We Tested the Best Laptops for College Students

Find the perfect laptop computer to get you through college

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Student-friendly laptops should also have enough RAM (memory) and storage to handle productivity needs, be budget-friendly, and be portable enough to carry to classes. Our top pick, the ASUS ZenBook 14, is a well-rounded option at a reasonable weight, affordable price, and can handle spreadsheets, web browsing, videos, and everything else a student might need.

If you're looking for something more specific, we've researched and tested laptops that support various operating systems from well-known brands like Dell, Asus, Acer, Lenovo, and Apple.

Here are our recommendations for the best laptops for college students.

Best Overall: ASUS Zenbook 14 UX425EAEH51

Asus Zenbook 14 UX425EAEH51

Bestbuy

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. It hits the sweet spot for power and portability on a limited budget while also delivering remarkable build quality. It would be easy to mistake the Zenbook 14 for a much more expensive laptop.

You’ll find plenty of power and fast solid-state drive (SSD) storage inside. SSDs make a big difference in daily computing, as they allow your computer to access data much more quickly. However, its integrated graphics won’t cut it for heavy-duty gaming or video editing, though the ZenBook 14 should stand up to light photo editing and other less intensive tasks. An added bonus: This laptop also comes with a number pad built into the trackpad.

The 14-inch display is smaller than the typical 15.6-inch laptop, making it much more portable. Though the 1920x1080 resolution isn’t too impressive, it's no problem on a screen of this size. The ZenBook 14 is easily the best laptop for college students.

Size: 14 inches | Resolution: 1920x1080 | CPU: Intel Core i5-1135G7 | GPU: Intel Iris Xe graphics | RAM: 8GB DDR4 | Storage: 512GB SSD | Touchscreen: No

"I’ve personally used similar ZenBook models as my daily driver in the past, and can personally vouch for their exceptional quality." — Andy Zahn, Tech Writer

Best 2-in-1: Microsoft Surface Go 2

Microsoft Surface Go 2

Courtesy of Amazon

What We Like
  • Very portable

  • Great for note-taking and drawing

  • Long battery life

What We Don't Like
  • Screen is on the small side

  • Not very powerful

The Microsoft Surface Go 2 is a highly portable 1.2-pound hybrid laptop and tablet in one device. Though its 10.5-inch screen is somewhat small for a laptop, it’s perfect for a tablet. The detachable keyboard makes it easy to quickly transform the Surface Go 2 from a tablet into a laptop. Also, with the Surface Pen, this device is perfect for sketching and taking notes.

The Surface Go 2 has enough battery life (10 hours) to get you through a whole day at work or entertain you through the course of a lengthy flight. However, it’s not very powerful, with its rather basic components, and the SSD is about as small as they come. However, if you’re mainly using it for productivity and web-based applications, the Surface Go 2 is flexible and highly affordable.

Size: 10.5 inches | Resolution: 1920x1080 | CPU: Intel Pentium | GPU: Intel UHD Graphics | RAM: 4GB DDR4 | Storage: 64GB SSD | Touchscreen: Yes

Best Chromebook: Lenovo Chromebook Duet

3.8
Lenovo Chromebook Duet

Amazon

What We Like
  • Sleek and portable design

  • Crisp 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, high-resolution panel that will work great for streaming and is potentially an excellent option for game streaming services such as Google Stadia. Though Chrome OS 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. The one caveat is that its screen may be a little on the small side when used as a laptop.

Size: 10.1 inches | Resolution: 1920x1200 | CPU: MediaTek Helio P60T | GPU: Integrated ARM Mali-G72 MP3 | RAM: 4GB DDR4 | Storage: 64GB SSD | Touchscreen: Yes

"The Lenovo Duet is not a machine designed for gaming or power-intensive productivity tasks. But, it's a solid budget option for basic productivity and media consumption." — Andy Zahn, Product Tester

Lenovo Chromebook Duet

Andy Zahn / Lifewire

Best for Durability: ASUS Chromebook C202SA-YS04

3.6
ASUS Chromebook C202SA-YS04

Walmart

What We Like
  • Rugged and water-resistant design

  • 2-in-1 functionality

  • Small and lightweight

What We Don't Like
  • Low power

  • Not much storage capacity

  • Low-resolution screen

The ASUS Chromebook C202 is the laptop for students who aren’t inclined to treat their gadgets like fine china. It features a spill-resistant keyboard and reinforced rubber bumpers on its edges and corners to prevent damage from falls and bumps. Another advantage is that this small, lightweight convertible 2-in-1 laptop folds around on its 180-degree hinge to transform into a tablet.

The downsides are that this laptop has very low power hardware and a minimal amount of onboard storage. Also, the screen is relatively low resolution, though that won’t matter so much due to its small size. With that said, the C202 is astonishingly cheap, so not only can it survive a lot of punishment, it won’t be that expensive to replace.

Size: 11.6 inches | Resolution: 1366x768 | CPU: Celeron N3060 | GPU: Intel HD Graphics 400 | 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

Asus Chromebook C202SA

Lifewire / Jeremy Laukkonen

Best Budget: Acer Chromebook R 11 Convertible

4.3
Acer Chromebook R 11 Convertible

Courtesy of Amazon

What We Like
  • Fast Wi-Fi

  • 2-in-1 design

  • Good battery life

What We Don't Like
  • Not much storage capacity

  • Low-resolution screen

Every college student needs a laptop that can handle homework and extra-curricular internet use. 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. The R 11 isn't very powerful, but it's good enough for basic tasks.

Once you've submitted your report or finished your online quiz, you can flip the screen back to enjoy your favorite mobile games and shows in tablet mode. However, be aware that its display is fairly low resolution. The battery life is 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 despite the low onboard storage.

Size: 11.6 inches | Resolution: 1366x768 | CPU: Intel Celeron N3150 | GPU: 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

The screen looks really nice in both laptop and tablet mode when used indoors in all kinds of light levels.

Courtesy of Lifewire 

Best Lightweight: ASUS ZenBook S

Asus ZenBook S
What We Like
  • Rugged and portable

  • Good keyboard

  • Powerful specs and gorgeous display

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

Despite its petite design and elegant appearance, the ASUS ZenBook S is tough. It's made from rugged aerospace-grade aluminum but weighs a mere 2.2 pounds. There's a neat backlit, tilting keyboard that allows for additional airflow to keep the machine cool when it's working hard. Add in a headphone jack and three USB-C ports, and you've got some serious connectivity in this highly portable device.

The ZenBook S comes with Alexa integration for voice commands and a battery that can last up to 12 hours. It also includes a spacious solid-state drive for all your school-related documents and other storage needs. However, this pint-sized powerhouse comes with a steep price tag.

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

Best for Gaming: MSI GF65 Gaming Laptop

MSI GF65 Gaming Laptop

Bestbuy

What We Like
  • Powerful GPU

  • 144Hz refresh rate display

  • Good value for money

What We Don't Like
  • Could use more RAM

  • Middle-of-the-road processor

Whether you want to do some gaming or you need plenty of graphics horsepower for video editing classes, the MSI GF65 is a great affordable laptop. It uses Nvidia's latest Geforce RTX 3060 graphics card, which is fully capable of running the latest games at max settings. The GF65's high display refresh rate and frame rates make gaming and other creative content silky smooth.

Beyond the capable graphics card and desirable display, the processor is merely adequate, and the 512GB of solid-state storage isn't as much as some gaming laptops offer. The biggest downside is that the 8GB of RAM could be a potential bottleneck for gaming-oriented systems; a gaming laptop should have at least 16GB. Minor caveats aside, the MSI GF65 is an excellent gaming-focused pick for college students.

Size: 15.6 inches | Resolution: 1920x1920 | 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

Dell

What We Like
  • Reasonably powerful

  • Thin and light

  • Top-notch build quality

What We Don't Like
  • Pricey

If you love Apple's stellar build quality but prefer Windows, then the Dell XPS 13 9310 offers a great alternative to the Macbook Air. It features a gorgeous 13.4-inch 1920x1200 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.

The caveat is that the base model comes with disappointing internal hardware for the price. It's not very powerful, but if you don't mind spending more, the RAM, the storage, and the processor are all upgradeable. Compared to its Apple counterpart, the Dell XPS 13 9310 is similar in cost and components. What you're paying for is looks and build quality.

Size: 13.4 inches | Resolution: 1920x1200 | CPU: Intel Core i3-1115G4 | GPU: Intel UHG Graphics | RAM: 8GB DDR4 | Storage: 256GB SSD | Touchscreen: No

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

4.9
2020 Apple MacBook Air

Apple

What We Like
  • Powerful 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 M1 chip, the Apple Macbook Air (M1, 2020) is better than ever, and it's a nearly perfect laptop for students who prefer Apple's OS. 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 on a laptop.

While the base memory and storage are somewhat lacking for the price point, Apple's Retina Display impresses, offering a gorgeous, color-accurate 2560x1600 resolution screen. In a 13.3-inch screen, that's a ton of fine detail. The MacBook Air (M1 2020) also delivers up to 18 hours of battery life and ample power for writing papers, photo editing, and other productivity tasks.

Size: 13.3 inches | Resolution: 2560x1600 | CPU: Apple M1 chip | GPU: Integrated | RAM: 8GB DDR4 | Storage: 256GB SSD | Touchscreen: No

"With the M1 chip under its hood, the 2020 MacBook Air leaves the competition in the dust, turning in unreal benchmarks and silky smooth real-world performance." — Jeremy Laukkonen, Product Tester

MacBook Air (M1, 2020)

 Jeremy Laukkonen / Lifewire

Final Verdict

Though there are many better laptops for college students at higher price points, the ASUS ZenBook 14 (view at Amazon) 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 (view at Best Buy) features the latest Nvidia GPU and is reasonably priced for a gaming laptop.

What to Look for in a College Laptop

Productivity

For basic productivity, such as editing documents, creating spreadsheets, and browsing the web, you don’t need a ton of power. You also don’t need to be too concerned with which platform you use to perform these tasks. On the other hand, the quality of the keyboard and trackpad can make a difference, and sometimes a touchscreen can be advantageous. Also, if you plan to do any graphics-intensive tasks such as video editing or graphic design, you might need a dedicated graphics processing unit (GPU).

Portability

If you need something easy to toss into your backpack, a laptop with a smaller display is great. Laptops with smaller screens are often slimmer and lighter too. If you find it’s much easier to get work done on a larger screen, a good compromise might be to plug your laptop into a larger 27-inch external monitor when you’re at home.

Budget

A Chromebook might be a good option if you're on a budget, as they are often available for only a few hundred dollars. A decent Windows device will set you back quite a bit more and 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 Chrome OS devices.

FAQ
  • What is a 2-in-1 laptop?

    A 2-in-1 laptop, also sometimes known as a convertible laptop, is a portable computer 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 and use the laptop as you would a smartphone or tablet. This type of laptop can be great for creative professionals working in digital art or office work.

  • Can I upgrade laptop components on my own?

    It depends on the kind of laptop you have. Some brands, such as Apple, use integrated components that users can't replace. When your laptop becomes slow or outdated, you usually have to buy a completely new laptop. Other manufacturers like HP and Dell let users swap out specific parts such as upgrading RAM on a laptop and replacing hard drives.

  • Which is better: integrated or discrete graphics?

    If you want to play a lot of graphically intensive games or edit videos, a discrete graphics card is essential. However, if you plan to use your laptop for productivity tasks, streaming movies, or playing less power-hungry games, an integrated card will save you money, improve battery life, and potentially decrease the size of the laptop.

About Our Trusted Experts

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.

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.

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