10 Guidance When Buying a Laptop For Engineering Students

Buying a laptop

Engineering has many flavours, from software to Civil to Mechanical Engineering. The different engineering fields and the different software you will be working on created huge misconceptions about what type of laptop and specs to get. Just because you are new to engineering does not mean that you should buy the top of the range laptop based on a salesperson’s recommendations or buy based on some random website on the internet that has nothing to do with engineering. This post will shed light on how to shop for a laptop as an engineering student.

Getting a laptop for engineering studies needs to be portable enough to carry from home to school with at least 16GB of RAM and a minimum of Intel Core i5 or AMD Ryzen 5. The operating system usually depends on the student’s preference, although Windows laptops are preferable as more engineering programs are available on Windows than on Mac OS. Finally, the memory is quite irrelevant these days as you can save most things on the university cloud. However, getting at least 256 GB of storage could be sufficient for your entire course.

Most think that buying a laptop can be difficult because they do not know what type of software they will be working on. Thus, they base their purchase on some websites that recommend laptops on the internet. If you get anything less than what you need, it might make your study difficult. The latter is true, which is why you should stick to the getting at least the minimum requirement mentioned above and keep in mind the following:

A- The newer, the better:

The latest laptops produced by Apple, Microsoft, HP, Dell, Asus ..etc. are usually the best thing you can get. The newer it is, the better the processing power and battery life and the less headache it will give you in the future.

B- The higher the specs, the better:

It is that simple. The higher the specs, the better it is for you. An Intel Core i7 is better than a Core i5.

But we all know the difficult choice when buying a laptop as an engineering student. Working with a limited budget makes you feel that your choice is not the best. We know this feeling as we were engineering students before. Therefore, the following is all the knowledge you need to pick the best laptop for your study. In less than 10 minutes, you will become an expert in computer picking:

10 Recommendations when buying a laptop for your engineering course:

1- You do not need a Dedicated Graphics Card

buying a laptop

What does that mean? An integrated graphics is a graphic processing unit built into the processor that shares the processor memory. In contrast, a dedicated graphics card or Graphics processing unit (GPU) is a hardware unit built into the PC that has its own memory. And as the name suggests, it deals with graphics.

A laptop with a dedicated graphics card will be able to run more complicated programs such as high-end games and design software that require high graphic processing. However, the huge tradeoffs are expensive and chunky laptops as those graphic cards require lots of cooling and consume more battery life than integrated graphics laptops.

One of the biggest misconceptions is that engineers need a laptop with dedicated graphic cards. The truth is you do not. While yes, if you do graphic design and run graphics-heavy software such as CAD software, it will be an advantage to have a dedicated graphics card; it usually will not be a hard requirement for your course.

Certainly, you can run the vast majority of programs just fine with an integrated graphic. Most integrated graphics like the intel Iris graphic can process graphics just without spending more money on a dedicated graphics card. Computer processors have evolved enough to deal with heavy graphics with at least 8 GB of shared RAM.

However, if you must get a graphic card, do not get anything less than 4 GB of dedicated graphics memory, as less would not make much difference compared to just spending the money to get a better processor like Core i7 or AMD R7. Nvidia is usually the best when it comes to graphic cards with its Nvidia GeForce RTX. Therefore, anything at or above RTX 2060 is generally very good for a laptop.

2- The Thinner and Lighter, the more portable it is

Why a laptop? Why not a computer desktop? Because if you are an engineering student, you need to be very flexible with your study and time. Simultaneously, your gear needs to be flexible and portable as you are. We have been in your situation and spent nights at the library and friends’ houses working on assignments and projects, and the last thing you want is some chunky machine that you have to carry in your backpack everywhere you go. Believe me; it is not worth breaking your back over.

You might think you will use a laptop for some complicated software because you will be coding or designing. Still, you will spend the mass majority of your time searching for something, watching lectures, browsing your university blackboard and writing reports. Working on technical software and problems is not everything you will do in university. This is why you need something portable. For more contests on this subject, read Life As a First-Year Engineering Student.

This is why you should consider getting something light and small. Luckily those laptops are available readily, and some with quite attractive prices. We recommend anything less than 4 lbs or 1.8 kg for maximum portability.

As for the dimensions, everything is measured by the screen size. By far 14-inch screen offers the best combination of portability and screen real estate. However, a 13-inch screen is also a good choice if you want something very light. In comparison, 15-inch offers the best screen real estate with portability. In contrast, anything above 15-inch, such as 16 or 17-inch, becomes less portable as they become heavy and altogether hard to fit in a backpack.

3- Do not get less than 16 GB of RAM, and here is why

RAM is the active memory that works hand in hand with your processor to help you run programs and multiple tabs on your browser. Here is the secret, if you are doing any university course, you will have a browser full of tabs for your assignments. The RAM help maintain those high volumes of searches and programs without crashing or freezing your computer. Simply the higher the RAM, the better.

With the many engineering courses our team has taken, we found it difficult to recommend anything less than 16 GB of RAM. Why? Because running your operating system takes at least a third of that RAM, leaving you with 10 or 12 GB in the best cases. Most programs these days generally tend to take more RAM due to the level of sophistication and graphic processing. Most internet browsers, such as Google Chrome, take more RAM the more tabs it has open.

This is not to say that you can not get away with 8 GB of RAM but be ready for constant computer crashers as you generally will not be able to have more than one program open at the same time. While getting 32 GB of RAM might seem overkill, it actually offers the best multitasking capabilities.

RAM is the most important thing engineering students should focus on when choosing a laptop, and it can be a way of narrowing down your research.

4- Do not get less than Intel Core i5 or AMD Ryzen5

The processing power is the brain of your computer, and getting something powerful can help you multitask and run things smoothly. Anything less than Core i5 or Ryzen 5 will not be very beneficial to you. In fact, if you afford to go higher to Core i7 or Ryzen 7, it can significantly improve your computer performance and make your life easy.

When it comes to the processor speed, everything is gauged in clocking speed, which is measured in GHz. The higher the clocking speed, the quicker it can process data. Therefore, a processor with 3 GHz is faster than 2.4 GHz.

However, that is not everything. Any processor comes with logical and virtual cores, also known in the industry as hyperthreading; those cores help with multitasking. You need to know that processor cores are not equal to the naming; this is just confusing marketing names by those companies. For example, Core i5 does not mean that it has only 5 cores, and Ryzen 7 does not mean it has 7 cores; it could be more or less.

The more cores, the more it is suitable for designing, content creation and editing. In contrast, the lower the cores, the more suitable for games and mono tasks. For you as an engineer, a computer with multiple cores (4 and above) is suitable. If you find the above confusing, just stick to the latest generation of those processors out in the market, as they are usually the best of the best.

5- Battery life is something that you should look into closely

To put it simply, just get a laptop that has at least 8 hours of battery life, with 10 being the best option you can get. Most laptops nowadays can offer a range of 8-12 hours, with some can go up to 16 hours of battery life. Our recommendation is that the longer the battery life, the better.

If you have read this far, you would have noticed that we favour portability over performance. Longer battery life is something that will reduce frustration and keep you productive for long hours. You do not want to fire up your laptop in the middle of your class or your group meeting to be shocked that your computer needs charging. Believe us, we have been there, and we know the frustration.

Moreover, for any computer you buy, the battery will be the first thing that degrades. Because they are lithium batteries, which means their capacity degrades with every charging cycle. For example, if you can get a 10-hour battery life, it will degrade to 8 or 7 in a few years. In addition, the manufacturer will test the battery performance in ideal conditions. This means running light programs on low brightness; this is why you should avoid laptops with low battery life because it usually will give you less than what is recommended.

6- A memory of 512 GB is probably an overkill

Here is the thing computer memory is not relevant these days. Why? Most of your assignments and work are done on your university blackboard. Most of those universities offer you free cloud storage if you have an “edu” email, making any storage you get for your laptop irrelevant.

However, you should not cheap out and get something like 64 GB if somehow you found it in the market! Your operation system will probably need half of it, leaving you with little to work with. You can get away with 128 GB of storage, but 256 GB will be the best option to get. Most of your assignments will be reports with some software that usually does not take up large space. A 256 GB will probably outlast your course.

Unless you save lecture videos, then going with higher memory is beneficial. You can also get external storage like a hard drive or SSD or use the cloud storage provided by your university. Check our recommendation of the best Portable SSD to buy as a Student on Amazon.

As for the type of storage, you should not worry too much about it. Any new laptop will either have a solid-state drive (SSD) or M.2 SSD, which are slightly faster than the conventional SSD. The storage speed will not affect your computer speed as much, so you should not focus too much on compared to the other specs.

7- Touch screens and 2in1 laptops are good to have but not essential

It does not matter if your laptops have all the bells and whistles; as long as it has the basic functions, you are good to go. A laptop might have a touch screen it can rotate 360 degrees and comes with a pen. Some have non of that, and still, they will do just fine. Most of your time on this laptop will not relate to any of these feathers, so do not feel pressured to get all those extra additions that will cost you more money.

In our opinion, if you have some extra bucks to spare, get a laptop with higher specs, such as more RAM and a better processor. This will make a significant difference to the computer’s performance ability.

However, we feel that getting a better screen resolution is probably the best thing you can do if you have more money to spend. High resolution is good for the eyes, especially with extra dimming options; a 1440p is probably the most affordable option currently and way better than a 1080p screen. In general, LED screens are better than LCD screens. Unfortunately, you can not tell easily by looking at the laptops, so you might have to consult the manufacturer’s specs.

As for the touch screen, it would not make much difference to your experience, and most likely, you will find yourself rarely using it. Macbooks are not touch screens, but they are very successful. It is just the cherry on top if you get it with the laptop but absolutely not essential.

8- Windows always trump Mackbook when it comes to engineering courses

As unrealistic as it might seem, it is true. Windows has pretty much every engineering software for any discipline. Windows is more open than Mac OS, which means you can install more apps than a Macbook. Moreover, some engineering software, such as CAD software, will have a Mac version that can be slightly different from the windows one, making it difficult to use.

This should not stop you from getting a Macbook if you are invested in the ecosystem. There is always a workaround for software that is not available on Macbook. Such as installing windows on MacBook. This is how you can get Windows on your MacBook.

But if you are willing to get a windows machine, the tradeoffs are very minimal, as you can get better specs in a Windows machine for the same price you would pay for a lower specs Macbook. This could make your life significantly easy. Yet we know that the debate of MacBook VS Windows is an extensive topic, so do not let our recommendation stop you from getting what is best for you.

9- Avoid Second-hand and on display laptops, and here is why

Avoid buying a second-hand and on display computer at all costs, even if it is offered with an extended warranty with some free items that might persuade you to buy a second-hand machine you find in a shop or on the Facebook market. The deal might be too good to leave, but these are sales tactics to get you to buy something that ultimately will not be good for you. For more on dealing with bad sales, read: How to Spot a Bad Deal? And Take Charge Of The Sale.

The main reason to avoid second-hand laptops is that computer processing performance tends to fall with time and become slower. This has nothing to do with the manufacturer or the laptop specs. This is something that happens to all hardware.

Also, the battery performance tends to degrade, as mentioned earlier. And you do not want a low battery life laptop as a student. Finally, the screen resolution and the visual system also tend to degrade after a while. The screen is made of pixels that usually burn out after a long time of use, and you end up with dead pixels that can affect the quality of the image. Overall, it is not a good deal once you factor in all of the above.

10- Only buy from trusted retailers for warranty purposes

It does not matter if you buy your computer online or in person; it is better to get it from a trusted retailer that can take care of your purchase or back you up if it needs to be repaired under warranty.

Nothing lasts forever, and if you think that getting the best of the best laptop in the market today, it will not be the best of the best in two years because computer processing power evolves a lot every year. Also, your computer will not be the same physically a few years after your purchase. So the least you can do is buy the laptop from the main manufacturer or a trusted retailer.

Most of those retailers will offer an extended warranty, so should you buy them? They are good to have, but you should not be concerned much about if you do not have the money. If they offer you a repair or replacement for a new laptop in case your computer goes bust in a few years (preferably in 4 years), it might be worth the buy. But suppose they are offered for a ridiculous price, such as more than a third of the laptop price. In that case, you should avoid them as most of those extended warranty options are very hard to claim because it costs the retailer money to fix or replace your computer.

You cannot avoid the computer slowing down no matter how delicate you are with the laptop. Still, you can definitely avoid physical damage by getting a computer sleeve and a backpack. Click here to see our sleeve and backpack recommendations on Amazon.


Overall these are the minimum specs you should be getting:

  • Minimum of 16 GB of RAM
  • Minimum of Core i5 or Ryzen 5 Processor
  • Minimum of 256 GB of storage
  • Minimum of 8 hours of battery life

If you have read this far, you should have enough knowledge to buy a laptop that can outlast your engineering course and help you pass all your exams.

You also can check our recommendations of the 10 best laptops you can buy this year for your engineering course.

Joseph Maloyan

Hi, this is Joseph, and I love writing about engineering and technology. Here I share my knowledge and experience on what it means to be an engineer. My goal is to make engineering relatable, understandable and fun!

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