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There’s no tool quite as important to a modern student as a decent laptop. Whether it’s for typing up notes, writing essays, creating 3D models, conducting in-depth research sessions into the early hours, or just unwinding with some Netflix at the end of a long day of study, the best laptops for college students can make the experience more efficient and enjoyable.
Different studies require different hardware though. If you’re looking to do some architectural design work, you’ll need something pretty powerful with a big screen like the Asus ZenBook Pro Duo 15. If you just need something for taking a few notes and watching instructional videos, then a budget Chromebook like the Asus Chromebook Flip C434 might be a better fit. Whatever kind of laptop you’re after and whatever your budget, here’s a selection of the best laptops for college students you can buy in 2021.
Best Overall Laptop
Dell Inspiron 14
Dell Inspiron 14 – 2021 refresh
The Dell Inspiron 14 has been one of the better laptops for students for several years, and with its refresh in 2021, it just got that bit better. There’s now a range of options with Intel Tiger Lake-H CPUs, including the excellently-capable 11300H in this model. Paired with powerful Xe graphics, it’s equipped for some impressive entry-level gaming performance when you’re finished studying.
Its chassis features built-in Thunderbolt 4 ports, a single USB-A 3.2 port and an HDMI video output alongside a headphone jack, making this a versatile laptop for connecting all sorts of external devices and accessories. It also comes with a decent webcam and support for Wi-Fi 6, so it can enjoy the highest speed internet access possible.
Although there are more powerful laptops out there, it’s hard to resist this model at up to a third off. It’s limited to 8GB of RAM, and there’s no dedicated GPU for extra gaming power but at just over $500 for a full-fat Windows experience with a powerful, new-generation quad-core CPU, it’s an absolute steal.
Best 2-in-1 Convertible Laptop
HP Pavilion 14 360
HP Pavilion x360 14” Touchscreen Laptop, 11th Gen Intel Core i5-1135G7
Your first instinct when preparing for the fall semester is to have a laptop at the ready, but times are changing and tablets are increasingly a formidable alternative. Why choose one over the other though? Convertible 2-in-1 laptops are a great middle ground, able to operate as a capable laptop but then can flip around into tablet mode when you need a touchscreen device instead. There’s even an intermediate mode—you can “tent” the laptop so it can be used to deliver group presentations or watch some Netflix in your downtime.
The HP Pavilion x360 14 is a great option for students who need an affordable, capable laptop that also doubles as a gorgeous tablet. It sports an 11th-generation Intel processor with onboard Xe graphics, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of high-speed SSD storage. That’s not extensive or bleeding edge, but it’s enough power and space for the average work machine and has enough space to store a few movies, games or extensive projects without running into difficulties.
The 1080p screen works as a touchscreen in both laptop and tablet mode, and you can use a stylus as well. It has a couple of USB-A ports and one USB-C, as well as an HDMI connection for projecting your work on a larger display and an SD slot for reading media cards.
If you want a more powerful 2-in-1, consider the HP Envy x360 instead. With its eight core processor, 16GB of RAM and 512GB of SSD storage, it’s an altogether more capable machine. At a more than 50% higher price, though, it’s a much more sizeable purchase.
Best Budget Mac
Apple MacBook Air 13
MacBook Air 13.3″ Laptop – Apple M1 chip – 8GB Memory – 256GB SSD
Apple made a huge splash with the introduction of its M1 chip, and it’s made even the more affordable and portable MacBook Air an absolute powerhouse of a machine that’s more than capable of being the perfect right-hand gadget for any student. If you or your loved one are fans of Apple’s ecosystem or MacOS-specific applications, then the MacBook Air is one of the best laptops you can buy. It’s affordable, powerful and stunning to look at.
The MacBook Air might not be as portable as the most lightweight of laptops today, but it’s still the most travel-friendly of the modern MacBook lineup, and with the new M1 processor it’s almost as powerful as the high-end MacBook Pro. Combined with a stunning display, amazing build-quality, great battery life, and 256GB or high-speed storage, it’s a fantastic laptop for any student — especially if they’re an Apple fan.
Better yet, the prices are coming down all the time. This model is well below $1,000, making it a great pick if you’re looking for a MacBook on a tighter budget. If you can afford it, try to skip over the older models as they’re not a patch on this fantastic machine.
Best Laptop for Creatives
Asus ZenBook Pro Duo 15
ASUS 15.6″ ZenBook Pro Duo 15 OLED Multi-Touch Laptop (Celestial Blue)
For creative work like video editing, 3D design, architecture, music production or similar disciplines, you need something a little more powerful than the average laptop for students. You need a capable processor, a powerful GPU to handle all the 3D calculations, and a gorgeous, high-resolution display to show it all on. Or how about two of them?
The Asus Pro Duo 15 features not just one gorgeous OLED display, but two, giving you some of the best color clarity and contrast of any laptop out there, whilst also opening up the potential for heaps of touchscreen controls, right at your fingertips. To power this bevy of pixels, it comes equipped with a top-tier 10th-generation Intel CPU, and pairs it with an Nvidia RTX 3070.
The GPU there is monstrously powerful, and though the CPU isn’t quite cutting edge, it has eight cores with 16 threads and more than enough thermal headroom to maintain a high clock speed whatever task you throw at it. This is a stunning laptop no matter what you want to do with it, but the second screen gives it some amazing touchscreen options for artists, designers and editors alike.
Best Budget Chromebook
Asus Chromebook Flip C434
Asus Chromebook Flip C434
You can certainly find less expensive Chromebooks, but even as if you’re searching for a budget machine, it’s a good idea to balance price against features, build quality and overall specs. On these counts, the Asus Chromebook Flip C434 is an excellent low-cost Chromebook. It’s powered by an Intel Core m3 processor and has a generous 64GB of storage. But the 14-inch screen is the real star. It’s a touchscreen and has a full HD display, despite the fact that the whole laptop is sized like a 13-inch device. Asus manages to pack it into the smaller footprint by making the screen bezel so small.
Like the HP Pavilion x360, this is a 2-in-1 convertible; you can use it as a laptop or flip the screen around and turn it into a tablet. And at just three pounds and 0.6 inches thick, it’s highly portable and feels natural in any mode.
Like all Chromebooks, this laptop runs Chrome OS, which means that you’re limited to online apps and services; you can’t install programs on the desktop like you can with Windows and Macs. There are a lot of advantages to this approach—the laptop is nearly immune to viruses and malware, it’s easy to maintain, turns on instantly and more. If you’re not tech savvy, a Chromebook is a good option as long as your coursework can be done in Google Drive and similar online apps.
Best Premium Chromebook
Google Pixelbook Go i5
Google Pixelbook Go i5 Chromebook
So you’re intrigued by the simplicity of a Chromebook and planning to take one to class in the fall, but you don’t want to hindered by sluggish performance? Well, the good news is that Chromebooks start at a lower price point, so you can step up to a higher model without breaking the bank. The Pixelbook Go i5 is perhaps the best premium Chromebook you can buy, and it is offered by Google, the company the invented the Chromebook to begin with.
Inside, this laptop is definitely upgraded. It has an Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB RAM, and a generous 128GB of storage (that might be small for Windows or a Mac, but it’s as much as you’re likely to ever need in Chrome). Even so, it’s a featherweight at just two pounds.
This is a straightforward clamshell laptop — not a convertible — and features a full HD 13.3-inch touchscreen display. The keyboard is backlit for easier typing in dim rooms, and a pair of USB-C ports for connectivity. Perhaps the best news of all is the battery life, which is about 15 solid hours. That’s taking the concept of an “all day battery” to a new level. And if it’s running low, a 20-minute quick charge can give you about two hours of runtime.
Best Budget Windows Laptop
Lenovo Flex 5 14
Lenovo Flex 5 14″ 2-in-1 Laptop
Budget Windows laptops don’t get quite as cheap as their Chromebook counterparts, but they do offer improved performance and the full Windows experience, which means access to all of the important software you’ll find on bigger laptops and desktop PCs. This can be especially important considering the last year and the drive towards ecosystems like Microsoft’s Teams for managing schedules and video calling with friends, tutors and families at a distance.
The Lenovo Flex 5 14 is a great example of a capable budget laptop, incorporating just about everything you could ask from a contemporary machine. It’s powered by a supremely capable six-core AMD Ryzen 4500U processor, with onboard Vega graphics added into the mix for a little entry-level gaming power. The 1080p screen isn’t too bright, but its 1080p resolution is crisp and clear, and contrast is good enough for most tasks.
With 16GB of RAM and 256GB of SSD storage, it feels nippy and responsive in everyday use, and has plenty of space to store all sorts of projects and even the odd movie or 10. This is a 2-in-1, too, so if you ever want to do some drawing, take handwritten notes or control apps best suited to a touchscreen, you can flip the Flex 5’s screen over and turn it into a tablet.
Best Premium Windows Laptop
Dell XPS 13
Dell XPS 13 7390
The Dell XPS 13 has been one of the best laptops for anyone, for years, and that’s still true today. It combines a lightweight chassis, with excellent battery life, a sturdy frame and powerful internal hardware for a uniquely all-round combination. It looks good, is easy to use and the webcam is even mounted on the top again!
Under the hood of this 2021 version, the XPS 13 9310 features a powerful quad-core Intel Core i7-1185G7 Tiger Lake processor combined with 16GB of high-speed memory and half a terabyte of fast SSD storage. The onboard graphics are more than capable for entry-level 3D work and basic gaming, and there aren’t any research or office tasks that the CPU can’t handle.
The display is a real standout with this laptop too. It’s 1080p, but it’s supremely bright at up to 500 nits and the contrast is excellent. Combined with the InfinityEdge tiny bezels, this screen looks way bigger than it actually is, making this 13-inch laptop one of the best for any student with bigger projects in mind. It’s not cheap but you get a lot for your money.
Best for Gaming After Class
Asus ROG Zephyrus G14
Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 Gaming Laptop
Gaming laptops can look like they’re designed for college too. The Asus ROG Zephyrus wouldn’t look out of place amongst a sea of MacBooks, but it has a secret under its serene aesthetic: it’s super powerful. It pairs an AMD Ryzen 9 5900HS with an Nvidia RTX 3060 Max-Q graphics chip for amazing gaming power that will easily deliver 100+ FPS in most modern games and Esports titles. You can take full advantage of that, too, thanks to this gaming laptop’s 144Hz refresh rate 1080p display.
This laptop isn’t big and bulky like many of its contemporaries though. Sporting a lean 0.7-inch thickness and a weight of just 3.6 pounds, it’s super portable and has a decent battery life that will mean you can game for 5-6 hours at a time before reaching for a charger. If you want even more gaming power, the new-generation Razer Blade laptops are a great alternative, but they’re more expensive and are much more easily identifiable as a gaming machine.
I’m a senior editor at Forbes and though I started out in New Jersey, I am currently living in Los Angeles. After college, I served in the Air Force where I operated
I’m a senior editor at Forbes and though I started out in New Jersey, I am currently living in Los Angeles. After college, I served in the Air Force where I operated satellites, taught space operations and performed space launch planning.
After that, I spent eight years as a content lead on the Windows team at Microsoft. As a photographer, I have photographed wolves in their natural environment; I have also been a scuba instructor and co-hosted several podcasts that include Battlestar Recaptica and currently, Rick and Dave Control the Universe.
I am the author of nearly three dozen books about photography, mobile tech, and more; I’ve even authored an interactive storybook for kids. I have contributed to sites including CNET, PC World and Business Insider before joining the team at Forbes Vetted.
I’m a tech journalist working and living in Gloucestershire, in the UK. I ran my own PC hardware review website for many years before transitioning into freelance
I’m a tech journalist working and living in Gloucestershire, in the UK. I ran my own PC hardware review website for many years before transitioning into freelance writing. I’ve covered everything from the rise of Bitcoin and the encroachment of anti-privacy laws, to tabletop wargaming and advances in virtual reality. I’ve written, authored, edited, and copywritten for a broad array of the most prominent publications, including Digital Trends, Lifewire, PCGamer, The Inquirer, and KitGuru. I’ve also written two novels, and contributed backstory and dialogue to a handful of games. I am passionate about all the cutting-edge hardware inside and out the latest gadgets, PCs, and consoles, even if I can’t always afford them.