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Best Laptops for Engineering Students (2021 Guide)

CG Director Author Alex Glawionby Alex Glawion   /  Updated 
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Best Laptops for Engineering Students (2021 Guide)

Being an engineering student in college can be quite an undertaking.

In a place where the next deadline might decide what your future holds, a top-performing laptop can keep you ahead of your peers, and at times, save you and your grades.

Today, we’ll be going over the best laptops for engineering students. First off, we’re going to show what components of a laptop are crucial for engineer-related work.

We’ll reference industry-standard programs and their preferred specs and will look at specific laptop- (and PC-) components that these programs utilize the most.

While you may need a powerful laptop that can cope with your work and render your projects quickly, both having enough battery life to last you the entire day, and mobility that actually lives up to its name is just as important.

Our Picks

If you’d just like to take a quick look at what we recommend, here’s the short overview of our Best Laptop for Engineering Students:

#1 Best Laptop For Engineering Students, The All-Rounder:

Lenovo Legion 5 – Lenovo’s Legion 5 has all the components an engineering student needs, including a GTX 1660 GPU for good measure.

#2 Best Laptop for Engineering Students, The Budget Option:

Lenovo Flex 5 – The Lenovo Flex 5 is both affordable and fast with an AMD 4500 series CPU that can handle a fair amount of rendering and simulation.

#3 Best Laptop For Engineering Students, The High-Performance Option:

Asus Zephyrus G14 – The Zephyrus has some of the best-performing components in a laptop that you can buy on the market, ready for even the most complex engineering workloads.

For more in-depth info on what to keep an eye out for, read on.

What types of engineers is this guide for?

Although I am not an expert engineer, computers and laptops are my specialty and I can tell you which typical engineering software will demand the most performance from your laptop.

Now, here’s a list of workloads and typical applications that engineers use regularly for work. There’s a high chance you’ll encounter these programs in college and during your career, so make sure the laptop you buy has no trouble running these:

  • Design Software – Designing 3D models, structures, or concepts are essential workloads for engineers. CAD (Computer-Aided Design) programs like SOLIDWORKS and AutoCAD are typical examples of this.
  • Simulation Software – FEA (Finite Element Analysis) or CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) programs, like ANSYS simulate situations on your design. These simulations help engineers find weaknesses in their design.
  • Coding Software – Engineers are not immune to using IDEs (Integrated Development Environment) to code. In college, common languages include C(#), Java, and Python.
  • Math Software – As an aspiring engineer, you’ll be doing an obscene amount of math. Programs like Mathcad and Wolfram Mathematica allow you to do complex mathematics on a document or calculate other forms of math easier.

If you want to be thorough, ask some professors, alumni, or already enrolled students and see what software students typically use in your college.

After that, check the hardware requirements of those programs to get a baseline of required performance.

However, the laptops we’re suggesting will perform extremely well across most of these programs.

So, how do you pick a laptop as an engineering student?

Laptop vs. Desktop

A quick note on how a Laptop compares to stationary Desktops:

Gigabyte Cooling a Laptop

Cooling, Heatpipes and Radiators for cooling the components of a Laptop – Image-Source: Gigabyte

Comparably priced Desktops will always outperform laptops for one simple reason: Size.

Desktops have more room to fit better hardware components that are more powerful and need larger and stronger cooling.

Case Airflow

Image-Source: Corsair

Though, of course, having a laptop you can carry around between classes is something you can’t live without as an engineering Student. Once you start a career after your studies, though, keep in mind that if you need the best performance possible, a desktop PC is the way to go.

Anyway, let’s get back to Laptops:

Mobility

Mobility is the most important feature when buying a laptop vs. a desktop.

With a built-in screen, keyboard, trackpad, and battery, having a laptop means you can work anywhere. Also, with most modern laptops, you can go an entire day without needing to recharge.

Many laptops are small and lightweight, though, so how do you know you aren’t sacrificing performance for mobility?

Laptop Size

Bigger laptops can house larger components, like a bigger battery or Graphics Card, making them more powerful, easier to cool, and longer-lasting (battery-wise).

The smaller a laptop becomes, the easier it will be to carry but the less performance it can usually house.

Though, because you can in fact have smaller laptops that perform similarly to larger laptops (when it has been well-designed by the manufacturer) be sure to always compare internal specifications to make an informed decision and not just, size.

A Laptop’s physical dimensions are usually closely tied to its screen, so you’ll find Laptops to be categorized by screen size, rather than dimensions.

While a 13’’ screen will usually be found on a small Laptop that is extremely lightweight and easy to carry around, these benefits come with a very little screen real-estate that can be too small for a lot of engineering work.

We recommend at least a 15.6’’ screen, which provides the best balance between weight and screen size.

A 17’’ is a great choice if you rarely carry your laptop with you or don’t mind the extra weight, and want the extra screen real-estate or more powerful components that tend to come with a big laptop.

Weight

There are a lot of contributing factors to weight. Bigger laptops generally weigh more than smaller ones, but some smaller laptops are actually heavier because of their material properties.

You should also take into account that bigger laptops will have bigger batteries, which might require a heavier external PSU.

Laptop Battery Weight

The laptop weight you see on the spec sheet does not account for the weight of the PSU or its cable, so make sure to look for some pictures that show all of the laptop accessories you might need to carry around with you throughout the day on campus.

Battery Life

What’s more annoying than bringing a heavy laptop charger? Not finding a power outlet to plug it into.

You’ll find that being able to use your laptop for more than 8 hours a day without having to recharge it is a blessing.

While manufacturers often advertise a battery life of 10-12 hours, these “Battery-life tests” are usually taken with someone just browsing the internet.

The more resource-intensive your activity is, the faster it will drain your battery. When looking for a laptop with a long battery-life, make sure that the benchmark used is something that’s resource-intensive.

You’ll be surprised as some laptops’ batteries will last just 3-4 hours, if you’re rendering a project, doing some simulation or using other resource-intensive software.

Peripherals

Although your internal specs power your laptop, your peripherals are just as important. There are a plethora of things here that you can consider, but these mostly boil down to personal preference:

Laptop Panel

Laptop display panels typically come in two types. The IPS (In-Plane-Switching) panel, which gives the best color display and contrast ratio and the TN (Twisted Nematic) panel, which update pixels on your screen faster.

TN vs IPS Monitor Panel

Unless you are working on projects that demand high color accuracy, a TN panel is usually more than enough for your needs.

If you find that you’ll be working outside with a lot of sunlight, you’ll want to focus on getting a laptop panel that has higher nit values.

Nit is the standard unit of luminance that’s used to describe how bright a screen can be. Anything close to 400 nits will give you decent visibility, even in bright daylight.

Keyboard

As an engineering student, you’ll be more worried about writing reports than doing a lot of work on 3D models.

This is especially true for your first two years of college, where you’ll be learning more of the basics rather than applying them to software.

Personal taste matters a lot when choosing your keyboard and my recommendation is to personally go to the store and test out the feel of the keyboard.

You’ll find that some Software, such as CAD or Math Applications can benefit from having a Numpad, which will usually make you a lot faster if you do a lot of calculations or need specific hotkeys.

Trackpad (Mousepad)

Although an external mouse is much more efficient, it can get tiresome to carry around very quickly.

Some students just prefer having their laptop on their laps, with their trackpad as a mouse – especially when you don’t have a table or other space to place your mouse.

Because using a Trackpad depends a lot on your personal preference, we recommend to go to a store near you and try a couple of them personally, to get a feel for what types of trackpads might be the best for you.

Performance

Finally, on to the good stuff! What makes your laptop run, and what makes it run fast? A top-performing Laptop for your specific workloads doesn’t have to be expensive.

Processor (CPU)

Your CPU is typically more important than your GPU as an engineering student.

CPUs are in charge of calculating everything you do on your computer. Most engineering software, like CAD programs (TinkerCAD, AutoCAD, SOLIDWORKS), require a lot of computational power. A powerful CPU will be crucial for your laptop’s performance.

The most important metrics of a CPU are its Clock Speed and Number of Cores.

As an engineering student, you will be using a lot of simulation and rendering programs, especially FEA programs like COMSOL and SimScale.

These programs will benefit more from a high clock rate (3.0GHz and above) than a high number of cores. I suggest getting a CPU with at least 2 cores that are clocked as high as possible.

AMD Ryzen vs Intel CPU

Here are some high-performing CPUs to look out for in a laptop.

AMD:

  • AMD Ryzen 9 4900HS
  • AMD Ryzen 7 4800H
  • AMD Ryzen 5 4500U

Intel:

  • Intel Core i9-10980HK Processor
  • Intel Core i7-10875H
  • Intel Core i7-10750H
  • Intel Core i5 – 10300H

Most CAD and FEA software will explicitly state if they are more CPU or GPU reliant together with the CPUs that they support.

If you end up getting a CPU that is unsupported, this only means that the support team of that program will be unable to assist and troubleshoot your problems. Unsupported CPUs will still work with CAD or FEA programs.

Graphics Card (GPU)

Your graphics card (GPU) is in charge of all visual computation and outputting this onto your screen.

GPUs fall under two categories: integrated and dedicated.

Many laptops come with an integrated GPU that’s directly built into the CPU. Integrated GPUs are limited to light tasks like browsing, watching videos, and some low-end games.

Dedicated graphics cards are an entire component on their own, and therefore much more powerful. They are capable of video editing, 3D rendering, graphics design, and often, high-end games.

But here’s some good and bad news.

The good news is that engineering students don’t usually need a strong GPU unless you have specific workloads that are optimized for this.

The bad news is most engineering applications officially only support a handful of dedicated GPUs and graphics cards are one of the most expensive components in a laptop.

For example:

Other video cards can still run these programs, but the software vendor’s support teams will not help you with troubleshooting when you use unsupported graphics cards.

Unless you have plans to play games on this laptop, you can skip getting a powerful GPU. We’ve talked a lot about “Professional” or “Mainstream” GPUs in our PC-Building articles and what PC works best for CAD programs.

Memory (RAM)

For a lag-free experience, get a laptop that either has a lot of RAM or can be upgraded with more RAM.

Having more RAM will let you open and run more programs and processes at the same time. CAD programs like SOLIDWORKS or AutoCAD and FEA programs like Ansys will require at least 16GB from your laptop to run smoothly.

Although 8GB can still work, there will be obvious performance drops.

The laptops we’re recommending can be bought in 16GB of RAM, with the higher-end laptops going up to 32GB. Unfortunately, other laptops might come with only 4GB or 8GB of RAM.

If you’re getting these, make sure you have the option of upgrading the RAM to 16GB.

Storage

Fast storage lets your laptop boot up faster, transfer, locate, and access files quicker, and will make your laptop faster overall.

Now, there are three types of storage devices that are used in desktops and laptops:

  1. HDD (Hard Disc Drive)
  2. SSD (Solid-State Disc)
  3. NVMe SSD (Non-Volatile Memory Express SSD)

All three types have their own pros and cons. It’s important to balance both speed and overall storage capacity when deciding on which of these you’ll want in your laptop.

The HDD

The Hard Disc Drive (HDD) is the standard, old-fashioned storage type that comes as a baseline option for most PCs and laptops.

Getting an HDD (Hard Disc Drive) is the most affordable storage option, as the cost per terabyte comes to around $22.

That said, the low cost of an HDD comes with a caveat: HDDs are comparably slow. You can expect HDDs to read and write up to 180 MB/s.

The faster option is to buy a laptop with an SSD (Solid State Disk).

The (SATA) SSD

SATA SSDs are several times faster than HDDs, though they are significantly costlier. At around 550MByte/s, they are 3-5 times faster than your average HDD. You’re looking at a cost of about $100 per Terabyte of SSD space.

Even though they are more expensive, they are a lot faster than an HDD.

Booting your OS or launching an application from an SSD can be done in seconds. Engineering Software such as CAD and FEA programs will benefit from this the most, especially since these programs can take up to a minute to launch on regular HDDs.

The (M.2) NVMe SSD

An NVMe SSD is twice as expensive as a SATA SSD, but more than 6 times faster. At about $200 per terabyte, NVMe SSDs reach sequential read and write speeds of over 3000 MB/s.

Even though NVMe SSDs are usually a great way to speed up your Laptop, unless you are working with large data, it is not entirely necessary for engineering students. . NVMe SSDs are best used if you’re constantly moving large files, like video footage or heavy project files.

Picking an OS

Windows and Linux are the leading operating systems for engineers across the field.

Almost all engineering software (CAD, FEA, CFD, and others) are incompatible with Macs.

Our recommendation is to stick with a Windows 10 Laptop, as almost any software will be compatible with it. If you are used to working with Linux or on Macs (OSX) be sure to check the Software requirements, as not all engineering applications support these OS’s.

External Connectors

External connectors are essential parts of a laptop for any engineering student, especially for aspiring electrical engineers.

USB Ports

There’s a big chance that you’ll be plugging Arduino boards and other devices you want to program into your computer during college. Arduinos needs USB Type-A ports to hook up to your laptop.

A lot of laptops will have phenomenal specs, but often only have USB Type-C support. If you don’t want to carry a dongle or adaptor with you all the time for your Arduino boards, do consider getting a laptop with at least 2 USB 3.0 Type-A ports.

Display Ports

Presenting your report to your entire class is something you can expect as a college student. Most universities will have a beamer/projector ready for you, but this can be limited to either HDMI or even VGA.

Your bag might already be full of chargers, power banks, and wires. If you want to avoid carrying an adaptor or a dongle, shop around for a laptop that has both HDMI and VGA ports.

Though since VGA is a comparably old standard and the plug is quite bulky, you’ll often only find it on larger, heavier laptops.

Our Picks: Best Laptops for Engineering Students

The All-rounder: Lenovo Legion 5

Lenovo Legion - Best Laptop for Engineering Students - Allrounder

This is the best laptop all around for engineering students. With a 15.6’’ screen and 16GB RAM base model, Lenovo’s Legion 5 Gaming laptop is fast and provides a good amount of screen real estate.

You even have the option of upgrading your RAM to 32GB if necessary.

The battery life is lackluster at an advertised 5 hours, so expect that you’ll be bringing your charge cable around. However, with an AMD Ryzen 7 4800H processor, you can expect this laptop to handle heavy programs with ease.

The Legion 5 has a GTX 1660Ti for a graphics card, with 6GB of VRAM, which is impressive for its price. The laptop also comes with a 512GB NVMe SSD and both USB Type-A and Type-C ports.

If you’re into gaming, Lenovo’s Legion 5 comes with a 144Hz refresh rate panel for the best gaming experience.

Unfortunately, at 5 pounds (2.26kg), It’s not the most lightweight laptop. All things considered, though, the Legion 5 is a great all-rounder laptop for engineering students.

As a bonus, the Numpad is readily available for your math & calculation endeavors.

The budget choice: Lenovo Flex 5 14″ 2-in-1 Laptop, 14.0″ FHD

Lenovo Flex 5 - Best Laptop for Engineering Students

The Lenovo Flex 5 is the best budget laptop for engineering students. Create designs and take notes thanks to the foldable design and the Active Pen that comes with the Lenovo’s 2-in-1 laptop.

You get more than enough bang for your buck with a 14’’ screen and up to 16GB of dual-channel RAM (DDR4 3200MHz).

The Lenovo Flex 5 is both affordable and mobile, coming with an Active Pen that you can use to jot down notes or sketch designs directly onto the screen. The laptop comes with a touch screen, which is a nifty feature when showing 3D models and projects to your peers in tablet mode.

Inside the Lenovo Flex 5 is an AMD Ryzen 5 4500U Processor with a base clock speed of 2.3GHz and a turbo of up to 4.0GHz. The CPU has 6 cores, which is more than enough for standard CAD, FEA, and CFD programs like SOLIDWORKS and AutoCAD.

Packed inside is a Radeon Vega 6 GPU, which is decent for low-end games.

The laptop provides a 256GB M.2 NVMe SSD and comes with both 2 USB Type-A and 1 USB Type C port! External displays can be connected through the built-in HDMI port.

The Lenovo Flex 5 has a backlit keyboard, which is helpful for college students that work under bad lighting conditions.

The Lenovo Flex 5 comes pre-installed with a Windows 10 Home operating system. All in all, this laptop is very budget-friendly and perfect for engineering students.

The High-Performance choice: Asus Zephyrus G14

Lenovo Flex 5 - Best Laptop for Engineering Students - High-End

Asus did a phenomenal job on the Zephyrus G14, which has some of the best components in a laptop despite being slim and lightweight.

First off, the Zephyrus G14 has a Ryzen 9 4900HS CPU that Asus and AMD collaborated on, so it would work inside this laptop. Add to that an RTX 2060 GPU from NVIDIA, and you’ve got a powerhouse of a laptop at the ready.

Like all the laptops we recommended, the base model comes with 16GB of RAM but can be upgraded up to 32GB.

Although it’s much stronger than the all-rounder Legion 5, the Zephyrus G14 is lighter at 3.6 pounds (1.6kg) making it easier to carry around the campus.

Stop worrying about storage space, Asus packed a 1TB NVMe SSD into the Zephyrus G14. The 14’’ display has an impressive 120Hz refresh rate, which is ideal for some gaming on the side.

Conclusion: Best Laptop For Engineering Students

As an engineering student, you’ll need a laptop that can keep up with your demands.

A slow laptop is no fun and will negatively affect your performance as an engineering student.

Although the laptops we recommended and many others are labeled as “gaming”, the term is loosely added by laptop companies to target the large demographic of gamers.

Gaming laptops are simply laptops with some serious hardware components, that you as an engineering student can benefit from too – not just gamers.

That’s about it from my side! Let me know in the comments or in the forum if you have questions.

Find a new friend on the CGDirector Forum! Expert Advice & PC-Build Planning with a warm and friendly Community! :)

Alex Glawion - post author

Hi, I’m Alex, a Freelance 3D Generalist, Motion Designer and Compositor.

I’ve built a multitude of Computers, Workstations and Renderfarms and love to optimize them as much as possible.

Feel free to comment and ask for suggestions on your PC-Build or 3D-related Problem, I’ll do my best to help out!

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Comments
Also check out our Forum for feedback from our Expert Community.

Karol

Hi guys! I am currently looking for a new “universal” laptop. Universal due to the fact that it would be my only? machine for probably quite some time so I would love it to be as versatile as possible. I am studying for an engineering degree now. That means a lot of programming, some virtual machine work, a bit of 3D CAD work and lots of internet search (multiple web tabs open at the same time). At the same time, from time to time I would like to play some games with my friends (or alone). Could you help me with some of your laptop picks? Rn I am researching Asus Zephyrus G14, HP Omen/Spectre/Vistus/Envy, Lenovo LEGION. Any other ideas, or should I just go with one of those ones? Cheers

Alex Glawion
Alex GlawionCGDIRECTOR

We often recommend the Lenovo Legion as it is a great mix between performance and price. It’s mainly targeted at gamers, but this does not mean you can’t do any professional work on it 🙂 The Zephyrus as well is a great Laptop though it’s missing a numpad which can be cumbersome for some Dev and 3D Work. I’d stick with the current-gen Legion and pick the specs that fit your budget.

Cheers,
Alex