A laptop of choice for a college student should have a solid design that will survive the harsh class room environment, daily commute in a backpack, and occasional drops and pushes. In the long haul, it should last, possibly though four years of undergrad and maybe a year into grad work.
This year’s holiday deals (Black Friday, Cyber Monday…name them) are already surfacing, and that should remind college students one thing – the start of next semester is much closer. Well, it’s a holiday and we shouldn’t be talking of college, but the earlier you grab a few discounts on college laptops, the better. For that, you need to break even on the holiday deals and spend less. For a student on a tight budget, spending less on college essentials is worthwhile.
In this, we have curated the best laptops for college and we have also provided insights to help you in finding the best value out of the laptop of choice. You’ll find notebooks with basic features –at low prices, and systems with more advanced features, for which you’ll pay slightly more. Either way, the choice is yours, but our list is comprehensive enough to cover college needs.
Before the list, here are a few things that make for the best laptops for college students, and we’re hopeful they do help as you shop around.
Does it meet college specs?
Yes, before you can pay for that laptop, the first thing to do is check whether it meets your school’s specific system requirements. Depending on your major, some colleges/universities require that their students are equipped with laptops that meet a certain threshold.
Mostly, they require Windows laptops especially if they will be supplying specific software to be used by the students. By having uniform specifics, they’re avoiding software incompatibility issues. If you don’t have any restrictions, you can consider the MacBook Pro with an M1 chip, or a Chromebook with Chrome OS.
Others don’t tie you down, you can have Mac OS, Linux, or anything else, provided you’re comfortable using it. For others, you may have to buy laptops from the university to benefit from on-site repairs and offers in case anything goes south during your college years. Whichever the case, inquire first what your college expects of your system, especially on specifications.
How light do you need it?
In my Freshman year, I totted around a 5.7- pound HP Pavilion, and it did a good job keeping me ‘fit’ on a daily basis. I would have wanted it lighter, but that’s all I had, and being a ‘hand-me-down’ I didn’t have much choice. All I’m trying to say is if you have the option of getting a lighter laptop, the better. A big screen might look appealing as an entertainment companion in the dorm room, but it won’t be the best experience hauling it across campus while rushing from class to class.
Something lightweight is preferable for college students, and if you don’t mind screen size, a svelte ultraportable might be a safe bet. Personally, I’d prefer anything in the range of 13 or 14-inches, as it lets you have some space in your backpack. If a smaller display does it for you, the better, but keep in mind texts will look smaller and productivity applications will take long to scroll to the bottom of the page than they do on larger screens.
All in all, just ensure you get a comfortable keyboard and touchpad as you’ll need it. Most of your interaction with the laptop will be on college essays, research papers, chatting, so anything sub-standard will be a pain. In case you go with the smallest laptop, a standalone keyboard on the side might be worth buying down the road., as you’ll need it to do lots of typing.
Is it powerful enough?
Most good laptops for college are all about budget, but that doesn’t mean you settle for a gaudy behemoth. College laptops come in various iterations, with varied processor capabilities – you can opt for the most powerful, costly, or affordable with less power but favorable battery life. Or you can have one that favors both, powerful and long battery life: Intel’s latest CPUs are both powerful and very energy-efficient, meaning a recently released system stands a better chance.
If you need long battery life, the new crop of Chromebooks is also worth a long look, though they run on low-power chips. If battery life and power excite you, Intel’s Core i7 is the best you can get, but battery life may not last all day on some models.
If gaming is your newest hobby, you may need something with a discrete graphics card, but you’ll pay more. We now have gaming laptops packing either AMD Ryzen or Intel Core chips with enough power but are laid back and don’t have the gaily LED-lighting of mainstream gaming systems. Having a powerful GPU lets transcode videos and watch Blu-Ray movies with ease, but they also drain the battery fast. If you’re into architecture and need CAD, those are the ones you should consider, but for other courses, an integrated GPU with good processor chi will be sufficient for day-to-day computing tasks.
Storage – HDD or SSD?
Now, much of everything can be stored online and accessed anytime. That has made having plenty of local storage less important, but you should still ensure your ideal laptop meets your basic needs. If you’re planning on installing many apps, then you’re safe with 256GB or more of system storage. If you don’t need all that storage, then you’re safe with less space.
Whichever side you lean towards, keep in mind that your choice of storage will affect speeds too. A system with a hard drive will get you more storage for less money, but it will be slower than one with a solid-state drive (SSD). For most people, the higher cost and lower capacity SSDs are a combination most people are willing to take since you can always plug a high-capacity external hard drive via your laptop’s USB port.
How is the battery life?
A laptop that can last you through a college day might be the best companion to have around. A typical day revolves around classes and extracurricular activities, most of which don’t give you the luxury of plugging your laptop into the sockets each time. In this case, you need something that lasts you through the day on a single charge. An additional battery would be ideal as well, but most laptops now come with a non-replaceable battery, so you need to get it right from the word go. The good news is, the newer chips being used in laptops now offer better battery life, but it all depends on your usage cycle.
A traditional notebook or a hybrid?
How do you love your laptop – the traditional notebook style, or the new hybrid convertibles with a comfortable keyboard. Now, you have hybrids that can function as the traditional clamshell-style system when you need them, but can transform into a convenient form factor; some fold into tablet-style, while others completely detach from the keyboard. Also, you have ultrabooks, which sport the traditional notebook style, but are extremely paper-thin, and offer reliable performance. On design, you’re spoilt of choice and preference.
Best laptops for College Students
1. Acer Swift 3
Ultrabook performance for much less
CPU: Latest 8th generation Intel Core i5-8250U| Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 620 | RAM: 8GB – 16GB | Screen: 15.6-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) Widescreen IPS | Storage: 256GB SSD
The Acer Swift 3 (SF315-51-518S) has the looks of a premium laptop, with an ultra-thin, all-aluminum body that competes with what you’d find n pricier ultrabooks. It brandishes the power of Intel’s latest 8th-generation processor, a comfortable backlit keyboard, useful connectivity ports, and a passive 8 hours of battery life.
Read the full review: Acer Swift 3
2. Microsoft Surface Pro
A tablet that easily replaces your laptop
CPU: 7th generation Intel Core i5| Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 615 – Iris Plus Graphics 640 | RAM: 8GB | Screen: 12.3-inch, 2,736 x 1,824 PixelSense display | Storage: 256GB SSD
The 2017 Microsoft Surface Pro is a shoo-in for anyone looking for a 2-in-1 detachable hybrid tablet PC, thanks to new seventh-generation processors and longer battery life. It is the system to watch for the remainder of the year as we expect competition to intensify, but with a processor bump and longer battery life.
Read the full review: Microsoft Surface Pro
3. Acer Aspire E 15 E5-575-33BM
Very affordable, good battery life
CPU: 7th generation Intel Core i3 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 620 | RAM: 4GB | Screen: 15.6-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 | Storage: 1000GB (5400RPM) HDD
The Acer Aspire E 15 is your ideal budget laptop for college. It has an impressive feature set for the price including, a seventh-generation (Kaby Lake) processor and a good number of ports. It may not stand out, but it’s what you need to have the work done, thanks to its 15-inch Full HD screen, strong performance, and excellent battery life.
Read the full review: Acer Aspire E 15 E5-575-33BM
4. Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2017)
Timeless design, powerful enough into the future
CPU: 7th generation Intel Core i5 | Graphics: Intel Iris HD Graphics 640 | RAM: 8GB | Screen: 13.3-inch, 2,560 x 1,600 | Storage: 256GB SSD
The newest Apple MacBook Pro is so far, the laptop of choice for anyone looking for a blend of power and function, making it an aesthetic masterpiece. It does get a few upgrades here-and-there, especially on performance, and has the best battery life.
Read the full review: Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2017)
5. Dell Inspiron 13 5000 Series
A powerful, yet affordable, 2-in-1 hybrid laptop
CPU: 8th Generation Intel Core i5-8250U | Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620 | RAM: 8GB | Screen: 13.3-inch FHD (1920 x 1080) True-life IPS | Storage: 1TB (5400rpm) HDD
The Dell Inspiron 13 5000 (i5379-5043GRY-PUS) offers good value in design, feature set, and performance than you’d find in the 2-in-1 convertible category, for much less. However, it makes a few tradeoffs in the choice of storage option, but it does make up for the same with the latest 8th-gen., processor, and pocket-friendly pricing.
Read the full review: Dell Inspiron 13 5000 Series
6. Acer Premium R11 Chromebook
Acer’s chromebook is modestly priced
CPU: Intel Quad-Core N3160 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 400 | RAM: 4GB | Screen: 11.6 HD Touchscreen (1366×768 ) IPS | Storage: 32GB eMMC
The 2017 Acer Acer Premium R11 is a convertible-hybrid Chrome OS system, that delivers impeccable all-round performance, and has a battery that lasts all day. Plus, it packs a solid feature set, offers sturdy construction, and more useful ports options than most mainstream laptops.
Read the full review: Acer Premium R11 Chromebook
7. ASUS ZenBook UX330UA-AH55
MacBook Pro aesthetics and experience for half the price
CPU: Latest 8th Gen Intel i5-8250U | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics | RAM: 8GB | Screen: 13.3 Inch Anti-glare FHD 1920 x 1080 Display | Storage: 256 SSD
The ASUS ZenBook UX330UA-AH55 sports a stylish look, a super svelte build, a gorgeous display, and the latest eighth-generation ‘Kaby Lake-R’ processor. In a crowded field of ultraportables, it stands out for solid performance and good pricing.
Read the full review: ASUS ZenBook UX330UA-AH55
8. Samsung Notebook 9
A new dawn for premium ultrabooks
CPU: 7th-gen Intel Core i7-7500U | Graphics: Nvidia GeForce 940MX | RAM: 16GB | Screen: 15.6-inches FHD (1920×1080) IPS | Storage: 256 SSD
The Samsung Notebook 9 NP900X5N-X01US is a premium ultrabook, with all-day battery life, but doesn’t really need a higher-than-HD display. It redefines the concept of thin and light laptops, and it bolsters with one of Intel’s high-performance, highly efficient seventh-generation Core i7 processors and a snappy solid-state drive alongside a premium build.
Read the full review: Samsung Notebook 9
9. Dell Inspiron Gaming Laptop
May it be work or play, it does all
CPU: 7th Generation Intel Core i7-7700HQ | Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 | RAM: 8GB | Screen: 15.6-inch FHD (1920 x 1080) Anti-Glare | Storage: Dual drives with 128GB SSD + 1TB HDD
The Dell Inspiron i5577-7359BLK-PUS can play modern titles in full HD, can suffice for daily productivity, boasts good battery life, and is very reasonably priced. If shopping for a budget gaming laptop with the right features, the Inspiron 15 is a deal that is hard to pass.
Read the full review: Dell Inspiron Gaming Laptop
10. Microsoft Surface Laptop
A design with students in mind, from the OS up
CPU: 7th generation Intel Core i5 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 620 | RAM: 8GB | Screen: 13.5-inch, 2,256 x 1,504 PixelSense| Storage: 256GB SSD
The Microsoft Surface Laptop is a stylish, powerful ultraportable that’s a prime choice for university students on a budget, and anyone in need of a solid, travel-friendly PC. It doesn’t do much to shake the crowded category as Microsoft expected, but it works hard to stand at the top alongside leaders in its category.
Read the full review: Microsoft Surface Laptop
And, it’s a wrap for college students in 2017
For college, your textbooks, school ID, and (now) laptop are the essentials you need. And it isn’t only needed for school work alone, you need it for extracurricular activities, such as watching movies, gaming, surfing the Web, editing/sending photos, video chatting with those back home, and so on.
As such, the best laptops for college students should have a solid design that will survive the harsh classroom environment, daily commute in a backpack, and occasional drops and pushes. In the long haul, it should last, possibly through four years of undergrad and maybe a year into grad work.
- Now, check out our Editors’ Choice on all other categories