5 Best Laptops For Medical Students in 2020
The transition to medical school can be brutal.
For one the terminology used will make you feel like you are learning a new language.
You’ll constantly be on the move trying to deal with constant patient care simulations.
You’ll have to memorize material with a 1000 pages long each.
Take notes to the utmost detail for every lecture.
If that’s not crazy enough, every waking hour you don’t spend studying could be a hit to your performance.
This post will not get you through all of that but at least it will make sure you don’t screw up when shopping for a laptop!
Since today’s education is tied up with technology, buying the right laptop can help you take a huge load off the workload. How?
Because you’ll use laptop to take notes, research hundreds of medical journals and even take exams on it.
Yeah…a laptops with the right specs (for ex: display) can make all of that much easier to deal with. You don’t want end up with a laptop that will make dealing with all of that uncomfortable, right?
Don’t worry about it though. As long as you stick with this article, you’ll be sure to land the best laptop to get you through medical school.Hopefully you can afford them. But If you can’t, I’ll mention a lot of other options.
- Top 5 best Laptops For Medical Students
- How to Buy the Best Laptop for Medical School
Top 5 best Laptops For Medical Students
In all honestly it really comes down to two devices but since many of you are already broke after getting accepted into med school I’ve included a few affordable ones.
If you have any doubts about why I am even recommending these laptops, check the last section at the bottom of this article where I go through everything you need to know about laptops for med school: what the typical class is like, what kind of software you’ll use, the kind of stuff you’ll see during exams,etc.
For now I’ll just make a quick summary of what you need to look for when shopping for laptops.
In order of priority:
1080p or 900p resolution. 12” and above. You’ll be able use split screens comfortably and clearly distinguish the details in histology images.
Light as possible, carrying textbooks along with a bulky laptop from lectures to clinicals is crazy. >3lb.
Travel Distance. Type of Keyboard doesn’t matter. Make sure it’s responsive by reading reviews. You’re gonna be typing like a high speed operator and need to make yours is as comfortable as possible.
Get an SSD (Solid State Drive) if you can, the responsiveness will save you a lot of time in just about every operation. Size doesn’t matter for once. Your entire library of illegal PDF files & short medical animation videos are not heavy. Anything above 128GB is fine.
You’ll be alright with 4GB RAM. Office and internet web browsing software doesn’t need more than that. If you are heavy heavy multitasker (I mean you’re the kind of guy who opens up 50 tabs and doesn’t like to close them), you’ll be better off with 8Gigs.
CPU & GPU
By this I mean processor and graphics card. Anyways, mo matter what the processor you get as long it’s been released within the past 4 years you’ll be ok. Graphics cards are useless unless you are a gamer/3D designer.
1. MacBook Air
Best Mac Laptop for Medical Students
Intel Core i5 2.9GHz
8GB RAM LPDDR3
13” 1440×900 TN
This site is very aware this is an older model and there’s newer macbook air available. But I don’t really see the need for the new model especially if you are a student.
You see although this model has an older processor it’s still fast enough to blast through every software you’ll encounter in med school and the basic tasks that any user might put it through.
Unlike other older models this MacBook Air is even faster than what it appears to be because it has one of the fastest SSD types which Apple had already made available back then. By the way, Apple is still manufacturing this version of the MacBook Air and it’s still the best selling laptop on Amazon.
What I like about the Air’s SSD, is the fact that, it will boot up your computer literally within seconds, search for files, save, open and launch applications in done in a flash. Every activity is cut down from minutes to seconds. Over the course of the week, all these few seconds saved here and there all add up to hours which means you’ll be saving yourself a few hours hence more time to study.
Display & Design
The design is the main reason why you should consider the Air over any other laptop. It’s as thin as paper and stronger than diamond. Well not exactly, but you get the point.
While you may find laptops just as thin out there you won’t find one with the same rock solid design. I’ve dropped mine several times during school and it’s survived all of them…with three dents obviously.
What I liked more about it was the battery life, it was EPIC: 13 freakin’ hours and even 15 hours if you just focus on work. Just add to that the fact that it only weights 3lbs and you’ll be able to research & write your papers pretty much anywhere and anytime.
Which means not wasting time on social media but actually doing stuff and studying if you are on the bus/train.
Don’t be fooled by its display, it isn’t full HD but still it’s good enough for multitasking, having multiple windows open next to each other and to deal with those tedious histology images that will show up on your exam.
The screen size is (13”) is perfect to avoid scrolling too much when retrieving medical records/information when using bibliographic applications.
The only real issue with the Air is the lack of CD ROM Drive in case you might want to run TextBook CD Activities or review for exams with apps you may be given in a CD.
No worries though, if that ever happens (well let’s be honest…nobody uses CD drives anymore), you can always get an external CD Reader and attach it to the Air for those few ocassions. Apple has design one just for that as you can see in this link.
Laptops these days don’t have CD drives anymore and this is good because that adds to extra thickness and weight.
What about the Operating System? It’s not Windows!
That may be the only real issue in some cases because the software given in med school MIGHT BE incompatible with Mac OSX.
If that ever happens, Apple has had a solution for that since 2008. All Macs can boot up into windows using BootCamp, that means, you restart your Laptop and you can choose whether to run Windows or OSX.
What if I can’t afford it?
If the price is an issue, there are several options to go for:
- You can buy the 11 inch Model which is cheaper and it’s pretty much the same thing as this model except that well it’s 11 inches diagonally.
- You can buy this model as refurbished. Amazon has several refurbished models. No they are not used models with dents all over, they’re almost as good as new. I’ve actually bought mine used years ago and it’s still kicking working (writing this review on it).
- Which Configuration should I go for?Any configuration is fine, if you like to go crazy with multitasking then 8GB is recommended. Just avoid a core i7 because not only is it too expensive but it’s useless for medical students and will drain your battery life faster.
Best 2 in 1 Laptop for Medical Students
Core m3 , Core i5, Core i7
128GB-1TB PCIe NVMe SSD
12” IPS 2736×1824
Had the Surface Pro been a full blown laptop, it would have been listed number one along with the MacBook Air. But it’s actually a convertible tablet-laptop which you can write on using a digital pen. This is what makes it the most wanted and useful device a medical student can have.
If you happen to be buying it for someone who’s starting medical school, I can’t think of a better gift.
Aside from all that laptop goodness: long battery & lightweight and speed yada yada yada. The main reason why it’s so desirable among med students is the seamless compatibility of One Note with the stylus.
It’s like literally writing on a physical notebook and yes the Surface Pro can replace your entire library of textbooks, school supplies (pencils and erasers). No no you won’t get any sloppy writing, taking notes & drawing with it can be extremely accurate, even mathematicians & artists have no problem working with it. Of course you need some time to get used to it.
This feature is not only useful for taking notes, there’a whole range of other stuff you can do with it:
- Taking notes digitally on top of PP slides
- Submit digital handwritten assignments
- Organizing all your study materials into one single section or page (notes, slides,recorded audio, videos)
- Make an organized digital book with it.
- Anything you can think of when you have the power of writing on top of the screen.
This is more than just a toy, don’t judget it because it seems fun to use. It can run just about any application you can think of depending on the configuration you choose.
Configurations range from a core i3 processor with only 4GB RAM+ 128GB SSD for storage to a core i7 processor with 16GB of RAM + 1TB SSD for storage.
All configurations have a solid state drive which is just as fast as the MacBook’s Air and x17 faster than a regular hard disk drive.
Virtually all configurations from the Surface Pro will serve you well, the applications & tasks you’ll launch during med school don’t need anything special.
The highest configuration you should go for is a core i5 with 8GB RAM, this should allow you to run pretty much any applications outside of medical school and let you multitask heavily with it.
Again avoid core i7 configurations due to the reduced battery life and price tag.
Display & Design
Don’t be fooled by its size, which is by the way makes it the lightest & most portable computer device for med school. The size or design won’t limit you in anyway if you want to use it as a laptop because it comes with an external keyboard and even a docking station to make it full a blown desktop back. You can also turn into the ultimate productivity environment back at your dorm by connecting two huge monitors to it.
You don’t have to attach an external monitor to check images with more detail or to multitask by the way because its 12” screen actually has far more resolution(which has a bigger impact on these two tasks) than the MacBook Air and slightly more than the expensive premium and latest 2020 MacBook Pro: 2736×1824.
3. ASUS ZenBook
Best PC Laptop for Medical School
Core i5-8250U 3.4GHz
8GB RAM DDR3
256GB SSD SATA III
13” full HD IPS
Ok if you are not into Macs or into convertible laptops, then the ASUS ZenBook is the best option you have as far as getting the most lightweight & portable windows laptop out there.
In fact, the ZenBook actually has a faster processor than the New and latest MacBook Air. The new 8th generation Core i5 processor not only offers more clock speed but four cores instead of 2. Though the extra speed is useless for med school, it’s really hard to avoid so much power with the latest models these days.
Setting the CPU aside, RAM & Storage device and the rest of its components are pretty much on par with the MacBook Air.
The only real downside would be its battery life which is about 8-9 hours compared to Air’s +13 hours. It does however have a higher resolution though: full HD or 1080p.
The keyboard isn’t as a great as the Air’s flawless and silent keyboard. However it does have a backlit feature.
4. Dell XPS 13
Best Dell Laptop for Medical Students
8GB RAM DDR3
13” full HD 1080p
If the ZenBook is the windows equivalent of the MacBook Air, the Dell XPS 13 is then the MacBook Pro windows equivalent.
If you have the cash and have been a Mac Hater all your life, you can go for the Dell XPS series which has basically the same premium feel to it as the latest MacBook Pro.
In fact, in terms of performance and portability the Dell XPS 13 is slightly better than the current MacBook series, leaving aside the monster 16” MacBook Pro of course.
The performance is just as configurable as the Surface Pro. It starts frmo a core i3 processor with 4GB RAM & 128 SSD up to a core i7 with 16GB RAM & 1 TB SSD. This latest model also has the fastest PCIe NVMe SSD both the Air & Surface Pro have.
Remember to always stick with the 8G RAM and core i5 configuration, anything else above that can be unnecessary and will definitely suck energy at a higher rate.
Display & Design
For display, you can choose between the QHD (3200 x1800)touchScreen display or the 1080p resolution with matte finish. Both versions weigth the same (2.7 pounds) but have different battery lives 6 vs 10-11 hours, respectively.
You should stick with the 1080p display presented here, the battery life is far more important thanbeing able to see movies or play games at a higher resolution.
Now into the chicken guano: it doesn’t have a CD-ROM driver and the WebCam is oddly placed at the bottom of the screen. While the former may not be an issue, the latter actually might be especially after the global pandemic with online meetings becoming more and more common.
There’s a reason behind the odd camera placement : the “Infinity Edge Display”. This is the name they have given to the design, which is just saying that there are basically no bezels around the screen and therefore it can actually fit in a bigger display than your average 13” laptop.
This feature is really cool, if you like watching lectures and tons of videos on your laptop. Just imagine watching a clip in a floating screen, that’s what it feels like. The downside is the odd webcam placement because there is no space above the screen to put it on.
Lastly, the latest models have thunderbolt 3 ports which allow to connect two external monitors to it and simultaneously (The surface Pro has this feature too).
Why is this useful? Well some people like having a nice set up for studying back home. Imagine having three screens on a huge desk, one used for a textbook, the other for looking up stuff on google and the other screen has your class notes opened.
Best Budget Laptop For Medical Students
AMD Ryzen 3 3200U
Vega 3 Graphics
128GB SSD PCIe NVMe
15” IPS full HD 1080p
Don’t be put off by the AMD name next to the processor, no this processor is not slow at all. It’s actually faster than the it’s intel counterpart: the core i3 series. The recently released microprocessors, the Ryzen series, have outdone its intel counterparts in the low to mid range price market. Not only are they cheaper but they are actually faster and more energy efficient. That means more speed and more battery life too.
Display & Design
Acer has taken full advantage of the Ryzen series and made the most budget friendly yet capable laptop for the basic user with it. Though weaker than the 700-1000$ dollar late generation Core i5 and i7s, this processor has been paired up with the fastest SSD out there (which you can only find in the premium laptops we review above) and on top of that it has a full HD IPS display, all of that jsut for 350$ bucks more than half the price of the MacBook Air and 1/3rd the price of the Dell XPS 13.
I would say the main two main differences with the premium laptops shown above is the build quality (the case is made out of plastic, not aluminum) and the weight (it’s 1lb heavier than your average laptop).
As for the battery life, it’s amazing long, in fact on par with the Air. That’s not surprising a bigger laptop can fit in a bigger battery , add to that the fact that you have a Ryzen Processor + an SSD (both consumer far less battery) , you’d get around +11 hours.
This is obviously not an ideal laptop to bring everywhere and take it out to do some work while taking the bus but I’m just listing here for those who refuse to buy refurbished laptops and want something decent, new and capable of just about everything you’ll go through med school.
If you’re fit or big guy then carrying an extra lb might not be too difficult in which case you will save several hundreds of dollars by buying this model.
How to Buy the Best Laptop for Medical School
“The wealth of digital information in regards to human biology and the fact that they are easily accessible today with portable computers from any place at any time is the main reason why computer technology has become an essential asset to the medical industry.”
In layman’s terms you’re going to need to know about computers so read this section carefully both for your career & to make you get the best laptop for med school.
Whether it’s a laptop or a tablet or an iphone, all doctors today must have quick access to medical related information for their studies/patients.
For med students this becomes even more convenient unless you want to carry all of your textbooks & notes around campus all the time.
The Medical Program
First of all you need to be aware of what kind mess you’ve gotten yourself into.
By that I mean what kind of classes will you be taken? This will depend on your program.
Will your school use video conferencing when a hurricane is passing by or 2 feet of snow has fallen?
What operating system does your IT department & your medical department support?
The deals are not on this website but might be on your specific school. They might go as far as giving students free laptops and these laptops are no laughing matter. Some go as far as giving their students free Macbook Airs.
If that’s not the case, you’ll be given a nice deal. UW-Madison for example gives its students a macbook air for about 500$ which is about half the price.
The rest (broke universities) will simply to recommend a specific model. Most likely a Dell Latitude or any of the Macbooks just because they believe them to be durable and IT support is easier with them.
Ok this is important. You need to make sure the program will support the OS of your preference. If not, will they be okay if you stick with yours?
Most schools recommend Windows. You should check if they are okay with tablet devices as well. Why bother? Software compatibility.
Software Requirements and Useful Software
There isn’t much software required for Medical Students other than basic student applications such as:
- Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint
- Adobe PDF
- A PDF converted for homework submission perhaps
- Antivirus: if you catch one, your computer will lose access to the internet as it’ll be quarantined by some departments.
- Galen for Medical Referene and Organizing Tasks/Schedules/Notes/Lectures for students (Requires Web Browser only).
Which don’t require a special laptop of any kind.
However…you might be screwed if your OS doesn’t support whatever software they use to take Exams or run videos/animations.
- Usually ExamSoft is used to take exams which is compatible with everything that has a screen. If they don’t use it, you’re in trouble.
- Shockwave, VLC, Quicktime,Flash and Java for videos and animations. ChromeBooks & iOS devices might be able to run a few animations.
Classes and Assignments
All notes provided are PDF Files (mostly uploaded online unless you got a lazy professor).
Very unlikely they’ll be all printed out for you (who wants to waste ink when everyone has a laptop).
A few things to keep in mind and why you’ll need a laptop anyways:
- Share notes within groups
- Access videos for lectures
- Digital Movies of procedures
- Virtual Microscopy (might need good resolution laptop as the ones we recommended above)
- You also want to avoid a low resolution/small screen display for exams, there might be a few histology questions which might be better off with a better display.
Recommended Specs for Medical School
I will list them in order of priority. If you read the last section you’ve probably got the order figured out:
Weight should be your number one priority when browsing for laptops.
Again, you want something easy to carry around campus and clinicals as you’ll be carrying heavy textbooks along with it too. If you have to sacrifice other features for a light laptop, so be it.
It is far more useful to have a laptop near you for quick access to google and to finish your hw anywhere and anytime than a heavy bulky cheap powerful laptop sitting at dorm (or at home 20 miles away).
Med School is a “race”. Good time management is the main reason for the success of many med students.
Trust me, a portable and light laptop will save you a lot of time.
IPS Panels, Retina Displays, QHD Resolution? Don’t worry about them, you’re not a radiologist yet and even if you were they won’t help.
There are only two things to look out in terms of display:
You’re gonna be using your laptop to read textbooks/medical papers and writing reports/notes for an exam or a term paper,etc, right? Then stick with a resolution of 1080p and maybe as low as 1,440 x 900but no less than that.
You’ll need it so you can have multiple windows open at the same time and no matter what their size is you’ll be able to distinguish them and read them.
You’ll also need them when taking exams because you’ll need to analyze medical pictures to utmost detail.
Screen size is not as important as resolution but that doesn’t mean you can go for an 3” iphone screen. At least 12” screen
You want a big screen to read comfortably, watch flash animations, take exams with messed up histology figures, etc. But you can’t go too big otherwise you’d end up with a heavy bulky laptop.
You could also go for a tablet because it’s portable and its got a huge screen, if you do stick with a portable tablet laptop with 12”. Go less than that you’re going to be in trouble when your exam is full of histology pictures which need detailed discerning.
Why not go for Tablets/Ipads?
Retrieving (and viewing) medical records is gonne be time consuming and inconvenient (tons of scrolling to check all the data). Why? these applications were not designed to be used on small screen devices. You can double check with your department to make sure.
I’m leaving performance after Weight & Display because honestly honestly bro you can pretty much roll with any laptop. Why do you think a lot of med students roll with a tablet?
Then they can use their desktop at home for report writing, printing, plagirizing, etc.
Don’t worry about processor’s speed, RAM, GPU, Storage unless your department tells you to…and even then it’s probably balooney.
Anyways if you still want a fast laptop for all purposes or you don’t have a desktop at home:
CPU Get an i5 processor. If not a core i3
Or any modern and recently released processor. Just don’t go for a core i7 because it will drain your battery than you can say “Hey, my laptop’s dead again”.
This is undersirable for a med student will be moving between clinicals and all over campus.
If you are a heavy multitasker, you damn right you are (playing iTunes, several internet browsing tabs, pdf documents, word documents, dissection videos andall open at the same time) then consider 8GB for RAM
No matter how little you think they are, these sneaky little applications add up and they’ll make your laptop start choking which can make even typing notes annoying.
You are not a radiologist to be thinking about a dedicated graphics card even if you were you would need a workstation device not a laptop. Do not even mind this feature, any graphics card will do just fine.
Just don’t go “underboard”. Don’t get a 2GB or 50GB. 128GB and up is enough.
Remember that pdf files and digital textbooks don’t take too much space and the software used for med school isn’t that heavy either.
Recently there’s been a surplus of laptops with touchscreen features on the market. I honestly do not know how any student would find that useful unless he or she wants bigger arms, you’ll get a nice work out from having your arm extended for long periods of time.
Touchscreens are only useful in tablet mode so you can easily reach & manipulate the screen to scan through documents, highlight stuff, etc.
In fact, convertible tablet-laptops are the most popular devices out there for Medical Students and practicioners.
Tablets or Laptop or Both?
As mentioned before tablets are a popular choice among medical students.
Why? Your notes will be given in PDF form which means you can just takes notes on top of them with a tablet and use a digital highlighter.
Heck, smartphones can be used during lectures too. How? Just attach a bluetooth keyboard to take notes faster. Not joking a lot of med students do this.
Again, the main drawback from relying mostly on iPad, tablets and smartphones is that you will have issues accessing resources from your school.
Tablet + Laptop (separately)
Alternatively, you can get a tablet and a laptop. A laptop can be for making your own notes, download materials,etc; and the tablet or ipad for reviewing your notes, reading textbooks, highlight stuff, etc.
Tablets and Ipads are far more convenient for reading textbooks and general reading during long periods of time as well as flipping through flashcards, annotating on top of PDFs and sketching flow charts. This is why I keep pushing for a Surface Pro if you want the benefits of a tablet.
A few other accessories to consider:
Headset with built-in microphone and WebCam
Again schools use video conferencing for online classes and to substitute regular classes when the weather does not allow the school to be open.
You’ll find a headset useful for studying anyways.
For connecting to a projector
In case your school is cheap or their printer “stops working” (it happens too many times).
Get one to avoid handing in a late assignment which can really take a toll on your grade.
Privacy filter screen
Required for exams unless you have a friend sitting next to you ;).
Although most students do use tablets since most notes and reading materials will always be available in PDF form, you’ll still need a computer unless you love being stuck to the library or computer labs for any type of writing assignment.
So a tablet by itself just won’t cut it.
As far as laptops go…
As you can see from this article, there isn’t much to worry about other than portability and compatibility with the software being run on your school.
The only software you should really worry about is w/e they use to take exams. It’s not that your computer will not have enough power to run but your OS might be incompatible.
You can’t go wrong with Windows though and if you do, you can always install Windows on your Mac.
For the years you’ll be stuck with clinicals, portability matters A LOT.
You don’t want to drag a 17’’ inch 7 pound laptop from patient to patient do you?
In that case it would be very convenient to have a tablet or if possible a laptop-tablet.
If you insist on laptops for clinicals, get an ultraportable one or don’t get one. Or get a tablet for clinicals and a heavy bulky laptop for real work back at home.
If you are rich it’d be nice to have both a lightweight laptop and a tablet.
Or better yet a hybrid which is both a laptop AND a tablet like the Surface Pro.