Best laptop screen size for IDer?

What’s the best laptop screen size for a student IDer where portability, size and weight are important factors? I’m looking for the smallest screen size without there being an issue with: Solidworks, Rhino, Keyshot, Photoshop, Illustrator and Sketchbook Pro.

All very subjective frankly. A 15" Alienware will be lot less “portable” than a 17" Macbook.

Either way 15" is usually the most common since it’s a decent balance between size and weight for most models.

With that said, make sure you are getting a laptop that has at least a 1080P display and a dedicated graphics card, because a 15" laptop with a cheap integrated GPU, slow processor or low res display won’t matter what size the screen is.

I would go for 17", I have a 15" laptop at home and it is too small. It´s a little extra weight and size but laptops nowadays are way lighter than they used to be. Mine is around 3,5 kg and I had no big issues carrying it around the city. I would also think about getting a monitor for home, so you can work more comfortable there, something like 24". I agree with Cyberdemon on the graphic card and 1080P, but I would add an i7 CPU and 8 GB of ram, that should work just fine.

That big. I was hoping 13.5"-14". I have a large monitor at home and will use the laptop for light work. For its purpose, do you still think that’s too small?

Idal, why and with what software is 15" too small for you?

I’m perfectly happy with a 15" monitor for on the go / mobile working and a larger (20" +) display when I really need to pound work out. I always thought 17" were a bit big/heavy to carry around, but maybe a newer 17" Macbook wouldn’t be so bad. I probably wouldn’t go under 14-15" unless I was ALWAYS planning on having the larger monitor. It’s just very helpful to save time zooming and panning in PS, Rhino, Solidworks, etc.

The problem you will find is most smaller laptops are not quite up to snuff, but they do exist. That means your selections will be more limited and you may pay more for a powerful 13/14" machine (the HP workstations have a pretty solid 14" model) than you would for a more middle of the road 15" machine.

Either way, buy what you’re comfortable with. If you are OK with possibly a lower res screen on the go because you’re using an external monitor that’s fine. Just as long as that doesn’t become a crutch at certain times. If you have to travel abroad and get stuck pumping CAD, you may regret a lower res screen that can’t fit all your tool bars for an example, but ultimately you know how you use your computer the most, so you should be the judge.

These days the size/weight difference between most 15" machines and a powerful 13" machine isn’t too much.

Future ID student here too, and I have this exact same question. I am considering building a desktop as my primary computer for working and a cheap, portable laptop for any mobile work I have to do. I do not know what that mobile work will be other than word processing, presentations, transferring files and quick edits in CS6 and Alias/Rhino, so I was thinking about getting a 13 inch laptop (perhaps ASUS Transformerbook Duet if it is released this year) with integrated graphics since I’ll try to do most of my work on the desktop. Does this sound good? I wouldn’t mind getting something bigger or more powerful if I must though.

Also, it doesn’t seem like there are many effective and affordable wacom enabled tablet/hybrids for sketching. Since I can just use paper and scanner, I don’t suppose it’s too important for students is it?

For student work, an integrated graphics machine should be OK if you have a desktop to handle any of the slightly heavier work.

It’s less of an issue of performance, nothing you do as a student will be that complex, just a matter of making sure that the CAD performance is up to snuff. The integrated Intel stuff is pretty good these days from what I’ve heard.

Worry about a Wacom tablet down the road. You’ll be much better at sketching on pen on paper first, the tactility and inability to erase are crucial to learning to draw. If you decide you want one down the road you can always worry about upgrading then. I had a little Wacom tablet as a student but it was more of a gadget than a real necessity, I still sketched better on paper.

The thing is i haven’t tested out working on these screen sizes before, so i can’t make the judgement. It would be interesting to hear from anyone (if there is anyone) who is happy working on a 13 inch.

The 13 inch laptops that i’ve used (not for design work) have felt noticeably smaller and more manageable than 15 inch. I’d like the laptop to double up as a ‘netbook’ that i will usually carry with me, for web browsing etc. So size and portability are really important. If under 15 inch is too small for work (even with a high res display), then i’ll have to look at 15 inch minimum.

I would swing by a best buy or other electronics store and take a look at some machines in person to get a better sense.

If you just want something to carry with you for web/email and stuff like that, you may be just as well buying a tablet to go along with you. These days when I travel for personal reasons I almost only bring my iPad and leave the laptop at home.

I was in a similar place and just received my new laptop yesterday. Here is my long and boring story.

I had (and still have) a 6-year-old 15.6 Dell Precision workstation. My wife has a 3-year-old 13.3 MacBook Pro.

When I was consulting, I could justify the workstation. Now, working corporate, I can’t as it is only a personal computer. But I still create very large PS and Illustrator files in CS6. I do very light Rhino work if I am designing the occasional piece of furniture, pinewood derby car or other personal project. I wanted 8gb of ram and a solid-state drive. Processor didn’t matter much and graphics card was also a low priority (but I did wind up with 2gb dedicated).

Portability was a high requirement and my focus soon came down to Asus. The 13.3 is 0.5" thick and comes in at 2.6 pounds. The 15.6 is 0.75" thick and comes in at 4.5 pounds. That 2 pounds is significant to me when traveling.

I used Photoshop on my wife’s Mac for about 12-15 hours before I made a decision. I couldn’t get used to the smaller size. Using a 15.6 for the last 12 years (the older laptop was also a 15.6, still have that one too, it is a tank) has made it impossible for me to go smaller.


I’ve been to a store, but without testing them out with the various software, it’s difficult to know. I have thought about a separate tablet for web and email. If money wasn’t an issue i would get both.

Good insight. I was looking at the Asus too. By “very large PS files”, do you think you’d need the same screen space as a student IDer? So for sketches and product shots.

Quite frankly, I think it is psychological, me needing the bigger screen. Resolution is resolution, the only thing is that changes is pixel size. If you are running 2880 x 1620 on a 15.6 or a 13.3, the same information is there, just slightly smaller.

Also, by “very large”, I meant file size, justifying the need for 8gb of ram.

Alright, thank you for your help.

You mention that 1080p (1920 x 1080) is the best res for 15". Is this the same for 13.3"? I guess having a high res would make the icons on Rhino too small.

At the end of the day more resolution is still better. You can usually force fonts and icons larger, but you can never get more of an image or window on screen if you have less resolution to work with.

These days most cell phones are 1080p, so it shouldn’t be a big problem as long as you can tweak your UI if needed.

Cool. Lots to think about. Thanks! Really it would be ideal to find a way to test the screen sizes out for work.

I got through most of college with a 15" Compaq that was 2" thick with the lid closed. Eventually this got replaced with a 13" Macbook.

Years of using these laptops, plus desktops at work/home, have led me to the conclusion that for student work and early career, portability and flexibility are life-saving. It’s extremely freeing to be able to sling a tiny notebook into any sized bag and take it to any work environment. This proves much more useful than being able to render an image 10 minutes faster.

Any decent laptop is going to be more than powerful enough for I.D. work. Aim for portability and reliable build quality. Just my two cents.

My view on portability exactly. I don’t want to feel reluctant taking my laptop wherever I go, but I don’t want to be struggling to work. Can you share your experience with a 13" screen Hatts?

And what about the screen’s aspect ratio? Shall I be looking at 16:10 (or 4:3 if they still do them), instead of 16:9?

You won’t find much out there that isn’t 16:9 these days…if anything.

I find little issue in having to carry a laptop around with you even if it’s 15". Like Hatts mentioned most of us who we’re lucky enough to have laptops at all in school had machines that were 2" thick, 7-8 lbs, and some of us even lived through the days when you’d need to bring your external Zip Drive (Because what the heck is a USB stick?) with you plus a 3 pound power supply in a paper thin backpack and they still cost $2-3k at the time.

Without getting old man - you can easily find a 15" machine that will be under 5 pounds and with a compact enough power supply that taking it everywhere isn’t an issue (or long enough battery life you won’t need it).

It really depends what your budget is though. Dell has the XPS 15 that for under $2k gets you dedicated graphics, a ultra high res (3200x1800) display and a touch screen. There are even similar systems that will get you thinner and lighter for less money like the Samsung series 9 which is only 3.5lbs in a 15" variant.

It used to be you had to choose between the behemoth laptop or a cheap netbook that could barely surf the web or play HD video but these days you can have your cake and eat it too for a pretty reasonable price.