For students of all ages, a reliable laptop can make the difference between a passing grade and missing the deadline on your final paper. The dizzying array of laptop brands, designs, capabilities, and perhaps most importantly, prices, can make it difficult to choose the right computer for your studies.
Our best laptop for school (for most people) is the Apple M1 MacBook Pro(available at Apple). It's stylish, ultra-powerful, and its battery keeps going for 14 straight hours of frantic research and Netflix breaks. Should our main pick not suit your needs, our guide includes a number of other laptops that work great inside the classroom and out.
These are the best laptops for students we tested, ranked in order:
Best Overall: Apple MacBook Pro 13 M1
Best Budget: HP Envy x360 15
Best Gaming Laptop for Students: Asus ROG Strix G15 AMD Advantage
Apple MacBook Air M1
Asus Chromebook Flip C434TA
Dell XPS 13 9310
MSI Summit E16 Flip
Asus ROG Zephyrus G14
Asus Zenbook 14
Dell Inspiron 3501
Apple MacBook Pro (2020)
We liked the mid-2020 MacBook Pro 13 well enough, but the M1-based late-2020 model just annihilated it. On the outside, it’s the same MacBook, but don’t be fooled. Apple’s new M1 processor is way more powerful than even the high-end Intel Core i7 from the mid-2020 MacBook.
When tested side by side, the M1 MacBook Pro 13 scored over 60% higher than the mid-2020 model. Wow.
Of course, power means nothing without great battery life and user experience. Worry not, for the M1 MacBook Pro 13 shattered our battery life record. During our Chrome-based battery test, it just kept going, not dying until about 14 hours later. The longest-lasting Windows competitor went 9 hours before giving up.
If you’re interested in a new MacBook, there are only two reasons to turn away from the M1 MacBook Pro 13. Either you need an Intel-based Mac or discrete GPU (i.e. a MacBook Pro 16), or you’re considering the M1 MacBook Air 13.
The MacBook Air 13 offers almost exactly the same features for a more modest price tag, albeit with slightly worse graphics performance. The extra money for the Pro also gets you a Touch Bar, one more hour of battery life (the Air lasted 13 hours to the Pro’s 14), and a fan. The MacBook Air is an awesome laptop, but the Pro’s upgrades are well worth the money if you can afford it.
If you’re debating between an M1 MacBook and a premium Windows laptop, the MacBooks win. They’re more powerful, with significantly better battery life, a wonderful aesthetic, and strong user experience. Unless you absolutely need Windows, we recommend the MacBook Pro 13 or MacBook Air.
Fast, beautiful, and affordable, the 15-inch HP Envy x360 is a dream for those who need a larger laptop that won't break the bank. Inside its beautiful body, the 15-inch Envy packs an AMD Ryzen 5 processor that trades blows with laptops twice its price—perfect for photo editing, light gaming, and even a bit of video editing.
The HP Envy’s 15-inch display is nothing short of glorious. It’s huge, it’s bright, it’s vibrant, and it’s touch-enabled. While the laptop is a little bulky for tablet use in 2-in-1 mode, it’s nice to be able to tent your laptop.
Even more impressive is that it hits all the marks while still delivering almost seven hours of battery life. While it doesn't outdo the MacBook Air, it’s on par with other 15-inch laptops, like the HP Spectre 15 or Dell XPS 15. It's undoubtedly one of the best 15-inch laptops in its price range, and will likely stay on top for a while.
The Asus ROG Strix G15 AMD Advantage Edition is a unicorn among gaming laptops. It’d be hard to find another laptop with such an amazing combination of hardware components, design, features, and battery life at this price point. It’s also one of Asus’s best laptops, with an AMD processor and an AMD graphics card. Those two components in this form factor are truly a sight to behold.
The Ryzen 9 5900HX keeps programs running at tip-top speeds, so every task feels snappy. Running 50 Chrome tabs at once, rendering 3D images, transcoding 4K video, working in Excel—it all flows seamlessly.
The Radeon RX 6800M GPU keeps your games running at high frame rates. At 1080p resolution, graphically demanding games like Control run at 96 fps on the highest graphical settings. Esports games like Overwatch reach up to 159 fps at the same settings, although to take advantage of the Strix G15’s 300Hz display, the graphics will need to be turned down.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this stellar gaming laptop is the battery life. In a world where gaming laptops generally last four to five hours, this one powers through for nine!
Gaming will drain battery power fast. However, for your everyday computing needs, this laptop will last longer than an entire workday. Its size and color scheme might get some inquisitive looks in the lecture hall, but if this is your only laptop, it’ll serve all your needs.
With a shockingly good battery life of almost 13 hours, a record-breaking M1 processor, and an incredibly smooth trackpad and keyboard, it should be no surprise that the MacBook Air M1 has been so popular. Unless you need Windows 10 specifically, the MacBook Air is a fabulous laptop for pulling all-nighters, writing essays, and streaming high-resolution video.
Apple’s new M1 chip delivers on its promises, showing over 60% performance increase over the top-line Intel Core i7 in our mid-2020 MacBook Pro 13. (Fun fact: the M1 in our new MacBook Air scored 0.001% higher than our M1 MacBook Pro 13 in Geekbench, one of our benchmark apps)
The only laptops that came close to the M1 MacBooks' performance were super pricey laptops with flagship Intel Core i9 or AMD Ryzen 9 processors. This $1,000 laptop performs better than most machines twice its price, making it an excellent choice for those who need a powerhouse.
The MacBook Air M1 comes with the same aluminum chassis and Retina screen we loved in the earlier 2020 Intel MacBook Air. Because you can't upgrade the M1 MacBooks after purchase, we recommend splurging on a model with at least 512GB of storage. This is one of the most surprising releases we’ve seen in years, and we can’t imagine anyone not falling in love with it.
If you’re a student on a tight budget, check out the Asus Chromebook Flip. Its performance is good enough for everyday tasks like surfing the web and checking email, and its bezels are practically nonexistent, so you get a ton of screen.
With its aluminum finish and chrome trim, the C434T looks and feels like a premium product despite its modest price. It’s one of the most elegant-looking Chromebooks we’ve seen in a while. As a 2-in-1, it delivers a reasonably comfortable tablet experience enhanced by ChromeOS’s touch-friendly design.
However, we weren’t fans of the trackpad. It’s not as responsive as a MacBook touchpad, and it took us some time to adjust to it. It's not a deal-breaker, but it’s something to be aware of. Otherwise, it’s a great laptop for those on a budget who do most of their work online.
With a best-in-class keyboard, 4K OLED touchscreen, and high-end performance, the Dell XPS 13 9310 is once again a standout laptop for busy students on the go.
It’s one of the more expensive ultraportable laptops, but its attention to detail justifies it. The brilliant screen and Intel Core i7 processor make the Dell XPS 13 a great pick for serious research, while its sleek aluminum body is easy to slip into your backpack. Its 16:10 body ratio gives a surprising amount of room for the keyboard and trackpad.
Sadly, its small body limits its port selection. With only two Thunderbolt 4 ports, a microSD card reader, and a headphone jack, you’ll need a couple of dongles if you need USB or Ethernet ports. The eight-hour battery life might get you through the day, but you may want to keep it on a desk as it tends to run hot.
It’s expensive compared to rivals like the HP Spectre 14t and the Apple MacBook Pro 13, but its overall performance and function make the Dell XPS 13 it worth the extra cash.
The Summit E16 Flip is one of the best 2-in-1s available on the market for artists. Its breathtaking, ultra-bright 4K screen can accurately display HDR content with a full DCI-P3 and Adobe RGB color gamut. If you do 3D modeling, its graphics processor is powerful enough to let you open and work on sculpts on the go. If you’re more of a 2D person, the MSI Pen stylus has 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity for crisp, varied line art. Even though the laptop has a massive 16-inch screen, it’s about the size of a standard 15.6-inch laptop thanks to its 16:10 aspect ratio and ultrathin bezels.
For the times you do prefer to use it as a traditional laptop, you’ll find its large smooth trackpad and crip keyboard are a delightful experience. The only major downside to the Summit E16 Flip is its six-hour battery life. This puts it well behind other 2-in-1s, which can get eight hours of battery life or more (MSI’s previous model, the Summit E13 Flip, gets eight hours, for instance). However, these 2-in-1s often don’t have a 16-inch 4K display like the Summit E16—13, and 14-inch displays are much more common. While the Summit E16 Flip is one of the pricier 2-in-1s out there, its excellent pressure-sensitive display and powerful graphics hardware are some of the best on the market.
The all-AMD 2022 refresh to the ROG Zephyrus G14 is a marvel. Not only does it have the strong performance needed to play recent big-name game releases, but it also has the essentials demanded of a great ultrabook for the classroom: a comfortable keyboard, a huge smooth trackpad, a brilliant WQHD display, a small body, and nearly nine hours of battery life.
The premium metal chassis brings a lot of style to the machine. The multitude of ports serves the ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14 well in conferences and impromptu presentations, as well. You get HDMI 2.0b, a microSD card reader, two USB-C ports, and two USB-A ports. When it’s time to relax, the powerful Ryzen 9 processor and Radeon RX 6800S graphics card can kick into high gear and pump up to 120 frames per second for games like Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Far Cry 5.
Compared to similar laptops, like the Razer Blade 14 and the MSI Delta 15, the Zephyrus G14 fares well performance- and value-wise. It’s not cheap, but it’s well worth it for those who need a laptop that can do it all.
Compared to last generation’s Zenbook 13, the Zenbook 14 trades its aluminum chassis and gorgeous display for markedly better performance and battery life—all while maintaining the Zenbook line’s admirable portability. We're a little disappointed to see the premium build quality go, but this is still a good midrange buy with some of the best battery life and weight in its class.
Its keyboard is deep and easy to type on, and not as cramped as the Zenbook 13’s thanks to the extra inch. Its trackpad can’t compare to the glassy glider from a Macbook, but it’s nonetheless comfortable to use thanks to its width and its excellent fingertip detection.
To be frank, we were not impressed with the Zenbook 14’s screen. This matte 1080p panel's black level gets darker than last gen’s glossy screen, but it’s also 70 nits dimmer at max brightness. Its colors are also a bit more washed out than on the Zenbook 13.
One aspect where the Zenbook 14 far surpasses its predecessor is in performance, arguably the most important factor. Its new Ryzen 5 4500U processor is blazing fast, crushing the old Intel Core i5-8500U in benchmarks, and its lower power consumption means the Zenbook 14’s battery lasts almost eight and a half hours. If you’re looking for a laptop that’ll get you through the day for well under a grand, the Zenbook 14 is an awesome choice.
Finding a good budget laptop that can keep pace with the premium ultrabooks is no small feat. The Dell Inspiron 3501 accepts it with grace: it’s thin, lightweight, and powerful enough to run any productivity task without issue.
While the Inspiron won’t win any beauty awards, the body feels rugged and wards off fingerprints well. The full-size keyboard is responsive, perfectly toeing the line between soft and bouncy. Meanwhile, the decently large trackpad is smooth and has no issue picking up your finger’s movements. Unlike many of its budget peers, the Inspiron manages to offer power without sacrificing battery life—it can go for almost eight hours before needing a recharge.
Our Intel Core i5 model was a workhorse, performing the same (or better!) as laptops that cost hundreds more. Whether you need dozens of Chrome tabs at the ready or find yourself working with Photoshop several times a week, this laptop will perform reliably.
The only issue we had with the Inspiron was its dim screen, which may not be bright enough for working outside of traditional office spaces. It’s not the fanciest, but boy does it get the basics right, offering a comfortable experience that won’t cost a fortune.
Here at Reviewed, we test laptops for their processing capability, graphics, battery life, and screen brightness. We use a mix of industry-standard and custom-made tests, as well as specialized lab equipment in our Cambridge, MA testing facility. We use popular benchmarks like Geekbench and 3DMark to gauge how well the laptop multitasks, runs games, and more.
For battery testing, we set them up to continuously cycle through various websites at around 60% brightness (200 nits) until they run out of power, estimating how much work you can get done on a single charge. We also use each laptop for an extended period of time, rating each on factors like build quality, price, portability, and design.
What You Should Know About Laptops For Students
What makes a great student laptop? Of course, everyone’s priorities differ. But if your computer needs to survive campus life, you’ll want to focus on portability and durability.
Performance is where peoples’ needs will likely differ. Activities like web browsing, video editing, and high-end gaming come with different requirements. Consider what you’ll actually need your computer to do.
Performance: The CPU, graphics chip, RAM, and storage inside your PC determine how well your computer can multitask, handle intensive tasks like gaming, and store all your files. The better the specs, the snappier the laptop will feel.
Build Quality: Not only do you want a laptop that can take a beating (since you’ll probably be lugging it around with you), but you want one with a well-built keyboard and trackpad since you’ll be on the move. The best laptops for college students need to be durable and work well on the go.
Touch Screens, Portability, and Features: 2-in-1s like the Surface Pro have gained popularity, but that touch screen and pen cost extra. Similarly, cramming powerful components into a thin and light package can often cost more than a larger laptop with fewer design constraints.
Consider which operating system you need. Windows is still the dominant OS these days. If you’re going to play games or need certain software for work, you should probably stick with Microsoft.
If you spend all your time on the web, though, a Chromebook may serve you better than you’d think. Between Netflix, Gmail, Google Docs, and even online photo editors like Pixlr, you can do almost anything in a browser. Many of those web apps even work offline, for when you don’t have Wi-Fi. Chromebooks are also often cheaper (since they don’t need as much processing power) and virtually virus-free (since Chrome OS is Linux-based).
13 inches and under: These smaller laptops are easy to carry around campus, and great for light work like writing papers and browsing the web.
15 inches: Mid-sized laptops are a bit less portable, and may not work in constrained spaces like airplane seats. But the larger display is useful for photo editing and watching videos.
17 inches: These large computers are only recommended for those willing to lug it around, or who need it for video editing or other intensive work that requires a lot of screen real estate.
There’s variation within these categories. For example, the XPS 13’s smaller bezels make it much smaller than most 13-inch laptops. There are also sizes in between, like the 14-inch Lenovo Yoga C930. But picking a general size range can help narrow the field.
You should also consider how many USB ports you need, whether you need HDMI and Ethernet, and how comfortable the keyboard and trackpad are to use. This can vary from model to model, and it’s important to get something responsive and durable.
Under the Hood
Finally, you’ll need to consider the guts—the processor, graphics chip, RAM, and storage that determine your laptop’s capabilities. For browsing the web and using office software, lower-power chips like Intel’s i3 and i5 are fine.
While 4GB of RAM is usable in a Chromebook, even web browsing can eat up RAM these days. 8GB is recommended if you tend to open lots of tabs, use lots of browser extensions, or want to be future-proof. We wouldn’t advise 4GB for most Windows users these days.
If you run more intense workloads—whether that’s photo and video editing or playing the latest PC games—you’ll want a bit more “oomph.” Intel’s higher-end i7 processors will make those video encodes run noticeably faster, and a dedicated graphics card will ensure your games run smooth as butter.
No matter who you are, err on the side of more storage. People often underestimate how much space they’ll fill with their music, photos, and videos over time, and it’s a hassle to lug an external drive around. Storage can be expensive, though. If you can’t afford a large solid-state drive, consider buying a laptop with an SD card slot and using a high-capacity card for cheap, expandable storage.
Consider upgradeability, too. Many modern laptops solder their components onto the motherboard, preventing you from adding more RAM or storage down the line. Either buy a laptop that keeps its components separate, or spend a bit more to buy the specs you’ll need in a couple of years—not just what you need right now.
The Reviewed staff is based in the heart of Cambridge, MA. Backed by our knowledgeable writers and rigorous test labs, we're working hard to make sure you can make the right decisions about what to buy.
Our team is here for one purpose: to help you buy the best stuff and love what you own. Our writers, editors, and lab technicians obsess over the products we cover to make sure you're confident and satisfied. Have a different opinion about something we recommend? Email us and we'll compare notes.