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Personal Computing requirements

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Technical requirements

For this course you will need a computer with at least the following specification:

Processor 3.0GHz Pentium 4 or 2.0GHz dual core or similar
Memory 512MB (more required with Windows Vista, 7 or 8)
Operating System Windows XP/Vista/7/8 or Mac OS X 10.6 or a recent Linux distribution
DVD Drive Yes

We suggest that you check this technical specification against your existing computer or take it into consideration if you are planning to purchase a new one.

This specification is based on the most common type of home computer – the Windows PC – either a laptop or desktop. If you are using another other type of computer, please read the relevant sections accessible from the ‘On this page’ links above.

Computer hardware and software explained

Processor

The processor is the main component that determines the performance of your computer. 

Although other factors will affect it, generally the better the processor the faster your computer will run.

  • Most Intel processors now have code numbers and are also described as duo, dual- or quad-core. Any such processor is sufficient.
  • Older (single core) Pentium processors will be described by their speed and 3.0GHz or faster will be adequate.
  • Equivalent AMD or other brand processors are satisfactory.

Memory (RAM)

This is the memory your computer uses to run programs. The more memory you have, the more programs can run simultaneously.

The minimum memory requirement is dependent on the operating system of your computer. The minimum of 512MB is only suitable for computers with Windows XP and, where applicable, basic Linux distributions. You also need to check with your supplier and/or the Microsoft or Apple websites for the minimum memory requirements for other versions of Windows or Apple OS X.

Screen size

The minimum required screen resolution of 1024 x 768 pixels is readily achieved by a standard LCD screen of 15 inch (38cm) or more. This screen resolution may also be met by screens of a smaller physical size, but this will depend on whether they are the older standard 4:3 ratio (width:height) or the more modern 'widescreen'.

Netbooks with a widescreen size of 12 inches or less may have a height of less than 768 pixels – often only 600 or 640. Some applications will not be usable on these narrow screens and others will require a lot of scrolling up and down to navigate readily. Some smaller laptops will also have this problem. The minimum colour range for OU software will be achieved by even the smallest of screen sizes.

Printer

A few modules require a good quality photo printer (see individual module descriptions for details).

Operating system

This is the software that controls the computer. 

Examples include Microsoft Windows, Linux and Apple Macintosh OS X. The current versions that we support and for which our software is tested include:

  • Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7 and 8
  • OS X 10.6, 10.7 and 10.8 (Snow Leopard, Lion and Mountain Lion).

The tablet/mobile version of Windows 8 is restricted in some respects, see the relevant section below. See below for further information about Apple Mac and Linux.

Internet access

You will need an account with an internet service provider (ISP) to get a connection to the internet. Access via only a public library or company computer may prevent you accessing websites and installing software.

We recommend that you have broadband access to the internet. To access basic module activities a 512kbps service is adequate but if you use the online rooms or watch video clips, 1 Mbps is the minimum recommended. 

Web browser

A web browser is the software program that enables you to access web pages on the internet.

For some module activities you may need to add third-party software to your browser to extend its functionality: Flash and Shockwave (from Adobe Corp) and Java (from Java.com). These are free to download and install if you don’t already have them.

Some module activities require a browser that works with the new HTML5 standard:

  • Internet Explorer 9 is HTML5 compatible
  • Internet Explorer 8 (Windows XP) is not compatible – you will have to install another browser such as Chrome or Firefox

You may also need Adobe Reader to view study materials provided in PDF format; this is also free to download and install.

Our websites and browser-based software delivered on disk for student use, whether academic or administrative, are tested to be compatible with the current and the previous version of Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and Apple Safari at the time that the software was first released.

Some browsers on mobile devices, including Safari on the Apple iPad and IE 10 with Windows 8, have limited functionality that restricts some features of the University’s websites.

Some modules use some of the educational tools in the Google environment. These are designed to work best with the Chrome browser. If you want to keep your preferred browser, as well as Chrome, it is quite possible to have two browsers installed on your computer and use them for different purposes.

Netbooks

A netbook is a small laptop, with a small screen, usually no DVD drive and a slower processor than laptop and desktop PCs. Viewing and navigating web pages can also be problematic. This makes them unsuitable for advanced level modules especially in computer science and technology.

Additionally a netbook is only suitable for OU study if the module you are studying does not provide software on disk (see description for details). If you are studying towards a qualification we recommend that you check all the module computing requirements before purchasing a netbook for study.

Mobile and tablet devices

This covers a large range of portable systems from smartphones to tablet systems like the Apple iPad, Dell Streak, Samsung Galaxy and many others. These have a broad range of screen sizes and browser capabilities and mostly use an operating system quite different from the most common PC system.

The basic features of the University’s websites are available to most mobile devices. However, you may find that some features do not work on some mobile devices. Some browsers on mobile devices, notably Safari on the Apple iPad and IE 10 on Windows 8 tablets, have limited functionality that restricts some features of the University’s (and other) websites, including some teaching applications.

Apple Mac

About 80 per cent of modules can be studied online using almost any computer, including a Mac. However, for modules designated for Windows only you may need above average IT ability to do the computer activities with a Mac.

Online content is currently tested with Safari. Mac users can therefore access online materials. The minimum acceptable version of the Mac operating system is OS X v10.6.

The remaining modules use software (mostly on CD or DVD) that runs in Windows. Recent Intel processor Macs can use the Apple Boot Camp ‘dual booting’ software that allows you to install Windows in native mode on your Mac. There is also other software to run Windows on a Mac. You will need to talk to your computer supplier for support on using these systems.

A limited number of modules may require students to use platform specific specialist software (usually for Windows or Linux). This will be indicated in the module description.

Students can submit assignments prepared using a Mac, running their preferred word processor and a standard web browser, as long as they use one of the specified document formats.

There is a Mac self-help group organised by OU students.

Linux

Because there are many distributions of Linux designed for different hardware platforms and users’ requirements, we cannot be prescriptive about which distribution and/or platform you should use. Normally, we would expect the majority of Linux users to have Firefox as their web browser. Our browser-based software is tested on Firefox. Depending on your Linux distribution you may have to install additional applications into the browser, such as Flash, Shockwave or Java. 

Depending on the other study requirements, for example for the electronic tutor-marked assignment (eTMA) system, you may need to provide and install other software, such as a word processor which is compatible with Microsoft Office formats, into your Linux computer. You can set up your Linux system to dual boot with Windows.

Please note that the OU Computing Helpdesk support for Linux users is very limited.

OU Live

The OU uses audio conferencing software – OU Live – for live online tutorials, induction or discussion activities. Sometimes these OU Live activities are optional, but for some modules they are compulsory. OU Live is available on an increasing number of modules.

We recommend that you:

  • use a cabled USB headset and a wired broadband connection
  • test out your computer and internet connection in advance of the first tutorial.

If you use assistive technology or have a hearing or speech impairment and have concerns about accessing audio conferencing, please see the If you have a disability or additional requirement section in the module description.

Computing helpdesk

Our experts can help you to get the most from our computing resources and offer technical support for access to OU software and online materials.

If you want to discuss your computer specifications for your module, phone or email our helpdesk: