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Desktop Computing Recommendations for Penn: 2017-2018

[ Content last updated July 26, 2017 ]

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 particular Schools, departments, or Centers.

Before making purchasing decisions, administrators, faculty, and staff should always consult with 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 functionality with University-wide systems is maintained as necessary.

Students should consult with their School's computing department for recommendations for individually owned computers.

General information

Key considerations for this year

Awareness of Intel processor restrictions for Windows versions

Intel's new “Kaby Lake” processors will only be supported by Microsoft with security updates on Windows 10 Anniversary Update and newer. Support providers purchasing new systems who need versions of Windows other than Windows 10 should be considering systems that have the older 6th generation "Skylake" Intel processors. Vendors such as Dell and Lenovo will make some new systems with that processor available—those systems will support Windows 7, Windows 8.x, and Windows 10.

Consider alternative desktop delivery methods

For many areas and use cases at the University, desktop virtualization (such as ISC's VDI service), thin client deployments, or application virtualization can serve to replace the traditional desktop. Support providers should carefully assess their environment before implementing any of these alternate desktop delivery methods, keeping in mind that cost savings on the client side are often offset by greater server and storage needs. In the absence of cost benefits, there are other Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) benefits related to support, security, and sustainability that may favor adoption of alternate desktop delivery methods for many use cases across the University.

Administrative system requirements

Penn's requirements for desktops used to access the University's administrative systems are consistent with the recommendations for general purpose systems specified above. ISC maintains detailed information on the specific desktop environment requirements for administrative systems such as BEN Financials, the University's budget planning applications (Oracle EPM/Hyperion), Pennant Accounts, and Webi/Business Objects.

End of support for OS X Mavericks

Effective July 1, 2017, OS X Mavericks (10.9) is no longer supported. Please refer to the Operating System Life Cycles charts for ISC's current support of and long-term guidance on operating systems.

Desktop recommendations for general use

ISC's recommended configurations for new systems are shown below. Estimated prices are effective June 1, 2017, and are based on small form factor or all-in-one Dell OptiPlex (Windows) systems with three-year next day warranty service or all-in-one Apple iMac (macOS) systems with one year next day warranty service. ISC will support these systems for four years, from July 1, 2017 until June 30, 2021.

– Category – Windows macOS


Core i5 (any)
or Core i7 (any)1

Core i5 (any)
or Core i7 (any)1

Memory (RAM) 16 GB 16 GB

Mass Storage

256 GB SSD
or 512 GB SSD2

256 GB SSD
or 1.0 TB hybrid2

Display and Graphics

22-inch to 24-inch widescreen LCD3
Intel integrated graphics (HD Graphics 515 and above)

21.5-inch widescreen LCD3
Intel integrated graphics (HD 6000 and above)

Sound Built-in audio and speaker Built-in audio and speaker


85% efficient power supply
optional Bluetooth
hardware-based systems management

85% efficient power supply
integrated Bluetooth

Network Connectivity 10/100/1000BaseT Ethernet 10/100/1000BaseT Ethernet

Recommended Operating Systems

Windows 10 Anniversary Update
Windows 10 Creator Update4

macOS Sierra (10.12)5

Support Period Until July 2021 Until July 2021
Estimated Price $1,200 to $1,6006 $1,400 to $1,6006



  1. Processor speed is no longer considered important, but the class of processor (e.g., Core i5, Core i7, etc.) is vital. A more detailed University-centric perspective on processors is available from ISC's Processor Guide.
  2. Systems that use network storage for their entire life cycle may be deployed with smaller mass storage (i.e., 128 GB). Some systems, particularly those from Apple, ship in standard configurations with larger (1.0 TB) mass storage. An option often called something like "Keep Your Hard Drive," allows the retention of defective mass storage when receiving replacement mass storage drive under warranty. This option usually costs about $20 and is a good choice for many Schools and Centers to avoid possible disclosure of sensitive data.
  3. LCD displays should be high quality and support at least Full HD resolution—a good display should be usable for two hardware life cycles. Note that the macOS specification is driven by available iMac display sizes. See ISC's Display and Graphics Guide for more information as there are often significant variances in features, resolution, and display quality among LCD displays of the same size.
  4. Windows 10 Anniversary Update or above (64-bit Pro, Enterprise, and Enterprise LTSB editions) is recommended for new systems. ISC does not recommend but will support all 32-bit versions of Windows 10 and the 64-bit version of Windows 10 Home. Home lacks important networking, security, and compatibility features, such as domain-based authentication, that are essential to many Schools and Centers in the University. ISC does not support Windows 10 S.
  5. macOS Sierra (10.12) is the only choice for new Macintosh systems as Apple's newly released systems always require the latest version of macOS. Apple's Boot Camp technology offers added flexibility for users who need to use Windows 10 occasionally. It should not be used to turn a Macintosh into a largely Windows system. Boot Camp requires that both the Windows and the macOS operating systems be patched and maintained.
  6. Pricing is generated using online configurators available from Apple, Dell, and Lenovo and is for general reference only. Support providers may be able to garner significantly more competitive pricing for volume purchases, often with the assistance of the University's Computer Connection.

four-year comparative history of the desktop recommendations is provided for reference.

In response to what is sometimes rapid technological change, ISC's Performance Desktop Purchasing Guide offers purchase recommendations for new systems that meet or exceed these specifications. Specifications are reviewed and updated when there are significant changes for performance systems.


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 have a shorter useful life than desktop systems (typically around three years). Therefore, ISC provides support for three years for major brands of notebook systems. 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 the purchase of extended warranties when departments are not prepared to self-insure and make repairs themselves, especially beyond the first year or two of a computer's useful life.

Manufacturers such as Apple and Dell now offer four-year warranties for desktops. If a system is used for the full four-year life cycle, these warranties (which typically add about $70 to the overall cost) often are appropriate. However, support providers should expect the rate of system failure in the fourth year to be higher than that in the first three years.

Another option is to self-insure for the fourth year by allocating the additional $70 per system that would otherwise be spent on warranty extension into a fund to fix or replace systems that fail during the fourth year of service.

Operating system life cycle support

While ISC once expected support for recommended operating systems to persist through the four-year life cycle of the desktop recommendations, that often may not be possible and is becoming more likely for both Windows and macOS. In particular, Windows 7 is beginning to age notably as Microsoft changes its appioach to security and support. Please refer to the Operating System Life Cycles charts for long-term guidance on the University's supported operating systems.

Improving sustainability

University IT staff are encouraged to continue adopting measures that promote "Green IT." One option for LSPs is to purchase small form factor or all-in-one desktops when possible—they use less power and significantly fewer materials than larger towers. The University's hardware vendors now offer high-efficiency (85% or higher—often branded as 80 PLUS) power supplies at little or no additional cost.

Hardware-based systems management technology (examples are Intel Standard Manageability, iAMT, and VPro) offers the capability of booting remotely 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.

Ultra Low-Cost Desktops—not recommended

Price reductions resulting from market competition and continued technical innovation make definition of "Ultra Low-Cost Desktops" a moving target. It is generally true 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 since total costs of ownership associated with supporting any desktop system always far outweigh the actual purchase price, ISC strongly discourages purchasing "Ultra Low-Cost Desktops" for general use.

As an alternative, 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. ISC has certified low-cost enterprise-class systems for use at the University. However, these systems may not always be the best choice as they often lack important manageability or configurability features.

Controlling costs

Controlling costs continues to be important, though other considerations also must be weighed to ensure that business needs are met. A cost and resource savings option already commonly employed at the University is to buy high-quality displays with LED backlights every other life cycle instead of every life cycle. Another option is to bundle significant numbers of identical systems into a single purchase, often resulting 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).

Further information

The Computer Connection offers Apple and Dell configurations that match the recommendations discussed above and include either three or four year warranties.

ISC provides information on supported computing applications, middleware, and operating systems.

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

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