Tech Support

Computer Software & Specifications

The faculty of engineering recommends that all undergraduate students enrolled in an engineering program have a laptop. This tool is a critical element of the learning environment and future professional practice.

Engineering today relies heavily on computational performance and the wide functionality of computers. Portable computers are used to carry out calculations by engineers that are being documented in reports. As part of your undergraduate engineering experience you will need to write reports, do extensive calculations, write programs for processing data and carry out many important activities on the Internet. Your own portable computer will allow you to carry out these tasks in a well organised and efficient manner. Multifunctional laptops also have advantages of being able to operate as a tablet. This would allow you to take notes electronically in a handwritten or typed fashion and remove the need for carrying large number of textbooks and notebooks. There are therefore many advantages to having your own portable computer.

Selecting the right portable computer for you needs to take into account not only the requirements that you need to use a computer for, but also your particular style and approach for your undergraduate study. The table below lists some of the functions that you will need a laptop for and highlights some considerations for the different hardware specifications from which you can select the machine suitable for you.

Table 1: Some functions you will use your laptop for and the importance of different hardware components.

Engineering Student Function



Fast CPU


Screen Size

Large RAM

Large HDD

Writing reports




Programming / processing




Taking Notes


Annotating PDF notes












*Quadro line of Nividia or FirePro from AMD.

The faculty recommends the following minimum specifications for laptops; all U of A students have access to google drive (unlimited) and google software.

  • a minimum 15-inch display
  • Intel i7
  • 32 GB Ram
  • 256 SSD hard drive

It should be noted that laptops may not work for all specialized software engineering programs require; in such cases, programs will have computer labs. Students are responsible for their laptops and data; the university and faculty take no responsibility for lost, stolen, broken devices or data. The university will not service broken machines. It is highly recommended that students always save data (e.g. course packages, notes, assignments) to their google drive or other remote system to prevent data loss.

Laptop options can be found by Googling “best laptop for engineering students”. For example provides a list of specifications and information for laptops. The faculty of engineering does not endorse any specific system.

Buying a Mac? Some programs that are used in engineering programs may be Windows-only applications. You have a few options: Boot Camp comes with every new Mac, and it lets you run Windows natively—as if your Mac were a PC. If you want to run Mac OS X and Windows side by side, you can purchase Parallels Desktop for Mac or VMware Fusion. Install one of these applications, along with the Windows Installation CDs, and you can run the occasional Windows program right next to your Mac applications, without having to restart. However, Mac is not recommended for computer-aided design/drafting software, which many engineering programs require.

Recommended Software

See for discounted software available to students.

First year

  • Microsoft Office
  • Anti-virus software
  • Matlab
  • Adobe Acrobat Professional or equivalent
  • Free video editing software
  • 7ZIP, VLC media player, ScreentoGIF
  • SMath


Each engineering program has different software requirements in addition to those listed for first year. Below is a list of commonly used software. Each program will provide their students with software information as it becomes required. Students should not purchase software, unless explicitly told to do so, as programs may have agreements to provide these discounted or free to students.

Civil and Environmental Engineering

  • AutoCAD
  • WolfPack software
  • Mathematica
  • ABAQUS (FEA software)

Chemical and Materials Engineering

  • VMGSim
  • MS Visio

Electrical and Computer Engineering

  • Xilinx ISE
  • Visual Studio
  • Eclipse for C++
  • Java Development Kit
  • PSpice
  • Eagle PCB Design

Mechanical Engineering

  • Solidworks (CAD package)
  • MathCAD
  • Matlab
  • Other small resource requiring software

Last updated: August 2019