best laptop for design engineer

What are the best laptops for engineering students or engineers ?

Whether you are into electrical , mechanical , computer , civil , software , chemical , aeronautical or even an aerospace engineering , you’re probably thinking that most laptops out there are not capable of running all the different software engineers encounter at work or during their studies. 

I had the exact same thinking. I was afraid whatever laptop I ended up with wouldn’t be able to keep up with the  projects/programs I’ll encounter unless I spend all my money on some thick heavy brick with the latest graphics card and processor in it.

Before you even look consider buying those monsters…

Beware that depending on what exactly is your field of study , the software (therefore the power you’ll need) might be radically different.

If you are an electrical or computer engineer, you’ll just have to deal with programming languages such as C++ and circuit simulators (SPICE) which most laptops under 500$ out there should handle with no hiccups. 

However…

If you are a mechanical/civil engineer you’ll have to use CAD  and/or CAE software at some point in which case you MIGHT need a laptop with a dedicated GPU (~700$). 

Why did I emphasize MIGHT?

Let’s leave aside this “hardcore 3D engineering software” and your field of studies stuff for a second…

And let us remember that you’ll also be a college student.

That means dealing with bunch of classes that will keep you staring at the screen for hours trying to understand the solution to a problem you couldn’t solve.

Wouldn’t it be nice to find a laptop that could help you to graduate rather than just run this hardcore heavy 3D Software that you will only encounter in 2 to 3 classes and for which you may just need to use the computer LAB occasionally?

(What? Just 2 or 3 classes? Yes…more onto that later).

What kind of laptop do you recommend then?

A portable one withi an okayish battery life so you can bring yours everywhere and never run out of juice.This is crucial if you don’t wanna waste time…doing nothing but staring at your phone.

Unfortunately….

That’s not what you read around the web. 

Iif you browse around the web, it’s easy to fall into the trap that you actually do need a powerful, expensive 10lb laptop.

This makes the process of buying one… not just complicated but scary because that’s a LOT of money.

But the truth of the matter is….

Unless you are already working an engineer(using CAD or CAE software), you don’t need any of that. As you’ll find out in this post, that stuff is optional.

If you have a lot of cash, it’d be best for you to invest on the most portable laptop with the longest battery life you can afford because with the exception of CAD software, all modern laptops can handle the rest of the software you’ll be using 90% of the time with no problems

Obviously…

This doesn’t apply if you are a professional working engineer or if you are a student doing a concentration with CAD/CAE courses. If you fall into either of those categories, then you may need a heavy brick.

If you still doubt what I’m saying you can check the last section of this post where I go through every engineering field, classes taken, software used and the kind of stuff you’ll be doing with such software (AutoCAD, Revit, SolidWorks,etc).

Recommended Hardware for Engineering Students & Engineers

I know most of you just wanna be told what to buy so I’ll try to summarize the last section here (you can still check details at the end!).

For laptop buying purposes let’s divide engineers into 3D and 2D engineers.

If you are a CAD engineer(civil, mechanical, aeronautical) then you are a 3D Engineer and may have to worry about specs (just finding a laptop with a dedicated graphics card really).

2D engineers (electrical , computer, chemical, software,industrial, etc) can settle for pretty much any modern laptop that can run Windows 10 Home. 

RAM
All engineers should aim for 8GB RAM. This will prevent any lag situation with any software & the number of browsing tabs  you have open.

CPU
Intel Core i5/AMD Ryzen 5 Chips and above for both 3D/2D Engineers. 2D engineers can settle with core i3 and other AMD procesors if they’re short on cash.

SSD
The key of being succesful in every class is TIME management, if you want to save TIME get an SSD (this will max out productivity because everything will load up in less than a second including the time it takes to boot your laptop). Nearly all laptops in 2021 come with an SSD, just double check.

GPU
Any consumer or “gaming” GPU with 2GB vRAM(in other words any GPU released within the last 3 years, yes any) for 3D engineers will work!

2D engineers do not need to even look at this spec.

Only professional engineers should consider workstation cards (even then it might only be useful in every special situations).

Display

Size: If you are going to be staring at this thing for days, why not be kind to your eyeballs? Get at least a 13” display, with a matte finish if you can (or set brightness to low levels).

Resolution: 1080p for all engineers. This will give you enough workspace area & will scale up nicely with any software out there. Avoid 4k resolution displays( you will anyways,  they cost an eyeball).

Weight

Probably the most important feature if you are a student. As light as possible. Keep it around 3lb (unfortunately powerful ultra lightweight laptops are  expensive ).

*If you are still not convinced with these recommendations, you can always check the last section for more details.

Contents [hide]

Top 10 Best Laptops For Engineering Students & Engineers

In this list I’ll try to make it easy by labeling which laptops are for which field.

I’ll start with the lightest & more powerful ones first  (consequently the most expensive ones) and end with the heaviest & most powerful (which only professional 3D/CAD engineers should look at).

Note:

Best for your degreeMay need another computer for CAD software, read the description carefully.


1. Acer Nitro 5

Best Budget Laptop For Engineering

 Intel Core i5 9300H

 8GB RAM

  GeForce GTX 1650 

 256 PCIe SSD

 15” FHD 1080p IPS

 5.07lb

 5 hours

 Electrical , Computer , Chemical , Software
 Civil, Mechanical , Aerospace & Aeronautical Engineers

This year I’m starting with a budget laptop. Note this is not the BEST & most ideal laptop for a student because it’s kind of heavy and has a low battery life but it’s the most budget friendly with enough juice for all types of engineering students even most professionals.

Performance

 For around 650 bucks, you’re getting a high late gen processor and a mid-range consumer card. 

What do you mean by mid-range GPU?

There are laptops that have a MX150, MX250, 940M and 1050/1050Ti and Radon Pros 5XX and they’re all weaker to the 1650GTX despite having almost the same price. This laptop’s GPU is only below Radeon Pro 580, GTX 1660Ti, 1060,1070, 1080 and the new RTX chips.

This is used by gamers looking to play games at high settings and has enough power to tolerate bigger models and even large models with most CAD software. So obviously, it’s useful for ANY type of engineering model and software at school and might even be useful for most professional engineers that don’t have to model something super complicated.

Who needs this performance?

Only 3D engineering students should grab this if on a budget. 

If you are a 2D engineer is probably not a good idea to grab this unless you’re into gaming too. 

But again it’s relatively heavy…and probably not something you can bring to school everywhere unless you don’t mind carrying +4.5lbs.

This is the trade off you’ll have to face when looking for affordable high performance machines,, not much you can do about it. If you find that model out of stock or you want cheaper versions (this will depend on your region). Check the table below

Amazon LinkCPUGPUDisplayPrice
Acer Aspire 5i5 1053G1MX35060Hz649$
ASUS ZenBookR5 4500UMX35060Hz699$
ASUS VivoBookR5 3500U1050GTX60Hz650$
HP PavilionR5 3550H1050GTX60Hz665$
HP Pavilion i5 9300H1650GTX60Hz686$
HP Pavilion Gamingi5 9300H1050 3GB60Hz 
Acer Nitroi5 9300H1650GTX60Hz700$
HP PavilionR5 3550H1650GTX60Hz700$
HP Pavilioni5 9300H1650GTX60Hz700$
ASUS TUFR5 3500U1650GTX120Hz737$
ASUS TUFR5 3550H1650GTX60Hz750$
Lenovo 3i5 10300H1650GTX120Hz750$
Dell G3i5 10300H1650GTX60Hz750$
Lenovo L340i5 9300H1650GTX60Hz628$
HP PavilionR5 4600H1650GTX60Hz659$
MSI GF63 Thin 9SCXi5 9300H1650GTX60Hz699$

 You should only grab the first two laptops if everything else is out of stock , the MX350 has only about 1/3 of the 1650’s power

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2. Surface Pro 7

Best Portable Laptop for Engineering 

 Core m3 , Core i5, Core i7

 4GB-16GB RAM

 Intel HD/Iris

 128GB-1TB PCIe NVMe SSD

 12” IPS 2736×1824

 1.7lb and above

 +11 hours

Okay I know what you are thinking now. “The Surface Pro , Come on, Ok this guy is crazy”.

But why don’t you do yourself a favor and  check around the web or social media (reddit and forums) first. You will find hundreds of engineering students going on and on about how awesome and cool the Surface Pro has been for every single one of their classes.

In fact, you’ll never hear an engineering student complain about the Pro. As of today, it is still one of the most popular, if not the most popular, laptop (or convertible laptop) across all engineering students today.

Performance

Don’t be fooled by the way its looks or by how small it appears to be

It can run 99% of the engineering software you’ll come across.

It’s configurable so you can set up the hardware according to how much power you think you are gonna need.

The processor can range from a weak m3 core processor with 4GB RAM to a core i7 late generation processor with 16GB RAM and 1TB SSD.

I don’t think you should go all out and go for the highest configuration. As long as as you any model with 8GB of RAM you should be alright.

Display & Design

What makes this laptop so popular is actually the design. Especially its form factor and battery life which allows the user to take this thing everywhere and use it anytime.

That and the fact that the Surface Pro with its 2-1 tablet mode can replace all of your school supplies:  notebooks, textbooks, pens, erasers, highlighters, etc.

This is due to the fact that it has one of the most realistic note taking feature and a seemless combination with OneNote.

What’s OneNote? A software to keep notes, assignments and text files neatly organized and easily accessible for you to write on.

I don’t like tablets with styluses…I’m old fashioned.

You don’t have to buy it for its note taking feature though. You can just use it as a full blown laptop which you can turn into a tablet for reading when you’re lying down. Another reason to consider buying it, it’s the portability, it’s very lightweight ~2lb.

3D engineering:

The truth is that although the Surface Pro does not come with a dedicated GPU, it can run 3D models in CAD software with a decent FPS when using viewport. However, if you ever step into models that are not small (~300) parts you will start lagging.

So as a 3D engineer, you can either deal with the lag or head to the computer lab or check the Surface Book.

Electrical , Computer , Chemical , Software
 Civil, Mechanical , Aerospace & Aeronautical Engineers*

*ANSYS/SolidWorks/Civil 3D/Revit projects and assignments can run on the Surface Pro provided that they’re undergraduate level .
*CREO, CATIA projects will need the SurfaceBook 3.

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3. Surface Book 3

Best Portable Laptop For CAD Engineers

 Quad Core i7 10th gen

 16GB-32GB RAM

 NVIDIA GTX 1650/1660Ti

 256GB-2TB NVMe PCIe SSD

 12.5-13.5” Pixel Sense (3000×2000) 

 3.62lb

 7 hours

 Electrical , Computer , Chemical , Software
 Civil, Mechanical , Aerospace & Aeronautical Engineers

If you are a 3D Engineer and you hate stepping into a computer lab or if CAD/CAE simulation/modeling will be a huge part of your studies (maybe it’ll be your specialization)….

Then you can have all the benefits of the Surface Pro and still run ANY 3D model with the Surface Book 3 .

Performance

The Surface Book 3 has the same design as the Surface Pro but performance wise is way more powerful because it has a much better CPU and a mid-range or high-end GPU(depending on which how you configure yours).

It can support a CPU up to 5 GHZ,  which is approximately the highest clock speed you can from laptops.

However, the GPU is what will make a difference when dealing with CAD software: You have two choices:

The GTX 1660Ti which is the best consumer GPU for CAD software to this date because you will start to get diminishing returns with higher GPUs for MOST(though not all) CAD software. 

Even professionals 3D Modeling Engineers will be able handle 99% of their projects a 1660Ti.

And the much weaker 1650GTX card which is a bit cheaper has also enough juice for virtually ALL engineering students and MOST , though not all, professionals.

I really believe only working engineers should bother with the 1660Ti model.

Display & Design

Unlike the Surface Pro, you can choose between two different displays sizes: 13 and 15.

Both models have the same crazy high resolution that surpasses MacBook Pro retina resolution (3000×2000). This is just aesthetics though, not really useful for engineering .

Battery wise, still strong despite the GPU,68 hours tops. 

I almost forgot: both the Surface Pro and the Surface Book can be attached to a docking station .You can attach an external display, mouse, keyboard,etc, to turn it it a full blown desktop back at your dorm/home.

In fact, you can even throw in a dual screen set up (two monitors on top of the Surface Screen)  to have the ultimate productivity environment when you’re at home.

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4. Dell XPS 13 9360

Best Windows UltraBook For Engineers

 Core i5-10210U

 8GB RAM DDR3

  Intel UHD

 256GB SSD M.2

 13” full HD 1080p IPS

 2.7lb

 10 hours

Electrical , Computer , Chemical , Software Engineers
 Civil, Mechanical , Aerospace & Aeronautical Engineers*

The Dell XPS 13 is one of the best windows premium ultrabooks you’ll find. Perfect if you are looking for portability and not from a convertible laptop.

Performance

Just like the Surface models, it can be configured to your budget. Although you can’t do that on Amazon, you may have to head to the Dell website.

It starts with a core i3 processor with 4GB RAM  and 128GB SSD and  up to core i7 1TB SSD 16GB RAM set up.

I decided to post the Core i5 + 8GB RAM configuration because I am sure it’ll be enough for ALL engineering students that do not want to run 3D models on their rigs. 

In fact, a Core i3 will be do just fine if you aren’t running 3D CAD/CAE software. A Core i5 gives you some headroom to run some smalls in 3D even with the lack of a dedicated GPU.

If you really want to deal with large CAD projects on a Dell XPS you might want to take a look at the DELL XPS 15.

Display & Design

Now you may wonder, why is this thing so expensive if it doesn’t have a dedicated GPU.

Simple: thinness, form factor, portability, battery life. 

In fact, there are other models of the XPS series one with a 4k display, another one with tablet mode, way more expensive. I’d stay away from those if you want to preserve battery life though.

This model has a touchScreen display which it’s not useful for engineering or anyone really because it can’t be turned into a tablet and nobody wants to spend hours raising their arms trying to reach out for the screen it’s tiring.

Unfortunately, it is the only model that’s on a deal. Just don’t use it to preserve battery life.

All these Dell XPS 13 come with a fingerprint reader though, again not useful.

But I guess it will make  you’re a cool engineering working on some secret research team funded by the govt.

* Solidworks will run just fine on the Dell XPS 13 as long as your projects remain very basic (undergraduate level) and do not deal with large amount of components despite not having a dedicated GPU. 

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5. ASUS ZenBook 13

Budget Laptop for Engineering Students

 Core i5-1035G1

 8GB RAM DDR3

  Intel UHD

 256GB PCIe NVMe SSD

 13” full HD IPS

 2.62lb

 11 hours

Electrical , Computer , Chemical , Software
 Civil, Mechanical , Aerospace & Aeronautical Engineers*

Both the Surface Pro and the Dell XPS 13 are premium laptops and they usually cost 900$ or so.

If you want a budget laptop with premium-like features like form factor, take a look the ASUS ZenBook series. 

Performance

Despite being cheaper it’s got almost the same performance as a core i5/8GB Surface Pro and the Dell XPS 13.

I keep insisting on Core i5/Ryzen 5 chips because despite being fast enough for engineering they consume much less power which translates to more battery life. 

The ZenBook also comes with the latest and fastest SSD  just like any premium laptop. 

It still lacks the dedicated GPU but again only some 3D engineers might actually need that. Usually during their 4th,3rd year for 3 or 4 projects.

Display & Design

Display is still top notch:l full HD (though not an IPS screen) with a matte finish, which is easier on the eyes.

All other premium features( backlit keyboard, aluminum chasis) are also included and the latest movel has a numbpad on top of the trackpad, something no other 13” laptop has as of 2021.

What really makes it premium is obviously the weight and thinness : 2.6lb (almost the weight of an 11 inch MacBook Air/Surface Pro with the keyboard attached).

So what’s the catch? The catch is chasis, it’s made of full aluminum like a Dell XPS, Surface laptop or a MacBook which we will go over next. If you find this model still expensive, last year’s model is also a good choice, it’s got an 8th gen Core i5 processor but it’s still as good as a 10th for most purposes

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6. MacBook Pro

Best MacBook For Engineering Students

Core i7 or Core i9

 16GB-64GB RAM DDR4

  Intel Iris 550 Graphics/AMD Radeon 5500M

 512GB-2TB SSD

 13-16 Retina 

 3.1lb

 10 hours

Electrical & Chemical & Software and Computer Engineers
 Mechanical, Civil, AeroSpace, Aeronautical

There’s a huge misconception about Apple computers for engineering. Despite what you’ve read and heard online, the MacBooks are NOT a bad move for engineering.

Sure you’ll have compatibility issues with some software (actually anything outside of having to program something MatLab, Java and all programming environments are readily available on Macs) but that doesn’t stop many engineering students from buying it. 

That’s because every MacBook also supports Windows 10 which eliminates any “compatibility” issues you’ve heard of and the best part is you can switch between OSX and Windows 10 .

It’s not difficult to set it up either. Just head to Settings->BootCamp and you’re good to go. 

This is not a secret that’s why if you’ve been to college already, you’ve probably noticed a lot of engineering students sportingthat shiny apple around. In fact, I did fine with a MacBook Air during my last two years. I didn’t have to BOOTCAMP into Windows 10 that much I spend most of the time on OSX because of how easy it was to program with the terminal.

Performance

Performance wise MacBoks don’t fall behind powerful windonw laptops. Apple is always on the look out to deliver the latest technology in their devices.

For example, virtually all their SSDs are FASTER than the PCIe- based SSDs you find on Windows 10 machines which makes dual booting into Windows happen in a flash and they had this technology for several years. If you are 2D engineer, I recommend you get any MacBook Pro with 8GB of RAM. That should be enough for all the software you’ll encounter. If you are a 3D engineer, you’ll be fine with a 13” MacBook Pro with 8GB of RAM as long as you head to the lab to do your 3D models occassionally

The model I’m showing here is the latest and most powerful MacBook Pro. It’s only useful for 3D engineers who want to do all their work on a laptop.

If you can’t afford either, you should consider buying a refurbished MacBook Pro. No they are not repaired nor defective. I wouldn’t even call refurbished MacBooks “used” because they look and feel like new.

They will most definitely last you all those 4-5 years in school and you might even get the chances to resell it after. 

If you can’t even afford a NEW refurbished MacBook Pro, consider buying refurbished older versions, they’re all powerful enough for today’s software and yeah they’ll last at least through college. Just remember to stick with the 8GB RAM rule and you’ll be fine.

Display & Design

MacBooks don’t just look good, they last forever because they have a rock solid bullet proof design.

This will makes them more resistant to the all physical damage they’ll have to endure when you check your first semester’s final grades online and all the dmg they’ll take during those stresful final exams. 

I actually like the fact that their chargers have a magnet-like port that can be easily unplugged.

Why? There are always always a lot of dudes tripping over charger cables left on the floor in the library especially during finals. Rarely, though it happens, a windows laptop will come out of the table flying 3 meters across, not MacBooks.

The best part about them is that all models have epic batteries (+10 hours at least),  beautiful displayss (retina resolution), the best keyboards on the laptop market and the best touchpads too while remaining quite portable +/- 3lb. 

Again , if you still want it and can’t afford it, you can never go wrong with a MacBook even if it’s certified refurbished or last years models as long as you buy one with 8GB RAM of RAM.

A quick reminder:

Electrical, Computer, Chemical and Software Engineering:

For any other software that’s not compatible you will just have to dual Boot into Windows or use Parallels. This may be a hassle for some engineering students but if you are a Mac User and you love the MacBook Pros  you’ll easily put up with it, I know I did. Plus if you are more of programmer than a 3D designer, then Macs are even a better choice.

You don’t need to go for the 15-16 versions with a dGPU. You’ll be okay with the 13  Models and even the MacBook Air will do. I used a MacBook Air during my last two years by the way.

Mechanical, Civil, Aerospace, Aeronautical Engineering:

SolidWorks,CATIA,ANSYS,Revit, Civil 3D are not available on a Mac, so you will have to BOOTCAMP into Windows 10 to use them (If you need them).

You will most definitely need the 15 version or 16 version if you want to run biugger models in anything outside of AutoCAD software /Revit.

 If you can’t afford the 15-16 models with a dGPU, you should have no issues with all non-3D software and small/simple 3D projects with the 13 versions.

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The following2 laptops are for those on a tight budget. Although they’re very affordable, they will lack the portability the premium laptops above have. Nevertheless they still have enough power for all the engineering software you’ll encounter whether you want to run 3D software or not.


7. Lenovo IdeaPad 3

Best Cheap Laptop For Engineering Students

Best Laptop For Minecraft - Lenovo Ideapad 3

 AMD Ryzen 3 3200U

 4GB RAM

  Intel UHD

 256GB SSD NVMe PCIe

 15” HD 

 4.07 lbs

 8 hours

Electrical & Chemical & Software and Computer Engineers
 Mechanical, Civil, AeroSpace, Aeronautical

The cheapest of the cheapest laptops for engineering students. Mostly directed to 2D engineers though.

Performance

Don’t worry because it doesn’t say Intel.

The NEW Ryzen chips aren’t bad. They are actually more efficient using turbo boost than Intel and have better “multi core performance” .

The only worrysome spec is the 6GB of RAM, it should be upgraded to 8GB, though 6GB might be okay if you really stick to non 3D applications and AAA gaming.

Unless you buy a separate RAM stick and have someone install it for15 bucks, you might feel sluggish  whenever you start throwing some serious multitasking(i mean going nuts with the #of tabs open, MatLab, Skype, iTunes, youTube and compiling code all at the same time).

You don’t need to upgrade the storage luckily, it’s already an SSD and storage size isn’t an issue since we all have the cloud these days.

The lack of a dedicated graphics cards is really what limits this laptop to 2D engineers. If you are a 3D engineer and plan on using your laptop for 3D CAD projects, you’ll definitely have to deal with lag when using viewport (rotating models/maps), no matter how much you upgrade the rest of the machine. 

Why go through all this you ask? Well, it’s the cheapest laptop you’ll find WITH windows 10 on it ~350$.

Other models not only do not come with Windows 10 on it (which costs 100$ to buy separetely) but are actually a bit more expensive.

If you don’t find this model on stock or you have a copy of Windows 10, check this other models.

LinkCPURAMOSPrice
ASUS ImagineBookCore M3-8100Y4GBWindows 10S349$
Acer Aspire 5Ryzen 3 3200U4GBWindows 10S349$
Acer Aspire 5Core i3 1005G14GBWindows 10S399$
ASUS VivoBook 15 Ryzen 3 3200U8GBWindows 10 HOME450$
HP 15.6″Core i3 1005G14GBWindows 10 HOME424$
Lenovo IdeaPad 3 Ryzen 3 3200U4-8GBWindows 10 HOME359-449$

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8. Lenovo ThinkPad E15

Best Lenovo Laptop For Engineering Students

 Core i5-10120U 4.2 GHz

 32GB RAM DDR4

  Intel HD 620

 1TB SSD

 15.6” TN FHD

 4.3lb

 10 hours

Electrical & Chemical & Software and Computer Engineers
 Mechanical, Civil, AeroSpace, Aeronautical

Yes another Lenovo again.

It’s actually the most popular brand for professional engineers (and a huge part of the student community though that it’s now being constanted by the Surface Pro and gaming laptops).

In fact,  you might even see Lenovos being recommended on most websites from engineering departments. That’s because they’re easier to access and have a lot better customer support than most other brands.

Plus they’re pretty durable machines (the windows eq. of Macs) and have a WIDE range of ports. They’re also known for their awesome keyboards and trackpads. They’re also more linux compatible than your average windows laptop which also makes them a GREAT option for engineers that program a lot.

But that’s not true for EVERY lenovo laptop, it’s mostly about the THINKPADS.

Performance

The ThinkPad models usually have specs that can be configured to pretty much any RAM, SSD size and clock speed you want.

Ranging from an 8GB all the way 24GB for RAM, 128GB to 2TB SSDs and up to a 10th generation Core i7 processors.

Unfortunately, none of their models have a dedicated graphics cards so the ThinkPads are mostly limited to 2D engineers.

Whatever model you go for just make sure you have 256GB space and 8GB of RAM and you’ll be ok.

Display

Again the main reason why I am listing here is its design. Lenovo Thinkpads are known among the geek community to have have great durability, top notch keyboards, rock solid builds and long battery lives

And of course their connectivity I mentioned before, it has every port you’ll ever need (including the old fashioned Ethernet Port).  Electrical & computer engineering people who love to toy around with external devices & circuitry like the guy on this article’s feature image, might fancy a Lenovo ThinkPad more than any other brand. 

The only real down side is their portability, they are not that lightweight but this is expected for a 15” laptop with a military grade design.

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This is the end stop for engineering students, don’t even contemplate on buying the laptops mentioned from here on. You’ll just be wasting your parents hard-earned money

Professionals engineers can proceed to consider these last two.I am sure your company has enough cash to afford them anyways. 

9. ASUS ProArt StudioBook Pro 17

Best WorkStation Laptop For Engineers

 Core i7-9750H 8 Core up to 5GHz

 16GB RAM DDR4 (Up to 64GB)

  NVIDIA Quadro RTX 3000

 1TB

 17” full HD IPS

 5.21lb

 3 hours

These last two laptops are probably the type you’re all being recommended everywhere. That or the most powerful gaming laptops with monstrous graphics cards & CPUs like  the Acer Helios Predator or the Lenovo Legion Y700.

Honestly speaking (take it from someone who’s been there and done that) these are aimed for professional engineers dealing with very specific & very large models or special plugins that will otherwise crash with a gaming/consumer graphics card found on the laptops reviewed above.

If you are really an engineer working with collaborative huge projects in SolidWorks, CATIA, Creo, Revit , then you are a lot safer playing around with these guys you’ll have zero issues with compatibility plugins and with ANY CAD software. That means no errors, no warning pop up screens, no glitches and bugs(they’re still be there though but almost non existant).

While there are several workstation laptops to choose from I always recommend WORKSTATION LAPTOPS with power similar to MID-RANGE AND HIGH gaming laptops.  Just because a laptop has a workstation card doesn’t mean it’ll blow any other gaming laptop out of the water. You have to watch out because Workstation cards like a P520, M1200,P1000 have shaders and clock speeds similar to entry level gaming cards, in other words, they’re weak! and expensive and they will only be able to handle small-medium models. These two we are going over can handle very large and super large models respectively

Hardware

GPU&CPU:

In my opinion, if you’re going to get a workstation laptop get one with a proper GPU that has a huge edge on gaming cards in terms shaders/vRAM/clockspeed. There are only three types:  T2000,T100 and the Quadro RTX series (RTX 3000,4000,5000).

If you pick laptop with these cards, you don’t have to worry about how big your models are.

Most will also come with a pretty high end CPU just make sure you’re getting your money’s worth by getting a late generation CPU like a 10th or 9th.

RAM & Storage:

You’ll find several RTX3000 laptops with prices ranging from 1699$(this model) to 4600$. Those other laptops have pretty much the same hardware except for the RAM and Storage. If you know you’re going to need a lot of storage, then it’s probably a good idea to invest that much money but this isn’t like the case. RAM can be upgraded for 100$ so save yourself a thousand bucks when yo usee the chance.

Design & Display

All workstation laptops have the same design. They’re thick & heavy( this is what makes them more ideal for large upgrades and good candidates for desktop replacements and the reason they’re able to support a workstation GPU). Some of them even allow you to install several storage devices( up to 4 storage devices ).

This time the fact that they’re bulky and heavy it’s a good thing, bigger sizes make themmore suitable for several hours of rendering without having too worry about heat control(which is a huge problem with gaming/consumer laptops due to their thinness and crowded placed components).

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10.MSI WS66 10TMT-207

The Best Workstation Laptop For Engineering

 Intel Core i9-9880H

 16GB DDR4 (MAX 32GB)

  Nvidia Quadro RTX 4000 6GB

 512GB NVMe SSD

 15” full HD IPS

 5.51lb

 2 hours

Performance

This is the most powerful workstation hardware you’ll find on a laptop as of 2021. A core i9 10th generation is the epitome of speed (though that may change soon with Ryzen coming into the workstation market), well that and the RTX 5000 which is even faster than the 2070/2080 RTX gaming GPUs everyone wants.

Hardware

It is definitely not the most expensive one. Again, the most expensive versions of this model only differ by storage and RAM, they can make the price jump to 5000$. 

This model is not maxed out in storage, it can support up to 2TB NVMe SSD and even more but 1TB is quite a lot already. 

It can also support up to 128GB. If you ever need that much RAM (again very unlikely but who knows I don’t what exactly your company is doing), you can always do the upgrade and save yourself a thousand bucks.


How to Buy The Best Laptop for Engineering Students 

The article is a bit long but remember if you are a student, you’re gonna be stuck with this laptop for four years. If you aren’t convinced with the laptops I’ve recommended it above, give this section some time before mindlessly shopping for one. You should find it useful regardless of what field you are working in.

The Engineering Department

If you are a freshman , the first and most important thing you can do before buying any laptop from any website is to check with your department for the following:

Computer Labs

Virtually all engineering programs and universities offer computer labs which are available almost 24/7 for all their engineering students to work on their assignments and projects. It doesn’t matter what your project or assignment is , their computer labs will be able to handle them without any issues whatsoever.

Kind of makes you think whether you need a laptop at all doesn’t it? But you definitely will need one unless you don’t heading to the lab several times a day to write simple reports and to use simple software such as MatLab for any class.

Remote Access

Your department may also offer “remote access”. As the name suggests, you’ll be able to access their powerful computers from any cheap old laptop with an internet connection.

In other words, all of the heavy software you ever have to deal with can be run on the cheapest laptop you can get your hands on. However, there may be issues with lag depending on the connection used. This is an issue for engineering applications that require a LOT of precision when designing/drafting and projects that are large enough and may require a long time to finish since you’ll have to wait some time for the screen to refresh sometimes.

The Engineering Curriculum

Now what we’ll do is going over a typical engineering curriculum. I picked the mechanical curriculum because it is has the widest variety of software (which include the heaviest software too).  . Alternatively, you can check what your curriculum may look like from these links:

Aerospace & Aeronautical
Chemical
Civil
Electrical
Computer
Software
Mechanical

Note: I highlighted the classes that will require a software in orange.

Freshman Year   
Fall SemesterChemistryCalculus ISocial ScienceEnglish CompositionLinear Algebra Spring SemesterPhysics ICalculus IIIntroduction to ComputingEngineering GraphicsEnglish Composition II 
Sophomore Year   
Fall SemesterPhysics IICalculus IIICreative Decisions and DesignEngineering MaterialsStatics Spring SemesterCircuits and ElectronicsDifferential EquationsComputing TechniquesDynamics of Rigid BodiesSocial Science Elective 
Junior Year   
Fall SemesterInstrument & Electronics LabMechanics of Deformable BodiesThermodynamicsFluid MechanicsEconomicsHumanities Elective Spring SemesterSystem DynamicsHeat TransferExperimental Methods LabEngineering EconomicsStatistics and ApplicationsSocial Science Elective 
Senior Year   
Fall SemesterMachine DesignDesign, Materials and ManufactureME Systems LabElectiveElective Spring SemesterSenior Design ProjectME ElectiveHumanitiesFree ElectiveFree ElectiveFree Elective 

And these are the software used in each of these classes.

CourseSoftware
Introduction to ComputingMatLab
Engineering GraphicsCAD Software
Calculus IIIMatLab
Creative Decisions and DesignOptional
Circuits and ElectronicsLabView
Computing TechniquesMatLab
Instrument & Electronics LabMobile Studio / DAQ Board
Experimental Methods Lab:C++, Matlab, Excel

If you do a quick check on their websites, these software do not require any special laptop, in fact any modern laptop would do just fine. You’ll probably only use them during class hours too (school’s computers).

You can do the same check by going over your course description and your curriculum. Out of the entire plethora of software you might encounter, these are the most important software for you each of your fields:

MajorSoftware
Electrical & ComputerCAD Electrical, SPICE, LabView
ChemicalMatLab, Excel, MathCad, ChemCad 
Aeronautical & AerospaceCatia,  SolidWorks, ANSYS, MatLab
CivilCivil 3D, Revit
MechanicalSolidWorks, Inventor, ANSYS, MatLab

Software Requirements

These are the computer requirements for the each software:

SoftwareRequirements Comments
MatLab & Mathcad4GB RamThere may be a requirement for a GPU if you are doing more intensive simulations which is very unlikely for undergrads.
Mobile Studio / LabView1GB RAMYou’ll need a converter if the laptop doesn’t have a serial port. This is only important for connecting with data acquisition systems. You’ll be using this software mostly labs, no need to worry about it.
C++ and other programming languagesAny Laptop A laptop from 10 years ago will do fine.
Excel2GB RAMMore RAM is needed if you are going to run large amounts of data such as those statistical simulations. Engineers dealing with excel (especially chemical engineers) should aim for 8GB.
ASPEN, ChemCAD, Electrical CAD i5 or i7 Processor8GB RAM As long as you are dealing with 2D. There’s no need for a GPU. This is true for computer/electrical/chemical/software engineers.
3D CAD (Revit, Civil 3D, SolidWorks, Inventor, CATIA)i5 or i7 Processor8GB RAMany dedicated GPUIf you only have to deal with undergraduate assignments and projects, these specs will be sufficient. 
CAE ( ANSYS )i5 or i7 processor
8GB RAM
Computational software doesn’t require a GPU. A CPU with a lot of physical cores is more important as well as much RAM you can get for more intensive calculations.I wouldn’t run computational software such as ANSYS on a laptop though, at least not too much, it’ll reduce its lifespan.Your computer lab or any desktop is  better equipped for that.

So now you can see by yourself you do not need a expensive gaming or workstation laptop.

But keep in mind, the requirement I have listed above is what you will need to do just fine with the work that you will encounter in your classes. Professional level projects rarely use a laptop but they do use powerful and very expensive desktops for  industry level designs and other software and ocasionally workstation laptops.

If you check online, these are also the recommended specs that most universities list on their websites for their engineering students as you can see here

Recommended Specs

Weight

This is the most important feature for any student regardless of what software you wish to run on it, try your best to go as light as possible. Ideally stick with less than 4lb or even better around 3lb.

If you go above 4lb that it will start to take a toll on your body and will be very difficult to carry it all over campus for an entire day which isn’t helpful at all when you want to work on the go. You can use your phone to quickly use google to check out a definition, a physical formula or the property of a material but writing your reports on the go or practicing problems on the go will or even programming will require a laptop. I personally found out that even 1b can make a huge difference. 

However, if you are interested in running heavy software on your laptop,  you will require a high end laptop. You should then try to find the right balance between performance and weight.  This is true for those engineers designing and drafting in 3D. However you don’t need to go overboard with the heaviest and most powerful laptops because undergraduate assignments are simple and introductory compared to industry level projects.

If you do wish to run far more complex projects, then you would need a workstation such as the Lenovo P50, which I don’t recommend at all for an engineering student, it’s definitely too much for now. 

Display

Setting aside all the fancy features displays today have there are only two things to consider for all engineering :

Resolution: Try to get a laptop with a 1920×1080 resolution regardless of what type of software you wish to run o. If you go far from that you will find programming , designing and overall any kind of work on your laptop unpleasant. 

Why? A higher screen resolution allows more area for multiple windows to be opened at the same time andwill let you put them next to each other. 

It will also offer more space available for you to follow the logic of your assignments (programming, writing reports, etc) as you’ll be able to see more of your code, paragraphs without having to scroll up and down a lot.

Size:  The lower the display size the more portable your laptop will become, which is good! Unfortunately it will also limit the area on the screen you have to program, design or even just to write a simple report. Engineering software and programs have toolbars and icons which already take a lot of screen space  so you’ll end up with little space left for your work if you go for small screen size.

For 3D drafting and modeling software it’s recommended to go as far as 15 screen but 13 is fine for every engineering student out there since you won’t be spending days drafting/designing as compared to writing reports/studying with your laptop.

Connectivity

CD/DVD reader: As far as connectivity goes I don’t think there’s a need for a CD/DVD reader. You can use it to install software or watch movies but these days most software have install clients which only require an internet connection and i really doubt you’d want to get one solely to watch movies. It’s always a nice bonus though but not necessary.

Bluetooth: Bluetooth function can be useful to save you time when you want to share your work with your fellow students for a group project, it’ll work much quicker than regular flash drives. Most laptops today come with this feature anyways so it isn’t something to look for.

Serial port: A modern laptop these days does not have one but this is only important for connecting with DAQ systems (Data Acquisition Systems) for circuit design, should you have a project that involves circuitry/robotics/programming a design, just buy an adapter and you’ll be fine.

Projector port: This is useful when you have to give presentations to your class or group. Most systems today use an HDMI connection to connect to a projector or an external display. However most ultraportable laptops lack an HDMI port in which case you should consider buying an adapter. Don’t worry they’re cheap.

Keyboard

Backlit feature: I always found it a nice feature especially when studying in very low light conditions especially during final exams . You’ll probably be faced with these instanes too that is working with low light conditions for example in the library & labs overnight. 

Full Size Keyboard: This is definitely something you should take into account. Some of us do a lot of data collection and analysis especially in excel (civil, mechanical and chemical engineers will make the most out of it) for which the numerical keypad becomes extremely useful and time saving to enter numerical data much faster.

Unfortunately most laptops today do not come with a full size keyboard unless they’re big and heavy. But you can easily solve this problem by getting an external numerical keypad or an external keyboard. Again prioritize portability whenever you can.

CPU

3D CAD software

An i5 core processor is the minimum for 3D work, i7 core processors are recommended but not required.

*Note that an i7 processor can give you the best performance for 3D software but it will drain your battery much quicker.

2D Software and all other software

For those of you who decide to use the computer labs or a desktop for the heavy stuff ( ANSYS, SolidWorks,Civil 3D, CATIA, any software in 3D, etc) or you simply don’t encounter such software as the table above shows, any laptop with a modern processor will do fine.

As mentioned before, most of the software you’ll be dealing with do not require a high end processor. Modern laptops come with an i3 or i5 core processor today. An i5 core processor is always nice to have , it’ll speed up your workflow while not draining your battery life too much.

RAM

You don’t really have to go for 8GB or more for all the undergraduate assignments  but more RAM is always better.

Luckily, RAM is always cheap and it doesn’t affect the battery life, weight of your laptop so feel free to upgrade it to the MAX (16GB should be more than enough for undergraduate 3D  work). But you should be OK with 8GB RAM regardless of what software you wish run.

If you found a good laptop withi nice performance that doesn’t come with 8GB or 16GB don’t worry most of them are upgradeable so you can just buy an external RAM an upgrade it yourself or have someone else do it. It can be as easy as plugging in a flash drive into your laptop. In fact, your IT department might do it for you in if you’re just like me and too chicken to open up your laptop.

MultiTasking and Light Engineering Software

For these purposes you may wanna go over 4GB (ideally 8GB) for your laptop anyways especially if you like to do heavy multitasking: running several dozens of internet tabs, pdf files open, itunes, skype, a word processor, MatLab, etc, all at the same time.  

Storage Drive

Size

Storage capacity is only an issue if you plan on doing hundreds of CAD projects and store them on your laptop. Not only because of the space required to install such software but also because the output files of these projects can get really huge (I doubt this is the case for most engineering students though).

If you are one of those rare students who are going to do so, you can still leave these assignments to your computer labs or a desktop back home. So storage capacity isn’t really something to worry about. 256GB and higher will be enough.

SSD

Try your best to get a laptop with an SSD, regardless of what software you plan to run on it. It’ improve your productivity substantially by booting up your laptop in seconds and also starting your applications in no time without affecting the battery of your laptop(in fact it does the oppossite).  You’ll also get quicker results when trying to look for a particular piece of code, text or numerical data from your projects.

There are far more advantages of an SSD over conventional Hard Drives to be listed here, if your budget allows get one you won’t regret it.

External Hard Drive

Lastly, make sure you have a backup method.  Losing data can not only ruin your day but your entire semester especially if you have a term paper or project that’s going to be due soon. Most departments recommend getting one for that very reason. No need to give it much thought, you should be buying one right now without hesitation. I highly recommend the Lacie Rugged External Hard Drive, which is the model most universities recommend as well.

Graphics Card (GPU)

GPU is only relevant for those wanting to run 3D software, you can safely ignore it if you don’t need to.

Who needs a dedicated GPU?

Those dealing with software in 2D only (mostly electrical, computer,chemical and software engineers) do not need to worry about this, any graphics card will do fine.

ANSYS and other computational software do not need require you a dedicated graphics card either but benefit from it by offloading some of the computations to the GPU Cores. Not much beneficial for undergraduate work so you can safely ignore it and focus on RAM/CPU.

What about CAD engineers (Mechanical, Civil, Aerospace,etc) ?

Any dedicated Graphics Card  with 2GB of vRAM  should be  enough  for all your undergrad assignments. All modern dedicated graphics cards have 2GB vRAM anyways.NVIDIA graphics cards  are the common found on laptops today and recommended for students by most universities.

What about the “approved” Graphics Cards for 3D software?

If you are thinking of the FirePro & Quadro Series, you won’t need these cards for any type of project or simulation in a typical engineering program. Anything outside of that might require one, it depends on the size & complexity of your projects. In summary, if you are a student forget about them. They are definitely overkill for the projects you’ll be dealing with.

It’ll come useful after you graduate and start working with CAD software, there’s no need to worry about it for now. If you do want to get a headstart use your computer labs, don’t waste money now.

Touchscreen

If you decide to go for a touch screen, make sure it is convertible laptop like the Surface Pro or the Surface Book so you can take notes on it too in which case it becomes a total deal breaker and extremely useful for engineers.

Other than that I don’t see the benefits of going for a regular touchscreen laptop. It might be a nice additional feature for personal amusement but not required for any type of work.

Operating System

Windows

There’s not much to discuss here. As far as engineering software goes, windows is really the best operating system for you. Virtually every engineering application will be compatible with a Windows machine. If you major deals a lot with programming such as software engineering and some electrical concentrations then it might be useful to get to learn some Linux . 

Mac

Only a few engineering software is fully supported on a Mac, even if you decide not to run such software on your laptop you will still face compatibility issues with other light software such as LabView, SPICE and other unknown software that your professor or comapny (if you are on a internship) may throw at you.

However regular Autocad and MathLab are fully supported on a Mac, which are the most important ones for engineering students. Java and virtually all programming software(save for Visual Studio) will have no issues with a Mac. Java in fact is natively installed on it.

If you are a computer or maybe an electrical engineering student dealing with a lot of programming, then a Mac becomes an advantage over Windows laptops because you will also have easy access to Linux applications and software without the need to install Linux on your Mac.

For all engineers alike, a Mac isn’t a bad choice at all, you will just need to dual boot windows with it and that will solve any compatibility issues you may have. 

Summary
Here’s a summary of the specs you will encounter when browsing for the best laptops for engineering students and what they can do.

SpecsProsConsBest For
i3 processor
4-8gb RAM
Integrated GPU
Lightweight,cheap, can run MatLaB, DAQ Boards software, programming software and all other engineering software with no issues.Can’t run 3D software and CAE software efficiently.Electrical
Computer
Chemical
Software Engineering
i5 processor
8GB RAM
Integrated CPU
lightweight, Can run all engineering software including and CAE software lightly.more expensive can’t run 3D softwareElectrical
Computer
Chemical
Software Enginering 
i5 processor
8GB RAM
256 GB SSD, 2GBvRAM dGPU
might be lightweight, run ALL Software including 3D , enough for all CAE work as an undergradexpensive, can’t run 3D projects at a professional level.Mechanical
Civil
Aeronautical Aerospace 
 i7 quad core
256gb SSD
2GB GPU
16GB RAM
Same as above with increased performancePricey,heavy,low battery life, still not powerful enough for 3D work outside undergrad curriculum.Mechanical
Civil
Aerospace Aeronautical 
i7 processor
FirePro/Quadro-GPU
SSD Drive
Run all software including all 3D Software and rendering with very complex projects outside of a typical undergraduate curriculumExtremely Pricey,extremely heavy, not necessary for undergraduate work. Professional Engineers


Electrical, computer, chemical and software engineers
 do not need to worry about high performance laptops as you can see.

Mechanical, Civil, AeroSpace, Aeronatuical  who need to run 3D software on your laptop for school projects without any issues (which aren’t relatively complicated and do not require an extremely powerful workstation) you need at least: i5 processor, 8GB memory, any dedicated GPU. A laptop with an i7 processor and 16gb can be overkill for undergraduate work.

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