Need a New Laptop for University (Engineering Degree)

Hi All. I have taken a look at a few laptops such as the HP Spectre, Envy, Dell Inspiron Series. However, those devices seem way too overpriced for their specifications. I do not want to purchase a Macbook and would prefer windows. Thanks.

Preferred Specifications:

  • 13-14" Screen

-i5-10th Gen (most preferred) - wouldn't mind i5-8th Gen/i7-8th Gen/i7-10th Gen

-8GB RAM (DDR4) - or more.

-1TB HDD 7200RPM or 256/512GB SSD (am very flexible on this)

-Form Factor —> must be very lightweight and portable.

-Dedicated Graphics Card - preferred but not necessary.

-Touch Screen + Pen very highly preferred —> if the non-touch laptop is cheap and it works out better for me to purchase a Tablet like iPad Pro or S6 + laptop, I am also open to this notion.

PRICE = $1400 MAX (I have access to 5% JBHIFI Cards through NRMA + TRS 10% GST )

Also, if there is ozbargainers who go uni, what laptops do you guys use. I dont want to spend over a $1000 if I can get the same stuff done on a much cheaper device.


  • +4 votes

    Surface Pro would suit you fine all through Uni and ideal for note taking, report writing and entertainment. Find the ideal version and price point for you.


      Surface Pro is good, but IMO it leans a bit too much on the Tablet side rather than a laptop.
      However, I've never used one so might go and check it out at a store.


        I hardly use it as a tablet, my two year old Surface Pro fast enough to run Eclipse and compile and some java code.
        Its all about whats your intention and what software you planning to run on them. Definitely get 8GB or more RAM, if you do.
        It do sux to lay on your lap as laptop :)


          The Surface requires me to purchase an additional keyboard/mouse and pen, or I can find these accessories bundled in some deals?

  • +2 votes

    The new Inspiron 13 5390 could be worth a look. Dedicated GPU, 512GB of NVME storage and 8th-gen i7 which should perform better than the new low-power i5's. No(?) reviews, battery isn't huge and RAM isn't upgradable which is a bit disappointing though :(.

    I bought a used MacBook Pro (2013 Retina) for Uni which I use for anything requiring any typing/programming (documents, CS projects…) and a 2018 iPad with an Apple pencil for annotating lecture notes and reading (totally legal ;) ) PDF textbooks. Originally had a Surface Pro 3 which was frustrating to use (pen was average, kept waking from sleep, type cover was very uncomfortable to use sitting down etc).


      Yeah I saw the Inspiron. Ive kind off had a bad experience with Dell Inspiron laptops. I own a 2017 model i3-7th gen currently, it makes this whirring noise with the hard drive spinning. It also wakes up from sleep randomly and glitches a lot. Tried contacting Dell about it and they said my device is too outdated to run. I practically only browse chrome and use MS Word. Pretty sure a i3-7th gen with 8gigs of RAM can handle that.

      So not too sure about it. Maybe Click Frenzy/Christmas/Boxing Day will have better deals.

      I've thought of a Macbook, but am used to windows, also not very keen on purchasing a used device (the brand new Pro's are ripoffs).
      I didn't know I could use the Apple Pencil with a normal iPad. Thanks for clarifying this!
      2018/19 iPads are very cheap and good tablets in general, so I might look into these as well now.


        I didn't know I could use the Apple Pencil with a normal iPad.

        Only the 2018 (6th-gen A1893/A1954) and 2019 (7th A2197/A2198/A2200) base-model iPads are compatible (5th and before are not unfortunately). Can find them very cheap used and still in warranty (though, you'd want to make sure it had a receipt, i.e. is not stolen).

        You could install an SSD (only ~$40 for 240GB these days) and try a fresh install of Windows 10 to see if that fixes the sleep issues and glitches with your current laptop. Would also make it feel considerably faster. Pretty poor to only get a couple of years' out of it :/.

        • +1 vote

          The procedure for installing a SSD onto this laptop is very annoying and tedious from what I've seen in videos. It kinda involves risking breaking a lot of stuff as it means I have to take out the whole keyboard from the front to access the inside.
          The laptop weights around 3kg so that's why I'll be giving it to one of my family members (hence not letting it go to waste).

  • +1 vote

    Unless the course sepecifys you need a laptop you will be doing classes in computer labs anyway and have access to computers in tons of places across campus and the library

    Pen + Notebook + printed lecture notes

    • Less chance of them being stolen
    • Much cheaper
    • Get used to writing for exams
    • +5 votes

      Your points are not wrong, however as a current uni student I think a computer involves way more advantages.

      • Keep all your notes etc. organised easily
      • a lot of in class collaboration requires a laptop
      • most notes are given out electronically
      • assignments and other work requires computer

      I spoke to a Masters engineering student at one of the unis on the open days, he reiterated the same points as you, however he stated that he used a Surface Go (much cheaper) for his notes, opting for using the university's computer labs.

      I need a laptop for personal use and for convenience's sake, keeping all the notes in one place, etc. My current device doesn't quite meet my needs so need an upgrade.

  • +1 vote

    It would help if you specified what you expect to be doing with the laptop, and whether it will be your only pc.

    As you have specified a dedicated graphics card, that could mean that you expect to do 3D CAD, or it could mean that you also want to use it for gaming.

    For your uni work, I recommend you either have two drives, or partition your single drive so it has a separate "data" partition for your work. That will make it much easier to back up your data, and the backup process will be much faster because you can separately back up the data (perhaps daily), and back up the OS perhaps monthly. Your data backup may even be small enough that you can auto-sync that partition to dropbox or similar.

    Another major thing to look for is three or more USB ports. I bought a laptop with only two, and one is permanently occupied by a mouse, making it difficult to copy stuff between two USB memory sticks. Maybe you'll be more skilled than me with touchpads and not need a mouse, but doing CAD with a touchpad is painful. I'm an electronics engineer.

    And also check that at least one USB port is on the side. I once had a laptop that only had USB ports on the rear, which meant that the weight of the laptop, when I wasn't using it, sat on the mouse dongle. I wish that laptops had at least one recessed USB port, so you can leave short USB devices plugged in, and not have them stick out.


      It will be my only PC. I don't game much at all, the dedicated graphics card isn't a mandatory requirement, I've just never had one so kinda wanted to try it out and maybe play a couple of games.

      How many USB A and USB C ports do you reckon would be optimal for daily use?
      Let's say one USB A is occupied by the mouse.

      • +1 vote

        For me, two USB ports are always in use.

        I'm a contractor, I work at several workplaces, so I keep all my work on a USB stick and keep it with me (tiny USB3 FIT drives can easily be carried in your wallet). I do this in case I need to refer to a previous design to check what chips I used, how I varied the circuit from what is in the datasheet, and my notes why I made the variations. Having a good "library" of previous designs helps my work hugely.

        So on the laptop, one port is always occupied by the above USB stick, plus one USB port for the mouse, and ideally one extra so I can easily copy a customers drawing/spec/whatever from their USB stick.

        I also have a desktop PC at my home office, where much of my work is done. It's a lot more comfortable than sitting in a customer's office at a bare desk, and I can listen to music while working. The USB stick is still the primary storage for all my projects. I have both my computers set up so that every time I start up my CAD program, a batch file starts. The batch file calls the CAD program, then when the CAD program exits, the batch file asks me If I want to back up my USB to a backup directory on that computer. That way I always have three copies of everything for backup purposes: the USB stick, the backup on the laptop, and the backup on the desktop.

        I recommend you make your backup process automatic for your data. Too many times I've seen people lose work because they were too busy doing the work to do backups, and their storage got corrupted on the day before their assignment was due.

        I don't think a separate graphics card is needed for your engineering work. I regularly have circuit boards with over 1000 components on them, each with their own 3D (step) file, and viewing the circuit board in 3D mode doesn't strain the integrated graphics in either of my PCs.

        The thing that DOES slow my PCs down is simulations. Unless your simulation package is able to use your graphics card for the calculations, that means a fast CPU is highly desirable. Multiple cores will not necessarily speed things up, many engineering simulation algorithms can't use more than one core. So a CPU that is fast with a small number of cores (probably 2-4) is best.

        Good Luck with your engineering course! If there's one piece of advice I can give to you, it is learn as much as possible when your designs go wrong. You'll find that things don't always perform as expected, but there is a cause behind every failure. In engineering, experience is proportional to the number of things you've broken. If you don't gain new knowledge when something breaks, you aren't gaining the experience that people will want to employ you for.

        Edit: I also found that USB3 drives run very hot when plugged into a USB3 port. They run cooler, and almost as fast, when plugged into a USB2 port. So that's what I do.

  • +1 vote

    What type of engineering? Does your uni have render servers on campus?


      Most likely Civil Engineering.
      Im planning on going either USYD/UNSW/UTS depending on my upcoming ATAR.
      I'm not sure if they have render servers.
      I have heard that the civil faculty uses MATLAB for simulations and mapping.

  • +1 vote

    Dell Inspiron 15 5000 Laptop i7-1065G7, MX230 4GB VRAM, 16GB DDR4, 256GB SSD - $1011

    Dell Inspiron 15 7000 2-in-1 Laptop Silver Edition, i5-10210U, 8GB / 256GB, 1080p VA Touchscreen - $1199

    Dell Inspiron 13 5390 i7-8565U 8GB RAM 512GB SSD FHD MX250 - $879.20

  • +1 vote

    (I have access to 5% JBHIFI Cards through NRMA + TRS 10% GST )

    Don't forget student prices for purchases too, should be applicable on some websites depending what device you end up choosing, you can usually score like 5%-15% off rrp at least


    So which laptop are you going to pick??


      I've got till February (when my course starts).
      This purchase will need to be very well thought out as I am intending to use the device for the entire duration of my degree.
      Hence, it needs to be last around 4-5 years.

      There's plenty of deals coming up in click frenzy, Christmas/boxing day/new years(although not expecting much from these as everything will be price jacked).

      I am going to take a deep and thorough look into all the devices people have recommended and get familiar with the prices. Then, I'll narrow it down, if I see something really good for a really good price, I'll buy it.

      I'll post here what I end up purchasing and at what price.

  • +1 vote

    I used surface pro 2 for my degree in IT. The screen of that was a bit small for coding but I was okay with it. Loved the form factor so much that I bought SP6 last year which has a larger screen than SP2 but SP2 is still going.

  • +1 vote

    I study Electrical Engineering and have a Surface Pro (5th Gen - 2017) and it is great for uni. I have used it for various coding subjects, and the note taking is second to none. I use OneNote to keep all my notes in the same place and import pdf's and can write notes during the lectures - would 100% recommend that. My partner also has one as she is doing graphic design and it is also awesome for that.

    It does act more like a tablet, but can be used perfectly fine as a laptop. Haven't had any issues with it.
    I am due to finish next year and I will be selling it the end of this year (hey wanna buy it?) and getting a normal laptop - however this is just because I want to have an actual laptop for personal use once uni is done.

    For uni, for note taking and simple coding - I would definitely recommend the SP. It has changed the game for note taking and it means you can write notes that correlate to notes on the slides. Link that with OneDrive and you can view your notes anywhere (by using OneDrive online). It's light, portable and the screen is very impressive.

    Hope this has helped, let me know if you want any more info or want to know anything else.

    • -1 vote

      I've been looking at SP's, they are just so expensive right now.
      Looking to buy a new one that can last me 5 years.
      The deals ATM are average, they don't come with a keyboard either so if I factor in the cost for a pen + keyboard then its way too much even for the i5.

      I'm leaning towards HP Spectre and the like because those ones I can get for $1400ish

      • -1 vote

        If I can get a deal on the SP with a pen and keyboard (i5 variant) for sub$1500.
        I'll buy it tbh

      • +1 vote

        The HP Spectre's are definitely awesome little machines, but the tablet part of that isn't great - I have a few friends who have it and it sucks to write on the touchscreen coz the screen doesn't fold away properly and bounces around a bit or something (their feedback, not mine).

        When I got my SP it still came with a pen I think. Typical big corporation greed. Could easily get pen/keyboard second hand though if you wanted to
        Or even if you can get a generation or 2 older, since the new model is out they will come down in price.

        Just some thoughts.
        Good luck!


          Would you be able to comment on how future proof a SP 6 is, say I get the i7+ keyboard/pen for the same price as a SP7 i5 model?

          • +1 vote

            @thriftysach: It's hard to say mate, I mean it will be a generation older in the CPU, but as for when that will start to matter - does anyone know?

            My friend graduated in July this year and she was still using the SP3 (for an Elecc Engg degree) and she could still use it fine. Depends how you take care of it I guess.

            Mine isn't slow at all, and well it's 2 years old already. You could probably extrapolate from that.

            But have to remember all modern technology is made to have a shelf life of only a few years - forces people to upgrade again.


              @JoKing: I reckon I can make do with SP6, I take very good care of my devices and can troubleshoot along with being able to conduct minor replacements. (that won't be necessary for something like SP though).

              So I could make it last for most of my degree. Thanks for the info though and I'll definitely look into getting a second hand pen. Keyboard I think brand-new would be best and I'm willing to fork out some money for that.

              • +1 vote

                @thriftysach: The Black Friday sales are coming up, you could keep an eye out for all of those.

                Otherwise there will be Christmas and New Year's Sales so good time to have a look.

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