The best laptops for college students

The new school year is almost upon us. Are you ready? Well, now is the best time to be looking for a college-ready laptop to help you ace the upcoming term. Whether you’re just starting out or you’re heading into your final year, you’re going to need a good laptop for college research and writing papers. But with so many different brands and confusing model numbers out there, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

Don’t worry, we’re here to help. We’ve pulled together a comprehensive list of the best laptops that can help you succeed in college. We have already tested and reviewed all of these picks as part of our ongoing quest to find the best laptops.

While most (if not all) of the laptops on this list are fantastic productivity machines, we’ve also got picks for gamers and options that will meet every price point. If you’re looking for a great deal, you may also find some low-cost gems in our roundup of the best laptop deals, which we update daily.

On the lookout for a new computer to help you make the dean’s list next semester—or just frag your friends in Apex Legends? Our curated list of back-to-school deals offers up the best sales on Chromebooks, MacBooks, iPads, and more.

Updated 08/03/2022 Check out our latest review of the Lenovo Legion 5 Pro. This reasonably priced mid-range gaming machine comes with a 12th-gen Intel processor, an RTX 3070, and excellent connectivity features.

Or if you’re looking for something more portable, be sure to read our review of the new Acer Swift 5. Looking past the disappointing trackpad, this small form-factor laptop has a clean and lightweight design, modern components, and a bright display.

Lenovo IdeaPad Slim 7 Carbon – Best overall laptop

Pros

2.8K OLED display is gorgeous

Booming audio

Quiet operation

Strong application and multimedia performance

Cons

So-so keyboard

Lid is so thin it flexes a bit too much

Below-average battery life


Best Prices Today:


$979.99 at Newegg

From zippy multimedia performance to punchy audio, the Lenovo IdeaPad Slim 7 Carbon has a lot to offer at a reasonable price point. The real star of the show is the 14-inch 2880×1800 OLED display. According to the reviewer, “the contrast is outstanding, with the deepest blacks and brightest whites.” As for colors, they’re “accurate and noticeably vibrant.” In addition to its stunning panel, the laptop also weighs just a little over 2 pounds, making it a capable travel laptop. There are a few minor shortcomings, though. The keyboard isn’t the best and battery life is less than stellar. But in the end, the pros really outweigh the cons here.

Read our full
Lenovo IdeaPad Slim 7 Carbon review

Acer Aspire 5 – Best budget laptop

Pros

Affordable price

Rugged build

Great keyboard

Good selection of ports

Cons

Subpar webcam

Annoying bloatware comes pre-installed

Touchpad is a little hard to use


Best Prices Today:


$380.00 at Amazon

With its affordable price point, decent performance, and robust build, the Acer Aspire 5 is a good budget option for most people. While the color scheme is a little boring, the build is surprisingly rugged. Our tester was surprised by its “solid, durable feel.” The keyboard is nice, too. It has a spacious layout, which is perfect for longer typing sessions. Performance is fast enough for general-use tasks like writing emails and browsing the web, but that’s about it. If you’re shopping around for a solid everyday laptop that won’t break the bank, the Aspire 5 is definitely worth a look.

Read our full Acer Aspire 5 review

Acer Chromebook Spin 713 – Best Chromebook

Pros

Strong performance

Good build quality

Nice selection of ports

Beautiful display

Solid battery life

Cons

No privacy shutter on the webcam

Boring design

Fan noise is a bit loud


Best Prices Today:


Not Available at Amazon

If you’re looking for a great convertible laptop, the Acer Chromebook Spin 713 will surely fit the bill. You can either prop it up like a tent or flip the screen around and use it like a tablet. We were also impressed with its vibrant display, all-day battery life, and diverse selection of ports. The design is a little utilitarian, but this is the kind of machine that favors function over aesthetics. The build is robust and there was hardly any flex in the keyboard tray. There are a couple of downsides like the loud fan noise and the lack of a physical privacy shutter on the webcam, but these issues are relatively minor. Overall, the Spin 713 is a solid convertible laptop that performs well.

HP Chromebook x2 11 da0023dx – Best folio-style Chromebook

Pros

Gorgeous 2K touchscreen

Solid performance

Excellent battery life

Robust design

Cons

Trackpad is too sensitive at times

Light on ports


Best Prices Today:


Not Available at Best Buy

Ah, folio-style laptops. While some may find them cumbersome to deal with, our reviewer really liked this one. The HP Chromebook x2 11 is one of the best 2-in-1 laptops you can buy. The tablet’s aluminum chassis feels rugged and like it’ll last quite a while. The detachable keyboard took some getting used to, but ended up being fine for long typing sessions. The rear plate, which transforms into a kickstand that holds up the tablet, connects to the back of the tablet via magnets. The reviewer found the connection to be both clean and strong. As for the performance, it’s about what you’d expect out of a Chromebook. It’s zippy enough for everyday tasks like browsing the web and so on.

Read our full
HP Chromebook x2 11 review

Asus ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition – Best budget gaming laptop

Pros

Outclasses every CPU in competing laptops

Radeon RX GPU outclasses similarly-priced GeForce GPUs in conventional gaming.

Surprisingly good audio quality

Cons

No webcam

Very bulky 280-watt power brick

Nvidia GPUs outclass Radeon in ray tracing and content creation.


Best Prices Today:


$1649.99 at Best Buy

If you’re serious about gaming, the Asus ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition is one heck of a powerhouse. The review unit we tested had an 8-core AMD Ryzen 9 5900HX processor, an AMD Radeon RX 6800M GPU (with 12GB of GDDR6), 16GB of memory, and 512GB of NVMe SSD storage. You can play older titles on high to very-high graphics settings and newer games on medium. There are a few shortcomings, though. Battery life is lackluster and it’s pretty darn heavy. That said, poor battery life and a clunky form factor isn’t unusual for a gaming laptop, and if you’re looking to play some games when you aren’t busy working on assignments, this powerhouse offers much more value than most of its rivals. Looking for something a little more robust to fulfill your gaming needs? Check out our other picks for best gaming laptops.

Read our full
Asus ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition review

XPG Xenia 15 KC – Most portable gaming laptop

Pros

Very light

Very quiet

(relatively) very fast

Cons

Subpar RGB

Just barely adequate audio

SD card reader barely adequate


Best Prices Today:


$1,999.99 at Amazon

When it comes to gaming laptops, many if not most of them are pretty bulky and heavy, often tipping the scales at five or six pounds. Well, that’s not the case with the XPG Xenia 15 KC. It weighs a little over four pounds, which is fairly lightweight for a gaming laptop. Plus, it runs very quiet. According to our review, it “rarely makes noise under normal use.” That’s impressive, as most gaming laptops tend to sound like a rocket blasting off. If you’re looking for something that’s both quiet and portable, the Xenia 15 KC is an excellent choice.

Read our full
XPG Xenia 15 KC review

Swift X (SFX14-41G-R1S6) – Best for content creation

Pros

Stellar ultraportable performance.

Sneaky gaming laptop with RTX 3050 Ti graphics.

Impressive battery life considering high-end parts.

Cons

Display feels cramped for creative work.

Fan gets loud during heavy workloads.

Poorly placed Pg-Up and -Down buttons.


Best Prices Today:


$1,033.96 at Amazon

From stellar performance to the lightweight form factor, the Acer Swift X has a lot to offer. In addition to handling content-creation tasks, it can also run a few lightweight games as well. However, its biggest strength is its battery life. Despite the power-hungry internals, the Swift X’s battery lasted more than 12 hours in our tests. Depending on your use, you won’t need to go hunting for an outlet all that much. It’s perfect for college students.

Read our full
Swift X (SFX14-41G-R1S6) review

Samsung Galaxy Book Pro 360 5G – Best coffee shop laptop

Pros

Gorgeous OLED screen

Simply outstanding battery life

5G option for mobile work

Terrific inking experience, and the pen is included

Decent value

Cons

Poor performance in places

Slow, laggy SSD

Almost out of date

The Samsung Galaxy Book Pro 360 5G offers a gorgeous OLED screen, superb battery life, and an excellent inking experience. It also has a 360-degree hinge, which means you can fold it into a tent or swing the display around and use it like a tablet. It’s very versatile, which may appeal to students or business professionals. In our review, our tester described it as “an excellent coffee shop PC.” The only drawback is the slow SSD. That said, those issues have been common with Windows 11.

Read our full
Samsung Galaxy Book Pro 360 5G review

Acer Swift 3 SF316-51 – Best big screen laptop

Pros

Solid chassis and build quality

Large, attractive 16-inch 1080p screen

Enjoyable keyboard and touchpad

USB-C with charging and DisplayPort

Cons

Webcam, microphone, and speakers don’t impress

Intel processor falls behind AMD alternatives 

Disappointing battery life

Lots of bloatware

If you’re a college student working with a modest budget, the Acer Swift 3 is a fantastic option. It features an attractive 16-inch 1080p display, a solid chassis, and an enjoyable keyboard and touchpad. However, battery life is subpar, so you’ll want to keep the charger on hand. This is rather unfortunate, as the Swift 3’s slim profile makes it a capable laptop for travel. If you don’t mind the lackluster battery life, this is a great laptop for watching movies and streaming video on.

Read our full
Acer Swift 3 SF316-51 review

How we tested

The PCWorld team puts each and every Windows laptop through a series of benchmarks that test GPU and CPU performance, battery life, and so on. The idea is to push the laptop to its limits and then compare it against others we’ve tested. Chromebooks, on the other hand, go through a series of web-based tests. It wouldn’t be fair or possible to run the same kinds of tests on a Chromebook, as they’re Chrome OS-based machines. Below, you’ll find a breakdown of each test and the reasons why we run them.

Windows laptops

PCMark 10: PCMark 10 is how we determine how well the laptop handles lighter tasks like web browsing, word processing, spreadsheets, and so on.HandBrake: HandBrake is more intensive than PCMark 10. It basically measures how long a laptop’s CPU takes to encode a beefy 30GB file. Cinebench: Cinebench is a brief stress test of the CPU cores. It does this by rendering a 2D scene over a short period of time.3DMark: 3DMark checks if 3D performance remains consistent over time by running graphic-intensive clips. Video rundown test: To gauge battery life, we loop a 4K video using Windows 10’s Movies & TV app until the laptop dies.

Chromebooks

CrXPRT 2: The CrXPRT 2 benchmark tests a Chromebook’s battery life. Speedometer 2.0: This test determines a Chromebook’s web browser performance. It simulates this by adding, completing, and removing a to-do list.Basemark Web 3.0: This benchmark gauges how well a Chromebook can handle web-based applications. Kraken 1.1: Kraken 1.1 is a JavaScript performance benchmark. Jetstream 2: Jetstream 2 is a combination of WebAssembly and JavaScript benchmarks. This is a way to gauge how well a Chromebook runs advanced workloads.

What to look for in a laptop for college

The first thing to consider is budget. How much are you willing to spend on a laptop? If you’re working with an inflexible budget, Chromebooks are a good option. They’re affordable and designed to handle everyday tasks like writing papers, working on spreadsheets, and so on. Chromebook prices can range anywhere from $200 up to $1,000. If you want to spend a bit more, laptops with convertible touchscreens (otherwise known as 2-in-1s) offer a great deal of functionality. You can flip the screen around and use it like a tablet or prop it up like an easel for watching movies.

If you’ve got a jam-packed schedule, you’ll probably be running from class to class with very little downtime in between. That’s why we recommend a laptop with a long-lasting battery. We recommend something that’ll last 7 to 10-plus hours on a single charge, unless you want a notebook that can play games on the side—gaming laptops are notorious for their shorter endurance, even during everyday tasks. That 7 to 10 hours is a good figure if you plan on taking your laptop with you everywhere.

Things like navigating your e-mail or watching Netflix will require more RAM. We recommend springing for 8GB of RAM or more. 4GB of RAM is fine and good for web browsing and basic office work, but 8GB is better for having more tabs open and whatnot. Plus, applications like Google Chrome and Spotify tend to eat up a lot of RAM. Most people can get by with 4GB in a pinch if you’re on a tight budget, but you won’t be able to multitask as much.

The final thing is a decent keyboard. In college, you’re going to be spending a lot of time typing. Depending on your personal preference, you may want either a full or short travel keyboard. Mechanical keyboards, for example, normally have longer travel. This helps prevent accidental keystrokes. The keys also give a lot of tactile feedback, as they bounce back after they’re pressed down.

For more specifics regarding the hardware you want inside your laptop, be sure to check out our comprehensive guide on how to buy a budget laptop without getting screwed, as well as our broader cheatsheet on what to look for in a laptop CPU and GPU.

FAQ

1.

Can you use your Chromebook for gaming?

Simply put, no—at least, not well. It comes down to what type of gaming you intend to do. Chromebooks can run web games and Android games perfectly well. But if you’re looking to play the latest high-powered titles such as Elden Ring, a Chromebook just won’t cut it. This is mainly due to the fact that most titles only run on Windows and Chromebooks typically don’t come with sufficient graphics power.

All that said, Google is trying to bring cloud gaming to its Chromebooks. Cloud gaming services work by using a remote PC or console to play games streamed through the cloud down onto the Chromebook. However, until this service becomes more common, Chromebooks are not good options for gaming.

2.

Can you game with integrated graphics?

Yes, recently the the latest integrated graphics processors from the likes of Intel and AMD can handle modern PC games at reasonable settings. For example, Intel’s latest Iris Xe line of processors with integrated graphics have been shown to run some of the latest releases at 1080p and 30fps. Be careful, however, as not all integrated graphics are created equal.

Regarding gaming performance, Intel and AMD’s integrated graphics have made huge leaps in recent years. So if you’re on a budget or looking for an ultra-thin laptop and the only options include integrated graphics, fear not, you can still game on. For more information check out Intel’s Core 12th-gen Iris Xe versus AMD’s brand new Ryzen 6000 RDNA 2.

3.

What laptop size is best?

This is mostly personal preference. Students who bring their laptops to class or intend to travel a lot should consider a smaller, more portable size. Anything in the neighborhood of 13 to 14 inches is recommended. However, if you want to use your laptop for gaming, then you should consider something in the 15- to 17-inch range. It’s also important to keep in mind the weight of the laptop before buying it. Ultra thin laptops can weigh a featherlight 2 pounds while hefty gaming rigs top the scales at three or four times that—not exactly something you want to carry in a backpack everyday.

Laptops

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