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Faculty of Mathematics

Buying and Purchasing IT / Computer Equipment (PCs, laptops, desktops, screens, printers)

Hardware changes often so please do ask help@maths.cam.ac.uk for support with purchasing computer/IT equipment.

Possible computing line items for grant applications.

The standard, default, provision of computing resources (desktop, screen, etc.).

Purchasing Deals

There are some purchasing deals, both National and University level, for PCs, Apple Macs, servers, desktops and laptops. Please email help@maths to arrange to discuss the different deals with a Computer Officer.

Public and Group Computers

Individuals and research groups are encouraged to use grants to purchase computer equipment. Access to Linux computers can be controlled down to the group or individual user account level.

The standard, default, provision of computing resources.

Computer Hardware for Maths Linux

Most software can be downloaded and installed on Linux computers without the need for root/system access privileges.

If you want to buy a computer for Maths Linux please email help@maths.cam.ac.uk with the specification of the machine you want to purchase. It is very helpful to know which of numbers of cores, clock speed, memory and storage you would like to optimise for and the budget/price range you are interested in:

  • CPU, cores
  • memory
  • disk(s)
  • what computer will be used for (e.g. people, codes/jobs, software, etc.)

Computer Hardware for Maths Windows

Typically the same PC hardware that will run Maths Linux will also run Maths Windows with the additional purchase of a Windows licence.

The majority of software available for Windows computers requires root/system access privileges to install it, consequently requests for software go to the Computer Officers (help@maths).

Other Desktops - not Managed by Computer Officers

Un-managed computers (i.e. not run by the Computer Officers) can be put on the wired laptop network. The user/owner/you will be responsible for maintaining the computer with security updates, software applications and hardware repairs. The Computer Officers can provide a limited amount of support for people running their own computers.

Of course you do get system/root/administrator access to your computer.

Expected useful lifetime for a desktop is more than 5 years.

Purchasing a computer (general information)

The computing service provide some general advice about buying your own computer.

Apple - OSX

There is only one supplier. We can obtain educational pricing. Apple do not accept returns so make sure you are purchasing what you want.

Apple computers are now (as of the date at the top of this page) running on Intel CPUs. Equivalent specification machines not from Apple (e.g. PCs) typically cost 20% to 100% less, however they are not Apple nor do they run OSX.

PC - Windows/Linux

If you want to run Linux on the hardware then it is good to check that it will run on the hardware before purchasing. Linux hardware support is not perfect, although it appears to be continuously improving. Some PC hardware is certified to run various Linux distributions. PC hardware can be tested with Linux without actually installing Linux using various LiveCDs, which can be done by network booting on the laptop network.

If the PC is certified for Windows then it is fine, with the additional purchase of a Windows licence. MS Office, and some other commercial software, is available via University Sales and the Computer Officers can purchase this for you. Newer versions of Windows are not released very often so the version of Windows that comes with the computer is unlikely to need upgrading.

Laptops

The user/owner/you will be responsible for maintaining the computer with security updates, software applications and hardware repairs. The Computer Officers can provide a very limited amount of support for people running laptops.

Of course you do get system/root/administrator access to your computer.

Some things to consider when purchasing a laptop:

  • weight, under 2kg is portable for most people and netbooks are often down at 1kg
  • screen size, 14 or 15 inches is "normal" 12 inches is often "ultra-portable" and anything below 8 inches is tiny
  • CPU, memory, disk
  • network connections: wireless, wired/cable, 3G
  • other connections such as USB, firewire, eSata, memory card, audio
  • budget
  • OS: Windows, OSX, Linux, combinations - below
  • expected useful lifetime is 3 to 5 years

Screens

Prices and configurations change very often - please contact help@maths when purchasing a screen.

Some Apple computers can be used with a 3rd party screen - typically these screens cost substantially less (e.g. 50%) than the equivelant Apple screen (comparison by size, resolution and brightness).

Dual Head - 2 screens

You get more pixels for your money by purchasing two screens and using them together. OSX, Windows and Linux can drive two screens with the right graphics card (most graphics cards can now drive two screens using the VGA and DVI ports).

Warranties

Most computer hardware now comes with a 3 year warranty. You might want to extend the warranty to five years. Each year of the warranty extension should cost less than 5% of the initial purchase price.

Printers

Currently we use HP networked printers.

Dual Boot / Multiple OSes on the Same Computer / Virtualisation

PC hardware can usually support dual boot of Windows and Linux. It is usually easier to install Windows first, then Linux. Files can be shared using a FAT (vfat) disk partition that both OSes can read. Modern Linux distributions can, typically, read and write to NTFS (Windows file system).

Linux can be installed on OSX hardware. We do not have much/any experience of this.

Virtualisation can be used to run one OS "inside" another (a virtual machine). For example Apple OSX can use Boot "Camp" to run Windows (you will need to purchase a Windows licence to do this). Linux can run Windows with Virtual Box.