Best Laptop For Computer Science Students

Trying to research the best laptop for computer science students is a downright daunting task. Out of curiosity, I took a look at a handful of other websites, and I couldn’t believe what I saw.

You’ll find one website that says you should get the absolute best CPU for computer science class, but then another website that says performance doesn’t matter and that any modern laptop will do the job just fine.

If you’ve ever tried to play games on a laptop, you know they aren’t all created equal, but does that apply to laptops for computer science, too?

You would think that researching the best comp sci laptop would be easy enough for anyone who is thinking of getting into computer science, but with all of the contradictory or outdated information floating around, we wanted to put together a much more cohesive guide while tackling the nuances of this decision.

While it’s true that you don’t necessarily need a powerhouse laptop for year 1, there are some more demanding things that you’ll be doing down the road with your schooling so it’s nice to be ready. 

Plus, you may just want to have some extra resources for quality of life things like running a stream in the background, listening to music, not having to wait very long for things to load, or even just enjoying some movies and music.

Quick Review
TOP CHOICE: Apple’s 13 inch M1 MacBook Air
9.7/10 Rating

TOP CHOICE: Apple’s 13 inch M1 MacBook Air

All things considered, our top choice as the best laptop for computer science students is the M1 by Apple, specifically in the MacBook Air form factor. Apple’s signature M1 chips are also available in the form of a Mac Mini and a MacBook Pro, but the MacBook Air’s ultra portability, great looking screen, Magic keyboard, and price point give it the edge over anything else.


Top Laptops for Computer Science Students – Our Reviews

Choosing the best laptops for computer science students doesn’t have to be too daunting of a task, we’re here to clear the air on some misconceptions and to offer up some great recommendations.

Also, if you want to learn a little bit more about what to look for in each of these laptops, and why those particular specs may matter more or less in your unique situation you can skip ahead to our helpful buyer’s guide by scrolling down past the upcoming reviews. This will help you to filter things down to the perfect choice for your needs.


1. Best 13 inch Computer Science Laptop – Apple MacBook Air M1 13″ Retina

Apple’s light and portable MacBook Air underwent a massive upgrade with the introduction of the M1 chips. The M1 Macbook Air replaces previous versions that used Intel processors. Apple’s M1 chips are surprisingly powerful, offering ample performance for a huge range of computer science-related tasks.

MacOS being based on Unix offers a variety of advantages for CS students and is a big part of why many devs and coders prefer to work on Macs. If you prefer a PC, the M1 makes it really tricky to find something comparable in terms of build power and quality, especially with the stunning Retina display on the MacBook Air.

ProcessorApple M1 chip with 8-core CPU
RAM8 GB
GraphicsApple M1 with up to 8-core CPU
Storage256 GB SSD
Display13.3” Retina display
Operating SystemMac OS
Battery LifeUp to 18 hours
Weight2.8 lbs

The MacBook Air also has an incredible battery life, stays nice and cool, the keyboard is nice to type on (at least by lightweight laptop standards), the screen is one of the best you’ll come across, and it’s an all-around well-made and solid laptop.

The M1 chip makes it a little bit different to compare certain specs against other laptops that have Intel or AMD chips, but suffice to say, the M1 offers surprising performance for the price you’re paying.

This is an Apple device that delivers great value, even compared to PC’s in its class. Typically, you can expect to pay a premium for Apple’s products, but the M1 has really turned the tables, offering performance in a great package at a fantastic price.

Top 3 Features


Retina displayM1 chipsNo fans
Apple’s famous Retina display looks absolutely gorgeous. It’s rare to find a laptop that looks this crisp, with such brilliant colors.
The M1 chip came out of the gates swinging well above its weight class. The future is bright for Apple’s in-house chips, since even the first iteration is coming in lighting-fast and very efficient.
This Macbook doesn’t have any fans inside of it. You might think that would be a thermal nightmare, but it stays incredibly cool without the need for a fan, so it’s whisper-quiet.
Pros
  • The impressive performance at this price will have you cruising through your computer science tasks.
  • With the release of Apple’s newer chips, their original M1’s are more affordable, which is great for a student’s budget.
  • MacBook Air’s are light, easy to take with you, and very well-made. This, combined with their long-lasting batteries make them perfect for taking into class.
Cons
  • There’s a bit of a learning curve if you aren’t used to using Apple’s products.
  • Apple has a way of sucking you into their ecosystem, so if you don’t plan on buying any other Apple products like an iPhone or Airpods, you won’t be getting the full cohesive experience.
  • This is the first generation of M1 and there are newer versions of the M1 with even better specs. Having said that, you can get the original M1 for a lower price, and it still has more than enough power to get you through your assignments and much more.
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2. Best Microsoft Laptop for Learning Computer Science: Microsoft Surface Pro 7

The Microsoft Surface Pro 7 is like a hybrid between a laptop and a tablet. It’s very light to carry around, like a tablet, but also has a foldable keyboard, similar to a laptop. It’s a good middle ground that’s light, portable, and still powerful enough for your computer science homework.

In addition to school work, this system is good for watching media and some light gaming. The monitor has a very high resolution, giving you lots of space for your work, and ensuring that the display looks very crisp.

ProcessorIntel Core i5
RAM8 GB
GraphicsIntel Iris Plus Graphics
Storage256 GB SSD
Display12.3” touchscreen at 2736×1824
Operating SystemWindows 10 Home
Battery Life10+ hours
Weight1.70 lbs

If you prefer PC to Mac and you put a lot of value on the portability of your laptop for computer science, this is a good option. Also, you can disconnect the keyboard and use the Microsoft Surface like a normal tablet.

The USB C and USB A ports give you some versatility in what you can connect, but these smaller form factor devices aren’t really meant for connecting a ton of peripherals, so if you need that, you’ll find better options on this list.

Top 3 Features


VersatilityPortabilityConnectivity

The ability to convert from a laptop to a tablet makes this a very comfortable device to use whether you’re sitting on the couch or bus reading articles, or sitting in class or at home while working on your code.

This device is super lightweight, making it easy to slide into your backpack and take with you on the go.

The Surface Pro 7 has a variety of different inputs and ports. Not as many as some full-size devices, but still plenty of options. It has a headphone jack, facial recognition, a front-facing camera, USB-C, USB-A, Surface Connect port, and a microSD card reader.

Pros
  • This particular listing for the Surface Pro 7 on Amazon includes the type cover (keyboard). It doesn’t always include the type cover, so if you’re purchasing elsewhere, make sure it comes with the keyboard.
  • A small and compact package that you can take to class, work on at home, bring with you on the bus, and never feel like you’re lugging around a full-weight laptop.
  • Having USB-C is a big plus, it means you’ll be able to connect all sorts of inputs and outputs for many years to come.
Cons
  • You’re paying a premium for how light and sleek this device is. You could get a bulkier laptop for cheaper, or with more power, if portability or having a bonus tablet isn’t a huge deal for you.
  • There’s a new version, the Surface Pro 8, so if you want the latest and greatest, this particular model is a step behind that.
  • Two USB ports might not be enough for you, so you may need to get a small USB hub to add more ports.
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3. Dell XPS 13 9310 Touchscreen

The Dell XPS line of laptops are often compared to MacBooks, in fact, they’re often seen as the PC-equivalent to MacBooks due to its build quality and features. This particular model has a great 13-inch display, it’s not quite up to the same level as the Retina display on the Macbook Air, but it’s still really good.

The touchscreen probably won’t help you too much with your programming, since you’ll ideally want to get used to navigating your way around using shortcuts, but it can still be useful at times, especially if you plan on using this device for more than just coding.

ProcessorIntel Core i7
RAM16 GB
GraphicsIntel Iris Xe Graphics
Storage512 GB SSD
Display13.4” at 1920×1200 resolution
Operating SystemWindows 10 Pro
Battery Life10+ hours
Weight2.8 lbs

This is a powerful laptop, it’s not like one of those cheaper “disposable” laptops that you can expect to get a couple of years out of, this is a laptop that you invest in to use for many years to come. And for years to come, the Dell XPS 13 will have no problem handling all of your computer science tasks.

There’s also a newer version available that has an OLED display, which upgrades this offering from Dell into the upper echelon when it comes to laptop displays.

Top 3 Features


GraphicsTouchscreenUser Overall Feel

The Intel Xe Graphics aren’t as powerful as having a dedicated GPU, but on-board graphics have come a long way, and they can definitely hold their own for everyday use.

The touchscreen can be convenient and just cool to have sometimes, even though you’ll mostly be using the keyboard.

This laptop has a strong, sturdy feel to it, it’s well-made and also a joy to type on. There’s just a certain hard-to-describe quality that you don’t feel with budget laptops.

Pros
  • This is a great laptop to take with you if you’re going to be carrying it around class and back and forth from your home everyday, it’s very light.
  • At 10+ hours, the Dell XPS 13 has plenty of juice to get you through the day.
  • Between the i7, 16GB of RAM, and the 512GB SSD, this is decked out in terms of a laptop for computer science students. It doesn’t have a graphics card to make it great for gaming, but it’s wickedly powerful for your schoolwork.
Cons
  • The 13 inch screen is on the smaller side for someone who likes to work with multiple windows open at once, but it does have some extra pixels compared to a typical 1080p monitor.
  • This is a premium product, the same way that a Macbook is a premium product, and you pay for that. It’s not ideal for someone who is on a tight budget. You’re not only paying for the specs, but also for the form factor and build quality.
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4. Best Computer Science Laptop For $500 – Acer Aspire 5 A515-46-R14K Slim Laptop

Here’s a very affordable laptop by Acer. If you were doing something with multimedia like a class on video editing or graphic design, this probably wouldn’t have enough power. However, for computer science students on a budget, this will get the job done.

There’s a lot to like about this laptop, even if it’s not going to be winning any benchmarks. The mobile AMD Ryzen processor keeps temperatures lower and helps the battery last longer. Let’s go over some of the features, including where this laptop may fall a bit short for certain use cases.

ProcessorAMD Ryzen 3
RAM4 GB DDR4
GraphicsRadeon Vega
Storage125 GB NVMe SSD
Display15.6″
Operating SystemWindows 10 Home (S Mode)
Battery Life10 Hours
Weight3.97 lbs

​​The quad core processor is capable of punching above its weight class, while helping to ensure that you get as close as possible to the advertised 10 hours of battery life. This is a slim laptop, which makes it great to take with you on the go and if something happens to it, you won’t have to sell a kidney to replace it.

Out of the box, the Acer Aspire has everything you need to start your journey into coding and computer science, including a free upgrade to Windows 11.

Top 3 Features


ProcessorDisplayBattery Life

The Ryzen 3 isn’t at the bleeding edge of technology, but it’s a surprisingly capable processor that helps bring down the cost without any massive sacrifices in performance.

The 15.6” screen offers ample visual real estate to keep you productive on all sorts of tasks.

10 hours isn’t too out of the ordinary, but it’s great for a laptop with this size of display and in this price range.

Pros
  • This laptop can’t multitask to a point where you’ll have dozens of browser tabs open, a stream playing, a game in the background, and so on all at the same time – so it’ll actually help keep you focused on the task at hand.
  • The price point is hard to beat, and it’s a really solid laptop for computer science students when you factor in the price.
Cons
  • 4 GB of RAM is cutting it pretty close these days, but at least it’s DDR4 with decent speed. If you can afford a system with more RAM, however, we’d recommend aiming for at least 8 GB.
  • This version of the AMD Ryzen processor isn’t as beefy as the ones you’ll find in a desktop. This can be good since it saves battery and has other benefits, but you do lose out on a little power compared to a non-mobile processor.
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5. Acer Swift 3

The Acer Swift 3 boasts a very capable Ryzen 7 octa-core processor with solid on-board graphics, 8 GB of RAM, and some extra goodies that put it in a class above Acer Aspire that we just looked at. If you want even more RAM, the Swift 3 is also available with 16 GB, but that’s probably overkill if you’re just using this for coding and homework.

The IPS display is great for doing design work, you’ll see whiter whites and darker darks than a typical laptop display, and color accuracy is very important, even if you’re just making basic logos or choosing colors for your coding project user interfaces.

ProcessorAMD Ryzen 7
RAM8GB RAM
GraphicsRadeon Graphics
Storage512 GB NVMe
Display14” at 1920x1080p
Operating SystemWindows 10 Home
Battery Life11.5 hours
Weight2.65 lbs

If you want something lightweight yet powerful and comfortable to work on that will get you through your classes with a long battery life, it’s hard to beat the Acer Swift 3.

Top 3 Features


DisplayForm FactorFingerprint Reader

This IPS display is one of the best looking and most accurate panels on this list, save for the Retina display on the MacBook Air.

The Swift 3 is very light and portable, it’s thin and easy to transport with a battery that’ll last all day so you don’t even need to drag a huge power supply charger cable around with you.

The biometric fingerprint reader gives you a big boost to your device’s security, with much less intrusion than using strong passwords or 2-factor authentication.

Pros
  • It’s very light at just 2.65 lbs, while having a great set of specs and a relatively big screen for a system this lightweight. 11.5 hours of battery life is great, especially when it’s powering a system with great specs like this.
  • You can connect it to DisplayPort via USB-C.
Cons
  • You can’t upgrade the RAM after the fact so if you want more than 8 GB, make sure you choose a model with more than 8 GB to start with.
  • There’s no SD card reader, so you’ll need to get a dongle if you need to read data off of cards.
  • The display has a bit of a glossy look to it which can cause reflections if there’s lights behind you.
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6. Best Computer Science Laptop for Software Engineering – Acer Predator Helios

This is the first laptop featured on this list that packs some serious power, so if playing games is a big priority for you, the Acer Predator Helios has you covered. This Acer Predator Helios has an RTX 3060 GPU, which blows any laptop with on-board graphics out of the water.

You’re paying a premium for the extra specs compared to non-gaming laptops, and it’s overkill if you’re only planning to use it for coding, but if you want a fully capable gaming and multimedia device that can chop through your coding projects and the latest games alike, here’s a great option.

ProcessorIntel Core i7
RAM16GB DDR4
GraphicsNVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060
Storage512GB SSD
Display15.6” at 1920x1080p with 144hz refresh rate
Operating SystemWindows 10 Home
Battery Life6 hours
Weight5.07 lbs

If you plan on making games, even if you’re just dabbling for now, it’s useful to have a rig that can handle things like video editing, 3d modeling, graphic design, and actually playing games.

Just be aware that you’re paying a premium for a gaming laptop as opposed to building a desktop PC, so you’ll get more bang for your buck with a desktop if you don’t need to take it with you. Some people will opt for a powerful deskful at home, and a lightweight and lower-end laptop to take to class – it’ll cost about the same as a beefy gaming laptop on its own.

Top 3 Features


GPURefresh RateExtremely Powerful

Having an RTX 3060 onboard a laptop brings some serious power to the graphics department, giving you the ability to work on all sorts of more advanced projects later on in your career.

A 144hz refresh rate is another very noteworthy feature to find on a laptop. It’s not something that will be hugely beneficial to your coding, but if you get into gaming or making games, you’ll be very happy to have it.

This laptop can give most desktops a run for their money, it’s a powerhouse in a portable package.

Pros
  • This laptop for computer science students has enough power that it will still be fast, relatively speaking, years from now. You won’t need to upgrade any time soon.
  • 16 GB is a great amount of RAM, and paired up with the Intel i7 processor, you’ll be multitasking with ease.
Cons
  • The battery life is around six hours, or even less if you’re really pushing it and using a lot of resources. You’ll want to keep it plugged in as often as possible.
  • Five pounds is on the heavier side for a school laptop, but it wasn’t too long ago that most laptops were at least five pounds.
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7. Best 2-in-1 for Computer Science Students – HP Pavilion X360

Here’s a foldable laptop from HP with a touchscreen, a long battery life, a large 14-inch display, ample inputs, a killer sound system, and a relatively thin form factor.

This laptop was designed for work and business, so it fits into the same category as what you’d want for school and computer science classes. It’s a convertible, so you can flip the keyboard behind it to use as a stand, or flatten it like a tablet.

ProcessorIntel Core i5
RAM8GB
GraphicsIntel Iris Xe Graphics
Storage256GB SSD
Display14” 1920x1080p
Operating SystemWindows 10 Home
Battery Life9 hours
Weight3.33 lbs

The quad core Intel processor and 8 GB RAM will have your software running smoothly, and will enable you some wiggle room for multitasking. The RAM is DDR4-3200 MHz so it’s very fast RAM (Not all RAM is created equal, one stick of 8 GB can be a lot faster than another stick. This laptop’s RAM falls on the faster side).

This device also has a 256 GB PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD drive for storing your files, which also helps the system to boot up lightning fast, along with opening your programs and files very quickly. Once you’ve had an SSD drive, you’ll never want to go back to a spinning harddrive.

Top 3 Features


AudioBatteryMultimedia

This laptop has great sounding speakers for blasting those lo-fi beats during an all-night coding session.

9 hours isn’t the longest battery out there, but for a decent sized screen and a laptop with this much power, it’s nothing to scoff at.

If you’re into streams, watching a lot of movies and shows, playing music, this laptop has some great features for that. It’s perfect to fold it over and prop it up in bed or wherever you’re unwinding.

Pros
  • A 14” screen is a good middle ground between a huge 15+ inch, or something that’s too small.
  • The specs, weight, and battery life all balance very nicely into a cohesive package.
Cons
  • The touchscreen can be a pro and a con. It’s not useful to have a touch screen if you don’t plan on using it, and it’s not really helpful for coding, so unless you plan on using this device for multimedia too, you’re paying for a feature that you don’t need for school.
  • If you’re looking for a “broke student” tier laptop, this isn’t it – it’s a higher-end device in terms of build quality and certain features, with mid-range specifications.
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7. Best Laptop for Computer Science and Gaming – Alienware m15 R3

The Alienware m15 R3 is a powerhouse, it’s the most powerful PC on this list and can handle everything from playing the latest games, to resource-intensive editing and 3D modeling, and just about whatever else you can throw at it.

This particular model comes with a brilliant 15.6-inch screen, but it’s also available with a 17.3 inch. The 144hz refresh rate means your visuals will be silky-smooth.

Processor10th Gen Intel i7-1065G7
RAM16GB DDR4
GraphicsNvidia GeForce RTX 2060 6GB GDDR6
Storage512 GB SSD
Display15.6” with 144hz refresh rate
Operating SystemWindows 10 Home
Battery Life2-8 hours depending on usage
Weight4.65 lbs

There are some more advanced aspects of computer science that some of the lower-powered laptops on this list may struggle with (when we’re getting into things like complex mathematical modelling, AI, and so on).

The Alienware m15 will breeze through all except the most intensive tasks. This laptop will only struggle with things that regular desktop PC’s can’t handle either, we’re talking about the type of stuff you need highly advanced and specific servers and systems for, nothing like what you’ll be dealing with in computer science classes.

In other words, in terms of raw power and performance, this is the best of the laptops for computer science student if you don’t care about having something light, or with a super long battery life, or that’s super portable. If those other traits matter to you more than gaming or having an excess of power, then any of the other laptops on this list will be more suitable.

This laptop is mainly meant to be used near a power outlet. If you’re gaming on max settings, your battery might only last a couple of hours, but during normal usage you can expect closer to 8 hours.

Top 3 Features


GraphicsRefresh RateStorage

The graphics processing power of this laptop is impressive for a portable computer. Whether you’re gaming, or doing advanced modelling, or other aspects of development – you’ll have more than enough power for years to come.

The 144hz refresh rate won’t help you much with your coding, but it’s fantastic for gaming. If you’re making games, it’ll also allow you to test them at this refresh rate.

The 512 GB SSD gives you plenty of space to install games, store all of your homework and projects, keep backups of multimedia, and a lot more.

Pros
  • The specs on this laptop for computer science students will keep you going for a long, long time. In regards to homework and the like, you’ll be long graduated before this laptop isn’t powerful enough.
  • You’ll be able to contribute to projects like [email protected] with enough power to know that you’re making a difference on real, important research.
Cons
  • As you’d expect with such a power-hungry laptop, the battery life is less than ideal. If you’re pushing this laptop hard, you’ll want to be plugged in.
  • It’s also pretty heavy, coming in at just under 5 pounds, so it’s not the best laptop if you plan on taking it to and from class everyday, unless the extra weight and bulkiness is a small price for you to pay in exchange for all of the additional power it carries.
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8. Best Laptop Under $500 for Computer Science Students – ASUS VivoBook 15

The VivoBook by ASUS is a lightweight, very affordable laptop for computer science students who just want something to do their work on, without any bells and whistles and without breaking the bank. It fits the bill, and still has some awesome features that are great to find on a laptop in this price range.

The first of which is the 128 GB SSD drive. It doesn’t afford you a ton of extra storage if you’re doing anything with multimedia or installing a lot of games, downloading movies, etc. But if you’re mostly streaming content, and just using it for work, you’re all set. Plus, you can always expand on the storage with an upgrade or an external backup drive.

ProcessorIntel Core i3-1005G1
RAM8GB
GraphicsIntel UHD Graphics
Storage128 GB SSD
Display15.6” at 1920x1080p
Operating SystemWindows 10 Home S Mode
Battery Life8+ hours
Weight3.75 lbs

Earlier, we discussed the option of going with a powerful desktop PC and then a more affordable laptop to get the best of both worlds, and this would be a good laptop for that type of configuration.

This package is rounded out with 8 GB of DDR4 ram, a nice 15.6 inch monitor at 1080p with a thin bezel. The fast charging battery will get you to 60% battery life in under 50 minutes, which is great for those rushed mornings where you forgot to charge the night before and you have to leave for class soon.

Overall, there’s a lot to like about the ASUS VivoBook 15 if it’s in your budget range, you don’t have to make any big sacrifices that will hinder your studies by giong with this more affordable option.

Top 3 Features


Windows 10 S ModeValueSpecs

“S Mode” is a function that limits you from downloading or installing applications from outside of the Microsoft store by default, however it can easily be disabled.

This laptop offers a great value. It’s not the most powerful, but you get a lot for what you pay.

8 GB of RAM and an SSD drive are great to see at this price point, it could have easily been 4 GB or a standard mechanical harddrive instead.

Pros
  • The VivoBook 15 has a 1920×1080 display that has very good brightness.
  • The keyboard is comfortable to type on for long periods of time, especially if you’re used to laptop keyboards and become accustomed to the best pressure to apply to the keys.
  • 8 GB of DDR4 RAM is enough for your computer science work, and plenty of additional tasks that you can throw at it.
Cons
  • You won’t be able to do much gaming on here, or anything too advanced in terms of multimedia or editing. If you’re strictly using this machine for coding and programming, you’ll be just fine.
  • At 3.75 pounds it’s somewhere in the middle in terms of weight. It’s not the lightest, but it’s not as heavy as the very high-end, high-spec laptops on this list.
  • Windows S Mode is kind of annoying, until you disable it.
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Computer Science Laptops – Buyer’s Guide for Students

There’s a lot to consider when you’re shopping for any laptop, especially when you have a very specific usage in mind for it. The good news is that coding is not very resource-hungry, and most laptops will be perfectly fine for it when it comes to their specs and performance. 

However, there are other features to keep in mind when you’re using your laptop for writing code besides the usual suspects like the processor and GPU. This guide will help you determine what matters, and what doesn’t when shopping for a laptop for computer science while still being mindful of finding a powerful, quality machine that will last you for a long time.

Some of these specs will depend on how you use your laptop, for example, the battery life won’t be the most important thing for someone who is always using their laptop plugged in at their desk, but it could be crucial for another student to have a laptop that lasts them the entire day.

RAM

You probably don’t want to consider anything below 8 GB of RAM for coding. While 4 GB may be okay in a pinch, that just doesn’t leave you enough wiggle room, but it’s increasingly rare to find a system with less than 8 GB of ram, anyways. In addition to whatever you’re using to write the code, you may want to have some music in the background, or to have a bunch of browser tabs open to reference, so that’s why 4 GB is pushing it.

If you see yourself having a lot of tabs, windows, and applications open then it would be a good idea to look for 16 GB of RAM, all else being equal, but you can get away with just 8 GB if everything else about the laptop is exactly what you’re looking for.

Processor / CPU

It’s hard to imagine a CPU being sold in a current laptop, even a very entry-level unit, that wouldn’t be ample for coding. This isn’t a spec that you need to break the bank for. For instance, if you’re looking at a MacBook Air, you don’t necessarily need to upgrade to whatever the current best CPU is (Whether it’s the current M1 or the even newer versions of Apple’s custom chips), since that’s not a huge requirement for coding and even the base-level processor in any laptop that meets the rest of our requirements will be just fine for writing code.

Intel, AMD, and Apple’s M1 are all adequate for this, so when it comes to the CPU, just find something that fits within your budget and you’ll be just fine for coding. If you plan on using the laptop for more than writing code and simple web browsing, or if you want it to have a longer life of useability, then you can consider a more powerful processor that will take longer to become obsolete.

GPU

The graphics processor unit, or video card, is not the star of the show when it comes to writing code. While essential for gaming, a GPU only really becomes necessary in certain areas of computer science. If these are interesting to you, then you’ll need to think about a laptop with more graphics power (typically marketed as gaming laptops).

Display / Monitor

A laptop’s display is your window into what’s going on, and when you’re going to be staring at it for long periods of time, you’ll want something that’s going to look great. Not only that, but depending on your coding style, you might like to have a lot of room to have multiple windows open next to one another.

The cost of a laptop goes up as the display reaches a higher resolution or a higher quality panel. If a top-notch display is important to you, a MacBook with Retina is going to look absolutely beautiful while offering ample workspace.

If you plan on hooking your laptop up to an external monitor most of the time, the only consideration you’ll need to make in terms of the display is to ensure that you have the right outputs and inputs to pair them (for example if your monitor accepts HDMI, make sure that your laptop has an HDMI output.)

Build and Portability

Some laptops are made from plastic and others have a more sturdy metal casing. If you plan on having your laptop sitting on your desk for the most part, then the weight isn’t as much of a factor. You can’t necessarily determine if a laptop will be heavier or lighter based on its material alone since there are some high-end metal-encased laptops that are as light as a feather, and some plastic laptops that could double as a tank.

If you’re taking your laptop with you to class and will be carrying it often, then it’s important to get a combination of something that’s sturdy and well-built while still being light and portable.

Keyboard

You’re going to be doing a lot of typing so a comfortable keyboard is crucial for computer science students. Most laptops don’t have amazing keyboards, at least compared to some of the higher-end mechanical keyboards that you can plug into your laptop. 

It’s not a bad idea to get a great external keyboard to use when you’re at home, and then to use the laptop’s keyboard when you’re out and about. But if the laptop keyboard is good enough for you, or if you aren’t too particular about this, any of these keyboards will be fine.

Another thing to consider is the keyboard layout. A very minimalist keyboard could require you to use function keys for certain buttons that are used more often, making them a bit frustrating for coding, but it’s nothing you can’t figure out. Backlit keyboards are also worth a look.

All of the laptops on our list have good keyboards, and won’t cause you any headaches trying to learn convoluted macros in order to use certain buttons.

SSD

An SSD drive is more or less a must-have because they’re just so much faster than traditional spinning hard drives. A solid-state drive for your laptop means it will boot up much more quickly, and anything that’s stored on the SSD will be accessed and read much faster.

Once you’ve had a computer with an SSD, you’ll never want to go back. In the past, SSDs were a lot more expensive for a much lower capacity. These days, the gap is much smaller. While SSDs do still cost a bit more, it’s at a point where it’s very well worth it.

If storage is an issue, you can always get an external drive to attach to your laptop. In fact, this is a good idea to do either way, because an external drive will enable you to get additional storage for a low cost and provide a way to backup your most important files and data in case anything happens to your laptop.

Operating System

The operating system that you choose really comes down to personal preference. If you’ve always used a PC, then there’s no reason not to learn computer science on a PC as well.

Having said that, many coders lean towards macOS or Linux due to the ways that these operating systems are built foundationally. While there can be some benefits to coding on a Mac, it’s not a dealbreaker if you’ve always used a PC and you’re more comfortable with a PC.

Accessibility to Coding Software

Choosing your preferred code editing software can be like choosing a favorite pair of jeans. Everybody has their own quirks and preferences, so your best bet is to just try a few and see what suits your workflow.

Different programming languages have their own pros and cons, as do different types of software, but whatever language you’re learning probably has its own “default” or “go-to” coding software – so start there. Whichever laptop you choose should be able to run it without any issues, unless there’s a compatibility issue between PC/Mac/Linux, but there will be a solid equivalent either way.

Battery

How long do you plan on using your laptop at a time, without having access to a place to charge it? If you’re usually in one place, and you have easy access to a plug, then the battery isn’t very important.

On the other hand, if you’re often out and about, sitting in class all day, maybe working a bit on your bus ride home, or if you’re the type of person who might forget to charge-up overnight sometimes, then having a longer-lasting battery will be a welcome feature for you.

Accessories

Some useful accessories could be a large external monitor with a high resolution, an external hard drive for extra storage, a laptop docking station, a mechanical keyboard, a carrying case, and plenty of other accessories that can enhance the experience. 


Frequently Asked Questions

How do I choose a laptop for computer science?

Consider whether you’re going to be using this laptop strictly for computer science, or if you would like to do some light gaming, editing, etc. Next, decide on your budget, and then aim for a laptop with a powerful CPU within your budget range, a decent amount of RAM, and whatever extras you’d like. You may also want to consider durability/portability if you plan on bringing the laptop with you.

Which are the best laptops for computer science students?

1. Apple Macbook Air M1
2. Microsoft Surface Pro 7
3. Dell XPS 13 9310
There are numerous laptops that would be a great choice for computer science students, and we’ve featured them on this page. Compare them based on the traits and specs that are most important to you, based on how you plan on using your laptop. There are even some great options for students who are on fixed budgets.

How much should I spend on a laptop for computer science?

You don’t have to spend much at all, in fact, a cheap Chromebook would get the job done for many students. As long as you have a modern processor, an SSD, and 8GB of RAM, you’ll be in pretty decent shape. You don’t need to worry about getting the latest and greatest gaming GPU inside your laptop, which saves you a ton of money. If you spend more, you’ll have a device that can do more, and can do those things more quickly, and will be viable for a lot longer.

What kind of computer do I need for computer science?

Computer science typically doesn’t require an overly powerful computer until you get into some advanced specializations. Unlike other very demanding tasks, most computers will be able to handle the work of a computer science student, and a lot of choosing a laptop for computer science simply involves personal preference and meeting your unique needs. Whether you choose PC or Mac really comes down to your preferences.

Is a MacBook Air good for computer science?

The MacBook Air is a great choice for computer science, especially with the impressive performance unlocked in Apple’s proprietary M1 chips. The MacBook Air is also very light and portable, the screen looks fantastic, the battery life is incredible, and it runs very cool and quietly. If battery life is extra important for you, consider bumping up to the 13-inch MacBook Pro, instead.


Conclusion

When it’s all said and done, you can’t go wrong with any of the laptops for computer science students that we’ve featured here.

The MacBook Air is our top choice, overall, because it’s incredibly powerful, has a fantastic display, it’s great to type on, and the battery life is amazing. On top of that, MacOS is debatably a better option than Windows for programming (especially considering that you can run Windows and Linux on a Mac, giving you access to all of the major operating systems).

Whether you’re looking to spend a few hundred dollars on something to get you through the class, or you’re looking for a device that you’ll be using for years, you’ll find some great options above.