Whether it’s summer, fall, winter or spring, the need for a best laptop for college 2018 never ends. In fact, skimping on not just a powerful laptop for college, but the correct laptop for your major can significantly hinder your productivity and more importantly make or break your success.
That’s why we suggest you take a hard look at your major and make sure that your laptop of choice can accommodate the tasks at hand. Not sure what those are? Speak to your guidance counselor and email your professor. If they’re an invested educator they’ll be happy to provide guidance around this subject matter. After all, the more prepared you are for the class, the easier the job.
Table of Content:
- Laptops for College Compared
- Best for a Computer Science Degree
- Best for a Creative Arts Degree
- Best Durable College Laptop
- Best for Design/Photoshop
- Best Midrange College Laptop
- How We Chose the Best College Laptops
- Key Factors to a Top Laptop For College
- Who Should Buy a Laptop for College
- Mistakes to Avoid When Buying a Laptop for College
- Most Important Features
- Which Best College Laptop for Students is right for you?
Our Top Laptops for College Picks
Dell XPS 13
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: The Dell XPS 13 puts portability and power in a punchy, flexible package.
A little on the pricier side – though cheaper than the Surface Book – Dell’s XPS13 is entirely worth it, and is truly one of the best college laptops for students in price and tech specs.
With a 13.3-inch Full HD Infinity display, 4GB of RAM, 128GB SSD, the XPS 13 is the perfect mix of power and flexibility that college students need from their daily driver. The Dell XPS 13 will be able to keep up with even the most demanding tasks, whether that’s using tools like Photoshop and AutoDesk 3DS Max, or programming software like Android Studio and Eclipse.
The Dell XPS 13 is also the perfect entertainment machine. With its 13.3-inch Infinity display, it has one of the sharpest images you’ll see on a portable machine. It’s perfect for the media professional, but also great for watching movies, TV shows, and even doubles as a halfway decent gaming laptop.
Price: View Price | Features: Force Touch trackpad, Retina display, 10hr battery life
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: No other laptop has the same “cool” factor as a new Macbook.
Although Apple and its ubiquitous Macbook line of laptops may not be the dominant force among college students these days, the company still knows how to make a solid machine that goes the distance when it comes to software integration and unique hardware tweaks.
Apple still makes the Macbook Pro in both 13″ and 15″ flavors, but unless you know you’ll be doing a lot of heavy rendering or running intensive applications, the regular 12″ model should handle nearly any job you can throw at it with ease. The inclusion of the Force Touch mousepad is perfect for students who need to navigate through a lot of content quickly and easily, while OSX continues to be the operating system of choice among departments dedicated to the creative arts.
If you have to run OSX for your particular program, or just want a dependable all-around best college laptop that’s perfect for any kind of project, the Macbook is still king with college students everywhere.
HP Stream 13
Price: View Price | Features: Durable shell, 32GB of SSD storage, one-year subscription to Office 365
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: The HP Stream 13 wins on its raw ability to take a punch.
If there’s one thing parents know about their kids, it’s how clumsy they can be when it comes to keeping their technology in one piece. The HP Stream is definitely the most durable (and colorful) laptop on this list, available in Cobalt Blue, Orchid Magenta, Violet Purple, and Horizon Blue.
With a 13.3-inch display, an Intel Celeron N3050, 2GB of RAM, and 32GB of SSD storage, the Stream 13 is decidedly low-end, making it one of the cheapest laptops for college on our list.
But what makes the HP Stream 13 one of the best college laptops for students? It’s ultra portability and the fact that it comes with a free year of Office 365, something that costs almost as much as the laptop itself.
Microsoft Surface Book
Price: Check on Amazon | Features: Convertible design, touchscreen, 13.5″ display
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: If you’re in creative design, the Surface Book loves to get drawn on.
With Microsoft’s Surface Book, you’re in for a treat. Fast, portable, and easy to set up. The Surface Book also offers two different uses – laptop, and tablet (or “clipboard” mode). This adds to the portability, making it fantastic for the on-the-go student and one of our top picks for one of the best college laptops.
With the base unit starting with a 13.5-inch display, an Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB of SSD storage, the Surface Book is perfect for the student that can handle the demands of Graphic Design and/or demanding software tools like CAD and Photoshop.
Price: View Price | Features: 4GB RAM, 500GB storage, 15.6″ display
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: The X551 is a solid all-around laptop for any class you have on your schedule.
ASUS’ X551MA makes our list of the best laptops for college students as its a perfect blend mid-range and is only $50 more than the HP Stream 13.
Specs include a 15.6-inch display, an Intel dual-core Celeron N2830, 4GB of RAM, and 500GB of internal storage. It doesn’t have any special technology, but it’s a standard mid-range laptop that’ll handle basic tasks (and some demanding) with ease, whether that be writing papers or playing the occasional game. It’s one of the best affordable laptop for college students too, coming in at well under $300.
Samsung Chromebook 3
Price: View Price | Features: 2.5lbs, Intel Celeron N3050 processor, 4GB of RAM
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: The ultra-portable Samsung Chromebook 3 fits inside any backpack.
College students are known for lugging around backpacks packed to the zipper with textbooks that can sometimes weigh 50lbs or more, which is why sometimes portability is key when looking for your next laptop to take with you to university.
Not only does the Samsung Chromebook 3 have an Intel Celeron N3050 processor, 4GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, and Intel HD Graphics, it does it all at a feather-light 2.5lbs. It also has Google’s suite of apps built-in, allowing you to put together papers, spreadsheets, and presentations online or offline if you’re out of range of the local dorm Wi-Fi connection. It comes with 100GB of free Google Drive storage, removing the need to keep any files on the machine itself.
Prospective students should note, however, that with just an 11.6-inch 1366×768 display, the Samsung Chromebook 3 may not the perfect solution for streaming any sort of media content for too long without suffering from eye strain.
Price: View Price | Features: 13hr battery life, Rockchip CPU, Chrome OS
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: The ASUS C201 is a light, cheap Chromebook for all students out there.
This Chromebook is quite the popular buy, and we can see why: it’s a one of the best cheap laptops for students. It weighs a meager 2lbs, sports up to 13-hours of battery life, and has a Rockchip 3288-C quad-core processor, making the ASUS C201 Chromebook one of the most reliable machines you can get your hands on and one of our best college laptop choices.
The aspect that sets this Chromebook apart from everything else is it’s ability to last up to 13-hours on battery.
Acer Chromebook 15
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: The Acer Chromebook 15 is perfect for work or play on campus.
Acer’s Chromebook 15 is lightweight for perfect portability, has a 2.16GHz processor, and falls just under $500. Add that to the sleek, modern design and you have a solid all-around machine for any member of the family.
Although the Toshiba Chromebook 2 beat the Acer 15 in screen quality, the Acer is still great for college students because it packs in just a few more of the features that kids want like big speakers to share media with their friends, and a slightly roomier display if they need to multitask on multiple projects at once.
Whether you need to write a paper or collaborate in Google Drive, the Chromebook 15 will perform without a problem. And, just like any Chromebook, it comes with a free 100GB of Google Drive storage to give you plenty of room to store documents and other files while on the go.
Jump Back Up: Compare the top college laptops and their features.
How We Chose the Best College Laptops
When looking for the best laptops for college students, we pulled from a wide range of options both in price and features to give you the broadest spectrum of options available.
Just like every college student is different, so is the laptop choice that’s right for them. Some don’t need a lot of power and prefer portability over everything else, while others might require a machine that can render 3D models and watch lectures streaming online at the same time. Because laptops go everywhere with their corresponding college student, every choice we’ve made here is durable enough to stand up to punishment for all four years they’re earning their degree, but also light enough to slide into a backpack quickly and easily without any hassle.
A laptop for college needs to boot quickly, run smoothly, and be able to run almost any program you can think of (in case next semester you decide you want to pursue VFX design instead of biochemistry). Ultimately the laptop that’s right for you or your kids will combine all the best aspects of a laptop into one complete package at a cost that’s manageable for your expectations.
Key Factors to a Top Laptop For College
Performance: There’s no need to overbuy in power. Find the right power for your needs. For instance, if you’re just picking up a laptop for writing papers, you might not need something with a large capacity SSD, a hefty processor, and 8GB of RAM..and with it a hefty price tag. Likewise, if you’re buying something for a Graphic Design or CAD class, you’ll likely need something much heftier than just 4GB of RAM and a dual-core processor. Find a laptop that meets your needs and sets you up for success.
Portability: Make sure to purchase a thin and lightweight laptop. There’s nothing worse than carrying around a chunky laptop that’s awkward and heavy to lug around campus or to the library. It’s also good practice to make sure your laptop has a small footprint, allowing you to easily put it in most backpacks or carrying bags alongside textbooks and other study materials.
Battery: Find a laptop with a good battery, preferably one that’ll last you all day and then some. For instance, the ASUS C201 has a battery that lasts up to 13-hours, giving you plenty of study time during the day and then some. While you might not need that much, it’s good to search for the best college laptops that will last a little over three hours.
Who Should Buy a Laptop for College
Of course, you don’t have to be straight out of high school to be in the market for a new college laptop. Whether you’re unpacking your bags in a dorm away from home for the first time or returning after a long hiatus to finish up your master’s degree, buying a fresh laptop before classes start in the fall is always a solid investment.
What classes you plan on taking, as well as the degree you’re pursuing should have an impact on the best college laptop you eventually choose to go with. If you need something sleek and powerful that can turn on instantly for rapid-fire notetaking, the Dell XPS 13 or Zenbook UX360AC should suit the job just fine. But, if you’re worried about spending a ton of cash on the best college laptop that not might last more than a few months without getting beer spilled in the keyboard, the HP Stream 13 and Acer C201 are cheaper, durable options that can weather any alcohol-related storm.
Mistakes to Avoid When Buying a Laptop for College
Don’t make the mistake of buying the wrong operating system. Some school programs will specifically require either a Windows or OSX-based laptop (be sure to check your syllabus) for programs like Photoshop and Gimp. If your learning is strictly reading books, writing papers, and taking quizzes, then you might not need the aforementioned operating systems. In that case opt for a Chromebook, especially if all your activities will be Web based.
Another thing to avoid is having too little RAM or hard drive space. The a solid laptop for students will have just enough storage capacity and RAM for studying, completing assignments, and play. If your degree program requires a lot of heavy duty software, find a laptop that has 4GB of RAM or more and a hard drive with 500GB of storage space or more. This will be enough to ensure that any software you throw on your computer runs smoothly without any hiccups. And keep in mind that an SSD hard drive will increase speeds as well, especially start up time.
And never buy at full retails. As a student always be on the look for those student discounts, even if something already seems cheap!
Most Important Features
- As far as Windows laptops go, and you don’t use many programs, look for a hard drive with a capacity of 256GB or higher. It’ll meet your needs and then some.
- If you’re a power user, look for 500GB or higher so there’s more than enough space for other content.
- If most of your activity takes place on the Web, then you might not need a hard drive larger than 32GB, which is just enough space for the operating system and storing a handful of documents offline.
- If possible, find a solid-state drive over a traditional hard drive. Performance and speeds will increase astronomically.
- If you need to do anything more demanding than just using a web browser, to find the best college laptop, look for one that has at least 4GB of RAM or more, ideally 8GB, especially if you plan on using programs like Photoshop.
- If you’re just using a web browser, look for a college laptop with a minimum of 2GB of RAM. Your computer, whether it be Windows or Chrome OS, won’t even use that much, but it still ensures the speed and responsiveness of your machine.
- Alternatively, find a machine that you can upgrade the RAM yourself, which can save you money during the initial investment.
- It’s important to find the right operating system for your College program. If you’re in Computer Science or something that requires you to use Windows or Mac applications, it’s good to shy away from Chromebooks.
- If your studying takes place online and doesn’t require you to use any Windows or Mac applications, jump the gun and get a Chromebook.
- A lower clocked dual-core processor below 2GHz won’t slow down your laptop if you’re using it for minor tasks like writing papers, browsing the web, watching media, and so on.
- If you’re in a degree program that has some demanding programs (e.g. Photoshop, Autodesk 3DS Max, and medical software), make sure you look for a quad-core processor with a clock speed of 2GHz or higher. Not only will it last you longer running these types of programs, but rendering and general speed will be a lot faster and more efficient than a dual-core CPU below 2GHz.
- At the same time, don’t overbuy in processor clock speed. For instance, there aren’t many differences between a quad-core 3.7GHz processor and a quad-core 3.9GHz processor. The only real difference is the much higher price tag. There’s little effect as far as processing power and efficiency goes.
- Finding a good display has much to do with the size that you’re comfortable with and need to work with. Whether it be 11-inch or 17-inch displays, they’re all good as long as they have a resolution of 720p or higher. Anything below that is often blurry and has very little clarity.
- You’ll want to make sure your display has a refresh rate of at least 60Hz to avoid any screen tearing or altered graphics when playing games and watching movies.
- The display you purchase should have built-in features for reducing eye strain, such as dimming the brightness or even having a feature for night use. This will help a lot as far as eye strain goes.
- Some lectures can last over four hours in a single sitting, which is why you’ll want a laptop that can at least double up on two of those a day without needing a recharge.
- Most good quality laptops will have built-in power saving features that can stretch their life to 10 hours or more.
- You should be able to get a full charge in just two to three hours, allowing you to quickly get back to work whenever needed.
- The best laptops for college students will have more than a single USB port. More manufacturers are headed towards just including one USB port, but it’s truly a hassle to deal with, as you can’t really plug in any extra peripherals or accessories without connecting a USB hub first.
- Make sure the laptop you buy has an HDMI, DVI, VGA, or Display Port. You never know when you might need to switch to a bigger screen, and having one of these ports will let you do that, with VGA being the most common for projectors you’d find in the average classroom.
Which Best College Laptop for Students is right for you?
Need something powerful that can handle the demands from Photoshop and/or CAD? Then the Microsoft Surface Book and Dell XPS 13 are laptops that are right up your alley.
Alternatively, if you’re looking for something more humble for doing your everyday tasks at college and maybe a little media consumption when you have some time off, then the ASUS X551MA or HP Stream 13 are both laptops to consider.
And, then there are Chromebooks, web-based best college laptops. Some are hesitant to jump on the Chromebook bandwagon, and might not consider them the best laptops for college students, simply because you can’t use Windows-based software on it. You might be surprised, but more often than not, we just don’t use the programs on Windows, strictly using web browsers like Chrome and Firefox for all of our computer use.
Still not sure if these are the best laptops for college students? Then take a look at our laptops for college reviews, as they might just be able to help you make that final decision.