Desktop Computing Recommendations for Penn: 2010-2011

Information Systems & Computing (ISC), in consultation with the Penn community, annually publishes recommendations for desktop computers. These recommendations reflect institutional and industry trends but do not necessarily take into account the computing requirements of specific Schools, departments, or Centers.

Before making purchasing decisions, administrators, faculty, and staff should always consult their Local Support Providers (LSPs) to ensure that local requirements are fulfilled. LSPs consider local costs and operational requirements, and are responsible for ensuring that connectivity to University-wide systems is maintained as necessary.

Students should consult their Schools with respect to recommendations for individually owned computers.

Key Considerations for This Year

Improving Sustainability

IT staff across campus are working to clearly document issues related to "Green IT". One option for LSPs is to purchase small form factor or all-in-one desktops when possible — they use slightly less power and significantly less materials than mini-towers or towers. The University's hardware vendors now offer high-efficiency (80% or higher - often branded as 80 PLUS) power supplies at little or no additional cost. For information on the relative power usage of modern desktops and notebooks in common use at the University under various operating conditions, see the Computer Power Usage page.

Intel's iAMT technology offers the capability of booting from a completely off (not just sleep) condition. It allows Windows-based systems to save substantial energy and still be available for remote access, patching, and backup. It is part of the desktop reccomendations for Windows systems for the first time this year.

Moving to Windows 7

Windows 7 should be the default choice for Windows deployments in departments that are not already heavily invested in Windows Vista. Even in its initial Release To Manufacturing (RTM) form, Windows 7 is already stable and highly compatible with most of the University's systems. Also, both Windows 7 and Windows Vista make using non-administrative accounts for general purposes substantially more viable and thus enhance security.

Exploring Desktop Virtualization

For some areas at the University, desktop virtualization or thin client deployments may serve to adequately replace the traditional desktop. Support providers should carefully assess their environment for these alternate methods of desktop delivery, keeping in mind that cost savings on the client side will often be offset by greater server needs.

Controlling Costs

Controlling costs is especially important in the current fiscal environment, but other considerations also must be weighed to insure that business needs are met. ISC has certified low-cost enterprise-class systems for use at the University, but these systems may not always be the best choice, as they often lack important manageability or configurability features. Please see ISC's Computing Hardware Resources page for detailed reviews of various desktop systems.

A cost and resource savings option already commonly employed at the University is to buy high quality displays (preferably with LED backlights) every other life cycle instead of every life cycle. Another option is to bundle significant numbers of identical systems in a single purchase, which often results in an additional discount from the system vendor (note that most desktop systems available from the University's Computer Connection already reflect bulk purchase pricing).

Desktop Recommendations for General Use

ISC's recommended configurations for new systems are shown below. Estimated prices are effective June 1, 2010, and are based on small form factor Dell OptiPlex (Windows) systems with three year next day warranty service or all-in-one Apple iMac (Mac OS) systems with one year next day warranty service. ISC will support these systems for four years, from July 1, 2010 until June 30, 2014.

Operating System Windows Mac OS

Core 2 Duo (any)

or Core i5 (any)

or Core i7 (any)

or Athlon X2 (any)1

Core 2 Duo (any)

or Core i5 (any)

or Core i7 (any)1

Memory (RAM) 4.0 GB 4.0 GB
Hard Disk 250 GB2 250 GB2
Display & Graphics

19-inch LCD3

discrete video card

21-inch LCD3

NVIDIA integrated graphics

or discrete video card

Sound Built-in audio & speaker Built-in audio & speaker

DVD+R/CD-RW drive

80% efficient power supply


DVD+R/CD-RW drive

80% efficient power supply

Network Connection 10/100/1000BaseT Ethernet 10/100/1000BaseT Ethernet
Recommended Operating System

Windows 74

see important notes below

Mac OS 10.6.x5
Support Period Until July, 2014 Until July, 2014
Estimated Price $1,100 to $1,3506 $1,150 to $2,1006


  1. Processor speed is no longer considered important, but the class of processor is. A more detailed University-centric perspective on AMD and Intel processors is available from ISC's Processor Guide.
  2. Systems that use network storage for their entire life cycle may be deployed with smaller (i.e. 160 GB) hard drives. Some systems, in particular those from Apple, ship in standard configurations with substantially larger hard drives.
  3. There is often significant variance in features, resolution, and display quality among LCD monitors of the same size. See ISC's Display and Graphics Guide for more information on LCDs and video cards.
  4. Windows 7 (32-bit and 64-bit Professional, Ultimate, and Enterprise editions) is supported and recommended for new systems. ISC does not recommend, but will support the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows 7 Home Premium. Home Premium lacks important networking, security, and compatibility features, such as domain-based authentication, that are essential to many Schools and Centers in the University. Note that, unlike Windows Vista's Business edition, Windows 7 Professional includes all the multimedia features present in Windows 7 Home Premium, and is therefore recommended as an alternative to Home Premium. ISC does not recommend and will not support any version of Windows 7 Starter or Windows 7 Home Basic. Starter and Home Basic lack many important networking, maintenance, and security features that are critical to many Schools and Centers at the University. Windows Vista Service Pack 2 (Business, Enterprise, and Ultimate editions) is supported for new systems. ISC does not recommend, but will support Windows Vista Home Premium. Windows Vista Home Premium is missing important networking and security features, such as domain-based authentication, that are essential to many Schools and Centers in the University. ISC will not support Windows Vista Home Basic or Windows Vista Starter. Windows Vista Home Basic and Windows Vista Starter are missing many important networking, maintenance, and security features that are critical to many Schools and Centers at the University.
  5. Mac OS 10.6.x is the only supported and recommended choice for new Macintosh systems, as Apple's newly released systems always require the latest version of Mac OS. Apple's Boot Camp technology offers added flexibility for users who need to occasionally use Windows 7 or Windows Vista Service Pack 2. It should not be used to turn a Macintosh into a full time Windows system. Boot Camp also requires that both the Windows and the Mac OS operating systems be patched and maintained.
  6. Pricing is generated using the online configurators available from Apple and Dell and is for general reference only. Support providers often will be able to generate significantly more competitive pricing.

In response to what is often rapid technological change, ISC's Performance Desktop Purchasing Guide offers quarterly purchase recommendations for new systems that meet or exceed these specifications.

If your School, department, or Center is considering major changes or investments, ISC strongly recommends a consultation to weigh the pros and cons in today's rapidly changing environment (contact John Mulhern III in ISC,; x3-3567). 

Penn's administrative systems desktop requirements are consistent with the recommendations for general purpose systems specified above, with exceptions for BEN Financials and the University's budget planning applications (Oracle EPM/Hyperion). In general, ISC is comfortable with Windows 7 as the operating system of choice for administrative systems.

BEN Financials


Windows Vista Service Pack 2 and Windows XP Service Pack 3 are currently the only versions of Windows certified by Oracle, and Firefox version 3.x and Internet Explorer version 7 are the only browsers certified to work with Oracle. BEN Financials functions as expected using Firefox 3.x under Windows 7, however, and ISC expects this combination to be certified in calendar 2010.

Mac OS

Currently, all Macintosh users are able to access/view/markup invoice images in native Mac OS.

Users of Macintoshes running Mac OS 10.5.x and Mac OS 10.6.x can use Apple's Boot Camp technology to run all BEN applications by booting into Windows 7, Windows Vista Service Pack 2, or Windows XP Professional Service Pack 3 and using Firefox 3.x (or Internet Explorer 7 under Vista SP2 or XP SP3). Although a Macintosh running VMware Fusion or other virtualization software with an appropriately configured Windows environment can also run the BEN applications, such virtualization products are not certified by Oracle.

Oracle EPM/Hyperion


Windows Vista Service Pack 2 and Windows XP Service Pack 3 are currently the only versions of Windows certified by Oracle, and Internet Explorer 7 is the only browser certified to work with Oracle EPM/Hyperion. ISC expects Internet Explorer 8 to be certified some time in calendar 2010. Previous versions of Firefox 3.x (3.0.x and 3.5.x) were functional, but Firefox 3.6.x currently does not function. As of July 2010, Windows 7 users can use either older versions of Firefox 3.x or Internet Explorer 7 under Windows 7's XP Mode.

Mac OS

Previous versions of Firefox 3.x (3.0.x and 3.5.x) were functional, but Firefox 3.6.x currently does not function. As of July 2010, Mac OS users can use older versions of Firefox 3.x.

Several distinct categories of notebook systems are available, each designed to suit the needs of a particular class of users. Given the physical conditions to which they are often subjected, notebook systems generally have a shorter useful life than desktop systems (typically three years or less). Therefore, ISC continues to provide support for three years for major brands of notebook systems that meet or exceed the 2009-2010 recommendations.

The current Notebook Purchasing Guide can help you determine which combination of features and capability will best serve your needs.


Extending Warranties

For computers with warranties of less than three years, ISC strongly recommends purchase of extended warranties where departments are not prepared to make repairs themselves, especially beyond the first year or two of a computer's useful life.

Manufacturers such as Dell now offer four year warranties, up from the fairly standard three years. If a system is going to be in use for the full four year life cycle, these warranties (which typically add about $80 to the overall cost) are often appropriate, though support providers should expect the rate of system failure in the fourth year to be higher than that in the first three years.

One other option is to self-insure for the fourth year — that is, take the additional $80 per system that would otherwise be spent on extending the warranty and put that in a fund to fix or replace systems that fail during the fourth year of service.

Operating System Support

While ISC generally expects support for recommended operating systems to persist through the four year life cycle of the desktop recommendations, that may not always be possible.

Note that Windows XP Service Pack 3 and Mac OS 10.4.x will face retirement within this current four year life cycle. Please refer to the Operating System Life Cycles charts for long-term guidance on the University's supported operating systems.

Low-Cost PCs – Not Recommended

Price reductions resulting from market competition and continued technical innovation make definition of "Low-Cost PCs" a moving target. It is generally true, however, that computers priced in the bottom 40% of the current range compromise some combination of performance, reliability, compatibility, expandability, and warranty period to achieve the lowest possible costs.

Bearing in mind that you get what you pay for, and that the total costs of ownership associated with supporting any desktop system typically far outweigh the actual purchase price, ISC does not recommend that "Low-Cost PCs" be purchased for general use.

The Value Desktop Purchasing Guide offers recommendations for competitively priced systems that are compatible with Penn's computing environment and are widely supported on campus.

Further Information

The Computer Connection offers Apple and Dell configurations that match the recommendations discussed above.

ISC provides information on supported computing products.

All desktop systems should have important data backed up and be virus-free. Additional security information from the Office of Information Seurity can be found here.

The Office of Environmental Health and Radiation Safety provides information on computer ergonomics.

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Date Posted: July 1, 2010 Tags: Hardware Recommendations, Lifecycles, Standards, Purchasing Guide, Desktop, Recommendations, Supported Product

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