Best Laptop for Cyber Security Students and Professionals [2021 Reviewed]

An Overview of the Best Laptops for Cyber Security

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Hi there! In a rush? Don’t want to read the entire article? That’s okay! We’d be happy to let you know that after careful considerations, we’ve chosen the Lenovo ThinkPad E15 as the best laptop for cybersecurity due to it’s awesome features and fantastic price!

Introduction

As Cyber Security students and professionals, your studies and jobs are way more specific when compared to those practicing engineering or basic Computer Science. You would expect to learn coding as well as Cyber Security-specific software, therefore, your computer usage and needs will be very different as well.

Choosing an Operating System for your computer is up to you when it comes to coding. However, for penetration testing and similar tasks, we would recommend using a Linux distribution like kali or parrot-os. You will most likely be running a single computer with two different operating systems. Choosing the perfect computer for cyber security, however, can be a really challenging task, especially for those who aren’t well aware of modern computer trends.

This article will help you determine what you need to look out for when purchasing a laptop so that you can make an informed decision.

RAM and storage are probably the most important aspects when purchasing a laptop. Not only is the combination vital for your day to day tasks, a fast computer is a must for running virtual environments such as VMware. For most people, 8 GB is more than enough, however, for cyber security professionals we would recommend at least 16 GB of RAM, if you want everything to run smoothly. If you want to future proof your laptop you can also go for 32 GB, but it’s not necessary.

Other than heavy programs, you’ll also be storing personal stuff and coursework documents if you’re a student. Having at least 512 GB will make sure that you don’t run out of storage anytime soon. Moreover, if you have an external storage device like a Harddrive or SSD, then that’s also really beneficial, not only for having extra space but also to have a copy of your work handy at all times.

If your budget doesn’t allow for 16 GB memory or 512 GB storage, then make sure that your laptop has a good upgrade path so that it doesn’t become obsolete anytime soon. Having a good upgrade path is necessary since you want to invest in a device that lasts you a while.

Lastly, we would like to discuss MacBooks. The debate about MacOS vs Windows vs LINUX is a really long one and depends on personal preference. They’re awesome machines, but also cost a pretty penny! if you have a limited budget then it is a good idea to go for a Windows machine. Macs don’t provide you the same bang for your buck when compared to Windows laptops. However, if you have the money and you’re already used to working on Macs then there is no better choice than a MacBook!

Top 3 Laptops for Cybersecurity Students and Professionals

Lenovo ThinkPad E15

The first laptop on our list is the Lenovo ThinkPad E15. The ThinkPad series of laptops are made to be durable and reliable machines that will last you many years. This is also the reason they are used by a lot of professionals. The E15 offers some amazing specifications for the price, while also providing the amazing ThinkPad exclusive features we all love.

The processor found on the E15 is the Intel 10th Gen Core i5-10210U with UHD 620 (4 cores 8 threads, base clock speed 1.6GHz, max turbo to 4.2GHz, 6MB L3 Cache). We would’ve wanted a better processor for the price, but this is still really powerful. Modern CPUs have come such a long way that you won’t even notice the difference between an i5 and i7 when it comes to daily tasks. It will definitely be more than powerful enough to run any virtual machine or text editor you desire. The integrated UDH 620 graphics should also be sufficient for some light gaming.

You get a 1TB SSD, which should be plentiful for almost everyone. All of your books, programs, and media files together won’t even be able to fill up the entire storage. With this much, you most likely won’t even need an external storage device, which will further save you money.

Along with that, you get 32 GB of DDR4 RAM. You can upgrade it to 64 GB if you desire, but you will probably not have to since 32 GB should be enough for all kinds of workload for the foreseeable future.

Since the display is an important part of the laptop which you are looking at all the time, it should be good looking. Fortunately, Lenovo has included a high quality 15.6″ Full HD (1920×1080) TN Anti-glare 220 nits Display. It produced sharp images and excellent colors. You won’t have any problem using it under harsh sunlight either since it’s a 220 nit panel, with an Anti-glare coating to further aid your viewing experience.

A trend that we have seen on modern laptops is that they try to make them really thin and sleek as those kinds of laptops are more aesthetically pleasing so more people would want to buy them. As a result of that, many sacrifices have to be made, one of them being the port selection. Luckily, Lenovo has not made this mistake, since their ThinkPad series is targeted towards a productivity-focused audience.

With the E15 in particular, you get 1 x USB 3.1 Gen1 Type-C, 2 x USB 3.1 Gen1 (1 always on), 1 x USB 2.0, 1 x HDMI 1.4b, 1 x Ethernet (RJ-45), 1 x Audio Combo Jack and a charging port. The USB-C port, in particular, supports Thunderbolt3 which means that you can use it for charging and even to hook up an external 4K(3840×2160) monitor.

We are pleased with the overall selection as you get all the necessary ports to attach external devices. Along with that, there are many other features that make this laptop a much better deal. For example, you get a Finger Print scanner for secure access, Windows 10 Pro and an HDMI cable included, a webcam with a shutter for privacy, and a pretty nice keyboard, although the keyboard isn’t backlit.

You even get a lot of ThinkPad exclusive features such as the TPM 2.0 hardware security, the iconic red dot cursor, and the Kensington® lock slot.

The dimensions of this laptop are 14.48 x 9.64 x 0.74 inches and it weighs 4.30 lbs, which makes it a slightly bulky device when traveling. Lenovo claims that you get a 12.5 hours battery life and in real-world usage, you can expect to get closer to 9 hours, which makes it an easy all-day laptop. You even get the option of a 65W Rapid Charge Functionality if you want to quickly top up your battery.

What We Liked
  • Great build quality and reparability
  • 1 TB SSD included
  • 32 GB DDR4 RAM upgradeable to 64 GB
  • Amazing display
  • Excellent port selection
  • Amazing privacy features like Webcam shutter
  • Great battery life
  • Option to fast charge
What We Didn’t Like
  • Slightly underpowered processor for the price
  • No backlit keyboard
  • A bit heavy

Apple MacBook Air

A lot of technical people, especially those involved in Computer Science, prefer Macs over anything else. They are undoubtedly great machines if you get the right specifications. We will be particularly talking about the MacBook Air with the M1 processor. The “Air” lineup is meant to be a bit more budget-friendly version of the MacBook Pros. Both of them provide similar experiences, therefore a lot of people gravitate towards the Air. Apple has greatly improved and revolutionized their MacBooks, which is part of the reason why we were so eager to put one of them on our list.

The M1 processor is a new series of ARM-based CPUs that Apple manufactures itself. The same ARM architecture is used on iPhones and iPads, and since they are unarguably the best performing devices in their categories, people had high hopes for the new MacBooks as well. Although it should be mentioned that ARM isnt resitricted to just Apple, they are the ones who are industry leaders when it comes to this technology.

The MacBook Pro and Air have the same processor with the only difference being that the M1 on the Air has two of its cores disabled. The reason for this is that the Air doesn’t have any fans so this is done to maintain the temperature and avoid thermal throttling. The fact that both the Air and Pros have the same processor just goes to show how powerful these processors really are!

For context, they compete with and even in some cases manage to outperform the 10th generation i7 processors found on the MacBook Air. They even manage to outperform the 10th Generation i9 in some use case scenarios. These processors are so powerful that they even manage to keep up with modern desktop-grade CPUs.

We mentioned that the MacBook Air doesn’t have any fans. It’s probably the only high-end laptop to not have so. One would expect that its thermal performance would take a hit from it and it actually does. This can be seen as it starts to dip in performance much sooner than the MacBook Pro. However, despite that, it still manages to perform on-par with Windows alternatives when it comes to Thermals. Having fans would’ve been beneficial, but in order to differentiate it from the MacBook Pro and to keep it thin and affordable, we think that it’s an acceptable decision. Clearly, these chips are revolutionary when it comes to performance.

Another great advantage of ARM-based processors is their energy efficiency. Usually, ARM processors consume much less energy than their x86 counterparts therefore they have much better battery life. This can be the fact that the Air can last for as long as 18 hours on a single charge which is by-far the best battery life we have seen on any laptop. What’s even more impressive is that the Pro can last 20 hours, which is absolutely insane!

Both the MacBook models can easily last 2 to 3 days without any problem which is unseen from any other modern laptop. Despite all the great things we said about ARM there is still one thing that some may be a bit apprehensive about and that’s app compatibility. ARM CPUs are pretty new so they are not fully compatible with all applications.

Luckily, MacBooks are popular enough for developers to quickly adapt. Apple has introduced an emulation process that allows non-native apps to run on these machines. It’s called Rosetta 2, which is named after Rosetta which was first introduced when Apple computers shifted from PowerPC to Intel x86 a long time ago.

As for the storage and RAM, you get 16 GB and 512 GB respectively. Luckily both of these are super-fast as you get a very fast SSD, as well as LPDDR4X RAM type at 3733 MHz, which will make the overall PC experience much smoother. This should be enough for most users; however, the downside is that neither of them is upgradable.

Apple has made sure that all their devices, including the MacBook, aren’t user serviceable. This means that if you run out of storage a few years down the line, you would either have to install an external storage device or have to just live with it. It also means that if you run into a problem with your device, you’ll have to directly take it to Apple rather than fix it yourself or have a 3rd party do the repairs.

The display on the MacBook Air is absolutely gorgeous. Their 13.3 inches, 2560 by 1600-resolution Retina displays are pretty much the best in the market considering that they look the best and the sharpest. Not only that, they have amazing color accuracy as they cover 25 percent more than the sRGB Color Gamut. Color accuracy doesn’t matter that much when it comes to Cybersecurity, but if you plan on doing Graphic Design on the sideline then this can be a great asset. Moreover, having a good-looking display enhances the overall user experience.

A major disadvantage that MacBooks have is their lack of ports. You only get 2 USB-C ports, although these are high-quality since they can be used for charging as well as attaching external displays. You’re almost definitely going to have to buy an external dock to get access to more ports.

There are a few additional noteworthy features that are MacBook exclusive which may determine your purchase decisions. For starters, they have the best trackpads on any laptop. The keyboard is backlit and feels pretty good to type on. You also get the option to instantaneously wake up your device from sleep, which is a feature that was introduced just this year and is only found exclusively on the M1 MacBooks. Lastly, MacOS in itself has many amazing features like seamless integration with other products from the Apple ecosystem.

The dimensions of the MacBook Air are 11.97 x 8.36 x 0.63 inches and it weighs 2.85 pounds which makes it a really thin and light device, perfect for portability. The design of this laptop is a bit boring since you get the same old design that’s being used for the last 4 or 5 years, but since most of Apple’s resources were focused on making the ARM architecture work perfectly, which they did so successfully, we think that this forgivable especially considering it’s not a bad design and that the build quality is pretty good.

What We Liked
  • One of the best performances on any laptop
  • High quality and quantity RAM and storage.
  • 18 hours of excellent battery life
  • Amazing display
  • Instantaneous waking up from sleep
  • Excellent trackpad
  • Amazing backlit keyboard
What We Didn’t Like
  • Non-upgradeable storage and RAM
  • Difficult to repair
  • Only 2 USB-C ports
  • Slightly boring design
  • High Price

Asus ZenBook 14 Ultra-Slim Laptop

The last laptop on our list is the Asus ZenBook 14. It offers some pretty decent specifications for the price, as well as a lot of unique features that makes it worth looking into. This is meant to be an UltraBook laptop, so you’ll see a lot of such elements like a thin and light design.

For the processor, you get an Intel Core i7-10510U. It right about what you would expect from a processor in this price range. It’s a bit more powerful than the i5 found on the ThinkPad but not as powerful as the M1 chip on the MacBook. Regardless, it’s still a really powerful processor that can easily handle anything you throw at it.

You even get a GeForce MX250 dedicated GPU. It’s not a super-powerful GPU, so don’t be expecting to play games at 4k 60 FPS, but it just helps perform graphic related tasks a bit smoother, and also ensures that your laptop doesn’t become obsolete in the next few years. For Cyber Security students and professionals, it will probably not affect your work greatly, but if you wish to do some graphically intensive tasks then it will be useful.

You also get a 512 GB SSD, which is upgradeable to 1 TB. Most people will probably be fine with 512 GB, but it’s good to see that you have the option to upgrade if you want to. We would recommend using an external storage device instead of upgrading the internal one if you ever need to so that you don’t have to go through the hassle of opening your laptop.

Sadly, the RAM is not upgradeable. You do get a plentiful 16 of DDR4 memory, which shouldn’t provide any problems in the coming few years, but we would’ve still like to have the option to upgrade so that you can use your device for a bit longer.

The display on this laptop is one of the highlighting features. It’s a 14-inch 1080p panel which is absolutely stunning to look at. Moreover, the bezels are really small, at a 92 percent screen to body ratio, which makes the viewing experience very immersive. This display is arguably better than that found on the MacBook Air, although not as color accurate.

We previously mentioned how modern Thin and Light laptops remove a lot of ports just for the sake of making their device more aesthetically pleasing. Asus has managed to make this laptop sleep while also keeping a lot of the traditional ports that one might use on a day-to-day basis. The port selection may not be as extensive as the one found of the ThinkPad, but it’s certainly better than the MacBook’s as well as most other UltraBooks. You get 1 USB-A 3.1 Gen 2 port, 1 USB-A 2.0 port, 1 USB-C 3.1 port supporting ThunderBolt, HDMI, hybrid audio jack, Micro-SD card reader, and a DC charging port.

There are a few additional features that make this laptop a much better deal. The main selling point of this laptop is a second external display in place of the trackpad which can be used for shortcuts or better accessibilities to certain tools. A lot of people claim that it’s just a gimmick that actually hinders the trackpad usage, but that’s for the end-user to decide. Asus has even managed to fit a webcam in the small bezel which is something that a lot of other manufacturers skip out on. Another selling point for this device is an amazing design. It’s pretty durable and even looks good, while also maintaining the sleek form factor. The only downside is that the glossy aluminum finish is a fingerprint magnet.

The dimensions of this laptop are 12.60 x 7.80 x 0.70 inches and it weighs a bit less than 2.8 pounds. That makes it right on par with the MacBook Air when it comes to portability. You even get a pretty sizeable battery providing you 10 hours of battery life which easily makes it an all-day battery life.

What We Liked
  • Thin and light
  • Stunning design
  • Dedicated MX250 GPU
  • Upgradeable 1 TB storage
  • Good port selection
  • Excellent display
  • Good battery life
What We Didn’t Like
  • RAM is not upgradeable
  • The secondary screen is not useful

Final Words

We reviewed some amazing laptops, each of them are worthy of your money. Most Cyber Security Students and professionals should be fine with either of these laptops as they each have good performance, plentiful RAM and storage, and great battery life. We would still like to make your decision easier by choosing our favorite of the bunch as well as determine why you might or might not want to go for either of the options.

The first laptop we reviewed was the Lenovo ThinkPad E15. It’s a really well-built and reliable laptop as you get a ton of security features. The highlight is definitely the high storage and RAM capacities which are both upgradeable. These two things are probably the most important aspect of a laptop for people pursuing Cyber Security. It doesn’t skip out of necessary features either like an excellent port selection as well as reparability, which adds to the overall user experience that you get.

Next comes the Apple MacBook Air. It’s the most expensive device on our list, but it more than justifies its price tag with one of the best CPU performances as well as the best endurance on any laptop. If you are already well invested into the Apple ecosystem then this is definitely a no-brainer for you.

The last one on our list is the Asus ZenBook 14. It’s a typical thin and light laptop with some amazing features and performance. When looking at this laptop, you can think of this as a good MacBook Air competitor as both of these laptops are targeted towards the same general audience. It managed to hold its own against all kinds of competitors, that’s why we think that it’s an amazing device.

It’s finally time to choose the best laptop. According to our opinion, the best of the three laptops for Cyber Security has to be the Lenovo ThinkPad E15. It pretty much ticks all the right boxes like having great user serviceability, a well-built body as well as some pretty handy features. One of the only downsides with this machine is the i5 processor, but that shouldn’t be much of a problem since you won’t be needing any more processing power.

As for the MacBook Air, it has some amazing features and performance, the only thing is that it doesn’t offer the same bang for your buck that the others do. That along with the fact that you don’t have upgradeable RAM and storage makes this laptop take second place. It does have amazing battery life and performance, we would only recommend it if you are already heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem or are already well-adjusted with MacOS.

Lastly, the Asus ZenBook 14 is also another great choice. We believe that it can be the right laptop for the right person. The only reason we didn’t choose it is because it isn’t as productivity-focused as the ThinkPad since you don’t get upgradeable RAM and there are a lot of gimmicky features. We would’ve liked it if Asus focused better on the key features that these. But it also has better performance, design, and portability, so if you didn’t like the ThinkPad, you can go for this one instead!