A Laptop That Lasts
If you're a student, a laptop is as essential as your textbooks and school ID. And it's not just for school work. It should also be able to handle extracurricular activities, such as social networking, watching movies, listening to music, posting photos, gaming, video chatting with the 'rents back home, and so on. And of course, the best laptops for college students need to last them for the long haul, preferably through four years of undergrad and maybe a year of grad work. Lucky for you, we have a bunch below that fit that description perfectly—and they won't drain your savings account.
Here are the basics you should keep in mind while looking for a laptop for college.
The first, and most important, thing to do is check with your school for specific system requirements. Some colleges and universities want their students equipped with Windows-based laptops, to cut down on software incompatibility issues. Others don't care what operating system you use, whether it's Windows, macOS, or even Linux if you're a hard-core type. Many institutions have on-site repair centers that only service university-bought laptops, where the turn-around time is much quicker than if you were to send it overnight to the original manufacturer. Also note that most schools offer price breaks for particular vendors and include extensive software bundles, which can shave off a good amount from your laptop purchase.
Keeping It Light
A big screen may not be such a good idea. It's nice to have a mini home theater in your dorm room or play the best games in full 1080p glory, but a laptop with a big screen will be a real chore to haul across campus while you're running from class to class. You're better off with something that's light: If screen size matters less to you than convenience, a super-thin ultraportable might be the way to go. But for most people, a maximum 13- or 14-inch widescreen is ideal, as it will make room for other items in your backpack and minimize the weight burden. Depending on your tolerance level, a smaller display works as long as you understand that full webpages and productivity applications involve more scrolling, and fonts appear smaller than they do on larger screens.
Essays, research papers, and chatting online with your classmates will take up most of your computing time, so a full-size keyboard and comfortable touchpad are crucial. When you venture below a 13-inch platform, you run the risk of not getting the same typing experience. The easiest way to ensure that you have the best keyboard is to stop by a brick-and-mortar store and spend some time typing on prospective choices. (If you decide to buy a smaller, less expensive laptop, it's probably worth investing in a standalone keyboard you can keep at home for when you need to do a lot of typing.)
How Much Power Do You Need?
Depending on your budget, laptops offer a wide selection of processors—for instance, you can choose one that maximizes performance or one that favors battery life. Or you can select one that plays to both strengths: Intel Core CPUs have the benefits of both power and battery efficiency. If you desire all-day battery life, it's best to go with a Chromebook, which typically runs on a low-powered processor. If performance ranks high on the list, an Intel Core i7 CPU gives you the most oomph but at the expense of battery life.
If you like playing games in your downtime, you might want to splurge on a more expensive gaming laptop. Most general-purpose machines, especially at sub-$1,000 prices, won't have the discrete graphics card necessary to make the hottest AAA titles look good and play smoothly. These also can help when transcoding a video, say, or watching a Blu-ray movie, but, like a processor, they also feast on the battery.
The good news is that, in every other case (unless you're an architecture major with a heavy reliance on CAD software), most integrated GPUs should be more than enough for the day-to-day tasks you'll face.
With the increasing prevalence of cloud storage and Web applications, having plentiful local storage space is somewhat less vital now than it used to be, but you should still make sure that your laptop meets your needs. If you plan to install a lot of programs or want to hang on to files, you'll need 256GB of space or more. If you're a bit more low-key, or are content with leaving a lot of your work online, you can get by with a laptop with less space.
Whichever way you go, remember that storage affects speed, too. If you go with a hard drive because you get more storage for less money, know that it will be noticeably slower than a solid-state drive (SSD), though the higher cost and lower capacity of a faster SSD may be a trade-off that some people are willing to make. The good news is that by plugging an external hard drive into your laptop's USB port, you can add more space whenever you need it. Although you probably won't have to do this unless you're a video junkie or an aspiring filmmaker, it's a good option to have.
A sizable battery can be your biggest ally in a day filled with classes and extracurricular activities. Most school-oriented laptops come with multiple battery options. Others have only one—and it's non-removable. In this case, figure out where battery life ranks in the grand scheme of things. It might be a good idea to purchase an additional battery, if an extended one isn't available. The more "cells" you buy, the better the battery life. A big battery is accompanied by some heft, but the weight gain is well worth it if it means leaving the system unplugged from dawn until dusk.
What About Chromebooks?
In the last several years, there has been a strong push by chromebook manufacturers into the education market. And chromebooks themselves have gone from being glorified netbooks running the Chrome OS to laptops that are still Web-centric but have a relatively full feature set. If, like many schools, the one you're attending puts its coursework in the cloud, a Chromebook will offer you just as much functionality as a regular laptop, and have longer battery life. It will also likely cost you a lot less than other types of notebooks, as Chromebook prices typically run between $200 and $300. Just be sure you have easy, constant Wi-Fi access, as there is scant storage on these systems.
In the market for a Chrome OS laptop? We've rounded up the best Chromebooks available.
Consider a Hybrid
In recent years, a new category of laptop/tablet hybrid has emerged. Hybrids are capable of functioning as a traditional clamshell-style laptop when you need them to, but can transform into tablets when that's a more convenient form factor. Some (generally called convertibles) sport a folding design that flips the keyboard out of the way, while others (detachables) allow you to dock a detachable tablet PC with an accessory keyboard for laptop-like functionality.
Wait For Windows 10 S?
Microsoft's new student-centric version of its operating system is a locked-down version of Windows, aimed at preventing malware from being inadvertently downloaded. It's compatible with any app in the Windows Store, but doesn't allow third-party Windows programs unless you convert your laptop to Windows 10 Pro (which is free through the end of 2017, then $49). This version of the OS also only supports the Edge Browser. It comes preloaded on the Microsoft Surface Laptop (a $999 ultraportable model with a target placed firmly on Apple's MacBook Air).
A Word on Warranties
Almost every laptop is backed by at least a one-year warranty on parts and labor. Extended warranties are also available, but whether they're worth it depends on who you are as a user. The standard warranty doesn't cover accidents that stem from a spilled drink or a drop on a hard surface. Most manufacturers sell accident coverage as a separate plan, on top of extended warranties that work on top of a standard one, so you might end up spending close to $300 for three years of coverage. Apple offers a maximum three-year extended warranty ($250), while most Windows-based laptop vendors will offer up to four years.
In our opinion, if the warranty costs more than 15 percent of the total laptop price, you're better off spending the money on backup drives or services that minimize downtime in case something does go awry. Of course, you can't put a price tag on peace of mind. In rare instances, the logic board or the display—the most expensive pieces of a laptop—can fail and cost you in repairs half of what the laptop is worth. Faulty components usually break down during the first year; anything after that is probably more about regular wear and tear.
So, what the best laptop to get for school? True, there are even more choices on the market today, and slogging through them can be a bit daunting. No worries, we did the slogging for you. Check out the hottest laptops to grace the dorm room, college classroom, and campus quad for this school year. For more general factors to look for when shopping, check out our overall top laptop picks, as well as our favorite budget notebooks and the best desktops for students. For more shopping advice for school, visit our Back-to-School Tech Guide.
%displayPrice% at %seller% The Acer Chromebook 14 gives you just about all the features and quality you need from a basic laptop, plus extra niceties like a metal body and almost 12 hours of battery life. Read the full review
%displayPrice% at %seller% The Asus Chromebook Flip (C302CA-DHM4) might be more expensive than the average chromebook, but its rich selection of features makes it well worth the extra money. Read the full review
%displayPrice% at %seller% The $180 Dell Inspiron 11 (3162) is a competent performer with all the basic features and functionality you want in a budget ultraportable laptop, plus 64-bit Windows 10, long battery life, and a sturdy build. Read the full review
%displayPrice% at %seller% The Dell Inspiron 15 3000 Series (3558) is a capable desktop-replacement laptop with solid specs, plenty of storage, and long battery life-all for less than $350. Read the full review
%displayPrice% at %seller% The HP Chromebook 13 G1 is a premium laptop that's thin, stylish, well built, and primed to help you get the most out of Google and other online business services. Read the full review
%displayPrice% at %seller% The Lenovo IdeaPad 100S-11 is a well-built ultraportable laptop that features a lightweight design, competent performance, and more than 11 hours of battery life, at a very low price. Read the full review
%displayPrice% at %seller% Lenovo's Miix 510 is an attractive Windows tablet/keyboard combo with top-notch performance and enough future-proofing that it can replace your current laptop. Read the full review
%displayPrice% at %seller% The redesigned Apple MacBook Pro laptop is undeniably slim and sleek, with a better screen and improved performance over its predecessor. But because of its sole reliance on USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports, you'll have to either update all of your old peripherals or carry a handful of adapters with you. Read the full review
%displayPrice% at %seller% The Dell Chromebook 3189 is a durable convertible laptop, with a long-lasting battery, a multimode hinge, and enough processing juice to help power online and classroom learning. Read the full review
%displayPrice% at %seller% Though it still offers speed, long battery life, a lovely metal build, and a full feature set, the New Razer Blade Stealth is now even more affordable thanks to an Intel Core i5 processor. Read the full review