The best laptops for engineering students: Best overall, most portable, and more

There are a ton of laptop deals now that back-to-school season is in full swing. If you’re an engineering student, you’re going to need a machine that can handle resource-intensive coursework. A powerful CPU and loads of memory and storage are an absolute must. Portability is an important factor too, especially if you’re going from class to class. If you’re not sure where to begin your search, don’t sweat it. We’ve assembled a list of laptops that are perfect for engineering students, as they’re both powerful and portable. Read on to learn more.

[Looking for something different? Check out our picks for the best laptops for college students!]

Updated 10/13/2022: Check out our latest review of the Lenovo Slim 9i. A premium ultraportable that comes with a gorgeous 4K OLED display, sleek thin design, and strong performance. However, all of these features make it a bit pricey. Also be sure to take a look at our recent review of the Lenovo ThinkPad Z16. Our reviewers were impressed with its attractive and sturdy design and long battery life, but it a few issues hold it back from being a truly great value.

Dell XPS 17 (2022) – Best overall

Pros

Solid performance for the price

Massive, bright, colorful display 

Offers four Thunderbolt 4 ports 

Long battery life

Cons

Heavy and thick 

Mediocre keyboard

Lacks USB-A, HDMI, or Ethernet

RTX 3060 is the quickest available GPU


Best Prices Today:


$2949.99 at Best Buy

The Dell XPS 17 has a lot going for it. You’re getting blazing-fast performance, a vivid display, and long battery life. The laptop also offers four Thunderbolt 4 ports. For internal components, it’s rocking an Intel Core i7-12700H CPU, an Nvidia RTX 3060 GPU, 32GB of RAM, and 1TB of SSD storage. That’s a ton of memory and storage, which is a good thing if you’re using a lot of resource-intensive programs. We had a few nitpicks with the machine, however.

The XPS 17 weighs over five pounds, so it’s a real beast. The keyboard is less than impressive, as the keys feel shallow and the bottoming action is rather springy. It’s expensive, too. If you can live with those minor shortcomings, the XPS 17 is a phenomenal choice. According to our tester, this laptop “delivers solid results across the board.” That goes for both CPU and GPU performance.

Read our full
Dell XPS 17 (2022)review

Acer Aspire 5 (2022) – Best budget option

Pros

Plenty of ports

Strong specs

DIY upgrade options

Cons

Short battery life

Mediocre keyboard 

No biometric login


Best Prices Today:


$799.99 at Amazon

If you’re looking to save some cash, the Acer Aspire 5 is a worthy choice. According to our reviewer, it packs a lot of “RAM and SSD space for not a lot of money.” Engineering students need quite a bit of memory and storage in order to effectively run software like Java and Python. It features an Intel Core i5-1235U CPU, Intel Xe integrated graphics, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB of NVMe PCIe SSD storage. There’s also a wide range of connectivity options and you can upgrade the memory by removing the back panel. While the battery life and keyboard leave little to be desired, we feel the pros far outweigh the cons. This is a fantastic pick for the budget-conscious student, that’s for sure.

Read our full
Acer Aspire 5 (2022)review

Acer Swift 5 (2022) – Most portable

Pros

Sturdy, compact design

Hi-res 14-inch display with 16:10 aspect ratio

12th-gen Core i7 delivers strong performance

Long battery life

1080p webcam

Cons

Terrible touchpad

So-so speakers


Best Prices Today:


$1499.99 at Acer |
$1,499.99 at Amazon

Need a lightweight laptop to take with you to class? The Acer Swift 5 will surely fit the bill, as it weighs a little under three pounds. It also has a compact design, a 1080p webcam, and impressive battery life. The 14-inch display is “bright and spacious” thanks to the 16:10 aspect ratio and 2560×1600 resolution. Under the hood, you’ll find an Intel Core i7-1260P CPU, Intel Iris Xe integrated graphics, 16GB of RAM, and 1TB of PCIe NVMe SSD storage. The only real knock we have against this machine is the undersized touchpad. However, it’s not a deal-breaker, as you can always plug into an external mouse. It’s a charming little laptop that’s both zippy and travel-friendly.

Read our full
Acer Swift 5 (2022)review

Lenovo Legion 5 Pro (2022) – Best for gaming

Pros

Attractive, durable design 

Pleasant keyboard and touchpad

Plenty of wired and wireless connectivity 

Excellent game performance

Competitive pricing 

Cons

Processor performance is midpack 

Display is bright, but lacking in color performance

Speakers can sound muddy

The Lenovo Legion 5 Pro offers awesome gaming performance, a diverse range of port options, a durable design, and much more. The pricing is also competitive and it can easily handle schoolwork as well as late-night gaming sessions. But let’s dive into the most important aspects: the guts!

This laptop is rocking an Intel Core i7-12700H CPU, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 Ti GPU, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB of SSD storage. Our tester claimed the laptop “screamed at 148 frames-per-second” while running the intensive Rise of the Tomb Raider benchmark. As for the 16-inch display, it has a resolution of 2560×1600 and a maximum refresh rate of 165Hz. The screen is definitely bright, but it’s not as vibrant as others we’ve seen. If you’re looking for a versatile laptop that can do it all—work and play—look no further than the Legion 5 Pro.

Read our full
Lenovo Legion 5 Pro (2022)review

HP Pavilion Plus 14 – Best display

Pros

OLED display is gorgeous

Sleek, all-metal chassis

Strong multimedia performance

Cons

Woeful battery life

Onboard memory can’t be expanded post-purchase

Low contrast between keys and key symbols

If you’re an engineering student, chances are you’re going to be spending a lot of time staring at a screen. You might as well invest in a good one then, right? Well, the HP Pavilion Plus 14 has a gorgeous OLED display. The 14-inch screen has a resolution of 2880×1800, a 16:10 aspect ratio, and a 90Hz refresh rate. According to our tester, the display produces “incredible contrast and deep blacks” as well as a “sharp picture” overall. As for the internal components, it has an Intel Core i7-12700H CPU, Intel Iris Xe graphics, 16GB of RAM, and 1TB of PCIe NVMe SSD storage. While we loved the superb display and durable all-metal chassis, we weren’t thrilled with the short battery life and the low contrast between the keys. Nitpicks aside, this is a great pick if you suffer from eye strain and tension headaches.

Read our full
HP Pavilion Plus 14review

How we tested

The PCWorld team puts every Windows laptop through a series of intense benchmarks that test GPU and CPU performance, battery life, and so on. The idea is to push the laptop to its limits and then compare it against others we’ve tested. Below, you’ll find a breakdown of each test and the reasons why we run them.

Windows laptops

PCMark 10: The PCMark 10 benchmark is how we determine how well the laptop handles general use tasks like web browsing, word processing, spreadsheets, streaming, and so on.HandBrake: HandBrake is more intensive than PCMark 10. It measures how long a laptop’s CPU takes to encode a beefy 30GB file.Cinebench: Cinebench is a brief stress test of the CPU cores. It renders a 2D scene over a short period of time.3DMark: 3DMark checks if 3D performance remains consistent over time by running graphic-intensive clips. This is how we test a gaming laptop’s GPU.Video rundown test: To gauge battery life, we loop a 4K video using Windows 10’s Movies & TV app until the laptop dies.

FAQ

1.

How much processing power will I need?

You’re going to need a good amount of processing power for engineering tasks, so we’d recommend an Intel Core i5 or higher. However, an Intel Core i7 is considered ideal. This type of processor is good for multitasking, gaming, and demanding workloads.

2.

Is RAM important?

Absolutely! The amount of RAM directly impacts the speed of your programs. Engineering students will likely be living in programs like Java and Python, so making sure those programs run smoothly is absolutely vital. The bare minimum we’d recommend is 8GB, but 16GB is better.

3.

What about storage?

You’re going to need quite a bit of space for a slew of engineering programs, so we’d recommend at least 512GB of SSD (solid state drive) storage. If you want more space and have the budget for it, go for 1TB of NVMe SSD storage.

4.

How much should my laptop weigh?

You don’t want to be lugging a five pound beast from class to class. A portable laptop should weigh about three pounds or less. In terms of portability and value, we suggest buying a laptop with a 13- or 14-inch display.

Laptops

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