as a student and with your .edu email address you'll be eligible for the microsoft windows 7 program and possibly a few others.
get win7 for $30 and access to the msdn sites..
check it out, look into it.
Depending on your school and major, you can get Windows 7 for free. I think EECS students and Mechanical Engineering students at my university get access to the MSDNAA site free, registering again each semester.
In Mechanical Engineering, the programs I've needed are MATLAB, AutoCAD, Solidworks, and LabVIEW. I've tried the first three programs on my old laptop and they all work (Pentium M 1.73 GHz, 1 GB RAM, 80 GB 5400 RPM, 128 MB ATI X300). Of course, with a dual-core processor and more RAM, they will run much more smoothly.
I'm pretty sure that any modern dual-core processor can handle these programs. I read somewhere that Solidworks 11 recommends 6 GB of RAM, so I might upgrade if I need to. By the way, my university has links to getting free AutoCAD and Solidworks student licenses (13 months, I think) and a one-time LabVIEW student license.