Best Laptop for Computer Science Students 2017

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Buying the best laptop for computer science students can be tricky. Yes, with a computer science major someday you’ll contribute into making faster and more efficient devices, including laptops, in your career.

Ironically…

You might not even need the latest and most expensive laptop out there to do it and much less to graduate successfully. 

Unfortunately most incoming computer science majors believe the opposite and make the huge mistake of  buying an overpowered laptop they may not find as useful. 

But…

If you go through this article, I assure you won’t end up like us ( I myself made that error as a freshman ).

So how will this article help?

Besides a short list of what the best laptops for computer science are, this article  will also tell you exactly what specs you need for  computer science as your major, what other features the best laptop should have, the software you will be using and even which classes require a laptop.

By the time you finish this article (if you can, it’s a bit long), you won’t need to look elsewhere for more info. 

For those who already know what’s coming and know what to look or simply don’t have the the time to go through the entire guide I’m going to go over the best laptops for computer science students first. However you can always jump the guide by using the table of contents if something isn’t clear.

Top 5 Best Laptops For Computer Science Students

Among these 5 choices you should find a suitable laptop regardless of what Operating System you like to roll with, your concentration or what your budget is. Just keep scrolling down until you find something you are comfortable with. If you are still a freshman however you can refer back to the guide after it if there’s anything not clear about the descriptions.

Best Laptop For Computer Science Majors

Apple MacBook Air 13.3-Inch Laptop

CPU: 1.6 GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 (Turbo Boost up to 2.7 GHz) | RAM: 8 GB of 1600 MHz LPDDR3 RAM |Storage: 256 GB PCIe-based flash storage | GPU: Intel HD Graphics 6000 | Display: 13.3-Inch Glossy Widescreen , 1440 x 900 resolution

This might be surprising to some of you but the fact of the matter is. A MacBook, especially the Air even today, is the most widely used device for computer scientists and anyone involved in development. If you have the chance just try and go to a conference of computer scientists, you will see A LOT of shiny apples all over the auditorium. Not only that some of your professors probably have one too.

Besides being able to blaze through pretty much any software for computer science you may encounter due to its high performance, you’ll have access to all three operating systems if you roll with a MacBook. Being a Unix based machine you can run Linux packages natively. Any other developing environment or software that may not be compatible withi Mac or Linux (.NET, Visual Studio) it will simply require a quick dual boot to launch Windows.

As a bonus, it does have a lot of languages installed natively too (C, C++,Python,Java) so you won’t have to go through the painstaking task of finding an IDE and installing them yourself, you can program for both android and iOS devices on it should you choose to take courses on app development later on as well.

The performance can actually be configured all the way to an intel core i7 processor, 512GB and 8GB RAM but this may overkill for the kind of assignments you may encounter as an undergrad, the intel core i5 and 256GB SSD will serve you well just make sure to stick with 8GB RAM. RAM always comes in handy when it comes to developing especially when using third party software to do it.

It’s worth mentioning it has the latest SSD technology on it despite being last year’s model and actually on it’s way to being discontinued: PCIe based flash storage. This will give you the best performance with any software for computer science (to look up code and load emulations/simulations faster) as well as boot up your machine within seconds

Besides striking the right performance for computer science majors , the main reason why it’s the top laptop out there is the extreme portability it has: 3.0lb and +13 hours of battery life. Will you get the same specs from any other laptop? Probably not. You’ll be pretty much coding anywhere you want even when commuting to school on a single charge while also not hesitating to bring it to places where you might not even need it. 

Lastly, the keyboard and touchpad. Both are of high quality, though the keys have low travel they are quite responsive and actually it’s the favorite keyboard by most students and even authors these days. It’s also backlit!

It would have been the perfect machine save for one small detail, the resolution. It isn’t the ideal full HD everyone recommends these days but it isn’t the lowest resolution cheap laptops with TN displays have either: 1366 x 768 but actually  1600 x 900. The resolution should pose no issues for coding or reading any documentation for your assignments, if it weren’t you wouldn’t see so many using it after all.

Overall, this is the best machine you can get for computer science. It has pretty much every feature perfectly synced for it. The best laptop for computer science students  , no doubt.

I suggest you grab one if you have the budget (it isn’t overly expensive either) because it is being discontinued and people will start looking to buy refurbished ones after that as you may notice in social media and forums those trying land the 11” MacBook Air which already is out of the market (it’s that good).

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Best Windows Laptop for Computer  Science 

Dell XPS 13

DELL XPS 13 Best Windows Laptop For Computer Science Students

CPU: Intel Core i7-7500u, up to 3.5 GHz Processor | RAM: 8GB lpddr3-1866mhz |Storage: 256GB SSD storage | GPU: Intel Iris Graphics 6100 | Display: 13.3-inch infinity edge touch Display, full HD (1920X1080) Resolution

This is pretty much the response from Windows based machines against the Air’s ultra portability and performance packed into one and as a matter fact it may actually surpass the Air in these two features. There are two things that makes the XPS 13” special for all computer science students out there as you’ll see soon.

Like the Air, the performance is highly configurable and actually goes beyond by offering you a 16GB RAM and and the latest 7th generation intel core i7 processor (although the difference between the latest generations isn’t significant).

The graphics card goes beyond the common integrated graphics card too : Intel Iris Graphics. However the price for such configuration is far too much for a student and the performance way too much for school as well.

The Intel core i5 and 8GB RAM should be plenty for any coding and developing environment encounter during computer science (Visual Studio, Eclipse, etc).

Apart from that, it excels where the Air couldn’t: the display. It comes in two configurations: a full HD resolution display and a QHD touchscreen (4k resolution). Obviously there’s no reason to overspend and sacrifice battery life with the Touchscreen version. The full HD resolution is sufficient and will give you enough workspace area to go through lines of code to follow logic without having to scroll down too much, dealing with multiple windows at the same time will be comfortable as well.

Both editions come with the infinity edge display feature which basically means no bezels around to fit in a bigger screen within the display and giving the laptop a much smaller and thinner design.

While you lose the advantage of having to program for iOS devices with it (although there are few tricks but not worth pursuing as of now), you do get one of the one of the best compatibility with Linux Systems with the XPS. As a matter of fact it has a developer edition already pre-installed with it.

The keyboard , trackpad and design also remain of top quality overall. The battery life however is not as good as the Air (who can rival it really?) but it can last up to 10 hours while only weighting 2.9lb.

Lastly, the dell xps 13 has more ports than the Air. The Thunderbolt 3 connectivity in fact allows you to use two external displays for a more productive and faster set up: one screen with your documentation (or someone’s code online) while another one for your developing environment. That is actually something quite popular among computer science students. If you have the budget and you rather not deal with Macs just yet, the DELL XPS 13 is definitely the  best laptop for computer science students from windows machines you can get today.

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Surface Pro 4

surface-pro-best-lightweight-laptop-for-computer-science

CPU: Intel i5 Core | RAM: 8GB RAM | Storage: 256 SSD | GPU: Integrated | Display: 12.3” 2736 x 1824 Glossy | Weight: 1.7-2.2 lb  | Battery: 6 hours

While the surface pro 4 may not be quite popular among computer scientists and developers around the world. If you are a student it becomes one of the most useful devices you can get your hands and if you are a computer science student you can also get everything you need for your classes and assignments from it.

If you are willing to give the stylus a try, oneNote along with the Surface Pro is capable of replacing your entire library of books along with all of your school supplies. You can directly take notes on it as if it were a real note book, this is actually what makes it popular among all students in general and the only reason why I am even recommending it here.

No matter what your degree is , the portability and functionality of the surface pro remains extremely helpful to keep everything organized and have easy access to any information you may need (since it’ll be around you at all times) for computer scientists this may mean reading documentation or what a piece of function/code can do around the web while commuting or getting back home.

Another reason of why I am listing the Surface Pro here is the fact that it’s highly configurable in terms of performance, you can choose the performance base on the concentration or the classes you wish to take  while not breaking your budget.  It starts from an m3 core processor with 128GB of storage capacity (SSD) and 4GB RAM all the way up to an intel core i7 processor with 16GB RAM and even 1TB of SSD. But I’d advice you to stick with the configuration presented here: i5 core processor, 8GB RAM and 256GB though that may be a bit pricey it’ll be future proof for anything you encounter while getting your degree.

For those on a budget who still want the benefits of the Surface Pro however here’s a breakdown of what you can expect from other cheaper configurations:

M3 Core Processor, 4GB RAM: you can run pretty much any editors and run your code with no issues. Visual Studio also runs fine.

i5 Core Processor,  4GB RAM: similarly as above with more multitasking. You can also run Virtual Machines but probably limited to one or two.

i5 Core Processor , 8GB RAM: More ideal for several virtual machines. This is the only configuration that can run App development environments such as Android Studio without any lagging issues too.

The storage capacity at only 128GB can be quite limiting and you’ll start to feel it after your first year where you may use Visual Studio/App development software which can take dozens of GBs each to install. In which case, if you can afford it , 256GB is highly recommended.

Apart from that there’s not many issues as far as display and keyboard goes. The display although only 12.5” boasts more resolution than your average premium ultrabook: 2,736×1924 as opposed to the full HD most laptops here have. The keyboard might take some time getting used to if you plan on using the surface pro on your lap:it doesn’t feel as solid as a real laptop but nothing that anyone has complained about even with long sessions of typing on any hard surface. 

Definitely not cheap but worth every penny as it will be far useful for every class you may encounter.
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Best Budget Laptop For Computer Science

Asus Zenbook

Asus ZenBook Best Budget Laptop For Computer Science Students

CPU:  Intel i5-7200U 2.5 GHz Processor (Turbo to 3.1 GHz) | RAM: 8GB DDR3 RAM |Storage: 256GB SSD | GPU: Intel HD | Display: 13.3-Inch Full-HD

You will find a perfect match with the Asus ZenBook especially if you are on a budget and still looking for a premium laptop like the MacBook Air.

Being extremely portable and thin, you’ll also have no problems with portability and to do some coding on the go . The long battery life comes in handy to code anywhere on campus far away from outlets or just look up documentation on the way home. Loading heavy IDEs such as eclipse, Visual Studio and using Android Emulators should be no problems with the specs shown here either.

On the flip side, the 13.3 full HD display makes it much easier to scroll down documentation and having multiple windows for coding than smaller resolution or displays of lower size and the matte display comes in handy to guard your eyes off from reflections in class rooms and library rooms as well as those long sessions of coding.

The only drawback besides the battery life not being as good as the Air or the Dell ( 9 hours) but still quite long is the keyboard, it’s not the highest quality but nothing to write home about. Not many laptops can pair up with the Air’s keyboard or any of the MacBooks keyboard either.

If you aren’t nitpicky about keyboard quality, then this is an extremely useful device for all instances and any type of assignment you will encounter as a computer science student.

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Best Cheap Laptop For Computer Science

Asus VivoBook E403SA

VivoBook-ASUS-Best-Laptop-For-Computer-Science

CPU: Intel  N3700 1.6 GHz, Turbo to 2.4 GHz  | RAM: 4 GB DDR3 | Storage: 128GB eMMC Flash | Display: 14” Full HD 

If your budget is even lower but still want to get the benefits of having a Windows Machine without having to resort to other operating systems, then this is the best deal you can get for the price while still having enough performance and other great features for most instances during your computer science degree.

The processor is of the lowest end but this is sufficient to run Visio, Visual Studio and code editors (sublime text would be the best choice as it is not very demanding on hardware). Beware, you won’t be able to run several virtual machines or app development software without having issues with it due to being RAM limited but for those few instances you can always resort to the computer labs or any desktop you have access to.

You also get decent storage 128GB with it as well but if you run out , you can always use the SD Card reader that comes along and plug it in as if it were your new “internal hard drive”. I’d advice you to get a fast one too such as the Samsumg Evo

All other instances are pretty much premium specs. You get a full HD and bigger size 14” display than all the laptops shown here , a high quality keyboard (surprisingly) along with more than enough battery life for an entire school day : 10 hours. Best of all, it’s quite portable too only weighting 3.3lb.

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How To Buy A Laptop for Computer Science Students

The following section will go over the CS program, curriculum, software and the classes you will encounter so you can understand the choices given above and can check out what the best laptop for computer science is by yourself.

The Computer Science Department

It’s very crucial to check what your specific department has to say about laptops. Do that now if you haven’t. What to check? Classes that might be require you to bring one and what branch of Computer Science you have chosen.

Operating System

The first thing you should probably ask the school is the OS they use and recommend. Some schools are Microsoft all the way, but some schools teach more on the Linux side right off the bat.

Lab

All good CS institutes and departments out there offer awesome 24/7 labs where students can work as much as they can. In general, it’s way better to work and study on these labs. You might not need a laptop at all if you do since you have lab access. But who wants to spend the entire day in a lab? If you do, by all means do it save yourself some money. However because you are a computer science major it becomes extremely handy to be coding on the go.

Assignments

You won’t be compiling the next Microsoft Office, Firefox or Windows. Nothing you’ll code will take too much time to compile or run. There might be an instance when you do need to compile something heavy probably for independent research (you choose to do it) and even then it’ll be a one time thing where you can use your school computers for it but it is extremely unlikely to find such projects in regular classes.

Software & OS

Although most computer science majors will only use vim/emacs(code editors) for courses and homeworks as you will see later in this article, you should find out what specific software  they might use anyways and check the compatibility with your OS of preference (Linux,Mac,Windows). Other than that all CS software (99.9% of them) can run on any modern laptop with no issues.

Once you find that out, don’t go around buying all the software you are going to use, your school will give them for free to you or give you a few links to get a free version. Otherwise they can be very expensive.

Remote access

Most schools will have remote access to their lab computers. You can use your desktop or whatever laptop you currently have to connect to them and use them remotely. This means that you can run heavy software that wouldn’t run well on your laptop or desktop should you happen to need them. I know my school didn’t have it but today I am sure it does and most schools should as well.

In theory you could just buy a Chromebook or a tablet for all school purposes and taking notes or do some research and do your coding with any other laptop or desktop you already have. That is if you really don’t want to buy a laptop for your school studies or if you are really on a budget. 

Classes

What are classes like in the CS Department anyways? Do you really need to take notes with your laptop? Will laptops be required to take to classes?

As far as I am aware, classes are still being carried the old fashioned way. That is , class hours are lectures where you listen to a professor speak and watch a presentation as you take notes with pen and paper. There will be drawings so taking notes with a laptop can be time consuming and difficult unless you have a touchscreen laptop or a tablet with a stylus (digital pen) to take notes. You’ll also be given practice questions and quizzes during class and these still will require pen and paper.

What about Labs?

You’ll be given a machine and assignment to complement the lecture, this is where you’ll need a machine but even then you won’t need your laptop just yet. This will be graded and you’ll most likely end up submitting them online after the class is over that’s where your laptop usage comes in, some assignments require you to use the computer lab on your free time but you can also use your laptop to finish them and submit them online.

If you are a freshman, as you will soon find out, the time you’ll spend on computer assignments is much less than the time you’ll spend reading, taking notes, doing your homework and studying without a computer.  Exams are written with pen and paper as well.

Why are not laptops required in class for us?

You’re likely to be on facebook and check your email than listening what your professor has to say. As you’ll see yourself during your freshman year, most classes involve a lot of math rather than coding and you’ll be using computer programs to solve problems much later and  always away from lectures.

You’ll notice something interesting too: most of your CS professors have ugly-looking and worse laptops than all of your other professors. You can probably guess why by now, if not keep reading.

Software for Computer Science

This is more or less the classes in a typical CS Curriculum that will use a computer software.

Course Description Software
Introduction to Computing Learn advanced coding skills (might be for a device or even a robot) Python
Object Oriented Programming As the name suggests… Java
Data Structures and Algorithms You’ll learn what these are in OOP. Java
Computer Organization  Learn how computers work w/ C language. Optional
Digital Design Lab Design and implement digital devices Daq Boards
Design Operating Systems Build an operating system with labs and/or projects C
Computer Networks (Elective) development of networke applications. C/C++, Java, or Python

As you can see not all classes require  a laptop. Only a few out of the 32 classes will. I put the software(a coding language most of the time) you’re likely to encounter and if it’s any different they will more or less require the same specs from a laptop.

However in introductory courses, professors can get very picky on what software to use: one could be using C++ and Eclipse/Java and another one Python even though the same subject is being taught.

Luckily, you’ll find that after a few semesters down the road, the choice will become yours and you’ll be more open to choose and explore what software to use for your assignments. These software or rather languages do not require a powerful laptop, virtually any laptop will do just fine.

But you might run into heavy software such as Unity (Animation) or lots of data analysis (in research or elective) but these are very unlikely to be required by your department unless you choose to take that route.

Even then, these projects will most likely be a one time thing and I doubt you’ll want to make your laptop more heavy and way more expensive for all four years of school just for one or two assignments.

Recommended Specs for Computer Science

This is the most important section of this article. Most of you know probably knew everything I wrote above and skipped it but I recommend all of you to try your best and get over this one.

Display

This is probably the most important feature for a computer science student even more so than processing power and storage.

There are two things to worry about as far as display goes:

Resolution

You’ll be staring at the screen a lot. Especially after the first year, you’ll end up sitting in front of the screen for hours trying to figure out what’s wrong with your code.  You also may want to take care of your eyes and prevent from straining them, so try to make your workspace area as comfortable as possible. The best way to do it is by choosing a good resolution. Or you might need a pair (or new pair ) of good working eyes after you graduate. 

Most cheap laptops on the market today have a 1366 x 768 widescreen resolution.  This is not optimal for reading code, it’s very wide which means you see a lot of whitespace at the end of code lines (very long lines of code are frowned upon) and you don’t get a lot of vertical viewing to see multiple lines of code.  As a result you end up having to scroll a lot to see code logic. When you’re trying to follow a logic structure that can be inefficient and can make understanding your own code difficult.  To counter this get a laptop with at least a 1920 x 1080 resolution (one step below might be the limit).

So you don’t necessarily want a “gigantic” screen, you want one with a good resolution to see more code and split screen is actually useful at this resolution too.

Size

A huge screen is a bonus though (paired with a good resolution) but not necessary and in some cases counterproductive as the size can affect your laptop’s portability.

It’s a personal preference because it’s you that’s got to carry it all over the place . Small is good because you will be more likely to have your laptop with you when you need it but too small can also kill your eyes. Unless your are Shaquille O’Neal and don’t mind carrying a 17” screen, don’t buy a huge screen.  I started out with a 17″ laptop and ended up not even bringing it to school. Not going to make that mistake again. My advice is to stick with a screen size of 13” as the minimum.

Weight

What about weight? Lightweight of course this allows you to bring your laptop everywhere in and out of lectures and to do some coding anywhere and anytime. Personally I found it most important feature, even 1 pound can make quite a difference if you have to carry it all day.  . However this might not be feasible if you need a high end laptop which is very unlikely (if you’re doing Animation as part of your CS degree). But always try your best best to keep it light even if you have to sacrifice performance or pay more for it ( lightweight laptops with a great performance are not cheap at all ! ).

Battery

Usually computer science classes have outlets so you can charge your laptop in class without issues.  Unfortunately not all of them will be available to you and outside of classes there might be an issue in trying to secure one.

Luckily most laptops today have enough battery  life so you shouldn’t have to worry too much unless of course you go for an overpowered laptop without looking at its battery life which will drain out by the time you get to the next class. I have an HP maxed out in terms of performance and I always have to plug it in, otherwise it’s gone within two hours.

An even longer battery life lets you find study/work areas that are far away from power outlets. This is handy around exam time when the library turns into a zoo. Also handy if you want to code wherever and whenever in the bus, subway, the gym, hallway,etc. There are ven times you may need to go the entire day without recharging and swapping out batteries cells means more to carry and interruption of work.

Aim for a minimum 6h battery life . It will last you all day from lectures back to back without you hoping there’s an outlet available at every lecture.

Processor & RAM

As a computer science student you’ll be limited to programs such as Java,Python,C++ and the like and not much more than that unless you specialize in other areas (Animation, 3D Modeling, Parallel Computing, etc).

So you are more likely going to need that ultra fast processor and maxed out RAM for fast facebook browsing and youtube videos than your school assignments. Coding assignments in particular is unlikely to exceed more than a 1000 lines. In fact a project in the workplace area can be several thousands of lines and still take seconds to compile on a regular modern laptop.

My advice is to stick with 8GB RAM and an Intel core i5 processor (even an Intel core i3 might do or a Chromebook with plenty of RAM).

Before I wrote this article, I did browse around the internet to see what were others advice on this matter and it turns out they usually recommend big specs for ALL computer science students and I really couldn’t figure out where that advice comes from.

However, after giving it some thought, there a few rare instances in which you might need a powerful processor and +8G RAM

Android/iOS emulation

You can still run emulations on a regular laptop (i5 Processor 4GB RAM). However it will be much faster and less frustrating if you get a high end laptop  . Try to get as much RAM/CPU power as you can without compromising the battery/weight and screen size which are much more important for a student.

Compiling Code 

A faster CPU and more RAM will improve compile times and make you less frustrated for sure  but unless you’re building huge projects you won’t notice the difference at all and I can assure you won’t be doing those projects in school.

Animation

In the unlikely case you encounter a class focused on animation(in 3D). Animation software generally will require a far more powerful computer than the ones shown here. You’re better off reading my article on it.

Coding with Web servers and Databases 

For any serious coding though (outside of school work), you will need to run IDEs regularly and database/web servers at the same time. (netbeans, eclipse, VS all take up between 500MB – 1.2 GB RAM alone) . You should try to get a laptop that does not heat up much because such tasks can run for hours or even days.

Bottom Line?

All of the above however are very unlikely for a regular computer science student. So unless you fall into one of those categories there’s no need to go further than i5 core and 4-8b ram, it might take a few more seconds to load up and compile a program but that’s no reason to spend much more money, weight and battery life(higher end CPUs eat up battery life faster) for that alone.

Hard Drive

SDD or HDD

If there’s any money left, get an SSD instead of a HDD for your storage device. For computer science it will speed up your workflow tremendously.  

How? When doing a search through files to reuse a piece of code , the time it will take to find it will be several times shorter with an SSD. I know I did this frequently since I had to reuse the same code for different projects (android apps). It will also tremendously speed up heavyweight IDEs by loading them much faster.

Yeah is not a must, but if you have to use large programs such as Microsoft Visual Studio, you will realise it is such a bliss to have things load up really fast.

Plus there are far more advantages of having an SSD than just increased performance:

Regular hard drives can fail when dropped, bumped, moved while running, and when operated within 30 minutes after having been in freezing temperatures (not good in the winter). I haven’t had this experience myself but it can happen. Besides being a lot faster, lighter and more reliable, SSDs consume less power too. Their price is still the main (if not the only) reason why we still are using old school hard drives. The list goes on.

If you decide to buy a laptop with an SSD, don’t worry too much about the capacity as you can always get an external hard drive for your files. In fact an external hard drive it’s encouraged to back up your projects, files and everything else you don’t want to lose during the semester.

However if you stick to a traditional spinning drive, be sure to get a 7200 rpm drive just to load programs faster.

Storage Capacity

For computer science students, the capacity can be very light (a couple of GB at most) so pretty much any storage device will do. But if you have movies or music that you want to store then you might have to bump the memory or again use an external hard drive.

Graphics Card

As a computer scientist, you shouldn’t worry about graphics unless you plan to game or design games. If you’re a gamer or into game design you generally want something that isn’t Integrated Graphics. However the typical CS student doesn’t have to worry about that unless they do game development with something like Unity.

Just remember though a regular CS curriculum does not include 3D modeling/design/animation . If you are planning to do that not only will you need a GPU but a quad core processor of the latest generation and as much RAM as you can afford to avoid lagging issues when dealing with the software used for it. In other words, it will make your laptop heavy and expensive not a good thing for computer science students at all.

In fact a laptop with an Integrated graphics card has its own advantages:

  1. They have a long battery life. They operate more efficiently in exchange of lower quality of images(which you won’t even notice unless you deal with 3D apps) using less battery power.
  2. It will not tempt you to play a computer games and focus on your work. Your GPA will thank you.

Connectivity

If you end up taking too many digital logic courses(designing/learning complex real circuitry)  or maybe you want to specialize in this area, you will want a few extra USB ports and will definitely need Windows.

Most of the IDEs for FPGAs and microcontrollers are only available on Windows as far as I am aware of. Though this is something typical for an CS student, it’ll be an option for you to study later but not required.

It’s probably also worth getting an external monitor so check what outputs the laptop has. Having code on one screen and reference material/documentation/APIs on the other will make complex assignments during your later years much easier to deal with .

Touchscreen

Whether a touchscreen is useful or not depends on how you plan to take notes. If you plan to type your notes, a touchscreen laptop is a huge mistake because there will be many diagrams in your courses.

Professors do not teach by code most of the time and much worse write the codes on the board for you to type. I personally love taking notes by hands to help me remember the material I just read.

The only situation it might be useful for computer science is if you plan to take notes on it by using a digital pen, but then you would have to deal with the situation of having a small size laptop (or tablet) for coding.

Which Operating System Should I start with?

This is the most controversial topic for Computer Science Students when choosing a laptop. The issue is really about the compatibility of the software you will need and use. But as mentioned before you should probably ask the school for the OS they use for teaching and which one they recommend. Some schools are Microsoft all the way and believe it or not some schools are Linux all the way.

Windows

Not much to say here. Everyone knows everything is supported on windows except for some open source stuff(about 60%?). However you can always dual-boot Linux with Windows.

Linux

As a CS  student, you will invariably be required to learn Unix/Linux.

Open source programs are all available in Linux which is why at some point you have to come acquainted with it. Ideally every CS student should learn Linux but I know that’s not something incoming freshmen are looking forward to for now. I didn’t even know what Linux was until my super computer geek cousin told me about it. Just remember they don’t really sell Linux-based computers, so if you want that option, you’ll probably have to buy a Windows computer (or a computer with no OS), and install Linux on it yourself. Check for compatibility with the manufacturer if not you might run into issues like bricking or heating your computer too much.

Mac

OSX and Linux work equally well for CS students, so it’s a personal preference. Linux has a steeper learning curve, and OSX is more expensive. The reason behind its usefulness is that OSX is based on a variant of BSD unix accessible under terminal.

It’s very flexible: you’ll get the OS X interface with the ability to drop down to the shell  and never or rarely have a problem running any software you need for class . So you are likely to do fine with either if you choose to get acquainted with Linux right now: a Linux Machine or a OSX Machine. The Mac OS also includes a compiler for C, C++, Python, Objective C. Windows does not. You’ll notice some of your professors using a Mac during lectures as well. It’s very popular among CS students and professionals these days. You’ll see a lot of shinning apples if you try to go to a CS conference.

Tip

If you have a choice and you are a freshman, I would say go with whatever you feel comfortable with. Productivity is the best when you know your tools well. Windows, Mac, Linux are all fine as long as you know what you are doing.  Of course, if you intend to develop iOS apps, Mac is your only choice.

Just remember the majority of the work done in the department of computer science is done using open source tools. This means Linux, but you can do ok with an Apple or Windows machine. It can  give you more hassle but I’m sure you’ll be happily deal with it if you really love your Windows/Mac machine.

Summary

As you can see you do not need a very expensive or a high end laptop with the latest tech available as some may suggest.  You can even do a PhD with any old school laptop if you want as long as you can install linux on it (you can run Linux on a chromebook by the way) .  My recommendation is to get something comfortable for your eyes and hands and portable enough to bring it everywhere with you so you can do some coding on the go and have it with you during lectures and outside of lectures. 

A good school will have you on the computer coding for about 4 hours a day away from lectures (homeworks, projects, etc) for classes that require coding. Sometimes you might not even have time to recharge it, so get a very portable laptop with a long battery life too.

Again, nothing you do is going to be super hardware intensive. So if you’re not looking to use it for anything else (gaming, 3D design) a cheaper laptop is always a good option. But it’s a little nice to have extra features like an SSD , a good screen resolution and size to make your workplace area as comfortable as possible. Those few line of codes won’t just get written in a couple of minutes.

These are my recommendations which is pretty close to what most school students need anyways:

  • I3-i5 Processor
  • SSD Hard Drive if Possible
  • 13-15’’ inch screen size; 1080 resolution
  • Min 4GB RAM (always upgradeable), 8GB for every application related to computer science.
  • Less than 4lb (lighter the better).
  • +6 hours battery life.