As if getting into nursing school wasn’t difficult enough, getting out of it succesfully is extremely difficult.
That depends on how dedicated and smart you are, true, but for most that’s the way it’s going to be.
- You will be loaded with random reports , capstone projects and exams on a weekly basis.
- Means you’re going to be staring at the display and using the keyboard quite quite a lot.
- Let’s not forget those super stresfull lectures where missing a detail equals having to read 10 pages to make up for it.
- Which means you may want something that can record/take notes from lectures efficiently (if you can attend lectures in this pandemia)
To make things worse:
- You’ll also be dealing with other tasks that are all not necessarily academic related like clinicals and simulations.
- These are important but not as difficult as exams, the difficult part is having to go back and forth between lectures and clinicals so you want something ultra portable.
It takes no genius to figure out the features you want to go after: a great FHD display, a top of the line keyboard, an ultraportable form factor and of course good decent computer power for multitasking (and record lectures) .
If you’ve been doing your research before landing on this article…
You probably know what kind of device that is isn’t it?
Don’t worry I’m aware they’re expensive…
I know most of you clicked on this article’s title to get more options than that right? Especially budget friendly options.
Anyways, that’s exactly what you’ll find here.
Before that let us briefly go over the exact specifications you need to look when shopping for a laptop just in case you may want to look for more options OR you can’t find these laptops in your region . It kind of helps justify the choices I have laid out for you too.
I’ll make a very brief summary here but If you’d like a more lengthy explanation of what I’m about to say please head to the last section of this post where I try to break it down even more and also included information about the nursing program, the usual classses, the SOFTWARE you’ll use for exams, etc, Basically any information that’s relevant for choosing a laptop.
If you’re having classes as you normally would, you will need to bring your laptop just about everywhere. It’s important to have it at your disposal at all times and for that you need something that doesn’t make you hesitate to put in your bag. Aim for no more than 3.5 lbs.
It isn’t useful to have something super light with no power so make sure whatever you buy has at least 8 hours, most portable devices will have that but if you’re buying refurbished/renewed models, you’d have to check the battery life cycle before purchase.
At least a 13” display with FHD resolution. These two features is what will give you enough workspace area to have several windows open next to each other simultaneously. This also makes sure you have enough space to read/type/take a lot of notes without having to scroll down all the time.*
*There isn’t anything wrong taking notes with the old fashioned way but keep in mind slides are given to you digitally. In fact, It’d be best to use some sort of a tablet for that but we’ll talk about that later.
As long as you get something RECENT, you don’t really have to worry about it. Any CPU is fine since you aren’t going to run anything computionally intensive.
Recent means : Any Intel CPU from the 8th to the 12th generation (you can tell this by the first two numbers) or a Ryzen CPU (any generation is fine).
Core i3/Ryzen 3 are the best for battery performance and for budget constraints
At least 8GB. Windows 10 needs around 3.1GB so if you get 4GB you’ll only have less than 1GB of memory for programs to load and work.
8GB is also the sweet spot for the all the amount of web browsing tabs and the intense multitasking you’re going to pull off.
Capacity isn’t an issue, space isn’t really something you’re going to run out of pretty quickly UNLESS you’re a gamer.
You should however make sure whatever laptop you end up with has an SSD (I won’t go into much detail but they’ll basically make a world of difference for your workflow). Most laptops have an SSD if you buy a renewed/refurbished it may not so double check.
Core i5, Core i7
Intel Iris Xe Graphics
128GB-1TB PCIe NVMe SSD
13” IPS 2880 x 1920
Yup this is the most obvious choice and you’ve probably come across the Surface Pro several times across nursing school blogs . Well either this or the iPad Pro.
The reason why it’s number one on pretty much every blog (if it isn’t ranked #1 then don’t take that blog seriously), it’s because it has the most realistic note taking feel to it. Once you get the stylus and try to write on the touschCreen you’ll realize how accurate it registers your hand movements and it will pretty much feel like writing on a physical notebook.
Now that’s not true for every tablet, the more premium the tablet the higher the chances it’ll have this much sensitivity for taking notes.
Obviously there are more tablet choices than just the Surface Pro 8 but they’re just TABLETS, the Surface Pro isn’t just a tablet , remember it can also be used as a laptop.
“But doesn’t the iPad Pro has like an external keyboard and once you attach it, you pretty much have a laptop too? Can’t you attach a keybaord to any tablet for that matter? Or actually just use a bluetooth keyboard”
True, that’s very true. But how many of those tablets will have the full version of Windows 10 Home? or Windows 11? which you need to run some of the software you’ll be given to take exams and which you may need to run specific software given to you? Only the Surface Pro 8 and the Surface Book and the Surface Go, basically the surface devices.
Wait, there are more than one Surface Device? So should I go for the cheaper models? Or maybe the more expensive models will work better?
This brings me to the topic of Performance. While it is true you don’t need much performance for nursing school and hardware should be the least of your concerns, you still need to meet a bare minimum of hardware requirements to make sure you can do basic multitasking with Windows 10 Home or Windows 11.
Most CPUs found on the Surface Devices will work except one particulay found on older models and devices: Core m3 CPUs and Pentium Gold CPUs. They are not actually slow and they might work for you but it’s really down to how much you multitask and what you consider slow so I’d just advice you to stay clear off those models.
My recommendation for the best performance?
Core i5 + 8GB RAM. Even if it’s an older model, make sure to have at least 8GB RAM which automatically comes with at least a Core i5
Yes, I said older models. Nothing wrong with them especially if you are on a budget.
In fact, that is the best solution to low-budget problem, get a refurbished model from Amazon and you also get a 90-day warranty plenty plenty of time to return it if there’s anything wrong with it.
Which brings me to the topic of design.
All Surface Pro even the first ones released have basically the same design and they all have more or less the same note taking sensitivity. I would not go further than a Surface Pro 4 though.
How difficult is it to use the stylus to take notes?
There’s not much of a learning curve probably a 6 hours spread over several days and I mean REALLY get used to how this whole thing works. The more recent models are much easier to get used though because they have had their note taking feature stewed to a perfection. Even artists and architects used it to draw on it these days.
All Surface Pros are more than 12.5” in size (measured diagonally), the Surface Go and Surface Book may smaller or larger than that. You don’t want anything smaller than 13” though remember you don’t want to get it to crowded especially when you know you’ve got an exam to study and you need all the space you need to read several sources at once.
The good news is that All Surface Devices even the oldest ones have much more resolution than what the average laptop has (2736×1924 is almost 50% more than FHD which is 1980×1020). This is going to help you even more when working with histology images.
At first glance, it may seem that the screen is way too small and not even close to 13 so it may not be ideal to multitask on it. That’s not entirely true, the screen size is 12.5 (only a 1/2 inch smaller than the ideal size) AND it has a much higher resolution (2736×1824) which is twice as much as the FHD displays you see all over the place.
Anyways, if you can’t afford this latest version you can go for older models, they’ll have the same note taking feature, battery and even the same resolution
2. MacBook Air
Best Laptop for Nursing Students
Apple M1 Chip
8GB-16GB RAM LPDDR4
Apple M1 GPU
13.3” Retina Display 2560 x 1600
Now if we leave 2 in 1 laptops aside, the best laptop for nursing students with all the specs we went over is the MacBook Air.
Don’t worry you don’t have to buy the Newest MacBook Air with the M1 Chip , it’s just listed here for updating puprposes.
The truth is ANY MacBook will do for nursing school, even the cheapest oldest models will work wonders. And you’ll be surprised to find out how much they cost compared to the newest model.
Why am I recommended to go for laptops made several years ago?
Because you don’t have to go that far back in time and even if you all macbooks released after 2014 have the SSD you want and the Core i5 chip you want. Some have 8GB RAM (which makes them a little more expensive) but for Mac OSX you don’t need that much.
Windows 10 and Windows 11 will be slow with just 4GB but OSX runs just as fast as it would with 8GB. I know this first hand because I have a 2015 Model right now in 2022 and it’s only got 4GB, never given me any lag issues (even when playing games).
Ok, what specific models do you recommend?
Well like I said, any MacBook will do even those from 2015. Which version to pick will come down to budget and personal preferences:
2015: This is the same bare bone model that was released in 2008. It has the same keyboard, battery life and display of 2008 (which is a good thing actually because its been the best keyboard ever designed on a MacBook in my opinion). The only issue with these models are the displays, they don’t have FHD resolution so they aren’t ideal if you are used to having more than two windows next to each other. You can offset this issue by making sure you get a 13” Model though (11” feels way to cramped and this is the model that I have).
2017: Exactly the same model of 2015 with updated CPUs and RAM type.
2019: I particularly never tried out this model for the simple reason that I had read so many bad reviews about the keyboard. It’s your call. The good thing about these is that they come with the retina resolution which is more resolution than FHD .
2020-2021: This is the latest model featured here. It’s really the best out of them all, it’s like the 2017 version with much much better CPU power (though useless for nursing school purposes) but has way way more battery (15 hours) and has a keyboard just as good as the older models.
Display & Design
All MacBook Airs share the same overall design and built quality though, all of them are ultra thin so thin they can fit into an envelope and they also weight anywhere from 2.2lbs to 3lbs (depending on the size).
Aside from that battery has always been quite long (at least 10 hours) however if you buy refurbished models you can’t expect to have that much. I myself got about 8 hours when I first got my laptop now it’s down to 6 hours but it’s been three years since I bought mine.
I know you’re probably worried about not being to run nurscing school software because you’ve got a MAC OSX. However, you should keep in mind that most of the software they use for exams also have a OSX version these days and even in the case they don’t you can also install Windows on a MacBook through bootcamp and you don’t necessarily have to delete the OSX operating system, you can have them both in the same computer and switch back to either with a single restart.
3. ASUS ZenBook
Best Windows Laptop For Nursing Students
Intel Core i5-1135G7
8GB RAM DDR4
Intel Iris Plus Graphics
512GB PCIe NVMe SSD
13.3” full HD OLED
I know there are some people here wary of refurbished models so before I go into more budget friendly options, let me introduce one last ultrabook you may want to consider: the ASUS ZenBook.
Now ZenBooks have been out for ages and the newest 2022 model is just as fast the newest MacBook Air (not that it matter anyways) and not just that it has more or less the exact same overall design as the MacBook Air. The best part is that you don’t have to go for old refurbished models, they are relatively cheap (at least in my view), the recent ZenBook sells for 800$ which is still 200$ cheaper than the MacBook Air.
Although 800$ may be just as expensive as the Surface Pro 8, if you go for past versions (new past models), you can get them as low as 600-700$.
ZenBooks have been out for about 5 years so all of their models will have the SSD, the Core i5 CPUs and virtually all come with 8GB RAM. So no worries there.
*The SSD of the Surface Pro/ZenBook is slower than the Air’s but for most purposes, even gaming, the difference is negligible.
Display & Design
Hardware isn’t a reason to buy a laptop for nursing school anyways, what you should pay more attention to is the form factor and I’m glad to tell you agagain that all models , even the oldest ZenBook, is as thin as the MacBook Airs and in some cases even slightly lighter.
The battery isn’t as long thoug and that’s Windows 10 fault, you’ll get a maximum of 10 hours even out of the brand new models.
The keyboard isn’t top of the line either, it’s great for typing but it’s not MacBook great.
Then we have the display which doesn’t have the same resolution , FHD is still quite a lot and plenty to multitask with several things open next to each other.
But for 700$, that’s still quite a deal if you ask me.
Intel 10th Gen i3-1005G1
8GB RAM DDR4
Intel UHD 610
14” FHD TN Panel
Good budget laptops for nursing school are unfortunately a bit heavy and they will cost you around 350-400$.
Those that seem to be “cheaper ” have actually pretty outdated or low-end hardware which can’t even run the full version of Windows 10 Home. Go ahead and check them out, they’ll have Celeron, Pentium CPUs and 4GB of RAM. We all know how long ago Pentium and Celeron CPUs were released right?
The good thing about these budget laptops for nursing school is that they have at least 8GB RAM and virtually ALL of them have a modern CPU. You should be paying no more than 350-400$ for the specs you see listed here though.
Anyways, I picked this model for the simple reason that it’s the least heavy of the bunch (4.0lbs is still pretty portable for a 400$ laptop).
If you click the link, you can confirm these are the actual specs and there isn’t nothing with the CPU, RAM or storage. In fact, it also comes with a FHD resolution display whereas most models in this price range will try to cut down manufacturing prices by giving you a HD+ display..
Best Cheap Laptop For Nursing Students
4GB RAM DDR4
Intel UHD Graphics
128GB PCIe NVMe SSD
15” IPS full HD
This is the cheapest laptop cheapest option which MAY tolerate Windows 10 Home or Windows 11.
I say MAY because if you notice it only comes with 4GB of RAM, that’s just not enough to even run NotePad with Windows 10 Home. So you will need to take this laptop to someone who knows how to open a laptop and insert an additional 4GB RAM. This process is actually very easy and you can do it yourself.
I recommend you watch a tutorial though.
It may be a hassle to do this but it’s really the best option to get the best of both worlds: good hardware and low price. Other laptops are either 100$ more expensive or are much much heavier.
Windows 10 S Mode:
You don’t have to do this upgrade if you can just stick with Windows 10 in S mode though which is the default opearting system this laptop comes with. This may not be feasible if you must use specific software given to you by the department though. What you can do is by this laptop and use it as it is (with Windows 10 S mode) and only upgrade when the time comes, that is, when you’re told to run software that only runes Windows 10 Home.
This section will teach you step by step everything you need to know about laptops for nursing school so you can buy another model if you find the laptops recommended here too expensive OR if you can’t find any of the above around your region.
The Nursing Program
Before you read this guide, it would be a good idea to check with your department and what they have to say about laptops or computers. Some departments may have some form of partnership with a laptop company so you might get one at a very very good price.
Laptop Requirement and Other Devices
There’s also the chance that nursing schools will advice you ALSO get a handheld device (not a smartphone). The reason is simple: the curriculum will usually integrate the use of tablets for classes and clinicals so you have something to access medical records and clinical information.
Check what operating system require or if it’s actually an optional thing.
If you fail to follow their advice, you might run into compatibility issues with nursing school software. It’s more likely to be an issue with ChromeBooks because MacBooks (OSX) can have windows on top of OSX so you can run windows software on a Mac no problem.
Exam software : Nursing programs use software like ExamSoft which is compatible with Mac OSX and Windows (not Chrome OS).
If you show up at the exam room with the wrong operating system , which is very common, you’ll be given another laptop device to take it.
Review courses: most NCLEX review courses run on Windows. Some of the online review courses for your classes might only run on Windows as well.
Just for the sake of completeness, let me tell you the software you’ll be using start with the most obvious ones:
- Microsoft Office (Word, Powerpoint, Excel, etc)
- Adobe Reader (for lecture notes, homework assignments, etc)
- Flash, Shockwave,Java,QuickTime (To run videos, quick animations, instructional videos,podcasts, etc)
Also some apps such as (depending on the school):
Virtually every modern laptop with Windows or Mac OSX owill run all of the above with no issues. Tablet-like devices will also run many of these though I assure there will be at least one software that will not have a tablet version.
Just want to mention a bit of the usual note taking practice of most nursing students:
- They will use their laptop to record a lecture (or a tablet)
- They will use that same laptop to take notes on top of the slides
- They will usually attach segments of audio to the corresponding slides
This may sound a bit too extreme but this is what will actually save you from having to read hudreds of pages from a textbook. The teacher’s lecture is made out so that you can get the most important points and details and that’s what will most likely show up in a exam.
Keep this in mind when picking up a laptop!
3lbs and under: Laptops with these weight are really really easy to carry and not only that but they’re also very very thin so they easily fit in a backpack. Only laptops under 13” will have this much weight. Unfortunately, there is no single laptop with all the recommended hardware specs and with this much weight at a very accessible price.
These are very very expensive laptops to manufacture so the best price you can hope is 600$ and even that may only a happen every few years.
3lb-3.5lb: This is still considered somewhat portable and it’s still expensive. These laptops will usually be ultrabooks with too much extra power you don’t need though.
3.5lb-4lb: This is the best you can expect to get out of cheap laptop, it’s just not going to get better. From here on, it only startes to get heavy.
Q: I only have 350$ or less to spend and I don’t want a heavy laptop? What can I do?
The easiest solution is to use a ChromeBook. It only comes with Chrome OS but you can install pretty much every application you’ve been using on Windows though it will work slightly different (as an app rather than software) but they will complete the same purpose.
Ideally you want an 8 hour battery. This is very easy to find on ultrabooks, in fact, they’ll output +10 hours and the latest MacBook Air ~15 hours. Unfortunately, again, they are expensive.
You can still get quite a lot of battery from cheaper machines. First make sure to check on the ASUS ZenBook, it weights 3lbs and has a +10 hour battery. If that fails.
If that fails, then you’re going to have to buy one of those budget laptops (3.5-4lbs) and if you want to get the best battery out of these, you need to make sure they use either a Ryzen CPU or a Core i3 CPU, these will consume the least amount of energy and they should at least last you 8 hours.
The main thing you need to get out of the display is workspace area. You can increase workspace space area by obviously getting a bigger screen but just as important is resolution.
A display’s resolution will dictate how many pixels you can on your screen, the more pixels you have, the more your computer will be able to accomodate more objects (through size reduction) on the same screen, this gives even more screen area to work with .
FHD: This is 1920×1080. Plenty of resolution for multitasking and now virtually available in almost all laptops. If you pick a laptop and it doesn’t have that much you’re being ripped off. Usually you’ll find laptops with lower resolutions if you check smaller laptops (below 13”) which aren’t good to run the full version of Windows 10 anyway.
The biggest factor for accurate diagnosis is resolution and this is good resolution to get accurate histology diagnosis. Though obviously, the more you have the better.
This used to be very popular and a MUST in the good oldays because textbooks had CD/DVDs that had software for exam practice or just for multimedia purposes. These days, they are not very useful since most of this stuff can be downloaded off the web.
If there’s ever a need to get a CD/DVD drive, you can also buy an external reader and connect it to your laptop through the USB port, problem solved.
This section is meant to help you avoid old and slow hardware, it is not meant to set any requirements for nursing school. If any, these requirements are basically the bare minimum you need to multitask with Windows 10 or Windows 11 Home.
Windows 10 Home will only run fast enough with a modern CPU. Instead of listing all modern CPUs , let’s list the CPUs that our outdated which you should stay away from:
Celeron, Pentium, Any Intel Core CPU with the Y or M letters somewhere. MediaTek/Atom.
Any AMD CPU that doesn’t have the word Ryzen is outdated
Taking those out of the equation you only have: Intel Core CPUs with the i3/i5/i7 label and AMD Ryzen 3/5/7. You can choose any of these although the higher you go here the more money you’ll pay, going for i5/i7 or Ryzen 5/7 is unnecessarily expensive.
Intel Core i3/ Ryzen 3 CPUs are the most ideal for everyday software and battery life purposes. However, Core i5/Ryzen 5 CPUs which are way more powerful are almost universal on every ultrabook so you may just have to settle with that (IF you want an ultrabook).
Chrome OS/Windows 10 in S mode/Windows 11 in S mode: Now if you’re running either of these two operating systems (through a ChromeBook or through a 350-400$ laptop that initially comes with Windows 10/11 in S Mode), you can choose ANY CPU , even outdated CPUs will do and your option really start to open up to laptops below 350$. ChromeBooks can cost as much as 150$.
It depends on the operating system. If you did your research and you know you don’t have to install any special software on a laptop then you could use any operating system and RAM size becomes way more flexible:
2GB: This much is only good for Chrome OS.
4GB: Good enough for Windows 10 or 11 in S mode. Mac OSX will also work fine with just 4GB.
8GB: The bare bone minium for the full version of Windows.
Upgrading: 11 inch laptops are not upgradeable. That means you can’t install an additional 4GB RAM. I would just stay away from 11 inch laptops unless they’re one of those premium ultrabooks like the Surface Go. Virtually all of them will run Windows 10 slow.
There used to be two types of storage: SSDs and HDDs. Now, there’s only one type of storage: SSD.
If your laptop doesn’t come witih an SSD, you should really rethink about buying another one OR making sure that the ones you have can be upgraded.
If you don’t get an SSD on yours, you’re really going to miss out on what they can do to your productivity:
- SSDs will boot up your machine in split seconds
- Launch any software in ia flash
- You will be able to look particular words in a pdf file INSTANTLY
- You’ll slightly more battery life
Even if you need to learn how to read X-ray exams or any high resolution image, you don’t need a dedicated graphics cards. Whatever your laptop comes with, it will work for just about anything that’s not related to high end gaming.
A lot of nursing students just use a tablet and only bring a laptop when exams call for one.
Q: Do you recommend one?
Of course, they’re ultra portable cheap and you can take notes on it (if they have a good stylus), if not you could just record the lecture with it and write notes on another piece of paper. It’s also easy to bring to clinicals and take out anywhere on the go so you can keep reading and reading on your way home.
Why should you still get a laptop?
Obviously, if you don’t have a desktop/laptop back home it isn’t going to work. You can’t be nearly as productive with tablets as you would with a real computer.
So you should still get a laptop or a desktop to write reports and also to run the software you’ll be given. NCLEX software doesn’t run on tablets either.