No matter what your stance is on Microsoft’s recently unveiled Surface Laptop and its cost of entry, the message is clear: students want a notebook that’s powerful, long-lasting, affordable, and stylish. That may not seem like a high bar for laptop makers to meet, but in many cases, compromises are made in some of those areas.
The best laptop fuses 7th-generation Intel Core processors with a battery life set to last all day and looks that you’ll gawk over without putting you over budget. That’s a string of tough requirements to meet, but why settle for anything less than a laptop that balances specs with value all while remaining reliable over at least the next four years?
Not everyone can afford the most expensive laptop with the persistently looming threat of student loans, books and housing in the back of their minds. For that reason, we’ve put together a list of the top laptops for college students even when money is tight. Below you’ll find our choices of all the best laptops for college students across various price ranges and categories.
- Dell XPS 13
- Asus Chromebook Flip
- Asus ZenBook UX305
- Microsoft Surface Pro 4
- Samsung Notebook 7 Spin
- Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming
- Asus ZenBook Flip UX360
- HP Chromebook 14
- Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, Late 2016)
- 13-inch MacBook Air
1. Dell XPS 13
Powerful, functional, aesthetically pleasing
CPU: 7th generation Intel Core i3 – i7 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 620 | RAM: 4GB – 16GB | Screen: 13.3-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) – QHD+ (3,200 x 1,800) InfinityEdge | Storage: 128GB – 512GB SSD
Packing a high-resolution screen and serious processing power, there's more to the Dell XPS 13 than being a surprisingly small Ultrabook. Now featuring new processors and better integrated graphics, clearly the main advantage of buying the newest Dell XPS 13 is that it comes in Rose Gold.
There's a 13-inch display crammed into an 11-inch body, a worthy rival to a certain other aluminum laptop line, and what’s more, the Dell XPS 13 is perfect for any basic course work scenario. After all, Apple doesn't make the only premium, general use laptop worth batting an eye at, and the Dell XPS 13 is the proof.
Read the full review: Dell XPS 13 review
2. Asus Chromebook Flip
MacBook quality for a Chromebook price
CPU: 6th generation Intel Pentium – Core m7 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 515 | RAM: 4GB – 8GB | Screen: 12.5-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) LCD | Storage: 32GB – 128GB eMMC
When it comes to the upper echelon of Chromebooks, they normally don’t last. While we can admit that Google’s Chromebook Pixel and the HP Chromebook 13 were enticing, the high price tags that accompanied them weren’t exactly justified. That’s why Asus has taken it upon itself to craft a full-fledged premium 2-in-1 Chromebook that retails for around the same price as a cheap Windows laptop.
The Asus Chromebook Flip’s pair of USB Type-C ports, dazzling screen and stunning MacBook-esque looks render it an essential inclusion on our best laptops for students list, especially when you consider its pristine value. What’s more, with a battery life recorded at 10 hours and 46 minutes, the Asus Chromebook Flip ought to last you an entire work day. The only real setback are the speakers, which – in classic laptop fashion – sound dismal.
Read the full review: Asus Chromebook Flip
3. Asus Zenbook UX305
A most affordable and excellent Ultrabook
CPU: 6th generation Intel Core m3 – Core m5 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 515 – 5300 | RAM: 8GB | Screen: 13.3-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) – QHD+ (3,200 x 1,800) | Storage: 256GB – 512GB SSD
Call it a MacBook Air knockoff if you want, but the Asus ZenBook UX305 is one of the best Ultrabooks you can buy at the moment considering the low price-point. With a full HD screen, a whole 8GB of RAM and up to 512GB of SSD storage, the Asus ZenBook UX305 is a steal.
Like the Dell XPS 13 listed below, this is further proof that you can find a truly primo, general use laptop for less than a thousand bucks. The ZenBook UX305 is an honest-to-goodness laptop, presented in an attractive package, that takes home the gold when it comes to exhibiting the basics.
Read the full review: Zenbook UX305
4. Microsoft Surface Pro 4
The tablet that can replace your laptop
CPU: 6th generation Intel Core m3 – Core i7 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 515 – Iris Graphics | RAM: 4GB – 16GB | Screen: 12.3-inch PixelSense (2,736 x 1,824) | Storage: 128GB – 1TB SSD
A higher resolution screen, a thinner design and a move to Intel's more powerful Skylake processors all help to make this portable tablet a capable substitute for your other computing hardware.
What you get is one of the few tablets we can say for certain can replace your laptop. Luckily, with Windows 10, it serves as a great companion device, too. Sadly, the Type Cover keyboard is still an optional necessity for this laptop replacement.
Read the full review: Microsoft Surface Pro 4
5. Samsung Notebook 7 Spin
MacBook Pro size and power, MacBook Air price
CPU: 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-6500U | Graphics: Nvidia GeForce 940MX (2GB DDR3L); Intel HD Graphics 520 | RAM: 12GB – 16GB | Screen: 15.6-inch Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) LED with touch panel | Storage: 1 TB HDD – 1TB HDD; 128GB SSD
For less than a grand, you could get a MacBook Air, complete with a sub-1080p screen and a Broadwell processor or you could buy a Samsung Notebook 7 Spin. A 2-in-1 laptop with an HDR-enabled, Full HD touchscreen, the Spin boasts both a discrete Nvidia graphics chip and one of the latest Intel CPUs.
Considering the sheer horsepower you can exert from this thing and – we can't stress this enough – an HDR screen, the Samsung Notebook 7 Spin is perfect for the classroom or the dorm. Sure, it uses an old-school hard drive and a standard-def webcam, but at the same time, but few concessions are made to keep the price down and its value up.
Read the full review: Samsung Notebook 7 Spin
6. Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming
This laptop does high-end gaming on a student budget
CPU: 7th generation Intel Core i5 – i7 | Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050; Intel HD Graphics 620 – GTX 1050 Ti; Intel HD Graphics 630 | RAM: 8GB – 16GB | Screen: 15.6-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) – UHD (3,840 x 2,160) anti-glare LED-backlit | Storage: 1TB HDD – 1TB HDD; 128GB SSD
While a gaming laptop might sound like the best fit for a student hoping to grind away at the next Mass Effect as much as their homework, they’re usually wicked expensive and the battery life is often on the short end. Luckily, there isn’t much Dell hasn’t thought of and, ditching the Alienware moniker altogether, the Inspiron 15 Gaming is a prime example of budget PC gaming done right.
For the price, you wouldn’t even be able to afford a MacBook Air, and this is a laptop that can handle practically every game you throw at it, albeit not at the highest settings. And, if you were worried about the battery life, we’ll have you know that in our PCMark 8 battery life benchmark, the Inspiron 15 Gaming lasted a whole 5 hours and 51 minutes, longer than some Ultrabooks that cost even more.
Read the full review: Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming
7. Asus ZenBook Flip UX360
Taking on Apple with more ports and a touchscreen
CPU: Intel Core m-6Y30 – Intel Core m-6Y75 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 515 | RAM: 4GB | Screen: 13.3-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) | Storage: 128GB – 512GB SSD
It’s not much in terms of specs, but the Asus ZenBook Flip UX360 doesn’t need to be. For the price, it’s one of the better 2-in-1 laptops money can afford. It’s thin and light, packing in an all-day battery life and yet Asus was still courageous enough to keep all your favorite ports intact in addition to its signature 360-degree convertible mode.
Traditional PC users and newcomers alike will be delighted to find a pair of USB 3.0 ports accompanied by a microSD card reader and USB-C. The downside is a notable lack of full-size HDMI, opting instead for the antiquated micro HDMI. However, this laptop more than makes up for its faults with a spacious trackpad and keyboard as well as a processor more than capable of completing everyday tasks – just don’t go nuts with the browser tabs.
Read the full review: Asus ZenBook Flip UX360
8. HP Chromebook 14
A well balanced Chromebook
CPU: 6th generation Intel Celeron | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics | RAM: 2GB – 4GB | Screen: 14-inch HD (1366 x 768) – FHD (1,920 x 1,080) | Storage: 16GB – 32GB eMMC
The HP Chromebook 14 is no performance powerhouse, sure, but thanks to the zippiness of Chrome OS combined with a funky blue case, this is one fun notebook to use.
Because of its low cost and ease of use, the HP Chromebook 14 is ideal for high school or liberal arts college students while simultaneously providing access to nearly every major service an undergrad would need to survive. It's nothing fancy in terms of specs, but it is at the very least a sight for sore eyes.
Read the full review: HP Chromebook 14
9. Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, Late 2016)
The MacBook Pro of the future, right now
CPU: 6th generation Intel Core i5 – Core i7 | Graphics: Intel Iris Graphics 540 | RAM: 8GB – 16GB | Screen: 13.3-inch WQXGA (2,560 x 1,600) | Storage: 256GB – 1TB SSD
For students impressed by the sleek-and-alluring 12-inch MacBook, but unsatisfied by the lack of power and ports, the 13-inch MacBook Pro is an obvious solution. Featuring a lengthy battery life (7 hours and 24 minutes in our anecdotal battery test) and a powerful, full-fledged Intel Core i5 processor, the latest 13-inch MacBook Pro is replete with everything you need to get through the coming semesters.
Weighing in at only 3.02 pounds (1.37kg), the 13-inch MacBook Pro is lighter than ever before, thanks in part to its slimmed-down keyboard and covert cooling system. Not only that, but the MacBook Pro manages an even larger trackpad despite the laptop itself being thinner. And, like all macOS-outfitted devices, it even ships with Pages, iMovie and Garageband pre-installed at no extra cost.
Read the full review: Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, Late 2016)
10. 13-inch MacBook Air
Finally, battery life within our grasp
CPU: 5th generation Intel Core i5; Core i7 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 6000 | RAM: 8GB | Screen: 13.3-inch WXGA+ (1,440 x 900) | Storage: 128GB – 512GB SSD
Though it's yet to adopt Apple's Retina display standard, the benefit to this compromise is a 12-hour battery life coupled paired with a dual-core, Broadwell processor and now 8GB of RAM at the entry level.
Plus, if you don't like the feel of the 12-inch MacBook's low-travel butterfly keys, the MacBook Air uses a more traditional chiclet-style keyboard. And hey, a MacBook Air is the most affordable (and pretty much the only) way to get that backlit Apple logo on the back of your laptop.
Read the full review: MacBook Air 13-inch
- Now check out the best 2-in-1 laptops
Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article