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So I have been accepted to a PhD Geography program (yay!). At this program, students pick an area of concentration, then two subfields (or "minors," if you will). I know I want one of my subfields to be GIS. However, I am going to have to start from square 1 with the coursework and I currently have a MacBook.

I am thinking I will need another machine, with its own software, to take this to the level I want in grad school (I already have ideas of what I'd like to do with GIS and the databases I want to make). What setups do current grad students have that currently do lots of GIS? How much would be approximate start-up cost?

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I have an Eee Top which works great and was cheap. Unless your running massive data sets, standard specs on a new computer should be more than enough. A large monitor is great.

Your school will have a GIS lab which you can use, so you dont need to rush out and buy something right away. It could be be good to get out there see what your other computer needs are too. Also, if your running the ESRI student trial version provided by your school some important features will be missing so you will probably be spending a lot of the time in the lab anyway to use their full versions. A portable external hd (like a wd passport) would be useful at some point too for working on projects at different stations without confusing arcmap.

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Hi there!

Congrats on your acceptance to a Phd program. If you're looking for a laptop/ notebook, perhaps look for one that has a larger screen. I struggled with getting a PC as my Macbook served me well. I tried using Bootcamp to use Arc10. But due to the terribly small screen size of my Macbook, I felt very restrained. Having a notebook would be a great investment for the new year. You'd be mobile and not constrained to the four-walls of the office.

If you have a large amount of data, perhaps it may be helpful if you got an external hard drive (try newegg.com they have splendid deals for 1Tb external drives). Either that, or you may want to ask if your department has a server where you can have space.

Recently I've bought a refurbished Dell Inspiron 17R (I believe I paid only $550 for it). It has 600GB, runs on Core i5, and has 6Gb for memory. And I believe it's 64 bit (I was told that it works well for Windows 7). It's one speedy machine and I'm well pleased with it. The screen resolution works well as well. I managed to get a student version of Arc10 installed and haven't had much problems. I have been using this notebook intensely (lots of geoprocessing, interpolation, digitizing and spatial analysis).

But you may want to wait till a month or several weeks before school starts in Fall. Cause in some states, you may get tax breaks from purchasing the notebook (as it maybe considered as a school "supply"/ need). Also, some schools have computer support services that would install Windows 7 on your notebook for free (especially if you're a TA/ RA). You'd get to save a lot from that! And don't shy away from Refurbished notebooks (Dell outlet online store has plenty of them). Many a times, they are perfectly normal (perhaps a wee little scratch and that's just aesthetics).

Hey who knows if you wait for a tad bit, the prices for notebooks running on Core i7 would drop.

That's my 2 cents worth.

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Thank you so much. I think the recommendation to wait a bit is key, do the intro course, and ask the GIS profs and their students, who are into it heavily, what would suit my needs. I will certainly use the lab at first, but will ultimately want to make a switch to being able to work at home evenings/weekends.

GIS_Guru, thanks for the specific suggestions on hardware. I'll probably solicit the help of my S.O. (an IT guy) for finding a good machine. Yes, MacBook will run Windows, but mine is a year+ old by now, and I think I am going to push it to its absolute limit with 4 years of grad school ahead of me. I wouldn't mind having a 2nd laptop (I do now for work).

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