Whether you use a laptop for taking notes in class or watching YouTube videos, you’ll need to make a well-informed decision on the best laptops for college. You can now get entry-level laptops for college students on a budget for $200 to $400. But we think it’s worthwhile to spend at least a few hundred more to get a machine with long battery life and better performance. This list, which represents our top choices for best laptops for college, university and even high school students, is based on our own hands-on use and benchmark testing
Most of our best laptops for college picks cost $500 or more. If you’re on a budget and looking for something less expensive — or if you’re interested in an alternative to Microsoft Windows and Apple’s MacOS — we’d recommend checking out our list of the best Chromebooks for students. Though the prices are generally lower, they’re great for student laptop basics like email, getting on the internet, creating documents or working with spreadsheets — especially if you’re already working with Google’s apps.
Best Mac value
Apple MacBook Air (2018)
In 2018, Apple announced a new USB Type-C version of the MacBook Air — an evergreen favorite of college students — upgrading it with a Retina display, Touch ID and USB Type-C port. This discount is just $50 shy of the all-time lowest price we’ve seen for that model — which is nearly identical to the brand-new one that debuted in July — except that it doesn’t have Apple’s True Tone display technology. But you do get an Intel Core i processor (i5), 8GB of memory and a 128GB SSD of storage that’s faster than the one in the newer device.
In July, Apple lowered the list price of the brand new MacBook Air to $1,099. But that model — and the device from last year, featured here — have been heavily discounted over the past few months. We’ve always got the lowest prices in our roundup of the best MacBook Air deals. Read our Apple MacBook Air (2018) review.
Best Windows pick
If you’re committed to the Windows operating system and want a balance of portability, power and price, it’s hard to find a better laptop than the XPS 13. This CNET Editors’ Choice is attractive, incomparably slim and offers a ton of customization (and price) options. It has an excellent keyboard and decent battery life for a 4K laptop. Dell also makes a version with a 15-inch screen. Both start at around $1,000. Read our Dell XPS 13 (2019) review.
Best Windows 2-in-1
Microsoft Surface Pro 6
The Surface Pro remains the standard-bearer for Windows devices that work as both laptop and tablet, though they’re better tablets than they are laptops. (If you’re looking for the opposite, Lenovo’s Yoga devices, which are also two-in-ones, are better laptops than they are tablets.) The Surface Pro 6 has quad-core processors for strong performance and good battery life.
Amazon is currently offering a sweet deal on a Surface Pro 6 with Type Cover for a budget price under $800. And keep in mind that Microsoft just announced at an Oct. 2 event a number of new Surface devices. Read our Microsoft Surface Pro 6 review.
Best entry-level gaming rig
Straight up, this laptop is among the best Windows alternatives to a MacBook Pro. And though Razer has already announced a new version featuring Intel’s Ice Lake chipset, Best Buy’s $500 discount on the previous model makes this device a certified bargain. Note that the step-up version of the previous model, with a 512GB solid-state drive, is also on sale for $1,500. Read our Razer Blade Stealth (2019) review.
Best 15.6-inch convertible Chromebook
Lenovo Yoga Chromebook C630
The Yoga C630 Chromebook is a great, inexpensive student laptop — one that doubles as an enormous tablet — with a killer 4K display, solid battery life and blazing performance for everyday productivity and entertainment tasks. This is the Chromebook version of Lenovo’s excellent C930, one of our all-time favorite two-in-one convertibles, which costs hundreds more. Read our Lenovo Yoga Chromebook C630 review.
Best pick for power gamers
Asus ROG Zephyrus S
I reviewed the Zephyrus S last year and loved its 15.6-inch HD screen size and backlit keyboard. If you are looking for a gaming laptop, this configuration delivers very solid performance for the price: For around $1,400, you get a gaming laptop with an Intel Core i7 processor and a GeForce GTX 1070 graphics card, with 16 GB DDR 4 RAM and a 512GB PCIe SSD — though it died just short of four hours into our battery life test, so battery endurance isn’t its strong point.