Studying engineering is infamously arduous, but is picking the perfect engineering laptop even more strenuous? Without some guidance, you may be asking yourself the same question.
Browsing highly-ranked laptops for engineers can feel like decoding a foreign language. You’ll find a lot of fancy words and various combinations of capitalized letters strung together.
This laptop offers UHD display, while that one handles VR applications. But wait! The one over there is the G752VS OC Edition and offers 8GB Nvidia GTX 1070 GPU and state of the art NVMe SSD.
If those labels haven’t completely lost you, then may the gurus of hyphenation bow down to you. But for those of us just getting started in the engineering field, all these programs and features sound like a secret system of codes.
The good news is, as technology develops and more work gets moved to the cloud, the market for high-end engineering laptops is shrinking. Storage is no longer a confusing mess of hard drives and external CDs.
RAM and GBs matter less because the cloud can do the heavy lifting. Web applications work more efficiently because the CPU isn’t weighed down.
Don’t worry, we’ll review all these terms later.
However, this illusive cloud doesn’t eliminate all variables when comparing laptops.
Engineering laptops are a unique debacle for laptop designers. The work done by engineers requires heaps of memory, graphics horsepower and top-notch visuals.
Throw being a student into the mix, and all of a sudden you’ve got to deal with the realities of balancing tuition bills with textbooks and technological expenses.
To make it simple, I’ve compiled a list of the seven basic features to keep in mind while searching for the perfect engineering laptop as a student.
The processor of your laptop is known as the CPU, or central processing unit. This is essentially the brains of the computer. It’s in charge of interpreting and carrying out commands from your computer’s hardware and software.
CPUs are measured by their clock speed. Essentially, this is how quickly the processor can interpret and execute commands in any given second. The higher the clock speed, measured in GHz, the faster the computer will run.
The CPU is not the only factor that dictates how fast a laptop runs. We’ll look at more influences later on in this article. However, it is one of the key components.
Engineering students will be downloading many power-demanding tasks to their laptops, such as video editing and equation editors. The higher the GHz of the processor, the more quickly and efficiently the laptop will run.
The CPU itself is an internal component of the laptop, meaning it’s inserted into a socket in the motherboard. Therefore, when purchasing a laptop, you’ll want to find one that already has the CPU you’re looking for.
The Intel Core i7 is a top choice CPU for a student’s engineering laptop. The processor can handle power demanding tasks, like gaming, video and film editing, CAD, and much more. Intel Core i7 packs the lightning-speed transfer of Thunderbolt 3 technology, and allows users to seamlessly edit and share 360 videos. This is ideal for the high number of software programs required in engineering classes. Recently Ryzen 8-core processors started to appear as well.
While the CPU is the brains of the computer, it’s not flawless. In fact, the CPU can hit a wall—meaning it reaches its physical limitations in terms of clock speed and how effectively it can cool down after processing information. For a CPU to maintain accuracy, it’s best to purchase a laptop with multiple cores.
What is a core? A core is where the processor receives its instructions and executes calculations. Therefore, the more cores your laptop has, the more space the processor has to do its job without exceeding its physical limitations.
On an engineering student’s laptop, the CPU will be performing a higher number of tasks with an increased amount of software. With more cores on the laptop, the speed and effectivity of the laptop remains constant.
The ideal amount to look for in a student’s engineering laptop is 4. The bare minimum is generally considered to be 2.
Memory refers to the information your computer stores for immediate use. It operates at a high speed and allows the computer to quickly access data.
Every time you double-click on an app or open a document, you are using memory. This data disappears immediately when the computer is turned off.
Memory is not to be confused with storage—the permanent data on your computer. But we’ll discuss that term later.
The best form of memory for an engineering laptop is RAM, or random-access memory. RAM works by reading or writing data items at almost the same time, regardless of the data’s location in the memory.
The higher the amount of RAM on a laptop, the more quickly you can work with larger files.
Basic computer processes, such as Microsoft Word, don’t require a high amount of memory. However, the extensive amount of software used in engineering classes requires more memory footprints to generate the data.
A higher RAM will keep these programs running fast. Big databases, big image files and big apps = problems no more!
In the engineering world for students, 16GB of RAM is considered an adequate amount of memory.
Also, keep in mind that some laptops will not allow you to upgrade your RAM after you’ve purchased it, so make sure you buy a laptop with the appropriate amount of RAM, or double check that it’s upgradable.
While memory refers to information that disappears as soon as your laptop turns off, storage is all the goods that stay on your laptop forever. Sounds more intimidating than it really is.
Think of storage as all those emails and documents that you save, or programs like CAD and CAM that you download on your computer. Storage has a high-capacity memory and doesn’t function as instantaneously as memory.
For an engineering laptop, Solid State Drive, or SSD, is the way to go.
Say goodbye to hard disks, CD-RWs and DVD-RWs, as these will just slow down the processing of information on your laptop.
The biggest difference between an SSD and other storage methods is how the data is stored. Other storage methods use magnetized disks where speed is dependent on the rotation of these disks. SSD, on the other hand, has no moving parts. Data is stored in memory modules and can be accessed very quickly, irrespective of where they are.
SSD reads speeds that are close to 10GB/s.
When downloading big files, programs, and software to your engineering laptop, you’ll need a storage system that can handle the high capacity and still deliver lightning speeds.
The essence of engineering is creativity. Students will be using their laptop to design, manipulate and share graphics. Therefore, having high-quality laptop display and graphics is crucial.
However, since portability is key for students, having a laptop with the biggest screen isn’t necessarily the best option.
One needs to consider size, resolution, screen type and graphic processor while balancing the need for mobility.
The following are three key features to consider for optimum laptop display and graphics.
Resolution refers to the number of pixels on the display. Amounts are listed by the number of pixels across the screen by the number down the screen.
A higher resolution guarantees greater detail in the images on the screen, as well as increased work space.
The ideal amount for an engineering laptop is 1920 x 1080. The more the merrier, but the price tag will go up exponentially with the increase in pixilation. For the standard programs used in engineering classes, 1920 x 1080 will work adequately.
Screen type refers to the technology used for the LCD panel (transmissive, transflective, or reflective) as well as the coating over the screen. Both of these affect how images appear.
The two primary screen types are TN and IPS. TN is the most commonly used and least expensive. Its strongest feature is that it offers the fastest refresh rates. This makes TN a popular choice amongst gamers who deal with fast-moving images.
However, TN has narrow viewing of angles and colors, meaning there is less cover displayed overall.
IPS has better control over the light that passes through it. Therefore, it offers higher color and viewing angles than TN. The disadvantage here is that IPS runs slower refresh rates and tends to be more expensive.
For engineering laptops, IPS is generally considered the better alternative. While it runs slower than TN, it offers superior image quality for everyday-style work and image editing.
A graphics processor is also referred to as a GPU, or graphic processing unit. This computer chip performs rapid mathematical calculations to accelerate the creation of images. Simply put, a GPU is an efficient way to manipulate images on your computer.
A GPU works alongside the CPU—quick refresher, that’s your computer processing unit, or the brains of your computer. The GPU offloads some of the tasks from your CPU so that the CPU can work more efficiently.
Remember that discussion about cores? When a laptop runs only with CPU, the cores of the memory can handle only small sequences of instruction at a time. The GPU, on the other hand, is made up of hundreds of cores. What this means is your laptop functions faster and more effectively.
Clearly, in the engineering field, this is an important feature.
Search for a laptop that offers GPU alongside its CPU.
As a student, warranty is essential. Nobody wants to buy a laptop that requires them to go to the store several times a year for repairs. And let’s face it, laptops receive a fair amount of wear and tear through the constant lugging around campus, combined with the transfer from backpack to desk.
Ideally, find a laptop with 3 years warranty + accidental damage.
You’ll study better knowing that an expensive piece of merchandise is protected from the unpredictability of college life.
I get it—being a student isn’t cheap. Chances are your pockets aren’t overflowing with bountiful green bills to disperse while frolicking around campus.
You want a laptop that gets the job done, but at an economical price.
Of course, the more features you tag on, the more the price is going to increase. Thankfully, many universities are understanding of the high price tags on these number-crunching, processing machines.
It’s common to find engineering programs that offer remote options for particular applications, i.e. certain programs can be downloaded for free from the university, or students can use computer labs on campus.
With that in mind, the perfect laptop within your budget might not do it all. Don’t stress if there aren’t twenty different hyphenated features next to the edition name. Save yourself some money and go buy textbooks instead.
To summarize the important features discussed above, keep the following points in mind when purchasing a laptop as an engineering student.
Intel Core i7 is one of the top choices for a high-speed processor.
Choose a laptop with 4 cores. If not possible, choose no less than 2.
16GB of RAM (Random-Access Memory) is the top choice for memory.
An SSD (Solid State Drive) offers the best in terms of storage.
When choosing laptop display and graphics, go for 1920 x 1080 resolution, IPS screen type and a GPU (Graphic Processing Unit) to go along with the CPU.
A warranty of 3 years + accidental damage is ideal.
And when it comes to affordability, don’t spend all your college savings on this one item. Universities have tools to help you succeed even if your laptop doesn’t have all the cool gadgets and gizmos.
Marcus has a graduate degree in computer engineering and has many years of experience in cutting-edge technology research and development in both startups and Fortune 500 corporations. In his free time, he enjoys RTS gaming.
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