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    Top 9 Engineering Laptops for 2021

    Mark Harris
    |  October 2, 2020
    Best Laptops for Engineering Software in 2021

    A year ago, I wrote an article about buying a laptop for engineering software. Over the past year, many CAD spec laptop series have taken a great leap forwards as new models have come out. The majority of options considered for the list last year were running 7th generation processors, and therefore got ruled out of consideration entirely. Most of the laptops that were considered had 8th generation Intel processors, and there were no AMD processors in the list at all.

    This year we’ve seen a major refresh of most models, with a shift to 10th generation Intel for most models, or to similar performance options from AMD. We’ve also seen a growth in battery capacity in terms of watt-hours, which combined with newer technology in processing power offers better battery performance. Finally, we’ve seen more laptops jump to the latest generation of graphics cards. All of this means that this year’s list of potential laptops to consider for engineering applications has grown substantially, leaving you spoiled for choice.

    Last year, I also wrote a guide to building an engineering desktop computer, this year that has also been updated with the latest advancements. With major releases from AMD early this year, and Intel later in the year, we’ve seen some stunning performance boosts as the rivalry between AMD and Intel heats up like it hasn’t for decades. I strongly recommend looking at a desktop computer if you’re looking to use a computer at a fixed location without the need to move around. You get a lot more performance per dollar compared to any laptop you can purchase. This year, I also have an article looking at pre-built engineering computers you can buy ready to run. While they are not as cost-effective as building a machine yourself, they do offer time savings and warranty/service advantages for businesses or busy individuals.

    Best Laptop for Engineering Software: Requirements

    If you need the best laptop for engineering software and you work at a professional level, I expect that you need a computer that can travel a lot between home and office or between the office and sites. As an engineering student, you need a laptop that is easily portable between home and college/university. This travel requirement rules out having a bulky device to lug around, but you still need the performance and capabilities to do real work away from your desk. The constraints I’m placing on a laptop are pretty much identical to last year, except that I’m changing the arbitrary battery life from “hours” to the more tangible watt-hours. I’m also adding constraints to the age of the components in the laptop - some “just released” devices are offering processors or graphics cards that are two generations out of date!

    • Relatively lightweight. Under 2kg/4.5lb, ideally around 1.5kg/3.3lb.
    • Large enough screen to use. 15.6” screen rather than 14” or less/. Preferably 17” or bigger. Must be at least Full HD (1080p).
    • Long battery life. A minimum of 76WH.
    • Dedicated graphics. Processor-based graphics cards are too slow for serious CAD applications. Must be a current or previous generation.
    • Sufficient RAM. Minimum of 16GB RAM, ideally 32GB to handle CAD application requirements.
    • Storage. Minimum NVMe solid-state storage, which is substantially faster than SATA based solid-state storage.
    • Processor. Current or previous generation enthusiast/workstation level central processing unit.

    I shortlisted 26 potential engineering laptops for this article and compared their specifications. This comparison whittled the list down to 9 laptops that are what I would recommend purely from their specifications, and in some cases, pricing. I’m not a diehard fan of any brand, so my comparisons are purely on technical specifications and value for money. This list might not have the highest performance laptops for engineering software, but it does have a great mix of portability, performance, and price.

    For PCB layout work in Altium Designer, with half a dozen datasheets open, some SPICE simulations, and an intricate schematic/board design with an excellent sized library loaded, any of these laptops would be a great choice. They are also well suited for MCAD such as Solidworks, Inventor or Creo to make the most of Altium Designer’s® MCAD-ECAD integration. The laptops with 32gb+ RAM (or laptops you can upgrade the RAM in easily yourself) and RTX graphics cards would be usable for simulation packages like Ansys IcePak, SIwave or HFSS, and other electrical or electromagnetic simulation tools.

    General CAD Laptop Advice

    In general, a laptop for engineering software in 2021, whether for engineering students or a business, should have the following specifications to ensure it will last through an entire engineering degree or a 3-year depreciation for business users:

    • Intel i7-10th generation processor, or, AMD Ryzen 7 or 9, 4th generation CPU
    • NVIDIA GeForce GTX1660 or better (older, lower performance), NVIDIA Geforce RTX2060 or better (new, high performance), or AMD Radeon RX 5600M (new, high performance)
    • 16GB of RAM minimum, 32GB is better. My computer sits at 25-30GB (of 64GB) in use as a reference.
    • PCIe NVMe SSD storage, it’s around 6-8 times faster than SATA SSDs.
    • USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C port(s): Allows external monitors, docks, ethernet, charging - lots of functionality!
    • Full HD (1920x1080) display, 300NITS brightness minimum for outdoor use.

    Avoid the NVIDIA Quadro P520/P620 models, they have under a third of the GPU pipelines, a third of the RAM from the similarly priced GTX1660 Max-Q, and about a third of the performance in benchmarks. The Quadro lineup in mid-priced laptops offers very little value for money, even if it does make some engineering applications think you have a better graphics card. The performance will still be superior with a gaming card running Studio drivers.

    If you feel the need for a Quadro card, or you have been advised to get one, stick to the Quadro RTX 3000, which offers decent performance. The NVIDIA Quadro T2000 model can also be suitable for modern engineering applications, as it is only slightly slower than GTX1660, which is itself about 20% slower than a GeForce RTX2060.

    Prices shown for the laptops are reflective of the price at the time of writing and may vary depending on the sale region, specials and changes by the manufacturer. Pricing can also vary wildly depending on the configuration, as can performance.

    Lightweight Laptops for CAD/Engineering

    Dell Inspiron 7591 - from $1049

    Dell Inspiron 7591 laptop for engineering software
    Inspiron 15 7000 Laptop

    The Inspiron series of laptops is Dell’s entry-level series of laptops, which are typically their cheapest and lowest performance. However, suppose you’re on a tight budget. In that case, you can still get a laptop that is suitable for most CAD work, although its lower performance is going to be noticeable in complex simulations, large 3D models, or PCBs with hundreds of components. 

    The model I’m looking at has the order code “cai157w10p1c106” and is equipped with a previous generation i7-9750H. Despite being the previous generation, the 10th gen i7-10750H only performs around 4-9% faster in benchmarks yet can add a lot of cost to the overall laptop cost. Continuing the theme of “less than I’d like”, the battery is only 56Wh, which will likely only last you several hours before you need to plug in again if you’re doing work on the laptop.

    The Inspiron model I’m looking at only comes with a GTX 1050 graphics card, which is better than integrated graphics but lagging far behind the other models in the list. As a comparison to the RTX 2060 Mobile graphics card, it’s under half the performance in every benchmark. This graphics card is absolutely fine for Altium Designer, which does not tend to stress a graphics card. If you want to use Solidworks, Inventor, or other MCAD applications, you probably want to look at another laptop. There is an option for a GTX 1650 graphics card based Inspiron, however for the price you’re better off looking at other laptops.

    You might find it a little odd, but I do like that this laptop has a built-in SD card reader - not all do. Suppose you’re frequently working on devices recording data to SD or programming SD cards for single board computers. In that case, this is a convenient option that seems to be going away on some newer models of other brand’s laptops.

    For a lightweight, low-cost laptop, the Inspiron offers good value for money; however, is lacking in performance compared to the other options in this list. Despite this, I would still recommend this laptop to students on a budget - but it’s probably not going to be a great choice for business users.

    Processor

    9th Generation Intel® Core™ i7-9750H (12MB Cache, up to 4.5 GHz, 6 cores)

    Operating System

    Windows 10 Pro

    Graphics

    NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 1050 with 3GB GDDR5 graphics memory
    NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 1650 with 4GB GDDR5 graphics memory

    Display

    • 15.6-inch FHD (1920 x 1080) Anti-glare LED Backlight Non-touch Wide Viewing Angle Display
    • 15.6-inch UHD (3840 x 2160) Anti-glare LED Backlight Wide Viewing Angle 500-nits Display

    Memory

    8GB, 8Gx1, DDR4, 2666MHz
    16GB, 16Gx1, DDR4, 2666MHz

    Note: 2x DIMM slots

    Battery

    3 cell 56Wh battery

    Storage

    256GB M.2 PCIe NVMe Solid State Drive
    512GB M.2 PCIe NVMe Solid State Drive

    Dimensions 

    Height: 17.94 – 19.90mm (0.71” – 0.78”) x Width: 357.56mm (14.08”) x Depth: 238.84mm (9.4”)
    Weight 1.59 kg (3.50 lbs)

    Weight

    1.59 kg (3.50 lbs)

    Ports / Slots

    • 1 Micro SD Media Card Reader (SD, SDHC, SDXC)
    • 1 HDMI 2.0
    • 3 USB 3.1 Gen 1
    • 1 Thunderbolt™ 3 Type-C™
    • 1 Headphone/Microphone Combo
    • 1 Power (4.5mm barrel)


    Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 GA401IV - $1,519

    Laptop for CAD software: Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 GA401IV
    Asus ROG Zephyrus G14

    The Asus ROG Zephyrus is a smaller laptop for engineering software with a 14” screen. I prefer a slightly larger laptop screen myself. However, a smaller form factor certainly has appeal to many users. The AMD Ryzen 7 4800HS processor is almost exactly on par with an i7-10750HS CPU, where the Intel gains a slight lead in memory latency, the AMD claws it back in multi-core performance, great for multi-threaded applications. The Ryzen 9 4900HS takes the multi-core performance a step further, while it’s 1-8 core performance is virtually identical to the Ryzen 7 4800HS, on a 64 core benchmark it is almost 10% faster. For multi-threaded applications, this could offer you an advantage.

    The graphics card is very respectable, and it’s a mid-range current generation model with lots of RAM and plenty of power to handle any CAD application or PCB layout platform. Typically we see an AMD processor paired with an AMD graphics card, which makes this combination interesting. While the AMD RX 5600M is used in other AMD based laptops on this list, the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 is typically higher performance in most benchmarks. Engineering applications will be more likely to make use of NVIDIAs CUDA cores for processing as it is a more established technology.

    The screen has full sRGB coverage and a good resolution; however, reviews have stated it is rather dim, meaning it’s probably not going to be a great option if you plan to be working outdoors. The 76Wh battery is respectable and should give you a decent run time when away from power.

    Users have stated that the laptop can get very hot when being used heavily, so probably not a great choice if you want to have it sitting on your lap. Many reviews say the fans are on all the time, even when doing simple tasks, the noise of which could be annoying to some users.

    If you know me, then you know I love plenty of USB ports on all my computers. There are multiple USB ports on the laptop, giving you two USB-A 3.2 connectors, plus two USB-C Gen 2 ports one of which supports external displays as well as HDMI.

    Processor

    AMD Ryzen™ 9 4900HS
    AMD Ryzen™ 7 4800HS

    Operating System

    Windows 10 Home
    Windows 10 Pro

    Graphics

    NVIDIA® GeForce RTX™ 2060 6GB GDDR6 VRAM (Boost Clock: 1285MHz, 65W)

    Display

    • 14-inch Non-glare WQHD (2560 x 1440) IPS-level panel, 60Hz, 100% sRGB, Pantone® Validated, adaptive sync
    • 14-inch Non-glare Full HD (1920 x 1080) IPS-level panel, 120Hz, 100% sRGB, Pantone® Validated, adaptive sync
    • 14-inch Non-glare Full HD (1920 x 1080) IPS-level panel, 60Hz, 100% sRGB, Pantone® Validated

    Memory

    DDR4 3200MHz SDRAM
    Up to 32GB

    Battery

    76Wh 4 cell

    Storage

    SSD M.2 NVMe PCIe 3.0 512GB / 1TB

    Dimensions 

    Width: 32.4cm
    Depth: 22.2cm
    Height: 1.79cm (Regular); 1.99cm (AniMe Matrix™)

    Weight

    Regular: 1.6kg (3.5 lbs)
    AniMe Matrix™: 1.7kg (3.75 lbs)

    Ports / Slots

    • 1 x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C with DisplayPort™ 1.4 and Power Delivery
    • 1 x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C
    • 2 x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A
    • 1 x HDMI 2.0b
    • 1 x 3.5mm headphone and microphone combo jack
    • 1 x Kensington lock


    ThinkPad X1 Extreme (2nd Gen) - $2939

    ThinkPad X1 Extreme (2nd Gen) laptops for engineering software
    ThinkPad X1 Extreme (2nd Gen)

    Last year I was desperately waiting for this laptop to come out before publishing, but the laptop got delayed and was not released before the article came out. If this had been released last year it would have been my top pick, this year, as with last year the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme is still a great contender, however, is once again a generation behind the latest and greatest CPU.

    The $2939 price above gets you an i7-9750H CPU with 16GB of RAM, an NVIDIA GTX 1650 Max-Q graphics card and Windows 10 home if there are no discounts or specials on offer. I wanted to love this laptop; however, given the competition in this list, it’s a tough sell. With previous-generation graphics and a lackluster GPU, plus it does not even come with Windows 10 Pro, it doesn’t feel like good value for money. There are other laptops on this list which have similar or better specifications for half the price. That being said, the ThinkPad Extreme lineup has a reputation for being very durable and well built. 

    At the time of writing the Lenovo US’s website had the top of the line model for $4229 before discounts, coming with an i9-9880H processor, 32GB of RAM and an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 Max-Q graphics card. The main selling point on this laptop for me would be the 500 nits screen, which should be usable even in bright sunlight, but I’d still be looking at other laptops for engineering software, which offer high performance for the same price, or similar performance for much less.

    Processor

    Up to 9th Generation Intel® H Core i9 (with up to 8 cores)

    Operating System

    Up to Windows 10 Pro        

    Graphics

    NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 1650 Max-Q w/4GB GDDR5 

    Display

    • 15.6" 4K/UHD (3840 x 2160) OLED HDR500 True Black Touch Screen, Glossy with Anti-Reflection and Anti-Smudge Coating
    • 15.6" 4K/UHD (3840 x 2160, 500 nits) IPS HDR400, antiglare
    • 15.6" FHD (1920 x 1080, 500 nits) IPS HDR400, antiglare
    • 15.6" FHD (1920 x 1080, 300 nits) IPS, antiglare

    Memory

    Up to 64GB DDR4 RAM 2666MHz, Dual DIMM

    Battery

    4 cell, 80Wh

    Storage

    Up to 2 SSDs (2x M.2 2280 PCIe TLC & SATA) for 4TB max

    Dimensions (H x W x D)

    361.8mm x 245.7mm x 18.4mm (18.7mm w/ touch) / 14.2″ x 9.7″ x 0.7″

    Weight

    Starting at 1.7kg (3.75 lbs)

    Ports / Slots

    • 2 x USB 3.1 (Gen 1)
    • 2 x Thunderbolt™ 3
    • SD card reader
    • HDMI 2.0
    • Smart card reader
    • Headphone / mic combo
    • Kensington lock slot


    MSI Prestige 15 A10SC - From $1400

    MSI Prestige 15 A10SC
    MSI Prestige 15 A10SC


    The MSI Prestige is targeted at creators - artists and software developers, but it is also well suited to engineers and CAD users for all the same reasons. The latest generation processor is not as powerful as the Intel i7 10750H you'll find in other laptops for engineering software. The Intel i7 10750H is around 12 to 27% on benchmarks than the Intel i7 10710U in this laptop. Despite this, the processor is perfect for applications that tend to do most of their work on a single thread, such as Altium Designer or Solidworks. The Intel i7 10750H has stood out for the 8 core processor benchmarks but is only 12% faster on a single thread. Given the price point of this laptop, the performance is quite acceptable.

    The graphics card is a bit of a letdown for a 10th gen CPU laptop, coming with an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 Max-Q which as the entry-level option for the GTX 1600 series laptops is half the speed of the RTX2060 Mobile GPUs in other laptops in this list. This still makes it a great option for Altium Designer work, even with complex boards that have many 3D models, you might feel a bit limited for MCAD applications, video editing or GPU based simulation workloads.

    Processor

    10th Generation Intel Core i7 1.1 GHz 6 Core - 12 Thread Processor (i7-10710U | Turbo to 4.7 GHz)

    Operating System

    Genuine Windows® 10 Pro, 64bit, English

    Graphics

    NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 Max-Q w/ 4GB GDDR5

    Display

    • 15.6" FHD (1920x1080), IPS-Level
    • 15.6" UHD (3840x2160), IPS-Level

    Memory

    16GB DDR4-2666
    32GB DDR4-2666
    2 DIMM slots, max 64GB.

    Battery

    Internal 4 cell (82Wh) battery

    Storage

    512GB NVMe Gen3

    Dimensions (H x W x D)

    365 x 233 x 16 mm

    Weight

    From 1.7 kg (3.75 lbs)

    Ports / Slots

    • 2 x USB 3.2 Gen1
    • 2 x Thunderbolt 3
    • 1 x HDMI (4K @ 30Hz)
    • Micro SD


    New Precision 5750 Mobile Workstation - From $2399

    New Precision 5750 Mobile Workstation
    New Precision 5750 Mobile Workstation

    If you love being able to spec out every last feature of your computer, Dell is the master of configurable laptops. There are so many different specification options available for the Precision mobile workstations it’s hard to know where to start - you can choose between anything from an i5 to a Xeon for the CPU for example. While I’m looking at the 17” Precision workstations for this article, you can also look at the Precision 5550 Mobile Workstation series as a 15” alternative.

    The CPUs and graphics are all the latest and greatest for this laptop. The precision series laptops are all built specifically for engineering applications, and the series has been around for a long time. The ones I have owned in the past have been solidly built and designed for use.

    While the 5750 series starts at $2399, realistically you’re looking at a retail starting price of $4905 for the starting models. Being that these are priced for business, you can typically obtain a lower price by talking to a sales rep, and substantially lower price if your company is already a big Dell user. Dell has regular sales which can offer significant discounts too. 

    The price of a Precision Mobile Workstation is likely going to put it out of reach of students; however, for the professional engineer, the performance will offer a fast return on investment in hours saved and increased productivity. As an advantage for business users, Dell also offer a 12-month on-site warranty, at least in the USA. Finally, Precision workstations are ISV certified, meaning professional software packages that like to run on certified hardware will be very happy.

    The laptop comes with a Dell UltraSharp display, likely making it the best display on this list and perhaps one of the best displays available in an engineering laptop. The slightly high resolution of 1920x1200 will offer you a similar pixel pitch to a Full HD display on a 15.6” screen. The NVIDIA Quadro RTX series would be my recommendation from the list of graphics cards, with the T2000 being much slower without being a lot cheaper. The extra video RAM of the RTX series is also a significant advantage when it comes to large 3d models.

    If your company is paying for the laptop, or your productivity is worth spending a bit extra, the Precision Mobile Workstations are likely going to give you the highest performance laptop possible without feeling like you’re carting around a bag of cement. The starting weight of 1.84kg (4.70 lbs) is a little heavier than I’d like, but that’s the price to pay for a powerful computer.

    Processor

    Intel® Xeon W-10885M, 16 MB Cache, 8 Cores, 2.40 GHz to 5.30 GHz, 45 W, vPro
    10th Generation Intel® Core™ i9-10885H, 16 MB Cache, 8 Cores, 2.40 GHz to 5.30 GHz, 45 W, vPro
    10th Generation Intel® Core™ i7-10875H, 16 MB Cache, 8 Cores, 2.30 GHz to 5.10 GHz, 45 W, vPro
    Intel® Xeon W-10855M, 12 MB Cache, 6 Cores, 2.80 GHz to 5.10 GHz, 45 W, vPro
    10th Generation Intel® Core™ i7-10750H, 12 MB Cache, 6 Cores, 2.60 GHz to 5.0 GHz, 45 W,
    10th Generation Intel® Core™ i7-10850H, 12 MB Cache, 6 Cores, 2.70 GHz to 5.1 GHz, 45 W, vPro
    10th Generation Intel® Core™ i5-10400H, 8 MB Cache, 4 Cores, 2.60 GHz to 4.60 GHz, 45 W,vPro

    Operating System

    Windows 10 Home (64-bit)
    Windows 10 Enterprise (64-bit)
    Windows 10 Pro (64-bit)
    Windows 10 Pro Education (64-bit)
    Windows 10 Pro for Workstation (64-bit)

    Graphics

    Intel® UHD Graphics
    Intel® UHD Graphics P630
    NVIDIA® Quadro® RTX® 3000, 6 GB, GDDR6
    NVIDIA® Quadro® T2000, 4 GB, GDDR6     

    Display

    • 17-inch, WLED FHD+, 1920 x 1200, 60 Hz, Anti-Glare, Non-touch display, PC Bezel, sRGB 100% min, 500 nits, WVA
    • 17-inch, WLED UHD+, 3840 x 2400, 60 Hz, Anti-Reflection and Anti-Smudge, Touch display, ETE Glass, Adobe 100% min, 500 nits, HDR400, WVA

    Memory

    8 GB, 1 x 8 GB, DDR4, 2666 MHz, ECC, SODIMM
    16 GB, 1 x 16 GB, DDR4, 2666 MHz, ECC, SODIMM
    16 GB, 2 x 8 GB, DDR4, 2666 MHz, ECC, SODIMM
    32 GB, 1 x 32 GB, DDR4, 2666 MHz, ECC, SODIMM
    32 GB, 2 x 16 GB, DDR4, 2666 MHz, ECC, SODIMM
    64 GB, 2 x 32 GB, DDR4, 2666 MHz, ECC, SODIMM
    8 GB, 1 x 8 GB, DDR4, 2933 MHz, Non-ECC, SODIMM
    16 GB, 1 x 16 GB, DDR4, 2933 MHz, Non-ECC, SODIMM
    16 GB, 2 x 8 GB, DDR4, 2933 MHz, Non-ECC, SODIMM
    32 GB, 1 x 32 GB, DDR4, 2933 MHz, Non-ECC, SODIMM
    32 GB, 2 x 16 GB, DDR4, 2933 MHz, Non-ECC, SODIMM
    64 GB, 2 x 32 GB, DDR4, 2933 MHz, Non-ECC, SODIMM

    Battery

    56 Whr, 3-cell, Lithium-ion polymer
    97 Whr, 6-cell, Lithium-ion polymer

    Storage

    M.2 2230, 256 GB, Gen 3 PCIe x4 NVMe, Class 35 SSD
    M.2 2280, 256 GB, Gen 3 PCIe x4 NVMe, Class 40 SSD
    M.2 2280, 512 GB, Gen 3 PCIe x4 NVMe, Class 40 SSD
    M.2 2280, 1 TB, Gen 3 PCIe x4 NVMe, Class 40 SSD
    M.2 2280, 2 TB, Gen 3 PCIe x4 NVMe, Class 40 SSD
    M.2 2280, 512 GB, Gen 3 PCIe x4 NVMe, Class 40 SSelf-Encrypting Opal 2.0 SSD
    M.2 2280, 1 TB, Gen 3 PCIe x4 NVMe, Class 40 SSelf-Encrypting Opal 2.0 SSD
    M.2 2280, 512 GB, Gen 3 PCIe x4 NVMe, Class 50 SSD
    M.2 2280, 1 TB, Gen 3 PCIe x4 NVMe, Class 50 SSD

    Dimensions 

    Front Height: 8.67 mm ( 0.34 in.)
    Rear Height: 13.15 mm (0.52 in.)
    Width: 374.48 mm (14.74 in.)
    Depth: 248.08 mm (9.77 in.)

    Weight

    1.84 kg (4.05 lbs)

    Ports / Slots

    • 4 USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C™ port with Thunderbolt™ 3
    • 1 Universal Audio Jack
    • 1 Full size SD card slot
    • 1 Lock Slot


    Dell XPS 15 - From $1849.99

    Dell XPS 15
    Dell XPS 15

    We have looked at both ends of the spectrum with Dell so far, with the Inspiron 7591 at the lower end of price and performance and the Precision Mobile Workstation at the top end. The Dell XPS 15 sits right in the middle. It’s a medium performance, moderately priced (by Dell standards) laptop that is targeted at the business user. 

    The new XPS is pretty interesting, and the display looks pretty incredible with an ultra-narrow bezel and the upgraded display option with over 4k resolution in a 15.6” size. The upgraded UHD+ display is also a touch screen which I find quite useful even in CAD software and circuit board design. While that is impressive enough, it’s also 500nit brightness, which means it’s going to be usable outdoors in all lighting conditions.

    The Intel Core i7-10750H processor has certainly been popular on this list and is featured again on this Dell XPS 15. While you can get lower-priced options than the starting price shown above, that is the price of the cheapest pre-configured i7 based XPS 15 with 16GB of RAM. Unfortunately this laptop also only comes with a 256GB NVMe Solid State Drive which is not particularly large - if you don’t want to pay extra for the UHD+ touch display then I would recommend customising the laptop to have at least a 512GB drive when ordering. 

    The graphics card is not incredibly exciting but is fine for the Altium Designer user. The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 Ti is the base model of the 1600 series of graphics cards, which itself is a step down from the RTX series we have seen on other laptops. 

    While the graphics card is not exciting, the battery is. Suppose you can stand the extra 200g (0.5lb) of weight. In that case, you can have an 85Wh battery configured with the laptop which, combined with the lower power graphics and efficient 10th generation laptop processor, you can expect to have one of the best battery lives on this list. If you are on the go a lot and working away from a power connection, the XPS 15 might be the right choice for you.

    Processor

    10th Generation Intel® Core™ i7-10750H (12MB Cache, up to 5.0 GHz, 6 cores)

    Operating System

    Windows 10 Home, 64-bit, English

    Graphics

    NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 1650 Ti 4GB GDDR6

    Display

    15.6" UHD+ (3840 x 2400) InfinityEdge Touch Anti-Reflective 500-Nit Display

    Memory

    16GB DDR4-2933MHz, 2x8G
    32GB DDR4-2933MHz, 2x16G

    Battery

    6-Cell Battery, 86WHr (Integrated)

    Storage

    256GB M.2 PCIe NVMe Solid State Drive
    512GB M.2 PCIe NVMe Solid State Drive
    1TB M.2 PCIe NVMe Solid State Drive

    Dimensions (H x W x D)

    Height: 0.71" (18 mm)
    Width: 13.57" (344.72 mm)
    Depth: 9.06" (230.14 mm)

    Weight

    1.81 kg (4 lbs) with 56Wh battery
    2.05 kg (4.5lbs) with 85Wh battery

    Ports / Slots

    1x USB-C 3.1 with power delivery & DisplayPort
     Full size SD card reader v6.0 3.5mm headphone/microphone combo jack 
    Wedge-shaped lock slot
    2x Thunderbolt™ 3 with power delivery & DisplayPort


    Engineering/CAD Laptops

    Dell G5 15 SE - $1109

    Dell G5 15 SE
    Dell G5 15 SE

    Our third Dell on the list also has a very budget-friendly price. The brand new AMD Ryzen 5 4700H is on par with the Intel i7-9750H in the Inspiron. However, the AMD Radeon RX 5600M GPU is significantly more powerful than the GTX 1050 in the Inspiron with two to three times the performance in every benchmark! Unfortunately, this laptop is considerably heavier than the Inspiron, coming in at 2.3kg (5.15lb) starting weight compared to the ultra-lightweight 1.59kg (3.5lb) of the Inspiron 7000.

    For an extra $100, you can upgrade to the AMD Ryzen 7 4800H CPU which gives you about 3% more performance than the default Ryzen 5 4600H. While the 16GB model will set you back $1109, as with the Inspiron 7000, you could buy the 8GB model and buy more DDR4 SO-DIMM RAM yourself to upgrade the laptop. 

    The basic model only comes with 256GB of NVMe storage, so I would highly recommend customising the laptop during the order process to upgrade that to 512GB at a minimum. CAD applications can consume a huge amount of disk space, as can the files they generate.

    Processor

    AMD Ryzen™ 7 4800H Mobile Processor with Radeon™ Graphics

    Operating System

    Windows 10 Home 64-bit English

    Graphics

    AMD Radeon™ RX 5600M

    Display

    15.6 inch FHD(1920x1080) 300nits WVA Anti-Glare LED Backlit Display(non-touch), 144Hz refresh rate

    Memory

    16GB, 2x8GB, DDR4, 3200MHz

    Battery

    51Whr or 68Whr

    Storage

    1TB M.2 PCIe NVMe Solid State Drive

    Dimensions 

    (21.6mmx365.5mmx254mm)

    Weight

    2.3 kg (5.15lb)

    Ports / Slots

    1. Standard SD card | 2. Headset jack | 3. USB 2.0 |4. USB 2.0 | 5. Wedge lock slot | 6. Power-in | 7. mini DP
    HDMI 2.0 SuperSpeed 
    USB 3.2 Gen 1
    RJ45 Ethernet
    USB-C DisplayPort Alt-Mode only


    MSI GS75 Stealth - From $1699

    MSI GS75 Stealth laptops for engineering software
    MSI GS75 Stealth

    For a laptop which has “stealth” in its name, this laptop certainly has gone all out on the RGB lighting with “Gold Diamond” accent! While this laptop is far heavier than my criteria dictates should be on the list, I have kept it in for a reason - and it’s not all the flashy LEDs! The laptop comes with some fantastic graphics card choices. The GS75 STEALTH-1243, the cheapest model at $1699, and the GS75 STEALTH-243 at $2299 both come with the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2070. The GS75 Stealth-1074 at $2899 comes with the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q. There are more differentiations between the models than just the graphics card.

    The NVIDIA RTX 2080 Max-Q is by far the most powerful graphics card on this list. It is 240% faster than the worst graphics card on the list, the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 Mobile… on the least impressive performance gain benchmark. It’s up to 340% faster on some benchmarks than the GTX 1050 and typically runs around 265% faster. The NVIDIA RTX 2070 Max-Q is no slouch either, with the NVIDIA RTX 2080 being just 6 to 19% faster than it across all benchmarks.

    If you’re working with large CAD models, doing video editing, or large GPU-based simulations, you’re going to love the 8GB of video RAM the graphics cards come with. While many laptops on this list have 4-6GB of video RAM, the extra on the RTX models gives you that bit of extra you need for dealing with a lot of graphics data or large textures. With such a power-hungry graphics card, it is good to see it’s back up with an 82Wh battery, so you can at least use the laptop with the graphics card under moderate to heavy loads for some time despite the extra weight.

    It is a shame that it’s running the previous generation CPU, however as noted on the Inspiron 7000 review, the new 10th generation Intel I7-10750H is only around 4-9% faster than the i7-9750H. I would have loved to have seen Windows 10 Pro as an option on this laptop too, however, with the flashy keyboard, I imagine that business users probably are not the primary market for this beast.

    While I’m typically not a fan of huge laptops, I am a fan of big screens - two very much so conflicting ideas. This laptop is only one of two on the list with a 17.3” screen. While the large screen does add to the size, it can also relieve eye strain trying to focus on small details on a small screen if you don’t have the option of an external monitor.

    Processor

    Core i7-9750H  2.6 - 4.5GHz

    Operating System

    Windows 10 Home

    Graphics

    NVIDIA GeForce RTX™ 2080 Max-Q

    Display

    17.3" FHD (1920x1080), 144Hz 3ms, IPS-Level

    Memory

    32GB (16G*2) DDR4 2666MHz

    Battery

    4 cell (82Whr)

    Storage

    1TB NVMe SSD

    Dimensions 

    15.59"x10.22"x0.75"

    Weight

    2.40 kg (5.29lbs)

    Ports / Slots

    Micro SD
    USB 3.2 Gen2 *3
    Thunderbolt 3*1; USB-C Gen1 *1
    HDMI (supports 4K @ 60Hz)
    Audio Port 1 /1


    Microsoft Surface Book 3 15”- $2299.99

    laptops for engineering software Microsoft Surface Book 3 15”
    Microsoft Surface Book 3 15”

    The Microsoft Surface Book is probably not what most people would expect to see in a laptop for engineering software, but it does have some interesting features. The surface book is somewhat of a hybrid between a tablet and a laptop. The keyboard is detachable, essentially acting as a docking station with an integrated battery, keyboard and touchpad for the tablet. 

    The battery life in the Surface Book 3 is exceptional but comes at a severe performance penalty. The Intel Core U series processors run at just 15W, compared to the H series at 45W, that every other Intel-based laptop on this list uses. It’s disappointing that no concrete watthour specification is provided, instead, the Surface Book gives the ambiguous “hours” - which will change depending on how you use it. At full power usage, some reviews state the battery only lasts 3hours, whilst others say 10-15 hours. The i7-10750H that is popular in other laptops on this list is around 20% faster, but as stated above does have three times the power draw as the penalty.

    Depending on your use case, this could be a great option with the tablet mode - but just like last year, I think the “2-in-1” configuration of laptops/ultrabooks just isn’t quite mature enough to be used as a primary engineering computer just yet.

    Processor

    Quad-core 10th Gen Intel® Core™ i7-1065G7 Processor

    Operating System

    Windows 10 Home

    Graphics

    Intel® Core™ i7-1065G7 models: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1660 Ti with Max-Q Design w/6GB GDDR6 graphics memory

    Display

    Surface Book 3 15” PixelSense™ Display
    Screen: 15” PixelSense™ Display
    Resolution: 3240 x 2160, (260 PPI)
    10 point multi-touch G5
    Aspect ratio: 3:2
    Contrast ratio: 1600:1

    Memory

    16GB or 32GB 3733Mhz LPDDR4x

    Battery

    Up to 17.5 hours of typical device usage 

    Storage

    Solid-state drive (SSD) options: 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, or 2TB PCIe SSD

    Dimensions (H x W x D)

    343 mm x 251 mm x 15 mm-23 mm

    Weight

    1.9 kg (4.2 lbs)

    Ports / Slots

    2 x USB-A (version 3.1 Gen 2)
    1 x USB-C® (version 3.1 Gen 2 with USB Power Delivery revision 3.0)
    3.5mm headphone jack
    2 x Surface Connect ports (one on keyboard base, one on tablet)
    Full-size SDXC card reader
    Compatible with Surface Dial* on- and off-screen interaction


    Best Engineering Laptops for Students

    From the list above, the Dell Inspiron 7591, or the Dell G15 has to be my top picks for a student. Both are budget conscious, and the Inspiron 7591 is the lightest laptop in the list, which is great for traveling to and from university. However, the Dell G5 15 has significantly more graphics power than the Inspiron though it comes with a substantial weight penalty. 

    If your course demands a more powerful laptop, or you want something a bit more rugged, then the Dell XPS 15 offers a great tradeoff between price, performance and battery. The primary competitor to the Dell XPS 15 is the MSI Prestige 15, offered at a lower price yet having only slightly lower performance whilst retaining the large battery capacity and lower weight.

    I wish I could offer one solid suggestion when it comes to the best CAD/engineering laptop for students. However, it really depends on the demands of your course and your usage.

    • Low Weight, Low Price: Dell Inspiron 7591
    • Low Price, Performance Graphics: Dell G5 15
    • Low Weight, High Performance: MSI Prestige 15
    • Higher Performance: Dell XPS 15

    If you need to catch public transport to and from University/College and/or are walking around campus a lot with your laptop, do not underestimate the weight. All of these laptops are within 1kg (2.2 lb) of each other, the difference between them when in a shoulder bag or backpack with your other items can drag you down by the end of the day. 

    As a final thought for students, last year we had several 9th generation Intel i7 based laptops with NVIDIA GTX graphics cards which have since been updated. We still have some laptops with similar specifications in the list this year, so you may be able to find some fantastic deals available on previous year model laptops, or refurbished laptops if you shop around.

    Best Engineering Laptops for Business

    The needs of businesses are generally going to be different than those of students. For businesses, cost is typically less of an issue as productivity gains bring their own savings. If you struggle to get time at a single desk and are frequently on the move yet need the power of a workstation computer. It’s pretty hard to look past the Dell Precision Mobile Workstation series. Either the 15” or 17” models would be perfect for doing real engineering work while staying mobile. 

    For something at a lower price point, the Dell XPS 15 offers a fair tradeoff for businesses just as it does for students who can spend a little more money. It’s designed with the business user in mind, and despite the graphics card being a lower-end option, it’s still quite a capable machine.

    If cost is an issue, but you need higher performance graphics than the Dell XPS 15 can offer, the MSI GS75 Stealth really caught my attention. The weight is higher than I would personally prefer to have in a laptop, but you get a lot of features for that added weight - such as a larger screen, lots of battery and an incredibly powerful graphics card. If you need to make quick revisions to models or products at a clients office and then generate a render on your laptop, the MSI GS75 would be my top choice. Likewise, if you are working on a client’s site and are working on complex projects which require a lot of graphics power - the MSI GS75 is probably going to be the best bet without stepping up to the price point of a Dell Precision Mobile Workstation.

    If you are using software that requires, or strongly prefers ISV certified hardware, then one of your only choices will be the Dell Precision Mobile Workstation series.

    Suppose you need a powerful computer for engineering work and visiting client sites, and do the intensive engineering work at your desk at home or in the office. In that case, you might consider building or buying an engineering desktop computer and purchasing a cheap laptop to take on the road with you. When you’re not trying to save weight, power and space, components are a lot cheaper and more powerful. So even a mid-range desktop is typically going to be more powerful and substantially less expensive than a high spec CAD laptop. By keeping the power at your desk, you can have a cheap laptop or tablet that is sufficient for client demonstrations, requirements gathering, or technical work, reducing your total costs and increasing your productivity.

    The laptops for engineering software shown above are perfect for running Altium Designer, the industry's top set of CAD tools for PCB designers. Talk to an Altium expert today to learn more.

    All product and company names are trademarks™ or registered® trademarks of their respective holders. Use of them does not imply any affiliation with or endorsement by them.

    About Author

    About Author

    Mark Harris is an engineer's engineer, with over 12 years of diverse experience within the electronics industry, varying from aerospace and defense contracts to small product startups, hobbies and everything in between. Before moving to the United Kingdom, Mark was employed by one of the largest research organizations in Canada; every day brought a different project or challenge involving electronics, mechanics, and software. He also publishes the most extensive open source database library of components for Altium Designer called the Celestial Database Library. Mark has an affinity for open-source hardware and software and the innovative problem-solving required for the day-to-day challenges such projects offer. Electronics are passion; watching a product go from an idea to reality and start interacting with the world is a never-ending source of enjoyment. 

    You can contact Mark directly at: mark@originalcircuit.com

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