Best College Laptops 2018

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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 particular 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 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: Asus VivoBook E403NA

If you have less than $400 to spare on a machine, we recommend the Asus VivoBook E403NA. Not only is the aluminum build quality of the VivoBook E403NA top-notch, it also has a full-HD (1920 x 1080 resolution) display, which is practically unheard of in this price range.

 

The E403NA has a solid range of ports considering its thin and lightweight profile, including two USB 3.0 ports, an SD card reader, HDMI, 3.5mm headphone jack and a USB-C port. If that's not proof enough that the VivoBook E403NA punches above its weight class, it also has all-day battery life and decent performance.  

 

Pros: 1080p display; Good performance; Strong battery life; Excellent value

Cons: Erratic touchpad; Poor webcam

 

Key specs: 1920 x 1080 resolution display; Aluminum build; Intel Pentium N4200 CPU; USB Type-C port

 

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-inchtouch screen display;

For Campus Gamers: PowerSpec 1510

If you want a laptop that's portable enough to take to class or the library but powerful enough to play your favorite games, the PowerSpec 1510 is right for you. For just $1,300, you get an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 GPU, a 1080p G-Sync display and a ton of ports. Its Core i7 CPU will be great for multitasking while doing homework, for when class takes priority over your Steam account.

Pros: Great price for a laptop with a GTX 1070 GPU; Vibrant G-Sync display; A lot of ports;
Cons: Quiet audio; No gaming utility software;

Key Specs: Core i7 CPU; Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 GPU; 15.6-inch display; 

For Engineering & Architecture Students: Dell Precision 5520 Workstation

If you're doing CAD work or 3D modeling, you need a high-end mobile workstation. However, the Dell Precision 5520 shows that you don't need to settle for an ugly, bulky laptop in order to get premium processing power. This 4.4-pound system is just 0.44 inches thick and has a gorgeous edge-to-edge display, along with an Intel 7th Generation Xeon processor and Nvidia Quadro graphics. Best of all, the Precision 5520 lasts a full 11 hours and 57 minutes on a charge.

Pros: Durable; Long-lasting battery life; Strong performance;
Cons: Wecbam looks up your nose;

Key Specs: Up to Core i7 CPU, Nvidia Quadro GPU, 15-inch, 1080p display

For Art & Design Students: Huawei MateBook X Pro

Art students who are going off to college may be tempted to buy an Apple MacBook—and for good reason.. But the Huawei MateBook X Pro is the better laptop, and it's not even that close.

 

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

 

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: Microsoft Surface Book 2 (15-inch)

A detachable 2-in-1 with a screen that turns into a standalone tablet is idea for taking notes as you do your hospital rounds or work standing up in a lab. The Surface Book provides an excellent slate experience, with a gorgeous 15-inch display and a stylus that feels a lot like a real pen. When paired with its comfortable keyboard, Microsoft's notebook lasts more than 12 hours on a charge and, unlike most detachables, balances easily on your lap. On your time off, the GTX 1060 GPU is great for gaming, video editing, or whatever hobby you'll need to blow off steam.

Pros: Stunning display: Long battery life; Fast performance;
Cons: Difficult to open; Expensive;

Key Specs: Up to Core i7 CPU, Optional Nvidia GPU; 13.5 inch, 3000 x 2000 display

For Law Students: Microsoft Surface Pro

Microsoft's Surface Pro is a great pick for students who need a system that's as good in the courtroom as it is in the classroom. Its folding kickstand and brilliant 12.3-inch display make the Surface Pro a great presentation device, while its best-in-class folding keyboard ensures you'll get a full laptop experience when it's time to get some writing done.

You'll have to pay extra for the Surface Pen and Type Cover keyboard, but having both accessories makes it easy to take notes or write legal briefs whether you're sitting down or standing in line to get into the lecture hall. The front and rear cameras take great pictures so you can easily capture the whiteboard at the front of your classroom or pages from a book at the law library.

Pros: Great performance; Brilliant display
Cons: Type cover and Surface Pen sold separately; Mediocre battery life

Key Specs: Up to Core i7 CPU, Up to 16GB of RAM, Up to 1TB SSD

For Students On a Budget: Acer Aspire E 15 (E5-575-33BM)

If you're on a shoestring budget and only need office and web apps for your major, the Acer Aspire E15 will do the job. It boasts a vivid, 1080p display, Core i3 CPU, 4GB of RAM and a 1TB HDD. It has every port you'll need, including USB Type-C. It will also survive a day of classes with more than 8 hours of battery life. If you have a bit more to spend, you can get a Core i5 CPU, 256GB SSD, 1080p display and 8GB of RAM with the ($580) E5-575G-57D4 configuration.

Pros: Affordable; FHD display; Lots of ports;
Cons: Screen has narrow viewing angle; Lousy webcam;

Key Specs: Core i5 CPU; 256GB SSD; 1080p display

New and Notable: Microsoft Surface Go

The recently announced Surface Go is the budget entry to Microsoft's popular detachable 2-in-1 laptop line. With an Intel Pentium Gold 4415Y processor and up to 8GB of RAM, the Surface Go won't break any speed records, but this ultra-lightweight machine could be the perfect low-price laptop for students, business professionals or anyone who travels frequently.

Microsoft's answer to the iPad, the Surface Go is already more capable in a number of ways. Namely, its optional keyboard includes a touchpad and the 2-in-1's Surface Connect port lets you power two external 2K monitors at once.

The Surface Go will go on sale on Aug 2 for $399. 

Pros: Lightweight design; High-resolution display; Optional keyboard includes touchpad
Cons: Keyboard sold separately; Thick bezels

Key Specs: Intel Pentium Gold 4415Y processor, up to 8GB of RAM, up to 256GB of Storage, Surface Connect port

 

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.

Laptop Guide

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3 comments
  • Juicestus Says:

    For Computer Science, you don't know what the hell you are talking about. While the ThinkPad is a good second (only running Ubuntu) MacBook Pros completely dominate the Developer Laptop Market. I find it odd that you give the MBP to Art and Creative students, because for some reason they think they need Mac OS X. The reason the MBP is a software engineers first choice is because of cross platform dev. and the UNIX back end. And, most programmers are not hippies made of money, we usually don't get the newest MBP just for the unboxing video and are fine with a 4-5 year old machine. Its not just you, its everywhere. This connection with creatives and Macs is BS.

  • Ron Abate Says:

    If all a student needs to do is word processing and researching the internet, any low cost Chromebook would do.

  • Vincent Says:

    Please how do I unsubscribe from this. It is very annoying to me.

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