The 7 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
"The ideal mix of value and performance that's built to last."
"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 trade-off in power and ability is well worth the extra heft."

Best Overall: Acer Aspire E 15

The latest Acer Aspire model is the ideal mix of value and performance that's built to last through all your college years. It’s also significantly cheaper than most high-end laptops, which college students can truly appreciate. First off, it contains an 8th-Generation Intel Core i3 processor, 6GB dual-channel memory, and a 1TB hard drive. It also features Intel Turbo Boost Technology for smooth video streaming and high-speed performance, along with a long-lasting 13.5-hour battery. The hardware should satisfy the needs of most college students, but if your workload is particularly demanding, then upgrading the memory or hard drive is a simple process — just open the easy-access compartment in the bottom of the laptop to replace the parts.

The Acer Aspire is built for both work and entertainment. The 15.6-inch screen features full HD resolution, although the color isn't as vibrant as some of its competitors. This model is also on the heavier side at 5.27 pounds. However, it comes with a DVD drive, SD slot, and has port space for USB 3.0, 2.0, Type-C, as well as Ethernet and HDMI inputs. As an added bonus, you can even charge your USB-connected devices when the laptop is powered down. 



Best for Durability: ASUS Chromebook C202SA-YS02 11.6"

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 2-in-1: Acer Chromebook R11

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

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)

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)

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. 

Best Budget: HP 15-BS013DX

If you have a $500 budget to play with, you'll have no trouble finding a value laptop suitable for college students. Right now, our favorite is the HP 15-BS013DX which delivers a 15.6-inch touchscreen, an Intel i3-7100U processor, a 1 TB hard drive (AKA tons of storage), and a full 8 G of RAM to keep things responsive and smooth. The Intel HD Graphics 620 card will run some decent games when you need to take a break from your studies, too. Add Bluetooth, two USB 3.1 plugs, and an HDMI port, and you’ve got a killer machine that will feel equally at home in the coffee shop as in the class (or dorm) room.

While it might be a bit unwieldy at 15" x 10" x 0.9" and 4.5 pounds, the trade-off in power and ability is well worth the extra heft. Reviewers on Best Buy really like the features included (touch screen, more RAM, etc.) for the price — especially if you'll be doing little more than surfing the web, streaming videos, and typing up Word documents.

What to Look for in a College Laptop

Operating system - 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.

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.

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.