Best Laptops for Computer Science Students

Gone are the days when you could show up to class with a pencil and a notebook. Today, anyone looking to pursue further education needs a reliable computer. If you are a STEM student, you need something with a little more power for writing code and running heavy programs. Along with longer battery life and optimal CPU speed, you could also consider things such as note taking where 2 in 1 laptops really shine.

As someone looking to enter a computer science program, you need something that has at least two cores in my opinion. The good thing is that there are many different options available, both with Intel and AMD. College can sometimes be a little intense, if you are someone who likes to play games then you also want to look for a decent graphic card. Fortunately, most modern computers come equipped with hardware that is viable for light gaming.

There are several different options which may cause confusion as to what model you should pick. Since the use case with vary between individuals, it is best to pick one that perfectly caters to your needs. So, without further ado, let us dig into a few different models and check out the best laptops for computer science students today.

Lenovo Thinkpad E595 Review

What can I say about Thinkpads? They are probably the best laptops for your money! I have always been a huge fan of everything Lenovo has produced. Even the older models like the T530 and the T430 are killer machines that are still being used to this date. The Lenovo Thinkpad E95 features a remarkable 15.6 Full HD (1920×1080) screen! Again, a definite plus for all of you CS students out there. Large screens = more productivity, period! You want something that is in between a desktop and a laptop screen. No point scrolling up and down a million times.

This machine has a killer processor on it as well. It comes equipped with a new refreshed AMD Ryzen 7 3700 APUs processor. Lots of power there! Even though the previous Ryzen 5 (3500 APUS) would have been sufficient for your needs but this one totally kills it in my opinion. If the fast processor was not enough for you, this laptop also comes with a 512 GB SATA SSD hard drive. Again, more space is what I always look for! Technology is one of those areas where you always have to self-learn a lot of stuff. Whether you want to install Python or any other programming/technical environment, you will always appreciate the extra space that will allow you to keep up your experimentation.

The battery on this machine, a 3 cell Lithium ion, allows up to 6 hours of battery life. This could have been better in my opinion, but Lenovo’s are such powerful machines they need more frequent charging. You do have access to power sockets everywhere on campus, it is always good to know that you can wander around campus and plug in your machine for a quick charge during lunch break. You also get 16 GB of DDR4 RAM! Woohoo! Want to open multiple browser tabs at once? Like multi-tasking? Well there you go!

If you are someone who likes to do modifications to your machine, then you are definitely going to like that this laptop is very easy to open up. The back has about nine different small Phillip heads that are not hard to undo and you can pry open the back over.

Lenovo did have some BIOS issues running Linux in their previous E4 585 models, but those have been fixed with this model, the only thing you will need is a kernel parameter. The build on this laptop is exceptional! People have been raving on forums about the IPS display, great viewing angles on this screen.

Downsides? Not any significant ones other than the battery life honestly. Well, one thing I will tell you is that Thinkpads are extremely durable. They last for a very long time and have one of the best reputations of any laptop computers on the market. They are a bit heavier when compared to other modern laptops though, and they do not have the most creative design. Almost all of them look the same, so hard to distinguish what machine you have just by looking at it. But who cares about that?

PROSCONS
Sturdy Lenovo build, always exceptional!A little on the heavier side at 4.7 lbs.
Big 15.5-inch screen offers great visibilityBattery life is only 6 hours
Large 512 GB SSD HD and 16 GB of RAM 
Easy Linux installation 

Dell XPS 15 Review

This machine is an exception by Dell! It is a complete workstation which can run multiple IDE’s at the same time. It has a 15.6 inch 4K screen, extremely accurate colors and works really well in a bright lit class room, an absolute killer for all of you computer science majors. As a CS student, you have an incredible amount of workflow and this machine can handle it all! In addition to the larger screen size, it has about 6 – 8 hours of battery life when being used at optimal screen brightness settings and a decent workload.

A 9th Gen Core i7, 16 GB of RAM, 256 SSD hard drive, Fingerprint reader and a Nvidia GPU make this computer stand out from the rest of the machines available at this price. There is also very minimal Flex on the screen and keyboard due to the well-built aluminum chassis. I will be the first one to say that Dell has some mediocre laptops out there. They mass produce a lot of their machines and the quality control is not anything to talk home about, however, they have really stepped up their game on this one. The form factor, aluminum chassis, the OLED display panel and the overall build quality do come at a premium, but this laptop is built to last and perform at a very high standard.

The XPS 15 has many different ports, a comfortable keyword accompanied by a glass touchpad (fancy!) and comes with the Windows 10 Home Edition 64-bit pre-installed. It is very light weight at 4lbs which is where you do make a trade-off, it won’t perform like a super powered Lenovo workstation, but it is more modern, slick and you get a really good deal getting a slick machine which performs admirably.

Even though this machine is powerful, it is not built for gaming. Sure, it will be totally fine for some light gaming such as Starcraft or Overwatch, but if you try to push it playing some heavy duty stuff then the system will start heating up since it is not a gaming laptop.

 Another drawback with most Dell machines is that they come with a plethora of pre-installed Bloatware! When you purchase the machine brand new, you’re going to run your updates and stuff like with any other computer, but when you’re done with that the first thing you should do is to get rid of all those unwanted programs that will slow your computer down. It is really quiet an easy fix with a lot of programs available who will help you clear stuff out in under 30 minutes.

One good thing about Dell and especially the XPS 15 is that pretty much all of the configuration is easily upgradable. If you are looking to do more, you can jump on eBay and get really good deals on parts that can then be easily installed into your new machine. All in all, a pretty decent computer for the price. A solid workstation that is portable, slick and comes with a lot of computing power for all your classwork and extended projects that you can do on the fly with great visibility.

PROSCONS
Complete workstation for multitaskingNot suitable for heavy gaming
Awesome 4K display with a large 15.6-inch screenComes with preinstalled Bloatware
Strong build unlike other Dell Machines 
Extremely light weight (4lbs.) for a big laptop 

Acer Predator Helios 300

All of you college kids are young, bright millennials, and come from different backgrounds with diverse interests. Gaming is something that appeals to a large number of Computer Science students. I totally get it! Many of you also aspire to become game developers in the future. The Acer Predator Helios 300 is a laptop that packs a punch at an extremely affordable price for all game enthusiasts who are also CS students!

This machine has a 9th Generation Intel Core i7 processor and comes with a 512 GB SSD hard drive and 16 GB of RAM. There are two options when it comes to screen sizes, 15.6 and a massive 17.3 inches! This is what makes this selection extremely unique! It’s very hard to find machines these days that have screens in excess of 15 inches for a reasonable price.

The construction is immaculate, with the top, keyboard and palm area built out of metal and the bottom of the laptop made out of plastic. I think this is a really smart move on Acer’s part, this helps keep the computer sturdy while at the same time you also get the plastic bottom for ease of lap use while the machine doesn’t turn too hot.

Now the specs of this machine are definitely up to par with the two previous Lenovo and Dell laptops, but what sets it apart is the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1660 Ti Graphics card with 6 GB of dedicated GDDR6 VRAM! This kind of monster GPU can pretty much take whatever you would like to throw at it, and then some more. It will run anything at the max frame rate without causing any issues at all. Another amazing feature is that this Acer machine comes with an overclock setting which is already preconfigured, and you can activate it by a special button present on the keyboard. This does not limit you from doing your own overclocking.

Another great thing about this machine is that it also has the Intel GPU installed, and the computer keeps the fan quiet and conserves power by automatically shifting between the GTX 1660 and the Intel GPU! How cool is that?

With an awesome large Trackpad and a very nicely spaced backlit Keyboard, this machine is very comfortable and easy to navigate whether you are writing code or playing your favorite game. The battery on this version is also upgraded from its predecessor to provide 25% more battery life.

All in all, this machine is a beast, especially for this price point. In my opinion, it is probably the most affordable laptop with the highest specs there can be for playing high tech games without causing any issues. Now it is a gaming laptop and considering that, it has about a 6-hour battery life which is pretty decent for a laptop of this magnitude. Another thing that comes up with these machines quite frequently is that if you are into doing modifications, the back cover is quite hard to open. The screws are just really tight, and it is best to take it to a professional if you want to do any upgrades.

There are speakers present under the laptop and are really not that loud as compared to other machines. They are still fine if you are in your room gaming or working on your own, but this feature could really have been better! Other than that, this is a solid laptop that is a great effort on Acer’s part.

PROSCONS
Huge screen options 15.6 and 17.3 inchesHard to remove back cover
Dynamic GPU shifting featureSpeakers are not as loud
Preconfigured overclock setting 

Apple MacBook Air Review

I know there are a lot of diehard Mac lovers out there, and we all know that these computers can cost a lot of money! But for those who prefer Macs, and a more portable, smaller sized computer, this MacBook Air is an ideal choice. This machine comes equipped with a Quad-core processor and a 13-inch screen. While, most people like bigger screens, I know some computer science students will be totally content and used to working on a screen which is smaller in size.

While this computer does not have a touch bar like most of its predecessors, it does come with a touch ID. There have been lots of reports that as a MacBook ages, the touch bar starts having a lot of issues.

This MacBook air comes in three different colors and is extremely light weight at 2.8 lbs.! The best thing about Apple computers is that they beat every other machine with their awesome battery life! This machine has an average battery capacity that provides 11 hours of nonstop use. Wow! That is hard to beat with most modern windows machines out there.  And for all you music lovers, the MacBook Air also features Stereo speakers with surround sound.  The hardware specs also match up to the minimum requirements of an 8 GB RAM, and a 256 GB SSD hard drive, with an option to upgrade to 512 GB.

MacBooks are great for technical people in general. It is a native Unix based machine and programming environments are a lot easier to use on a Mac OS. It also offers great connectivity/integration if you have an iPhone (like everyone else 😊), an iPad or an iWatch.

Depending on your workload, you may have to download a ton of different programs such as PyCharm, Slack, Zoom, Virtual Boxes etc. as soon as you buy a new machine. It is stated in several forums online that sometimes laptops take a while to index and as a result the performance in the initial days is not up to par with the advertised specifications. Let me tell you that with this machine, you will notice that the performance is much better than most other laptops. The fans are much quieter when compared with other laptops handling a similar workload. You also have the option for running light games such as League of Legends.

All in all, this is a great machine for any college student! If you are in computer science, engineering, or any other STEM major, this will get the job done. Even if you think that you have a heavy workload, this machine will perform well, and you are probably never going to hear your machine or the fan struggle or heat up above seventy degrees.

Most programmers should be totally happy with this computer. Unless you are running a large number of virtual machines or many different instances of different IDEs, resulting in deploying or working on a project of a very large magnitude, this MacBook Air will do just fine! If you are one of those people who need to work like that, I would say that you should probably go for a MacBook Pro. But since this review is geared towards computer science students, this machine gets a definite green light!

PROSCONS
Great connectivity with other apple devicesSmaller 13.3-inch screen
Minimal heating even with heavy workloadsRequire additional steps to run windows programs
Extended battery life of up to 11 hoursNo touch bar (these go faulty after a while though)
Extremely lightweight at 2.8 lbs. 
Surround sound for music lovers 

ASUS VivoBook 15 Review

Right off the bat, the thing I love about this laptop is that it has a 15.5-inch 1080P screen! I know some people are used to smaller screens, but I find that when I am writing code myself, I really like to have a bigger screen since I can see a large portion of my code. It also has an i5 processor, while I personally prefer an i7, an this is the latest 10th generation i5 processor with 6M cache, up to 3.6 GHz. Pretty solid stuff I must say. You will not have trouble running any modern programs here for sure!

The laptop also comes with 8 GB of DDR4 RAM. If you are not sure what DDR4 is, let me tell you, that it is one of the best types of RAM your computer can have. Even though 8 GB is probably the least amount of RAM that I would recommend any computer science student to go with, you should also factor in that it is DDR4 (great consumption, performance, etc..).

You also get lots of space with a 512 GB SSD drive, you do not have to worry about deleting files, or if you want to install heavy duty programs that take up more space, then this is where you’ll benefit from it. Overall, even a 256 GB HD will suffice. But great to have more space.

Other advantages include backlit keyboard with great keystrokes, and a fingerprint sensor for people who like that kind of techie stuff 😊 I always like having sophisticated stuff on my machine. Just another thing to toy with. It also comes with Windows 10 preinstalled and features a full-size HDMI port. The Intel graphics card will also be a plus for gamers, although I would say more light gaming in this case.

The usual battery life for this laptop is about 6 hours, which is pretty decent for something in this price range. I

An issue that comes up with this laptop quite frequently is the TFT panel. Some people have complained that the screen does not have many good viewing angles. If you are in class then this is fine, even okay if you are sitting in the library. If you are someone who does a lot of visual work such as graphic design, then this may not be a good computer for that. If you also like to, for some reason, look at the computer screen from many different angles, then again this is not something that you should go for. Other than that this is a pretty good, solid budget friendly laptop that will get you through school pretty easily.

PROSCONS
BUDGET FRIENDLY!Not the best screen viewability from different angles
Large 15.5-inch screen and 512 GB SSD HD6 hours battery life
Light weight at 3.75 lbs. 

What should a Computer Science Student look for in a Laptop? (Hardware, Operating System, and other Considerations)

Specifications are always dependent on the kind of program you are in, the type of classes you take and so on. You do not want to be in a position where you have to go to the library and use one of their computers. At the same time you want to get a machine that is durable and is going to last you for a good while. With all this new tech coming out, you really do not need to keep switching your machine. Ideally, you want to get something solid that will stand the test of time and get you through your program without causing any issues.

 I am going to go over a few things below that you should look out for when choosing a laptop. Remember that this list is not exhaustive, but it will give you a pretty good idea of what you should aim for in your next machine

Operating System

Computer science students primarily run Windows OS computers and most of the times also have Linux installed as dual boot. If you do not want to install the Linux as a standalone OS, you can also choose to run it from within your Windows environment. Some people may choose to go with Macs and that is also fine if it is what you prefer. Macs are built with technical people in mind! However, since you are going to be in a diverse school environment you may run into issues if your professor asks you to run a program that may only be Windows based. There are definitely ways to work around that and a simple Google search will have you up and running in less than fifteen minutes.

At the end of the day, you want to pick an OS that will serve you better. It should be catered to your needs. You are already going to go through a tough program, there is going to be a lot thrown at you and you will have to adjust to a new environment, meet new people, make new friends and learn a bunch of new stuff. The last thing you want is to get used to a new operating system 😊

Processor

When you go to class, you will see a mixed bag, some people will have AMD systems while others will be working on computers with Intel processors. AMD’s used to be inferior in the past, but the new Ryzen series is definitely a viable choice these days. If you are getting a good deal on a computer that has an AMD processor then I would say go for it!

Remember that at the end of the day, you want a fast computer. You want good performance, something that will last you throughout your program. Don’t go for older AMD’s or anything below an Intel i5. You would also ideally want something that has at least two cores.

RAM

It is 2020, so gone are the days where you have computers with 4GB RAM installed. The bare minimum should be 8 gigs, but honestly it will serve you so much better if you choose to go with a 16 GB laptop. You may have to run different IDE’s or Virtual machines, not to mention all those heavy Excel files with a ton of a data that are not supposed to be in Excel 😊 You get the drift. Don’t discount RAM at all! It is not worth it to have your computer running slow. You can short your hard drive space, but at least have 8 GB of RAM on your computer so you can go in to the program running!

Hard Drive

Solid State Drives are so much better than Hard Disk Drives! If you do have to choose then it is okay to sacrifice space instead of speed. A 256 GB SSD will suffice! But it is so much better to have a 512 GB SSD. Then you do not have to worry about cleaning up space when you have the occasional large program you need to install. Or when you just have a bunch of photos and personal projects on your drive that you do not have to clear out to allocate space for other things.

Screen Size

For most people display sort of falls into the personal preference spectrum. Are you used to working on smaller screens? Or do you like big desktop replacement type laptops? If I were in your shoes, I would definitely go for moderate to large screen size. The reason behind that is, if you are writing a script or any other form of code, smaller screens get annoying really quick! You do not want to be scrolling up and down all the time. At the same time, you want something that is not too large so you can easily fit it into your backpack. Something around 14 – 15.5 inches would be ideal.

Other things to Consider

Some people like working in the dark so they go for backlit keyboards while others care more about the GPU if they are gamers. Some might want a computer with a great Wi-Fi range, especially since you might be sitting in the library or meeting rooms with your teams working on projects. One more thing to really consider is the affordability! I know you are a college student, and likely have a limited budget, I have kept that in mind while making product selections.

At the end of the day, the customization of your computer is dependent on what it is that you want to do with it. The commonality among all choices reviewed here would be the ability to execute all programs/software/IDEs etc… that are required in class. But do not worry! You will find something that fits your needs for sure 😊

Final Words

I want to wrap up this post by summarizing the reviews we went through and finally giving my personal recommendation. We looked at five different laptops and weighed their pros and cons. It is now time for you to make a decision. Honestly, there is no one size fits all. There is a reason why I chose a diverse group of machines to review. I wanted to give my readers a good understanding of the different options that are available in the market.

If it were up to me, I would definitely go with the Lenovo E595. Thinkpads are known to be sturdy, reliable, and a high-performance machine overall. I am also a Windows user so I cannot go with a Mac. I am also not a gamer, so I do not have an incentive of choosing the Acer Predator. If you are a Windows user, and only play light games, then the Thinkpad is an obvious number one choice. If you are into heavy gaming, go with the Acer. If you are a fan of the Mac OS, then the MacBook Air will serve you well!

I would advise you to take a moment and prioritize what it is that you really need in a machine. Once you have that down, you will automatically pivot towards a machine that will satisfy you the most! I wish you good luck with your journey in choosing a new machine and no matter wherever you are, I hope that you do really well in your computer science program.

Frequently Answered Questions

Why did you review four windows laptops and only one Mac?

Most computer science programs across the globe utilize Windows based software. Sometimes this software is not compatible with any other operating system. It would be much easier for you to just roll with it and get a windows computer, especially if you are not acquainted with the Mac OS. I did include a MacBook review in here because they are good for setting up technical environments, however, they are not hassle free and require a bit more tweaking to get other stuff running.  If you are an avid Mac user, and have experience with the Mac OS, then by all means go ahead and get a MacBook. If you are already used to working with Windows, then it would be a good idea to stick to it, at least for the duration of your program.

How can I run windows programs on a MacBook?

There are two easy ways of doing this. The most straight forward idea is to install Windows and Mac on your system and operate with a dual OS. You can use Apple’s Bootcamp utility which is already present in a MacBook. This is the easiest way to do it, however, it may not the best solution if you have limited hard drive space. If that is the case, then you can run a virtual machine (VirtualBox, VMWare, Parallels etc.) on your computer and run Windows programs easily. This may take a bit getting used to, but it will get the job done!

I already have a computer, do I need to buy another one?

It depends! The minimum requirements for a computer science program would be an Intel i5 processor or something equivalent, 8 GB of RAM, 256 GB SSD Hard drive, WiFi enabled, Windows 10 or equivalent Mac OS and Virtual machine capabilities. If you already have a computer that satisfies those requirements, then you should be fine. A good idea would be to check with your school, they should have a resource page that would list the minimum requirements for a computer.

Can I use the computers in the library instead?

You can for projects that you need to work on your own, but when you go to class and your professor is doing a walk through and you have to participate in class work, or if you are in a meeting room working with a group, that’s when you will need your own machine. Unfortunately, there is no way around it. It’s a CS program after all! You will need a solid laptop to get through. I wish I could tell you that you could use your home desktop PC but you just have to have your own machine.