Computing Requirements

Laptops at SCA

Master of Fine Arts Film and Television Production Division Laptop Requirements

One of the following computers is required when enrolled in the School of Cinematic Arts Film and Television Production Graduate Program. You will have classes that will require the computer for group work and in-class projects and editing. This information will be updated July 2016. We recommend that admitted students not buy any computer hardware or software until being admitted. SCA will communicate with you about the exact requirements after you are admitted. Computers are offered for sale through the USC Book Store at a student discount reflected in the prices below.

Financial Aid Assistance

Students receiving Financial Aid from USC are eligible for a one-time budget increase to purchase a computer.

Modern media production relies on high performance computers in many ways.  Fortunately, laptop computers have become powerful enough to support most high-end media production and have become essential tools in both the industry and at the School of Cinematic Arts.

Having an adequate laptop for use at the school is strongly recommended and, in Graduate Film and Television Production, is required.  Choosing the right machine can be a daunting task, so the school has created recommended configurations for popular machines that will suit students well in their time at USC School of Cinematic Arts.

Choosing the Right Configuration for You

It is important to realize that each division of SCA uses computers in different ways, and generally, in ways that reflect how the larger media industry works.  Therefore, much like the larger production and post-production industry, the school’s Production Division curriculum is entirely based on Apple OSX.  Similarly, animation and visual effects work is often based on Microsoft Windows, so the school’s Division of Animation & Digital Arts is a Windows-based environment.  Interactive media and games are created on a range of platforms, so students in our Interactive Media & Games and Media Arts + Practice Divisions can work on either OSX or Windows.

When choosing a laptop, please consider the following points:

  • Which division of the school are you a part of?  Apple OSX is preferred in the Production Division.  Windows is preferred in animation and visual effects courses. 
  • Are you interested in areas that require higher performance systems, such as animation, visual effects, or gaming?  If so, consider purchasing the “high performance” configuration below. 
  • Are you interested in taking classes in multiple divisions and working on your own system?  For example, will you be a production student taking visual effects classes or an animation student taking production classes.  If so, you may want to purchase the “high performance” configuration and install both OSX and Windows on the computer.

Laptop Requirement

Students entering the Graduate Film and Television Production program are required to have a SCA approved laptop during their time at the school.

SCA-designed Configurations

USC Cinematic Arts has put together some recommended configurations for both Apple MacBook Pros and Windows-based laptops.  For compatibility, the school strongly recommends that Apple OSX-based systems be used in the Film and Television Production Division, and Windows-based systems in Animation & Digital Arts.

Apple (OSX and/or Windows):

In the case of Apple MacBook Pros, USC Cinematic Arts has worked with the USC Bookstore and Apple to provide two SCA configurations.  These specific configurations receive an additional discount beyond the standard, academic discount:

  • STANDARD CONFIGURATION (Spring 2017):

15-inch Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display

Edu Price: $2,890.61 / Special SCA Price: $2,781.61
(approximate price including AppleCare warranty and tax)

  • 2.6 GHz Quad-core Intel Core i7, Turbo Boost up to 3.5GHz
  • 16GB 2133MHz LPDDR3 memory
  • 512GB PCIe-based Flash Storage
  • Radeon Pro 450 with 2GB memory
  • Four Thunderbolt 3 ports
  • Force Touch trackpad, Touch Bar and Touch ID
  • Backlit Keyboard (English) & User's Guide Accessory Kit
  • HIGH PERFORMANCE CONFIGURATION (Spring 2017):

15-inch Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display

Edu Price: $3,479.21 / Special SCA Price: $3,370.21
(approximate price including AppleCare warranty and tax)

  • 2.6 GHz Quad-core Intel Core i7, Turbo Boost up to 3.5GHz
  • 16GB 2133MHz LPDDR3 memory
  • 1TB PCIe-based Flash Storage
  • Radeon Pro 460 with 4GB memory
  • Four Thunderbolt 3 ports
  • Force Touch trackpad, Touch Bar and Touch ID
  • Backlit Keyboard (English) & User's Guide Accessory Kit

View USCBookstores Exclusive Promotional Offer

Windows-Based Laptops:

Windows laptops for Animation & Digital Arts students need to meet the minimum system requirements for AVID Media Composer, Autodesk Maya and Adobe Creative Cloud.  Windows laptops for Gaming and Virtual Reality (VR) Development must meet the minimum system requirements for Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. Due to the vast array of laptop configurations, it is recommended that students visit the system requirements web page of each vendor to verify their configuration and view recommended laptop models in addition to reviewing the guidelines below.

Please note that the graphics processor (GPU) is a critical consideration. Graphics technology advances rapidly and is often unique to the primary application for which it will be used. For example, the nVidia Quadro line of graphics cards is generally best suited for visual effects and editing while the nVidia GeForce line is better suited for gaming and VR development. As mentioned above, it is important to consult the system requirements page of each software vendor before making a purchase.

Below are general guidelines for the 2016-2017 academic year:

  • STANDARD CONFIGURATION:

Animation and Digital Arts students (not suitable for advanced Gaming/VR Development students)

15-inch or larger Quad-core Windows laptop with high-end graphics processor.

  • 2.2GHz Quad-core Intel Core i7 CPU, Turbo Boost up to 3.4GHz (minimum)
  • 15-inch or larger screen size
  • 16GB RAM (minimum) (MHz and DDR type must meet CPU’s requirements)
  • 512GB PCIe-based Flash Storage (minimum)
  • nVidia Quadro K2100M (Kepler) or better graphics
  • Technical Support from manufacturer or reseller

Vendor-recommended laptops include: HP Zbook or HP Zbook G2 (15” or 17”), Lenovo W540 or W541.

  • HIGH PERFORMANCE CONFIGURATION:

Animation and Digital Arts students OR Gaming/VR Development students

15-inch or larger Quad-core Windows laptop with premium graphics processor.

  • 2.6GHz Quad-core Intel Core i7 CPU, Turbo Boost up to 3.5GHz
  • 15-inch or larger screen size
  • 16GB RAM (32GB recommended) (MHz and DDR type must meet CPU’s requirements)
  • 1TB PCIe-based Flash Storage
  • Graphics GPU
    • For Animation and Digital Arts: nVidia Quadro M2000M (Maxwell) or better graphics*
    • For Gaming/VR Development: nVidia GeForce GTX 980 laptop GPU or better**
  • For Gaming/VR Development: HDMI 1.4 or later, 3x USB 3.0 ports and 1x USB 2.0 port
  • Technical Support from manufacturer or reseller

* Higher performance Pascal laptop graphics GPUs are expected to be released mid-summer 2016.
** The GTX 980 laptop GPU is not the same as the GTX 980M. The GTX 980 laptop GPU is significantly more powerful and meets the minimum requirements for Oculus Rift VR Development.

For Animation and Digital Arts, vendor-recommended laptops include: HP Zbook G3 (15” or 17”)

For Gaming and VR Development, laptops with the GTX 980 laptop GPU include:  AORUS x7DT, ASUS GX700VO, CLEVO P870DM, CLEVO P775DM, MSI GT72, MSI GT80.

Using an Operating System Other than Those Preferred by Your Division

The school’s technical team builds, tests and documents industry-standard workflows based on common usage.  As such, the school strongly recommends using the preferred operating system of each division’s workflow.   The preferred operating systems by division are:

  • Film and Television Production:  Apple OS X
  • Animation & Digital Arts:  Microsoft Windows
  • Interactive Media & Games:  Apple OS X and/or Microsoft Windows
  • Media Arts & Practice:  Apple OS X

Should you choose to use an operating system other than what is preferred by your division, please be aware that the school’s support and documentation will likely not cover your needs.  Moreover, you may be forced to deal with incompatibilities between operating systems when moving between your laptop and the school’s systems.

Using an Existing or Purchasing a Used/Refurbished Laptop - Mac or Windows:

If you own a laptop that meets the following specifications, you may be able to use it at the school.  The specifications are:

  • Less than 4 years old (released after January, 2012)
  • Quad-core Intel Core i7 processor
  • At least 8GB of system memory (RAM) – 16GB preferred
  • At least 256GB of storage – 512GB or more of flash/solid state storage preferred

If you have your own computer or plan to purchase a used or refurbished system, please contact the school’s technical team at laptops@cinema.usc.edu with your laptop’s specifications (model, processor speed, RAM, etc.) and it’s current operating system.

Any technical questions or inquiries about which laptop might be right for you should also be directed to SCA’s Creative Technology & Support team at laptops@cinema.usc.edu.

Software

Possible software required or recommended:

Hard Drives

The following is the list of SCA approved and supported hard drives. Any student-purchased drive must meet the requirements below.

Minimum Technical Specifications:

  • Drive speed of 7200rpm
  • Minimum storage capacity of 500GB
  • USB 3.0 connection

Recommended Hard Drive Models:

Glyph Blackbox Plus

Bus-powered, USB-C**, laptop friendly
(Approximate retail price $99-$120)

G-Tech G-Drive Mobile USB-C

Bus-powered, USB-C**, laptop friendly
(Approximate retail price $130)

Glyph Studio

Requires AC power
(Approximate retail price $149)

Samsung T3 SSD Portable

Bus-powered, USB-C**, laptop friendly
(Approximate retail price $170 - $370)

G-Tech G-Drive

Requires AC power, USB-3
(Approximate retail price $149 and up)

Notes:
**All of the "mobile" drives are USB-C, also known as USB3.1
Capacity: We do not recommend hard drives over 2TB