Read everything on this page carefully at least at the beginning of your studies!
Check out IT’s support center site or call 545-9400.
While not absolutely necessary, getting your own computer (usually a laptop) is often a good idea for your time at UMass. Most software needed for classes and research in BCT is typically either available in an IT computer classroom or in one of the computer classrooms in the Design Building (room 260 or 235). You typically don’t even need to budget any money for software purchases, UMass has many site licenses available and other programs are typically free for students. However, having your own computer allows you to keep your files in a private location and makes you less dependent on computer room availability.
Graduate students in ECO/BCT are strongly encouraged to have their own computer when they begin their studies.
The following sections give you some tips if you decide to purchase your own computer.
Even entry-level hardware specs are typically sufficient for common Office-type software uses (word-processing, spreadsheets and presentations). Better hardware mainly pays off for CAD/BIM- and 3D modeling as well as image- and video-editing applications. Here are some tips when selecting hardware:
- You can nowadays choose either a Mac-, Windows- or even Linux-based (e.g. Chromebook or Ubuntu) system. While some software is only available for Windows (e.g. some CAD/BIM software), you can run it on a Mac or Ubuntu using what is called a virtual machine or Bootcamp. To maximize performance, it is, however, best not to use a virtual machine. Therefore, our recommendation would be:
- Purchase a WINDOWS-based computer. This typically lets you install software easiest in most cases. Some programs (e.g. Autodesk Revit) are not available for Macs.
- If you purchase a MAC, install Bootcamp (and thereby Windows) immediately so that you can install a dedicated Windows partition on the same computer. This then allows you to install and run Windows-only software on a Mac. For more on Bootcamp, go here. There is also a nice instructional video here. Set up at least 64-128 GB for the Windows partition (we recommend 100 GB). Before you start the Bootcamp installation, go to this IT software webpage to get a free or low-cost copy of Windows (using the “Azure Dev Tools for Teaching” account, get “Windows 10 (consumer editions)”). An alternative approach is installing virtual-machine software like Parallels but performance is usually less adequate than with Bootcamp.
- LINUX-based computers (e.g. Ubuntu-based systems and Chromebooks) are only adequate for office and general applications in our field (especially those that are web-based). More specialized software like CAD/BIM programs are usually not available on those. You can still run Windows in a virtual-machine (or similar) setup on a Linux computer, e.g. using Wine, but performance is usually not sufficient.
- Since RAM and Harddisks are cheap these days, go with a system with as high specs as you can afford. Minimum RAM is 4 GB and HDDs should not be smaller than 500 GB. Choose a solid-state disk (SSD) if you have the option/budget.
- Choose a CPU with as many cores as you can afford. Quad-core is the minimum these days. CPU speed is not as crucial but the higher the better usually. If you are comparing Intel CPUs, prefer i5 and i7 over i3.
- The graphics card is mainly crucial for CAD/BIM and some video applications (or for gaming, of course). A good rule of thumb is that a gaming-optimized computer typically works well for CAD/BIM applications. Better to stay away from “embedded video” (e.g. Intel) graphics cards and look for names like NVIDIA, ATI and the like instead. Some software manufacturers have specific recommendations, e.g. Autodesk.
- UMass has contracts for discounted hardware, check here first: http://usave.umassp.edu/
If you work a lot in computer labs but want a keyboard/mouse that is not grimy, consider buying a wireless keyboard/mouse combo. You can get quite small ones that fit into your backpack for less than $40 these days. Make sure it has a USB dongle so that you can just plug it into any computer you want to work on.
You can often get operating system software, office applications, anti-virus and more for free from the IT website. UMass has a variety of contracts that you should check before you purchase any software. For what is not listed there, check the UMass Store or online academic retailers like Studica.
To help our students find out where to find BCT-relevant software, we maintain a list of commonly used programs here:
Some tips to keep your computers running:
- If you have any software- or hardware-related question, check IT’s support site or call 545-9400 on campus. IT also has software and hardware walk-in support in the Lederle LGRC Lowrise building.
- Install antivirus software! Either go with the built-in options (e.g. MS Security Essentials) or download one for free from the IT website.
- Keep your system updated! Occasionally, check for software and driver updates and install them. This also makes your computer more secure.
- Back up your computer and your data regularly! Immediately after purchasing your new computer, think about setting up a backup system. You will thank yourself once your data gets lost or stolen. Common approaches are external hard-disks or online backup services like Backblaze.
- Clean Up your computer every once in a while. On Windows, use a software like CCleaner to delete unused or cached files etc.
- If you want to upgrade a still usable computer, consider adding more RAM or a larger SSD (solid-state disk). Even external SSDs are very useful if you are running out of space.
- Get a lock! Buy a laptop lock so that you can easily lock your computer to a solid object if you are in a computer lab or even in your dorm room. Most computer thieves “swipe” computers and will be deterred by a cable lock.
- If you occasionally use USB drives (e.g. for computer-room classes), write your name on it! You would not believe how many of these are left behind.
Printing is available in the Design Building in room 260A (right behind the computer lab 260). You can print to the b/w printer or the color printer at sizes of 8.5 x 11 or 11 x 17. After sending a print job to the printers, go to room 260A and release it using your uCard. You will be charged similar to other uCard print stations at UMass.
Whether you are using your own computer at an off-campus location or you are using a public machine, keep network speed and security in mind. Also, if you are in the Boston area, remember that you have access to any of the computer lab resources at the UMass Mount Ida campus in Newton.
When you set up an off-campus location with your own computer, make sure you have a good, stable, and high-bandwidth connection to the internet. The following tips help you with that.
- Check your network speed with Speedtest or by simply entering “speed test” into a Google search. The higher the resulting numbers, the better. If your download speed is lower than 5Mbps, try any of these solutions:
- If you are on WiFi, test out other locations.
- If others are using your WiFi network for bandwidth-heavy applications (video streaming, online games), ask them to pause for a bit.
- Switch to a wired connection. Check your WiFi router: It likely has some Ethernet ports on the back, which you can use for a direct cable connection.
- Also make sure your upload speed is not too low (i.e. at least 2 Mbps). Upload speed is typically capped by your internet service provider, however.
- Instead of a home (or public) WiFi connection, you may be able to use your phone as an internet “hotspot” for your computer. Check with your phone company for plan details (especially data limits) and find out how to do this on your phone.
If you are using a public or shared WiFi connection, it is usually best to sign in through UMass’ VPN service.
It is important to have your UMass email (GMail via UMass Apps) set up correctly as it is used for all important announcements and communication between the university and you (e.g. for class emails from your instructors). If you don’t know about your UMass email address, find out more here and here.
Checking Your Email
Just sign into GMail using your umass.edu account and you can easily check it here: mail.google.com. If you don’t use your UMass email as your primary email address (for example, if you have a personal GMail or Yahoo account), then you need to do one of these things:
- Set up forwarding on your UMass email account to send all incoming mail to your personal account. Otherwise you will miss important announcements. Follow these steps to set it up.
- Configure your UMass email in your email app as an additional account. Then make sure you check it regularly.
Important Emails Landing in Spam?
If you find that many umass.edu emails are landing in your Spam folder, then you can do one of two things:
- Regularly go to the Spam folder and look for those emails. Google gives you an option to mark individual emails as “not spam”. This moves them to your inbox and trains Google that the sender is legitimate.
- Set up a filter that prevents sending emails from umass.edu addresses to Spam. Follow the instructions in the images below to do so for GMail:
We now have quite a few ways for you, our BCT students, to keep in touch with the BCT program and receive news, announcements, job offers etc. You can also connect with BCT alumni via our LinkedIn group. So “click”, “like” or “link” with us in any of these ways.
Alumni and friends of the program can stay in touch and receive our news via our email list.
The best way to stay up-to-date with events and calendars is to subscribe to a calendar’s (ICS) feed. Those are automatically updated when the calendar publisher adds or changes any events. You can usually do that with any current calendar application (e.g. Google Calendar, Outlook etc.). Look for the option to “add by URL” or “subscribe to internet calendars” or the like. Often, all you need to do is click a link to an ICS feed on the device on which you want to subscribe to a calendar.
For the BCT calendar and the various others that we include on our calendar page, go to that page and filter the categories you want to subscribe to (you can filter multiple or select none to include all of them). Then look for the “Subscribe” button below the calendar and add our calendar to your own (as shown below).
The BCT calendar includes the UMass Academic Calendar. If you only need that one, filter using the “UMASS” category or check out OIT’s help documentation on the subject.