Student Tech Requirements

Updated: 02/11/2021


Information for Incoming Freshman & Transfer Students



During these challenging times, Art & Design students need access to a computer (Mac or Windows) with reasonable performance to run professional applications. The primary software required for most Art classes continues to be Adobe Creative Cloud.

Keep in mind a webcam, mic, and speakers are essential for live remote instruction.  Students with access to a satisfactory computer should not feel compelled to procure a portable until in-person instruction has resumed.


Apple is now transitioning the CPU architecture of the entire line of Mac computers.  This substantial design change will occur over a 2 year period, and started with some models in late 2020. This change will substantially change the tech choices for all students planning computer purchases.


Required Hardware

Cal Poly 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. 

The most popular model for Art & Design students has been the 16" MacBook Pro, which was always a good balance of screen size, portability, and performance.  The smaller form factor 13" MacBook Pro models were acceptable, but less than ideal for most students.

As of now (Feb. 2021), Apple has not yet released a new architecture large screen notebook; they are currently only shipping the smaller 13" MacBook Pro M1.  M-1 Macs boast industry-leading performance, but lack the larger screen most design, editing, and layout professionals prefer.  Any student comfortable with the smaller form factor screen should feel confident about choosing the new M1 MacBook Pro.  Here is a good review that illustrates why the new Macs are worth the wait.

This year, considering the unique circumstances based on this technology transition, students purchasing Macs should consider their options:

  1. Students needing a computer immediately (winter to spring 2021): The recommendations below will help to select a Mac that should serve you well now and for the foreseeable future.
  2. Students planning to purchase a computer in the future (summer 2021 or later): It would be prudent to defer a new purchase until more new Mac models are released during 2021. While Apple does not share a specific release schedule, the industry expects to see more new architecture Macs being released throughout 2021.
  3. Students with a functioning computer: Existing Macs (before M-1) will continue to be supported and usable for 2-4 years. No need to update now; well positioned to upgrade in the future as the new architecture matures.


    Current Model - 13" Macbook Pro M1

    • Apple M1 chip with 8-core CPU, 8-core GPU, and 16-core Neural Engine
    • 16GB unified memory (upgraded)
    • 512GB SSD storage (upgraded)
    • 13-inch Retina display with True Tone
    • Two Thunderbolt / USB 4 ports
    • Optional: AppleCare+ Extended Protection Plan - $249
    • Approximate cost with educational discount: $1,579 (+ $249 for AppleCare+)


    Upcoming Model - 16" MacBook Pro M1

    • Specifications and pricing: To be announced (likely March - June 2021)
    • Apple portables CANNOT have their RAM OR storage upgraded after purchase.  The recommend Mac above includes upgraded RAM and storage beyond the base model minimums.
    • Minimum recommended RAM: 16GB
    • Minimum recommended storage: 512GB (1TB preferred)
    • Buying an under-performing computer will be detrimental now as well as substantially limit usable lifespan.
    • On-campus purchasing—with educational discounts—can be made through the Cal Poly University Store.
    • For those not yet on campus, be sure to use Apple's Education Store for best pricing.

    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 requires 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: when in-class instructions resume. Many classes directly integrate computing technology in the classroom and in many 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.



    Questions?  Contact Information:

    Matt Corippo
    LAN Coordinator
    Phone: 805.756.1566
    Building: 34 -160B



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