- 1 Our Top Laptops for College Picks
- 2 How We Chose the Best College Laptops
After all this rigorous testing, we are proud to announce that the Dell XPS 13 9370 13″ is the best laptop for college students. Although it’s a little on the pricey side, the XPS offers eye-watering performance and an incredibly crisp, clear display. These features make it the perfect computer for students who want something to last past graduation.
If there’s anything a college student needs the most in today’s world of constantly-connected campuses, it’s a solid and reliable laptop for college. But with so many choices on the market, it can be almost impossible to do the research yourself, especially if you’re busy getting ready for classes. So, we took the research into our hands, looking at over 50 different laptops online, ranging from Chromebooks to ultrabooks and everything in between. As we were doing our preliminary research online, we took into account customer sentiment, price and availability. Finally, we determined which of these 50 machines would make it into our top 10 and bought those ones to test them in real time.
During our testing, we focused on key features and performance metrics like processor speed, display quality and overall durability. We even put the computers through different tasks like gaming, streaming media and creative software to see which one performed the best. We did all this to find the best student laptop on the market.
Keep reading to learn more about the Dell XPS 13 and the other 4 student laptops we picked as the best laptops for college students in 2019.
Table of Content:
- Laptops for College Compared
- Best for a Computer Science Degree
- Best for a Creative Arts Degree
- Best Durable College Laptop
- Best for Design/Photoshop
- Best Chromebook for College
- How We Chose the Best College Laptops
- Key Factors to a Top Laptop For College
- Who Should Buy a Laptop for College
- Mistakes to Avoid When Buying a Laptop for College
- Most Important Features
- Which Best College Laptop for Students is right for you?
Our Top Laptops for College Picks
|Best Laptops for College Students||OVERVIEW|
|Best for a Computer Science Degree||Dell XPS 9370 Laptop||CHECK PRICE|
|Best Creative Arts College Laptop||New Apple MacBook Air||CHECK PRICE|
|Best Durable College Laptop||Asus ZenBook 13 Ultra-Slim||CHECK PRICE|
|Best for Design/Photoshop||Microsoft Surface Pro 6||CHECK PRICE|
|Best Chromebook for College||Acer Chromebook 15||CHECK PRICE|
Best for a Computer Science Degree Dell XPS 13 9370
Price: View Price | Features: InfinityEdge display, touchscreen, Intel Core i7-8500U 4.0 GHz Processor
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: The Dell XPS 13 puts portability and power in a punchy, flexible package.
A little on the pricier side – though cheaper than the Surface Book – Dell’s XPS13 is entirely worth it, and is truly one of the best college laptops for students in price and tech specs.
With a 13.3-inch, 4K Ultra HD InfinityEdge Touch display, 8GB of RAM, 256GB SSD, the XPS 13 is the perfect mix of power and flexibility that college students need from their daily driver. The Dell XPS 13 will be able to keep up with even the most demanding tasks, whether that’s using tools like Photoshop and AutoDesk 3DS Max, or programming software like Android Studio and Eclipse.
The Dell XPS 13 is also the perfect entertainment machine. With its 13.3-inch 4K InfinityEdge display, it has one of the sharpest images you’ll see on a portable machine. It’s perfect for the media professional, but also great for watching movies, TV shows, and even doubles as a halfway decent gaming laptop.
Best Creative Arts College Laptop Apple MacBook Air
Price: View Price | Features: Force Touch trackpad, Retina display with True Tone technology, 12hr battery life
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: No other laptop has the same “cool” factor as a new MacBook.
After years of waiting for a refresh, Apple has finally released a new MacBook Air model, this time with an upgraded processor and a Retina display, all while managing to make the machine thinner than it’s ever been. The old MacBook Air used to be a dominant force among college student, but since Apple took forever to update it, you’re less likely to see it on campus. Until now.
Apple still makes the MacBook Pro in both 13″ and 15″ flavors, but unless you know you’ll be doing a lot of heavy rendering or running intensive applications, the Air model should handle nearly any job you can throw at it with ease. As cool as the MacBook Pro 15inch is, it is overkill.
The inclusion of the Force Touch mousepad is perfect for students who need to navigate through a lot of content quickly and easily, while macOS continues to be the operating system of choice among departments dedicated to the creative arts.
One huge advantage that Apple MacBook Pro has over Windows laptops is its long battery life, especially on standby time (Apple claims that the battery can last 30 days on standby).
If you have to run macOS for your particular program, or just want a dependable all-around best college laptop that’s perfect for any kind of project, Apple’s MacBook Pro is still king with college students everywhere and of course it works with Apples TV. The best Apple laptops are reliable and trusted machines.
Best Durable College Laptop ASUS ZenBook 13
Price: View Price | Features: Durable aluminum shell, 512GB of SSD storage, Windows 10 Home pre-installed
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: The ASUS ZenBook 13 wins on its raw ability to take a punch while still maintaining a slim and portable profile.
If there’s one thing parents know about their kids, it’s how clumsy they can be when it comes to keeping their technology in one piece. The ASUS ZenBook is definitely the most durable laptop on this list, with its tough aluminum body that can take a hit or two.
With a 13.3-inch Full HD display, an Intel Core i5-8265u processor, 8GB of RAM, and 512GB of SSD storage, the ZenBook 13 is powerful and zippy, coming in at an attractive price tag under $1,000. It comes with a powerful graphics chip, NVIDIA GeForce MX150, to make you become the best student possible.
But what makes the ASUS ZenBook 13 one of the best college laptops for students? Its ultra portability, the fact that it comes with Windows 10 Home pre-installed and a year of free accidental damage protection from ASUS ADP, a perfect fit for busy college students.. Always consider the best ssd so that your storage is more secure as well.
Best for Design/Photoshop Microsoft Surface Pro 6
Price: Check on Amazon | Features: Convertible design, touchscreen, 12.3″ display
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: If you’re in creative design, the Surface Book Pro loves to get drawn on.
With Microsoft’s Surface Pro, you’re in for a treat. Fast, portable, and easy to set up. The Surface Pro 6 also offers two different uses – laptop, and tablet (or “clipboard” mode). This adds to the portability, making it fantastic for the on-the-go student and one of our top picks for one of the best college laptops.
With the base unit starting with a 12.3-inch display, an Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB of SSD storage, the Surface Pro 6 is perfect for the student that can handle the demands of Graphic Design and/or demanding software tools like CAD and Photoshop. From graphic cards, we suggest one from the GeForce GTX 16 series.
And the ability to transform the Surface Pro into a tablet is another great feature because it removes the need for another device. With this feature, you get a 2-in-1 laptop, which is excellent build quality. However, if your primary intent is to get a tablet, then the Microsoft Surface Go 2 is a better choice. It’s truly one of the best student laptops for college students. Don’t forget the best laptop bags to protect your device.
Best Chromebook for College Acer Chromebook 15
Price: View Price | Features: Intel Celeron N3350 processor, 15.6″ FHD touchscreen
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: The Acer Chromebook 15 is perfect for work or play on campus.
Acer’s Chromebook 15 is lightweight for perfect portability, has a 2.4GHz processor, and falls just under $300. Add that to the sleek, modern design and you have a solid all-around machine for any member of the family.
Although the Toshiba Chromebook 2 beat the Acer 15 in screen quality, the Acer is still great for college students because it packs in just a few more of the features that kids want like big speakers to share media with their friends, and a slightly roomier display if they need to multitask on multiple projects at once. It still comes with a 15.6 inch full HD IPS.
Whether you need to write a paper or you are just taking notes or collaborate in Google Drive, the Chromebook 15 will perform without a problem. And, just like any Chromebook, it comes with a free 100GB of Google Drive storage to give you plenty of room to store documents and other files while on the go.
Jump Back Up: Compare the top college laptops and their features.
How We Chose the Best College Laptops
When looking for the best laptops for college students, we pulled from a wide range of options both in price and features to give you the broadest spectrum of options available.
Just like every college student is different, so is the laptop choice that’s right for them. Some don’t need a lot of power and prefer portability over everything else, while others might require a machine that can render 3D models and watch lectures streaming online at the same time. Because laptops go everywhere with their corresponding college student, every choice we’ve made here is durable enough to stand up to punishment for all four years they’re earning their degree, but also light enough to slide into a backpack quickly and easily without any hassle.
A laptop for college needs to boot quickly, run smoothly, and be able to run almost any program you can think of (in case next semester you decide you want to pursue VFX design instead of biochemistry). Ultimately the laptop that’s right for you or your kids will combine all the best aspects of a laptop into one complete package at a cost that’s manageable for your expectations.
Key Factors to a Top Laptop For College
Performance: There’s no need to overbuy in power. Find the right power for your needs. For instance, if you’re just picking up a laptop for writing papers, you might not need something with a large capacity SSD, a hefty processor, and 8GB of RAM..and with it a hefty price tag. Likewise, if you’re buying something for a Graphic Design or CAD class, you’ll likely need something much heftier than just 4GB of RAM and a dual-core processor even if that processor is an intel core i7. Find a laptop that meets your needs and sets you up for success.
Portability: Make sure to purchase a thin and lightweight laptop. There’s nothing worse than carrying around a chunky laptop that’s awkward and heavy to lug around campus or to the library. It’s also good practice to make sure your laptop has a small footprint, allowing you to easily put it in most backpacks or carrying bags alongside textbooks and other study materials.
Battery: Find a laptop with a good battery, preferably one that’ll last you all day and then some. For instance, the ASUS C201 has a battery that lasts up to 13-hours, giving you plenty of study time during the day and then some. While you might not need that much, it’s good to search for the best college laptops that will last a little over three hours.
Who Should Buy a Laptop for College
Of course, you don’t have to be straight out of high school to be in the market for a new college laptop. Whether you’re unpacking your bags in a dorm away from home for the first time or returning after a long hiatus to finish up your master’s degree, buying a fresh laptop before classes start in the fall is always a solid investment.
What classes you plan on taking, as well as the degree you’re pursuing should have an impact on the best college laptop you eventually choose to go with. If you need something sleek and powerful that can turn on instantly for rapid-fire notetaking, the Dell XPS 13 or Zenbook UX360AC should suit the job just fine. But, if you’re worried about spending a ton of cash on the best college laptop that not might last more than a few months without getting beer spilled in the keyboard, the HP Stream 13 and Acer C201 are cheaper, durable options that can weather any alcohol-related storm.
Mistakes to Avoid When Buying a Laptop for College
Don’t make the mistake of buying the wrong operating system. Some school programs will specifically require either a Windows or OSX-based laptop (be sure to check your syllabus) for programs like Photoshop and Gimp. If your learning is strictly reading books, writing papers, and taking quizzes, then you might not need the aforementioned operating systems. In that case opt for a Chromebook, especially if all your activities will be Web based.
Another thing to avoid is having too little RAM or hard drive space. A solid laptop for students will have just enough storage capacity and RAM for studying, completing assignments, and play. If your degree program requires a lot of heavy-duty software, find a laptop that has 4GB of RAM or more and a hard drive with 500GB of storage space or more. This will be enough to ensure that any software you throw on your computer runs smoothly without any hiccups. And keep in mind that an SSD hard drive will increase speeds as well, especially start up time.
And never buy at full retails. As a student always be on the look for those student discounts, even if something already seems cheap!
Most Important Features
- As far as Windows laptops go, and you don’t use many programs, look for a hard drive with a capacity of 256GB or higher. It’ll meet your needs and then some.
- If you’re a power user, look for 500GB or higher so there’s more than enough space for other content.
- If most of your activity takes place on the Web, then you might not need a hard drive larger than 32GB, which is just enough space for the operating system and storing a handful of documents offline.
- If possible, find a solid-state drive over a traditional hard drive. Performance and speeds will increase astronomically. A 256gb SSD should be plenty.
- Make sure you choose enough hard drive space. Otherwise, you may need to invest in external hard drives later, rather than by another laptop. Or have to buy an extra SD card.
- If you need to do anything more demanding than just using a web browser, to find the best college laptop, look for one that has at least 4GB of RAM or more, ideally 8GB, especially if you plan on using programs like Photoshop.
- If you’re just using a web browser, look for a college laptop with a minimum of 2GB of RAM. Your computer, whether it be Windows or Chrome OS, won’t even use that much, but it still ensures the speed and responsiveness of your machine.
- Alternatively, find a machine that you can upgrade the RAM yourself, which can save you money during the initial investment.
- It’s important to find the right operating system for your College program. If you’re in Computer Science or something that requires you to use Windows or Mac applications, it’s good to shy away from Chromebooks.
- If your studying takes place online and doesn’t require you to use any Windows or Mac applications, jump the gun and get a Chromebook.
- A lower clocked dual-core processor below 2GHz won’t slow down your laptop if you’re using it for minor tasks like writing papers, browsing the web, watching media, and so on.
- If you’re in a degree program that has some demanding programs (e.g. Photoshop, Autodesk 3DS Max, and medical software), make sure you look for a quad-core processor with a clock speed of 2GHz or higher. Not only will it last you longer running these types of programs, but rendering and general speed will be a lot faster and more efficient than a dual-core CPU below 2GHz. Pay attention engineering students. This goes for video editing too.
- At the same time, don’t overbuy in processor clock speed. For instance, there aren’t many differences between a quad-core 3.7GHz processor and a quad-core 3.9GHz processor. The only real difference is the much higher price tag. There’s little effect as far as processing power and efficiency goes.
- Finding a good display has much to do with the size that you’re comfortable with and need to work with. Whether it be 11-inch or 17-inch displays, they’re each an HD display as long as they have a resolution of 720p or higher. Anything below that is often blurry and has very little clarity. Keep this in mind when choosing screen sizes. Look for Intel UHD graphics for a top-end experience. Intel UHD is an integrated graphics unit that ups your graphics considerably. You can even go for Intel HD graphics and get good results, but UHD is probably better.
- You’ll want to make sure your display has a refresh rate of at least 60Hz to avoid any screen tearing or altered graphics when playing games and watching movies.
- The display you purchase should have built-in features for reducing eye strain, such as dimming the brightness or even having a feature for night use. This will help a lot as far as eye strain goes.
- A touch screen is nice, but not necessary for every situation. Touchscreen laptops are great for certain things, but what about your needs? The same goes for a convertible laptop like the Microsoft Surface Pro. Some things are just not ideal for every situation. Avoid gimmicks like a backlit keyboard since you are not looking for a laptop to play games.
- Some lectures can last over four hours in a single sitting, which is why you’ll want a laptop that can at least double up on two of those a day without needing a recharge.
- Most good quality laptops will have built-in power saving features that can stretch their life to 10 hours or more.
- You should be able to get a full charge in just two to three hours, allowing you to quickly get back to work whenever needed.
- The best laptops for college students will have more than a single USB port. More manufacturers are headed towards just including one USB port, but it’s truly a hassle to deal with, as you can’t really plug in any extra peripherals or accessories without connecting a USB hub first. So make sure that it also has USBC ports.
- Make sure the laptop you buy has an HDMI, DVI, VGA, or Display Port. You never know when you might need to switch to a bigger screen, and having one of these ports will let you do that, with VGA being the most common for projectors you’d find in the average classroom. For fast charging, make sure your laptop has Thunderbolt 3 USB-C port
Which Best College Laptop for Students is right for you?
Need something powerful that can handle the demands from Photoshop and/or CAD? Then the Microsoft Surface Book and Dell XPS 13 are laptops that are right up your alley.
Alternatively, if you’re looking for something more humble for doing your everyday tasks at college and maybe a little media consumption when you have some time off, then the ASUS X551MA or HP Stream 13 are both laptops to consider.
Choose a laptop based on what it does, not how it is marketed. For instance, some business laptops are great for school situations, but not all are.
And, then there are Chromebooks, web-based best college laptops. Some are hesitant to jump on the Chromebook bandwagon, and might not consider them the best laptops for college students, simply because you can’t use Windows-based software on it. You might be surprised, but more often than not, we just don’t use the programs on Windows, strictly using web browsers like Chrome and Firefox for all of our computer use.
Some popular laptops that you might want to consider are Lenovos Legion y530, the Legion y530 is solid, Chromebook x2, Zenbook Pro, Acer Nitro, Asus Vivobook, Acer Aspire, Macbook Air, Asus Zenbook, the Huawei Matebook, Envy 13t, the Macbook Pro 15inch, Lenovo ThinkPad, HP Chromebook x2, HP Envy 17, Lenovo Yoga, and the X1 Carbon just to name a few. These are some of the best laptops you can buy. Also some of the most powerful laptops.
Still not sure if these are the best laptops for college students? Then take a look at our laptops for college reviews and other laptop buying guides, as they might just be able to help you make that final decision to purchase your perfect laptop. Whether a budget laptop or a high-end laptop, you will be armed with an awesome school helper.
Also why not check out:
- Dell Inspiron Duo Review
- Dell XPS 13 Review Roundup
- How to Get a Free Laptop for College
- HP Pavilion Dv6 Laptop Review
- Meet Sol, The $300 Solar-Powered Laptop
- Microsoft Surface Book Review Roundup
- Razer Blade vs. Apple MacBook Pro 17″ (comparison)
- The Best Upcoming Laptops for College in 2019
- Toshiba Satellite A665-S6092 Laptop Review