Best laptops for engineering students 2021: powerful, portable notebooks

If you're an engineering student then these are the laptops we recommend

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Unlike the best student laptops, the best laptops for engineering students can't cut corners in terms of performance in order to keep the cost low. Engineering students need serious power from their portable in order to run essential 3D modelling and video rendering software such as AutoCAD, MATLAB and Solid Works in-between classes and lectures. And that means that a engineer's laptop needs a strong core specs suite.

As such, while our picks of the best laptops for engineering students do contain some great, well-priced systems that we feel most learners could afford to study on a university or college, they are nowhere near as budget friendly as some of our budget recommendations for non-engineering students. This is because we feel many budget systems aimed at students, while fine to bash out an essay in Google Docs, just won't cut it in terms of an engineering student's needs. Each laptop we recommend here has the specs to go the distance.

Away from raw performance we've also factored in a few other things we think engineering students need from their laptop. Battery life, for example, is really important, as the last thing anyone needs is their laptop shutting down in the middle of a build. Equally, portability is also important as while power is needed engineering students need to easily get to and from lectures and seminars, as well as set up shop easily in a library, coffee house or even canteen.

How do we know these laptops are perfect for engineering students? Because we've ranked and rated them ourselves, with the systems drawn from our best laptops, best 2-in-1 laptops and best lightweight laptops guides. These systems are among the best on the market in 2021, and engineering students heading to college and university should look no further.

The best laptops for engineering students

Dell XPS 13 best laptop for engineering students 2021T3 Best Buy Award badge

The best laptop for engineering students? That's the Dell XPS 13 (9310).

(Image credit: Dell)

1. Dell XPS 13 (9310)

The best laptop for engineering students for Windows users

Specifications
CPU: Intel Core i7-1185G7
Graphics: Intel Iris Xe
RAM: Up to 16GB
Screen: 13.4-inch Full HD+ LCD (1920 x 1200)
Storage: 512GB
OS: Windows 10 Home 64-bit
Dimensions: 198.70 x 295.70 x 14.80 mm
Weight: 1.2 kg
Reasons to buy
+Superb looks+Very strong hardware+Great display
Reasons to avoid
-Speakers are average-Limited ports

If you're and engineering student and you're a Windows user, too, then the best laptop for you to buy is the Dell XPS 13. Every year the Dell XPS 13 wows us and this year has been no exception, as evidenced in our Dell XPS 13 (9310) review. In the review we discovered the XPS 13 to be everything an engineering student could wish for while taking notes in class or completing coursework in-between seminars – it's powerful, portable, compact and has an impressive battery life, too.

It also comes equipped in its latest incarnation with the very latest 11th-gen Intel processors installed and up to 16GB of RAM installed, too, meaning everything from Netflix to intensive AutoCAD work is easily handled. The Intel Iris Xe GPU doesn't give the same sort of performance as a high-end Nvidia graphics card, but it still punches hard and complements the core specs well.

The XPS 13 doesn't let the side down in terms of screen, either, with a 13.4-inch FHD display with the super-thin bezels looking absolutely stunning. If you've got deep pockets you can spec the system out with a 4K screen, too, however we think that to most engineering students the Full HD screen will be plenty. Colors a deep and vibrant and detailing is pin sharp. The whole screen is also coated with Corning Gorilla Glass so it ain't going to crack or scratch easy, either.

Unsure which of our top two laptops for engineering students is right for you? Then be sure to consult T3's Dell XPS 13 (2020) vs Apple MacBook Air (M1, 2020) comparison feature.

Apple MacBook Air 2021 best laptops for engineering studentsT3 Approved badge

If you're an engineering student and a Mac user then the Apple MacBook Air M1 is your best choice.

(Image credit: Apple)

2. Apple MacBook Air (M1, 2020)

The best laptop for engineering students for Mac users

Specifications
CPU: Apple M1
Graphics: Apple M1
RAM: 8GB/16GB
Screen: 13.3-inch 2,560 x 1,600 pixel-resolution Retina display
Storage: 512GB SSD
Connectivity: 2 x Thunderbolt 4 / USB-C
Camera: 720p FaceTime camera
Weight: 1.29 kg (2.8 pounds)
Dimensions: 11.97 x 8.36 x 0.63 inches (30.41 x 21.24 x 1.61cm; W x D x H)
Reasons to buy
+Astounding power+Excellent build quality+Sturdy, luxe design+Giant battery life
Reasons to avoid
-More ports would be nice-Webcam still not great

As evidenced in our MacBook Air (M1, 2020) review, the latest MacBook Air is an absolute marvel of a machine, and perfectly suited to engineering students as a result.

The real star of the show is the M1 processor, which is just so ludicrously powerful and optimised that it is crushes rival CPUs in benchmarks with ease. It also packs in some seriously impressive graphics processing power, too, so right off the back you've got a system here perfectly equipped to heavy modelling, editing and rendering work.

You can spec the MacBook Air at purchase with 16GB of RAM, too, meaning you're covered in that department, and naturally for a MacBook you've also got a very tidy battery life, with this model stretching up to 15 hours in real world use (although expect a little less with hardcore AutoCAD work.

Comfort and usability is top-notch too – the keyboard and trackpad are excellent, it's a great size and weight to be portable, and the all-aluminium build is solid and feels premium. The sharp screen is also a pleasure to use, with a good level of brightness.

Basically, it ticks all our boxes for a great laptop for engineering students, and also comes with that premium Apple aesthetic, too.

Some of you may be thinking that you need even more power that this and, yes, we understand. The MacBook Pro is a thing and, if you can afford it, it is a quality system. However, from our testing the MacBook Air is the better buy. If you need more info you can check out T3's Macbook Air M1 vs Macbook Pro M1 comparison feature, though, to help you decide.

For our money, though, this is the best laptop for engineering students running macOS on the market today.

Dell XPS 17 best laptops for engineering students 2021T3 Approved badge

The best premium laptop for engineering students is the beastly Dell XPS 17.

(Image credit: Dell)

3. Dell XPS 17

The best premium laptop for engineering students

Specifications
Starting weight: 2.11 kg (4.65 lb)
Dimensions: 19.5 x 374.45 x 248.05 mm
Screen: 17.0" UHD+ (3840 x 2400) InfinityEdge Touch
CPU : 10th Generation Intel Core i9-10885H
GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 6GB
RAM: 64GB
Storage: 2TB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD
Reasons to buy
+Large, top-tier screen+Super powerful hardware spec+Superb Dell fit and finish
Reasons to avoid
-Very, very expensive

The Dell XPS 13 above is a brilliant system for engineering students, but if you like the Dell aesthetic but feel you need a larger, more powerful system that takes the word premium to a whole new level, then you're going to want to check out the beastly Dell XPS 17.

At top spec the XPS 17 delivers what is among the best screen on any laptop, ever, in the form of a 17-inch UHD+ (3840 x 2400 resolution) InfinityEdge Touch panel, which also comes with an Anti-Reflective coating. The screen, in partnership with tiny bezels, means real estate is bountiful and thanks to the Ultra HD resolution, everything on it is absolutely pin sharp. It is truly a stunning display and trust us when we say this, it will be ideal for engineering software usage.

The XPS 17 continues it dominance with a top hardware spec that will make any tech enthusiast drool. We're talking a monstrous 64GB of RAM in conjunction with an insanely rapid Intel Core i9 which makes even 8K video editing and any sort of engineering rendering work an absolute doddle.

Need to spend time on your course working in Photoshop? Well, you can edit huge TIF files side-by-side without the Dell XPS 17 breaking sweat. And an Nvidia GeForce RTX2060 6GB ensures that modern AAA games are crushed while also providing loads of support grunt for rendering and processing, too.

Throw in the rest of the typical Dell package, which includes a fantastic fit and finish, excellent connectivity options, a built-in webcam and microphone, a stereo woofer and multiple speakers and a full fat copy of Windows 10 Home 64-bit, and it becomes easy to see how this laptop will serve its engineering student for years to come.

Dell Vostro 5515 laptop for engineering students

(Image credit: Dell)

4. Dell Vostro 5515

The best budget student laptop

Specifications
CPU: AMD Ryzen 7 5700U
GPU: AMD Radeon Graphics integrated
RAM: 16GB
Storage: 512GB SSD M.2
Screen: 15.6-inch FHD (1920 x 1080)
Battery: 4-Cell Battery, 54WHr (Integrated)
OS: Windows 10 Pro 64-bit
Reasons to buy
+Huge discount right now+Strong all-round system+Dell heritage
Reasons to avoid
-Boring aesthetics-GPU isn't very powerful

As we said above in our introduction, we feel engineering students absolutely should spend a bit more on their laptop than most students as they absolutely need strong core performance from their system. Simply put, they can't compromise on that.

That's why right now we're recommending the Dell Vostro 5515 over at the official Dell store as our best budget engineering student pickup. It's massively discounted right now, and that means a system loaded with an AMD Ryzen 7 5770U processor with integrated Radeon graphics, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD. 

The Vostro 5515 also comes with a 15.6-inch FHD 1920 x 1080 screen, 4-Cell 54WHr battery, and full fat copy of Windows 10 Pro 64-bit.

The integrated graphics card here is the weak point, as it is not top tier, but everything else about this system is strong and fast. If you can get this system discounted then its absolutely worth it if you're shopping on a budget.

LG Gram 17 best laptops for engineering students 2021T3 Approved badge

Want a super lightweight choice of laptop? Engineering students should check out the LG Gram 17 2021.

(Image credit: LG)

5. LG Gram 17 (2021)

The best lightweight laptop for engineering students

Specifications
CPU: Intel Core i7-1165G7 (2.8 GHz, Turbo up to 4.7 GHz, L3 Cache 12MB, 28W)
Graphics: Intel Iris Xe Graphics
RAM: 16GB LPDDR4X 4266MHz
Screen: 17-inch IPS WQXGA 2560 X 1600
Storage: 256GB SSD
Weight: 1.35kg (2.98lbs)
Dimensions: H x W x D = 26.01 x 38.02 x 1.78 cm (14.97 x 10.24 x 0.7 inches)
Reasons to buy
+Fantastic 17-inch screen+Lightweight, stylish design+Plenty of battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Not a touchscreen-Pricey

As you can discover in T3's full LG Gram 17 review (2021), the reason why you choose this laptop to go to college and study engineering is, first and foremost, because despite it coming with a 17-inch screen it weighs only 1,350 grams (that's just under 3 lbs). It also measures in at a super thin (26.01 x 38.02 x 1.78 cm), make it incredibly portable.

It's a portable superstar, but that doesn't mean its hardware spec lets it down, with an Intel Core i7-1165G7 processor, Intel Iris XE graphics chip, 16GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD on board. The battery life is also impressive, and is definitely good for all-day study sessions and MATLAB work.

We think the LG Gram 17 is great and, if that wasn't enough proof that this is system to scope out, then also consider that it recently won the hyper prestigious Best Laptop award at the T3 Awards 2021.

HP Spectre x360 best laptops for engineering students 2021T3 Approved badge

The HP Spectre x360 is a beautiful, flexible, premium 2-in-1. It's perfect for engineering students who need hybrid functionality.

(Image credit: HP)

6. HP Spectre x360 (2021)

The best 2-in-1 laptop for engineering students

Specifications
CPU: 11th-generation Intel Core i5 – i7
Graphics: Intel Iris Xe
RAM: 8/16GB
Display: 13.3" FHD (1920 x 1080) IPS BrightView micro-edge WLED-backlit multitouch – 13.3" diagonal 4K (3840 x 2160) UWVA BrightView micro-edge AMOLED multitouch
Storage: 256GB to 2TB SSD
Reasons to buy
+11th Generation Intel processors+Touchscreen functionality+Superb battery life+Beautiful 2-in-1 design
Reasons to avoid
-Pricey compared to similar spec rivals-Limited connectivity

Rounding up our list of the very best laptops for engineering students is the beautiful HP Spectre x360 (2021), which delivers premium 2-in-1 functionality.

It delivers this thanks to a superb core spec that includes 11th generation Intel Core processors, buckets of RAM, loads of storage space and strong graphics performance in the form of Intel Iris Xe.

The fit and finish of this hybrid is also right up there, rivalling Apple's M1 MacBook Pro in our mind. The keyboard is superb, too, and the screen is bright and clear. As the screen is a touchscreen panel, naturally it also unlocks illustrating, marking up and designing with a digital stylus.

The HP Spectre x360 (2021) is also capable of 13 hours from a single charge, meaning it delivers genuine all-day usage performance.

How to buy the best laptop for engineering students for your needs

The first thing you should ask yourself when looking for a laptop for engineering students is just how much power you think you'll need. Different courses and programs have varying software requirements, such as AutoCAD, MATLAB and Solid Works, for example, and depending on the types of projects you're going to be working on, you're likely going to need a fair bit of rendering and processing power.

That comes from the core hardware suite of the laptop, so we're talking CPU, RAM and SSD storage, but also ideally from a dedicated GPU. Buying a laptop with a dedicated GPU can have massive benefits as a lot of rending and processing can be outsourced to them in many engineering software programs, speeding up rendering and production times by orders of magnitude. After all, the last thing a student wants is to wait for hours on end in-between classes with their professor just because their system is underpowered.

Here at T3 we think the base level spec an engineering student should consider is an Intel Core i5 processor (or AMD equivalent), along with 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. This should ideally then be combined with a dedicated GPU from Intel, AMD or Nvidia. If we were to recommend a spec for an engineering student laptop, though, then we'd likely bump the processor up to an Intel Core i7. Obviously, the more RAM you can afford the better (32GB or 64GB is ideal).

In terms of graphics card, Intel GPUs should be considered the entry level, and ideally a system with a 20 or 30-series Nvidia RTX card would be on the cards. Indeed, that's why engineering students who are also passionate gamers should consider one of the best gaming laptops as a system, too, as they often come loaded with advanced graphics cards like these. They are, though, admittedly not quite as portable.

Robert Jones
Robert Jones

Deputy Editor for T3.com, Rob has been writing about computing, gaming, mobile, home entertainment technology and more for over 15 years. You can find Rob's work in magazines, bookazines and online, as well as on podcasts and videos, too. Outside of his work Rob is passionate about motorbikes, skiing/snowboarding and team sports, with football and cricket two favourites. Feel free to contact him with any related products, events, and announcements.