Gone are the days of overloaded backpacks full of notebooks and hand-cramps from trying to write as fast as that one professor talks. Nowadays a good laptop elevates your productivity and allows you to keep all your important lesson materials in one place. They’ve become necessary tools for scholastic success. Whether you’re a freshman or heading into your final year, having a laptop that’s capable, sturdy, and portable, with good battery life will help keep you on top of your studies—or gaming, no judgement.
But with so many different options out there, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. To help you finally make that coveted deans list, the PCWorld team has curated a comprehensive list of the best laptops for college students. We’ve thoroughly tested and reviewed all of these picks in our ongoing quest to find the best laptops for everyone.
We also realize that there’s more to college life than just studying, so we’ve included picks for more than just productivity, including gaming and options at a variety of price points. And after you finish looking over our recommendations, be sure to hit our daily roundup of the best laptop deals to see if you can score one of these gems on discount.
Updated 06/13/2023: To include the Lenovo IdeaPad 5 Gaming Chromebook as our choice for best Chromebook for gaming. Read our summary below to learn more about this affordable new pick.
Samsung Galaxy Book3 Pro 360 – Best overall
Stunning OLED upgrade in resolution, performance, more
One of the first 13th-gen Core laptops
Top-notch battery life
1080p webcam and very good audio
Good, not great, performance
Webcam effects are iffy
Price When Reviewed:
Dès 2 099 €
From the convertible form factor and 1080p webcam to the spectacular battery life and lovely OLED display, the Samsung Galaxy Book3 Pro 360 really has it all. The laptop itself weighs 3.66 pounds, which is light enough to take with you from class to class. The display swings back 360 degrees, which is really nice, especially when you want to share notes with a fellow classmate. The 1080p webcam will make you look good during remote sessions and the 13.5 hours of battery life means you’ll be able to keep working well into the evening hours. Let’s take a quick peek at the hardware inside.
The Galaxy Book3 Pro 360 comes equipped with an Intel Core i7-1360P CPU, Intel Iris Xe integrated graphics, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB of SSD storage. That’s more than enough power for writing papers, watching YouTube, working on collaborative class projects, and much more. The 16-inch AMOLED touch display features a resolution of 2880×1800 and a refresh rate of 120Hz. That means visuals should be both smooth and vibrant. Overall, this is one killer laptop. If you’re looking for a laptop with powerful hardware and plentiful features, then the Galaxy Book3 Pro 360 is one to consider.
If you regularly use Google apps, you should consider picking up the Acer Chromebook Spin 514, as it’s a phenomenal productivity machine based on ChromeOS. The design is chic and durable, and processor performance is quite zippy. It’s designed to handle most day-to-day tasks like checking email, working on documents, or using web-based apps. The keyboard and touchpad are a joy to use as well. According to our reviewer, the Spin 514 has a “wide keyboard layout with large, easily located keys.” As for the hardware, it’s got a decent amount of power for a Chromebook.
The Spin 514 is packing an AMD Ryzen 5 5625C CPU, AMD Radeon graphics, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB of SSD storage. The display, which folds back 360 degrees, has a resolution of 1920×1080 and is touch-enabled. It’s plenty sharp for general use. Contrast and color performance are adequate, too. The $699.99 price tag is a little steep for a Chromebook, but if you’ve got the money to spend, then you won’t be disappointed.
With its affordable price point, decent performance, and robust build, the Acer Aspire 5 is a good budget option for students. While the color scheme is a little boring, the build is surprisingly rugged. Our tester was surprised by its “solid, durable feel.” The keyboard is nice, too. It has a spacious layout, which is perfect for longer typing sessions. Performance is fast enough for general-use tasks like writing emails and browsing the web, but that’s about it. If you’re shopping around for a solid everyday laptop that won’t break the bank, the Aspire 5 is definitely worth a look.
Want the attractive design, incredible efficiency, and great performance of a MacBook Pro but in a Windows device? Well, the HP Dragonfly Pro comes about as close as you can get to Apple’s line of premium laptops. HP partnered with AMD to create this slim laptop that packs the latest generation Ryzen 7 processor with 8 high-performance cores and a surprisingly powerful Radeon 680M graphic card. The laptop’s design is thin and attractive with a high quality feel made from aluminum and polycarbonate. However, just like the MacBook Pro models, this laptop takes a minimalist approach to ports, making those who rely on a bunch of plug-in accessories to feel a little hard done by. The display is nice enough, but it does have some catching up to do if it hopes to rival Apple’s best. Still, for a laptop that is significantly cheaper than the current line of MacBook Pro models, this Dragonfly Pro laptop from HP is a more than worthy competitor.
When it comes to gaming laptops, many, if not most, of them are pretty bulky and heavy, often tipping the scales at five or six pounds. Well, that’s not the case with the XPG Xenia 15 KC. It weighs a little over four pounds, which is fairly lightweight for a gaming laptop. Plus, it runs very quiet. According to our review, it “rarely makes noise under normal use.” That’s impressive, as most gaming laptops tend to sound like a rocket blasting off. If you’re looking for something that’s both quiet and portable, the Xenia 15 KC is an excellent choice.
Suffice to say, it’s up to task of all your productivity tasks as well. With the XPG Xenia 15 you can follow up a hard day’s work with a fun and rewarding gaming session.
If you’re a college student working with a modest budget, and you like the idea of a big screen to spread out on, the Acer Swift 3 is a fantastic option. It features an attractive 16-inch 1080p display, a solid chassis, and an satisfying keyboard and touchpad. However, battery life isn’t great, so you’ll want to keep the charger on hand. This is rather unfortunate, as the Swift 3’s slim profile makes it an agreeable laptop for travel. If you don’t mind the lackluster battery life, this is a great laptop for watching movies and streaming video on, in addition to its more academic-oriented functions.
Acer Chromebook Vero 514 – Best eco-friendly option
Stellar battery life
Made of recycled materials
Poor audio quality
Limited to ChromeOS
The Vero 514 is Acer’s latest from their eco-friendly line of Chromebooks. The eco-conscious buyer can rest easier knowing the Vero 514 is built from recycled materials, meaning you’re reducing your carbon footprint. It also sports some pretty good hardware for the price too. From strong Core i5 CPU performance to a surprisingly bright 1080p display, this Chromebook has more to offer than just being environmentally friendly.
All of these things and more make the Vero 514 a great everyday laptop. Its only real downside is that is has weak speakers, but that’s not surprising as laptops aren’t really known for their audio quality anyways. And while ChromeOS limits you to web-based apps and activities, that’s true of any Chromebook. These minor nitpicks don’t take away from a well-performing Chromebook that’s both affordable and sustainable.
Lenovo IdeaPad 5 Gaming Chromebook – Best Chromebook for gaming
Large, bright 2560×1600 display
Ideal wireless and wired connectivity
Good display, strong speakers
Mediocre keyboard and touchpad
Lackluster webcam and microphone
Chromebooks are a college student’s best friend—reliable, lightweight, and affordable. But they might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you want a gaming computer. Thankfully, Lenovo has made gaming more accessible to Chromebook users with its IdeaPad 5 Gaming. It comes with a Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, and a bright 16-inch 2560×1600 display. Plus, in a rarity for any type of laptop, the speakers are surprisingly good.
If those specs seem good, but not enough to game with, don’t worry. Gaming on a Chromebook is done mostly, if not entirely, through a cloud gaming service anyways. For only the monthly fee of one of these services, you’re able to stream the very best modern games straight from the cloud to your Chromebook. When testing this Chromebook we even found that we could stream AAA games at good resolutions and up to 120Hz. That’s pretty impressive for a laptop that costs less then a third of what you’d pay for a more powerful Windows gaming rig. For more on which cloud gaming services are our favorites, check out our roundup of the best cloud gaming services.
The PCWorld team puts each and every Windows laptop through a series of benchmarks that test GPU and CPU performance, battery life, and so on. The idea is to push the laptop to its limits and then compare it against others we’ve tested. Chromebooks, on the other hand, go through a series of web-based tests. It wouldn’t be fair or possible to run the same kinds of tests on a Chromebook, as they’re Chrome OS-based machines. Below, you’ll find a breakdown of each test and the reasons why we run them.
PCMark 10: PCMark 10 is how we determine how well the laptop handles lighter tasks like web browsing, word processing, spreadsheets, and so on.
HandBrake: HandBrake is more intensive than PCMark 10. It basically measures how long a laptop’s CPU takes to encode a beefy 30GB file.
Cinebench: Cinebench is a brief stress test of the CPU cores. It does this by rendering a 2D scene over a short period of time.
3DMark: 3DMark checks if 3D performance remains consistent over time by running graphic-intensive clips.
Video rundown test: To gauge battery life, we loop a 4K video using Windows 10’s Movies & TV app until the laptop dies.
CrXPRT 2: The CrXPRT 2 benchmark tests a Chromebook’s battery life.
Speedometer 2.0: This test determines a Chromebook’s web browser performance. It simulates this by adding, completing, and removing a to-do list.
Basemark Web 3.0: This benchmark gauges how well a Chromebook can handle web-based applications.
What to look for in a laptop for college
The first thing to consider is budget. How much are you willing to spend on a laptop? If you’re working with an inflexible budget, Chromebooks are a good option. They’re affordable and designed to handle everyday tasks like writing papers, working on spreadsheets, and so on. Chromebook prices can range anywhere from $200 up to $1,000. If you want to spend a bit more, laptops with convertible touchscreens (otherwise known as 2-in-1s) offer a great deal of functionality. You can flip the screen around and use it like a tablet or prop it up like an easel for watching movies.
If you’ve got a jam-packed schedule, you’ll probably be running from class to class with very little downtime in between. That’s why we recommend a laptop with a long-lasting battery. We recommend something that’ll last 7 to 10-plus hours on a single charge, unless you want a notebook that can play games on the side—gaming laptops are notorious for their shorter endurance, even during everyday tasks. That 7 to 10 hours is a good figure if you plan on taking your laptop with you everywhere.
Things like navigating your e-mail or watching Netflix will require more RAM. We recommend springing for 8GB of RAM or more. 4GB of RAM is fine and good for web browsing and basic office work, but 8GB is better for having more tabs open and whatnot. Plus, applications like Google Chrome and Spotify tend to eat up a lot of RAM. Most people can get by with 4GB in a pinch if you’re on a tight budget, but you won’t be able to multitask as much.
The final thing is a decent keyboard. In college, you’re going to be spending a lot of time typing. Depending on your personal preference, you may want either a full or short travel keyboard. Mechanical keyboards, for example, normally have longer travel. This helps prevent accidental keystrokes. The keys also give a lot of tactile feedback, as they bounce back after they’re pressed down.
Simply put, no—at least, not well. It comes down to what type of gaming you intend to do. Chromebooks can run web games and Android games perfectly well. But if you’re looking to play the latest high-powered titles such as Elden Ring, a Chromebook just won’t cut it. This is mainly due to the fact that most titles only run on Windows and Chromebooks typically don’t come with sufficient graphics power.
All that said, Google is trying to bring cloud gaming to its Chromebooks. Cloud gaming services work by using a remote PC or console to play games streamed through the cloud down onto the Chromebook. However, until this service becomes more common, Chromebooks are not good options for gaming.
Can you game with integrated graphics?
Yes, recently the the latest integrated graphics processors from the likes of Intel and AMD can handle modern PC games at reasonable settings. For example, Intel’s latest Iris Xe line of processors with integrated graphics have been shown to run some of the latest releases at 1080p and 30fps. Be careful, however, as not all integrated graphics are created equal.
This is mostly personal preference. Students who bring their laptops to class or intend to travel a lot should consider a smaller, more portable size. Anything in the neighborhood of 13 to 14 inches is recommended. However, if you want to use your laptop for gaming, then you should consider something in the 15- to 17-inch range. It’s also important to keep in mind the weight of the laptop before buying it. Ultra thin laptops can weigh a featherlight 2 pounds while hefty gaming rigs top the scales at three or four times that—not exactly something you want to carry in a backpack everyday.