Prepare for your course

Congratulations and a very warm welcome to the Department of Mechanical, Materials and Manufacturing Engineering (M3). We are looking forward to meeting you soon. As a new member of this vibrant community you will be taught and supported by leading academics and industry professionals who are committed to inspirational teaching. We hope you have an excellent experience during your degree. If you are unsure about anything in these early weeks do not be afraid to ask questions or seek help from staff. 

These pages contain department-specific advice (for our department, M3) – please also be sure to visit the university welcome pages: Welcome to Nottingham - The University of Nottingham as there is lots of useful information there, include what you’ll need to do before you arrive, and once you get here! If in any doubt, please do not hesitate to contact the relevant key member of staff – we will be happy to help you.

IT Equipment

You will need access to a laptop or device to participate in lessons and complete online learning. Whether you already have a device, or are considering purchasing new IT equipment for your university studies, please check the minimum specification recommended by Digital and Technology Services.

We would suggest you use an MS Windows 10 or Windows 11 system for ease of access to our commonly used systems, and to use some of the specialist engineering software for your studies. We would also suggest your device should have a microphone and webcam to interact with staff and students during online support sessions and tutorials.

Microsoft Office is available to download free of charge to all students for the duration of their studies and specialist engineering software is available in our on-campus computer rooms and through a remote desktop connection.

There are computer rooms available on campus and a Laptop Loan service but both are offered on a first come first served basis. All students (home, EU, and International) who might struggle with financing IT equipment can apply for support via the Hardship Fund.


Product Design and Manufacture

The information below applies ONLY to students studying Product Design and Manufacture.

To support your studies, the university recommends using a suitable laptop to work on when on or off campus. This page will help guide you through the requirements that your device needs to meet. We can only recommend things to you; we cannot tell you what to buy. That's up to you. Please read the entirety of this section as the information on pen-enabled touch screens at the end is extremely important.

How we use technology to teach on the PDM course 

The University of Nottingham has moved to a "bring your own device" policy for computers and computing. In Product Design and Manufacture we have embraced this wholeheartedly and have developed highly digital workflow. In order to participate in class you will need a laptop.

Most of the software will be available free via the engineering remote desktop. There is one piece of digital drawing software  that you will need to purchase called Sketchbook. This is available in the Windows store, the Apple store, and Android play store. It costs £16.74. You want to buy and download it before starting your degree. This is the only piece of software we will expect you to buy.

To allow the course to be taught in this way, you will need a laptop of your own that you will bring into university when needed. We will provide the software and any special equipment, but you need to own your own device which can run the software used and has a pen-enabled touch screen.

Purchasing a device with a pen-enabled touch screen might seem like an additional expense. However, over the course of your three or four years of study, it will save you money. You won't need to buy any paper or marker pens, nor will you need to get anything printed.

Should I buy a Windows PC or a Mac? 

It is a common misconception that all designers use Apple Macs. In graphic design it is true that most designers use Apple products but for 3D designers this has never been the case.  

Not all the applications you will need on the Product Design and Manufacture course run on Apple OS. For this reason, we recommend you buy a Windows-based PC. If you already have a Mac or you “just have to get one”, then there are two options for you:

1. Install software like boot camp that allows you to install Windows on your Mac. (This can often invalidate your warranty).

2. Use virtual computers, which we will provide for you. As good as the virtual computers are it will mean you will always need Wi-Fi whenever you want to work, and it will make your workflow a little less smooth.

Recommended specification of Windows PC

  • Operating System – Windows 10 or Windows 11 full version (not S Mode)
  • Processor – Intel Core i5, AMD Ryzen 5 or similar
  • RAM - 8GB – 16GB betterStorage - 256GB SSD
  • Screen size – 13inch or larger full HD screen
  • Battery – Minimum 6-hour battery life
  • USB – Two or more USB 3.0 ports
  • HDMI – Direct (port) or by a separate adaptor
  • Webcam
  • 3 button mouse
  • Pen enabled touch screen

You may have a laptop that meets all the specs above, but does not have a pen enabled screen. In this case, there are other options open to you so please read the last section of this page.

Alternatively, you might already have a laptop that does not meet the above specifications, or you might not want to spend the cost on a PC that meets all of these.

What are the key things you need to consider when buying your computer?

In product design we use large file graphics, images and have work flows often meaning several applications are open at once. So, it is worth considering which computer specifications you should prioritise.

Ram is the most important specification. Ram allows you to work with large files and have them open at the same time. 8 gigabytes are really the minimum you should go for. 16 gigabytes are great, 32 gigabytes are marvellous!

Processor has a significant impact on the speed of things, and i5 will usually suffice. Though if you need something more powerful, we tend to provide virtual computers for you that are well beyond the specification you could afford. So, although nice, a faster processor like an i7 or i9 is not as important.

Storage on a hard drive allows you to have more software installed and still be able to save your files directly on the PC. You can go a lot bigger than 256 gigabytes, but I would not recommend going any smaller, as you might not get all the software you want on the machine. SSD solid state drives are quicker, smaller, and more reliable than their predecessors. Although SSD is not critical it will keep your laptop current for longer.

Screen size. You will be spending a lot of your time on your laptop and screen size makes everything much easier and quicker. You may  later  decide you want a second monitor to give you more screen real-estate as this really improves productivity. It is easy to think but the biggest screen is the best option but remember “portability.” A large screen means a large laptop and you will have to carry this into university each day.

Battery life gives you added convenience. Although there will be lots of places in university to plug your laptop in sometimes it is easy to forget to do this. Battery life as it is shown in specifications may not actually be what is achieved when you use your laptop. The applications you will be using use the processor heavily, which will drain the battery quickly. An alternative to a large battery could be to have a spare battery.

Ports. You will need an HDMI port as well as USB ports. The HDMI port will allow you to connect your laptop to other monitors, TV's and even projectors. There are monitors in the design studios that you will be able to connect to, to give you more screen space. You will need a HDMI port to do this. There will always be a need for peripherals and additional memory storage devices and for this USB 3 and increasingly USB ports are needed.

Webcams come built into most laptops now. But if the model you are thinking of getting does not include one, this is something you will need to purchase. It is quite likely that in some points in your course, you will still need to have video-based meetings. A webcam is essential for modern IT communication purposes.

Mouse. CAD packages need a three-button mouse to be used. A laptop’s track pad will not do the job. You do not need an expensive wireless mouse. A three buttoned (two buttons and a scroll wheel) mouse is inexpensive and not as easy to lose!

Pen enabled touch screens. There are lots of products on the market which you could get, some of which are easy, others that are incredibly difficult to use.  Please watch the video which discusses touch screen options and then read the following section carefully.

What options are there for pen-enabled touch screens? 

There are many options or with different advantages and disadvantages. The most important thing to know is that you need to get a touch screen which enables you to use a stylus or pen. Not all touch screen devices allow this so it's best to check before you purchase. 

A laptop

The simplest option is to buy laptop with a touch screen. It is also probably the cheapest option and the easiest to carry round with you. The downside of this, however, is that will need to use this one device heavily and this will drain your batteries more quickly.  Using your laptop for drawing will also limit your ability to multitask. You can't do two things at once!

A tablet 

You may already have a tablet that can be used with a stylus, for example, an iPad or an Android tablet like a Samsung Galaxy. These devices are suitable for use as long as the screen is big enough. We wouldn't recommend anything under 10 inches to draw on.

Having a separate device to draw on removes some of the disadvantages outlined above for a laptop, Additionally, using a tablet is more flexible as tablets are light and easy to work with. The downside is that you will have more to carry around on a typical day and, more importantly, having an additional device will increase the overall cost.

Graphics tablet

The last option is a graphics tablet. However, this is where things get a little confusing as some graphics tablets have full-colour display screens while others have hard plastic surfaces, where what you draw is displayed directly onto your computer screen. These two devices sound quite similar and produce the same results but they are very different to use.

Although cheaper we would not recommend you buy a graphics pad that does not have a colour screen.

We have tried to use these devices for many years and have always given up on them. Having the drawings appear on a screen, not where the pen moves, makes it very difficult to get lines to join where you want them to.  These graphic pads require a huge amount of practice!

The video above explains your options for graphic tablets in more detail and shows some of the products available out there. We recommend you have a look at this even if you choose one of the other options. 

The benefits of a graphic tablet are that you get a second monitor for your laptop. You can effectively be doing two things at once. However, as with tablets in general, the downsides of this choice is that it is more expensive and that you have more to carry if you want to bring it all into university.

We hope you have found the above information useful in helping you navigate the slightly tricky issue of choosing which devices to buy for your studies at Nottingham.

Whatever option you go for, we are very much looking forward to meeting you in September.

Faculty of Engineering

Mechanical, Materials and Manufacturing Engineering (inc. Aero)

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