The 10 Best Laptops for College Students to Buy in 2018

Find the perfect laptop computer to get you through college

Acer Chromebook R 11 Convertible
Photo from Amazon

Getting ready to head off to college? You might want to splurge on a new laptop for your studies. But most college students have to work with a limited budget, which usually means making a compromise. The most important thing to keep in mind (besides your budget) is your personal needs. If your major requires you to run programs like Photoshop, then you will need at least 8 GB RAM and an Intel i5 Processor. Of course, design and portability are important considerations, too. With so many things to think about, we created a list of the best college laptops, so all you have to worry about is finding your way to class on the first day of the semester.

Best Overall: Acer Aspire E 15 E5-575G-57D4

The Acer Aspire E 15 sits at the crossroad between value and performance in a way that only a college student could truly appreciate. This device is half the price of some ultrabooks out there, but boasts really impressive specs that translate into the perfect campus laptop. An incoming freshmen can confidently coast on this device through their entire four years at school, and even take it to grad school after that.

First off, you get a 7th Generation Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, and a capable graphics card in the Nvidia 940MX that can run most games at a decent clip. That means that this laptop can handle intensive graphic design programs or other major-specific software that budget laptops stall on.

It’s a bit heavy at 5.27 pounds, but the extra weight is justified with a large 15.6” true HD screen, DVD drive and a six-cell battery that holds a 12-hour charge. It also comes with USB Type-C, USB 2.0 and USB  3.0 ports, and the latest WiFi 802.11 ac. And the obsidian black case looks attractive, despite being made of plastic instead of metal.

Best Budget: Asus F556UA-AB32

Sometimes paying a little bit extra gets you a whole lot more. That’s the case with Asus’s best-selling “premium budget” F556UA-AB32. It is not the cheapest in the budget category, but it packs enough upgraded graphics and computing power to justify the purchase.

First, it is the cheapest laptop that offers Full HD (1920 x 1080) resolution on a beautiful 15.6-Inch screen. If you ever plan on watching movies on your laptop (and you will, trust me), then this upgrade will make a world of difference. And its Intel Core i3 processor, 4 GB RAM, and 802.11ac WiFi will let you run those videos lag-free, which is more than can be said for other budget laptops.

The case sports a simple but stylish design of concentric matte black circles, and an ergonomically designed keyboard feels very comfortable. Sure, this device won’t play the latest games or stand toe-to-toe with devices like the Spin, but it will satisfy everything the normal user wants without breaking the bank. 

Want to take a look at some other options? See our guide to the best laptops under $500

Best 2-in-1: Acer Chromebook R 11 Convertible, 11.6-Inch HD Touch Screen

Every college student needs a laptop that can both handle homework, but also be there in the early morning hours when you’re five hours deep into a Netflix binge. The Acer Chromebook R 11 gets an A+ in both. With an Intel Celeron N3150 Quad-Core Processor 1.6GHz with Intel Burst Technology up to 2.08GHz combined with 4GB of onboard memory and 32GB of internal storage, it multitasks with ease. And once you’ve submitted that report, you can flip the screen all the way backward to enjoy your favorite 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 through all your classes and then some, plus you get 100GB of free storage on Google Drive for two years.

Want to take a look at some other options? See our guide to the best 2-in-1 laptops.

Best for Portability: Apple MacBook Air 13.3-Inch Laptop

When you’re constantly dashing between your dorm room, the library and the lecture hall, you need a laptop that can keep up. And if its name is any indication, the MacBook Air is one of the most portable computers on the market. At .68 inches thin and 2.96 pounds light, it’s easy to toss into your backpack and won’t weigh you down as your trekking across campus.

But don’t let its small frame deceive you: The MacBook Air is remarkably powerful. It houses a 1.6 GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 (Turbo Boost up to 2.7 GHz) and has 8 GB of 1600 MHz LPDDR3 RAM to boot. Reviewers on Amazon agree that its 13.3-inch LED-backlit 1440 x 900 display is among the best and brightest out there, and they praise its backlit keyboard for helping them through late-night assignments. On top of that, it lasts up to 12 hours between charges, so you don’t have to tote around a clunky charger.

Best for Durability: ASUS Chromebook C202SA-YS02 11.6"

The ASUS Chromebook C202 is a rugged computer that’s capable of braving all the elements on the periodic table. It has a spill-resistant keyboard, a rubber bumper to protect it from bumps and scratches and nano-molding technology on its edges and corners to reduce impact of falls. It scored magnum cum laude on a drop test, capable of landing safely from up to 3.9 feet. 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. On the inside, it packs an Intel Celeron N3060 Processor with 2M cache, up to 2.48 GHz and 16GB of flash storage. If that doesn’t earn it a spot on the honor roll, we don’t know what does.

Runner-Up, Best Budget: HP Stream 14-inch

College students have a plethora of laptop options to choose from in the space, but the combination of portability and budget-friendly pricing make the HP Stream 14-inch laptop a great choice. The 14-inch display combined with a 3.17-pound lightweight plastic frame makes it a perfect companion for backpacking to and from classes. Powered by an Intel Celeron 1.6GHz, dual-core processor, 4GB of RAM and a 32GB eMMC drive, this laptop is built with the student in mind. While the 32GB eMMC drive doesn’t offer a lot of storage, Microsoft bolsters storage with 1TB of OneDrive cloud space and Office 365 (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook) free for one-year. Additionally, you can spring for a separately-purchased microSD card and triple your storage allotment for less than one-quarter of the laptop's total price.

Ideally, a student would utilize the Stream 14 for classwork and Web browsing. You get the full power of Windows 10, a quick start up and shut down (thanks to the eMMC drive), as well as an aesthetically pleasing design available in both blue and purple.

Best for Creatives: Apple 13" MacBook Pro, Retina, Touch Bar

When you close your eyes and picture a graphic designer, you probably see a body huddled behind a silver MacBook. That’s because Macs have brilliant Retina screens that make no compromises for the creative types. This 13-inch MacBook Pro features powerful integrated graphics with 64MB of embedded DRAM, which flawlessly handles graphics tasks, plus LED backlighting and a high contrast ratio to produce deep blacks and bright whites. It produces vivid and accurate colors so you won’t be unpleasantly surprised by the outcome at the printer.

Apple’s addition of the Touch Bar replaces those dusty function keys with a much more capable and interactive bar that changes based on what you’re doing. In Final Cut Pro, for example, you can navigate through your project with an interactive display of your entire timeline, and in Adobe Photoshop, you can adjust your layers, pick a hue and control brush size. So whether you’re heading to Graphics 101 or beginning your senior capstone project, you won’t want to be caught using anything but this omnipotent laptop.

Want to take a look at some other options? See our guide to the best MacBooks

Best for Note-Taking: Microsoft Surface Book 2 (Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM, 256GB)

If you prefer taking notes by hand but then have trouble organizing them come mid-term time, the Microsoft Surface Book 2 is your new favorite study buddy. This 2-in-1 is equally powerful and convenient, operating in 4 modes: Laptop, ideal for typing notes and surfing the web; Tablet, for app use; Studio, for handwriting notes and sketching with the Surface Pen; and View, for watching movies or presenting.

With a 7th generation Intel Dual Core i5 Processor, 256GB of storage and 8GB RAM, it handles multitasking with finesse, but it’s the accessories that make it so perfect for students. Microsoft’s Surface Pen (not included) makes writing and drawing on the 13.5-inch screen feel incredibly natural, plus has tilt support for shading and 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity, with minimal no lag. And when paired with an app like One Note, which can translate handwriting to text, you’ll have no problem organizing and searching your notes in a later study session.

Best Gaming: Dell - i7559-7514GRY 15.6" 4K Ultra HD Touch Screen

College is all about learning, but after the homework is finished, who says you can’t have a little fun? Dorm room gaming marathons are about as quintessential college as frat parties, so you’ll want to have gear that can keep up. This Dell laptop features an Intel Core i7-6700HQ processor 3.5GHz, 6MB Cache and 16GB DDR3L SDRAM system memory, plus NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M with 4GB GDDR5 discrete memory for high frame-per-second rates. It has a 15.6-inch touchscreen that’s perfect for gaming but also doubles as a powerful productivity tool.

The Windows laptop itself is a bit clunky at about 6 pounds and might weigh you down on the way to class, but unlike most gaming laptops, its design is pretty discrete. That means no flashy backlit keys or racer stripes to give away the fact that you might not be entirely focused during the lecture.

Best for Security: HP - Spectre x360 2-in-1 13.3" 4K Ultra HD Touchscreen Laptop

If your main concern is security, take a close look at the HP Spectre x360, which comes with a six-month subscription of Secure Anywhere. The software protects up to three devices from viruses, malware, phishing attacks and other online threats, although late term papers, unfortunately, aren’t covered. It also has a fingerprint reader so that you – and only you – can access your computer quickly.

Beyond that, the 2-1 is incredibly versatile, with a 13.3-inch touchscreen flaunting 3840 x 2160 native resolution that flips and folds 360 degrees. This lets you use the device in standard laptop, tablet and tent modes. Inside it packs an efficient 8th Gen Intel Core i7-8550U mobile processor, plus 16GB system memory and a 512GB solid state drive (SSD). It comes with a stylus to make it easy to jot down notes and its keys are backlit to power you through late-night study sessions.

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