
  • Refresh Rate: 60-hertz
  • Min. Possible Resolution: 1280 x 720 pixels or higher

Where Should I Buy My Computer?

CUIT has negotiated discount arrangements with Apple, Dell, and other vendors on behalf of the Columbia community. You are in no way obligated to purchase from these vendors if you prefer shopping elsewhere.

We recommend you visit a store or showroom to examine a computer prior to purchase.

Columbia University faculty and staff can purchase Dell and Apple products using their departmental chart string by reviewing the supported hardware options on the CUIT Desktop Support Services page.

Dell equipment may be purchased online by Columbia students, faculty and staff at a discount by calling Dell at 1-800-695-8133 and providing Columbia's Dell Member ID: US24184416

Discounted pricing is available on all products, but we receive our largest discount on commonly purchased institutional systems and product-bundled packages, and include a minimum three-year warranty.

Students, faculty, and staff who would like to use a personal credit card should visit the Apple University Store or call 1-800-800-2775 and choose option 2, then option 1 to make purchases or inquire about the latest promotions.

Entering students without an active UNI should call the Apple University Store at 1-800-800-2775. Press option 2, followed by option 1. Let the sales representative know you will be attending Columbia University.

What About Buying a Used Computer?

Buying a used computer can save money in the short term. If you choose to do so, make sure you ask for the original operating system installation software. Future issues may occur that require you to reinstall all OS software. Without the original installation media, you will need to pay for new licensed copies. You should also keep in mind that buying an older computer means you probably will have an older operating system. As they get older, operating systems are less likely to be supported or compatible with more recent software.

We recommend any first-time or novice users purchase a new computer. Used computers bring reliability into question and purchasing from individuals leaves you with no recourse should you need help with hardware problems.

A company selling refurbished computers is a more viable option, as they often include a short warranty with each purchase.


All students have a quota of pages they can print via the network printers. Network printers are available in many locations on campus. Some students opt to purchase a personal printer for convenience. The two common types are:

Inkjet Printers
  • Less expensive
  • Produce many colors
  • May have more options (photo printing, USB ports for digital cameras, etc.)
  • Can be less reliable
  • Require two toner cartridges that print hundreds of pages
Laser Printers
  • More expensive
  • Fewer features
  • Usually very reliable
  • Toner cartridges print thousands of pages and can be recharged

CUIT does not currently offer hardware repair support, including for personal printers.