The 9 Best Laptops for Engineering Students in 2021

Computational software is no match for these powerful machines

The Ultimate Laptop Buying Guide
The Ultimate Laptop Buying Guide
Introduction

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Engineering students demand a lot from their laptops: drafting in 2D CAD or 3D modeling programs like Blender, rendering models, and taking notes or attending online classes. They need laptops with tons of processing power, and there are plenty of options available with 10th or 11th generation Intel Core processors or AMD Ryzen CPUs.

Some laptops can be configured with up to 128GB of RAM for faster rendering and access to your most-used programs and files. For storage, students want to look for high-capacity options like SSDs or HDDs with 1 or 2TB of space to ensure that large render files can be safely and securely stored. Many newer laptops have built-in security features like infrared webcams or fingerprint readers for password-free logins and integrated encryption to prevent unauthorized access to files; this means you won't have to worry about roommates or strangers poking around your computer.

Video cards are another important feature when shopping for a new laptop for an engineering student. It has to have enough VRAM memory and power to handle both drafting and rendering, and many laptops geared toward engineering students come outfitted with Nvidia GeForce 16, 20, or 30 series GPUs. Battery life is king when it comes to laptops, so you'll want to make sure you won't need to memorize where all of the wall outlets are in your classrooms, libraries, and study areas. A typical laptop can last up to 8 hours on a single charge, while some can give you as much as 16 hours of use on a full battery.

We've rounded up our top picks from brands like Apple, ASUS, and HP and broke down their features to help you decide which is the best fit for your engineering coursework.

The Rundown
The 11-hour battery life means you'll be able to get through a full day of class and study time before needing to plug in.
The Acer Aspire 5 is a great, budget-friendly option that still packs plenty of power for rendering CAD and 3D models.
The 16-inch screen allows for touch inputs so you can use a stylus to draw, and the 4K resolution gives you incredible detailing.
The 2-in-1 form factor means you can use this model as either a traditional laptop or drawing tablet, making it easier to draft in CAD.
With the included stylus, drafting in CAD or in 3D modeling programs is fast and easy.
Best 17-inch:
Dell XPS 17 at Amazon
You can choose between a full HD or 4K UHD display, and both use Dolby Vision HDR technology for excellent detailing and color.
Best Mid-Range:
Acer Nitro 5 at Amazon
This laptop has tons of ports for connecting everything from mice and drawing tablets to extra displays and external storage devices.
The ASUS ZenBook 13 gives you up to 13 hours of use on a full charge, letting you work all day in class and well into the evening.
Through HP's website, you can custom-tailor this computer to perfectly fit your current and future coursework demands.

Most Popular: Apple 16-inch MacBook Pro (i9, 16GB RAM, 1TB SSD)

Macbook Pro 16-inc
What We Like
  • Highly configurable

  • Decent battery

  • Four USB-C inputs

What We Don't Like
  • Pricey

  • Not all CAD programs are compatible with macOS

The 16-inch MacBook Pro from Apple is one of the most popular choices for a laptop among engineering students and professionals. Apple offers tons of configuration options to suit your workload and needs, with either a 9th generation Intel Core i7 or i9 CPU, up to 64GB of DDR4 RAM, and up to 8TB of storage.

The inclusion of a solid state storage drive (SSD) means you'll have faster, more reliable access to your files and programs as well as faster boot times. And with so much RAM, rendering CAD and 3D models will take less time as well. The screen uses Apple's Retina Display technology for better detailing and color than previous MacBook models, and with a brightness up to 500 nits, you'll be able to work in almost any lighting environment.

The laptop is outfitted with four Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports for blazing fast data transfer speeds between your computer and storage devices, charging mobile devices, and even connecting external displays for when you need to multitask more efficiently. The 11-hour battery life means you'll be able to get through a full day of class and study time before needing to plug in.

Size: 16-inch | Resolution: 3072 x 1920 | CPU: 9th Generation Intel Core i7 or i9 | GPU: AMD Radeon Pro 5300M or 5500M integrated graphics | RAM: Up to 64GB DDR4 | Storage: Up to 8TB SSD | Touchscreen: No

Best Value: Acer Aspire 5 (2020)

What We Like
  • Budget friendly

  • Both SSD and HDD

  • Bluetooth

What We Don't Like
  • No USB-C inputs

Considering how much college can cost, you don't need a super expensive laptop to do well in your engineering courses. The Acer Aspire 5 is a great, budget-friendly option that still packs plenty of power for rendering CAD and 3D models.

It's outfitted with both an SSD and hard disk drive (HDD) for the best of both worlds. The SSD gives you faster boot times and more reliable access to files and programs, while the HDD gives you more space and better longevity for important programs and files.

It's powered by an AMD Ryzen 3 CPU and up to 16GB of RAM for plenty of power. The 16-inch display gives you full 1080p HD resolution so even small details look great. With Bluetooth, USB, and HDMI connectivity options, you'll be able to use everything from wireless mice and drawing tablets to external storage drives. And with a 7.5-hour battery life, this machine can handle a full day of class.

Size: 16-inch | Resolution: 1920 x 1080 | CPU: AMD Ryzen 3 3200U | GPU: Radeon Vega 3 integrated graphics | RAM: Up to 16GB | Storage: Up to 512GB SSD and up to 2TB HDD | Touchscreen: No

"It’s remarkably light for a budget laptop, the battery life is fantastic, and it’s capable of multitasking through word processing, web browsing, and other apps without breaking a sweat." — Jeremy Laukkonen, Product Tester

Acer Aspire 5 A515-43-R19L

Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen 

Best Splurge: Razer Blade 15 Studio Edition

What We Like
  • 4K touchscreen display

  • Powerful CPU and GPU

  • Integrated encryption

What We Don't Like
  • Very short battery life

For students and parents willing to spend more to get a top-of-the-line laptop that will last long after college is over, the Razer Blade 15 Studio Edition is the best option. This laptop is powered by an Intel Core i9-10875H CPU, 32GB of RAM, and a Nvidia Quadro RTX 5000 Studio Edition GPU, which will allow you to tackle everything from simple CAD blueprints to intricate 3D modeling.

The 16-inch screen allows for touch inputs so you can use any compatible stylus to draw, and the OLED technology and 4K resolution give you incredible detailing and color for more accurate modeling. The laptop has Bluetooth and USB-C connectivity options for using a wide range of peripherals, such as storage devices and external displays. With Wi-Fi 6 compatibility, you'll get blazing fast internet speeds. And you won't have to worry about anyone accessing your laptop without your permission or rooting around in your files, thanks to Windows Hello facial recognition log-ins and integrated encryption.

Size: 15-inch | Resolution: 4K | CPU: Intel Core i9-10875H | GPU: Nvidia Quadro RTX 5000 Studio Edition | RAM: 32GB | Storage: 1TB SSD | Touchscreen: Yes

Best Portable: Microsoft Surface Pro X

Microsoft Surface Pro X
What We Like
  • Long battery life

  • Lightweight

  • LTE and Wi-Fi

What We Don't Like
  • Keyboard and stylus are sold separately

The Microsoft Surface Pro X is the perfect laptop for commuter students. The 2-in-1 form factor means you can use this model as either a traditional laptop or drawing tablet, making it easier to draft in CAD. It also connects to the internet via Wi-Fi or LTE cellular data networks so you can stay on top of school work and class discussions with or without a Wi-Fi connection.

The battery gives you up to 15 hours of use on a full charge so you can be productive from breakfast to bedtime. The laptop has a 13-inch display and weighs just 1.7 pounds, making it small and lightweight enough to toss into a backpack and carry around all day without becoming cumbersome.

The Surface Pro X has several configuration options with SSD capacities from 128 to 512 GB and up to 16GB of RAM for plenty of power and storage. It's also compatible with the Surface Dial, which allows you to create custom inputs for drafting programs, making it easier to switch between functions with just a turn of the dial.

Size: 13-inch | Resolution: 2880 x 1920 | CPU: Qualcomm SQ1 | GPU: SQ Adreno 685 integrated graphics | RAM: Up to 16GB | Storage: Up to 512GB | Touchscreen: Yes

Best 2-in-1: HP 15t-eb100 touch

HP Spectre x360 15
What We Like
  • Long battery life

  • 4K

  • Stylus included

What We Don't Like
  • Pricey

Engineering students may need several different devices to complete their coursework, and the HP Spectre x360 helps to streamline your college student's workload. It features a 2-in-1 form factor that allows you to use it either as a laptop or tablet, and with the included stylus, drafting in CAD or in 3D modeling programs is fast and easy.

You can configure the Spectre x360 to suit your needs, including an SSD up to 2TB, different GPUs, and a 4K LED or AMOLED display. It's powered by an 11th generation Intel Core i7 processor for enough power to render just about any project. Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity ensures fast internet speeds and reliable wireless peripheral use, and the battery gives you almost 12 hours of use on a full charge.

Size: 15-inch | Resolution: 4K | CPU: 11th Generation Intel Core i7 | GPU: Intel Iris X integrated graphics/Nvidia GeForce MX250/Nvidia GeForce GTX1650/Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Ti/Nvidia GeForce MX330 | RAM: Up to 16GB | Storage: Up to 2TB SSD | Touchscreen: Yes

"The touchpad is oddly placed, and strangely elongated, but we found it to be nicely responsive while not picking up erroneous inputs from our palms while typing." — Jeremy Laukkonen, Product Tester

HP Spectre x360

Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen

Best 17-inch: Dell XPS 17

What We Like
  • 4K display available

  • Great GPU

  • Good security

What We Don't Like
  • 4K model has shorter battery life

If you prefer a laptop with a larger screen, the 17-inch Dell XPS is a great option. This laptop is built around a 10th generation Intel Core i7-10875H CPU and a Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 video card for more than enough power to render models. An M.2 SSD gives you up to 2TB of storage as well as ultra-fast boot times and access to your programs and files.

You can choose between a full HD or 4K UHD display, and both use Dolby Vision HDR technology for excellent detailing and color. Wi-Fi 6 lets you stay connected to class discussions and caught up with projects no matter where you are, and facial recognition software and a fingerprint reader keep your computer safe from unauthorized access.

There are four Thunderbolt 3 USB-C inputs to help you quickly transfer data from external storage drives, charge mobile devices, or connect an external display. The chassis is CNC machined from aluminum for precision and style, and the laptop is made of 90 percent recyclable materials so when you're ready to upgrade, there is an eco-friendly option for disposing of your old laptop.

On a single charge, the battery can give you up to 13 hours of use with the FHD display and almost 8 hours with the 4K, meaning you can get through a whole day of class worry-free.

Size: 17-inch | Resolution: Full HD or 4K | CPU: Intel Core i7-10875H | GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 | RAM: Up to 64GB | Storage: Up to 2TB M.2 SSD | Touchscreen: Yes

Best Mid-Range: Acer Nitro 5 (Intel Core i7)

What We Like
  • Wi-Fi 6

  • Nvidia GeForce RTX 30 series GPU

  • Decent battery

What We Don't Like
  • Heavy

  • No touchscreen option

  • No 4K option

The Acer Nitro 5 is marketed as a gaming laptop, but it's top-of-the-line hardware can be harnessed to become one of the best engineering laptops available. It's built with an 11th generation Intel Core i7 CPU that can be overclocked to 5.0GHz, up to 32GB of DDR4 RAM, and a Nvidia GeForce RTX 30 series GPU for all the power you need to render CAD drafts and 3D models.

You can choose between a 1080p full HD or 1440p HD display and either 15.6 or 17.3 inch screens for plenty of room for drawing programs, word processing, and web browsing for online class. This laptop has tons of ports, including three USB 3.2, a Thunderbolt 4 USB-C, and HDMI 2.1 for connecting everything from mice and drawing tablets to extra displays and external storage devices.

With Wi-Fi 6 compatibility, a built-in webcam, and dual mic array, you'll be able to tackle long online classes, video conferencing for group projects, and research for school work. Even considering all this power, the battery still gives you up to 9 hours of use on a full charge, letting you get through a whole day of class before needing to recharge.

Size: 15.6 or 17.3 inches | Resolution: 1080p or 1440p | CPU: 11th generation Intel Core i7 | GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 30 series | RAM: Up to 32GB | Storage: Up to 2TB SSD | Touchscreen: No

Best Battery: ASUS UX325EA-DS51

What We Like
  • OLED display

  • Pantone validated

  • Fast charging

What We Don't Like
  • No 4K option

  • Not touchscreen

Whether you plan on taking in-person or online classes, you'll need a laptop with a great battery to get you through a typical day. The ASUS ZenBook 13 gives you up to 13 hours of use on a full charge, letting you work all day in class and well into the evening before needing to plug in.

And if you do need to plug in, you'll get up to 60 percent battery in less than 50 minutes of charging—perfect for commuter students who forgot to charge overnight or on-campus students who need to charge during a lunch break.

The 13-inch display uses OLED technology and 1080p resolution for excellent detailing and true, deep blacks for better contrast. It's also Pantone validated for color accuracy and provides 100 percent DCI-P3 and sRGB color ranges. This means that whether you're drafting 2D or 3D models and mock-ups, you'll have some of the most accurate colors and shades available on a consumer laptop.

The laptop measures just 13 millimeters thin and weighs under 2.5 pounds, making it lightweight and thin enough to carry around on campus without becoming a burden. The two Thunderbolt 4 inputs let you quickly charge your laptop or mobile devices, transfer data, or have a more reliable connection to compatible external displays when you need more room to work.

The built-in infrared camera works with Windows Hello facial recognition software for password-free, biometric logins to keep your class work and computer safe from unauthorized access.

Size: 13-inch | Resolution: 1080p | CPU: 11th generation Intel Core i5-1135G7 | GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 256GB SSD | Touchscreen: No

Best Customizable: HP ZBook Fury 17 G7

HP ZBook Fury 17 G7
What We Like
  • Highly customizable

  • Touchscreen available

  • Great battery

What We Don't Like
  • Heavy

  • Some configurations are expensive

The HP ZBook Fury 17 G7 is one of the most customizable laptops on the market. Through HP's website, you can custom-tailor this computer to perfectly fit your current and future coursework demands. You can outfit this computer with up to 128GB of RAM, four M.2 SSDs, an HDD, an Intel Core i5, i7, i9, or Xeon W CPU, and either a 1080p or 4K display.

You can even choose what operating system you'd like: Windows 10, FreeDOS, or Ubuntu Linux. Depending on your configuration, you can get almost 16 hours of use on a single charge, letting you work almost two full class days before you even need to think about plugging in.

You won't have to worry about keeping your projects safe, either, with integrated encryption on your storage drives, a fingerprint reader, and an infrared webcam for biometric logins. 

Size: 17-inch | Resolution: 1080p or 4K | CPU: 10th generation Intel Core i5/i7/i9/Xeon W | GPU: AMD Radeon RX 5500M/PRO W5500M or Nvidia Quadro T2000/RTX 30, 40, 50 series | RAM: Up to 128GB | Storage: Up to 10TB | Touchscreen: On select configurations

Final Verdict

The MacBook Pro 16 (view at Amazon) is one of the most popular laptops for students. It's highly configurable with up to 8TB of storage, and with four Thunderbolt 3 inputs, you'll be able to connect all your peripherals. The Acer Aspire 5 (view at Amazon) is a more budget-friendly option that has a 16-inch screen for plenty of room to work, and both SSD and HDD for tons of storage.

About Our Trusted Experts

Taylor Clemons is a tech writer who has written for IndieHangover, GameSkinny, TechRadar, The Inventory, and The Balance: Small Business. Taylor specializes in computers and their components, operating systems, and gaming console hardware.

Jeremy Laukkonen is a tech writer and the creator of a popular blog and video game startup. He is a consumer technology expert, including laptops geared toward student use.

FAQs

What do engineering students need in a laptop?

Engineering students need a lot of RAM, drive storage, and a decent graphics card to be able to use most CAM or CAD software packages. They should also choose a laptop that is lightweight enough to easily carry to class or the library. Battery life is another important factor to consider, so choose a model that allows you to get through a typical class day before you need to plug in.

Can a laptop have both an SSD and HDD?

Yes! There are plenty of options out there for laptops that have both a traditional HDD and an SSD. You can use the SSD for the boot drive for faster loading times and the HDD for file storage. Hybrid models can be pricey though, so make sure to shop around to stay within your budget.

Is an SSD better than an HDD?

"Better" is subjective. SSDs offer faster boot and program loading times over traditional HDDs. Because SSDs use flash memory, there aren't any moving parts to worry about getting damaged. However, SSDs can be fairly expensive, especially at higher capacities, so you have to balance your budget with your laptop storage needs.

HP Spectre x360 15t Touch Laptop

Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen 

What to Look For in Laptops for Engineering Students

Storage Capacity and Processing Power

Drafting programs can produce some hefty file sizes when working on projects, so you'll want to make sure your new laptop has enough storage for 2D and 3D modeling and drafting files. Some laptops can be configured with HDDs or SSDs with capacities up to 8TB. You'll also want a higher-end CPU powering your new laptop to make sure rendering your projects doesn't take all week. AMD Ryzen and 10th or 11th generation Intel Core processors will give you plenty of power to handle class work.

Screen Size

Drafting and 3D modeling on a tiny screen can be frustrating. You risk losing details that can make final renders look terrible or be downright wrong. While a 13-inch screen will be serviceable, you may want to spring for a 15- or 17-inch display to make sure you have plenty of room to work.

Peripheral Compatibility

Engineering students will need to have a plethora of peripherals at their disposal such as styluses, drawing tablets, and external storage drives. If you want to use a stylus, choose a laptop with a touchscreen. If you want to connect secondary displays, look for a laptop with HDMI or USB-C/Thunderbolt inputs for more reliable connections.

HP Spectre x360 15t Touch Laptop

Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen

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