Update: To get primed for back to school season, we've gone and overhauled our buying guide with five brand new entries aimed to serve all sorts of students' needs. Check them out below!
Even for those who feel at home with their nose in a textbook, the end of that tiny spring break is a big bummer. But, as much as it's a return to school and schedules, it's an opportunity.
With some much-needed breathing room, this is as fine a chance as any to invest in some fresh tech to make finals all the more bearable.
If you're still using a bulky desktop, or if your laptop winces at the sight of an HD video lecture, then it's time to upgrade. Luckily, if you know where to look, it's possible to get a sleek and impressive notebook without blowing through your savings (or taking yet another student loan).
We've sifted through our most recent, top-ranking reviews and picked out the best laptops for high school and college. The list below spans all budgets, from power-sipping, price-conscious Chromebooks for you liberal arts folks to powerful laptops ready for design or animation coursework – or, you know, dorm room LAN parties.
Asus Zenbook UX305
A most affordable and excellent Ultrabook
CPU: 900MHz Intel Core M3-6Y30 (dual-core, 4MB cache, up to 2.2GHz) | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 515 | RAM: 8GB DDR3 | Screen: 13.3-inch FHD 1,920 x 1,080 (matte) | Storage: 256GB SSD | Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi; Bluetooth 4.0 | Camera: 1.2MP HD | Weight: 2.6 pounds | Dimensions: 12.8 x 8.9 x 0.5 inches (W x D x H)
Call it a MacBook Air knockoff all you want, the Asus ZenBook UX305 is one of the best and most affordable Ultrabooks available now.
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. This is an honest-to-goodness laptop that wins at the basics and offers up an attractive package.
Read the full review: Zenbook UX305
HP Chromebook 14
A well balanced Chromebook
CPU: 1.83GHz Intel Celeron N2940 (dual-core, up to 2.58 GHz, 1 MB cache)| Graphics: Intel HD Graphics | RAM: 4GB DDR3L | Screen: 14-inch HD (1366 x 768) | Storage: 16GB eMMC | Connectivity: 802.11ac (2x2); Bluetooth 4.0 | Camera: HP TrueVision HD webcam | Weight: 3.74 pounds | Dimensions: 13.54 x 9.45 x 0.7 inches (W x D x H)
The HP Chromebook 14 is no performance powerhouse, but Chrome OS's speediness, combined with a funky blue case, makes this one fun notebook to use.
For classwork, this laptop is ideal for those pursuing degrees in liberal arts (media, language/literature, history, etc) because of its low cost, and simplicity in its use and maintenance, while providing the access to nearly every major app and service an undergrad would need. Also, a high schooler wouldn't likely need more than a laptop like this.
Read the full review: HP Chromebook 14
13.3-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display
The fastest small MacBook Pro yet is a force of nature
CPU: 2.7GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 with 3MB L3 cache (Turbo Boost up to 3.1GHz) | Graphics: Intel Iris Graphics 6100 | RAM: 8GB | Screen: 13.3-inch IPS, 2,560 x 1,600 pixels | Storage: 128GB SSD |Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi; Bluetooth 4.0 | Camera: FaceTime HD | Weight: 3.48lbs (1.58kg) |Dimensions: 12.35 x 8.62 x 0.71-inches (W x D x H)
The 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display is an excellent option for students who may need more power than a Chromebook or a MacBook Air without sacrificing portability thanks to its long battery life, relatively light weight, and high resolution display. Students on a budget will be happy to know that they can get started right away as the MacBook Pro with Retina display ships with free copies of Pages, Numbers, and Keynote out of the box as well as iMovie, Photos, and GarageBand for basic, creative projects.
Read the full review: MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display
Acer Chromebook 15 C910
The colossus of Chromebooks
CPU: 1.5GHz Intel Celeron 3205U (dual-core, 2MB cache) | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics | RAM: 4GB DDR3L | Screen: 15.6-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) | Storage: 32GB SSD | Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi; Bluetooth 4.0 | Camera: 720p HD | Weight: 4.85 pounds | Dimensions: 1.0 x 15.1 x 10.1 inches inches
Don't be fooled by this fatso. The Acer Chromebook 15 C910 is a durable workhorse that will reward you for looking past its size in favor of its performance, long battery life and stylish good looks.
Read the full review: Acer Chromebook 15 C910
13-inch MacBook Air
Finally, battery life within our grasp
CPU: Dual-core 1.3GHz Intel Core i5 (2.6GHz with Turbo Boost) | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 5000 | RAM: 4GB | Screen: 13.3-inch 1440 by 900 | Storage: 128GB SSD | Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi; Bluetooth 4.0 | Camera: FaceTime HD | Weight: 2.96 pounds (1.35 kg) | Dimensions: 12.8 x 8.94 x 0.68 inches (W x D x H)
While it has yet to make the leap into Retina, this is still the laptop that the ultrabook aspires to, thanks to incredible battery life and AC Wi-Fi.
Read the full review: MacBook Air 13-inch
Lenovo IdeaPad Y700
Long battery life tops off this attractive gaming laptop
CPU: 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ Processor (quad-core, up to 3.5GHz, 1,600MHz 6MB cache) | Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M (2GB GDDR5 RAM) | RAM: 8GB DDR4 (2,133 MHz) | Screen: 15.6-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) | Storage: 1TB HDD (5,400 rpm) | Connectivity: 802.11ac; Bluetooth 4.0 | Camera: 720p HD webcam | Weight: 5.72 pounds | Dimensions: 18.9 x 28.3 x 1.7 inches (W x D x H)
Look, you're bound to have some down time during college (right?), so why not put some of that entertainment cost (i.e. beer money) into one of these bad boys? This 15-inch gaming laptop looks nice and its price tag is even nicer. Just don't expect to run games on Ultra settings – this is an entry-level machine for the funds-less freshman, after all.
Of course, this rig will be able to handle all of that homework and stuff, too. Namely, the discrete graphics give this laptop quite an edge in design and media apps, like Adobe Premiere and Photoshop.
Read the full review: Lenovo IdeaPad Y700
Dell XPS 13
A revolution in laptop design
CPU: 2.3GHz Intel Core i3-6100U (dual-core, 3M cache) | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 520 | RAM: 4GB LPDDR3 (1,866MHz) | Screen: 13.3-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) | Storage: 128GB SSD | Connectivity: 802.11ac; Bluetooth 4.0 | Camera: 720p HD webcam | Weight: 2.93 pounds | Dimensions: 11.97 x 7.87 x 0.35 – 0.59 inches (W x D x H)
Packing a high-resolution screen and serious processing power, there's more to the Dell XPS 13 than being a surprisingly small Ultrabook.
There's a 13-inch display crammed into an 11-inch body, a truly worthy competitor to a certain aluminum laptop line.
This notebook would fit in almost any coursework scenario – save for intense 3D rendering and editing, and highly intense data crunching work, for example. Apple doesn't make the only premium, general use laptop worth batting an eye at, and here's the proof.
Read the full review: Dell XPS 13
HP Pavilion x2
The best and most affordable Windows 10 convertible
CPU: 1.44GHz Intel Atom Z8300 (quad-core, up to 1.84GHz) | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics | RAM: 2GB DDR3L SDRAM | Screen: 10.1-inch WXGA (1,280 x 800) | Storage: 32GB eMMC | Connectivity: 802.11ac; Bluetooth 4.0 | Camera: HP TrueVision HD webcam | Weight: 2.61 pounds | Dimensions: 10.39 x 6.81 x 0.78 inches (W x D x H)
The HP Pavilion x2 might be a little tike of a 2-in-1 laptop, but it's a great Windows 10 device for media and basic computing tasks.
If you seek something to suit those Sundays spent streaming Netflix in bed as well as it does taking notes in the classroom, this is a fine place to start that search. Lightweight and capable for but a relative pittance, you'll get a tablet and a laptop that nail the basics in equal measure.
Read the full review: HP Pavilion x2
Microsoft Surface Pro 4
The tablet that can replace your laptop
CPU: 6th generation Intel Core m3 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics | RAM: 4GB LPDDR3 | Screen: 12.3-inch 2,736 x 1,824 resolution | Storage: 128GB PCIe 3.0 SSD | Connectivity: 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0 | Camera: 8MP rear-facing (1080p); 5MP front-facing (1080p) | Weight: 1.73 pounds | Dimensions: 11.5 x 7.93 x 0.36 inches (W x H x D)
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 replacement for your laptop. Sadly, the Type Cover keyboard is still an optional necessity for this laptop replacement.
Read the full review: Microsoft Surface Pro 4
HP EliteBook 745 G3
Mid-range business notebook with C-suite ambitions
CPU: 1.6 GHz AMD Pro A8-8600B APU (quad-core, up to 3 GHz, 2MB cache) | Graphics: Radeon R6 Graphics | RAM: 4GB DDR3L SDRAM (1,600MHz) | Screen: 14-inch HD (1,366 x 768) | Storage: 500GB HDD (7,200 rpm) | Connectivity: 802.11ac; Bluetooth 4.0 | Camera: 720p HD webcam | Weight: 3.41 pounds | Dimensions: 13.3 x 9.3 x 0.74 inches (W x D x H)
Thanks to the AMD A12 Pro processor, HP is able to deliver top-shelf performance at an affordable price with the EliteBook 745 G3.
This mid-range business notebook packs mainstream performance, a comfortable keyboard and nice matte screen in a durable, yet slim metal-clad package.
Naturally, the BA and MBA – perhaps even IT-focused majors – students out there would be well-suited by this finely-executed blend of business and casual.
Read the full review: HP EliteBook 745 G3
Originally contributed by Chuong Nguyen and Kevin Lee
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