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Best college laptops in 2020

best college laptops - HP Envy 13

If you're a student, you want one of the best college laptops. But with so many choices at so many different prices, it can be homework in itself to find out the very best laptops. 

There are plenty of upcoming laptops that could soon find their way onto this list. Those include the upcoming Dell XPS 13 (2020) and the Samsung Galaxy Chromebook, both of which were unveiled at CES 2020.

When you're buying a laptop for school, make sure it has sure it has long battery life and fast CPU performance. And if you prefer to take notes by hand, buy one of the best 2-in-1 laptops

Whichever laptop you get, you'll also want to pick up a few extras, such as a comfortable mouse, a well-appointed backpack and perhaps a solid all-in-one printer

Best laptop for college: HP Envy 13 (2019)

A premium package at a surprisingly affordable price, the HP Envy 13 is the best college laptop. 

1. HP Envy 13 (2019)

The best overall laptop

CPU: Intel Core i5/Core i7 | GPU: Intel UHD Graphics 620/Nvidia GeForce MX250 | RAM: 8GB/16GB | Storage: 256GB/512GB/1TB | Display: 13.3-inch, 1080p or 4K | Size: 12.1 x 8.3 x 0.6 inches | Weight: 2.8 pounds

Attractive, portable chassis
Fast performance
Bright display
11+ hours of battery life (FHD model)
No Thunderbolt 3

The best laptop for students is now better than ever. Refreshed with a new design, powerful speakers and useful security features, the new HP Envy 13 is the best sub-$1,000 laptop for students or anyone who needs a portable machine with loads of power and long battery life (11+ hours on the FHD model). 

New to the 2019 version is a fingerprint sensor and a webcam kill switch that shuts power to the camera so you don't have to worry about people snooping on you. Combine those features with a sleek chassis, bright 4K or 1080p display and plenty of performance from 8th Gen Core i5 and Core i7 CPUs, and it's easy to see why the Envy 13 is the best college laptop for students.

See our full HP Envy 13 review

Beautiful, powerful and flexible, the HP Spectre x360 is the best 2-in-1 college laptop for students. 

Beautiful, powerful and flexible, the HP Spectre x360 is the best 2-in-1 college laptop for students.  (Image credit: Laptop Mag)

2. HP Spectre x360 (Late 2019)

The best 2-in-1 laptop

CPU: Core i5/Core i7 | GPU: Intel Iris Plus | RAM: 8GB/16GB | Storage: 256GB/512GB/1TB | Display: 13.3-inch, 1080p or 4K | Size: 12.1 x 7.7 x 0.7 inches | Weight: 2.7 pounds

Stunning, ultraportable design
Epic battery life
Bright, vivid display with thinner bezels
Fast overall performance
Lots of bloatware
Shrill speakers at max volume

The Spectre x360 13 is the best 2-in-1 laptop ever and one of the best college laptops for students with about $1,000 to spare. Updated with a 10th Gen CPU and a more modern design, the Spectre x360 13 is improved in almost every way over its excellent predecessor. 

Highlights of this laptop include its stunning design, a bright 1080p display, epic 13+ hour battery life and fast overall performance. You also get a webcam kill switch for shutting out snooping creeps, and a super comfortable keyboard. 

See our HP Spectre x360 13 (Late 2019) review

Lenovo's Yoga C940 (14-inch) refines a proven formula, making it one of the best laptops for college students.

Lenovo's Yoga C940 (14-inch) refines a proven formula, making it one of the best laptops for college students. (Image credit: Laptop Mag)

3. Lenovo Yoga C940

Another excellent 2-in-1 consumer laptop

CPU: Up to Intel Core i7-1065G7 | GPU: Intel Iris Plus | RAM: Up to 16GB | Storage: Up to 2TB | Display: 14-inch, 1080p or 4K | Size: 12.6 x 8.5 x 0.6 inches | Weight: 3.1 pounds

Slim, premium design
Beautiful 4K display
Fast performance
Crisp, dynamic speakers
Below-average battery life (on 4K model)

With the Yoga C940, Lenovo took a proven formula and refined it. Subtle design improvements, longer battery life (up to 11:46) and refreshed 10th Gen Intel processors make the Yoga C940 a worthy successor to last year's excellent Yoga C930. 

As you'd expect from a Yoga-series laptop, the C940 has a premium, ultra-portable chassis and a unique hinge that doubles as a soundbar speaker. As a 2-in-1, that hinge can rotate 360-degrees to convert the Yoga C940 into a proper tablet. When it comes to viewing content, the Yoga C940's 1080p and 4K displays are crisp, vibrant and bright -- just beware, the UHD display drains the battery. 

For all the basics it gets right, my favorite things about the Yoga C940 are its extra features. Those include a webcam cover (no more need to buy tape), a slot for the included stylus and a fingerprint sensor. 

See our Lenovo Yoga C940 (14-inch) review.

Best college laptop for under $1,000: Asus ZenBook UX333FA

For just over $800, the ZenBook UX333FA gets you a sleek chassis and fast performance, making it the best college laptop for under $1,000. 

4. Asus ZenBook UX333FA

The best laptop under $1,000

CPU: Intel Core i5 | GPU: Intel UHD 620/GeForce MX150 | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 256GB | Display: 13.3-inch, 1080p | Size: 11.9 x 7.4 x 0.7 inches | Weight: 2.7 pounds

Excellent battery life
Sleek aluminum design
Fast performance
Dim display
Cramped keyboard

The Asus ZenBook UX333FA is a gorgeous, premium laptop that offers fast performance at a reasonable price. For just $849, you get an Intel Core i5-8265U CPU, 8GB of RAM, 256GB SSD and integrated UHD 620 graphics -- only the Envy 13 can compete with this value. 

But perhaps the best reason to buy the ZenBook UX333FA is for its outstanding 11+ hours of battery life. Combine that exceptional endurance with a sleek aluminum chassis and it's easy to see why the ZenBook is one of the best college laptops for students. 

See our full Asus ZenBook UX333FA review

best laptop for science students: Dell XPS 13 (Late 2019)

The best overall laptop, the Dell XPS 13 is the best college laptop for science students.  (Image credit: Laptop Mag)

5. Dell XPS 13 (Late 2019)

The best for science students

CPU: Intel Core i3/Core i5/Core i7 (10th Gen) | GPU: Intel UHD | RAM: 4GB/8GB/16GB | Storage: 256GB/512GB/1TB/2TB | Display: 13.3-inch, 1080p or 4K | Size: 11.9 x 7.8 x 0.5 inches | Weight: 2.7 pounds

Outstanding performance
Slim, lightweight design
Stunning 4K display
Improved webcam
Battery life could be better (on 4K model)

The best portable laptop overall, the Late 2019 XPS 13 is identical to the previous model but now packs 10th Gen processors. Those chips, especially the six-core Core i7 CPU, offers a significant boost in performance over 8th Gen processors. There are so many reasons why the XPS 13 is a great laptop for college students, but price could be a problem for some. 

If you can spend on one, the 4K model we tested has a gorgeous 13.3-inch InfinityEdge display -- with practically no bezels -- and now the 'nosecam' webcam is no longer, as Dell's engineers managed to fit it in the notebook's top bezel, which is still super-thin. If you want long battery life, opt for the 1080p model as the 4K version lasted just under 8 hours on a charge, a decent if below-average result. 

See our full Dell XPS 13 (Late 2019) Review

Best Apple Laptop for college: MacBook Air (2019)

If you prefer macOS over Windows, the MacBook Air is the best college laptop from Apple. 

6. MacBook Air (2019)

The best Apple laptop

CPU: Intel Core i5 (Y-series) | GPU: Intel UHD Graphics 617 | RAM: 8GB/16GB | Storage: 128GB/256GB/512GB/1TB | Display: 13.3-inch, 2560 x 1600-pixel | Size: 12 x 8.4 x 0.6 inches | Weight: 2.8 pounds

Crisp Retina display
Elegant gold chassis
Thin and lightweight chassis
Underwhelming performance
Only offers USB-C ports

The latest MacBook Air is only a minor update over its refreshed predecessor but it's still the best Apple laptop for college students. The new 13.3-inch system is $100 cheaper than last year's model and the display now features Apple's True Tone technology. 

Along with its sharp, 2560 x 1600-pixel display, the MacBook Air has powerful speakers and a thin, light and completely recycled aluminum chassis.

See our full MacBook Air review

Best college laptop under $400: Acer Aspire 5

You don't need to spend a fortune on a laptop on top of your college tuition. Acer's Aspire 5 is the best college laptop for under $400. 

7. Acer Aspire 5

The best laptop under $500

CPU: Intel Core i3-8145U | GPU: Intel HD 620 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 128GB | Display: 15.6-inch, 1080p | Size: 14.3 x 9.9 x 0.7 inches | Weight: 3.8 pounds

Strong performance
Long battery life
Bright 1080p display
Middling graphics
Questionable build quality

Acer's Aspire 5 is the ultimate budget laptop. For under $400 you get a sleek design, a bright 1080p display and fast performance. Best of all, the Aspire 5 lasts 8 hours and 51 minutes on a charge, which means you shouldn't have problems bringing it to class or work without a charger. 

The specs you get for the price are really second-to-none, from the large 15.6-inch display to 128GB of speedy SSD storage. And with an aluminum design that weighs 3.8 pounds, the Aspire 5 is both premium and relatively portable.

See our full Acer Aspire 5 review

best college laptop for business students: ThinkPad X1 Carbon

Thin, lightweight and durable, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (7th Gen) is the best college laptop for business students.  (Image credit: Laptop Mag)

8. Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (7th Gen)

Best laptop for business students

CPU: Intel Core i5/Core i7 | GPU: Intel UHD 620 | RAM: 8GB/16GB | Storage: 256GB/512GB/1TB | Display: 14-inch, 1080p or 2560 x 1440-pixel or 4K | Size: 12.7 x 8.5 x 0.6 inches | Weight: 2.5 pounds

Attractive, lightweight design
Best-in-class keyboard
Bright, vivid display options
Improved speakers
No microSD card slot

Whether you're an entrepreneur or aspiring CEO of a Fortune 500 company, the X1 Carbon will let you live in luxury. The 14-inch ThinkPad X1 Carbon is ready for the boardroom with a vibrant 1080p or 2K display (with an optional HDR option), an incredibly slim body and one of the best keyboards you can get on any laptop. The 8th Gen Intel Core CPU is powerful and it lasts over 11 hours on a charge.

See our full Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (7th Gen) review

Best college Chromebook: Asus Chromebook Flip C434

Asus' Chromebook Flip C434 is the best college Chromebook laptop. 

9. Asus Chromebook Flip C434

The best Chromebook

CPU: Intel Core m3-8100Y | GPU: Intel HD 615 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 64GB | Display: 14-inch, 1080p | Size: 12.6 x 8 x 0.6 inches | Weight: 3.1 pounds

Sleek design
Thin display bezels
Vivid 14-inch touch screen
Finicky touchpad
Expensive

Asus returns to the top of our Best Chromebooks page with the $569Chromebook Flip C434, a 14-inch convertible that would make for an excellent college laptop thanks to its slim profile and relatively affordable price. The first thing you'll notice about this laptop is the razor-thin bezels, which draw your eyes toward a vivid 1080p display while keeping the chassis compact. 

At just 0.6 inches thick, you won't have any problems moving the Flip C434 around campus from one class to the next. You can also save space in your backpack by leaving the charger in your dorm because the Flip C434 can last a full class schedule on a charge.

See our full Asus Chromebook Flip C434 review

best gaming laptop for college: Lenovo Legion Y7000

For students who want to play back at the dorm, the Lenovo Legion Y7000 is the best college gaming laptop. 

10. Lenovo Legion Y7000

The best laptop for casual gamers

CPU: Intel Core i7 | GPU: GeForce GTX 1060 | RAM: 16GB | Storage: 256GB | Display: 15.6-inch, 1080p | Size: 14.2 x 10.5 x 1.1 inches | Weight: 5.3 pounds

Sleek design
Vibrant display
Comfortable keyboard
Strong performance
Poor audio

Need to blow off some steam after an impossibly difficult exam? Go to your dorm room and crank on the Lenovo Legion Y7000. This 15.6-inch laptop packs enough GPU performance to play most modern games at medium settings, and it does so in a relatively small chassis. 

The Legion Y7000 even offers solid battery life to go along with a comfortable keyboard. Just make sure to buy headphones so you don't have to listen to its poor speakers.

See our full Lenovo Legion Y7000 review

Business students who want a convertible laptop should get the ThinkPad X1 Yoga, the best business 2-in-1 laptop for college students. 

Business students who want a convertible laptop should get the ThinkPad X1 Yoga, the best business 2-in-1 laptop for college students.  (Image credit: Laptop Mag)

11. Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga (4th Gen)

The best business 2-in-1

CPU: Intel Core i7 | GPU: Intel UHD 620 | RAM: 16GB | Storage: 1TB | Display: 14-inch, 1080p | Size: 12 x 8.5 x 0.6 inches | Weight: 3 pounds

Bright, vivid 1080p display
Slim, durable aluminum chassis
Best-in-class keyboard
Long battery life
Not available in carbon fiber

Lenovo took a chance with the ThinkPad X1 Yoga, the first metal ThinkPad, and it paid off. While we still love the signature matte-black carbon-fiber found on most ThinkPads, the aluminum and magnesium ThinkPad X1 Yoga is a gorgeous change of pace. 

Not only does it have a slim design, but this convertible 2-in-1 flaunts a bright display and offers a best-in-class keyboard and long battery life. You also get loads of extra goodies, like a built-in stylus slot and webcam cover. 

See our full Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga (4th Gen, 2019) review.

Apple macbook pro 16-inch 2019

Students who want an Apple laptop with loads of power should splurge on the 16-inch MacBook Pro, the best college laptop for film and animation students.  (Image credit: Laptop Mag)

12. Apple MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2019)

Best laptop for film and animation students

CPU: Intel Core i7/Core i9 | GPU: Radeon Pro 5300M/5500M | RAM: 16GB/32GB/64GB | Storage: 512GB/1TB/2TB/4TB/8TB | Display: 16-inch, 2072 x 1920 | Size: 14.1 x 9.7 x 0.6 inches | Weight: 4.3 pounds

Radically improved Magic Keyboard
Immersive 16-inch display with slimmer bezels
Powerful 6-speaker audio
No full-size USB port or SD card slot
Pricey

 The 16-inch MacBook Pro is just your type if you’ve been waiting for Apple to make a better keyboard. The Magic Keyboard on this premium laptop ditches the Butterfly mechanism in favor of a scissor switch, and the result is a much more comfortable typing experience. You also get a bright and sharp 16-inch display with slimmer bezels, powerful performance from an available Core i9 CPU and robust AMD Radeon 5300M or 5500M graphics. 

You also get up to 64GB of RAM and 8TB of storage if you really want to splurge. The 11 hours of battery life is another plus on this laptop, dwarfing the runtimes of its competitors. The 16-inch MacBook Pro is pricey, and Apple still doesn’t include full-size USB ports, but overall this is a very formidable workstation for creative pros. 

See our full Apple MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2019) review.

best college laptop for Medical Students: Dell XPS 15 (2019)

A more powerful version of the XPS 13, the Dell XPS 15 is the best college laptop for medical students. 

13. Dell XPS 15 (2019)

Best laptop for medical students

CPU: Intel Core i5/Core i7/Core i9 | GPU: Intel UHD 630/Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 | RAM: 8GB/16GB/32GB | Storage: 256GB/512GB/1TB | Display: 15.6-inch, 1080p or 4K | Size: 14.1 x 9.3 x 0.7 inches | Weight: 4.5 pounds

Striking 4K OLED display
Strong CPU and GPU performance
Improved webcam
Slim design
Subpar battery life

The ideal laptop for a medical student is one with a large, sharp display and a powerful processor for taking notes and running complex programs in the lab. More importantly, it should have long battery life, so the laptop doesn't power down while med students are doing their rounds. With 9th Gen Core CPUs and GeForce GTX 1650 graphics, the new 2019 XPS 15 offers an excellent combination of performance and endurance.

The biggest improvement to the 2019 model is the new webcam location, which will make it so that med students can video call patients without using an external camera. Med students will also appreciate the XPS 15's slim and relatively lightweight design when they're hauling a bag around from classes to clinics.

See our full Dell XPS 15 review

How to choose the best college laptop for you

There are a number of factors students should consider before buying a laptop for college. 

The first is portability, which goes hand-in-hand with screen size. 13-inch laptops are popular among college students because they offer a good balance between screen real estate and portability. The Dell XPS 13 is a great example. It weighs around 2 pounds and is just 0.5 inches thick, yet you get a 13.3-inch edge-to-edge display.  We're also seeing more and more 14-inch laptops, like the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, which is remarkably portable for the screen size. 

Battery life is another key component of any good college laptop. If you plan to take the notebook to class or the library, don't count on there being an outlet!  Consider a laptop that gets at least 9 hours of battery life, which should be enough to get you through a couple of classes with enough juice for studies. 

When it comes to specs, we recommend buying a laptop with an Intel U-series or H-series Core i5 CPU, at least 8GB of RAM (16GB is great) and a minimum of 256GB of storage. AMD is coming in hot with its 4000-series chips, so keep an eye out for those. You might notice that the new MacBook Air 2020 doesn't fit those requirements (it has a low-power Y-series CPU) but it's still a good option if you prefer macOS and don't want to spend a fortune. Speaking of which, Chromebooks like the Pixelbook Go offer excellent value for college students. 

Other things that will help you punch up a successful report or research complex topics include a comfy keyboard and sensitive touchpad. And when it's time to relax, be sure to get a laptop with a vivid and bright display (like any of those listed here). 

How we test laptops

We put each laptop through extensive benchmark testing — both synthetic and real-world — before they end up in the hands of our reviewers. We evaluate each aspect of the laptop, including its performance, battery life, display, speakers and heat management.

In our benchmark testing, we use a Klein K10 colorimeter to detect the brightness and sRGB color gamut of the laptop's display. For performance testing, we run the laptop through a gauntlet of benchmarks, including Geekbench 4.3 and 5.0 and 3DMark professional graphics tests. 

To determine real-world performance, we task the laptop to convert a 4K video to 1080p resolution and to duplicate a 4.97GB multimedia file. Our real-world graphics test is the Dirt 3 benchmark with medium settings at 1080p resolution. 

We also run heat tests by playing a 15-minute full-screen video and measuring temperatures in different areas of the laptop. Last but not least, our battery test consists of continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness. For MacBooks and premium Windows 10 laptops, a runtime of over 9 hours is considered a good result whereas gaming laptops and workstations that can stay powered for longer than 5 hours deserve praise. 

These tests are complemented with extensive hands-on testing from our reviewers who critique everything from the laptop's materials to the feel of its touchpad.