Best College Laptops 2018
Updated on Dec. 10 at 9:45 am ET: Some of our favorite laptops for college are on sale:
Every college student needs a laptop, but with so many choices at so many different prices, it can be homework in itself to find out which one to get. Start by reviewing our recommendations for the best laptop for your college major, and then check with your specific school to make sure its configuration meets the minimum requirements. Of course, we love all of our picks, so if you see one outside of your major, it's still a great machine.
If you're undecided on your major or your school doesn't have any recommended specs, consider a laptop that's easy to carry around in a backpack, lasts 8 hours or more on a charge and has a high-res (1080p or greater) screen for easy multitasking. We also have a detailed list of laptop buying tips for students.
Best Overall: HP Envy 13t
Whether typing up a 100-page thesis or just taking notes in class, having a comfortable, responsive keyboard allows you to get more work done faster. Starting at under $900 ($1049 as tested), HP's Envy 13t has one of the best keyboards in the industry, along with a lightweight aluminum chassis and nearly 10 hours of battery life. The 13.3-inch laptop is powered by a speedy 8th Gen Core i5 or Core i7 CPU and a PCIe SSD, giving it really powerful performance.
Pros: Best-in-class keyboard; Powerful performance; Long battery life
Cons: Tinny audio: Accurate, but bland colors
Key Specs: Up to Intel Core i7-8550U CPU; Up to 4K touch screen (1080p standard); Up to 1TB SSD; 2.93 pounds
Best Apple Laptop: MacBook Air (2018)
Now with a Retina display and more powerful components, the MacBook Air earns its place back on our list of the best laptops for college students. The 13.3-inch machine costs a bit more than its predecessor, but the improvements Apple made to the new version make it worth every penny. Along with its more colorful, 2560 x 1600-pixel display, the MacBook Air adds a fingerprint sensor and the versatile Thunderbolt 3 port. These goodies are all packaged in a thinner, lighter and completely recycled aluminum chassis.
Pros: Colorful Retina display; Long battery life; Thin and lightweight chassis
Cons: Below-average performance; Pricier than its predecessor
Key Specs: 13.3-inch, 2560 x 1600-pixel display; Intel Core i5-8210Y CPU; up to 16GB of RAM; Up to 1.5TB SSD
Best Under $800: Asus ZenBook UX330UA
Asus's 2.7-pound ZenBook UX330UA is light enough to carry to class, powerful enough to do almost any homework you can imagine and affordable enough not to break the bank. For under $750, you get a sharp 1080p screen, a generous 256GB SSD and a speedy 8th Generation Intel Core i5 CPU. Best of all, the UX330UA lasts 9 hours on a charge so you can leave your power brick back in the dorm room. There's also a $699-version that uses the older, 7th Gen Core i5 CPU and has over 10 hours of battery life.
Pros: Long-lasting, affordable for students, Great screen
Cons: Too much bloatware; Stiff touchpad
Key Specs: Core i5-8250U CPU, 13-inch, 1080p display, 256GB SSD; 2.7 pounds
Best Under $400: Microsoft Surface Go
As a college student, chances are you're on a pretty tight budget. If you want to spend less than $400, the Surface Go is a great choice. The detachable 2-in-1's durable design is more premium than you'd expect to find at this price range, and its bright, colorful display can compete with the best laptops.
At a measly 1.1 pounds, the Surface Go weighs less than your Calculus textbook. Typically, tablets aren't a viable option for class, but Microsoft sells a useful backlit keyboard cover with a touchpad for the Surface Go. With an Intel Pentium Gold 4415Y CPU, the Surface Go won't break speed records, but it provides more power than most budget laptops.
Pros: Bright and vivid display; Premium, lightweight design; Good overall performance; Facial recognition login
Cons: Below-average battery life; Thick bezels; Keyboard and pen cost extra
Key specs: 10-inch 1800 x 1200 display, Intel Pentium Gold 4415Y CPU, Surface Connect port, Optional keyboard with a touchpad
Best 2-in-1: Lenovo Yoga C930
With a powerful soundbar speaker hinge, the Yoga C930 is as practical as it is beautiful. This slim and lightweight laptop offers strong performance and long battery life in a premium package. The 2-in-1 also comes with some useful extras, like an integrated pen slot and a webcam cover.
Pros: Premium design; Thin and lightweight; Strong performance; Long battery life
Cons: Shallow keyboard; Display could be better
Key specs: Up to Core i7 CPU; Optional 4K display; Pen slot; Soundbar speaker hinge; Webcam cover; 3.1 pounds
For Science Students: Dell XPS 13
Regardless of whether you're devoted to organic chemistry, anthropology or atmospheric science, you need a solid machine like the Dell XPS 13. This system packs up to powerful 8th-generation quad-core processor with 16GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. And you have to love the new redesign, which is thinner and comes in white. The virtually borderless, 13-inch display with full HD resolution will make sure your notes and graphs pop, giving the illusion of a much bigger screen. Most people will love the USB Type-C version, but last year's update that lasted for a wild 16 hours on our battery test is still available.
Pros: Long battery life; Speedy performance; Light and attractive design;
Cons: Poorly placed webcam that looks up your nose;
Key Specs: Up to 8th-Gen Core i7 CPU, up to 16GB of RAM, Up to 3200 x 1800, 13-inch touch screen display;
For Campus Gamers: Lenovo Legion Y530
When it's time to unwind after a long day in class, the Legion Y530 has you covered. This affordable gaming laptop is thin enough to slip into your backpack and light enough to carry around campus. For $899, you get an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti GPU that is capable of playing most games at low settings. The Legion might not have the RGB flair you'd expect from a gaming machine, but its understated blackout design helps it blend into any setting.
The Core i5-8300H CPU powering the Legion Y530 is great for productivity, so you can stream Twitch or YouTube videos in full-HD when you're burnt out from studying.
Pros: Stylish design; Relatively portable; Good overall performance; Affordable price
Cons: Dull display; Poor webcam
Key Specs: Up to Intel Core i7 CPU, optional GTX 1050 Ti GPU, up to 16GB of RAM, 15.6-inch display
For Engineering & Architecture Students: Dell Precision 7730
If you want the most powerful workstation money can buy, and don't intend on carrying it around campus, go with the Dell Precision 7730. This 17-inch behemoth has a stunning 4K display, blistering performance and capable graphics in a MIL-SPEC tested chassis that is every bit as premium as the XPS 15, its consumer-friendly counterpart.
Better yet, business professionals will appreciate the Precision 7730's comfortable keyboard and the extensive suite of security tools it offers, like a fingerprint reader and NFC sensor for contactless smart cards.
As expected, this decked-out machine is extremely pricey. While it starts at a reasonable $1,479, the unit we reviewed goes for $5,534, and comes equipped with a Core i9-8950HK CPU, Nvidia Quadro P5200 GPU, 32GB of RAM and dual 512GB PCIe NVMe SSDs.
Pros: Durable design; Colorful 4K display; Blazing fast performance; Powerful graphics
Cons: Below-average battery life; Runs warm
Key Specs: Up to Core i9 CPU, Nvidia Quadro GPU, 15-inch, 4K display
For Art & Design Students: Asus ZenBook Pro 15
Art students who need a large canvas to draw on should consider the Asus ZenBook Pro 15, a premium ultrabook with dual screens. The highlight of this machine is a unique touchpad that doubles as a 1080p display. Dubbed the ScreenPad, the LCD touchpad can transform into a second display with productivity shortcuts, where you can manage your photo-editing tools.
While you should come for the attention-grabbing touchpad, stay for the primary 15.6-inch 4K touch screen display, which is colorful and bright. The ZenBook Pro 15 has poor battery life, but it makes up for it with excellent performance and a gorgeous design that's sure to impress your peers. And at 4.2 pounds, this powerful machine is portable enough to carry around campus.
For $2,299, the ZenBook Pro 15 comes with an Intel Core i9-8950HK CPU, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB NVMe SSD. It also has an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti GPU with 4GB of VRAM, which delivered solid frame rates in our testing.
Pros: Unique ScreenPad; Gorgeous display; Striking, portable design; Excellent performance
Cons: Below-average battery life; Disappointing webcam
Key Specs: Up to Core i9 CPU, Up to 16GB of RAM, Up to 1TB PCIe SSD, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti GPU
For Business Students: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon
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 11hours on a charge,
Pros: Long-lasting battery; Light enough for a backpack; Vivid screen with optional HDR;
Cons: Pricey on a student budget; Tinny audio;
Key Specs: Core i5 or i7 CPU; 14-inch 1080p or 2K display; Up to 1TB SSD;
For Computer Science Students: Lenovo ThinkPad T480
All-night coding sessions require incredible battery life, and the ThinkPad T480, with its extended battery, runs for more than 17 hours on a charge. An 8th Gen Core Intel CPU and 8GB of RAM provide plenty of performance, and the laptop has the latest Thunderbolt 3 ports for charging and fast data transfer. The 1080p screen, though, is on the dull side, and its a bit heavier in a backpack than its competitors.
Pros: Long battery life; Thunderbolt 3; Stron gperformance
Cons: Dull screen; Heavier than competitors;
Key Specs: Up to 1080p. 14-inch display; Up to Core i7 CPU; Up to 512GB SSD
For Film & Animation Students: Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch
Tap your creative energy with the updated 15-inch MacBook Pro. Apple has upped the ante with a faster 6th Gen Intel CPU, AMD Radeon Pro 455 graphics and its new Touch Bar. Video editors and animators will love the Touch Bar, which replaces the function keys with a custom toolset that can be different in Photoshop than it is in Final Cut. Four Thunderbolt 3 ports make it easy to connect to multiple 4K displays or transfer uncompressed media files to external backup drives with ease.
Pros: Gorgeous display; Long battery life; Fast performance
Cons: No USB Type-A ports; Runs warm
Key Specs: Up to Core i7 CPU, Up to Radeon Pro 560 GPU; Up to 1TB SSD. 15-inch display
For Medical Students: Dell XPS 15
The ideal laptop for a medical student is one with a large 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. The XPS 15 offers an excellent combination of performance and endurance.
Its incredible runtime of 11 hours and 53 minutes makes it one of the longest-enduring 15-inch laptops we've ever tested. Combined with a compact footprint, and the XPS 15 is surprisingly great for travel. It's also very powerful, equipped with an Intel H-series CPU. When you have time to yourself, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti in the XPS 15 is capable of playing most modern games, and streaming TV shows and movies is a joy on its bright and vibrant display.
Pros: Strong overall performance; Outstanding battery life; Capable GTX 1050 Ti GPU; Bright, vibrant display
Cons: Poor webcam placement
Key Specs: Up to Core i7 CPU, Optional GTX 1050 Ti GPU; 15 inch 1080p or 4K display
For Law Students: Microsoft Surface Pro 6
With improved battery life, the Microsoft Surface Pro 6 is an excellent choice for students who need to carry a PC around campus, away from an outlet. Better yet, the newest detachable from Microsoft has significantly improved performance, allowing it to run demanding programs without a hitch.
The tablet's rear kickstand is great for presenting slideshows and the brilliant 12.3-inch, 2736 x 1824-pixel display is captivating. The Surface Pen and Type Cover cost extra, but they are necessary for quickly jotting down notes or writing up legal briefs.
Pros: Long battery life; Excellent performance; Comfortable keyboard; Vivid, bright display
Cons: No USB-C port; Slow SSD; 256GB SSD config is pricey
Key Specs: 12.3-inch, 2736 x 1824-pixel display; Up to 8th Gen Core i7 CPU; 1.7 pounds/2.3 pounds with Type Cover
For Students On a Budget: Acer Aspire E 15
If you're just entering college, chances are you don't have a lot of expendable income. But just because you can't spend four figures on a laptop doesn't mean you should settle for something that won't fit your needs. The Acer Aspire E 15 gets you almost everything you can ask for, and for just $380.
The budget machine sports a 15-inch, 1080p display and a capable Core i3 CPU. Best of all, the Aspire E 15 will stay powered throughout an entire school day, with nearly 9 hours of battery life. In terms of design, the Aspire E 15 is function over form — it's bulky, but there is a generous offering of ports and even a DVD drive.
The $380 base model came equipped with an Intel Core i3-8130U CPU, 6GB of RAM and a 1TB HDD. We also praised the $599 Core i5 model, which has long battery life and strong performance.
Pros: Good performance; Long battery life; Affordable
Cons: Bulky design
Key Specs: Up to Core i7 CPU; Up to 8GB of RAM, 1080p display
For Fashion-Forward Students: HP Spectre Folio
With its dazzling Cognac leather finish, the HP Spectre Folio is an excellent laptop for students who want to stand out in a lecture hall filled with hundreds of other people. The Folio isn't just a laptop with a leather case on top — this machine is actually bonded with 100-percent genuine cowhide. Perhaps even better than the Spectre Folio's stylish appearance is the laptop's clever system for transitioning through different orientations. A simple push-and-slide gesture either folds the Folio into a tablet or angles the display into Presentation mode for viewing content.
While the Folio isn't the most powerful laptop in its segment, the convertible shouldn't have problems streaming Netflix in high-definition or running your university's online coursework portal. Starting at $1,299, the base model of the Folio comes with a Core i5-8200Y CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. Upgrading to a Core i7 CPU raises the price to $1,399.
Pros: Luxurious leather finish; Versatile 2-in-1 design; Long battery life; Great keyboard
Cons: Poor audio; Average performance
Key Specs: 100-percent genuine leather chassis; Intel Y-Series i5, i7 CPU; 8GB or 16GB of RAM; Available in Cognac/Ash Silver or Burgundy/Luminous Gold
Best MacBook Alternative: Huawei MateBook X Pro
The MateBook X Pro essentially takes the MacBook Pro's design and brings a better keyboard, upgraded internals and USB-A port — all for hundreds of dollars less.
At $1,500, you'll get an 8th-Gen Intel Core i7-8550U CPU, Nvidia GeForce MX150 GPU, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. A stunning 14-inch, 3000 x 2000 touchscreen display capable of producing a wide range of colors (124 percent of the sRGB spectrum) is perfect for art and design students.
Pros: Gorgeous 3:2 display; Great keyboard and touchpad; Slim, premium design; Long-lasting battery
Cons: Hard to find
Key specs: Up to i7-8550U CPU; 3K display (3,000 x 2,000 resolution); Nvidia MX150 GPU
Whatever 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. And don't forget to preload some antivirus software before you head to campus. If you're going to use a multi-monitor setup in your dorm room, try a good docking station, either over USB or Thunderbolt 3.