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The best student laptops in 2021: the perfect computers for college

Best student laptops
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Picking out the best student laptops isn't just a matter of finding the cheapest model on the market (although affordability is definitely a factor). Students need a laptop that will support them throughout their course, providing enough power, performance, portability and durability for their needs.

Of course, the more money you spend, the better product you will tend to get. However, there are plenty of affordable models available that are some of the best student laptops around. 

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When deciding what type of student laptop you should invest in, it's worth considering what your course will require. If the most strenuous activity you'll be putting your machine through will be essay writing and the occasional Netflix marathon, then the best student laptops listed below will be perfect for your needs.

However, if you're doing a course that will be a little more taxing on your laptop, such as graphic design, 3D modeling or any subject involving the digital arts, then you'll not only need a well-specced machine, but you'll also need a great screen too. We would recommend taking a look at the best laptops for photo editing or the best laptops for video editing, if you're going down this academic route.

Discover more tips for choosing the best student laptop for you at the end of this article – and see our top picks for the best student laptop below. 

The best student laptops in 2021

(Image credit: HP)

1. HP Chromebook 14 FHD

The best student laptop currently available

Weight: 1.54kg | Dimensions: 337 x 226 x 18.3mm | Screen size: 14-inch | Resolution: 1920 x 1080 | CPU: Intel® Celeron® N3350 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 32GB | Battery life: Up to 11 hours

Amazing price
Great screen
Ultra-portable and long battery life
Slow CPU and limited RAM

Rather than running Windows or Mac OS, this student laptop is based on Google's ChromeOS operating system. It's designed to be super-simple to use and runs apps from Google's Play Store, just like an Android phone or tablet. As such you won't be able to use Windows software like the Office suite, but the Google's own cloud-based productivity apps like Docs and Sheets are genuinely viable alternatives.

Despite its low price, this is one of the best Chromebooks you can buy right now, with its standout feature being its 14-inch Full HD 1080p screen. It's an IPS panel, so you needn't worry about restricted viewing angles or weak contrast. Be sure you go for this Full HD (FHD) version of the HP Chromebook 14 though, as other models are available with lesser screens, and we don't reckon the marginally lower price is worth the significant reduction in display quality.

Of course, one of the best student laptops that's this cheap is never going be an image-editing powerhouse, and the Intel Celeron N3350 processor, 4GB of RAM and 32GB onboard storage all represent the minimum of what you can get away with for web browsing or HD YouTube viewing. But the payoff for having such power-efficient hardware is up to 11 hours battery life from a device just 33.7 x 22.6 x 1.83 cm large and a mere 1.54kg light.

Best student laptops

(Image credit: Acer)

2. Acer Swift 3

One of the best student laptops around

Weight: 1.18kg | Dimensions: 32 x 21.59 x 1.5cm | Screen size: 14" | Resolution: FHD 1080p IPS | CPU: 11th-generation Intel Core i5 – i7 | RAM: up to 16GB LPDDR4X | Storage: up to 1TB PCIe Gen SSD

Lightweight and portable
Suitably powerful
Not great for gaming

If you're in the market for one of the best student laptops, the Acer Swift 3 (2020) is definitely one to consider. We're a big fan of the way it balances an affordable price tag with enough power to help students navigate their everyday life at school, college or university. Whether you need to browse the web for research or write your latest essay, the Acer Swift 3 (2020) is designed to easily handle day-to-day tasks.

One of the Acer Swift 3 (2020)'s most useful features is how thin and light it is. While it boasts a 14" screen, it's only 1.5cm thick and weights a featherlight 1.18kg (2.7lbs). However, while it might be super light, that doesn't mean that the construction is cheap or flimsy. The Acer Swift 3 (2020) has been designed to have a great build quality that won't easily break. No, this isn't the most powerful piece of hardware in the world, but, for most students, the Acer Swift 3 (2020) will be the perfect companion in their studies.

Best student laptops

(Image credit: Acer)

3. Acer Chromebook 314

This is the best student laptop if you're on a budget

Weight: 2.27kg | Dimensions: 23.2 x 32.54 x 1.97 cm | Screen size: 14" | Resolution: 1366 x 768px High Def | CPU: Intel Celeron N4000 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 32GB eMMC | Battery life: 12.5 hours

Fantastic battery life
High definition screen
Not much RAM
No touchscreen

The Acer Chromebook 314 is a super affordable laptop with a fantastic battery life and a suitably large 14" display for students to work on their essays (and perhaps watch one of the best streaming services to unwind afterwards!). Running Chrome OS rather than Windows 10, the Acer Chromebook 314 might not be the most specced up laptop on the market (it's worth remembering that you won't be able to download third party software – only apps from the Google Play store), but it's a great workhorse that'll see you through your course with ease. 

If you're a student taking a course that will require a little more power from your laptop, such as photography or media, then we'd recommend one of the more powerful best student laptops in this guide. However, if the most strenuous activities you'll be undertaking are writing essays or embarking on a Netflix marathon, then you just can't go wrong with the Acer Chromebook 314 for the price.

(Image credit: Google)

4. Google Pixelbook Go

This awesome Chromebook is a student's dream machine

Weight: 1.061kg | Dimensions: 311 x 206.3 x 13.4mm | Screen size: 13.3-inch | Resolution: Full HD / 4K | CPU: Intel Core m3-i7 | RAM: 8/16GB | Storage: 64GB-256GB | Battery life: Up to 12 hours

All models offer decent performance
Great screen on all models
Terrific keyboard
Most models are quite pricey

Chromebooks are a value-packed way to get one of the best student laptops at a reasonable price, providing you don't mind making the switch from Windows or Mac OS to Google's Chrome OS operating system. With the Pixelbook Go, not only does Google make the software, it also produces the laptop itself.

The Pixelbook Go brings the best features of the original Pixelbook to a more affordable price point (though the top-spec Intel Core i7 model with a 4K screen still commands a distinctly premium four-figure price tag). But thankfully even the entry-level model still sports a gorgeous 13.3-inch Full HD IPS screen, and its 8GB of RAM should suffice for most tasks. Web browsing and word processing are a joy with the Pixelbook's tactile Hush Keys keyboard, and you'll look the part when distance learning thanks to the built-in 1080p webcam. 12-hour battery life and a barely believable weight of just over 1kg seal the deal.

Editor's Choice

(Image credit: Apple)

5. Apple MacBook Air 13-inch M1

This is one of Apple's best student laptops

Processor: Apple M1 8-core | RAM: 8-16GB | Storage: 256GB-2TB SSD | Screen: 13.3-inch 2560 x 1600 IPS Retina

Finish, design, low weight
Excellent Retina display
Silent, fanless design
No HDMI port or memory card slot
8-core GPU model costs more
Barely lighter than MacBook Pro M1

The MacBook Air 13-in M1 is impressive in three main areas: first, its design, finish and ergonomics; second, its sheer performance for a lightweight laptop; third, its value for money given those other two things.

Its Retina screen is, as ever, just beautiful. Apple says it has a 25% wider color range than sRGB, but doesn’t mention Adobe RGB, which leads us to assume it’s somewhere in the middle. The contrast, definition and brightness are stellar, and while the 2560 x 1600 resolution isn’t 4K, it’s an important step up from a regular 1920 x 1080 screen.

There are just two USB ports, which is annoying, it’s not really a lot smaller than a regular MacBook, even though it looks like it, and the 7-core entry level model is a bit of an odd proposition, but these are pretty minor complaints. This is a beautifully made notebook computer that offers supreme portability and versatility for a fair price – definitely one of the best student laptops for Apple fans!

(Image credit: Microsoft)

6. Microsoft Surface Laptop Go

The cheapest-ever Surface laptop is great for students

CPU: 1GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 (3.6GHz Turbo) | Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics | RAM: 4GB-8GB | Screen: 12.4-inch (diagonal) 1536 x 1024 3:2 PixelSense™ Display, 10-ppoint multi-touch | Storage: 64-256GB SSD | Dimensions: 278 x 206 x 15.7mm

Super-slim and light
Huge battery life
Signature Surface design/quality
Won't win any speed records
Relatively small screen
Cheapest model is a false economy

Microsoft's huge range of Surface laptops and tablet-laptop combo devices is, frankly, baffling these days. Thankfully, the new Surface Laptop Go is easy to figure out - it's the cheapest Surface Laptop you can buy, making it one of the best student laptops. It's also wonderfully light and compact, at just 1.1kg and 278 x 206 x 15.7mm. Battery life is also stellar, rated at 13 hours for typical usage.

The key to such great battery longevity is the power-sipping quad-core 10th gen Intel Core i5-1035G1 processor, though this is no speed demon, and the relatively small 12.4-inch screen will be restrictive for extended periods of image editing.

Three versions of the Surface Laptop Go are available, with the only key differences being RAM and storage capacity. The cheapest of the trio is best avoided, however, as its paltry 4GB RAM won't go far once you've opened a few web browser tabs and fired up a 1080P video, and its 64GB SSD storage is similarly stingy. The mid-range option is the pick of the bunch thanks to its 8GB RAM and 128GB SSD. The flagship Surface Laptop Go gets you a larger 256GB SSD, but the corresponding price increase is too much to justify. 

Recommended

(Image credit: Dell)

7. Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1

This 14-inch laptop/tablet combo is big on versatility

Processor: Intel® Core™ i5-10210U (4 cores, 1.6GHz base frequency) | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 512GB SSD | Screen: 14-inch IPS LCD, 1920x1080,touchscreen

Versatile flip-over screen
Screen is touch and pen enabled
512GB SSD storage
Bulky in tablet mode

Fancy a laptop and tablet in one? The Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 offers an outstanding amount of versatility and features for a very reasonable price – perfect as one of the best student laptops. 

The 14-inch Full HD screen can flip back and around to rest on the back of the machine, creating a tablet PC, albeit a thick one. The screen is touch-sensitive and can be used as a basic pen-enabled graphics tablet - a very rare trick in the budget sector. Dell hasn't forgotten about display quality either, as the panel uses IPS tech - great for photo quality.

Under the hood is a bang-up-to-date 10th generation Intel® Core™ i5-10210U quad-core CPU with a potent 1.6GHz base speed and up to 4.2GHz boost speed. Pair this with the 8GB of RAM and generous 512GB SSD and you've got very respectable all-round performance.

(Image credit: Acer)

8. Acer Chromebook Spin 13

Here you don't just get a laptop, you get a tablet too!

Weight: 1.5kg | Dimensions: 309.5 x 245.8 x 17mm | Screen size: 13.5-inch | Resolution: 2256 x 1504 | CPU: Intel Pentium 4417U | RAM: 4-8GB | Storage: 64-256GB | Battery life : Up to 10 hours

Long battery life
Respectable performance
Large, high quality touchscreen display
Relatively big and heavy
Trackpad could be better

Most Chromebooks prioritize portability and low cost over processing power and multitasking versatility, but Acer's Chromebook Spin 13 is a genuine alternative to a full-blown Windows laptop or MacBook. It's still capable of a mighty impressive 10-hour max run time, but you get a practical 8GB of RAM (4GB in the base model - not recommended), and a reasonably nippy quad-core processor.

There's no cut-price, low-res screen either, as the 13.5-inch IPS screen boasts a resolution higher than Full HD. But the Chromebook Spin 13's real party-piece is its ability to transform into a tablet, with its low 1.5kg weight making this a genuinely useful feature. This flexibility of being either a laptop or a tablet makes the Acer Chromebook Spin 13 one of the best student laptops, giving you the ultimate freedom to pursue your studies in the best way to suit you. 

(Image credit: ASUS)

9. ASUS VivoBook S15 S530

Sleek and stylish, yet packed with power - what's not to like?

Processor: Intel Core Intel Core i5-8250U (4 cores, 1.6GHz base frequency) | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 256GB SSD | Screen: 15.6-inch IPS LCD, 1920 x 1080

Sleek styling
Decent screen
Built-in card reader
Not all S15 models have an IPS screen
Processor lacks some speed

Asus's VivoBook range is extensive, and rather confusing, but pay close attention to the specs and it is possible to grab a 15.6-inch model equipped with a high quality Full HD IPS screen with wide viewing angles and reliable contrast. There are various different VivoBook S15 model numbers that can get you this screen option, but the S530 is one of the safer bets.

Several processor options are available, but the quad-core Intel Core i5-8250U balances performance and cost the best. Elsewhere, the S530 is most often specced with a healthy 8GB of RAM and a small but fast 256GB SSD. Measuring 361.4  x 243.5  x 18mm and weighing in at 1.8kg, the VivoBook is also a svelte student laptop, proving that low cost doesn't have to mean low style.

Which of the best student laptops is right for you?

In this guide to the best student laptops, we've focused on affordable models over powerhouses. This is because most students won't need their laptop for much more than word processing, making Zoom calls and using the best streaming services – so there's no point in splashing your cash if this is all you expect to be doing. Plus, the less powerful your components, the less electricity you'll be using and the longer your battery life should be.

Now, we understand that it might be tempting to pick out the cheapest possible machine, but you might end up kicking yourself in the long run. Even simply browsing the web can consume a lot of RAM (computer memory). In fact, with 15 Chrome tabs open and no other apps running, 31% of my 16GB of RAM on my own laptop has already been consumed. We would recommend going for the best student laptop that has at least 8GB of RAM. 

Meanwhile, hard drive storage is less of an issue. While it's getting increasingly rarer to find a best student laptop that can be upgraded with extra RAM, external storage is much more accessible. We would recommend going for a laptop that features a 128GB SSD or greater, as this should be enough for all of your apps (unless you're a gamer, in which case a 256GB SSD should be the bare minimum). 

If you need more storage in the future, you can easily pick up an external hard drive or portable SSD. This is a much more affordable option than configuring your new laptop with an equivalent amount of extra internal storage at the point of purchase.

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