There are so many things that go into the process of shopping for that first year of college, it can feel overwhelming. Each little decision comes with a bevy of selections that stress even the most informed consumers. While every student needs a laptop, it shouldn’t be a decision that rivals trying to figure out which school to attend. 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. A laptop is a laptop and will accomplish most things a student needs (writing papers, browsing the Internet for research–or for wasting time online), but we’ve identified a number of computers that will do all of that well, and last 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 lighting fast processor will have your computer up and running in seconds. Weighing under three pounds 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.
2. DELL INSPIRON CHROMEBOOK 11 2-IN-1
Technically a Chromebook, this Dell Inspiron is a great option for those looking for a value purchase. Under $200, it’s capable of accomplishing pretty much everything that most students (the only exception would be any sort of specialty study program) need a laptop for, i.e., browsing the Internet for researching, word processing, minor excel functions. Sure, it might be little bare bones and an unconventional pick, but what it lacks in features, it makes up for in savings.
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 products are both well-made and reliable. Long viewed as a forgotten child, 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.
4. MICROSOFT SURFACE LAPTOP 2
BEST WINDOWS LAPTOP
If you’re a PC purist (or just very Apple-adverse), the Surface 2 is your best bet. At a thin 2.76 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’ll have up to 14 hours or so of constant playback. Plus, there are several fun colors to further differentiate yourself from the Apple set, should you choose.
5. ALIENWARE AREA-51M LAPTOP
BEST LAPTOP FOR GAMING
With all the downtime students inevitably have in college, there are far worse things to do than spending a whole day playing video games. 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 they’re 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 they’re actually going to class.
6. HP CHROMEBOOK X2-12
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 our 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.