Student Tech Requirements

Updated: 05/07/2024


Information for Incoming Freshman & Transfer Students

Required Hardware

Cal Poly Department of Art & Design has historically recommended all incoming students procure an Apple MacBook Pro for in-class instruction. A well-appointed MacBook Pro would typically last through 4+ years of the BFA program, and perhaps beyond into the first years of professional work.

16" MacBook Pro - M3 Pro (Preferred)

  • Apple M3 Pro with 12‑core CPU, 19‑core GPU, 16‑core Neural Engine
  • 32GB unified memory (upgraded)
  • 512GB SSD storage
  • 16-inch Liquid Retina XDR display
  • Optional: AppleCare+ Extended Protection Plan - $359
  • Approximate cost with educational discount: $3,018 ($2659 + $359 for AppleCare+)

14" MacBook Pro - M3 Pro (Recommended)

  • Apple M3 Pro with 10‑core CPU, 16‑core GPU, 16‑core Neural Engine
  • 32GB unified memory (upgraded)
  • 512GB SSD storage
  • 14-inch Liquid Retina XDR display
  • Optional: AppleCare+ Extended Protection Plan - $249
  • Approximate cost with educational discount: $2,458 ($2209 + $249 for AppleCare+)

13" Macbook Pro - M3 (Minimum)

  • Apple M3 chip with 8‑core CPU, 10‑core GPU, 16‑core Neural Engine
  • 16GB unified memory (upgraded)
  • 512GB SSD storage
  • 13.6-inch Liquid Retina display with True Tone
  • Two Thunderbolt / USB 4 ports
  • Optional: AppleCare+ Extended Protection Plan - $209
  • Approximate cost with educational discount: $1,788 ($1,579 + $209 for AppleCare+)



  • Apple portables CANNOT have their RAM OR storage upgraded after purchase.  Please verify and adjust the configuration on the links above.
  • Minimum recommended RAM: 16GB
  • Minimum recommended storage: 512GB
  • On-campus purchasing—with educational discounts—can be made through the Cal Poly University Store.
  • For purchases off-campus, be sure to use Apple's Education Store for best pricing.

All 3 options above are configurable at the time of purchase, and all 3 have at least one user-configured upgrade. Buying an underperforming computer may be marginally detrimental in the immediate future, but will likely substantially limit the usable lifespan.  While faster CPU and GPU options are available on both the 14" and 16" options, for the most common Art & Design workflow (primarily 2D work), the base-level options should be adequate on the new M series hardware. 

Students planning to do substantial 3D or HD video production will benefit from the highest-performance CPU and GPU options their budget will allow.   These workflows are the most resource intense.

Required Software

  • Adobe Creative Cloud. $29.99 per year for all Cal Poly Students. Get all the information over on the Cal Poly Adobe CC page.
  • Microsoft Office 365 University. Free for all Cal Poly Students. Find this and more available at the Cal Poly Service Desk.

If you feel the need to dive in and get familiar with the tools early, both Adobe and Microsoft offer a free trial subscription that you can download and install immediately.  Students can license the software once their Cal Poly user account is in place and active.


Recommended Accessories & Services

Backup - Local Storage Drive

Every computer should be backed up daily. All computers are subject to unexpected failure, damage, loss, and theft. Laptops suffer more data loss than desktops, so be prepared. Connect an external drive often and perform backups of your most important, irreplaceable files.

Backup - Cloud Service or Subscription

Local backups to a physical drive are a great start. A cloud-based back service is even better to recover from disaster, including losing all one's gear. They also run silently in the background whenever a computer has an internet connection. Automated, continuous backups are ideal for all users. 

There are commercial provider options to shop, including:
Apple iCloud
Microsoft OneDrive
Google Drive
...and many more.

Every student gets 5TB of cloud space on Microsoft OneDrive

  • OneDrive is a cloud-based backup and sharing service.

  • Log into the Cal Poly web portal, and click on Cal Poly OneDrive in the left menu.

  • Use the OneDrive Client app to synchronize and backup files.

  • Access OneDrive files anywhere you have an internet connection.

  • OneDrive is a great way to backup work in progress, and to share files with other students for group collaboration.

External Mouse

Design, image editing, and graphics work require high levels of precision, and the touchpads built into laptops are not optimal for large amounts of precise work. Select a good quality optical or laser mouse, as inexpensive mechanical mice require frequent cleaning and are not precise.

Drawing Tablet

Drawing Tablets let artists leverage their sketching, drawing, and painting skills while working on digital art.  Layers and undo functionality increase both creativity and productivity.  Some tablets can be used as a second monitor for palettes, menus, or secondary apps, freeing up the main monitor for primary tasks too. More info on the Art & Design Tech pages.

External Monitor

External monitors provide a much larger viewing and working area and can increase productivity while reducing eye strain. Large monitors are useful for professional design tools to easily access panels, menus, settings, etc. while still viewing your work, turning your notebook into a workstation.

Protective Bag, Case or Backpack

Laptops get bounced around, dropped, and spilled on while in transit.  A protective bag or case will help prevent costly damage, and presents a lower profile to reduce the risk of theft.

Extended Warranty or Insurance

Because of the high cost and fragility of a professional laptop, we recommend that all students consider an extended warranty or insurance. We strongly recommend purchasing an Apple Care+ protection plan, or a third party plan such as Square Trade. Both extend basic warranty coverage and cover most accidental damage as well.

Please read the Terms and Conditions carefully in order to decide if either is the right coverage for your needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Do I really have to supply a portable computer?

Yes. Many classes directly integrate computing technology in the classroom and in most cases students are expected to bring their laptops to class to work on projects. While Art & Design has computer labs, some of these labs have a schedule and/or access limitations, so your own machine is often the best way to get work done on time and with the greatest flexibility.

2. Can I use a Windows laptop?

Students who choose to use another platform will find limited support from Art & Design Faculty and Staff. We have selected computers that are capable of running the professional software used by the discipline and associated industries. These Macs are also compatible with the University infrastructure (network, etc.) and are designed with professional use in mind. The recommended Macs are also configured to have the best possible longevity for Art & Design professionals.

3. What about computer upgrades/options?

Here is a short list of upgrades/components and what benefit they serve:

• Memory (RAM) - This is the single best upgrade to increase the performance and longevity of your computer. RAM affects your ability to run multiple programs simultaneously and can greatly improve the responsiveness of your computer. Some applications (like Photoshop) will use all the RAM they have access to. 8GB is the minimum, but 16GB will serve you well in the future. The new M-1 Macs share "unified" RAM with both  CPU and Graphics, so more RAM helps prevent bottlenecks to both. NOTE: Apple portables cannot have their RAM upgraded; you must purchase the amount of RAM you will need over the entire life of the computer.

•  Processor (CPU) - The processor is the ‘brain’ of your computer and is involved in every aspect of its operation. Although getting the fastest processor will certainly make your computer faster at specific tasks and functions, there are many aspects of computer use that are not bound by the speed of the processor, so this is not always the most economical upgrade.  Students planning on doing extensive video production work should opt for all the CPU speed their budget allows. Faster CPUs typically extend the usable life of the computer as well.

•  Solid-State Storage(Drive) - Traditional hard disk drives typically have greater capacity at low cost, while solid-state drives are much faster, but at a higher cost per unit of storage. Keep in mind that basic documents, spreadsheets, and email do not take up much space. Video, photo, music, and high-resolution graphic files are typically very large files, and require the most storage space. Departmental recommended computers include ample storage for your projects and assignments, but large personal projects or libraries of content will likely require increased storage capacity or external drives.

4. What sort of support will I receive at the Department of Art and Design?

The Department of Art and Design provides technical support for department-approved laptops. We provide the following services:

  • Connecting to the University network and servers. 
  • Required software installation.
  • Operating System maintenance and support.
  • Using the Department Lab computers, scanners, and printers.

5. Can I expect support for my personal hardware?

Yes. While the department can assist with some basic diagnosis or troubleshooting, we cannot perform significant repairs.  If there are physical problems with your hardware, you will need to contact the manufacturer or an authorized service center, such as the Cal Poly University Store.

6.  What can I do before I arrive to be prepared?

  • Purchase all the necessary hardware and software as required for your concentration
  • Become familiar with the basic operation of your computer. Powering up, charging the battery, using media, etc.
  • Install the necessary software on your computer following the manufacturers' instructions.
  • Dive into Adobe Creative Cloud.  Adobe has some great tutorials here.
  • Look into purchasing some helpful accessories and/or peripherals.

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