The 11 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

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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.

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

Best Budget: Acer Aspire 1

Acer’s name comes up quite a bit on this list, but its reputation and price point speaks volumes. For less than $250, the Acer Aspire 1 is one of the cheapest laptops with full 1920 x 1080 HD resolution on a 14-inch screen. Trust us, your college kid will be streaming a lot of movies on their laptop, and the visual quality makes a huge difference. More importantly, with its Intel Celeron Quad-Core processor (up to 2.2 GHz) and 4 GB RAM, the Acer Aspire ensures a lag-free connection, which is a big advantage over competitors within this price range.

This model only has 32 GB of internal storage, but it’s not the greatest sacrifice. The Acer includes a fair amount of port space, with a USB 3.0 and two 2.0. ports, and an HDMI input. The battery life lasts up to nine hours.

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

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 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.

Interested in reading more reviews? Take a look at our selection of the best ASUS laptops

Runner-Up, Best for Durability: Asus ZenBook S

Built to military standards, the Asus Zenbook S is more than capable of surviving the life of a college student. Along with being just 0.5-inches thick and weighing 2.3 pounds, the ultraportable laptop boasts ErgoLift technology, which allows the keyboard to tilt by 5.5 inches to make for easier typing and additional airflow underneath the chassis.

Along with a 3.5mm headphone jack, the laptop is equipped with three USB-C ports, two of which can support Thunderbolt 3. The ZenBook S also features Amazon Alexa integration for voice control, and thanks to the 50Wh lithium-polymer battery, can last for 13.5 hours of taking notes, studying, and scrolling through Facebook. The machine possesses one of two eighth-generation Intel CPUs: either the i5-825OU or an i7-855OU CPU, paired with either 8GB or 16GB RAM. The durable, all-metal frame is currently available in two colors — Deep Dive Blue and Burgundy Red — and students can pick from between the higher-end 4K glossy touchscreen, the HD glossy non-touch display, or the HD anti-glare screen. 

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.

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

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 Visual Art and Design Students: Apple 13-inch MacBook Pro (2018)

As far as student laptops go, the MacBook Pro has never been a budget option. (And with Apple’s latest round of processor updates, that’s certainly still the case.) But if you’re going to school for media, production, or a creative field of any kind, the new 13-inch Pros will give you a ton of power without sacrificing sleek portability.

The 2018 updates include a new 2.3 GHz, quad-core Intel i5 processor, building on the last gen’s dual-core processor (an important change for creatives), and they’ve paired it with 8GB of 2133MHz LPDDR3 RAM for all the power you’ll need for your projects. You can pick up the new 13-inch models with either a 256GB or 512GB SSD, and they’ve stepped up the read/write speeds on it so even your hard drive won’t slow this powerhouse down.

If you work in a visual medium, the screen is arguably the most important part of your laptop, and Apple hasn’t forgotten to upgrade the display either. There’s the standard Retina pixel density, but there’s a new technology Apple is calling True Tone, which adjusts the color gamut of your screen depending on the brightness and light temperature of the room you’re in. The 2018 Pro model also includes four Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports and Apple's Touch Bar feature, which replaces the top row of function keys with a touch-sensitive panel that integrates app controls into your keyboard and allows you to unlock your laptop with Touch ID. All in all, it’s an amazing computer in a sleek, 3.02-pound chassis that’ll fit in your backpack without weighing you down.

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.

Still can't decide on what you want? Our round-up of the best gaming laptops can help you find what you're looking for.