The transition to medical school is brutal.
- For one the terminology used will seem like learning a new language.
- You’ll also have to move back and forth between the classroom and clinical practice settings.
- Let’s not forget you’ll probably have to go through dozens of pdf files of 100 pages each just for one exam.
The best laptop for medical students should at least help you strugles less with the last point.
Look, if you make sure your laptop is well designed for note taking and productivity, you can take some REALLY good notes on lectures and also be able to be more efficient with your time. Therefore you will eliminate the need to go through so many pages of pdf files.
That’s actually the important aspect you have to know (at least during the first semester) : how to efficiently take notes during med school lectures.
I will not dwelve on that topic. You can read more about it here.
Top 5 best Laptops For Medical Students
What you’ll get out of this post is a laptop optimized for note taking and of course with the portability you need it so you can bring it anywhere you go.
Portability is just as important because again you want to make good use of the times you are away from home or school.
Recommended Specs for Med School
I know so far we’ve been kind of vague about the specs so before we go over what I believe are the top 5 best laptops for medical students in 2022 , let’s just go over the exact specifications you need to look out for.
In case you need any details about this topic, you can head to the last section where I talk about the kind of software you’ll be using and basically anything that has to do with the topic of how to buy a laptop for medical school.
One of the most, if not the most important, feature. As lightweight as you can afford it.
Assuming covid restrictions ease off this year, you’ll be carrying this thing along those textbooks to classes and then to clinicals.
Under 3lb: This is very very portable but only ultrabooks which are expensive weight this much (600-800$). There’s a workaround this though.
Under 3.5lbs: Budget laptops weight this much, it’s still not heavy nor thick enough to cause any portability issues.
Over 4lbs: This is where it can really take a toll on you (unless you’re shaq’o’neal of course).
If you want to type as fast as a transcriptionist on top of those slides, you want something bouncy, clicky , aka keys that do not need much force to register a character.
It’s not easy science to tell which laptop has a good keyboard but ultrabooks for the most part will.
If you need more space because you want to have several windows next to each other, then you need a FHD resolution display, not necessarily a bigger display. 13” is big enough and yet portable, pair with a FHD resolution display and you’ve got plenty of space to have several windows next to each other.
You don’t have to worry about processors. All processors in 2022 and even those from 2015are fast enough for multitasking. However keep this in mind…
Core i3/Ryzen 3: These are usually found on your most cheapest options. There’s nothing wrong with these they’re actually great for energy saving purposes (More battery).
Core i5/Ryzen 5: w/ a U or G letter somewhere is the most common CPU found on ultrabooks, they’re also good for energy saving purposes but significantly more expensive.
4GB RAM: this is bad really bad for Windows 10 Home or Windows 11. It’s plenty for Linux, Mac OSX and Chrome OS though.
8GB RAM: this is what you want ESPECIALLY if you want to do some serious multitasking with Windows 10 Home or Windows 11.
You have two choices: SSDs and HDDs. SSDs are almost universal on modern laptops, it isn’t likely you’ll across HDDs and that’s a good thing they’re severeal times slower and will hurt your productivity. The problem might be capacity.
128GB: This is common on budget laptops (350-400$). Since you aren’t in med school to play games, this is plenty of space even for thousands of books and hundreds of zoom recordings.
All GPUs found on laptop are good enough for high resolution video playback and digital pathology. Don’t worry about it, don’t even look at this spec.
Core i5, Core i7
Intel Iris Xe Graphics
128GB-1TB PCIe NVMe SSD
13” IPS 2880 x 1920
This is the best choice for med students, it just doesn’t get it any better.
The problem is obviously price but there are ways to get a cheaper Surface Pro.
Before that let’s talk a bit more aboute why you should seriously consider the Surface Pro over any other laptop device.
The reason why it’s most sught after device by med students as you can corroborate through this link is because you can get the functionality of ultrabooks to type reports or types notes from lectures AND the tablet mode which will give you the functionality to write notes on the screen as if it were a physical notebook.
Taking notes in tablet mode:
Now there are literally HUNDREDS of tablets that come with a stylus for you to take notes. But the Surface Pro 8 or any of its past versinos have a few advantages:
- It has one of the most realistic note-taking features (the other device being the iPad Pro). So it’s definitely going to feel more natural to use this digital pen on the screen than on any other tablet.
- You have Windows 11 or Windows 10 Home on it. Tablets DO NOT have a real operating system so you can’t install software on them and you’re also limited to tablet version of the most popular apps: Ms Office, Zoom, One Note,etc.
- OneNote: OneNote is the most popular software for note taking and the Surface Pro 8 has been designed to have a more seamless and better compatibility with OneNote.Both products are by the way developed by Microsoft.
- The most accurate drawing devices. Even artists and 3D artists use it to skech so you bet with a bit of a learning curve you’ll be able to take pretty awesome notes with all types of graphs.
Which brings me to the advantages of tablets and the Surface Pro 8:
- You can take notes on top of PP slider
- You can submit homework through handwritten PDF files
- You can organize your notes and study materials including audi video files that you’ve recorded in a lecture basically turning them your own digital book using software like OneNote, EverNote,etc.
Do not be alarmed, just because these are tablet-laptops doesn’t mean they’ll be any faster than your average windows laptop.
Even the lowest configuration of the Surface Pro 8 will be a lot faster than the average 600$ Windows laptop.
For school purposes, that’s exactly how much power you need: a Core i5 + 8GB RAM which is the lowest configuration of this latest Surface Proi 8 selling for 800$.
Now I said there are ways to get a cheaper Surface Pro 8 and by that I didn’t mean you’d have to get the Surface Pro 8 that costs 800 dollars.
What I meant was that you could go for older models. There have been about 8 versions of the Surface Pro and every single one of them that has at least 8GB RAM will give you nearly the same performance for everyday tasks and med school.
If we are talking about the note taking feature, then you don’t want to go too far back. I’d say the Surface Pro 4 and after are good for note taking (almost w/ the same sensitivity to the latest).
Core i7 Models: I would advice against configurations with Core i7 CPUs because you will get a lot less battery. All Surface Pro with a Core i5 have more or less about 8 hours with the latest Surface Pro 8 capping at 10.
Another cool thing about the Surface Pro 8 and any of its past versions is the resolution. It’s 2736×1824 which is way more than FHD resolution and you know how important that is for multitasking and for histology images.
Now if you don’t have a desktop back home, the Surface Pros have the ability to turn into a full blown desktop if you buy the dock station accessory which expands the number of ports and lets you attach an external keyboard a mouse an external monitor ,etc.
2. MacBook Air
Best Laptop for Medical Students
Apple M1 Chip
8GB-16GB RAM LPDDR4
Apple M1 GPU
13.3” Retina Display 2560 x 1600
I know the 2020 M1 MacBook Air is quite expensive (~1000$) and most of you can’t afford it but I did not mean to say it’s your only option.
I want to talk about why all MacBook Airs are a good choice for med students.
All MacBook, even those released 10 years ago, are fast enough for the most insane multitasking you have in mind. I use a 2015 MacBook Air myself (mostly because it’s currently the cheapest to get) and I can do pretty much anything with it.
When you’re buying a MacBook, performance should be the least of your concerns. Even those that only have 4GB will work wonders. Why? Because there’s no Windows 10 or Windows 11 which are very hardware demanding, you’re running OSX which has been specifically designed to run on all MacBooks.
SSD (Solid State Drive): What’s more all MacBooks even the oldest one come with an SSD (since they were the first ones to introduced these storage drives) so you will get the same performance as any modern windows laptop. In fact, the latest MacBooks have an SSD slightly faster than virtually all Windows laptops.
Display & Design
Now you can get the same performance from a Windows budget laptop so that’s not the reason why you should consider a MacBook. You should buy a MacBook because you need the design: it’s super lightweight and super thin.
As of 2022 and ever since its release, it’s considered to be the thinnest 13” laptop. You also have the chasis made entirely of aluminum so you bet it can witstand all the jostling around as you move from lectures to clinicals and to roadtrips. That’s not the whole story though.
Another cool features about virtually every MacBook Air is the battery.
The latest 2020 Model has about 15 hours of battery! Older models with few battery cycles will have 10-13 hours. So think about it, if you have to stay in school for two consecutive days, it is very likely that you will get enough juice for two days on a single charge.
The recent models ( 2019-2020) have awesome displays: retina displays which have way more resolution than FHD displays. However, they’re expensive ~1000$.
The older models which are a lot lot cheaper only have HD+ resolutions and that’s really the only trade off when you go for older models.
Battery life, keyboard, quality, aluminum built, trackpads are pretty the same across all MacBook Airs.
HD+ displays are still good for digital pathology so you’ll only be limited in how much screen space you have for multitasking. If you multitask with several windows next to each other of course.
The retina resolution will also come in handy to make dealing with digital pathology a lot easier.
Back in my days, CD/DVD drivers were essential because TextBook activities and review apps used to come in a CD or a DVD. But let’s be honest, nobody in 2022 uses a CD Drive anymore so no modern laptop comes with one. If you feel like you’re going to need a CD reader, then you can buy a separate external CD drive which you can attach to this or any laptop through the USB port. For MacBooks however you have to buy the CD/DVD reader sold by Apple , it’s the only compatible one with MacBooks.
Operating System: Not Windows!
Some of you may have schools recommending a Windows Laptop because the software exam they use only runs on Windows Machines. If that’s the case, then yes you should probably get a Windows machine instead.
However, if you still want a MacBook, you can still use Windows and therefore launch any software of your choice. You can do this through BootCamp or through Parallels. In fact, if you check the IT section of your Med School program, they will probably mention this.
I always advice against refurbished models but not when we are talking about MacBooks. Unless a MacBook has taken several drops , it will still work, and that’s why virtually every MacBook they sell as refurbished works as good as new. Now if you are a very very low budget, you can buy the 11 inch MacBook Air which is the cheapest cheapest laptop you can get for med school , even cheaper and better than budget windows machines.
Here are some of the cheaper and older models listed on Amazon:
You can find more on this link.
3. ASUS ZenBook
Best Windows Laptop For Medical Students
Intel Core i5-1135G7
8GB RAM DDR4
Intel Iris Plus Graphics
512GB PCIe NVMe SSD
13.3” full HD OLED
This is an ultrabook, a windows laptop especifically designed for portability purposes. UltraBooks are thin, lightweight have outstanding battery lives. Now there are several ultrabooks: Dell XPS, Surface Laptop Studio, Lenovo X-Carbon. However, all of those are just as expensive as the latest MacBook Air.
The ASUS ZenBook has been, throughout the years, the cheapest high quality ultrabook on Windows laptops. Though this year’s model is 100$ more expensive due to the new display in it.
However, there are still older models that are brand new and I recommend you buy this if you can’t afford this one and you really need a full blown traditional Windows Ultrabook.
ASUS ZenBooks were released in 2017 so they all have modern hardware. All of them have Core i5 CPUs (from the 7th to 11th gen) and 8GB RAM so all of these have plenty of CPU power to run Windows 10 and even Windows 11 with zero lag while you multitask.
Even the older models with 8th generation CPUs have 8GB RAM and the Solid State Drive too.
Display & Design
Now, you may be thinking that there must be something wrong with the ASUS ZenBook if they are really the cheapest ultrabooks.
Well , the only real difference is that the older models do not have the chasis built entirely out of aluminum.
Other than that, they are lightweight and some models are even lighter than the MacBook Air. They’re also as thin as any MacBook Air and they have decent batteries (10 hours).
The only thing they really lack, hardware wise, is the ultra high resolution display of the M1 MacBook Air and the Surface Pro 8. It’s still FHD display though and that’s exactly what you’ll find on virtually 99.9 % traditional windows laptops.
Intel 10th Gen i3-1005G1
8GB RAM DDR4
Intel UHD 610
14” FHD TN Panel
If you’re on a extremely low budget and only have 350$ to spare, I suggest you only consider this laptop IF you want to run the full version of Windows.
Now there are obviously cheaper laptops but none of them will pack all the hardware this one has and most in fact will not even run Windows properly due to lack of CPU power/RAM.
To run and multitask with zero lag, you need at least 8GB RAM and a non-mobile chip. I go into more detail what a non-mobile chip means but basically you need either an Intel Core “something” or a Ryzen “something”. If you fail to get that part, you will lag with just notepad.
You also need 8GB RAM which cheaper laptops (below 350$) will not have and in fact they are not even upgradeable either.
Display & Design
This laptop has something special than just good hardware though: it’s relatively lightweight. 3.90lbs isn’t really super lightweight but it’s not as bad as 5lbs which is what most laptops around this price range have.
Windows 10 in S Mode: Don’t pay attention to this. You can upgrade to Windows 10 Home free of charge. Once you turn on the laptop, there’s an option for you to do the upgrade right away.
Best Cheap Laptop For Medical Students
4GB RAM DDR4
Intel UHD Graphics
128GB PCIe NVMe SSD
15” IPS full HD
This laptop has the FHD display, the battery and the processor you need to run Windows 10 Home with zero lag.
Again, it comes with Windows in 10 S mode and that’s not good for medical exam software but you can do the upgrage free of charge as well.
There are two issues with this laptop:
- It’s heavy: 5lbs is what the average budget laptops will weight
- 4GB RAM: This isn’t good for Windows 10 Home. It’s okay if you can just stay in Windows 10 S mode.
The price? Exactly the same as the ASUS VivoBook. So why am I posting it when the ASUS VivoBook is clearly the better choice.
Because the ASUS VivoBook was released last year and it’s actually a pretty rare deal which should soon run out of stock. By the time you read this, this Acer Aspire 5 will probably be the best deal you’ll find. The 4GB RAM can be easily fixed with a nice upgrade through a new 4GB RAM stick (~20 bucks) and well the weight cant be fixed but that’s the trade off you have to put up with if you can’t afford anything else and you also don’t want to go for refurbished MacBooks (which sell for 300-350$ sometimes).
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.
That means all doctors must have an easily accessible computer tool to look up medical related information. You’ve got tablets, laptops and smartphones now but I would advice against the latter it doesn’t look very professional.
But if you are a student, this is super convenient and justifiable of course. Who wants to carry a laptop for clinicals?
The Medical Program
Medical programs are all alike, there’s really no program that’s trying to do something innovative. Lectures are still going to be a pain no matter where you are and there will be no single class canceled. With Zoom becoming the most popular software in the past two years, even if you’ve 2 feet of snow , you’ll still have classes.
Anywas, instead of doing that pointless kind of research, you should be checking out your medical program department for the following:
Yes, indeed, medical programs are aware of their students final situation (well some) and you might find very very good laptop deals on their website. Some, though rare, might go as far as giving students free laptop devices. Not even joiing here. I remember reading about a medical program giving students free MacBook Airs.
In the worst case scenario, you’ll just be given a nice deal. For example, 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.
Even more important is to check out the operating system they support. Most medical programs will only support Windows but some may not even care so you can buy a ChromeBook or a tablet.
It really comes down to what software they use for exams. This exam software may or may not be compatible with all Operating Systems (Chrome OS, Mac OSX, Windows) and may or may not have a Tablet version.
Software Requirements and Useful Software
Aside from that there isn’t really any other special software you’ll be required to run. The remain ones you’ll have to install are basically everyday stuff that every medical student uses:
- MS Office: MS Word, MS Excel, PowerPoint
- Adobe PDF Reader
- Doc->PDF converter for homework submission
- Something like Galen: used for medical references and to organize tasks/schedule/notes/lectures
So it really comes down to what software they use for Exams. If there is no version for your OS, you’re screwed.
- ExamSoft is the most popular software and if they use this then that’s really great newes. It’s comaptible even with smartphones and tablets.
- By the way, don’t worry about not being able to videos on your laptop. Shockwave, VLC, Quicktime,Flash and Java are supported in every Operating System wit the exception perhaps of ChromeBooks & iOS tablets(though you can always use a converter). Now they’ve got youtube thouguh so they’ll probably just upload any animation video you’re required to study.
Classes and Assignments
It’s always good to have an idea what classes are going to be like so you can shop for a laptop specifically for that.
It’s very unlikely lectures will be printed out for you, virtually every medical program will hand out PDF files before lectures (which you should obviously give a good read first so you can keep up with what the professor’s saying much more easily).
A few other things to keep in mind:
- You’ll share notes within groups.
- You’ll ahve to use bluetooth for this
- You’ll also have to playback videos for lectures
- Such as digital movies of procedures. The better the display the more crystal clear the video.
- Virtual Microscopy is very common practice
- Here a good resolution display helps a lot
- Histology questions
- This will show up in exams and it always helps to have a decent resolution
- You’ll share notes within groups.
Recommended Specs for Medical School
This is your number one priority because like I said, you’re supposed to carry this thing everywhere so if you want to be as productive as possible whatever you choose should thin and portable enough for you not to hesitate to take it whereever you are.
Med school is a marathon. Those with the best time management will be the ones that will get out of it with a degree.
Under 3lb: This is very portable and very very easy to carry. The problem is that usually these laptops cost anywhere from 800-1000$ (Ex: ZenBook/MacBook Air/Surface Pro/Dell XPS). These laptops are basically ultrabooks and they were designed to carry just enough power to run Windows 10/11 with zero lag while keeping that ultra-thin lightweight design. If you can’t afford a new model, you could try for older models (new older models).
3.0lb-3.5lb: This is still portable but they’re a bit thicker than ultrabooks. These weights are usually found on the same ultrabooks we discussed BUT they’re usually the “powered-up” version which come with unnecessary power for school purposes.
3.5lb-4lb: This is still kind of portable, you’re going to feel the extra weight for sure but it isn’t going to be taxing to your body. This much weight can be found on budget laptops (350-500$) provided you look long enough.
+4lbs: Very difficult to carry and actually the biggest problem is how they thick they are, much harder to fit in a bag full of books. This is the most common weight on budget laptops but like I said if you look long enough you can find relatively thinner and lighiter machines.
You’re not a radiologist (at least now) so you don’t have to worry about getting the most expensive display on a laptop or an external desktop monitor. What you want is just workspace area.
Size: The most obvious way to increase screen space is by getting a bigger laptop. Unfortunately that’s kind of counterproductive for school because virtually all laptops with 15-17” screens weight more than 4lbs.
Resolution: A much better way to get more space is to have a FHD resolution display. The higher the better but FHD (1920x1080p) is really all you need to have two to three windows next to each other. Another reason why you should opt for FHD displays is for the histology pictures that will show up on exams.
Q: Tablets have high resolution displays, they’re lightweight too so why not grab a tablet instead?
Actually that’s not a bad idea at all. You could grab a tablet but again if this is going to be your only device (you’ve got no computer back home) it’s going to be a hassle to type medical reports on it. Also if you don’t have a back up laptop, you’ll probably have issues with exam software.
Considering the software you’ll be using computer power isn’t really important.
HOWEVER, you still want to run Windows 10 Home or Windows 11 with NO LAG whatsoever so you can multitask with no issues.
Now most laptops above 400$ bucks will let you run either operating system and multitask as much as you want with no lag, the problem starts when you’re on a budget.
If you don’t know a few things about computers, chances are you will run into several outdated hardware and pretty useless machines that will be slow even for just web browsing.
If you have a budget above 400$, then don’t worry about it any laptop you pick will run Windows 10/11 with zero lag. If you’re in another country and have no access to Amazon US prices, then chances are you’ll be ripped off if you don’t read what’s next.
On budget laptops , this is the most important spec to be aware of.
- You must avoid mobile chips. Mobile chips are basically any chip that isn’t really built for laptops but for tablets/smartphones. They go by the name of:
Celeron, Pentium (unless Pentium Gold), MediaTek, Atom, ARM. Any AMD CPU that does not have the word Ryzen in it
Instead you want either an Intel Core i3 or an AMD Ryzen 3, at the very least.
Battery: If you want a lot battery then you must avoid “overpaying” for CPU speed, the more speed a CPU has the more energy it’s going to consume. You just want to avoid Core i7/Ryzen 7 CPUs or any “high performance CPU” basically any CPU that has an H on the label. Ex: Core i5 10300H.
Other opearting systems: If you’re buying a ChromeBook, plan on installing Linux or you’ve got a MAC OSX system or you just want to use Windows 10/11 in S mode, you don’t have to worry about CPUs. It’s only the full version of Windows 10 (11) that’s very taxxing on a system and required good hardware to run with no lag.
RAM is also ONLY important if you want to run Windows 10 Home/Windows 11 on a budget machine. For any Operating System , whatever that laptop comes with should be enough.
4GB: Most budget laptops (below 350$) come with this much(usually 11 inch laptops) which is not enough for WIndows 10 Home but it’s still good for Windows 10 in S Mode. Note that most of these laptops (99%) are not upgradeable either (hardware is soldered to the motherboard) or extremely difficult to do so.
8GB: This is the perfecet amount of memory for ANY type of multitasking regardless of how heavy it gets: iTunes, several internet browsing tabs open ~30, pdf documents, word documents, dissection videos all open at the same time will run with no lag with this much.
If you have a budget over 350$, you’ll automatically get the best storage type: Solid State Drive.
If you’ve got a budget below 350$ and you’re looking at older/outdated models, you should still demand a Solid State Drive (SSD). If you don’t get a Solid State Drive, you will miss out the following perks:
- Booting up your system in 5 seconds
- Opening up MS office in a milliseconds
- Looking up for a particular word across the entire computer instantly
- More battery
In the unlikely scenario you can’t get one, you will only be able to upgrade yours if you’ve got a laptop that’s bigger or equal to 13”. Smaller laptops have an eMMC soldered to the motherboard.
Capacity: 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.
You don’t need to worry about graphics card unless you want to play games. I also recommend you don’t buy a dedicated GPU even if you have the budget, you don’t want to play games while in med school. Find another less destructive hobby.
Touchscreen laptops are pretty useless unless they are 2-1 laptops. If that’s the case, then you can buy a separate stylus and take notes on it just like you would with the Surface Pro 8.
If it can’t turn into a tablet , then you won’t be able to scan through docs, pdf files and highlights stuff as you would with one. You will have to raise your arm and reach out for the screen which gets pretty tiring really.
Tablets or Laptop or Both?
Tablets are super useful because all lecture slides and notes are given in PDF files. If you buy a stylus then you can take notes on top of slides. And if you buy a bluetooth keyboard you can even turn any tablet into a sort of computer device (you can actually use a bluetooth keyboard for your smartphone too and some medical students do this for lectures).
You still want a laptop because: the much bigger screen on laptops, the ability to type anyhere (tablets can’t rest on your lap) AND to run the software you’ll be given in med school.
Tablet + Laptop (separately)
It’s very common to have both.
You can use the laptop for work and when you need to run special software and you can use the tablet/iPad to take notes/read textbooks and so on.
If you have a low budget, you can get a 350$ dollar laptop and a wacqom tablet instead of the Surface Pro/iPad Pro.
If you have any suggestions, questions or recommendations. Please leave a comment below.