There are so many new products students need for that first year of college, and all that shopping can feel overwhelming. Each little selection comes with a huge range of choices that stress even the most informed consumers. While decking out your dorm room or first apartment can be an expensive endeavor, few purchases are more important than your college laptop. Today, every student needs a laptop, but it shouldn’t be a decision that rivals trying to figure out which school to attend. So how do you choose the best laptops for college students? CPU, RAM, GB — you want to make sure you’re investing in a computer that will hold up all four years.
For these reasons, we’ve taken out some of the hassle for you. The best laptops for college students will accomplish every task you need to accomplish (writing papers, browsing the Internet for research or wasting time online), but we’ve identified a number of computers that will do all of that especially well. Even better, these laptops should last throughout a typical four-year college career.
1. Dell XPS 13
BEST OF THE BEST
Dell’s beloved computer has long been the product to reach for when considering a student notebook. Previous versions tried too hard to change what worked (most notably, the webcam was moved to the bottom of the screen–a mistake that’s since been corrected in this new version). A practically bezel-less 13″ screen gives users plenty of space for multitasking and the lightning-fast processor will have your computer up and running in seconds, even when you’re running late to lecture. Weighing under three pounds and with a 10-hour battery life and slim construction, it’ll certainly travel well too. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better contender than this option from Dell. We know that many college students are hardcore Apple loyalists, but this college-ready laptop is worthy of your consideration, too.
2. Dell Inspiron Chromebook 11 2-in-1
Technically a Chromebook rather than a laptop, this Dell Inspiron is still a great option for those looking for a value purchase. Under $200, it’s capable of accomplishing pretty much everything that most students need a laptop for, i.e., browsing the Internet for research, word processing, minor Excel functions and streaming video. Sure, it might be little bare bones and an unconventional pick, but what it lacks in features, it makes up for in savings. If you mostly need a laptop for surfing the web, writing papers, and watching Netflix, then this Chromebook can do it all for under $200. However, if you need a laptop than can handle complex software (think video editing tools), then you’ll need to invest more in your laptop.
3. Apple Macbook Air
BEST APPLE LAPTOP
Apple continues to have a stranglehold on the college laptop market. Sure, part of it has to do with the status that comes with owning an Apple product, but it also helps that their laptops are both well-made and reliable. Long viewed as a forgotten child of their lineup, Apple has spent time building in some missing key features from other laptops into this iteration of the MacBook Air: a faster processor, lighter design and their famed — and gorgeous — Retina display. Together, it comes together for a more affordable Apple product that will hold up as students tote it around from class to class. Plus, it comes in rose gold.
4. Mircosoft Surface Laptop 3
BEST WINDOWS LAPTOP
If you’re a PC purist (or just very Apple-averse), then the Microsoft Surface 3 is your best bet for a college laptop. The Microsoft Surface 2 is a little cheaper, but the Surface 3 is overall a stronger laptop for relatively the same price. At a light 2.79 pounds, it probably weighs less than a textbook and can slip right into a bag with ease. You’ll be able to keep your charger at home, too: the Pro 2 boasts an all-day battery life running normal applications, but if you need to get your Netflix on when you get home, you can charge it up to 80% in just one hour. Thanks to the Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM and sharp 13.5″ display, this is one of the best laptops for college students under $1,000. This laptop lacks an HDMI port but does have both USB-C and USB-A ports. Plus, there are several fun colors to further differentiate yourself from the Apple set, should you choose.
5. Alienware Area-51M Laptop
BEST GAMING LAPTOP FOR COLLEGE STUDENTS
With all the downtime students inevitably have in college, there are far worse things to do than spending a whole day playing videogames. Hardcore PC fans will tell you to build your own gaming computer, but if you’d rather save time, Alienware has been a competitive and great option for years — and their gaming laptops are only getting better. The 17 R5 AW17R5 gaming laptop has all the premium features gamers are looking for (a large hard drive, fast processor, state of the line graphics card) and ones they maybe hadn’t considered before (easy upgradability, cooling systems and overclocking). It’s a fantastic package that will satisfy any gamer, just make sure to make time for class, too.
6. HP Chromebook X2-12 Laptop
BEST DUAL PURPOSE
It can be hard to decide between a tablet and a laptop, so why not both? This HP 2-in-1 Chromebook has a fully detachable keyboard and included stylus if you decide you want to take notes the old fashioned way or need to sketch an idea for a group project. Lightweight (it’s three pounds with the keyboard attached, a little under two without it) with a 12-hour battery life, this 2-in-1 Chromebook offers an unprecedented amount of flexibility.
7. Dell XPS 15 Laptop
BEST FOR VIDEO
With a full 4K ultra high definition 15.6″ screen, the Dell XPS 15 laptop is the go-to laptop for pop culture fans that can’t get enough of their favorite streaming show or movie. Boasting a higher pixel count than the MacBook Pro’s top-notch Retina display, whatever you’re planning on watching will be rendered in a stunning picture quality across the nearly edge-less screen. It’s a souped-up version of the XPS 13 we already love so much, making a great laptop even better.
8. HP Probook X3600 Laptop
Listen, we all know people in our lives that are more accident-prone than others. For those people, you’re going to want to seek out an option than can handle anything thrown at it . . . even if it’s actually the laptop itself that’s thrown. With a Gorilla Glass screen, spill-resistant keyboard and rubber exterior, your laptop will have as much protection from yourself as possible. And as an added bonus, it’s one of the cheaper options from this list — and it’s capable of pivoting into a notebook with its 360° hinge.
9. Huawei Matebook 13 Inch Laptop
Sometimes you don’t want to forgo performance for price or vice versa. That’s why this laptop from lesser-known brand Huawei is such a good deal. At a price point that’s pretty reasonable, the 8th Gen Intel Core i5 processor allows for lightning-fast speeds, which helps make that beautiful 13″ touch screen all the more striking. Additionally, the Matebook offers Dolby Atmos sound for a stunning listening or watching experience, while the touch screen has been fine-tuned for expert sensitivity. In short, it’s a laptop that’s perfectly balanced, as all things should be.
10. Lenovo Ideapad 15.6″ Laptop
BEST ENTRY LEVEL
We featured a great Chromebook on this list to help students find a cheaper solution for their college computing needs, but those in search of a dedicated laptop shouldn’t overlook this 15.6 inch Lenovo Ideapad. Under $400, it’ll make for a cheap alternative to a lot of options, while providing dedicated laptop features (i.e., a hard drive, CD drive, etc) that other laptops don’t. It’s certainly not the most powerful choice on this list, but it is more than capable of handling simple college tasks like researching, writing a paper or watching a streaming service. If you’re tight on cash and just need something to get by for a few more semesters, then this will exceed your expectations and provide a worthy companion for the college experience. Keep in mind that the large 15.6″ display can be a pro or a con depending on your needs.