The 10 Best Laptops for College Students in 2021

Find the perfect laptop computer to get you through college

The Ultimate Laptop Buying Guide
The Ultimate Laptop Buying Guide
Introduction

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The best laptops for college students need to be light and portable enough to carry to classes, have enough RAM and storage to handle productivity needs, and be priced to fit a limited budget. We've reviewed laptops that support a variety of operating systems, including Windows 10, Chrome OS, and macOS, from well-known brands like Dell, Asus, Acer, Lenovo, Apple, and others to see which ones will work best for the specific needs of different students. 

Our top pick, the ASUS ZenBook 14, is a well rounded workhorse of a laptop. It's simple and sleek with a metal build, reasonable weight, affordable price, and specs that can handle spreadsheets, browsing, videos, and everything else a student might need. Its 14 inch form factor is an ideal compromise between productivity and portability. If your needs are more budget-specific, you should take a look at our list of the best laptops under $500. For all others, our list of the best laptops for college students should give you plenty to chew on.

The Rundown
It really hits the sweet spot for power and portability on a limited budget, while also delivering remarkable build quality.
Best Ultrabook:
Lenovo Yoga C740 at Amazon
For the best ultrabook college laptop, the Yoga C740 has everything a student could want in terms of design, display, and specs.
The compact Surface Go 2 is the ideal traveler's companion, featuring a detachable screen and keyboard it can handle everything a full-fledged desktop can.
Best Chrome 2-in-1:
Lenovo Chromebook Duet at Amazon
This Chromebook 2-in-1 is easy to take on the go anywhere and handle all your cloud-based computing needs.
A rugged computer that’s capable of being repeatedly thrown in your backpack.
A laptop that can handle both homework and extra-curricular internet use.
Best Lightweight:
ASUS ZenBook S at Amazon
A 2.2-pound, 0.5-inch thick design made from aerospace-grade aluminum.
Best for Gaming:
MSI GF65 at Walmart
At its core is Nvidia’s latest Geforce RTX 3060 graphics card, which is fully capable of running the latest games.
Best Windows:
Dell XPS 13 at Dell
It features a gorgeous 13.4-inch 1920 x 1200 display, a durable aluminum and carbon fiber body.
I was able to use the MacBook Air all day while out of the office, and still had battery life left upon arriving home at night.

Best Overall: ASUS Zenbook 14 (2021)

Asus Zenbook 14 (2021)
What we like
  • Fast and well rounded performance

  • Highly portable form factor

  • Good value for money

  • Excellent build quality

What we don't like
  • Not particularly powerful

For the average student headed off to college, you’d be hard pressed to find a laptop that offers more at such a relatively affordable price point than the ASUS ZenBook 14. It really hits the sweet spot for power and portability on a limited budget, while also delivering remarkable build quality. Not only is it solidly built, it also looks great, and it would be easy to mistake the Zenbook 14 for a much more expensive laptop.

Inside that shiny metal chassis, you’ll find an AMD Ryzen 5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD. That SSD is particularly nice in a mid range laptop like this, considering its relatively spacious capacity. It will make a big difference in day to day computing. However, its integrated AMD Radeon R5 graphics won’t really cut it for heavy duty gaming or video editing, though it should stand up to light photo editing and other less intensive tasks. Also worth noting is the number pad built into the trackpad, which grants you a level of functionality not usually found in such a compact device. 

The 14 inch display is smaller than the typical 15.6 laptop, which makes it much more portable. Though the 1920 x 1080 resolution isn’t too impressive, on a screen of this size it’s no problem. I’ve personally used similar ZenBook models as my daily driver in the past, and can personally vouch for their exceptional quality. This is easily the best laptop for college students.

Size: 14 inches | Resolution: 1920 x 1080 | CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 | GPU: Integrated AMD Radeon R5 graphics | RAM: 8GB DDR4 | Storage: 512GB SSD | Touchscreen: No

Best Ultrabook: Lenovo Yoga C740

Lenovo Yoga C740
What We Like
  • Powerful, modern specs

  • Crisp screen

  • Sleek and modern design

What We Don't Like
  • On the more pricey side

The Lenovo Yoga C740 is a slim and powerful laptop that’s ideal for college students. It features a 10th Gen Intel core processor, runs Windows 10 Home, and comes in a variety of configurations that give it beefier options in terms of power. These configurations allow you to pick between 8GB and 16GB of RAM, and 256GB, 512GB, and 1TB SSDs. The specs are more than enough to handle the average productivity workload of a college student, from graphing on Excel to typing up Word docs. 

There isn't a dedicated GPU for video editing or gaming, but the 14-inch FHD screen is IPS and looks sharp and colorful. It also supports Dolby Vision, so shows on Netflix, Hulu, and other services will look great. In all other regards, the Yoga C740 excels as a well rounded ultrabook.

Size: 14 inches | Resolution: 1920x1080 | CPU: 10th Generation Intel Core i5 | GPU: Integrated Intel UHD Graphics | RAM: 8GB DDR4 | Storage: 256GB SSD | Touchscreen: Yes

Best 2-in-1: Microsoft Surface Go 2

Microsoft Surface Go 2
What We Like
  • Very portable

  • Useful note-taking and drawing features

  • Long battery life

What We Don't Like
  • Screen could be too small for some tasks

The Microsoft Surface Go 2 is a step up from the previous generation in many regards. It comes with a bigger 10.5-inch touchscreen that's fully detachable, has a built-in adjustable kickstand, and a detachable keyboard. The screen size might be a little small for spreadsheets, but when it comes to note-taking (with the Surface Pen), sketching, homework, and browsing, the Surface Go 2 won't disappoint.

The 1.2 pound weight and 10 hour battery life makes the Surface Go 2 ideal for travelers too, since you won't need to worry about running out of juice. Storage might leave a little to be desired, but the specs are solid for productivity and the real strength comes from the sheer flexibility of the form-factor.

Size: 10.51 inches | Resolution: 1920x1080 | CPU: 8th Generation Intel Core i9 | GPU: Integrated Intel HD Graphics | RAM: 4GB DDR4 | Storage: 64GB SSD | Touchscreen: Yes

Best Chrome 2-in-1: Lenovo Chromebook Duet

Lenovo Chromebook Duet
What We Like
  • Sleek and portable design

  • Crips IPS display

  • Can handle productivity

What We Don't Like
  • Small screen

The sleek and attractive Lenovo Chromebook Duet is one of the best Chromebooks around, and is a great pick whether you’re a college student or not. It's an ultra-portable convertible laptop/tablet hybrid with a long-lasting battery, keyboard, and kickstand. The 10.1-inch detachable screen makes it one of the most portable, fully functional devices out there. 

The screen is a crisp, Full HD IPS panel that will work great for streaming, and is potentially a great option if you’re looking to take advantage of game streaming services such as Google Stadia. Though ChromeOS is somewhat limited, as is the relatively low power hardware of this device, you should still be able to handle all your productivity needs with the Chromebook Duet.

Size: 10.1 inches | Resolution: 1920x1200 | CPU: MediaTek Helio P60T | GPU: Integrated Intel HD Graphics 620 | RAM: 4GB DDR4 | Storage: 64GB SSD | Touchscreen: Yes

Best for Durability: ASUS Chromebook C202SA-YS04

What We Like
  • Rugged and durable build

  • Can handle most productivity tasks

  • Locked down OS for virus protection

What We Don't Like
  • Low resolution display

The ASUS Chromebook C202 is a rugged computer that’s capable of being repeatedly thrown in your backpack. It has a spill-resistant keyboard, a reinforced rubber bumper to protect it from minor drops and scratches, and nano-molding technology on its edges and corners to reduce the impact of falls. 

The Chromebook C202 is capable of withstanding a fall from as high as 3.9 feet — and that's particularly impressive, given that it only weighs 2.65 pounds. The C202’s 11.6-inch 1366 x 768 display even comes equipped with anti-glare technology, so you can work while you catch some rays on the quad. With a 180-degree hinge, you can also transform the laptop into a tablet to take full advantage of its touchscreen capability. 

On the inside, it packs an Intel Celeron N3060 Processor (2M cache up to 2.48 GHz) and 16GB or 32GB of flash storage. Like other Chromebook models, the C202 also employs automatically-updating anti-virus protection so you don't have to worry about accidentally downloading any malicious software when you're surfing the web.

Size: 11.6 inches | Resolution: 1366x768 | CPU: Intel 1.6 GHz celeron | GPU: Integrated Intel HD Graphics 620 | RAM: 4GB DDR4 | Storage: 32GB SSD | Touchscreen: Yes

"We found it a whole lot easier to use the C202SA outdoors in bright sunlight than most of the competition due to its anti-glare display."Jeremy Laukkonen, Product Tester

Best Budget: Acer Chromebook R11

What We Like
  • Solid specs

  • Easy to use for students

  • Supports Google Play apps

What We Don't Like
  • Low resolution screen

Every college student needs a laptop that can handle both homework and extra-curricular internet use—like those early morning hours when you’re five hours deep into a Netflix original series. The Acer Chromebook R 11 gets an A+ for both. The convertible, 360-degree laptop/tablet runs on Chrome OS, so you can download apps from the Google Play Store and use Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides to complete your classwork. With an Intel Celeron N3150 Quad-Core Processor, 4GB of RAM, and 32GB of internal storage, the Chromebook R 11 is capable for basic tasks. Built-in virus protection—which updates itself automatically—also safeguards your files, so you don't have to worry about crashes or data loss. 

Once you’ve submitted your report or finished your online quiz, you can flip the screen all the way back to enjoy your favorite mobile games and shows in tablet mode on its 11.6-inch HD IPS touch display with 1366 x 768 resolution. The battery life is rated at about 10 hours, so it’ll last you a full day of classes and then some. You also get 100GB of free storage on Google Drive for two years, so you won't have to worry about storing important documents or photos.

Size: 11.6 inches | Resolution: 1366x768 | CPU: Intel N3150 Celeron | GPU: Integrated Intel HD Graphics | RAM: 4GB DDR4 | Storage: 32GB SSD | Touchscreen: Yes

"The R11 actually chalked up better Wi-Fi download speeds than a much more powerful desktop tested at the same time."Jeremy Laukkonen, Product Tester

Best Lightweight: ASUS ZenBook S

What We Like
  • Rugged and portable

  • Good keyboard

  • Powerful specs and gorgeous display

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

The ASUS ZenBook S is one of the most rugged and portable laptops out there, with a 2.2-pound, 0.5-inch thick design made from aerospace-grade aluminum. It’s got a neat backlit, tilting keyboard, too, that can angle your typing surface by 5.5 inches. This function also allows for additional airflow which helps keep the machine cool—in tandem with a copper-alloy heat pipe and liquid-crystal-polymer fan—so it won't sound like a rocket ship when it's working hard. Add in a headphone jack and three USB-C ports (with two that can handle Thunderbolt 3 cables) and you’ve got some serious connectivity in this highly portable device. 

The ZenBook S also comes with Alexa integration for voice commands and a lithium polymer battery that can last up to 12 hours without a charge. You can gear it up with either an i5 or i7 Intel CPU for some serious power in exceptionally small form, and you can outfit your ZenBook S with either 8GB or 16GB of RAM for a smooth, multi-app running experience. If you’re looking for something a little different, you can opt for the laptop in Deep Dive Blue or Burgundy Red. Media-types will dig being able to add a 4K glossy touchscreen as an option, with HD glossy non-touch or HD anti-glare screens as the other two.

Size: 13.9 inches | Resolution: 3300x2200 | CPU: 11th Generation Intel Core i7 | GPU: Integrated Intel Iris Plus Graphics | RAM: 16GB DDR4 | Storage: 1TB SSD | Touchscreen: Yes

Best for Gaming: MSI GF65 Gaming Laptop

MSI GF65 Gaming Laptop
What we like
  • Powerful Nvidia Geforce RTX 3060 GPU

  • 144hz refresh rate display

  • Good value for money

What we don't like
  • Could use more RAM

  • Middle of the road procesor

Whether you want to do some gaming in your dorm room, or you need plenty of graphics horsepower for video editing or other creative tasks, the MSI GF65 is a great affordable laptop. At its core is Nvidia’s latest Geforce RTX 3060 graphics card, which is fully capable of running the latest games at max settings on the GF65’s 144hz 1080p display with silky smooth high framerates. Also, if you’re taking graphic design or video editing classes, that GPU is going to be essential.

The graphics card is really the star of the show, and beyond it and the screen, the components of the GF65 are rather mediocre. Its 10th gen Intel i5 core is adequate, as is the 512GB of solid state storage. The biggest downside of this laptop is that its mere 8GB of RAM could be a potential bottleneck for the rest of the system. A gaming laptop should really have at least 16GB. Minor caveats aside, the MSI GF65 is an awesome gaming focused pick for college students.

Size: 15.6 inches | Resolution: 1920  x 1920 | CPU: Intel Core i5-10500H | GPU: Nvidia Geforce RTX 3060 | RAM: 8GB DDR4 | Storage: 512GB SSD | Touchscreen: No

Best Windows: Dell XPS 13 9310

Dell XPS 13 9310
What we like
  • 11th generation intel processor

  • Very thin and portable

  • Top notch build quality

What we don't like
  • Pricey

If you love Apple’s stellar build quality, but prefer Windows as your platform of choice, then the Dell XPS 13 9310 offers a great alternative to the Macbook Air. It features a gorgeous 13.4-inch 1920 x 1200 display, a durable aluminum and carbon fiber body, and a trackpad that is every bit the equal of Apple’s. Similarly, you can expect an excellent keyboard, and a light and razor thin profile. This thing is eminently portable. 

Of course, the caveat is that for the price, the base model of the XPS 13 is rather disappointing in terms of its internal hardware. You only get 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, and an integrated GPU. However, on the plus side you do benefit from Intel’s latest 11th generation Core i3 processor, though even this is less powerful than I’d like to see. However, if you don’t mind spending more, RAM, storage, and processor can all be upgraded.

It’s important to remember though, that compared to its Apple counterpart the Dell XPS 13 9310 is comparable in terms of cost and components. What you’re paying for is looks and build quality.

Size: 13 inches | Resolution: 1920 x 1200 | CPU: Intel Core i3-1115G4 | GPU: Integrated | RAM: 8GB DDR4 | Storage: 256GB SSD | Touchscreen: No

Best Apple: Apple MacBook Air 13-inch (M1, 2020)

2020 Apple MacBook Air
What We Like
  • Powerful new Apple M1 chip

  • Beautiful Retina display

  • One of the best trackpads out there

What we don't like
  • Very limited storage capacity

  • Specs are underpowered for the price

Featuring Apple’s powerful new M1 chip, the latest Apple Macbook Air is better than ever, and for students who prefer Apple’s OS, it’s a nearly perfect laptop. You certainly can’t beat Apple for looks and build quality, and the new Macbook Air is an impressively thin and portable device. As usual, this Macbook Air features a stellar keyboard, and one of the best trackpads you can get in a laptop.

However, aside from the M1 chip, the rest of the internal components of the Macbook Air are somewhat lacking for the price point. I’d expect more than 8GB of RAM for a laptop that starts at around a thousand dollars, as well as way more storage. The Macbook Air base model only comes with 256GB of RAM. At this price point, I’d expect twice, if not four times that quantity. To help balance this out, the Macbook Air features one of Apple’s Retina displays which offers a gorgeous, color accurate 2560 x 1600 resolution screen. In a 14 inch screen that’s a ton of fine detail.


Size: 14 inches | Resolution: 2560 x 1600 | CPU: Apple M1 chip | GPU: Integrated | RAM: 8GB DDR4 | Storage: 256GB SSD | Touchscreen: No

Final Verdict

Though there are many better laptops for college students at higher price points, the ASUS ZenBook 14 hits the sweet spot as an affordable laptop for getting work done. It’s no graphical powerhouse, but it won’t break the bank either, and looks and feels like a much more expensive device. If graphics performance is something you can’t do without, the MSI GF65 features the latest Nvidia GPU and is reasonably priced for a gaming laptop.

About Our Trusted Experts

Andy Zahn has written about computers and other tech for Lifewire, The Balance, and Investopedia, among other publications. He has reviewed numerous laptops, and has been building gaming PCs of his own since 2013.

Patrick Hyde lives in Seattle where he works as a digital marketer and freelance copywriter. With a Master’s degree in history from the University of Houston and a job in Seattle's booming tech industry, his interests and knowledge span the past, present, and future.

FAQs

What is a 2-in-1 laptop?
A 2-in-1 laptop, also sometimes known as a convertible laptop, is a portable computer that can be used either as a traditional laptop or as a tablet. A special hinge allows you to fold back the display to take advantage of touchscreen features, such as being able to hand-write notes or use the laptop as you would a smartphone or tablet. These types of laptops are perfect for creative professionals who work in digital art or for typical office work that may require multiple device types to tackle workloads.

Can I upgrade laptop components on my own?
It really depends on the kind of laptop you have. Some brands, such as Apple, use integrated components that cannot be switched out by users. This means that when your laptop becomes slow or outdated, you usually have to just buy a completely new laptop. Others, like HP and Dell, often let users upgrade things such as RAM and hard drives, but use integrated graphics cards to save internal space and make the laptop thin and lightweight.

Which is better: integrated or discrete graphics?
This really boils down to what you need from your laptop. Are you going to be playing a lot of graphically intensive games, or doing a bunch of video editing on the fly? If so, a discrete card is essential. However, if you’re mainly going to be doing basic productivity tasks, streaming movies, or playing less power hungry games, then an integrated card will save you money, improve battery life, and potentially decrease the size of the laptop.

What to Look for in a College Laptop

Productivity

For basic productivity such as editing documents or creating spreadsheets and browsing the web, you don’t need a ton of power. For such simple tasks you also don’t need to be too concerned with which platform you use, since even ChromeOS is fully capable of running Google’s excellent suite of apps.

However, it’s also important to take the quality of the keyboard and trackpad into account, and sometimes a touchscreen can be advantageous. Also, if you’re going to be doing any graphics intensive tasks such as video editing or graphic design you’re probably going to need a dedicated GPU.

Portability

If you need something that’s easy to toss into your backpack, a laptop with a smaller screen size is great. However, keep in mind that it’s much easier to get work done on a larger screen, particularly if you’re doing advanced creative work. A good compromise might be to get a laptop with a smaller screen, and then have a 27 inch monitor back at your dorm room that you can plug into your laptop for greater screen real estate.

Budget

Between buying textbooks, shelling out for tuition, and paying for a dorm room, college doesn’t come cheap. If you’re really strapped for cash, a Chromebook might be a good option, as they are available for only a few hundred dollars. A decent Windows device will set you back quite a bit more, but will offer better versatility. If you need significant graphics processing capability, expect to pay around a thousand dollars minimum. If you want a Mac, expect to pay a significant premium over Windows and ChromeOS devices.

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