The 9 Best Laptops for College Students in 2020

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 Rundown
"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 for Games:
Acer Swift 3 at Amazon
"The Swift 3 boasts a crisp IPS screen and a fairly capable GPU, giving it a leg up with both video editing and video games."
Best Chrome 2-in-1:
Lenovo Chromebook Duet at Walmart
"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."
"It's portable, offers great battery life, boasts a gorgeous display, and packs more than enough power to spare."
Best Value:
Dell XPS 13 at Amazon
"Has the performance and memory to handle a last-minute essay and a stream of your favorite Netflix series at the same time."

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 in a reasonable range. 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 a student.

Our top pick, the Dell Inspiron 15 5000 (view on Dell) a workhorse laptop. It's a simple, sleek laptop with a metal build, reasonable weight, affordable price and specs that can handle spreadsheets, browsing, videos, and everything else a student might need. 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. Also, be sure to check out our constantly updated guide to the best laptop deals happening right now, for great machines at steep discounts.

Best Ultrabook: 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 one of the most powerful laptops for a college student to get. It has the very latest 10th Gen Intel core processor, runs Windows 10 Home, and comes with a variety of configurations that give it beefier options in terms of power. You can 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.

Best 2-in-1: 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.

Best for Games: Acer Swift 3

What We Like
  • Dedicated GPU

  • Slim and portable build

  • Sharp IPS screen

What We Don't Like
  • Higher price

The Acer Swift 3 is the laptop for a college student to choose if video editing and video games are important. It's one of the few affordable laptops that support a dedicated GPU with its Nvidia GeForce MX150. Combined with 2GB of GDDR5 VRAM and a solid 8th Gen Intel Core i5 processor, you should be able to handle programs like Photoshop without too much difficulty. MOBA games like League of Legends and shooters like Overwatch and Fortnite should also be playable.

In other regards, the Swift 3 has everything you could hope for in a solid laptop including a high resolution 2256x1504 IPS display, a thin and portable build, and a good amount of RAM and decently-sized SSD.

Best Chrome 2-in-1: 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, not just for college students alone. It's an ultra-portable laptop with a long-lasting battery, keyboard, and kickstand. The 10.1-inch detachable screen puts it in the same category as the Surface Go 2, except this comes running Chrome OS. The screen is a crisp Full HD IPS panel that will work great for streaming and potentially might be the ideal platform for using Google Stadia. Regardless of the software differences, you should still be able to handle all your productivity needs with the Chromebook Duet.

Best for Durability: ASUS Chromebook C202SA-YS02 11.6"

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. In a drop test, the Chromebook C202 was capable of withstanding a fall from as high as 3.9 feet — and that's particularly impressive given 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 manipulate the laptop into whatever angle you like. On the inside, it packs an Intel Celeron N3060 Processor ( 2M cache up to 2.48 GHz) and 16GB of flash storage. The Chromebook runs on, you guessed it, Chrome OS, so you can download and edit files via Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides. 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.

Best Price: 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 — both productive and just for fun — from the Google Play Store and use Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides to complete your classwork.

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, the Chromebook R 11 multitasks with ease. Built-in virus protection — which updates itself automatically — also safeguards your files, so you don't have to worry about crashes or data loss. And once you’ve submitted your report or finished your online quiz, you can flip the screen all the way back 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 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.

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 9 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. 

Best Apple: Apple MacBook Air (13-inch)

What We Like
  • Solid specs for productivity

  • Good battery life

  • Lots of configuration options

  • Great software

What We Don't Like
  • Pricey

Since their conception, MacBooks have been extremely popular laptops among college students and, for most, Apple’s MacBook Air is the one to buy. It’s slim, it’s portable, offers great battery life, boasts a gorgeous display, and packs more than enough power to spare for the needs of most college programs. In short, Apple has taken a formidable MacBook for college students and made it even better, with a screen that is, rest assured, easy on the eyes.

Under the hood, you’re still getting a 1.6GHz 8th-generation Intel Core i5 CPU that can burst up to 3.6GHz when you need it, plus 8 GB of RAM and a 128 GB SSD. If all you’re doing is writing essays, this base model will likely be more than enough, but you can bump both the RAM and the SSD up to 16GB or 1TB, respectively, if you have a few extra bucks to spend. Of course, it goes without saying that your course load will help determine this as well, but remember that there are also a pair of Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports, so keeping some high-speed external storage on hand back in your dorm room is always an option, too. 

At only 2.75 pounds and 0.61 inches thick, it’s portable enough that it won’t weigh you down, and its 12- to 13-hour battery life means it will easily keep you going all day long without needing to worry about toting a charger around. Apple has also built-in its T2 security chip, along with Touch ID, which will keep your work encrypted and also help protect your MacBook should it ever get lost.

Or you could step up the processing power with one of the best MacBook Pro models of 2019. Your choice.

Best Value: Dell XPS 13 (9370)

What We Like
  • Light and portable

  • 4K screen

  • Powerful specs

  • Good HD camera

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

Packed with power, the Dell XPS 13 is a lightweight, portable laptop with the performance and memory to handle a last-minute essay and a stream of your favorite Netflix series — at the same time. Weighing just 2.7 pounds, the laptop can be outfitted with the new 8th Gen Intel Quad Core processors, meaning performance isn’t impacted when multiple applications are running. The screen has a 4K Ultra HD resolution with 8 million pixels and 1500:1 contrast ratio for a stunning visual experience. The 400-nit brightness and anti-reflective screen let students use it either inside or out, while the 21-hour battery life allows it to last between long days of classes and late-night study sessions. 

A new HD webcam located at the front and center of the top of the frame delivers crystal-clear images, temporal noise reduction, and better video quality for calls back home or with friends across the country. Sleek and sophisticated, the laptop is available in frost, rose gold, or platinum silver colors. 

Final Verdict

Our top pick for a laptop for a college student is the Dell 15 5000. It's a solid laptop without any extra frills, but it has the specs that can handle all your productivity needs and a build that's portable enough to carry around in a backpack. If your budget can stretch a bit more, we like the Lenovo Yoga C740 for being one of the nicest ultra-portable laptops you can get, with honorable mention to the Surface Go 2 for the 2-in-1 form-factor.

What to Look for in a College Laptop

Productivity- Apple’s Macs are known for having an intuitive interface that’s sleek and ideal for designers, while Windows PCs are capable of more customization and are often better suited for productivity. Google Chrome is no slouch either with services like Google Docs and Sheets, you can do everything a Windows 10 laptop can. For most college students, the most intensive tasks will be word processing, spreadsheets, slideshows, and videos.

Portability - If you need something that’s easy to toss into your backpack, you might prefer a smaller and lighter model like a two-in-one. However, if you’re mostly working in your dorm, a larger laptop might not be so cumbersome. For creative or design students, a larger screen is likely necessary which might rule out Chromebooks.

Budget - Between buying textbooks and planning spring break, college doesn’t come cheap. If you’re looking to save a few dollars on a laptop, you can still get plenty of premium features, like a cutting-edge processor or advanced security features. If you’ve got some cash to spare, you might be more comfortable splurging on a MacBook, which has unrivaled displays. If you're focused on video or photo editing and want to do some gaming on the side, you may have to stretch your budget a bit more.