April 25, 2024


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Best laptop for college in 2021

The main academic tool most college students will need — and one of the biggest investments they’ll make — is a laptop. While it’s possible to find a passable entry-level laptop for less than $300, a few hundred more will give you options with better performance, longer battery life and a bigger and faster solid-state drive, which is well worth the additional money. We created this list of the best laptops for college students by using benchmark testing as well as our own hands-on experience. We considered everything from SSD storage to whether the laptop has an HD webcam (whether or not it had sufficient USB ports or an HDMI port was also a factor). We’ll update this list periodically as we review new products.

The best budget laptop options are less expensive but still powerful enough to handle student-life basics such as getting on the internet, email, creating documents or working with spreadsheets. However, if you’re looking for the right laptop — one that can double as a gaming laptop, has a ton of storage or can handle powerful programs like video-editing software, read on for our picks. 

Note that most of our choices for the best laptops for college run between $500 and $1,000. If you’re looking for a less expensive college laptop — or if you’re open to an alternative to Microsoft Windows and Apple’s MacOS — we recommend checking out the best Chromebooks for students

Read more: Best laptop backpack for 2021   

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Regularly available starting at $700, this thin, 3-pound two-in-one is a solid choice for anyone who needs a laptop for schoolwork. The all-metal chassis gives it a premium look and feel, and it has a comfortable keyboard and a responsive, smooth precision touchpad. The 14-inch display gives you more room to work than competing 13-inch models at this price. As a two-in-one, you can use it as a laptop or tablet and it supports pen input with Lenovo’s optional active pen. Though it’s light on extra features compared to its premium linemate, the Yoga 9i, it does have one of Lenovo’s sliding shutters for its webcam that gives you privacy when you want it and a fingerprint reader for fast sign-ins. And it has a long battery life to boot.

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The newest, fanless Apple MacBook Air hits all the right notes: This powerful laptop is back to the old $999 starting price, and if you’re a teacher or student, you can take off an additional $100, thanks to Apple’s educational discount. The base model features Apple’s M1 processor with an eight‑core CPU, seven‑core GPU and 16‑core Neural Engine. Stepping up from the baseline model will bring you an eight-core GPU and doubles the storage capacity with a 512GB SSD, but you’ll be forking out an additional $250.

Like the previous models, the M1 Air has Apple’s Magic Keyboard, Touch ID, a Force Touch trackpad and a 13.3-inch Retina display. If you’re a college student, it’s hard to go wrong with the new MacBook Air.

Read our MacBook Air M1 review.


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The Surface Pro remains the standard-bearer for Windows devices that work as both as a Surface laptop and touch screen tablet, though this convertible laptop makes for a better tablet than it does for a laptop. (If you’re looking for the opposite, Lenovo’s two-in-one Yoga devices are better laptops than they are tablets.) In addition to the typical great performance and battery life you can expect, the seventh-edition Surface Pro finally gets a USB-C port. The Surface laptop’s super-portable size makes it ideal for high school and college students who may be carrying a lot of gear. Though this company still sells the Surface laptop Pro without its essential Type Cover keyboard and Surface Pen included, it can frequently be found for a relatively cheap laptop price– sometimes with one or both accessories.

Read our Surface Pro 7 review.


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Dell’s G series laptops deliver a smart balance of build quality, battery life and performance, with plenty of graphics card power for college students looking to play the latest AAA games when they aren’t hitting the books. The slim, compact design masks its gaming pedigree and power. And even the entry-level configuration is powerful, equipped with a 10th-gen Intel Core processor and Nvidia GTX GeForce GTX 1660 Ti GPU. 

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Most lower-end Chromebooks have small 11.6-inch displays, and even premium models tend to have 13.3-inch screens. This HP is roughly 0.75 inch wider than a premium 13.3-inch model, but that extra width in screen size makes it easier to work in two windows side by side. The two-in-one design means you can use it as a tablet (though it’s a bit heavy to use handheld) or tent it and connect an external keyboard and mouse and use it as a small all-in-one computer. The Core i3 processor and 8GB of memory kept it running smoothly even with a couple dozen tabs open and streaming video in the background. And it has a long battery life, lasting 10 hours, 40 minutes in our tests.

Read our Lenovo Yoga C740 (14-inch) review.


Josh Goldman / CNET

A remarkable deal for simple tasks like email, word processing and much more, thanks to the new AMD Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 7 processors. This budget laptop has a backlit keyboard, a fingerprint reader and a USB Type-C port, too. The Acer Swift 3 is also an incredibly lightweight laptop — less than 3 pounds — for a machine that can be found for less than $700.

In addition to this Acer Swift, we’re also fans of the Acer Aspire 5, which has a larger 15.6-inch display. The Acer Aspire 5 is available in a variety of configurations starting as low as $430 but can go up to $690 if you want entry-level discrete graphics for basic gaming and content creation.

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