The Best Laptops for College Students in 2021


For students, a laptopis just as important as textbooks and a student ID—and it’s not just for taking notes and doing homework. It should also be capable of handling your major extracurricular activities, such as keeping up with social media, streaming movies, listening to music, posting photos, gaming, and video chatting with your parents.

A laptop that you can use wherever you are is essential if you’re learning from home a few days a week and going to campus the rest of the time. In 2020 and 2021, laptops will be more important than ever for students, as many colleges and universities implement a mix of in-person and remote learning to meet social distancing requirements imposed by the coronavirus pandemic’s ups and downs.

Fortunately, we have a number of models that fit that description perfectly—and because the majority of them are under $1,000, they won’t drain your savings account too much (at least in comparison to tuition payments). A laptop for a college student should respect your budget while lasting for the long haul, preferably through four years of undergrad and possibly a year of graduate work, especially in these trying times.

Here are some basic considerations to make when shopping for a laptop for college.

First Off: Research Your College

(Or maybe not.) They might have firm hardware recommendations. The first and most important step is to find out what your school’s system requirements are.

Some colleges and universities want their students to have the necessary skills.Windows-based laptops to avoid software incompatibilities and to keep technical support focused on a single platform. Others are unconcerned about the operating system you use, whether it’s Windows, Linux, or Mac.macOS, or even Linux if you’re a true Linux fan. Some universities have onsite computer repair centers that only service laptops purchased from the university or a campus-affiliated computer store; using one of these facilities will save you time compared to sending it overnight to the original manufacturer.

As a result, before going to your local superstore or favorite online seller, you might want to check out the campus store. Also keep in mind that most schools offer discounts to specific vendors and include extensive software bundles, which can help you save a lot of money on your laptop purchase.

Keeping It Light: Why Weight Matters

Not every student will agree, but a big-screen notebook may not be the best choice depending on how far you’ll be carrying it every day.

If screen size isn’t as important to you as convenience, a super-thin tablet is the way to go. It’s best if you go with something light: It’s nice to have a mini home theater in your dorm room or play the latest games in 1080p glory on a big screen, but lugging a 5-pound laptop with a 15-inch or 17-inch screen across campus while running from class to class will be a chore. ultraportable might be the way to go.

A smaller display may work depending on your tolerance level, as long as you understand that full web pages and productivity apps will require more scrolling, and fonts will appear smaller than on larger screens, assuming the same resolution and zoom level. A maximum 13- or 14-inch widescreen panel is ideal for most people, as it will free up space in your backpack and reduce the weight burden.


(Photo: Zlata Ivleva)

Also keep in mind that if you go smaller than a 13-inch laptop, you risk not getting the same typing experience. The simplest way to ensure that you have the best keyboard is to go to a physical store and spend some time typing on different size classes of potential choices. The majority of your computing time will be spent on essays, research papers, and online chatting with classmates, so a full-size keyboard and a comfortable touchpad are essential.

If you do decide to purchase a smaller, less expensive laptop, you should consider purchasing a separate monitor.keyboardA desktop monitor connected via HDMI could also be a nice addition. You can keep it at home or in your dorm if you need to type a lot.

How Much Power Do You Need?

The 11th Generation “Tiger Lake” Core CPUs from Intel provide both power and battery efficiency benefits. Alternatively, you can choose one that caters to both strengths: Laptops come with a variety of processors to suit a variety of budgets and use cases—you can pick one that prioritizes performance or one that prioritizes battery life. AMD’s Ryzen mobile processors are less popular, but they’re becoming a viable option for ultraportable laptops.


(Photo: Zlata Ivleva)

If you need all-day battery life and spend almost all of your time in a web browser, a Chromebook might be the way to go. These are typically powered by low-power processors (mostly Intel Celeron and Pentium chips), but these are sufficient for the types of workaday online tasks that Chromebooks excel at. (We’ll get into Chromebooks a little later.) If performance is important to you, a Windows 10 or macOS machine with an Intel Core i5 or Core i7 CPU (or an AMD Ryzen 5 or 7) will deliver the best results.

If you enjoy playing games in your spare time, you may want to invest in a more expensive console.gaming laptopMost general-purpose computers, especially those priced under $800, lack the discrete graphics processor (GPU) required to make the latest AAA games look good and run smoothly. However, if you look around a little, you can find gaming laptops with a decent Nvidia GeForce GTX or (less commonly) AMD Radeon RX GPU for playing games at 1080p and moderate or higher settings for around $700. .. (For more information, see our guide to thebest cheap gaming laptopsfor a lot more information on budget GPUs and how to buy the right gaming machine for your needs.) A powerful GPU can also assist in certain high-end and scientific applications that benefit from GPU acceleration, but they, like a high-powered processor, are battery hungry.


(Photo: Zlata Ivleva)

Find out more about Our reviews will compare their performance levels, but none of them can compete with even a moderate dedicated GPU. ( ) Intel HD Graphics, Intel UHD Graphics, Intel Iris/Iris Plus graphics, or Intel Xe Graphics are all examples of Intel integrated graphics today. The good news is that, for the most part (unless you’re an architecture major who relies heavily on CAD software), integrated graphics solutions should suffice for your day-to-day tasks. This is the graphics processor found in the majority of budget and midrange laptops. limits of gaming on the integrated graphics processors in mainstream laptops.)

Storage Solutions in Laptops: SSDs Are Tops

You’ll need 500GB of space or more if you want to install a lot of programs or keep a lot of large media files. You can get by with a laptop with less storage if you don’t anticipate needing all that local storage and are happy to leave a lot of your work online. With the rise of cloud storage and web applications, having a lot of local storage space isn’t as important as it once was, but you should still make sure your laptop can handle your needs.


(Photo: Zlata Ivleva)

Whatever path you choose, keep in mind that storage has an impact on speed. They’re also much faster than hard drives, giving a laptop a much more responsive feel. We strongly recommend SSDs for laptops that are frequently carried around campus, as SSDs (rather than the laptop itself) are resistant to drop damage. Some students are willing to make the trade-off between the higher cost and lower capacity of a faster SSD. If you choose a hard drive because it offers more storage for less money, keep in mind that it will be noticeably slower than a responsive solid-state drive (SSD).

The good news is that by plugging an external hard drive or external SSDYou can add more space whenever you need it by plugging it into one of your laptop’s USB ports. Although you are unlikely to need this unless you are a video addict or aspiring filmmaker, it is a good option to have.

With many AAA game installations weighing in at 40GB or 50GB, a small SSD can quickly fill up. Gamers might want to take a different approach. You should consider this before purchasing a machine with just a 256GB SSD, or at the very least be prepared to swap games on and off the drive as you tire of or complete them.

Battery Life: How Long Must It Hold Out?

A sizable batteryOn a day full of classes and extracurricular activities, your biggest ally can be you. A few laptops designed for school come with multiple battery options. Most people, on the other hand, only have one—and it isn’t removable.

Determine where battery life falls in the grand scheme of things in this case. All other things being equal, the more “cells” a battery contains within a given model line, the better the battery life. If removable batteries are available (which they usually aren’t), getting a second one, or a larger “extended” one if available, at the time of purchase might be a good idea.


(Photo: Zlata Ivleva)

A large battery adds weight, but it’s well worth it if it means you can leave the system unplugged from dawn to dusk. This is where our reviews come in handy: we’ve tested every laptop that comes through our labs for battery life while playing nonstop video, so you can get a good idea of how long each model will last.

What About Chromebooks?

If your school, like many others, uses the cloud for coursework, a Chromebook can provide you with much of the functionality of a regular laptop while also potentially providing longer battery life. Chromebook manufacturers have made a strong push into the education market over the last few years. Chromebooks have evolved from glorified netbooks running Google’s Chrome OS to laptops that are still web-centric but have a more robust feature set.

Basic Chromebook models usually cost between $200 and $400 (although higher-end models can cost up to $1,000). Just make sure you have constant, stable Wi-Fi because these systems have limited local storage and you must plan ahead to use them effectively offline. It will also most likely be less expensive than other types of notebooks.


(Photo: Zlata Ivleva)

We’ve compiled a list of today’s top stories. A Chromebook, on the other hand, can be a good, inexpensive second laptop for taking notes around campus while your beastly gaming rig (or desktop gaming PC, for that matter) sits in the dorm or at home. (Looking for a Chrome OS laptop?) Of course, PC gamers will have little use for these laptops, as they only run Chrome OS apps and (in the case of the most recent Chromebooks) Android apps from the Google Play store. best Chromebooks.)

Consider a Hybrid: 2-in-1s for School

Hybrids, also known as 2-in-1s, can be used as traditional clamshell laptops when necessary, but can also be transformed into tablets when that is the most convenient form for what you’re doing. A new laptop category has emerged in recent years. Some (commonly referred to asconvertiblesOthers (referred to as “detachables”) allow you to dock a tablet/screen portion of the PC with an accessory keyboard to create a laptop-like experience. ) have a folding design that allows the keyboard to be flipped out of the way by rotating the hinge all the way around.

In some cases, it is; in others, it is an optional cost that will increase the price, sometimes significantly.) A budget 2-in-1 could be exactly what you’re looking for to fill a variety of roles. One thing to keep in mind: if you’re thinking about getting a detachable 2-in-1, make sure the keyboard base is included in the price. See how we test laptops.)

What About Windows 10 S Mode?

You’re unlikely to come across Windows 10 S Mode in your shopping trips, but it’s useful to know what it is because it’s most commonly found in educational settings and on low-cost laptops.

Microsoft’s student-focused operating system is a locked-down version of Windows 10, designed to prevent malware from being downloaded inadvertently. In addition, this version of Windows only supports the Edge browser. You can download the full version of Windows 10 for free from the Microsoft Store, but you won’t be able to return to S Mode once you’ve done so. It works with any app from the Windows Store, but it won’t let you run third-party Windows programs unless you upgrade to Windows 10 Home or Pro.

A Word on Warranties

Extended warranties are also available, but whether or not they are worthwhile depends on the type of user you are. Almost every laptop sold today comes with at least a one-year parts and labor warranty.

Apple offers a three-year extended warranty for $250, while some Windows laptop manufacturers offer up to four years. For starters, be aware that a spilled drink or a drop on concrete are not covered by the standard warranty. Most manufacturers sell accident coverage separately from extended warranties that supplement standard warranties, so you could end up paying close to $300 for three years of coverage.


(Photo: Zlata Ivleva)

Of course, peace of mind is unquantifiable. In rare cases, the logic board or display—the most expensive components of a laptop—can fail, costing you half of the laptop’s value in repairs. Faulty components usually fail within the first year; after that, it’s more likely to be normal wear and tear. If the warranty costs more than 15% of the total laptop price, we recommend investing the money in backup drives or services that reduce downtime in the event that something goes wrong.

Some colleges have special arrangements with specific vendors for onsite laptop service, so it’s worth checking with the college’s bookstore or computer store to see if any such special circumstances apply. However, this is another instance where the college itself may be an X-factor.

So, Which Laptop to Buy for College?

But don’t worry: we took care of everything. True, there are an increasing number of options on the market today, and sorting through them can be difficult. Scroll or swipe down to see the hottest laptops for this school year’s dorm room, college classroom, and campus quad.

Check out our shopping guide for more information on what to look for in general.overall top laptop picks, as well as our favorite budget notebooksVisit our website for more school shopping tips. .. Back-to-School Tech Guide.