Buying a Computer for Medical School

SOM Home > Education > Medical Education Support > Education Technology > Buying a Computer for Medical School

Buying a Computer for Medical School

Letter from the Director of Educational Technology

Dear New Students and Parents:

The medical school curriculum is almost completely computerized. All of our courses provide extensive online resources, reading assignments may be from online textbooks, online quizzes and cases are commonplace, and the NBME exams continue to move online. During your clinical training you will learn to use extensive Web-based information resources, such as MEDLINE, MD Consult, and Evidence Essentials+  to help you with the diagnosis and management of clinical patients.

The Health Sciences Library provides medical students, graduate students, and residents with a 60 station computer lab, open 100 hours per week, equipped with the latest technology and a broad selection of software. This state of the art facility has wired and wireless network access in study carrels, small group study rooms, and large monitors that can be connected to laptops. We also provide computers and wireless networking in all of our classrooms and student study spaces.

All students in the School of Medicine at the University of Virginia are required to own a laptop computer with a broadband Internet connection. Most of our incoming students already have computers from their undergraduate years. If you plan on using your present computer,  make sure it meets the requirements in the Is my Current Computer Adequate? section below. If you purchased your computer when you entered college you will probably need to purchase a new model for medical school.

If you need to buy a new computer, we recommend that you consider one of the  configurations described in What Computer Should I Buy?. We have also included a list of the software that we recommend, use, and support. You'll get the best help from our support staff if you use this software.

The cost of a laptop with a printer ranges from $1000 - $2500. Computer purchases and Internet access fees can be included in your financial aid package. We hope that the enclosed information is useful to you in making any purchase decision.

Of course people need help in learning to use computers, networks and electronic information resources effectively. The University offers free classes in Introduction to Windows, Introduction to the Macintosh, Word, Excel, E-mail, and other subjects every semester. Consultants are also available by telephone and E-mail to help answer specific questions.

Mark Moody, MSc. MIT.
Director of Educational Technology


Is My Current Computer Adequate?

Generally computers need to be replaced every three to four years. If your computer is four years old now you should consider purchasing a new laptop for medical school. The configuration below is a bare minimum that would be usable for a year or two. If your system does not meet these specifications you should consider a new laptop.

Bare Minimum Equipment: Intel Core Duo processor 2.0 GHz, 4 GB RAM, 250 GB hard drive, 1024x768 resolution or higher, 13" display, 802.11 WiFi, ink jet printer, VGA jack or adapter. You will need an external monitor (17” or larger) and an external drive (1TB or larger) for additional storage and backups. 

During orientation students must present their laptops to school of medicine IT staff for review. If equipment does not need the requirements, students will be directed to purchase a new laptop immediately. The specifications above are the minimums required to take web based exams within our curriculum and exams in the clerkships administered by the National Board of Medical Examiners.  

What Computer Should I Buy?
Recommended Solutions for Medical Students

The computer industry rolls out new models and features constantly. Choosing which computer and printer to buy is complicated, but to make it easier, we’ve listed some specifications and models at the end of this section for a "most portable" and a "larger screen" configuration.

Either Windows-compatible or Apple Macintosh computers are equally appropriate for use at the School of Medicine. We provide nearly all course resources on the Web, which is platform neutral. Apple computers allow you to purchase and install Windows if you choose.

We require the ownership of a laptop computer, rather than a desktop. A laptop computer is a very handy for taking notes in class, carrying to the library, taking to a remote clerkship location, and it will be required that you bring a laptop for many in-class exercises. Netbooks, Chromebooks, "Surface" devices do not meet our minimum requirements. Be sure that your laptop has a VGA adapter, which many times is an optional accessory, for you will be asked to plug in your laptop to large displays and projectors at times to show your work. At home, you will also need an larger external display (17" or larger) and an external drive (1 TB or larger). A DVD/CD-ROM drive is helpful, but optional.

Make sure any laptop you buy includes 802.11 b/g/n or a.c wireless for network connectivity. A wired Ethernet connection is a nice option when working with large files (images, videos, etc.). Students living in private housing can access all the University's network based services such as E-mail, Web, and reference systems remotely. Medical students find a high speed Cable Modem or DSL connection is a necessity, in order for multimedia files to load quickly. 

If you are buying a new computer, you will probably want to purchase a printer to make your work easier. Basic color inkjet printers are available for less than $100, and sometimes are bundled with new laptops.

Recommended Hardware Configurations:

Some students value portability and lighter weight, while others value the flexibility of a larger screen, hard drive, and keyboard. Please note that at least a 13" display is required. This display requirement comes from the computing requirements for NBME examinations as well as students prior experience using our systems. In addition the examples below Cavalier Computers has defined several laptop configurations that include on-site support and accidental damage coverage. 

Windows PC 14": Dell Latitude E5440, Intel Core i5; 8 GB RAM; 500 GB hard drive; DVD/CD-ROM drive, 802.11a/c/b/g/n wireless; webcam; Integrated Speakers; VGA adapter; Windows 8.1; Prices from $1000.

Windows PC 15"Dell XPS 15, Intel Core i5 or i7; 8 GB RAM; 500 GB hard drive, 802.11a/c/b/g/n wireless; webcam; Integrated Speakers; VGA adapter; Windows 8.1; Prices from $1600.

Macintosh - 15”: MacBook Pro: 15" widescreen display; Quad Core i7; 8 GB RAM; 512 GB hard drive; FireWire 800, Thunderbolt, and USB 3.0 ports; Prices from $2000.

Macintosh - 13” : MacBook Air: 13" widescreen display; Dual Core i5 or i7 processor; 4 GB RAM; 512GB hard drive; 802.11 a/c wireless, FireWire 800, Thunderbolt, and USB 3.0 ports. Prices from $1200.

Windows - with operating system?

If buying a new Windows computer you can choose Windows 7, 8, and 8.1. We do not recommend upgrading a computer from one Windows version to a later major release (Win 7 to Win 8) as incompatibilities often surface. Windows XP is not adequate for entrance to medical school. If you plan on a dual-boot Mac, then select a MacBook Pro with a larger hard drive.


Many of our students have found it essential to have a large screen display, 17" or larger, at home for study of online documents. Since our school has committed to a paperless curriculum to the extent possible, most readings and presentations are purely online. A large screen makes it much easier to have multiple documents open while studying. It is essential to back up your computer in case of a failure or loss, so a 1 TB external drive is required. A mouse is optional but does allow for efficient manipulation of documents.

What about a Mobile Device?

All medical students buy a mobile device while in medical school, but it is not a requirement until the core clerkship year. Typically students load their mobile unit with reference software that is helpful while seeing patients in the clerkship and fourth years of medical school, as well as for our patient encounter tracking application. Many students also find them useful for their calendar, contact management, and managing to-do lists. We currently recommend that clerkship students buy iPhones. Many of our systems are optimized so that content displays well on these mobile devices. For more information see our mobile resource site or our mobile device requirements page.

We have evaluated a few of the tablet devices (iPad, Droid, Surface, etc). While students may find a tablet useful, it does not replace the functionality of a laptop. The weight and long battery life make it a great e-book reader, web surfer, note-taking device, and digital assistant; however, these devices fall short when manipulating documents and navigating a relatively small screen.


Which software should I buy?

The following table highlights most of the standard, supported software usable in the UVA Health System Library. Many times new computers come packaged with all the software you will need. But if you need to purchase software we'll be able to help you better if you choose one of the packages below.

We require that all students install Symantec Endpoint Protection, which is available at no charge from UVA. 

Word Processing Microsoft Word
Spreadsheet Microsoft Excel
Presentation Microsoft PowerPoint
Database Microsoft Access 
Electronic Mail Microsoft Outlook
Virus / Spyware Protection Symantec Endpoint Protection1,
Web Browser Firefox1
Document Reader PDF X-Change Viewer(Win), Apple Preview(Mac)1

1Software is available free of charge to all UVA students, faculty, and staff. ITS's Software Central Download site.

Do I have to buy Microsoft Office?

Faculty frequently distribute documents as Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint files, so you will need a way to open or view these files. Cavalier Computers makes this very affordable by offering one copy of Microsoft Office to each student for $15 (Windows and Mac). 

There are two free options as well: (1) OpenOffice, a open source alternative; (2) Pages/Numbers/Keynote on the Mac platform. Each includes a word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation package, that work relatively well. If you choose the OpenOffice applications, know that they are not officially supported. As a result, you should be comfortable working with unique software. 


Where should I buy computer hardware and software?

There are many places to get good deals on computer equipment and software including mail order, direct from the manufacturers, computer "superstores," and local retail outlets. When checking prices, be sure to contact Cavalier Computers, a division of the University of Virginia Bookstore, which offers educational discounts that meet or beat many prices available elsewhere. Cavalier Computers is located on the University grounds and offers the added convenience of packages designed specifically for medical students, plus local service. You can contact Cavalier Computers at (800) 759-4667, option 2, or visit their site at to get information on their packages and order on-line.