Laptop Buying Tips for Students

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Going off to high school or college without a decent laptop is like refusing to use pencil and paper. It instantly puts a ceiling on how much students can learn, how far they can go and how many lifelong abilities they can acquire. But don't just buy whatever is on sale; you need the right laptop for your specific needs.

Whether you're a student yourself or are shopping on behalf of a student, we've compiled eight tips on choosing the right student laptop to enhance learning now and in the future. Here are our quick tips, plus all the details you need to know.


Quick Tips

  1. Go portable: 11- to 14-inch screen size, less than 4 pounds
  2. Durability matters: Spill-resistant keyboards, MIL-SPEC tested are pluses.
  3. Recommended specs: Intel Core m or Core i CPU, 8GB of RAM, 256GB SSD, 802.11ac Wi-Fi. Chromebooks can have less.
  4. OS Options: Chromebooks are good for kids. Windows is best for productivity, but macOS is for art/design students. 
  5. Battery life: 8+ hours is ideal; 6+ hours is required.  
  6. Keyboard and touchpad: Look for responsive keys with deep travel.
  7. Consider a 2-in-1: Great for drawing, pen-based note taking, working while standing up

MORE: Best Laptops for College Students

Top Picks

  Laptop Price
Best Budget Pick Dell Inspiron 3000 $199 
Affordable Durability Acer Chromebook 11 N7 $279
Best Under $700 Asus ZenBook UX330UA $699
Best Detachable Microsoft Surface Pro $749
Best Bend-Back 2-in-1 HP Spectre x360 $1,199
Best For Film-Editing Apple MacBook Pro (15-inch) $2,399

1. Pick a portable size

The whole point of buying a student laptop is that you can carry the device to class. Unless you're an engineering student who needs a CAD workstation, look for a laptop that weighs under 4 pounds and has an 11- to 14-inch display. Film students editing their masterpieces may also need a larger screen, such as the high-res panel in the 15-inch MacBook Pro. 

HP Spectre

A younger student can get by with a laptop that has an 11-inch screen, but typing space and screen visibility are often a concern at that size. Thirteen inches is the sweet spot between portability and usability, although students in the arts or engineering may put more value on a bigger screen.

2. Pay for durability

acer chromebook 11 n7 c731t nw g08Credit: Jeremy Lips/Laptop Mag

If you have more to spend, shop for laptops made from aluminum, magnesium alloy or carbon fiber, for sturdiness you can count on. Also, look to see if the manufacturer has made any durability claims. Some student laptops, like the Acer Chromebook 11 N7, are specifically made to survive drops from a particular height. Many business laptops are made to pass MIL-SPEC 810G durability tests, and they work just as well in the classroom as in the boardroom. A spill-resistant keyboard is a big plus.

3. Get specs for the long haul

You want something that isn't going to be obsolete before graduation, so keep an eye on the key internal components.

Display: Most budget and many mainstream laptops have low-res, 1366 x 768 displays that aren't very sharp and can't fit a lot of text on the screen, which makes them poor choices for writing papers or doing research. Unless you're buying a really inexpensive laptop or one with an 11-inch screen, getting a display that's at least 1920 x 1080 (1080p) resolution should be a priority.

You can go even higher, too, with resolutions of 2560 x 1440 (QHD) or 3840 x 2160 (UHD). These are great for photo and video students who need to view high-res source material, but those display specs add to the price and subtract from the battery life. Touch screens add functionality to your laptop, but they consume a ton of power, shortening your battery life by 10 to 25 percent, so don't get one unless you really need it.

MORE: Why 78 Percent of Laptop Screens Suck

CPU: If you want a system that provides solid performance for today and tomorrow, get an Intel Core i5 or Core i7 CPU. Make sure the processor model number has a 7000 in it (ex; Core i5-7200U), which means that you have the latest Intel 7th Generation (aka Kaby Lake) chip. If you're on a tight budget, a Core i3, Pentium or Celeron CPU will suffice for light productivity work, and Intel's Core M processor delivers decent performance in slim-and-light designs.

RAM: Unless you're buying a cheap laptop for a younger child, 4GB is the bare minimum amount of RAM you should have in a laptop, and 8GB is ideal. That will run everything you need without dragging you down or interfering with multitasking.

Storage Drive/Hard Drive: Getting an SSD (solid-state drive) rather than a mechanical hard drive has a more significant effect on performance than buying a fast processor. Because SSDs have no moving parts, they run three to four times faster than typical 5,400 rpm or 7,200 rpm hard drives. That means faster app opens, start times and task switching, along with much better responsiveness. SSDs do cost a lot more while offering less storage, so if you have a lot of media files, you may need to store some in the cloud or on an external drive.

Wi-Fi: Make sure you get a laptop with 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard, rather than the older 802.11n.

Ports: USB Type-C ports are the future, but regular USB Type-A ports are the present. If you can get a laptop with a mix of both, that's ideal. Definitely try to get a laptop with multiple USB ports, so you don't need to carry a lot of dongles with you.

4. Get the right OS


Consider the operating system. If you're heading off to college, check with the university about software requirements. Sometimes schools will need you to have a specific type of software or operating system to ensure compliance with future workloads. Windows 10 is the most popular operating system and most versatile; Microsoft's platform has millions of applications, supports both touch-friendly tablet mode and keyboard-friendly desktop mode and offers the helpful Cortana digital assistant.

mission control

Apple's given its macOS platform even better integration with the iPhone, as well as its digital assistant Siri. And while Windows 10 is the platform with the most programs, there are certain apps that are exclusive to Macs, so ask others in your field of study to confirm which operating system best suits you.

MORE: Meet macOS Sierra: 8 Best Features

Chromebooks, while offering limited software options, could be just the thing for the truly budget-conscious shopper who is comfortable doing everything online. These devices start at just $149 and are increasingly accepted by some school districts. Soon, Chromebooks will offer support for Android apps from the Google Play Store.

5. Look for 8 hours or more of battery life

Don't tether yourself to an outlet. Get a laptop that promises quality battery life, and look for systems with optional extended batteries for the longest run times. In general, you're better off buying a system with more than 8 hours of juice, regardless of the price. The average for ultraportable laptops is 7 hours, 55 minutes, based on the Laptop Mag Battery Test (continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi). However, some models, such as the Lenovo ThinkPad T460, can last for as long as 17 hours, with the right battery.

ThinkPad T460

You can even find all-day-long battery life in a super-affordable laptop. The $199 Dell Inspiron 11 3000 made it 13 hours and 39 minutes on our battery test, a time nobody would expect for a notebook at that price. Just know that this machine isn't for multitasking, as its Intel Celeron N3060 CPU and 2GB of RAM kept our count of open Chrome tabs low. 

MORE: Laptops with the Longest Battery Life

 6. Check the keyboard and touchpad

The keyboard should be springy and comfortable, not mushy. Look for deep travel and strong feedback. The touchpad is equally important; you'll want to make sure the responsiveness is smooth and that multitouch gestures like pinch-to-zoom are appropriately reactive. Business laptops — such as Lenovo ThinkPads, Dell Latitudes and HP EliteBooks — offer some of the best keyboards and touchpads.

7. Consider a 2-in-1

hp spectre x360 chillin

2-in-1s can handle a lot of work while giving you the flexibility of a tablet. There are two kinds of hybrids: laptops with lids that flip back 360 degrees, and detachable tablets. Amongst bend-back 2-in-1s, the HP Spectre x360 is our favorite for its beautiful, slim design, speedy 7th-Gen CPU and fantastic keyboard. Our favorite detachable 2-in-1 is the Surface Pro (which starts at $749, and another $159 for the keyboard cover) is our favorite, for its great design, vibrant screen and powerful performance. Our favorite overall However, if you're looking for something more affordable, Dell's Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 offers a sleek premium design, a comfortable keyboard and strong audio, for just $749.



Add a comment
  • Suvarna vaman patil Says:

    I want to buy laptop with best features. How?

  • rajesh Says:

    Sir I want to be purchased a new laptop which company laptops is suitable for all work nd which have included all featured of laptop like as os. Front camera quality good hd screen etc. Can you reply in my email account please as soon as


    thank you for teaching and advising IT class over exploitation and fake gadgets by business world

  • sanjeev kumar Says:

    I also want to buy a laptop but the best .how I can get this

  • PayLessDeal Says:

    Well I wonder a normal laptop can give you 8 hours of battery life, even if it does then how can you sit in a shop for 8 hours to check either the battery lives for 8 hours or not? Rests of the things mentioned above are perfect. Check all the properties to confirm that all the specs are as same as mentioned back of the laptop machine.

  • Reena Says:

    Hi. Looking for a laptop to take to university. Will be using lots of software for presentations and work. Don't know if I should go with MAC or Windows. Need a good battery life and average to light weight since I will be carrying it around often.

  • Benna Says:

    I am going into 9th grade next year and I need a now laptop, however I have started getting into gaming as well, and I want to have a laptop that can run steam and with ease while also being capable of accessing the internet and word easily. PLEASE HELP! I have been looking everywhere and I cannot find anywhere that has a modern computer that fits my needs.

  • Krishna Says:

    How would be lenovo s510p core i5 fourth gen laptop for a freshman at college

  • Lucia Says:

    Want to buy laptop for the first time.
    Which one is good and more reliable for me as I am going to the varsity next year?
    Approx price range:4000

    Thanks in advance.

  • Atanu Basu Says:

    I want to buy a laptop for my daughter( college student) approx price range ₹ 25000/=.

  • Ashish kumar Says:

    I'll soon be joining CS B.Tech. Should i go for an SSD laptop or a laptop with a dedicated graphic card. ( most laptops except macbook don't have both SSD and dedicated graphics

  • Saikat Ghosh Says:

    I'm a student in High School, and will soon be going to College..
    I was looking for a laptop for my studies, and found one the suits this article.. The Micromax Canvas Laptab 2(LT777).. Do you thing I should go for this one??..

  • John Davison Says:

    With the touch screens windows 8 is ought to have to more fun and immersive, but if laptop is not hybrid with a bendable or rotatable screen, you can probably live without it. The difference in price is similarly configured systems with and without touch.

  • UConnRon Says:

    Chromebooks are an excellent choice. Most students use their computers for word processing and email. Avoid paying a lot of money for power you do not need. I would recommend a 13" to 15" Chromebook. All the apps (software) are included as is virus protection. Battery life is 7 to 9 hours. My preference is the Toshiba Chromebook 2.

  • Grammar Man Says:

    In the second paragraph, you say there are 8 tips, but there are only 7 on the list. Outstanding editing.

  • kabi nonia Says:

    I m college student and buy a laptop.

  • kabi nonia Says:

    I m a college student and buy a laptop.

  • chetankumar Says:

    i want a mini laptop which runs on windows 7. my price range is maximum 16000rs. plz help me which is better for me

  • Kasper Says:

    I was also seriously confounded on his remarks on battery life. Today, a good laptop should have at least seven hours of idle battery life.

    However, your remarks on processing power (including graphics) are ridiculous. If you play games then yes, but as far as office tasks, music, watching video, you don't need serious processing power, most processors will be adequate. Considering the pace of processor development, you can always buy a better machine WHEN you actually need one, and at that time price/performance/battery life will be much better. Only if you play games or do anything that really challenge your system, should you consider the present performance options. But a lot of people don't, and Pentium as well as AMD A- and E-series, will perfectly satisfactory for their needs.

    Lastly 7200 rpm over 5400 rpm is a terrible recommendation. As a student you want a quiet pc, and the potential performance increase is simply not worth the noise and increased energy consumption. The only serious improvement a student should consider is a Solid State Drive (SSD). Save all that video and maybe music on external drives, and save money by installing the drive by yourself, there are plenty of (video) guides out there.

  • Legan Gray Says:

    on the windows vs OS debate, throw in that some schools have software that only runs in one or the other only.
    In my engineering school some programs ran in both systems but there were a couple of classes where the software only had windows version.

  • Janice Says:

    I am looking for a very light weight laptop to take between home and office each work day, and use for travel too. Haven't had a laptop since the days of Texas Instruments (my first) in '96, so I'm out of touch. I want a comfortable keypad as I will no a lot of reports, and plenty of memory for software and apps. The Gateway Atom looks fair -- not too crazy about the keypad, but I like the price! Any other suggestions?

  • Dass Says:

    Well I want to game too at school so I picked this HP one with a pretty good Nvidia graphics card


    lenovo think pad, hp, dell, Toshiba, ASUS and APPLE are just mixed in this brochure!!!!!

  • altern Says:

    Who says mac is more secure than windows?!!!

  • Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief Says:

    Here's a link to our Best Back to School Laptops for 2012. This includes a ThinkPad.

  • Ezekiel Carsella Says:

    meowzer is right. second the lenovo ideapad U310 is the best laptop for back to school kids. good keyboard and trackpad combo, with ultrabook specs mean perfection.

  • Meowzer Says:

    So you talk about bad buying guides and then offer a bad buying guide yourself? LOL!

    Please...anyone buying your kid a computer, DO NOT buy an Apple. Apple is a patent troll killing innovation. That will have a serious negative effect on your child's future. Lenovo, Asus and others Windows laptop manufacturers offer cutting edge technology compared to Apple.

  • Art Says:

    My God, have you actually ever used a laptop?

    You are so disconnected that your article seems like a copy /paste or plain dump from any laptop manufacturer brochure. Next time saves yourself some time and just post the link to the brochure.

  • dan Says:

    Interesting, you're using images of Lenovo Thinkpad but never mention this excellent machine in your biased article!

  • dominik Says:

    so which one is the ideal student laptop ?

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