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Nearly everyone who has gone through an academic data research project has a love/hate relationship with MATLAB. STEM students and researchers in particular appreciate both the value and pain of the tool. However, these end users may not appreciate MATLAB's financial considerations.
Many common stats and math analytics packages offer the basics at no cost, but charge for more specific or advanced functionality (aka freemium).
There is no free version of MATLAB. For most use cases, paying for MATLAB's powerful features is going to be more than worth it, given its ROI and usefulness. Choosing which license to get and how much to pay can be a far more difficult decision for many users
MATLAB offers use case-based pricing. This allows you to tailor the purchase experience to your needs, and greatly affects how much MATLAB will cost you. A university will pay differently from an individual user, and a business different from them. The scale of your use case will also impact pricing. This post will break down the different MATLAB pricing structures. We'll also highlight where each license is most valuable, giving you insight into which license is best for you.
What is MATLAB?
For the uninitiated, MATLAB (by MathWorks) is a programming, modeling, and simulation platform. It has a distinct programming language that focuses on mathematics. The language specifically handles complex math modeling, algorithms, and arrays and related array mathematics. MATLAB also possesses a strong data visualization function, such as graphs.
The emphasis on advanced modeling makes it ideal for several use cases, particularly in STEM. Engineers use MATLAB in academic research and professional situations alike. A variety of scientific researchers also make use of MATLAB's powerful modeling and scripts capabilities. It can also support machine learning and deep learning use cases.
MATLAB Licensing Structure
MATLAB's pricing structure revolves around its main use cases. The vendor offers 4 packages based on the 4 most common use cases. It offers:
- Standard: This is the default set of licenses if none of the other specialized use cases apply. Non-academic researchers and commercial users are the power users of this license.
- Education: This package is for academic use. It primarily serves entire institutions' needs. There is also an option in this package for one-off individuals in academic institutions.
- Student: This package focuses on academic individuals that lack reliable institutional resourcing. In particular, it serves student users and primary/secondary educators.
- Home: This version caters to individual, non-commercial, non-academic users. Think of personal projects, or ad hoc individual needs.
Most of these packages have more than one license option. Multi-user use cases, like academia, have especially complex licensing options.
How Much Does MATLAB Cost?
|Individual||$2,150 (Perpetual)$860 (Annual)||For Single Users|
|Named Network User||By Quote||For Multiple Designated Users|
|Concurrent||By Quote||For Multiple Non-Designated Users|
|Academic Use- Individual||$500 (Perpetual)$250 (Annual)||For Single Users at Academic Institutions|
|Campus-Wide||By Quote||For Everyone at an Institution|
|Community & Technical College||By Quote||For Set Number of Users at Community/Technical Colleges|
|Academic Use- Concurrent||By Quote||For Set Number of Users at Academic Institution|
|Classroom Use||By Quote||For Set Number of Computers at an On-Premise Site|
|Standard Student||$49 (Perpetual)||For College Students and Primary/Secondary School Educators|
|Student Suite||$99 (Perpetual)||For College Students and Primary/Secondary School EducatorsIncludes Simulink & Add-Ons|
|Home||$149 (Perpetual)||Only for Non-Government, Commercial, Academic, or Organizational Use|
More than one of the packages above may be viable options for some users. We'll break down each option here if there's not a clear license choice for your use case.
The Standard pricing offers 4 licensing options. Individual users can install, operate, and administer the software on their own. To do so, individuals can purchase a perpetual license or an annual license. The perpetual license is currently priced at $2,150, while the annual subscription is $860.
If you only need MATLAB for a limited time, the annual subscription will be more cost-effective. If you will be using MATLAB indefinitely, a perpetual license will save you money in the 3rd year of use. Those who are unsure can use the software for a year and see if they will continue to do so.
MATLAB also offers a license to support network-based named users. The Network Named User (NNU) license allows multiple designated users to reliably access MATLAB. All named users can access MATLAB on a network simultaneously. However, one user can't be on more than 1 computer (no license sharing).
Once more than one user comes into play, you will also need a license manager to administer MATLAB. Pricing is not publically available for this license. It likely becomes more cost-efficient, with a larger overall price tag, the more named users there are. It is also available in a perpetual or annual licensing format. Perpetual licenses are still charged an annual fee to renew its Software Maintenance Service.
Finally, MATLAB also has a Concurrent license. This license gives the license manager a set number of keys. These keys are distributed by the license manager. Anyone with access to an available key can access MATLAB. Once the number of simultaneous users equals the number of licensed keys, no more users can access MATLAB until a current user leaves.
This license gives an organization more flexibility in who can use MATLAB. The tradeoff is that each user has less reliable access to the program. If you want to use the program and all the seats are currently taken, you're out of luck!
Public pricing is also not available for the concurrent license. It has the same perpetual and annual license terms as the NNU license.
Education pricing focuses on undergraduate and graduate institutions. While there are licenses for individual users, the main intention is for whole institutions to purchase a license.
Pricing is available for solo academic users needing a one-off license. Like the individual Standard package, there is a perpetual or an annual license. The perpetual Individual license costs $500, while the annual license is $250/year. If the individual user will need MATLAB for more than 2 years, the perpetual license will be more cost-effective.
The other academic licenses do not have publically available pricing. They are all designed for larger use cases, so the pricing will be bespoke to the use case. The Campus-Wide license makes MATLAB and Simulink available to all faculty, students, and researchers in the org. It focuses on undergraduate and graduate universities. Notably, the license is available for university-owned and personal computers alike. This license is likely to be the most expensive, but also the most comprehensive.
There is also a dedicated license for trade schools. The Community and Technical College license is available for institutions that offer associate degrees (or the equivalent). Like the Campus-Wide license, it is available for university and private computers. Unlike the Campus-Wide license, it is limited to a set number of faculty and student users.
MATLAB also has a license for on-premise only users. The Academic Use- Concurrent license operates similarly to the Standard Concurrent license. It has a set number of keys that a network license manager administers. Distinct from prior academic licenses, users must connect to the academic network.
The last academic license serves classroom use cases. The Classroom Use license is limited to on-campus teaching labs. Administrators can purchase MATLAB installations for designated desktop environments or buy a set number of keys. This license requires the purchase of at least 10 keys.
Not all academic users have institutional funding behind them. Some under-funded users still need access to MATLAB, but can't afford the traditional licenses. The Student license serves this particular use case. It is available exclusively for students at degree-granting institutions, or primary/secondary schools teachers and students.
This license is the most restrictive in terms of what it can be used for. MATLAB's terms prohibit revenue-generating activities, or any non-student or primary/secondary education users. Users that fit this description have the cheapest access to MATLAB. The base Student license costs $49. The Student Suite license, which includes Simulink and other popular add-ons, costs $99.
Some people just want to model on their own time. For these users, MATLAB offers the Home license. At $149, it is cheaper than many other licenses. However, it is prohibited from any government, academic, commercial, or other organizational use. This license is ideal for personal projects, or if you're learning/practicing MATLAB in a non-academic context.
Other Costs to Consider
There's more to MATLAB pricing than the license cost. For instance, MATLAB has a large number of optional add-ons. These can be crucial to specific use cases, but will often cost extra. Implementation, official training resources, and support materials may cost extra as well.
Beyond pure finances, multi-user licenses require a license manager. Most orgs will not need to hire a standalone manager. However, it will be added on to someone's workload, which shouldn't be overlooked.
Is it Worth it to Learn MATLAB?
Given these costs, some buyers may question if the program is worth the expense. To be fair, MATLAB is not the only math modeling program. Recent reviewers highlight steep learning curves and resource-intensive computing as main drawbacks. There are several competitive alternatives, such as SPSS and SAS, that could be preferable.
Non-academic and non-research users could go with MATLAB or the other listed options depending on use case. For instance, professional matrix manipulation is a prime use case for the program. It may be less well-suited for big data programming, especially given how computing intensive MATLAB is as a baseline. On the other end of the spectrum, open-source options may be more cost-efficient for less intensive workloads.
For some, MATLAB is the undeniable go-to option. Engineers and math researchers in particular favor the program over all other alternatives. They also highlight a good user interface and image processing capabilities. See what other users are saying to find out if MATLAB is the right tool for you!