If you aren’t paying for the laptops, you should say Autodesk Inventor or Solidworks and see if they buy you mobile workstations . . . probably not
Other programming options are PROS and Simulink. PROS doesn’t really have any special hardware requirements, though and the simulink environment isn’t widely used.
For design, most teams use Inventor (your students can get a free education license), and the next most popular is Solidworks (for which you can apply for a free team license). Both have pretty expensive “system requirements,” but I know from experience that Inventor’s are more like recommendations.
Sketchup and Onshape are also design (CAD) options that will run on lower-end machines
Well, first, are there issues with dealing with the rest of the school? For instance, essentially our whole school uses Macs and all the students have Macs. That was a rather critical issue for me when making decisions. That’s why I went with PROS and Robot Mesh Studio’s Blockly. Now my students can work much more efficiently than when they had to share a small group of Windows laptops within the classroom.
Most likely, any computer you get these days will be powerful enough. I tend to find other factors more important. For example, is the monitor large enough so that the students can see everything they need to as they code? Cursor control can be a big one, too. Consider getting a mouse for each computer. Also, go with more than one USB port if you can. You may well want one to connect to the robot, another for a mouse, and another for a USB stick at the same time.
As for other programs, you may well want some CAD programs. Those will take a little more processing power. But this isn’t like what I dealt with nearly three decades ago, when I could tie up a computer for days with a theoretically relatively trivial process in AutoCad. As mentioned above, you can get CAD programs that will run fine on many machines. MS Excel or Google Sheets can be helpful, but those won’t require a lot of processing power for your purposes.
Get ROBOTC and learn it. That’s the best bet for new team. It is VRC standard, can do anything you can possibly think of, and in addition, learning C programming is just wonderful. Great first programming language, really gives you the solid background going into C++. I did some heavy programming work in ROBOTC and later chewed through C++ textbook in like a month. Really helps you in the future.
Really, in addition to ROBOTC, any 3D CAD software would be very helpful. But oh well, it depends on your CAD assembly skills. If it’s faster for you to put together a robot in reality, then there’s no advantage to CAD it fully before build. But 3D CAD allows you to design anywhere on your laptop with a mouse only, when possibly you don’t even have some parts yet. But really, I’m just giving you recommendation on software choice. How to find part files and start designing is a whole other topic to dive into.
Some 3D CAD I’d recommend:
Autodesk Inventor –
Pros: Currently (I think) the most popular choice for VEX robotics CAD. There are part libraries on forum in its file format. It’s free for education, and obtaining an educational license is very easy. Your school can probably get it without spending too much. System requirement is really fine. I’ve designed full robots with inventor on 2GB RAM computer. You just have to simplify geometry, cut off fancy lighting stuff, eliminate unnecessary parts and manage your memory. But hey, it’s all about how much you know.
Cons: Unfortunately it isn’t the best 3D CAD out there. Many issues with it that I do not like. Sketching environment and sketch constrain management is horrible. Cannot directly reference solid geometry within sketch. But these are solid modeling issues. And the default graphics aren’t really of my taste.
Pros: Probably one of the best 3D general purpose CAD out there. Industrial standard in many ways. Beautiful assembly environment, nice and clean graphics. I believe there’s also SOLIDWORKS native VEX library on forum. If your school doesn’t mind spending a lot of money, then sure.
Cons: Expensive. Doesn’t really have this thing called student license, and you’ll have to get it via school (or spend ridiculous amount of money to buy a license). Your school may not want to spend that much. But there are high schools that can afford them. The other day some high school students were doing projects in Georgia Tech’s maker space, and I was quite surprised that they said their school got them SOLIDWORKS.
And there are other 3D CAD that I haven’t tried that do look cool. Fusion 360 is what Autodesk came up with after realizing Inventor isn’t that good. Cheap, looks fabulous, new, and they are really trying to sell it to you. Not sure about native part library. Probably a better deal than Inventor. I’ve seen teams design in sketchup or some other Autodesk online free CAD apps. Worth looking into.
That’s it. Learning 3D CAD and C language are great for high school students. Do it.
Solidworks licensees their education version free of charge to robotics teams, your team just has to apply for the sponsorship: www.solidworks.com/StudentSponsorship Free licenses run from June 1 to July 31 the following year, so you have to re-apply each year, and agree to put the SolidWorks logo on your web/facebook page. Tell them in the application how many are on your team, and they give you that many seats for the year.
Education version is identical to their premium version, except for a watermark on printed drawings.
@mrgcook I know this thread is answered but I would like to recommend some hardware. These Lenovo workstations are very good for entry level CAD. The P310 or greater is good but bump them up to the i7, 8GB RAM minimum, and the Qaudro K1200 card if your district will go for it. Fusion 360 is totally free to schools and students and is very popular because it is extremely good. It has CAM built into it and will generate G code for you if you decide to do get into CNC. You can get a light duty CNC from china for around $500. link text.link text
Mastercam software for the CNC is around $75 per station but you only need one.
Bare minimum CAD requirements(not recommended)link text