5 Best Laptops For Medical Students 2021 (Cheap & Lightweight)

The transition to medical school can be brutal.

For one the terminology used will make you feel like you are learning a new language.

You’ll have to memorize material with a 1000 pages long each.

Take notes to the utmost detail for every lecture.

A few years down the road, you’ll also be moving all over the place dealing with constant patient care simulations.

So yes you’re going to need to carry a laptop/tablet at all times. 

If you don’t, you’ll be wasting waking hours not studying which as we all know could be a hit to your performance.

This post will not get you through med school but at least it will make sure you end up with the best machine to get through it.

Since your fingers will be glued to this thing for a huge part of the day: to take notes, research and even take exams on it, this article can be a HUGE help, isnt it?

Top 5 best Laptops For Medical Students

It really comes down to two devices (the first two on the list) but because I know many of you are already broke at this point I’ve included 3 affordable options right after those two.

If you have any doubts about why I am even recommending these laptops, you can check the last section at the bottom of the for any extra details you may need to know to find the best laptops for med school: what a typical class is like, what kind of software you’ll be using, the kind of stuff you’ll see during exams,etc.

For now I’ll just make a quick summary of what you need to know when picking up a laptop.

Display

A display with +1080p(FHD) resolution and  +12” measured diagonally.

A 13” FHD screen will allow to use split screens comfortably and clearly distinguish the details in histology images.

*You can opt for a 12” or even a lower sized screen provided you have more resolution (higher than FHD). Low resolution displays (HD) aren’t a bad thing (in some cases they’re actually more portable or cheaper) but it’s not the best for multitasking.

Weight
Obviously as light as possible since you’ll be carrying this thing along with textbooks from lectures to clinicals.

Keep it under 3lb.

KeyBoard
Just make sure the keys are responsive enough so you can type as fast as a high speed operator.

You’re going to need to read reviews to find out their quality or check the last section on how to tell whether a laptop has a good keyboard or not.

Storage
Avoid HDDs. They’re obsolete and slow and can make everything slow down to a crawl. Luckily virtually all modern laptops (2019+) come with an SSD. Just double check whatever you pick has one too.

An SSD (Solid State Drive) will save you A LOT of time if you take into account all the read/write operations your machine has go to through the day.

Storage Size doesn’t matter. Your entire library of PDF files & short medical animation videos can easily fit into 128-256GB drives. 

RAM
4GB RAM:
might be okay for ChromeBooks MacBooks and machines with Windows 10 S no matter how hard you multitask.
8GB RAM: On the other hand, if you plan on doing some hardcore multitasking with a machine that has Windows 10 Home, you’ll be better off with 8GB.

CPU
Any CPU released after 2017 will be fast enough for all the multitasking and software you’ll be using.

Just make sure you get something modern (they’re more power efficient – more battery life). I’d recommend a Core i3/Ryzen 3 CPU over higher core processors. Core i5/Ryzen 5 as the upper limit.

GPU
If you thought graphics cards were important for high resolution video playback and digital pathology, they aren’t.

Modern integrated GPUs are powerful enough even for gaming. A high resolution display is what actually makes a huge difference with histology.


1. MacBook Air

Best Mac Laptop for Medical Students

  Intel Core i5 2.9GHz

  8GB RAM LPDDR3

   Intel HD

  256GB SSD

  13” 1440×900 TN

  ~3lb

  +13 hours

I know we are in 2021 and the MacBook Air here looks like an older model and IT IS an older model. 

There’s nothing wrong going with older Mac models though ESPECIALLY if you are on a budget. 

On the other hand, if you have the cash, you SHOULD definitely grab the New MacBook Air:


Anyways, let’s talk about the Macs in general (those made from 2015 to 2021) and why they’re one of the best options for med school.

 Performance

All modern MacBooks (2015+) are fast even for the insane multitasking people put their laptop to these days (web browsing, music playback, MS Office, etc) with the later versions (2018+) capable of enduring heavy duty gaming titles (hence why I recommend grabbing an older model instead of a new model, they have too much power for study purposes).

The reason why they’re all fast despite having their hardware upgraded every year is that their Operating System (MAC OSX) has been well optimized to the hardware shipped in  each unit and the fact that they ALL have a SOLID STATE DRIVE in it.

Which is the pieace of hardware that will play the biggest role in making everything you do snappy.

For example, booting up your computer literally within seconds, instananeous file & text searches, opening and closing applications in a flash, etc. That’s what’s going to save you a few hours in the long run.

One thing I’d recommend is getting 8GB of RAM for whatever model you decide to buy. 4GB will do just and you won’t be lagging 98%. If you get 8GB though, you have zer ochance of lag no matter what you do with your laptop

  Display & Design

The performance of the MacBooks isn’t something special, nearly all modern laptops haven an SSD and can do tasks just as fast (provided you have 8GB of AM). 

The reason why you should consider the Air is really about its form factor or design.

The Air’s still considered (since its release in 2008 with Steeve Jobs) the thinnest laptop on the planet. That’s not all though, the entire chasis is made of full aluminum so it can take a huge beating and will definitely last you throughout your entire stay in med school.

You will find some laptops with almost the same thinness and weight distribution but they are very unlikely to have the same endurance. 

Battery Life:

Another thing that will diferentiates the MacBooks from their competition is their epic battery life. The older models lasted about 11-13 hours and the newest models can last as long as 17 hours. Even in the older models will have enough juice to last two working days. Because it is very unlikely you won’t happen to recharge it during those two days, you can even use the Air to work/study on the way to school or on the way home. 

Display:

Display can be an issue if you go for older models (2015-2017), they will only have a HD+ resolution which isn’t bad but it’s kind of outdated because most laptops today have FHD (which can accomodate more stuff on the screen simultaneously).

I’m still using a 2017 MacBook Air though (HD+ resolution) and don’t really see the need for a FHD display.

If you have the cash however, it’s going to be a HUGE plus to get the newest models (2018-2020) which come with a Retina Display (twice the resolution of modern FHD laptops). This should give you way more screen space  to fit in as many windows next to each other as you’d like. 

The retina resolution will also come in handy to make dealing with digital pathology a lot easier.

Screen Size:

You want anything above 13. 11 MacBook Airs are fast little demons but the screen space is too small. Even though I use it I would’ve been happier with a 13”display, which is more ideal if you want to avoid scrolling up and down too much when retrieving medical records or quickly skimming over for some quick info you need or in bibliographic apps.

CD/DVD Drive:

Back in my days, a CD/DVD drive was essential especially if you want to run every TextBook activity or use those review activities for exams found in some apps (which used to come in a CD/DVD) or use tho

But let’s be honest…nobody uses CD drives anymore so modern laptops don’t have them. If you ever feel the need to use a CD/DVD driver you can always get an external CD Reader and attach it to the Air. Apple has designed one just for that purpose.

What about the Operating System? It’s not Windows!

Now that may be an issue but only in a FEW cases because chances are the software you’ll be given in med school will be compatible with OSX since the company’s laptops have become so popular among students.

Even if your software is not compatible with OSX, Apple has had a solution for that since 2008: All Macs can boot up into windows using BootCamp, that means, you restart your Laptop and you can choose run Windows and switch back to OSX whenever you’d like by doing the same thing.


What if I can’t afford/find a MacBook Air?

If the price is an issue, there are several options:

    • You can buy the 11 inch Model which is cheaper and it’s pretty much the same thing performance wise.
    • You can buy this same model as refurbished. Amazon has several refurbished models. No they are not used models with dents all over, they’re almost as good as new. Mine is actually refurbished.
    • Which Configuration should I go for? Anything with 8GB (4GB is fine too) but be sure to avoid a core i7 processors they add unnecessary power and they’re expensive.

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2. Surface Pro 7

Best 2 in 1 Laptop for Medical Students

  Core m3 , Core i5, Core i7

  4GB-16GB RAM

  Intel HD/Iris

  128GB-1TB PCIe NVMe SSD

  12” IPS 2736×1824

  1.7lb

  +11 hours

The Surface Pro is probably even a better option than the MacBook Air. I just didn’t use it through med school.

It isn’t a full blown laptop and that’s why I decided to put it before the Air. However, it is the most popular and wanted device for medican students, you can check a full review of it on this link.

Had the Surface Pro been a full blown laptop, it would have been listed number one along with the MacBook Air. But it’s actually a convertible tablet-laptop which you can write on using a digital pen. This is what makes it the most wanted and useful device a medical student can have. If you happen to be buying it for someone who’s starting medical school, I can’t think of a better gift.

Taking notes as a tablet:

Aside from all that laptop goodness in it: the long battery & light form factor, blazing speed yada yada yada. The reason why it’s so popular comes down to its realistic note taking feature with the stylus and its seamless compatibility of One Note with the stylus.

It’s like literally writing on a physical notebook. In other words, it can easily replace all of your school supplies (pencils and erasers). There won’t be any any sloppy writing: taking notes & drawing with it is extremely accurate. Even  artists have no problem working with it.There isn’t much of a learning curve either especially with the newest models.

Think of what you could with a stylus and digital notebook:

      • Taking notes digitally on top of PP slides
      • Submit digital handwritten assignments
      • Organizing all your study materials into one single section or page (notes, slides,recorded audio, videos) using OneNote
      • Make your own organized digital book

 Performance

If you go for the newest versions (Surface Pro 6 and 7) any configuration will do , they’re all fast just like the Macs are.

However if you go for older models, you should grab nothing less than a Core i5 + 8GB RAM, this configuration will make sure you avoid ANY lag whatsoever no matter how hardcore you go when multitasking.

As for storage space/extra RAM/more CPU power. You really don’t need anything more than a Core i5 CPU w/ 8GB RAM and 128GB-256GB, higher configurations are really for engineers/3D artists and professional photo/video editors.

By the way, all configurations have an SSD, even the oldest models so there’s no need to double check or worry about sluggishness due to a slow harddrive.

Avoiding Core i7 w/ higher storage(and the model with a dGPU – The Surface Book) will also give you more battery life (because less power will be consumed).

  Display & Design

The design is premium, that means a full aluminum build and a thin-lightweight form factor. Like I said, you can turn it into a laptop and all it takes is just attaching keyboard which attaches itself to the lower side of the screen magnetically.

It’s also designed to support an external display and an external keyboard which can turn into a docking station (like a desktop), you have to buy the adaptar though which comes with all the necessary ports to do so.

I think that extra tool can be a great investment especially if you also happen to study a lot back in your dorm, you’ll have the luxury to turn into something like a desktop with several screens available to you.

As for the display, it isn’t as small as it seems, it’s 1/2” inch smaller than your average laptop. Although that can make a difference because this a diagonal measurement, the fact that it boasts an even higher resolution 2736×1824 than the MacBooks surely makes up for it.

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3. ASUS ZenBook

Best Windows Laptop For Med Students

  Core i5-8265U 3.4GHz

  8GB RAM DDR4

   Intel UHD

  512GB PCIe NVMe SSD

  13” full HD TN

  2.5lb

  8 hours

If you are on a budget and you don’t want buy refurbished MacBooks or you just don’t want to experiment with the Surface Pro’s tablet mode, the ZenBook is the only candidate for a premium-like budget laptop.

 Performance

Despite being only 700$ or less , the newest ZenBook has a 10th generation Core i5 processor with the upcoming new model having an 11th gen processor (which will probably be out by the end of the year) . Those are two extremely fast CPUs!

Even the older models whic boast anything from 7th generation Core i5 to an 8th gen Core i5/Core i7 CPU will be enough for med school purposes.

What you should be prioritiizng first is, again, a Solid State Drive and 8GB RAM!

  Display & Design

Unlike previous models, the newest models are made of full aluminum just like the Macs.

The ZenBooks are also VERY thin. In fact, they’re thinner the newest MacBook Air (0.6in vs 0.5in) but not as thin as the older MacBook Airs. It’s actually even lighter (at 2.5lb) though.

Display is still FHD resolution and the battery life isn’t as great as the Air hence why the price is a lot cheaper. But surely 10 hours of battery life should be enough to spend the day without a recharge right?

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4. Acer Aspire 5

Best Budget Laptop For Medical Students

  AMD Ryzen 3 3200U

  4GB DDR4

   Vega 3 Graphics

  128GB SSD PCIe NVMe

  15” IPS full HD 1080p

  4lb

  10 hours

If you’ve got a budget under 500$, you need to start looking at laptops with a Core i3/Ryzen 3 chip.

These are actually the cheapest ones with enough CPU power for modern everyday software.

Don’t forget to stick to the “8GB + SSD” rule though!

Performance:

Luckily even the cheapest windows laptops today come with the fastest SSDs: PCie NVMe SSDs and this mode is no exception.

If you were hoping for a 8th/10th Core i3 processor, you should note that 3rd and 4th generation Ryzen chips are just as fast or even faster at a much lower price. You can easily double check this by comparing this laptop to its 10th Core i3 competitors.

Display & Design:

The only downside with models like this are their bulkyness and weight, they can be 1.5 inch think and weight as much as 4lb.

I picked this model because it’s only 0.7inch think (yes it’s thin enough to carry it around) and only ~3.5lbs.

It also has a FHD resolution which most laptops around 350$ lack.

There’s one big downside to all of this computer goodness at this low price though:

It doesn’t have the full version of Windows 10. It comes with Windows 10 S which acts more or less like a ChromeBook allowing you to install pretty much everything that’s on the Windows Store. Luckily, ALL the apps students use are available on the Windows Store : Zoom, MS Office, PDF readers, Paint, PhotoShop,One Note,etc.

However, if you need to install some obscure .exe file given to you or you need to run software to take tests (this used to be the case before the pandemia started), then it’s going to be an issue and you’re going to need to install Windows 10 Home on it (which costs around 100$).  

If you still want all the characteristics of this machine with the full version of Windows 10 installed then you’re going to have to spend 450$.

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5. Lenovo IdeaPad 3

Best Cheap Laptop for Med School

 

  AMD Ryzen 3 3200U

  4GB RAM

   Intel UHD

  256GB SSD NVMe PCIe

  15” HD 

  4.07 lbs

  8 hours

If you still can’t get no more than 350$ and still need the full version of Windows 10, then you will have to give up the extra space a FHD resolution display has.

This model has all the characteristics of a fast machine: PCie NVMe SSD, 8GB RAM, latest Ryzen chip on it except the display, it’s only HD or HD+. An HD resolution isn’t the end of the world really, the MacBook Air I used had that same resolution (I bought my first MacBook in 2010) and the one I use now has a HD+ resolution. 

Another reason why opt for this model is its thinness and weight distribution, it’s almost as thin as the premium machines: 0.7inch but relatively heavy though: 3.7lbs. Not as heavy or thick as the Ace Aspire E15 (which used to be the most popular and best selling laptop last year) : 5lbs and 1.2inch think. So it’s something you can definitely carry around.

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How to Buy the Best Laptop for Medical School

“The wealth of digital information in regards to human biology and the fact that they are easily accessible today with portable computers from any place at any time is the main reason why computer technology has become an essential asset to the medical industry.”

In layman’s terms you’re going to need to know about computers so read this section carefully both for your career & to make you get the best laptop for med school.

Whether it’s a laptop or a tablet or an iphone, all doctors today must have quick access to medical related information for their studies/patients.

For med students this becomes even more convenient unless you want to carry all of your textbooks & notes around campus all the time.  

The Medical Program

First of all you need to be aware of what kind mess you’ve gotten yourself into.

By that I mean what kind of classes will you be taken? This will depend on your program.

Will your school use video conferencing when a hurricane is passing by or 2 feet of snow has fallen?

What operating system does your IT department & your medical department support?

Ask.

Laptops Deals

The deals are not on this website but might be on your specific school. They might go as far as giving students free laptops and these laptops are no laughing matter. Some go as far as giving their students free Macbook Airs.

If that’s not the case,  you’ll be given a nice deal. UW-Madison for example gives its students a macbook air for about 500$ which is about half the price.

The rest (broke universities) will simply to recommend a specific model. Most likely a Dell Latitude or any of the Macbooks just because they believe them to be durable and IT support is easier with them.

Operating System

Ok this is important. You need to make sure the program will support the OS of your preference. If not, will they be okay if you stick with yours?

Most schools recommend Windows. You should check if they are okay with tablet devices as well. Why bother? Software compatibility.

Software Requirements and Useful Software

There isn’t much software required for Medical Students other than basic student applications such as:

      • Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint
      • Adobe PDF
      • A PDF converted for homework submission perhaps
      • Antivirus: if you catch one, your computer will lose access to the internet as it’ll be quarantined by some departments.
      • Galen for Medical Referene and Organizing Tasks/Schedules/Notes/Lectures for students (Requires Web Browser only).

Which don’t require a special laptop of any kind.

However…you might be screwed if your OS doesn’t support whatever software they use to take Exams or run videos/animations.

      • Usually ExamSoft is used to take exams which is compatible with everything that has a screen. If they don’t use it, you’re in trouble.
      • Shockwave, VLC, Quicktime,Flash and Java for videos and animations. ChromeBooks & iOS devices might be able to run a few animations.

Classes and Assignments

All notes provided are PDF Files (mostly uploaded online unless you got a lazy professor).

Very unlikely they’ll be all printed out for you (who wants to waste ink when everyone has a laptop).

A few things to keep in mind and why you’ll need a laptop anyways:

      • Share notes within groups
      • Access videos for lectures
      • Digital Movies of procedures
      • Virtual Microscopy (might need good resolution laptop as the ones we recommended above)
        •  You also want to avoid a low resolution/small screen display for exams, there might be a few histology questions which might be better off with a better display.

Recommended Specs for Medical School 

I will list them in order of priority.  If you read the last section you’ve probably got the order figured out:

Weight

Weight should be your number one priority when browsing for laptops.

Again, you want something easy to carry around campus and clinicals as you’ll be carrying heavy textbooks along with it too. If you have to sacrifice other features for a light laptop, so be it.

It is far more useful to have a laptop near you for quick access to google and to finish your hw anywhere and anytime than a heavy bulky cheap powerful laptop sitting at dorm (or at home 20 miles away). 

Med School is a “race”. Good time management is the main reason for the success of many med students.

Trust me, a portable and light laptop will save you a lot of time.

Display

IPS Panels, Retina Displays, QHD Resolution?  Don’t worry about them, you’re not a radiologist yet and even if you were they won’t help.

There are only two things to look out in terms of display:

Resolution 

You’re gonna be using your laptop to read textbooks/medical papers and  writing reports/notes for an exam or a term paper,etc, right?

 Then stick with a resolution of 1080p and maybe as low as 1,440 x 900 but no less than that.

You’ll need it so you can have multiple windows open at the same time and no matter what their size is you’ll be able to distinguish them and read them. 

You’ll also need them when taking exams because you’ll need to analyze medical pictures to utmost detail.

Size 

Screen size is not as important as resolution but that doesn’t mean you can go for an 3” iphone screen. 

At least 12” screen

You want a big screen to read comfortably, watch flash animations, take exams with messed up histology figures, etc. But you can’t go too big otherwise you’d end up with a heavy bulky laptop. 

You could also go for a tablet because it’s portable and its got a huge screen, if you do stick with a portable tablet laptop with 12”. Go less than that you’re going to be in trouble when your exam is full of histology pictures which need detailed discerning.

Why not go for Tablets/Ipads?

Retrieving (and viewing) medical records is gonne be time consuming and inconvenient (tons of scrolling to check all the data). Why? these applications were not designed to be used on small screen devices. You can double check with your department to make sure. 

Performance

I’m leaving performance after Weight & Display because honestly honestly bro you can pretty much roll with any laptop. Why do you think a lot of med students roll with a tablet?

Then they can use their desktop at home for report writing, printing, plagirizing, etc.

Don’t worry about processor’s speed, RAM, GPU, Storage unless your department tells you to…and even then it’s probably balooney.

Anyways if you still want a fast laptop for all purposes or you don’t have a desktop at home:

CPU

Get an i5 processor. If not a core i3

Or any modern and recently released processor. Just don’t go for a core i7 because it will drain your battery than you can say “Hey, my laptop’s dead again”.

This is undersirable for a med student will be moving between clinicals and all over campus. 

RAM

If you are a heavy multitasker, you damn right you are (playing iTunes, several internet browsing tabs, pdf documents, word documents, dissection videos andall open at the same time) then consider

8GB for RAM

No matter how little you think they are, these sneaky little applications add up and they’ll make your laptop start choking which can make even typing notes annoying.

Graphics Card

You are not a radiologist to be thinking about a dedicated graphics card even if you were you would need a workstation device not a laptop. Do not even mind this feature, any graphics card will do just fine.

Storage

Just don’t go “underboard”. Don’t get a 2GB or 50GB. 128GB and up is enough.

Remember that pdf files and digital textbooks don’t take too much space and the software used for med school isn’t that heavy either. 

Touchscreens

Recently there’s been a surplus of laptops with touchscreen features on the market. I honestly do not know how any student would find that useful unless he or she wants bigger arms, you’ll get a nice work out from having your arm extended for long periods of time.

Touchscreens are only useful in tablet mode so you can easily reach & manipulate  the screen to scan through documents, highlight stuff, etc.

In fact, convertible tablet-laptops are the most popular devices out there for Medical Students and practicioners.

Tablets or Laptop or Both?

As mentioned before tablets are a popular choice among medical students.

Why? Your notes will be given in PDF form which means you  can just takes notes on top of them with a tablet and use a digital highlighter.

Heck, smartphones can be used during lectures too. How? Just attach a bluetooth keyboard to take notes faster. Not joking a lot of med students do this.

Again, the main drawback from relying  mostly on iPad, tablets and smartphones is that you will have issues accessing resources from your school.

Tablet + Laptop (separately)

Alternatively, you can get a tablet and a laptop. A laptop can be for making your own notes, download materials,etc; and the tablet or ipad for reviewing your notes, reading textbooks, highlight stuff, etc.

Tablets and Ipads are far more convenient for reading textbooks and general reading during long periods of time as well as flipping through flashcards, annotating on top of PDFs and sketching flow charts.

This is why I keep pushing for a Surface Pro if you want the benefits of a tablet.

Accessories

A few other accessories to consider:

Headset with built-in microphone and WebCam

Again schools use video conferencing for online classes and to substitute regular classes when the weather does not allow the school to be open.

You’ll find a headset useful for studying anyways.

VGA adapter
For connecting to a projector

A printer

In case your school is cheap or their printer “stops working” (it happens too many times).

Get one to avoid handing in a late assignment which can really take a toll on your grade.

Privacy filter screen 

Required for exams unless you have a friend sitting next to you ;).

Summary

Although most students do use tablets since most notes and reading materials will always be available in PDF form, you’ll still need a computer unless you love being stuck to the library or computer labs for any type of writing assignment.

So a tablet by itself just won’t cut it.

As far as laptops go…

As you can see from this article, there isn’t much to worry about other than portability and compatibility with the software being run on your school.

The only software you should really worry about is w/e  they use to take exams. It’s not that your computer will not have enough power to run but your OS might be incompatible.

You can’t go wrong with Windows though and if you do, you can always install Windows on your Mac.

Clinicals Years 

For the years you’ll be stuck with clinicals, portability matters A LOT.

You don’t want to drag a 17’’ inch 7 pound laptop from patient to patient do you?

In that case it would be very convenient to have a tablet or if possible a laptop-tablet.

If you insist on laptops for clinicals, get an ultraportable one or don’t get one. Or get a tablet for clinicals and a heavy bulky laptop for real work back at home.

If you are rich it’d be nice to have both a lightweight laptop and a tablet.

Or better yet a hybrid which is both a laptop AND a tablet like the Surface Pro.

This article seems like an add for the Surface Pro doesn’t it? But what can I say? It’s perfect for med school.

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