The Best Laptops for Students

By Ashley Barry and TJ Donegan

Heading off to college? You're going to need the essentials. No, we're not just talking about shower caddies and flip flops—we're talking about laptops. Nowadays, your computer is just as important as your student ID. Not sure where to start? Well, it really depends on your needs. But we've done the hard part, figuring out the best laptops for students, no matter what you're focusing on.

Are you a design student who needs a laptop you can draw on? Microsoft's Surface Pro 4 is a great fit. Want a gaming-ready machine for weekend frag fests? The Dell Inspiron 7000 Gaming edition is perfect. Just need something for writing papers and watching Netflix? The Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA is excellent for casual use.

College is expensive enough already, so it's important to shop smart. Whether you're working with a tight budget or you have a little expendable income, we've got something for everyone. From sleek ultraportables to traditional clamshell-style laptops, here are the best laptops for students.

Updated August 09, 2017

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Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA

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  • Editors' Choice

Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA

The Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA, with its 4GB RAM and 64GB of eMMC flash storage, is a good productivity machine. It's fast enough to handle most tasks like watching Netflix or surfing the web. The Flip is surprisingly zippy for a Chromebook, which exclusively runs web-based applications.

It genuinely feels well-built, too. The aluminum body is slim and lightweight, but won't bow under pressure. The convertible hinge design also lets you rotate the lid all the way around so you can use it like a tablet, making it easier to share information in a classroom setting.

It's pricier than your average Chromebook, but if you're looking for a sophisticated-looking machine to do your schoolwork on, then you can't get much better than this. It looks and feels like a premium machine without the premium price tag; we liked it so much, we named it the best Chromebook of 2017

Acer Chromebook 11 N7

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Acer Chromebook 11 N7

If you're happy with Chromebooks, the Acer Chromebook 11 N7 is the budget alternative to the Flip. It's not the prettiest machine, but it's rugged and affordable. Designed for classroom environments, it should be able to withstand drops up to 48 inches. The keyboard and trackpad are also sealed against small spills, so if you were to spill a can of soda on it, the gutter system would drain that away.

It runs Android apps, too, but it'll only work in the beta channel. That might be something only advanced users want to deal with, as it's not stable yet. The Acer has a touchscreen, though, which gives you a little more control over the apps.

The 1366 x 768 display looks okay in low-light, but bright environments wash it out. The colors are accurate enough, at the very least. Even though the display is lacking, it's not a bad machine for the price. The Acer isn't as sleek-looking as the Flip, but it gets the job done.

Acer Aspire E 15

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  • Editors' Choice

Acer Aspire E 15

The Acer Aspire E 15 is, without question, the most fully featured cheap laptop we’ve ever tested. For just $350 you get a 15.6-inch 1080p screen, a 7th-gen Intel Core i3 processor, a DVD burner, and 4GB of RAM.

It has a slower (but huge) 1TB hard drive, but both the storage and the memory are easily upgradeable. For just $200 you could upgrade to 16GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD; all it takes is removing a few screws.

Even without upgrading, it’s a $350 machine that outperforms laptops that cost twice as much. The catch? It isn’t much to look at. It’s bulky, it’s mostly plastic, and the screen isn’t great. But if you need a solid all-around laptop that’s basically starting at clearance prices, this is it.

HP Spectre X360

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HP Spectre X360

The 2017 HP Spectre X360 is, for the right buyer, an almost perfect laptop. It's lightweight, powerful, has great battery life, and its drop-dead-gorgeous design will definitely turn heads. The 2017 version now includes a stylus, meaning you can easily flip the screen around and take notes or draw diagrams right on the screen.

Though it's a bit pricier than some of the value-oriented picks on this list, we highly recommend opting for the squeaky clean Microsoft Signature Edition model with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. That'll set you back a little over $1,000, but that is still hundreds of dollars less than its closest competitor, the 13-inch MacBook Pro.

Compared to the Pro, the Spectre x360 gives you far more bang for your buck, and the combination of a 2-in-1 design, included stylus, and touchscreen support is ideal for all students—no matter what your major ends up being.

HP 14‑an013nr

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  • Editors' Choice

HP 14‑an013nr

The HP 14-an013nr doesn’t have the prettiest name, but it does have the prettiest screen among cheap laptops we’ve tested. And we do mean cheap: this HP regularly retails for just $220 and occasionally dips under $200 (which is why we named it one of the best cheap laptops under $200).

It’s hard to even find laptops this cheap, let alone one that has a half-decent quad core processor and a 14-inch display. It’s not fast by any means, but the included 4GB of RAM is easily upgradeable, and the fit and finish is on par with laptops in the $500 range.

This laptop isn’t good for much other than taking notes, writing papers, or browsing the web, but that’s all most people need. And though a Chromebook would tick all the same boxes, for some people getting a full Windows 10 experience provides a little more flexibility and familiarity—especially if you won’t always have access to the internet.

Dell Inspiron 13 5000

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Dell Inspiron 13 5000

If you want the power and portability of a high-end laptop but want to keep the cost down, the Dell Inspiron 13 5000 is the way to go. Reasonably equipped models start right around $529, with fast processors and just enough storage and memory for handling schoolwork.

We recommend upgrading to a model with at least 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, which will set you back around $700. Though the plasticky body won’t turn heads, it’s lightweight, portable, and the 2-in-1 screen is perfect for watching Netflix.

Best of all, it’s easy and fast to get your laptop fixed if it breaks (we’re big fans of Dell’s service and support). And if you’re the techy type, Dell offers a service manual that shows you how to personally replace nearly every component on the laptop—ensuring it’ll work great for years to come.

Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming

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  • Editors' Choice

Where To Buy

$849.99 Dell Buy

Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming

If you want serious graphics power for a low price, the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming is the best budget gaming laptop around. The base model, which comes with 8GB RAM and an Intel Core i5-7300HQ quad core processor, has a starting price of $749. That's enough juice to handle mainstream titles like Overwatch on medium settings and older games on high or ultra settings.

The thing about this laptop is that it's ginormous, weighing almost six pounds. Unless you're teeming with superhuman strength, I doubt you'll want to lug this thing back and forth to class every day. It's probably the kind of laptop that lives on your dorm room desk rather than something you take all your notes on, but it's a pretty good deal if you want a gaming-capable machin; you're getting loads of power for a phenomenal price.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4

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  • Editors' Choice

Microsoft Surface Pro 4

Most “2-in-1” laptops have an attached keyboard that can flip behind the screen, resulting in something that’s basically a big, bulky tablet. The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is the opposite of that: it’s a tablet first and foremost, with a detachable keyboard cover (sold separately) for when the included stylus and on-screen keyboard aren’t enough.

Though typing on the keyboard cover takes some getting used to, the SP4 is perfect if you plan to write a lot of your notes on the screen or need something you can draw on. Its stylus is widely considered to be the best in class and the built-in kickstand gives you plenty of angles to work with.

The Surface Pro 4 comes in a wide variety of configurations, with entry-level models that can handle basic schoolwork starting at $799—not counting Microsoft.com's 10% student discount. More powerful options exist, but the thin design means those power-hungry machines won’t last quite as long on a charge.

Apple MacBook Air

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Apple MacBook Air

The MacBook Air, known for its all-aluminum body and ultra-thin design, hasn't changed much since its 2008 debut. The 2017 version might not have the freshest design, but performance is fast enough for basic tasks like web browsing, photo editing, and word processing. What I like best is the large multi-touch touchpad because it's easy to use and super responsive.

The 1440 x 900 display is behind the curve, though. You'll lose contrast if you tilt the screen downward and viewing angles are narrower than we like. It's fine for everyday tasks like writing e-mails or chatting in Slack, but most laptops offer 1080p displays or higher these days.

Razer Blade (2017)

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  • Best of Year 2016

Razer Blade (2017)

If you're looking to replace your aging gaming computer with a high-end powerhouse, then maybe it's time to spring for the Razer Blade. This machine, with its high-performing specs and cool Chroma keyboard, ticked off a lot of boxes for us—it's actually the best-performing laptop we've ever tested. The Nvidia GTX 1060 graphics chip can handle everything from modern games to virtual reality, if that's your thing.

The only drawback is the underwhelming battery life. The Blade loses its charge just a few hours of moderate use. That's less than a full school day, so you'll have to keep your eyes peeled for an outlet between classes. It's also expensive, but for a true gaming experience you can bring on the go, the Blade is the way to go.

Asus ZenBook UX330

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  • Editors' Choice

Asus ZenBook UX330

The Asus ZenBook UX330 is one of the best ultrabooks you can get. Not only will it last all day on a charge, the guts offer great performance for the money. Weighing a little under 3 pounds, this lightweight machine comes with an Intel Core i5-7200U processor, 8GB RAM, and 256GB SSD. That's plenty of power for multitasking.

The matte non-touch display is old-school, but in a good way. Most touchscreen displays have a glossy finish, which causes glare in bright environments, but the ZenBook doesn't have that problem. The screen still provides vibrant colors and a great viewing angle, perfect whether you're cranking out a last-minute paper or binge-watching Netflix on the weekend.

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