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Best laptops for college students 2024: Top picks and expert advice

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Gone are the days of backpacks overloaded with binders and the chronic hand-cramps from trying to write as fast as possible. Nowadays, a good laptop elevates your productivity and allows you to keep all your important lesson materials in one place. Whether you’re new to campus or heading into your final year, having a laptop that’s capable, sturdy, and portable — with good battery life, natch — will help keep you on top of your studies, or gaming (no judgement).

Why you should trust us: It’s in our name, PCWorld. We’ve been reviewing laptops for decades, with exacting standards applied to all facets of the user experience, from performance benchmarks to features to the rigors of daily use. Our experts know their stuff and have curated a comprehensive list of the best laptops for college students, with their particular needs in mind.

After you finish looking over our recommendations, be sure to hit our daily updated roundup of the best laptop deals to try and score your favorite laptops on sale. Or check out our roundup of the best laptops for even more recommendations. We’ve also got a great article about the five laptop features that matter most.

Updated April 25, 2024: We replaced the Best Ultraportable for Students pick with the Acer TravelMate P6 because it’s featherlight and more affordable. We’ve also added the Asus Zenbook 14 OLED as the Best Laptop for Students Runner-up pick because it has a beautiful OLED touchscreen display and phenomenal battery life.

Best laptops for college students

Dell Inspiron Plus 14 – Best overall for students

Pros

Fantastic performance Exceptional battery life Great typing experience

Cons

CPU throttles under heavy loads No user upgrades Price When Reviewed:$999Best Prices Today:$999.99 at Dell

Why we like the Dell Inspiron Plus 14

The Dell Inspiron 14 Plus is one of the most well-rounded laptops available right now. You’re getting reliable performance, phenomenal battery life, and a superb-looking display. It only costs $999.99 too, which is several hundred dollars cheaper than our former top pick. With a PCMark 10 score of 7,061, it beat both the similarly spec’d Acer Swift Go 14 and the more expensive Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon. (PCMark 10 gauges how well a laptop handles day-to-day tasks.) It also lasted a whopping 17 hours on a single charge, which is perfect for students looking for a long-lasting machine. You don’t have to go hunting for an outlet between classes, that’s for sure.

Who should buy the Dell Inspiron Plus 14

Students looking for a well-rounded and long-lasting laptop. Performance and battery life are no doubt impressive, but the 14-inch 1400p display is also worth noting. According to our review, “the display is exceedingly well suited to office work and static imagery.” We measured a peak brightness level of 418 nits, which is plenty bright for writing papers and browsing the web. Plus, thanks to the anti-glare coating on the display, you can use this laptop in more natural lightning environments. The design is a bit boring, sure, but its hardware capabilities and long battery life make up for the uninspired aesthetics. You can’t really get much better than this–especially for $999.99.

Read our full Dell Inspiron 14 Plus review

Asus Zenbook 14 OLED – Best laptop for students runner-up

Pros

Robust build quality Attractive OLED touchscreen Good CPU and integrated GPU performance Amazing battery life

Cons

Blah design Keyboard isn’t memorable Mediocre connectivity Price When Reviewed:$849.99Best Prices Today:$849.99 at Walmart$999.99 at Asus$1199 at Amazon

Why we like the Asus Zenbook

The Asus Zenbook 14 OLED really dazzled us with its peppy processor performance, outstanding battery life, and sublime OLED touchscreen display. Movies and games “look realistic and vibrant” on the 14-inch 1200p display and the 75 watt-hour battery ran for a whopping 16 hours on a single charge. This result really blows away competitors like the Lenovo Slim 7 14 Gen 9 and the HP Pavilion Plus Laptop 14. As for how it fares in the performance department, the Asus Zenbook 14 OLED turned in an impressive PCMark 10 score of 6,772 — that means it’s plenty fast during day-to-day tasks such as web browsing, chatting over video, and so on.

Who should buy the Asus Zenbook

The Asus Zenbook 14 OLED is a fantastic choice for students because it offers outstanding battery life, speedy overall performance, and a lovely OLED display. It’s also cheaper than our current top pick. That said, it’s a runner-up for a reason. The Dell Inspiron 14 Plus, which is still the reigning champ, is the more well-rounded option of the two. It has twice the storage, a higher resolution screen, and a better keyboard. However, if you’re looking to save a hundred bucks or so, the Asus Zenbook 14 OLED is still a great option.

Read our full Asus Zenbook 14 OLED review

Acer Aspire 3 – Best budget laptop for students

Pros

Spacious keyboard with number pad HD webcam Solid video playback performance Decent business app performance Workday-long battery life

Cons

Small 128GB storage drive A little heavy Price When Reviewed:$329.99Best Prices Today:$299.99 at Amazon$329.99 at Acer Online Store$384.99 at Walmart

Why we like the Acer Aspire

For under $500, the Acer Aspire 3 laptop provides reliable performance as well as a durable build. It’s zippy enough for day-to-day productivity like binging your favorite shows on Netflix, checking e-mail, and so on. There’s even a full-sized keyboard and a 1080p screen. It even smashed the competition with a Cinebench R15 score of 1,925, edging out the Acer Aspire Vero 14, which has comparable hardware. By the way, the Cinebench benchmark measures how well a laptop handles processor-intensive workloads.

Who should buy the Acer Aspire

Anyone who’s on a restricted budget! To get more specific, we feel as though the Acer Aspire 3 is a good option for students because it’s affordable and a good performer. The HD webcam also produces “clean, crisp video” according to our review, which means you’ll always look your best in remote learning sessions. The 40 watt-hour battery is quite good too, lasting a total of eight hours on a single charge, so you don’t have to stop and go outlet hunting as you’re traversing from class to class.

Read our full Acer Aspire 3 review

Lenovo Flex 5i – Best Chromebook for students

Pros

Great build quality Vibrant touchscreen display Fast performance Nice typing experience

Cons

Stylus not included Average battery life for a Chromebook Heavier than expected Price When Reviewed:$499Best Prices Today:$329 at Best Buy

Why we like the Lenovo Flex

The Lenovo Flex 5i is a great Chromebook because of its convertible design, fast performance, superb typing experience, and touchscreen display. The chassis has a luxurious aluminum finish on it, which makes it feel three or four times as expensive. The 360-degree hinge that connects the display to the rest of the laptops feels strong and like it won’t wear out anytime soon. The keyboard is also a dream to type on and easy to adjust to, and the 1200p display produces sharp, colorful visuals. Sure, it’s heavier than we expected right out of the box and the stylus isn’t included, but those are small trade-offs in the grand scheme of things. Overall, this is a really well-rounded machine.

Who should buy the Lenovo Flex

We feel as though the Lenovo Flex 5i is a good option for those who prefer using Google’s ecosystem. The beautiful touchscreen display and the convertible design really gives it the edge over other Chromebooks and even some Windows laptops, as you usually see those features in machines that cost much more. While the nine hour battery life is a little below average for a Chromebook, it’ll still last you a full school day and then some. At the end of the day, the Lenovo Flex 5i’s list of compromises is quite small.

Read our full Lenovo Flex 5i Chromebook Plus review

MacBook Air (M3) – Best MacBook for students

Pros

Excellent battery life Great combination of price, features, and performance 256GB SSD is now two NAND chips, maintaining performance

Cons

Expensive memory upgrades Dual external display support requires closed lid Price When Reviewed:$1,299 (base)Best Prices Today:$1,199 at Amazon$1199 at B&H$1299 at Adorama

Why we like the MacBook Air

From the outstanding battery life to the spacious Liquid Retina display, the MacBook Air (M3) received high marks across the board. It comes with an 8-core CPU (M3) and a 10-core GPU as well as two Thunderbolt 4 ports and a 66.5 watt-hour battery. Performance is similar to the MacBook Pro (M3), which means it can blitz through school work and casual use tasks. The only difference between the two is that the MacBook Air doesn’t have fans, resulting in quieter operation. This laptop also managed a whopping 19 hours on a single charge, which is great news for those with jam-packed schedules and have zero time to plug into the nearest outlet.

Who should buy the MacBook Air

Anyone who prefers MacOS over other operating systems! The battery life is incredible and the laptop itself weighs just a little over three pounds, which means you can easily take it anywhere with you. The 15-inch Liquid Retina (LED) screen is considered a step-down from the MacBook Pro’s Liquid Retina XDR (mini-LED) display, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t look great, especially for everyday use. The $1,299 price tag is also reasonable for the performance and features. However, the 8GB of RAM is a little light.

Acer TravelMate P6 – Best ultraportable for students

Pros

Long battery life Light and portable A good price for a business laptop

Cons

Keyboard is a tad mushy No NPU for future Windows AI features Consumer laptops deliver similar specs at a lower price Best Prices Today:$1158.99 at CDW$1168.63 at Amazon$1199.99 at Acer

Why we like the Acer TravelMate

The Acer TravelMate P6 is so lightweight that it might just float up into the stratosphere. It weighs just 2.65 pounds and is made of magnesium-alloy, which is a very light yet durable material. This is the kind of laptop you can easily toss in a bag and take with you from class to class. The 65 watt-hour battery also lasted nearly 13 hours on a single charge — more than a full school day! In the performance department, thanks to the Intel Core i5-1335U CPU, it’s equipped to handle coursework and day-to-day tasks. In fact, it managed a respectable Cinebench R20 score of 3,065, which isn’t far behind the more powerful HP Pavilion Plus.

Who should buy the Acer TravelMate

The Acer TravelMate P6 is a good option if you’re looking for a powerful, lightweight laptop. In addition to the slimmed-down form factor, it also features a 1080p webcam with a physical privacy shutter and a 14-inch 1200p display with a 16:10 aspect ratio. The taller aspect ratio gives you more room to scroll through webpages and the 1080p webcam will make you look your best during remote sessions. Plus, the backlit keyboard offers a comfortable typing experience. What more could you ask for?

Read our full Acer TravelMate P6 review

Asus TUF Gaming A16 Advantage Edition – Best gaming laptop for students

Pros

Impressive battery life Gorgeous 16:10 display Rugged chassis

Cons

Keys feel a bit soft 720p webcam is disappointing Price When Reviewed:$1,099.99Best Prices Today:$949.99 at Best Buy$955 at Amazon

Why we like the Asus TUF Gaming

The Asus TUF Gaming A16 Advantage Edition is something of a rare gem in the sand dune. This specific model exhibits strong graphics performance as well as long battery life, which is unusual for a gaming laptop. Most gaming laptops last only a couple of hours on a single charge. Well, the Asus TUF Gaming A16 Advantage Edition and its 11 and a half hours of battery life is out here changing the script. That’s more than a full school day. Also, thanks to the Nvidia GeForce RTX 4050 GPU, it also managed 123 frames-per-second in the Rise of the Tomb Raider benchmark. That’s pretty darn good, especially for a sub-$1,000 gaming laptop.

Who should buy the Asus TUF Gaming

The Asus TUF Gaming A16 Advantage Edition is a great option for those who like to game after class. The pricing is reasonable and you’re getting reliable graphics performance as well as a spacious keyboard and decent battery life. It’s also a good purpose machine, so you can use it for coursework and day-to-day productivity. With a solid Cinebench R20 score of 589, it should have “no trouble running lightweight apps and programs,” according to our review.

Alternative option: The Lenovo LOQ 15 stands as another solid budget gaming laptop option. It’s more than capable of 1080p gaming thanks to its more powerful RTX 4060 and the design is very sci-fi inspired. That said, it didn’t nab the top pick because of the poor battery life (not unusual for a gaming laptop) and limited port selection.

Read our full Asus TUF Gaming A16 Advantage Edition review

Recent laptop reviews

Dell XPS 14 (2024): The Dell XPS 14 is a looker, but even though it can offer respectable performance, it comes at such a high cost above competent — and often faster — competitors that there’s little reason to consider it.Acer Aspire Go 15: The Acer Aspire Go 15 (2024) isn’t much to look at, but it plods along without much fuss, only struggling when demand is put on the meager integrated graphics or too much CPU horsepower is called for. For simple computing needs, it has clear value at just $300.Lenovo Yoga Book 9i: The Lenovo Yoga Book 9i is a masterfully executed dual-screen laptop that excels at providing a multiple-monitor experience on the go. This design comes with some tradeoffs, but they’re more than worth it if you want a dual-screen system.

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. For a much deeper look at our review methodology, check out how PCWorld tests laptops.

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.

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 memory. 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.

FAQ


1.

Which 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 two 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.

2.

How long should a laptop last on a single charge?

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.

3.

What about processing power?

Most students will be able to get by with an Intel Core i3 or i5 processor. You don’t need anything mega powerful for everyday tasks and school work. However, if you’re using more graphically demanding programs on the regular, then you may want to spring for an Intel Core i7 or i9. It all really depends on your workload.

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.

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