We are living in the digital era and a laptop is a necessity for college students. With the demands of schoolwork at your university, you’ll need a high-quality laptop to rely on. There are quite a few options. It’s worth investing in one that will last for your entire college career, too. When you start your search for the best laptop for students, consider how you are going to use the laptop most often.
No matter what you’re studying, you’ll need to take notes. So, it’s also important that your college laptop has the software needed to effectively take notes, stream and complete your homework with ease and without hardware issues.
Many university classes now allow or even require students to use their laptops in class for a variety of purposes, so you’ll also want to choose one that can fit in your backpack. Your basic, entry-level laptop that will do the job can be had for $300, but for a few hundred more, you can get a quality machine with longer battery life, a faster solid-state drive and overall better performance.
With the current supply chain issues and chip shortages, you might think it’s hard to get your hands on a decent budget-friendly laptop for school. Luckily, it’s still possible to find laptops and two-in-ones with the latest processors from AMD and Intel. The only PCs you might have to wait for are those featuring the newer powerful 11th-gen Intel Core processors that promise to boost performance in laptops for gamers. There are a few models with those processors on the list below, and more will be available soon.
The majority of our picks for the best college laptops run between $500 and $1,000. If you’re looking for a more affordable laptop — or if you’re open to an alternative to Apple’s MacOS and Microsoft Windows — we recommend checking out the best Chromebooks for students. On the flip side, if you’re searching for a more powerful laptop, or a gaming laptop that doubles as one for college, we have some suggestions for those, too. So if you’re ready to upgrade your tech, keep reading for our list of the best laptops for college.
The fanless Apple MacBook Air with 8GB RAM hits all the right notes for an Apple laptop (or any laptop computer, really). This powerful laptop is back to the old $999 starting price, and if you’re a teacher or student, you can take off an additional $100, thanks to Apple’s educational discount. The base model of this laptop features Apple’s M1 processor with an eight‑core CPU, seven‑core GPU and 16‑core Neural Engine. Stepping up from the baseline MacBook model will bring you an eight-core GPU and double the storage capacity with a 512GB SSD, but you’ll be forking out an additional $250.
Like the previous Mac laptop models, the M1 Air has Apple’s Magic Keyboard, Touch ID, a Force Touch trackpad and a 13.3-inch Retina display. If you’re a college student, it’s hard to go wrong with the new MacBook Air.
Read our MacBook Air M1 review.
While it may not be among the very best laptops for students, this thin 3-pound two-in-one with Intel Core is a solid Windows operating system choice for anyone who needs a college laptop for schoolwork. The all-metal chassis gives this Window laptop a premium look and feel, and it has a comfortable keyboard and responsive, smooth precision touchpad. The 14-inch display gives you more room to work than competing 13-inch models at this price. This is less expensive than the Lenovo IdeaPad or the Lenovo ThinkPad. As a two-in-one, you can use it as a laptop or tablet and it supports pen input with Lenovo’s optional Active Pen. Though it’s light on extra features compared with its premium linemate, the Yoga 9i, it does have one of Lenovo’s sliding shutters for the webcam that gives you privacy when you want it and a fingerprint reader for fast sign-ins. It also has a long battery life to boot.
Tired of trying to work on documents or spreadsheets on a small widescreen display? The Acer Chromebook Spin 713 uses one of Acer’s bright VertiView displays, a 13.5-inch 2,256×1,504-pixel touchscreen with a 3:2 aspect ratio. As the name implies, this Chrome OS laptop gives you more vertical room to work, but it still has the width of a typical 13.3-inch laptop with a 16:9 ratio. Between that and its battery life, which lasted nearly 13 hours in our tests, it’s a great laptop for getting more work done in a day — and it’s still thin and light enough for an everyday carry.
The latest version of this Chromebook is the first to receive Intel’s Evo verification, which means you’ll be getting the best possible mobile experience with this model. It’s also the first with Thunderbolt 4 support, which lets you connect to multiple external displays as well as providing fast data speeds and networking. Read our Acer Chromebook Spin 713 review.
Gateway was known for low-cost desktops and laptops in the 1990s. In the year 2020, the brand was revived for a new lineup of laptops and tablets sold exclusively through Walmart. Those models were recently updated with 11th-gen Intel processors and we tested both 15.6- and 14.1-inch models. The latter gets our vote as an inexpensive option for getting school work done while still being light enough to carry around campus for the day. The attention-grabber is the Intel Core i5 processor that provides reliable performance despite being paired with cheaper components. The keyboard is comfortable but not backlit and the touchpad isn’t the most precise. Also, the built-in fingerprint reader is hit-or-miss. Still, it has lots of ports so connecting a mouse or an external display isn’t an issue and the full HD resolution is decent, too, all things considered. Plus, the battery lasted a couple minutes shy of 10 hours on our streaming video test.
A remarkable college laptop deal for simple tasks like email, word processing and much more, thanks to the new AMD Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 7 processors. This budget laptop has a backlit keyboard, a fingerprint reader and a USB Type-C port, too. The Acer Swift 3 is also an incredibly lightweight laptop at less than 3 pounds.
Read our Acer Swift 3 (14-inch, 2020) review.
The Surface Pro 7, powered by a 10th-generation Intel Core processor, remains the standard-bearer for Windows devices that work as both a Surface laptop and touchscreen tablet, though this convertible model makes for a better tablet than it does for a laptop. (If you’re looking for the opposite in a student laptop, Lenovo’s two-in-one Yoga devices are better laptops than they are tablets.) In addition to the typical great performance and battery life you can expect, the seventh-gen Surface Pro finally gets a USB-C port. This Microsoft Surface laptop has got a super-portable size that makes it an ideal student laptop for high school and college students who may be carrying a lot of gear. Though this company still sells the Surface Pro without its essential Type Cover keyboard and Surface Pen included, it can frequently be found relatively reasonably — sometimes with one or both accessories. It is among the best laptops for students who want a two-in-one Windows device.
Read our Surface Pro 7 review.
Dell streamlined its G-series gaming laptops, going from three models down to just one Dell laptop — and it’s all for the best. Instead of having to decode the various feature and quality differences between them, there’s just one chassis available with a variety of configurations. All of the processors can be paired with up to a 6GB Nvidia RTX 3060, 8GB or 16GB of memory and up to 1TB of storage. They’re basically a more budget-friendly gaming laptop version of those from its Dell Alienware division, but still capable of playing the latest AAA titles.
The review process for laptops, desktops, tablets and other computer-like devices consists of two parts: performance testing under controlled conditions in the CNET Labs and extensive hands-on use by our expert reviewers. This includes evaluating a device’s aesthetics, ergonomics and features. A final review verdict is a combination of both those objective and subjective judgments.
The list of benchmarking software we use changes over time as the devices we test evolve. The most important core tests we’re currently running on every compatible computer include: Primate Labs Geekbench 5, Cinebench R23, PCMark 10 and 3DMark Fire Strike Ultra.
A more detailed description of each benchmark and how we use it can be found in our How We Test Computers page.
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