The purpose of this guide is to help students and families determine their computing needs for their time at NCSSM. In ITS, we’re often asked, “What laptop should I buy for NCSSM?”. Our first response is to inform families to take inventory of any laptops that they already own as our minimum specifications could be met by machines that are three years old or younger (as long as the laptop is in a good operating condition). With that in mind, please take a look at the following and determine the best course for you and your student.
Do you already have a laptop in good working condition less than three years old?
To see if your laptop meets the minimum specs:
Does it have at least 8 GB of RAM/memory?
Do you have at least 240 GB of solid state storage (SSD)?
It will need to be compatible with 802.11n/ac standard and have a 5 GHz wireless radio (most, if not all, will be compatible if purchased within the last six years).
Does it have a webcam?
Webcams are required for use with the Online program.
If you answered Yes to all of the above, then you’re all set unless you want to buy a new computer. If that's the case, please see below.
Want or need to buy a laptop but don’t know what to look for?
Any laptop running Windows or macOS that you buy new today will meet NCSSM's minimum specifications. Note that we did say laptop. Devices such as iPads, Android tablets, or Chromebooks will not work as primary devices given the various software requirements for classes that a student will take at NCSSM.
What laptop does ITS recommend? Here are a few options from Dell, Lenovo, Microsoft, and Apple that we can recommend, however, please be aware that this list is by no means exhaustive, and many other brands and models with the specs listed above would likely work just as well.
Warranty: we highly recommend at least a two-year warranty with complete care coverage (covering accidental damage such as broken LCD screens and spilled drinks). On-site warranty repair is most desirable to keep the time a student is without a laptop to a minimum. Students should bring a copy of the terms of the warranty to facilitate guidance from NCSSM ITS.
Note: ITS is not a computer repair facility for student laptop hardware issues.
What else do you recommend or require?
Students are not required to bring their own printer as printing is available in the library during the times it is open (most nights ~10 PM). Printing is charged at $.05 a page (only prints in monochrome). Wireless printers are not allowed at NCSSM due to the interference they can cause with wireless reception in residence halls. If you have a wireless printer and bring it, the wireless radio must be turned off and printing must be done via a cable connection. Students in violation of this rule will face disciplinary charges. With that in mind, below are recommendations that ITS makes:
Recommended: Use the network printers in the library.
If bringing a printer, you may want to coordinate with your student’s roommate/s to work out a plan where it can be shared instead of bringing two printers into a limited space.
Keeping one's laptop Operating System (OS) and installed software up-to-date is required to make sure your laptop, and the NCSSM network, remains secure. NCSSM requires that you regularly update your laptop, installing all patches as they become available, and, on Windows 10, ensure that you leave Microsoft Defender's automatic scanning enabled.
Anti-Virus (AV) software is recommended at NCSSM. Failure to have a current, updated AV program can result in being blocked from the NCSSM network. Many manufacturers offer trial versions of AV software lasting 60 to 90 days; these must be updated at the end of the trial period or the user’s account will be disabled. For Windows users we recommend Malwarebytes (the free version) in conjunction with the free and included Microsoft Defender. These programs are free, unobtrusive, use few system resources, have automatic updates, and do a good job protecting against viruses and other malware. Windows 8 and 10 have Windows Defender or Microsoft Defender already installed; only Malwarebytes need be added. macOS and Linux users should use Sophos (Mac), ClamAV (Linux), or similar anti-virus package. These applications are also free, unobtrusive, and lightweight.
Please keep in mind that AV software is only one line of defense and is not a substitute for safe, smart computing by a student. Malware infected machines have a profound negative effect of a student’s productivity and places others in the NCSSM network at risk. As such, if ITS discovers that a machine has been significantly compromised, ITS will notify the student of the problem and may have to suspend their network access until the issue has been resolved.
Protective sleeve for carrying laptop: this could be separate from a backpack or be a pocket with extra padding built-in to a backpack.
Broken displays and henges resulting from carrying laptops in backpacks alongside textbooks and other items is another leading cause of damage to our students’ laptops.
Software: Students will not be required to purchase any software that is mandatory for their class work. It will be made available to them to download and install.
Recommended Computer Repair site: For hardware-related issues on computers that are out of warranty, ITS is not allowed to do repairs. Instead, ITS recommends Computer Cellar at 720 9th Street (just down the street from NCSSM, below The Regulator). They also sell batteries and AC adapters for popular laptop models.
Campus Network and Other Devices
NCSSM provides an all-wireless network for student use. This network is named eduroam. eduroam utilizes WPA2-Enterprise for secure authentication, which is supported by all modern operating systems ITS supports at the school, including Windows, macOS, various flavors of Linux, iOS, and Android.
Utilizing the WPA2-Enterprise standard (which has been around since 2004) gives us the most secure method available of securing our wireless network at NCSSM. WPA2-Enterprise utilizes RADIUS servers for authentication when initiating a connection, generating a unique key for each session when encrypting the data between your device and the network. WPA2-Enterprise provides this and several other additional security benefits over using the WPA2-Personal (or WPA2-PSK) standard. WPA2 also utilizes a much stronger encryption protocol than WPA (CCMP for the former, TKIP for the latter).
Devices that do not currently support WPA2-Enterprise
Please be aware, however, that many other consumer electronic devices with Wi-Fi do not support WPA2-Enterprise at this time, however. Please refer to the list below, which is not in any way exhaustive but contains many popular devices that do not support WPA2-Enterprise networks.
Please be aware that NCSSM does not permit the use of some types of devices that create interference with our campus' eduroam wireless network, which specifically includes:
wireless printers (personal printers can be used, but wireless connectivity must be disabled)
wireless routers of any kind
hotspots that utilize cellular data to create Wi-Fi networks
Home Network Recommendations (Online)
For NCSSM Online students, NCSSM recommends a fast broadband internet connection at home. A DSL, cable, or fiber connection with a bandwidth of at least 5 Mbps (5 Megabits per second) down and up is recommended. For more information on your connection speed and the options that are available for your to use, please check with your Internet Service Provider (ISP).