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What type of laptop does everyone use for graduate school/data analysis?


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Howdy!

im very fortunate to have been accepted to a program after a few years of full time work experience. Until now, anytime I’ve needed to do data analysis (whether for work or even school during senior year) I simply used to the computers provided by my employment. Ive been working in research, so the computers have everything I need! Until now!

I need to buy a new laptop to start my graduate program. I’d like to stick with some type of MacBook, but I’m open to other options. I know I’ll be using SPSS, R, and although my program is I/O I’ll be doing a decent bit of cognitive research which may require me to have additional software. 

Any recommendations? What do you use? Anything you’ve been looking into computer wise?

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I have the Microsoft Surface Book (bought the original version refurbished when I started my RA position 2 years ago). I've used a lot of different computers, including macs and more powerful pcs, but besides being light/small, having a beautiful screen, and top tier wireless connectivity, its pen and tablet mode paired with Microsoft OneNote has totally replaced my notebook (and habit of printing pdfs), providing an ideal space for just sitting down and *thinking* (or reading) about stuff, beyond the coding/writing tasks typically done on computers.

At least in my niche, either data analysis isn't very intensive at all, or programs that *do* use intensive data analysis (e.g. cognitive neuroscience, which often depends on performing complex analyses on high-dimensional data sets) tend to maintain computing clusters that run all the computations for you faster than any reasonable laptop might. More broadly, computing these days has become much more cloud-based. Activities like reading, organizing, and preparing papers, writing and executing code, and so forth all happen more and more often in your web browser or otherwise remotely instead of on your own system.

In this context where it's not so important to vest computing power in your own system, what's important? I'd say that it's a fast and comfortable interface with remote resources. You want a very good and fast internet, a screen that's sizeable and easy on the eyes, a responsive/comfortable keyboard, etc. I also prioritize portability, and have shed a much more powerful but bulkier laptop because a smaller laptop with poorer performance but better ergonomics did a better job. Oftentimes, the experience is actually most seamless with a desktop paired with a good/big monitor or set of monitors and keyboard. In this sense, the laptop just complements that by replacing the desktop when you're on the move. So I prioritize portability even more because of that.

One added functionality that I've additionally prized is being able to use my laptop as a notebook for taking notes, thinking through problems, or annotating papers/books! It's critical for science work imo and until I had the system I had now, I had to rely on less seamless alternatives - like paper or separate tablets requiring me to spend more time transferring information, printing/scanning things, or being dissatisfied with tech not really designed for the stuff I was trying to do. That's why I sprung for the surface book instead of a mac or other windows-based laptop. I think that the surface book is an amazing device; it's totally transformed my relationship with technology and ideas in general. The surface pen is the first I've used to actually feel *better* than using an actual pen on paper, and with Microsoft OneNote it's totally replaced my collection of Moleskins. Now that there are a lot of tools to interface Windows with unix/terminal systems (there's the Linux Subsystem for Windows, and more than that, Moba XTerm, which imo is better than any terminal tools I've found for the MacOS), I feel like I can recommend the surface book and devices like it wholeheartedly to anyone who'll listen.

Edited by paraent
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I've gotten by with using the computer labs for data analysis. I do own a 2018 Macbook Air, and prior to that a Lenovo Thinkpad. I've found that for most of the data analysis I want to do, I prefer to be on a large monitor, with a real mouse and keyboard, so I just go into the labs to do that. The laptop is primarily for writing, haha.

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From what I noticed, no one had any problems with data analyses with their laptops in the masters program I'm currently attending, so I doubt it'll be an issue to begin with.

The only time I recall a laptop having issues with analyses was actually from the professor's laptop for a psychometrics/measurement seminar, but that's because he intentionally tried to create as much variability as possible by not training or explaining anyone in coding a specific behavior to demonstrate issues with reliability. Unfortunately, there was too much variability in responses, and SPSS was not happy. But given that this is a deliberate attempt to tank reliability as much as possible (Which obviously won't happen in an actual study unless your measure(s) are very unreliable, but I'd be more concerned about the measure than your laptop at that point), I'd say that it's pretty safe to assume you don't need to worry about choosing a specific laptop or replacing your laptop.

Edited by Marginally Significant
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You can obviously use R on anything, my partner and I both have macs and we've used them for R without any problems. Same with SPSS on my end, no problems that I can think of at all with a mac.

I also like using university supported computers, lets me keep work at work to an extent.

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For the love of all that's holy, if you buy a Mac make sure you have a proper HDMI and VGA cables/adapters. If I have to attend one more conference talk where someone insists on using their Mac instead of the provided powerpoint PC, then can't figure out how to connect it to the projector, I'll lose my mind.

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On 3/10/2019 at 11:41 PM, petitebiscuit said:

Interesting, I have SPSS on my MacBook Air! I wonder if I could put Windows on a Mac.

Yes you can! Try parallel system. 

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