IT Services

New Student FAQ

Questions and Answers about Amherst Computing

Your Amherst IT Account

Bringing a Computer to Campus

  • Do I need to bring my own computer to the College?

    Not necessarily. Although 99% of Amherst students have personal computers, we have many computing facilities available for students including the Seeley Mudd Center for Creative Technology and Robert Frost Library A Level.  Learn more about our Computing Facilities.
  • Should I get Windows or Macintosh (Mac) or other?

    Most students have Macs but Amherst College supports both Windows and Mac computers, and you can get your basic academic work done on either. If you bring a Windows computer to campus, you must learn to use it securely and to keep it free from viruses and malware. If you bring a Mac, there may be times when you will have to use a Windows computer (available in the public labs) to complete a specific assignment that requires Windows-only software.
  • Should I get a desktop or a laptop?

    Unless you have heavy duty uses for your computer (gaming, video editing), we recommend purchasing a laptop. Most Amherst students have laptops. You can take a laptop to study anywhere, to travel, and they take up less desk space. Wireless networking is available throughout the campus, even in some outdoor areas. (Yes, we have wireless access points in trees!)
  • What about alternative devices such as an iPad or other tablet or a netbook?

    We like tablets and netbooks, but they may be too limited to act as your primary computer. As an adjunct to your primary computer, however, they are great, offering a level of portability that even the best laptops can't match.
  • Can Amherst College help me with the cost of a computer?

    Amherst College offers a two ways to help you with a computer purchase. 
    • Discounted computers: You can order Apple and Dell computers at educational prices.
    • Financial Aid: You can finance your computer purchase using a loan from Financial Aid. Contact the Financial Aid office after you arrive on campus.
  • I'm bringing my own computer. How fast/big/smart should it be?

    Any new Mac or Windows computer is going to be more than adequate to write your papers, browse the web, and check your email. (In fact, this is likely true even of a two- or three-year old computer.) That said, there are some things you should pay attention to.
    • CPU: at least a dual-core processor
    • Memory: At least 8GB is recommended.
    • Networking: The wireless network uses WiFi access points and the wired network is Ethernet.
    • Graphics: If you're running Windows, we recommend getting a computer with a "discrete" graphics adapter (ATI and nVidia are the names to look for) as opposed to "integrated" graphics.
  • How can I back up my course work and other important files?

    Once you get your Amherst student IT account you receive personal network storage on the Userfiles or U: drive network storage share. You can access your storage from any computer on the Amherst network and from outside the network using the WebDav connection protocol. The contents of this share are backed up every night. We also recommend you get a USB flash drive (also known as a thumb drive or a memory key) to quickly move files from one computer to another, and an external hard drive to keep a backup of all your media and other personal files. Check out our back-up documentation for more information.
  • Do I need to bring a printer?

    We recommend that you do not bring a printer to campus. Though inexpensive to purchase, personal printers are often expensive to operate. You'll be able to access the College's high-speed and large format printers from your room. Learn more about printing at Amherst.
    Note: We do not allow use of wireless printers on our network. If you bring a wireless printer to campus, you must bring a USB cable so you can use it in wired mode.
  • What if my computer stops working?

    Contact the IT Help Desk at helpdesk @ amherst.edu or 413-542-2153. If your computer stops working due to a software or virus problem, or there is a campus network issue we will assist you.

    Amherst College will not fix your computer hardware.
    To protect your computer hardware, we recommend you buy a computer with a manufacturer's warranty of three or four years. For best service, you'll want an on-site warranty for desktop computers; a depot/off-site warranty is fine for laptops. If your computer is out of warranty, there are several computer repair shops in the area for both Windows computers and Macintoshes that the IT Department can recommend.
  • What if I accidentally destroy my laptop/smartphone/mobile device?

    Most manufacturers offer accidental damage protection for laptops and mobile devices at an additional charge. It is often a good idea to get the damage protection because accidents happen. Accidental damage protection covers problems in almost any circumstance (dropping the computer, falling off a bike and smashing the computer/device, soda spilled on the keyboard, screen impaled by a pen, phone dropped into water ...).
  • What if my computer and/or mobile device gets lost or stolen?

    Immediately contact Campus Police (on-campus) or local police (elsewhere) and report the loss/theft. We also strongly recommend (so strongly that we put it in bold) that you insure your computer under a parent's or your own homeowner's or renter's insurance policy so that in the event of a loss or theft, you will be able to recover some money. Remember that if you buy a computer through Financial Aid and it is lost or stolen, the unpaid balance of the loan remains your responsibility.

Software and Programs

  • I'm bringing a Windows computer. What version of Windows should I have?

    Windows 7 or 8 both work fine on the Amherst campus, with 64-bit versions better than 32-bit.
  • What about the MacOS?

     All recent versions of the MacOS work fine on the Amherst network.

  • What about other operating systems?

    Computers with Linux and other operating systems can be configured to work with the Amherst Network. Amherst College provides no support or documentation for these systems. Moreover, several of the software applications and utilities we provide over the network for Macintosh and Windows computers are not compatible with other operating systems (see next question).
  • Does Amherst provide any software to students?

  • What software packages and CDs do I need to bring?

    You should bring any CDs that came with your computer. In particular, you must bring your operating system (Windows or MacOS) CD or the "recovery" CD that came with the computer. Students often leave their CDs at home for safekeeping, only to find they don't have them when they need them most. If you have lost your operating system CDs, you can purchase replacements from IT.
    Due to licensing restrictions, the IT Department cannot lend operating system CDs to students.

The Amherst Network and the Internet

  • How do I get to the Internet from my dorm room?

    You get your Internet access through the Amherst Network, and we provide both wireless and wired (Ethernet) connections to the network. Wireless is just about everywhere, and almost all students will also have a wired Ethernet jack in their dorm room. (The exceptions are in the social dorms, where some rooms needed their own wireless access point in order to get good wireless reception; these rooms do not have Ethernet jacks, but have probably the best wireless reception on campus.) Even if you plan to use wireless most of the time you should still bring an Ethernet cable to campus or purchase one from IT for $5.

    You will be required to register every device you connect to the network and both the wireless and wired network connections. For computers and other devices that have web browsers, this process is fairly painless. For other devices (such as game consoles) you will need to follow our instructions for registering non-computer network devices. 
  • How fast is the Internet connection?

    The College has a 100 megabit connection to the Internet. Connections to other computers on campus are even faster — up to 1,000 megabits-per-second.
  • Does that mean that I can download as much as I like? Can I set up a server to share MP3s and movies?

    No. The primary purpose of the Amherst Network is for academic work. Other uses of the network, especially those that slow down or might damage the network, will result in the removal/sequestering of the problematic devices. All those using the Amherst Network are bound by the College's Acceptable Use Policy.

    While Amherst College does not monitor individual students' Internet activity, it does monitor network traffic and operation. Also, if a copyright owner complains to Amherst that you are freely sharing their work, your computer will be taken off the network until you remove the copyrighted material. Similarly if your computer is compromised by a virus/malware and as a result using the network improperly and/or spamming, it will be removed from the network and sequestered. You will be notified by Amherst IT if your network or email privileges are curtailed and what you need to do to reinstate them.
  • Can I bring a wireless access point or wireless router for my room?

    NO! Your personal wireless access point may interfere with College's wireless access points. And if the is not configured correctly you can bring down the entire network. Leave your wireless access point at home; it is not allowed on the Amherst network.

    What kind of phone should I bring?

    Though residence hall rooms have telephone jacks, Amherst College no longer supplies or facilitates wired telephone service as nearly all students now use cell phones. More information is available on our Student Telephone Service page. If you do order wired telephone service from Verizon, do not bring or use a cordless phone that uses the 2.4GHz or 5.8GHz frequency. These interfere with our wireless network.

The IT Department

  • What will the IT Department help me with?

    The IT Help Desk can help if you have problems with the Amherst network, common computer and operating system problems, or questions about your Amherst email account or software applications. Amherst College will not fix your computer hardware.
  • How can I get a job working for the IT Department?

    The IT Department employs students as Supervisors, IT Specialists, and a few other positions. As with all departments, IT begins hiring for new students at the beginning of the Fall semester. Drop in to see us during Orientation--we're on the first floor of Seeley Mudd--and keep an eye on or subscribe to the Announcements feed on the IT website for more information.
  • I have a question you haven't covered.

    Feel free to contact the IT Help Desk at (413) 542-2526, or drop a line via the help request form, if you have any questions that aren't answered here.