School of GeoSciences

Computing Equipment

How to purchase IT equipment for use within the School.

What to expect

Staff and desk based postgraduate research students (PGR) will be provided a university "Supported Desktop" (Windows 10) computer. 

The University introduced a new IT Sustainability Policy in 2020. The key principle is that members of the University should have as few computing devices as are necessary (ideally a single device) to carry out their work for the University.

Our usual replacement cycle is approximately five years. New staff on 3 year or longer contracts will usually be provided with a new PC, as will new PhD students. MScR students and staff on shorter contracts may be provided with used equipment that is still within its five year expected lifetime. 

Generally desktop monitors last (much) longer than five years, so are unlikely to be replaced along with an upgraded PC.

Partly as a result of the Sustainability policy we have moved to a "laptops first" approach in the School, where we will usually supply staff and new PhDs with a laptop and "desktop kit" of dock, screen, keyboard and mouse - rather than supplying them with a desktop PC. Thus most members of the School in future will have a portable PC that allows them to work from home as well as in the office and that they can take with them to events away from their desk.

If you wish to purchase additional or alternative IT equipment, you are required to do so with research funding, such as a grant or RTSG, and may have to justify your purchase. 

Any IT purchases made through the School will remain property of the University, and must be returned when you leave the University. 

Apple (MacOS) computers

It should be noted that Apple computers remain vastly more expensive than a (Windows) PC equivalent (example below). 

Due mainly to budgetary considerations the School will not supply Apple computers for staff or PhDs unless the price differential is covered by other funding, e.g. from a research grant or a PhD's RTSG funds, though it should also be noted that, mostly, funds from these other sources are still School funds and will need to be justified. 

Besides budgetary concerns, it remains the case that MacOS is less well supported by the University's systems than Windows and incompatibilities are not unknown.

In very rare circumstances there may be software that is essential for research that is only available on MacOS - though this is almost vanishingly rare. 

It is therefore hard to justify spending much more money to get essentially the same or a less good end result, when most MacOS users are basically using the same software as is available on Windows. Some will argue that they are simply more familiar with MacOS – this may be true, but except in very limited circumstances both options are equally functional and any member of the School should be able to adapt to an only slightly different user interface.

Current standards (June 2020)

Our current standard PC is an HP EliteBook 830 G6 with the following specifications:

  • 13" (1920x1080) screen
  • Quad-core i5 CPU
  • 16GB RAM
  • 512GB SSD (for new purchases - current stock still has a 256GB SSD)
  • 23" desktop screen (1920x1080) 
  • Desktop dock, keyboard and mouse

If you would prefer a slightly larger laptop screen the HP EliteBook 840 model is available as an alternative, with the same basic specifications, just with a slightly larger screen (and consequent slight increase in size and weight). 

If you wish to purchase a desktop PC as your primary device, our usual solution is an HP EliteOne 800 "All in One" PC with i5 CPU, 16GB RAM and 512GB SSD. This has a 23", 1920x1080 resolution screen and has a built-in webcam and speakers. If you think you might prefer a desktop PC, please email us at it.geos@ed.ac.uk to discuss your requirements.

Linux

Most users who primarily use Linux for their daily work are advised to use a Windows PC as their terminal, and connect to our XRDP service to enjoy a Linux desktop environment. It has long been our experience that most Linux users sometimes need to use MS Windows programs (such as MS Office) and this gives you the most flexibility. 

Workstations and other oddities

The University subscribes to a "framework agreement" for low-to-mid-range Workstations (HP Z1 and Z4). More specialised workstations may also be purchased from HP or from other vendors. If you need non-standard computing equipment, in the first instance, email us at it.geos@ed.ac.uk to discuss your requirements.

Most of our "serious" compute work takes place on Linux servers housed in a machine room (cooling high powered computing equipment is a noisy business and such systems don't make good neighbours). Workstations are used mainly for visualisation of output from such "remote" compute systems and other HPC (High Performance Compute) systems provided by other organisations outwith the School. 

For PhDs or PDRAs, written confirmation from your supervisor is required to make a purchase, at which point we can draft a purchase order form for you. 

A comparative illustration of PC costs (June 2020)

HP EliteBook vs MacBook
HP EliteBook 830 G6 (13”) cost MacBook Pro 13” cost
i5 CPU, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD 607.12 i5 CPU, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD 1462.06
HP "UltraSlim" Dock 47.21 i-tec USB-C dual-display desktop dock 97.67
HP USB Keyboard and mouse 14.58 Apple Magic Keyboard and mouse (wireless) 151.87
HP EliteDisplay E233 desktop screen 105.60 HP EliteDisplay E233 desktop screen 105.60
(HDMI port and USB-A ports onboard) 0.00 i-tec portable “nano dock” with HDMI output 27.66
Physical size: 31.04 x 22.93 x 1.77 cm, 1.33kg   Physical size: 30.41 x 21.24 x 1.49cm, 1.37kg  
Total 774.51   1844.86

The Apple MacBook has only USB-C ports, so connecting to most external screens or projectors, or even to most USB storage drives and memory sticks, requires the use of an adapter.

The cheapest reasonable quality portable solution we have been able to find that covers those scenarios is the “i-tec USB-C Nano Dock” included above.

The HP EliteBook has a full size HDMI port and two “USB-A” ports (as well as a USB-C port).

 

The cost of the near-equivalent Apple equipment is well over twice the price of a (Windows) PC – a difference of £1070.35 in this case.

A little of that could be ameliorated by using a standard desktop keyboard and mouse, but that would still leave a difference of nearly £1000.