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

Best laptop for students
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Looking for the best student laptop can be a daunting task, as the range of potential options is vast. Luckily for you, we've picked the best laptops on the market right now that are perfect for student life, and our real-time price tracking software means you can find the your preferred machine at the lowest possible price.

Choosing the right student laptop is all about the three Ps: performance, portability and price. Generally speaking, the more you spend, the more performance/speed you'll get, and these days that needn't come at the expense of portability, as there are now plenty of powerful laptops that are also thin and light.

The amount of performance you actually need depends on the kind of work you'll be doing on your laptop. Graphic design, 3D modelling or any subject involving digital arts will inevitably require a laptop with plenty of punch, as well as a top-notch screen to give you the best possible view of your work. If you'll be studying one of these subject areas, then we'd recommend checking out or guides to the Best photo editing laptops or the Best laptops for video editing to find a more powerful laptop that wont slow you down when working on performance-hungry projects.

In this guide we're placing a greater priority on price than performance, as if you'll be primarily using a laptop for word processing, video conferencing, or music and video streaming, you really don't need to spend big bucks. What's more, a laptop which isn't packing the fastest, most powerful components will use less electricity and you should get longer battery life.

It can be tempting to therefore pick the cheapest possible laptop, kick back and wait for the courier to deliver it. But not so fast. Just web browsing nowadays can consume a scary amount of computer memory (RAM). In fact, as I write this, with 15 Chrome tabs in use and no other open apps, 31% of my 16GB of RAM is already consumed. Therefore, you really need a laptop with at least 8GB RAM, especially as these days the sleekest laptops usually don't have user-upgradable memory, so you're stuck with any potential hardware limitations for the lifetime of the laptop.

Hard drive storage is less of a concern. A 128GB SSD or greater should be enough for your apps, though if you're a gamer and have an extensive Steam library, then consider a 256GB SSD as a bare minimum. Storing additional image, music or movie files is easy by connecting an external hard drive or portable SSD, and one of these storage devices will almost always cheaper than configuring your new laptop with an equivalent amount of extra internal storage at the point of purchase.

So without further ado, here are our top student laptop picks right now....

The best student laptops in 2021

Editor's Choice

(Image credit: Apple)

1. Apple MacBook Air 13-inch M1

It's not 'cheap', but the MacBook Air M1 is unbeatable value for students

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.

Recommended

(Image credit: Dell)

2. 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.

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: Lenovo)

3. Lenovo ThinkBook 15

A great budget laptop for students

Processor: Intel Core i5-1035G1 (4 cores, 1GHz base frequency) | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 256GB SSD | Screen: 15.6-inch IPS LCD, 1920 x 1080

Subtle design
Quality screen
Excellent selection of ports
Not the fastest performer
Low capacity SSD

The ThinkBook 15 is a thin and light laptop just 18.9mm thick and tipping the scales at a very reasonable 1.7kg. The external aesthetic is subtle and corporate, making it an ideal machine for use at home or school/college/uni.

In an age where physical connection ports are in short supply, Lenovo has given the ThinkBook 15 a refreshing well stocked selection of connections. There are three USB 3.1 Gen 1 (including 2 Type-A and 1 Type-C), a super-fast USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type C port, a hidden USB 2.0 port, plus headphone/mic, HDMI and an SD card reader.

Battery life is respectable at up to 9 hours, partly due to the power-efficient Intel Core i5-1035G1 quad-core processor. It won't set any speed records, but will be enough for some light Photoshop work. The 8GB of RAM is also up to the job, as is the 256GB SSD.

More than just adequate is the Full HD 1920x1080 screen. It's IPS-based, so you can be assured of top quality viewing angles and reliable color and contrast.

(Image credit: HP)

4. HP Chromebook 14 FHD

if you can live without Windows, this ultra-budget laptop is a real student steal

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 budget 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, 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, a laptop 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.

(Image credit: Microsoft)

5. 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! 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.

(Image credit: Apple)

6. Apple MacBook Air (early-2020)

This design classic has a great keyboard for word processing

CPU: 1.1GHz dual-core Intel Core i3, 1.1GHz quad-core Intel Core i5, 1.2GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 | Graphics: Intel Iris Plus | RAM: 8GB – 16GB | Screen: 13.3-inch (diagonal) 2,560 x 1,600 LED-backlit display with IPS technology | Storage: 256GB – 2TB SSD | Dimensions: 11.97 x 8.36 x 0.63 inches (30.41 x 21.24 x 1.61cm; W x D x H)

Best keyboard yet for a MacBook Air
Great looks
Choice of CPU/RAM options to suit your budget
100% recycled aluminum
Still not a high-power machine

The MacBook Air is the most affordable route into getting an Apple MacBook. The early 2020 version of the MacBook Air directly precedes the current MacBook Air M1 (above) and was a significant power upgrade over previous Airs.

But what really sets it apart is its keyboard design... Gone are the old butterfly switches from previous Airs, which were too shallow for many people, and prone to sticking if they filled with crumbs. Instead you get Apple's Magic keyboard, which first appeared on the 2019 MacBook Pro. This makes for a better typing experience - great for taking rapid lecture notes or pulling an all-nighter to get an essay in before deadline.

With many retailers still selling the 2020 MacBook Air at a discount, now's the time to bag a bargain.

(Image credit: Google)

7. 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 a quality laptop at a reasonable price, providing you don't mind making the switch from Windows or Mac OS to Google's Chrome OS opperating 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.

(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.

Of course, all this versatility and performance doesn't come cheap, but that's inevitable.

(Image credit: HP)

9. HP 15s-fq1003na

Best for extra-long battery life and sleek portability

Processor: Intel Core i5-1035G1 (4 cores, 1GHz base frequency) | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 512GB SSD | Screen: 15.6-inch IPS LCD, 1920x1080

Ultra-portable and light
Excellent battery life
Generous SSD capacity
Slower than average processor

The big attraction with this laptop is its low 1.69kg weight and sleek 35.85 x 24.2 x 1.79 cm dimensions. Factor the outstanding battery life of up to 10 hours 15 minutes and this is the laptop for you if you'll be spending prolonged periods off-grid.

The long battery life is made possible by an ultra-efficient quad-core Intel Core i5-1035G1 processor. It'll handle most apps, though its 1GHz base frequency is lower than average, so particularly intensive tasks can take a little longer.

Elsewhere, 8GB RAM is perfectly adequate, while the included 512GB SSD storage is particularly generous and fast for the price point. There's even a built-in SD card reader, too.

Also impressive is the 15.6-inch Full HD 1920 x 1080 screen, which is IPS-based so is a pleasure to work on.

Overall, if you need a slimmer and more efficient laptop, this is superb value for money.

(Image credit: ASUS)

10. 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 budget laptop for students, proving that low cost doesn't have to mean low style.

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