This section is primarily addressed to pre- and post-doctoral students in the Sociology Department, but is relevant for all Sociology laptop users. The laptop has emerged as the defacto standard in universities for undergraduate, graduate and professional studies. Duke is no exception. Most entering graduate students arrive now with a laptop and typically upgrade at least once during their course of studies. Buying a laptop is an important decision. The following factors should be considered in the choice and upkeep of a laptop.
Physical Features: Screen size, weight, processor speed, memory and hard drive capacity are key choice factors. Your budget and computing needs will influence your choices. It is important to have a clear sense of where you will be going with computing over your years in the graduate program. Computing needs tend to increase over time, particularly as your dissertation research agenda forms. Processor speed, memory and hard drive choices should be influenced by the size of the data sets you use. If you are not a quantitative researcher, a minimal and lightweight machine may suffice.
Operating System: The typical choices are Microsoft Windows and Apple OS X. The majority of faculty use Windows, however, Mac usage is increasing. The IT staff is most well versed in Windows and Linux, but increasingly is supporting Macs.
Alternative Resources: It is not necessary or advisable for you to plan that all of your computing take place on your laptop. Learn about and take advantage of what the department offers through its infrastructure. The Computing Lab in Room 135 is always available and provides a software baseline of widely used and specialized applications. The Sociology Linux System is available and remotely accessible from anywhere for data management, analysis and access to a repository of social science secondary data. Shared data arrangements can be set up for collaborative research and dedicated space for large data research projects can be arranged. To the extent that suitable machines are available, office desktops are made available for shared or dedicated use with login access to your network directory and network printers.
Lifespan: Because they are schlepped around, laptops are more prone to breakage and wear. The realistic lifespan of a laptop used as a primary PC is four years or less. They are subject to screen breakage and keyboard spills. Laptops purchased through the Duke Computer Store are more expensive than ones purchased online or through big box stores, but for the extra money you get the benefit of a complete care 3 or 4 year warranty with on campus repair service. Consumer grade machines typically have a one year warranty and require shipment back to the manufacturer for repair. The extra money can be well spent.
Physical Security: Graduate student offices have multiple occupants and are sometimes left open and vacant. An unattended laptop is an appealing target for thieves. A security cable attached to your desk and the laptop cannot prevent theft, but it is a deterrent. Exercise caution and awareness when using your laptop in the library and other public spaces.
Digital Security: You should have antivirus software (such as McAfee) installed and updating daily. Make sure that your operating system is regularly updated. If you start to observe unusual laptop behavior, it may be compromised. Bring it in for the IT staff to look at.
Data Security: Your laptop should not be the only place you store copies of academic and professional files. Consider the following options to ensure multiple copies of important work:
- Use of your network drive on the departmental file server. [Network space should not be used for personal MP3, digital photo and video collections.]
- Use of a portable USB hard drive to backup.
- Use of USB memory keys to backup.
- Use of the internal DVD burner to backup.
- Copy or sync to other PCs you own, such as a desktop.
Hardware Problems: The IT staff deals with a regular stream of laptop hardware problems and is quite experienced. They should be your first stop before deciding what to do next. Warranty versus non-warranty repair options must be sorted out. If a hard drive or mother board is failing, the staff can often slave the hard drive to another machine and salvage personal data files for you.