Data Science Laptop Buying Guide [2020]

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With 15 years of data analytics experience, I’ve hit the limits of many different laptops. Luckily there have been swift and massive improvements and there are plenty of great options available now.

Find out what to look for in a laptop for data science and then see my top 4 options for best laptops for data analysis.

What type of laptop do I need for data science?

There are a few main requirements to look for in any laptop that will be used for data science or data analytics.

RAM

Random access memory, or RAM, is one of the most important components of a data science laptop. Without the right amount of RAM, the applications you'll use for data science may move at a snail's pace - or fail to run at all.

Recommended: 16GB +

GPU

Data scientists cannot do their job without a strong graphics card. Always look for machines that have advanced graphics. This is especially critical if you’re doing machine learning.

Great gaming laptops often make great data science laptops.

Recommended: NVIDIA GeForce (any model)

CPU / Processor

Core i7 7th generation processors tend to be more powerful capable of performing heavy tasks, such as designing or editing.

Laptops with Core i5 also deliver quality performance. That makes them a fine substitute if you don’t have the budget to get a Core i7.

Recommended: Intel Core i7 7th generation (or newer)

Storage

Storage is a crucial factor for any data scientist looking for a new laptop. As such, always know what storage hard drive you prefer: an HDD or SSD. The HDD drive takes more time to run, and it has a lot of moving parts.

You might also opt for a solid state drive. These tend to increase the price, but you make up for it in performance. 

If you deal only with small data sets or don't anticipate doing machine learning, you could go with a lower storage amount. 

Recommended: SSD with 256GB+

Alternative: HDD with 1TB+

If your budget doesn’t let you get a laptop that fits all these criteria, the easiest one to be flexible on is storage. It’s easy to add in later and if you’re looking for a laptop to use for work, most of the time you’re going to remotely connecting to servers so you won’t need to store massive amounts of data on your own computer.

Operating System

Your operating system choice comes down to personal preference. If you’re an ardent user of Mac OS, you can go for the MacBook Pro or MacBook Air. If you like Windows, go with that instead. Or go with Linux. 

Recommended: Windows / Mac / Linux - take your pick!

Screen Size / Portability

At this point, we’re solidly into preferences territory.

For me, portability is an important factor so I’ve got a 13.5” laptop.

You’ll find that you’ll likely end up having a secondary monitor at some point which is why I don’t mind the smaller screen on my laptop. I normally work off it and a larger secondary monitor when I’m doing any data science work. 

Unfortunately the trade off on portability is that it often means not quite as powerful of a machine - or it’s more expensive.

Top 3 Data Science Laptops

With those factors in mind, here are a few options I recommend. I’ll link to all of these in the description so you can easily find them.

Dell XPS 13

This is the laptop that I personally use. The Dell XPS 13 is a 13.3” laptop that’s under 3 lbs running Windows 10.

I’ve had mine for 2 years and it runs just like new. Since I bought it awhile ago, I actually have an 8th generation core i5 processor and less storage. I’ve never run into issues with processing, but I bumped into storage issues much sooner than I would have liked. Luckily the newer XPS 13s have much more storage and I’ve easily solved my problem by picking up a 1TB SSD which has worked flawlessly.

Check price on Amazon:

MacBook Pro

The MacBook Pro is not a computer then needs an introduction. It has incredible quality, which is perfect for senior data analysts. It’s not cheap, but Apple is known for lasting a long time and it’s the Macbook pro is a perfect option if you prefer the Mac operating system.

Check price on Amazon:

Huawei MateBook X Pro

The Huawei MateBook X Pro, also known as the budget version of the Apple MacBook, is all about build. The sleek device comes with many of the same specs Apple puts in their machines, including a similar graphics card, screen resolution display, and battery life.

In addition, it also has superb performance on top of a 9 to 10 hour battery life. 

Check price on Amazon:

Best Budget Data Science Laptop

Acer Aspire 5

If you can’t afford to spend over $1000 on a laptop to use for data analytics or data science, check out the Acer Aspire 5.

It’s a compromise in almost every area, but also comes with a significantly lower price tag- $649 on Amazon as of the publishing time. You’ll find yourself needing to upgrade sooner than with the other options and the build quality is definitely lower. However, it’s still a great option for getting started and you’ll still be able to do quite a lot with it.

Check price on Amazon:

Why trust this guide?

What makes The Career Force qualified to teach you anything about data science laptops? 

That would be me - Jen - the person behind all the content you'll find on this site. 

I built a career in analytics and data science and have over 15 years of experience.