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Desktop Computing Recommendations for Penn: 2024-2025

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

Before making purchasing decisions, administrators, faculty, and staff should always consult with the local IT support organization in their School or Center to ensure fulfillment of local requirements. IT support organizations 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

Windows 10 fades away

Microsoft intends to cease standard support for all versions of Windows 10 on October 14, 2025. Though there was belief that Windows 10 might be the last branded version of Windows, Microsoft introduced Windows 11 in October 2021. Windows 11 includes a modernized user interface, widened application availability in the Microsoft Store, higher levels of default security, and improved support for ARM-based Windows systems. Windows 11 is recommended for all new Windows systems. Please refer to the Operating System Life Cycles charts for ISC's current support of and long-term guidance on operating systems.

End of support for macOS Monterey mid year

macOS Monterey (12.x) will exit support on January 1, 2025. Please refer to the Operating System Life Cycles charts for ISC's current support of and long-term guidance on operating systems.

Further overall movement away from desktops

The COVID-19 pandemic has produced a second wave of movement from desktop systems to notebook systems, following the initial wave in the mid-2000s. The University's overall installed base was already about 70% notebook/30% desktop in FY2019. Now, it is slightly over 80% notebook, though this is unevenly distributed. While this document continues to outline Desktop Recommendations, the related Notebook Purchasing Guide is more relevant to most University constituents.

Desktop recommendations for general use

ISC's recommended configurations for new systems are below. Estimated prices are effective June 1, 2024, and are based on small form factor or all-in-one Dell OptiPlex (Windows) systems with a three-year next-day warranty service and small form factor Apple Mac mini 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, 2024 until June 30, 2028.

Item        Windows macOS


Intel Core i or AMD Ryzen processor
(six core and above)1

Apple M2, M3, or M2 Pro processor
(all are eight core and above)1

Memory (RAM)

16 GB to 32 GB
(32 GB recommended)

16 GB to 32 GB
(24 GB to 32 GB strongly recommended)

Mass Storage

512 GB SSD2

512 GB SSD2

Display and Graphics

24-inch or above (WUXGA or above strongly preferred)3
Intel integrated graphics (UHD Graphics 750 and above)
or AMD integrated graphics
or discrete graphics card

24-inch or above (WUXGA or above strongly preferred)3
Apple integrated graphics (any)

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


85% efficient power supply or above
(90% or above preferred)
optional Bluetooth
hardware-based systems management

85% efficient power supply or above
(all current systems are 91% or above)
integrated Bluetooth

Network Connectivity 10/100/1000BaseT Ethernet 10/100/1000BaseT Ethernet
Recommended Operating Systems Windows 11 2023 Update (23H2)4 macOS Sonoma (14.x)5, 6
Support Period Until July 2028 Until July 2028
Estimated Price $1,100 to $1,550, $1,400 mainstream7 $1,100 to $1,950, $1,400 mainstream7


  1. For many years, the class of processor (e.g., Core i5, Core i7, etc.) was the primary criterion for selecting a desktop system processor. This is no longer true. For AMD, Apple, and Intel processors, ISC suggests six or more cores while ensuring the processor also has capable integrated graphics or is paired with a discrete graphics card. A more detailed University-centric perspective on processors is available from ISC's Processor Guide.
  2. An option often called something like "Keep Your Hard Drive," allows the retention of defective mass storage when receiving replacement mass storage under warranty. This option usually costs about $20 and is a sound choice for many Schools and Centers to avoid possible disclosure of sensitive data.
  3. Displays should be high quality, with a preference for WUXGA resolution or above—a good display should be usable for two hardware life cycles. See ISC's Display and GPU Guide for more information as there are often significant variances in features, resolution, and display quality among displays of the same size.
  4. Windows 11 versions 23H2 and above (Pro, Education, and Enterprise editions for x64 processors) is recommended for new systems. ISC does not recommend but will support Windows 11 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. Though version 22H2 is still supported, Windows 10 is no longer recommended for new systems. ISC does not support Windows 10 S, Windows 11 SE, any 32-bit versions of Windows 10, or any version of Windows for ARM processors.
  5. macOS Sonoma (14.x) is the only choice for new Mac systems as Apple's newly released systems always require the latest macOS version. For running Windows on a Mac, supportable solutions vary widely depending upon the chipset. Parallels Desktop 19 offers added flexibility for users of Apple Silicon-based Macs who need to use Windows 11 occasionally and with the limitations stated in Microsoft's support documents. It should not be used to turn a Mac into a mainly Windows system. Parallels requires that both the Windows and the macOS operating systems be patched and maintained.
  6. Apple's Boot Camp technology offers added flexibility for users of Intel-based Macs who need to use Windows 10 occasionally. It should not be used to turn a Mac into a mainly Windows system. Boot Camp requires that both the Windows and the macOS operating systems be patched and maintained. Like all Windows 10-dependent systems, Boot Camp will fall out of support in October 2025.
  7. Pricing is generated using online configurators available from Apple, Dell, and Lenovo and is for general reference only.

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

In response to what is sometimes rapid technological change, ISC's 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 desktop 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 they are often subjected to, notebook systems have a shorter useful life than desktop systems. Therefore, ISC estimates support at a maximum of 45 months (3.75 years) for capable notebook systems. The current Notebook Purchasing Guide can help you determine which combination of features and capabilities will best serve your needs.

Consider alternative desktop delivery methods

For many areas and use cases at the University, desktop virtualization (VDI), 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 alternative desktop delivery methods. There are total cost of ownership (TCO) advantages related to support, security, and sustainability that may favor the adoption of alternate desktop delivery methods for various use cases across the University.

Collaborative purchasing initiative

A collaborative purchasing initiative around institutional buying of Windows desktops and notebooks at Penn continues. The University has obtained advantageous volume pricing on commonly chosen configurations, lowering both acquisition cost and TCO. Dell OptiPlex desktops and Dell Latitude notebooks can be purchased with this pricing through the Dell Premier Page and the Penn Marketplace punchout environment.

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, Dell, and Lenovo now offer four-year warranties for desktops. If a system is used for the full four-year life cycle, these warranties (typically adding about $40 to $80 to the overall cost over a three-year warranty) are often appropriate. However, support providers should expect the system failure rate 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 funds that would otherwise be spent on warranty extensions into a fund to fix or replace systems that fail during the fourth year of service.

Operating system life cycle support

While once possible, ISC does not currently expect support for older or aging versions of Windows and macOS to persist through the four-year life cycle of the desktop recommendations. Support providers should assume at least one significant operating system upgrade over the life of a system. Please refer to the Operating System Life Cycles charts for long-term guidance on the University's supported operating systems.

Support providers should also be mindful that manufacturer-specific middleware and firmware should be be kept current in order to ensure an optimal experience. For Windows systems, this includes BIOS updates.

Improving sustainability

University IT staff are encouraged to continue adopting measures that improve sustainability. One option for buyers is to purchase micro form factor, 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 also offer high-efficiency (85% or higher—often branded as 80 PLUS) power supplies at little or no additional cost.

Ultra low-cost desktops—not recommended

Price reductions resulting from market competition and continued technical innovation make the 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.

Considering 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 necessary, 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 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.

Further information

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.