best laptop for engineering students

As far as Engineering students are concerned, finding a high-performance laptop alone will not do justice. Some of the best laptops for engineering students are the ones that deliver an all-round performance across the board. Investing in the right laptop could mean you have an easier time as both a student or a working engineer, so we’ve compiled this guide showcase the must-have features and bare essentials of the best laptop for engineering students. For computer and software engineering, then you might want to check out our article on the best laptops for programming, coding, and developers.

Laptop users are becoming increasingly dependent on their PCs, so it seems only logical to equip yourself with the right tools. As an engineering student, the better equipped your computer is, the easier it will be for you to get through your studies. Many laptops predominately marketed toward more general consumers do not include the hardware necessary to accommodate complex engineering applications, so if you’re an engineering student, then finding the right laptop can be difficult.

Recommended Hardware for Engineering Students & Engineers

I know most of you just wanna be told what to buy though so I’ll try to summarize that 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 a dedicated graphics cards really).

2D engineers (electrical , computer, chemical, software and so on) can settle for pretty much any modern laptop that can run Windows. 

To be more specific , I recommend the following specs:

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

CPU
Intel Core i5/AMD Ryzen 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
If you wanna be succesul in all of your classes you’re gonna need the reading/writing speeds of SSDs(this will max out productivity).

GPU
Any GPU with 2GB vRAM(in other words any GPU released within the last 3 years, yes any) for 3D engineers only!

2D engineers do not need to worry about graphics card.

Lastly, only professional engineers should consider workstation cards (even then it might be too much).

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 display 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 like the plague( you will anyways,  they cost an eyeball).

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

Weight
Probably the most important feature. As light as possible. Keep it around 3lb (the ligther & more the powerful the laptop the more expensive it becomes)

best laptop for engineering students

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

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

Note:

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


1. 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 awesome and cool the Surface Pro is 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 how small it seems to be.

It can run 99% of the engineering software you’ll come across just like any windows laptop.

Either way you can configure it depending on 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 really don’t think you should go all out and go for the highest configuration though, as long as you get a Pro with 8Gigs of RAM you should be alright.

Display & Design

What makes it so popular is actually the design. Especially the weight and battery life, students are capable of taking this thing with them anywhere and anytime.

That and the fact that the Surface Pro can replace all of your school supplies:  notebooks, textbooks, pens, erasers, highlighters, etc.

This is because it does have the most realistic note taking feel among all convertible laptops out there and the best & seamless combination with OneNote (this is a laptop made by Microsoft after all). What’s OneNote? It’s a program that’ll keep all of your notes and assignments neatly organized and easily accessible for you to write on.

You don’t have to use this tablet-like and note taking feature though. You can just use it as a full blown laptop if you keep the external keboard attach to it, Why buy if I’m not gonna write on it then? Well it’s super portable!

Be aware that the Surface Pro does not come with a dedicated graphics card which might be  an issue if you need to run CAD software (in reality most 3D projects will run with no problems but there might be a few projects that will need you to either use a laptop with a dedicated graphics card or just head to the computer lab).

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.

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2. Surface Book 2

Best Portable Laptop For CAD Engineers

 Quad Core i7 8th gen Processor Up to 4.2GHz

 16GB RAM

 NVIDIA GTX 1050/1060 2GB-4GB vRAM

 1TB NVMe PCIe SSD

 12.5-13.5” Pixel Sense (3000×2000) 

 3.62lb

 9 hours

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

If you are a 3D Engineer and you are not willing to use the computer labs from time to time, really wish to run pretty much any project or engineering project software on your laptop or if CAD/CAE simulation/modeling will be your field of specialization, then you still can have all the benefits of the Surface Pro and do all of that with the Surface Book 2.

Performance

The Surface Book 2 has pretty much the same design as the Surface Pro however in terms of performance  is on a whole different level (its full power which “is over nine thousand” might be in fact too much for engineering students – but there’s no way to configure the graphics card to a lower level).

Like the Pro, it is configurable in terms RAM/CPU/Storage. However it can support a CPU up to 4.2 GHZ for clock speed, we are talking about one of the highest clock speeds among laptops here.

The GFX which is really the spec that matters when it comes to “3D Modeling software” is pretty powerful too (it’s not an entry level card). You have two choices in fact :

The GTX 1060 which is the best consumer card for all CAD software today (no advantages going for 1070GTX or 1080GTX from my experience). Even professionals 3D Modeling Engineers will be able handle 90% of their projects with the 1060GTX.

And the slightly weaker 1050GTX card which is a lot cheaper but definitely enough for all engineering students dealing with 3D Modeling CAD software.

I really believe only working engineers should bother with the 1060GTX model (they actually have the cash to buy it anyways).

Display & Design

Unlike the Surface Pro, you can also configure the display of the Surface Book 2. You can either get the 15” with the 1060GTX or buy the cheaper 13.5” version with the 1050GTX.

Both models have the same crazy high resolution that even surpasses the latest MacBook Pro retina display (3000×2000), though this is just aesthetics not useful for engineering or anything else other than watching movies.

The battery is just below the surface Pro,  8 hours tops. This is expected because it is running a more powerful CPU & a dedicated GPU.

Like the Pro, it is entirely made of aluminum and a convertible laptop for you to draw/design/take notes on the fly…etc.

I almost forgot: both the Surface Pro and the Surface Book will allow you to get a docking station so you can work with an external display (to make it a full blown desktop back at dorm/home). In fact, you can even throw in a dual screen(two monitors on top of the Surface Screen) set up to have the ultimate productivity environment.

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3. Dell XPS 13 9360

Best Windows UltraBook For Engineers

 Core i5-8250

 8GB RAM DDR3

  Intel HD

 128GB SSD M.2

 13” full HD 1080p

 2.7lb

 11 hours

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

If you are not into convertible laptops then the Dell XPS 13 is really the best windows premium ultrabook you’ll find.

Performance

Just like the Surface models, the specs can be configured depending on your budget.

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 assure you that the configuration presented here (i5 core, 8GB RAM and 256GB)  is more than sufficient to run all of your basic engineering applications without any lag or issues whatsoever.

Even the Core i3 will be do just fine if you aren’t running 3D CAD/CAE software.

Note that none of its configurations have a dedicated graphics cardas a result the performance with 3D CAD software will be limited but you’ll get through most of it save for a few projects that you might see during your last two years(I’m only refering to 3D engineers who are considering buying it despite the lack of a dGPU).

If you do want to deal with large CAD projects and you are reluctant to use the computer labs then you might want to invest on the DELL XPS 15.

Display & Design

The reason why I would consider it with that huge price tag on it is really the weight (only 2.8lb) and thinness. It’s equivalent to the MacBook Air but with Windows on it.

Note that there are two versions of the Dell XPS series: a touchscreen 4k resolution display and a full HD (1080p) resolution display. For engineering applications & assignments  stick with the configuration recommended here (full HD non-touch) you’ll have far more battery life with it and still have money left to buy a decent phone.

Both versions come with a fingerprint scanner…which is not useful at all. Maybe if you want to look like a cool engineer working on a top secret goverment project in the library. Make sure you look to your left and right before you use the fingerprint scanner to log in !

You may actually work in government funded research projects as a volunteer in engineering school but that still doesn’t make  a fingerprint scanner useful, it just makes logging into a computer faster because you don’t have to type a password.

* 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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 4. Asus ZenBook 13 Ultra Slim

Budget Laptop For Engineering Students

 Core i5-8265U 3.9GHz

 8GB RAM DDR3

  Intel HD

 512GB PCIe NVMe

 13” full HD Anti-Glare

 2.6lb

 11 hours

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

I know the Surface models & Dell XPS 13 can be quite expensive.

I put the ASUS ZenBook here because despite being quite powerful and very very portable it’s more affordable.

Performance

Despite being cheaper the performance is on par with the Dell XPS 13 above.

Although this is note a Core i7, neither is the Dell XPS 13’s processor, modern processors today have way too much power and an 8th gen core i5/Ryzen Chip has infact way too much clockspeed for the engineering software you’ll encounter in school.

The best thing about Core i5 or Ryzen chips is that despite being fast as hell they’ll  give you way more battery life than higher end processors. 

The ZenBook also comes with the latest and fastest SSD jammed into just like any premium laptop reviewed before. This means your computer will still turn off/on in literally 3 seconds flat and launch software in a blink.

Again the only drawback, is the lack of a dedicated GPU, which “some” mechanical, civil & aeroespace engineers may need for 2 or 3 classes during their third or fourth year. The rest of you will be fine without it.

Display & Design

There are no drawbacks in its display. It’s still full HD (though not an IPS screen) but it has a matte finish, which should make it easier to stare at for long hours .

All other premium features( backlit keyboard, aluminum chasis) are also included.

While all the specs above are pretty standard among premium laptops, the weight and thinness is quite surprising for the prize and the specs it has: 2.6lb (almost the weight of an 11 inch MacBook Air).

No it’s not that “thin”, it still has all the ports you’ll need (or you won’t need):USB Ports, HDMI, mini VGA, SD Card Reader.

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5. MacBook Pro

Best MacBook For Engineering Students

 Intel Core i7-Core i9 3.3GHz

 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 MacBook Pro is NOT a bad move for engineering.

Sure you’ll have compatibility issues with some software encountered during your curriculum(actually most of it) but that doesn’t stop many engineering students from buying it. 

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. 

That’s because you can always install Windows on it if you ever see the need to and switch back and forth between OSX and Windows 10 and no it’s not that hard, Windows 10 is just one button away with the MacBooks. Besides eliminating compatibility issues with Windows Software, programming is a breeze with OSX…so you will definitely want to switch back to OSX most of the time.

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 have the same speed as PCIe- based SSDs which makes dual booting into Windows happen in a flash and they had this technology for several years.

As for RAM & CPU, you can configure  it to whatever specs your parents..cough I mean YOU can afford .

The model presented here should be enough for most of your engineering applications: 128GB SSD, 8th Core i5 core and 8GB RAM.  You might find the 128GB a bit too short if you plan to dual boot into Windows so go for the 256GB model if you can afford it.

If you can’t afford either, you should consider buying a refurbished MacBook Pro. No they are not repaired nor defective , heck I wouldn’t even call refurbished MacBooks “used” because they are pretty much new, will last you all those 4-5 years you’ll spend in school and I bet you might even resell yours after you graduate and buy yourself the latest one at that time. your 4 years. 

If you can’t even afford a refurbished MacBook Pro, consider buying used older models, they’re all powerful enough for today’s software and yeah they’ll last you several years too.

Just remember whenever you buy a laptop, make sure it has at least 8GB RAMso you never run into lag with whatever software you’re using.

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 more of programmer than a 3D designer, then Macs are even a better choice.

You won’t need to go for the 15” Version which is more expensive and heavier, the model presented here will be fine for all of you. In fact, a decently specced out MacBook Air will do fine as well.

Mechanical, Civil, Aerospace, Aeronautical Engineering:

SolidWorks,CATIA,ANSYS,Revit, Civil 3D are not available on a Mac, so you will have to dual boot to use them. You will need the 15” version or 16” version if you want to run any project/model size. These higher end models have either an AMD Pro Vega 55X or a  Radeon R9 card as a GPU and much more RAM. If you can’t afford the 16” monster version, you should have no issues with all non-3D software and small/simple 3D projects with the 13” version reviewed here as long as you dual boot into Windows

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