Best Laptop for Medical School Guide

medical school laptopCongratulations, you’re going to Medical School after years of hard studying!  Now you have another few years of school ahead of you and the laptop you used for undergrad is dated and there’s no way it’s going to make it another four years to see you through med school.  So you need a new laptop for medical school and it needs to be durable, light and able to run any programs required for your studies to become a doctor.  What should you buy as a laptop for medical school?  Good question, which we’ll try to answer.

Key Features to look for in a laptop for medical school

  1. Reliability –  Medical school is a lot of hard work and studying.  The last thing you need is the headache of a computer being slow, or worse, crashing and wasting your time.  Don’t be cheap when buying a technology tool that’s going to be essential in your success in medical school.  It might be tempting to purchase a $400 laptop when you’re already going to be in debt up to your eyeballs with tuition costs, but you’ll kick yourself in 3-years when that $400 under powered netbook starts to fall apart and the warranty expired long ago.  Many med schools require a laptop and even give you a set budget to use for the purchase so that the amount counts toward your cost of attending school and is covered by any student loans you get.
  2. Strong warranty and support – People often ask whether it is worth getting an extended or enhanced warranty on a laptop.  Since we’ve already established that you’ll need a premium laptop that is reliable and you can’t afford to be without a laptop during your four years of school, I actually believe it is worth it to invest in up to a 4-year warranty and accidental damage protection warranty for med students.  It is true that the accidental break and extended warranty protection can be pricey, but the peace of mind of knowing your laptop will be repaired quickly and without cost by the manufacturer can be worth it.  One example of an enhanced protection plan is the AppleCare protection plan.  The AppleCare plan costs $349 for a 15” MacBook Pro laptop, the coverage lasts for 3-years and during that time if your laptop breaks or stops working you can either mail it in for free with a pre-labeled box from Apple or take it into an Apple retail store for repair.  Some companies even offer next day or same day on site repair, for instance Dell offers such a warranty called Dell ProSupport, this way you stay at home and a tech shows up and does the work right there.  As an example of pricing, 3-year ProSupport warranty is $109 on a Dell Latitude E6420 business laptop.
  3. Good battery Life – There’s a good chance you’ll have some lectures that last for 3 or more hours and have the need for a laptop to last you through back to back classes without the ability to plug in your laptop.  If your laptop only has a couple of hours of battery life then you’ll be out of luck for taking notes or referencing material on your laptop when the battery conks out.  It’s very important to get a laptop with at least 4 hours of battery life on a single charge, and if not make sure your laptop has a replaceable battery and take a spare battery with you.  Some of the large screen high performance laptops with beefy graphics cards will suck down the battery in only an hour or two, this is not what you want for med school.  It might be tempting to get a laptop that allows you to do some gaming outside of class to unwind, but your focus should be on functionality and not frills, so get a power efficient laptop that runs cool.
  4. Thin and light design – You’ll have to carry your laptop along with humongous medical reference books when you head to the library to study, so a laptop that’s thin and light will more easily fit in your backpack and save your back.  As a future doctor you should know that a hunched back and overweight bag can lead to neck and back pain, not to mention plain old fatigue from carrying too much.
  5. Cool running – The number one cause of laptop failure over time is heat buildup that leads to parts getting stressed and eventually breaking.  Heat is bad for a laptop and also bad for your comfort if it’s sitting in your lap!  Do your research and make sure to get a laptop that uses superior cooling techniques and components that use less power as that translates to less heat.  A mid-range dual core mobile processor and integrated or switchable graphics are often good component choices.  Don’t get the fastest processor and graphics card you can find, they generally create a lot more heat and use a lot more power.

Should I get a Mac or PC for medical school?

Let’s get the should you buy a Mac or PC debate out of the way. You first of all need to see if you have a choice in the matter, your school may require you to purchase a specific OS platform and even laptop brand. For instance, students at UNC School of Medicine must purchase a PC laptop directly through the UNC Student stores. The purchase includes a 4-year protection plan, warranty and support. The university IT department has determined they will support only those laptops tested and approved for the university computing environment, Lenovo is one of the approved vendors and so chances are most UNC students will be purchasing a ThinkPad laptop.

If you are not forced to purchase a PC, then you should make sure that any software you need to run will also run on a Mac. You can of course use the Mac OS X Bootcamp feature (Bootcamp allows you to run Windows natively on a Mac) or software such as Parallels or VMWare Fusion to run a Windows on a Mac, but it’ll cost you extra to buy the software necessary to do this and you will need a purchased and valid copy of Windows. For the most part, software used in Med School will run on either a Windows or Mac with few exceptions. A lot of the resources you use in Med School these days are on the web, so the OS you use becomes even less relevant.  Unless your school specifically says you must buy a PC or a Mac, I would focus more on which you feel more comfortable using.

Is a Tablet PC a good option for med students?

Tablet PC for med school

You may be aware of Tablet PC convertible laptops and wondering if they’re a good option.  For some the advantage of taking electronic notes with a digitizer pen such as a Tablet PC allows for can definitely be an advantage.  This is especially true if you are a visual person that likes to copy down what the professor is saying instead of just studying the slides they hand out.  Medical school is very much about understanding pathways, there are lots of diagrams of cell and body functions, so if you want to be able to take notes on a computer but not be restricted to what a keyboard and Microsoft Word allow, then a Tablet PC and taking notes in Microsoft One Note is definitely a good option.  There’s a great video on the University of Michigan website in which a med school student explains why he chose a Tablet PC.  Instead of going into the details of Microsoft OneNote and the advantages a Tablet PC will give you, I’ll let the med student in the video do the explaining!

Netbooks are a poor choice for medical school

While it might be tempting to save money and get a cheap $300 – $400 netbook, there are several issues with netbooks that make them a bad choice for medical school students.  Some schools specifically disallow the use of netbooks for medical students, such as the University of Texas Medical School at Houston where they state: “Netbooks and MacBook Airs are not acceptable.” Netbooks are generally underpowered and not built to last 4-years.  Furthermore, extended warranties are often not offered on such devices.  From a practical perspective, the small screen on many of the 10” netbooks will make viewing diagrams hard and the lack of ports can also lead to problems.  Avoid netbooks and laptops with limited ports.

Best Laptops for Medical School Students 2011

Now for some specific recommendations for laptops that can make good options for medical school:

Lenovo ThinkPad X220 or X220 Tablet PC

Lenovo ThinkPad X220

The ThinkPad X220 comes in two flavors: traditional style laptop and a convertible tablet PC laptop.  The X220 with tablet PC functionality is of course more expensive due to the extra tablet feature and technology that requires, the starting price right now is $1,199 on the Tablet and $919 on the regular X220.  The X220 tablet is one of the best laptop convertibles on the market and if you have decided a Tablet PC is for you then the X220 should be strongly considered.  The X220 has all the key features we touched on earlier.  It is durable and reliable as it is built to MIL-SPEC standards and includes a spill proof keyboard, optional Gorilla Glass scratch resistant screen, and a sturdy magnesium alloy chassis.  It has up to 9 hours of battery life with a 6-cell battery, is light weight at under 4lbs.  Since the X220 is a business laptop the support you get is already superior to the average consumer laptop.  Lenovo offers extended warranties and next business day on site repair coverage, right now the upgrade for a 2-year on site repair warranty is only $58 so that’s well worth it.

The ThinkPad X220 comes with the latest 2nd generation Intel Core i3 or i5 processor (dubbed the Sandy Bridge family) so it’s a fully powered laptop, no sacrifices with performance despite its ultraportable status.  If you want a high-end IPS display, same as the Apple iPad 2 has, you can also make that upgrade on the X220.

Apple MacBook Pro 13.3”

Apple MacBook Pro

If you’ve been on campus as an undergraduate for the past 4-years then you know how popular Apple is amongst the student crowd.  If you’re one of those people that has been using a Mac for undergrad then I recommend going with what you know and continuing to use a Mac, the hardware is reliable, attractive and has all the key features we recommend to have in a laptop for medical school.  Specifically, the MacBook Pro 13-inch laptop is well suited for med school due to its portable form factor, stable and user friendly Mac OS X and of course its simply beautiful looks and quality design.  The latest MacBook Pro has the new Sandy Bridge family Intel Core i5 processors and a Thunderbolt port for fast data transfer with peripherals.  The built-in camera is HD quality for amazing video chat capabilities.  The base level 13.3” MacBook Pro starts at $1,199 but if you go through the Apple Education store, open to any higher level learning student, you can get 10% off the pricing.  The upcoming Mac OS X Lion promises to make it very easy, and free, to store most of your work documents and media files in the cloud and then synch them easily between other Apple devices such as an iPhone or iPad.  An OS that makes it easier to manage your work and digital life could certainly be a major plus as it’s all about saving time and being efficient when you’re in med school.

Dell Latitude E6420

imageThe Dell Latitude E6420 is a 14” screen business laptop that can be configured in numerous ways and has a very rugged design with what Dell dubs a “Tri-Metal” design to protect the internal components.  The Latitude E6420 also sports the latest USB 3.0 port for faster data transfer.  The Latitude E6420 can be configured with up to an Intel Quad Core processor, though I wouldn’t recommend such an expensive and unnecessary choice, a dual core Intel Core i5 or Core i7 is plenty enough.  Another feature that may be useful for students is a multi-touch screen option, though it wouldn’t provide fully fledged tablet capability like the ThinkPad X220 tablet can provide, it would allow for touch screen input and work with certain touch enabled applications.

The Latitude E6420 has a backlit keyboard, which is handy for darkened classroom situations.   The E6420 has numerous battery options and you can get over 6 hours with the largest 9-cell battery. Dell offers a 3-year next business day service repair as the standard on any Dell Latitude that is sold, so you don’t even need to upgrade the warranty to get an amazing service agreement.  I have used Dell business laptops in the past and had very good experience with getting quick service when necessary.  Pricing on the Latitude E6420 starts at around $1,200.

HP ProBook 5330m

HP ProBook 5330mThe 13” screen HP ProBook 5330m is yet another business notebook (notice a theme here) and is slightly cheaper than other options so you might consider it the “budget” recommendation of the group.   Pricing starts at $799 on the HP 5330m, but the lower cost doesn’t equate to poor performance or design.  The ProBook 5330m is an attractive laptop with an aluminum finish, looking somewhat like a boxy version of the MacBook Pro.  It has a backlit keyboard like the MacBook does, a nice feature in a laptop at this price.  The build is sturdy as it uses an aluminum casing and on the underside magnesium is used for protections.  The weight of the 5330m comes in at just under 4lbs, so certainly light enough to put in the backpack and not notice it too much.  There are two downsides to the 5330m that I consider trade-offs for the lower price.  The standard warranty is only 1-year and a warranty upgrade to 3-years costs over $200, the Dell Latitude E6420 had a standard 3-year warranty.  The battery life is also not stellar, at 3 hours and 26 minutes with the standard 4-cell battery you’ll probably need to buy an extra battery if you plan on using this through two classes unplugged.


There are more good medical school laptop options than just those covered here of course.  Just make sure any laptop you get has the key features we mentioned.  You can consider the list of recommended laptops a living breathing document as we’ll update it as more laptops are released and suggestions come in.  If you’re a student in medical school and have tips on a laptop purchase or questions feel free to comment on this post.  Good luck with your studies and making a decision on which laptop to buy to help you with those studies!

Filed Under: Feature Articles, HP Student Laptop, Lenovo Student Laptop, News

About AJ

I'm a big believer in the importance of technology usage in education, but not just having blind faith in technology gadgets and using them in a school setting for the sake of it. I review and write about technology devices such as laptops and tablets that have a clear purpose and provide a learning advantage for students.
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