11 Best Laptops for PhD Students [2020 Update]

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What the best laptop for a PhD student is depends on what the doctoral is in. We explore several options in this guide. As a doctoral student you will be doing a lot of research and writing. Because of that you need a laptop that is good to type on, comfortable to look at, and is decently fast. You will likely need a moderate amount of RAM so that you can run multiple programs at once without the computer feeling too sluggish.

If you are studying something engineering related or need a lot of computation power for your research then you may want to go with one of the more powerful options. At the end of the day, you should get the best laptop that fits your budget.

System Recommendations

A laptop that falls within the recommended system specs below should be a good choice for most PhD students. As the best choice depend greatly on what you are working on, use your judgment to decide if you need something more or less powerful.

CPU9th gen i510th gen i7
GPUGTX Series (Depends)RTX Series
Storage512 GB512 GB or more
RAM8 GB16 GB or more

For the GPU recommendations, just for writing your doctoral thesis you don’t need a GPU. A GPU is used for heavy computation, so many people will not need one. That being said, most mid-level laptops that are good come with some sort of GPU, and they are great if you enjoy a video game or two during breaks. You don’t need to get the GPU if you will not be doing compute heavy work.

Best Laptops for PhD Students at a Glance

I think the best laptop for most PhD students is the Razer Blade 15. There are many other great laptops out there, and below is a list of what I think are some of the better options available to you.

  1. Razer Blade 15
  2. Acer Helios 300
  3. Acer Aspire 5
  4. Dell Inspiron 15
  5. MSI GS66 Stealth
  6. Acer Nitro 5
  7. MSI GF65 Thin
  8. Dell XPS 13
  9. Razer Blade Pro 17
  10. MSI GL65 Leopard
  11. Asus VivoBook 15

Best PhD student Laptops

Let us have a look at each of the options listed above. Some are better than others in terms of raw power, but they also come from a wide range of price ranges so that you have something to chose from regardless of your budget.

1. Razer Blade 15

The Razer Blade 15 is one of my favorite laptops. It is not only powerful, but it also looks really good. This laptop is a great choice for anyone who want something with power and will last a long time. This laptop has good parts coupled with good build quality.

Image of Razer Blade 15

This laptop is above and beyond what some PhD students need, but many will find this to be a great companion. It comes with a new Intel i7-10750H CPU. This is a 6 core CPU so it will work well for multi-tasking, and this CPU will be a staple in high end laptops for quite some time. If you want the laptop to feel fresh for more than just 6 months then getting a good CPU goes a long way. You don’t need this CPU just to write a paper though.

Another powerful component in this laptop is the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060. The RTX series is great for gaming and other activities such as machine learning. If you don’t want the power that a GPU offers then you certainly don’t need one. You will not be doing research for your doctoral degree any faster with a GPU.

There is 512 GB of SSD storage and 16 GB of RAM. The storage is just about what makes sense for a student, and the 16 GB of RAM ensures that you have enough for a good amount of multi-tasking. Having many chrome tabs open as well as a few programs running can quickly bog down your machine if you don’t have enough RAM.

There are many other features such as very thing bezels that you should check out. This laptop is one of my favorites.

See the Razer Blade 15 on Amazon.

2. Acer Predator Helios 300

The Acer Predator Helios 300 is another laptop that I really like. This laptop offers a lot of bang for your buck. It is not the cheapest laptop still, but the parts that you get for the price is just amazing.

Image of Acer Predator Helios 300

It might not be the best looking laptop in terms of being neutral, but the parts you get are great. It comes with the same Intel Core i7-10750H CPU that a lot of other more expensive laptops have. This CPU is great for the longevity of the laptop, and great for multi-tasking which is important for any PhD student (i.e. running many programs at once).

It also comes with the Nvidia RTX 2060, so this laptop is well suited for both gaming and high intensive work that can take advantage of a GPU. If you are interested in doing any sort of animation or video editing then this is a great choice.

The laptop comes with 16 GB of RAM and a 512 GB SSD. This is just what we are looking for in the best laptop for doctoral students.

The Acer Predator Helios 300 matches the Razer Blade is many areas, the main area where it loses is the looks of the laptop.

See the Acer Predator Helios 300 on Amazon.

3. Acer Aspire 5

Next let us look at one of my favorite budget friendly laptops. The Acer Aspire line has been around for a long time and it is quite good for those who want something that is a little easier on the wallet. This laptop is not very well suited for high intensity work or playing video games.

Image of Acer Aspire 5

The laptop comes with a new 10th gen Intel Core i5-1035G1. It is not the most powerful CPU option, but this is a great choice for anyone who want a general purpose laptop that is good for research and writing. You don’t need the powerful CPU and GPU in many cases, and this laptop is what you would be looking for then.

There is a dedicated GPU on board, the GeForce MX350, so you could actually play some games if you wanted, just not at a high setting.

There is 8 GB of RAM and a 512 GB SSD in the laptop. 8 GB of RAM is okay and 512 GB of SSD is good. As this laptop is not meant for high intensity work the 8 GB of RAM will go a long way. It will be able to handle running multiple programs at once which is what a lot of people are interested in. 8 GB is really the lower end of what a good laptop will come with these days.

See the Acer Aspire 5 on Amazon.

4. Dell Inspiron 15

The new Dell Inspiron 15 is a great option for those who want something a step up from the Acer Aspire 5, but don’t quite need what the Helios 300 or Razer Blade 15 offers. This laptop is also quite good looking and offers a slim and sleek profile.

The Dell Inspiron comes with a new 10th gen Intel Core i7-1065G. This is not as powerful as some of the other i7 models, but it is still an i7, i.e. a great CPU. This CPU should be able to handle most of what you can throw at it as a PhD student, unless you are doing something like machine learning research.

This laptop also has a GPU but not a powerful one. It comes with the Nvidia GeForce MX230. Having a GPU is usually better than not as even Chrome can take advantage of one these days, but it is not required. Being able to offload some of the work to the GPU frees up the CPU to do more “important” work.

There is a 512 GB SSD and 8 GB of RAM on board. This is similar to the Acer Aspire, but the laptop has a better CPU. I would recommend going with this laptop over the Aspire just because of the CPU, as neither of the GPUs will make much of a difference.

See the Dell Inspiron 15 on Amazon.

5. MSI GS66 Stealth 10SFS-032

This laptop is for those who want one of the most powerful options. There are several configurations for this laptop, even some with more power than the one we picked, so you should have a look at the product page to see if any of the other options look interesting to you.

Image of MSI GS66

This laptop comes with a new Intel Core i9-1080HK. This is the best CPU on this list, and is actually one of the best laptop CPUs out there at the moment. That means that this laptop is suitable for high intensive work, and playing video games at very high settings. If you are not interested in either of those things then you don’t need this CPU and can go with something more budget friendly.

There is also the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Super. This is a great GPU and makes the laptop well suited for gaming. There are still more powerful GPUs available, and one of the other configurations do come with the RTX 2080 version. For most people, even if you want to play video games casually at a good setting, this GPU is good enough.

This laptop comes with 32 GB of RAM and 1 TB SSD. This is a a lot more than what most people need, but if you are doing research on something that requires a lot of compute power and requires a lot of RAM then this is a good option.

See the MSI GS66 Stealth on Amazon.

6. Acer Nitro 5

The Acer Nitro 5 is an option for those who want a budget gaming laptop. It has parts that are suitable for playing games at an OK setting, but does not come with the premium price that a lot of more powerful laptops come with. This means that it has a better GPU than the other laptops on this list that are priced similarly, but if you don’t want to play games or need some more power from the GPU for your research, then go with one of the other options.

Image of Acer Nitro 5

The Acer Nitro comes with an Intel Core i5-9300H. This is the previous generation of Intel CPUs, but it is still an OK CPU. I do recommend however that you try to get a newer CPU simply because newer parts tend to last longer (In terms of being relevant for power)

There is an Nvidia GeForce RTX 1650 on board, which is the main component that makes this laptop OK for playing games. If you don’t need the GPU then go with one of the laptops that have a newer CPU and are similarly priced.

There is 8 GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD. This is okay, but the SSD is a little small I think. You are better off going with something that is 512 GB or more. Especially since this is a so called gaming laptop, it should have some space to actually store more than just a few games.

See the Acer Nitro 5 on Amazon.

7. MSI GF65 Thin

If you are interested in the mid-level gaming laptops, then this MSI GF65 is a great option. It makes some sacrifices to offer you a lot for a reduced price. MSI is a great brand that has a lot of experience in making high end gaming laptops. This is a fairly neutral looking gaming laptop which is a good thing in my opinion.

Image of MSI GF65

The laptop comes with the 9th gen Intel Core i7-9750H. This CPU was a staple in high end gaming laptops when it was new so you can rest assure that this is a great CPU. Even today this CPU works well and performs better than many newer versions. Although I usually recommend the newest parts, this CPU is still a good choice. It is one of the reasons why this laptop is priced the way it is.

The GPU is the RTX 2060. This is a fantastic GPU at this price, and makes the laptop suitable for more intensive work. If you want to play video games at a decent setting then this is a good choice.

There is 8 GB of RAM and a 512 GB SSD. 8 GB is a little on the lower end, but the 512 GB SSD is a very good option.

This laptop is a great mid-level laptop that offers quite a bit for your money. An alternative to look at is the Helios 300 which is a bit better if it fits your budget.

See the MSI GF65 Thin on Amazon.

8. Dell XPS 13

The Dell XPS comes as a 13 inch or a 15 inch. The 15 inch has a dedicated GPU if you are interested in that, but as many doctoral students don’t need it I have opted for this one to be a non-dedicated GPU option. It is also unique in that it is only 13.4 inches instead of the more standard 15 inch option. 13 inches is good for bringing around or having at a desk during lectures.

Image of Dell XPS 13

The laptop comes with the Intel Core i7-1065G7 CPU. This is a great CPU for many and will be more than capable of any research task you might have. The exception is something like machine learning / deep learning.

There is no dedicated GPU in this model, although you can add it on the product page if you want. To bring the price down a little I opted to recommend the non-GPU model, as many people will not need it. If you want power then get one of the options that are build to offer power.

There is 16 GB of RAM and a 512 GB SSD. This is a great combination and pretty much what you should be looking for.

The Dell XPS line has been around of a long time and it is a great laptop. If you are interested in a smaller laptop then this is a good choice.

See the Dell XPS 13 on Amazon.

9. Razer Blade Pro 17

As the Razer Blade is one of my favorite laptops I had to include the Pro model too. This laptop is for those who want more power, as well as those looking for a larger laptop. There are cheaper 17 inch laptops available too.

Image of Razer Blade Pro 17

This model of the Razer Blade comes with the Intel Core i7-10875H. This is an 8 core CPU, which makes is very well suited for intensive works that can take advantage of multiple cores. It is great for gaming on a laptop, and it is also good for things such as machine learning, although never as good as a desktop grade CPU.

The GPU is the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Max-Q. This is a great GPU for a laptop, but you can also select the RTX 2080 Super Max-Q version on the product page if you are interested in a little more power from the GPU.

There is 16 GB of RAM and 512 GB of SSD storage. As with the other laptops that have this combination, it is quite good.

For a PhD student this is a great laptop, but you certainly don’t need all this power unless you are doing something very resource intensive. A mid-level laptop might be better suited for you.

See the Razer Blade Pro 17 on Amazon.

10. MSI GL65 Leopard

Another MSI that made this list is the MSI GL65 Leopard. This is a mid-level priced laptop that offers great parts. MSI is a great brand, and this laptop is just one example of what they offer.

Image of MSI GL65 leopard

The laptop comes with the Intel Core i7-10750H. This is a great CPU that should be able to handle most if not all of what a PhD student might want to do. The only time you might want to upgrade the CPU is if you are doing something like deep learning studies.

There is an RTX 2070 on bard. This is an amazing GPU, and will be able to handle most games at very high settings. For a laptop this is a great choice.

There is 16 GB of RAM and a 512 GB SSD, which as you might have noticed is a quite common combination. The RAM and storage should be sufficient for most.

Overall the MSI GL65 Leopard is a solid choice. The price is quite good for what you get. The laptop also looks great which is an added bonus. The thin bezels add a premium look which a lot of other laptops don’t offer. The only downside with the design in my opinion is the two stripes on the back of the lid, I don’t like them. Luckily you will be spending most of your time looking at the other side of the screen though.

See the MSI GL65 Leopard on Amazon.

11. ASUS VivoBook 15

The last laptop on this list is the ASUS VivoBook 15. This is more a budget friendly laptop, and is a great option for anyone who just wants a good laptop that works well for research and writing. It is not a gaming laptop and is not well suited if you want to play games on high settings.

Image of ASUS VivoBook 15

The ASUS comes with a new 10th generation Intel Core i5-1035G1. This is a pretty good CPU that works well for a laptop in this price class. It is more than capable of running a general purpose laptop. If you are not looking to play video games or do machine learning research, then this is a great laptop CPU.

There is no dedicated GPU which is perfectly fine for this laptop. Use your judgment, if you are doing resource intensive work, then perhaps go with an option that has a GPU. If not, then this should be fine.

There is a 512 GB SSD and 8 GB of RAM. For a general purpose laptop this is good.

There are other cool features on this laptop that you should check out, such as a fingerprint reader.

See the ASUS VivoBook 15 on Amazon.

Last words on the best laptop for doctoral students

This list should give you a pretty good idea of what you should expect from a laptop. I think these laptops are among the best choices, but you have to use your own judgment based on what you are doing your PhD in if you need more power or not. For many a medium laptop is a happy medium. It works well for your studies but will also last a long time (and we all know it takes a while to get a PhD).