The 8 Best Laptops for College Students in 2022

What to look for in a college laptop

The hardware inside the laptop – often referred to as “specs” – will determine how well it runs on a daily basis, and how long it should last before it is replaced. All the laptops in our guide should have enough processing capacity, storage, memory, and battery life to last at least four full years of study.

Of course, more powerful laptops will be faster and can last longer, but they are more expensive. You will have to consider within your budget, but we recommend laptops that will suit most college students.

We’re here to help you understand all the major aspects of a laptop and how they can play a role in your ability to use the device in college.

Support operating systems and software

Every laptop in our guide runs on one of the three major operating systems (OS): Windows, macOS, and ChromeOS. Each operating system has its own set of pros and cons.

  • Windows 11Windows is the most popular computing operating system, and you’ll have no trouble finding the right software to help get your work done. It is also the best operating system for gaming if you are planning to spend your free time. Windows 11 is the latest version of the Windows operating system, and you may want to learn more about Windows 11 before buying a new laptop.
  • Windows 10: This older version of Windows is still present on some newer Windows laptops. However, most of them offer a free Windows 11 upgrade. Check the manufacturer’s website to confirm this.
  • Mac: Like Windows, macOS is a complete operating system with a powerful library of applications. If you need a popular application to get your work done, it is almost certainly available for Mac. The downside is that macOS only works on Apple devices. The upside is that macOS has far fewer viruses than Windows, and it shares many of the same apps as the iPhone.
  • Chrome OSChromeOS differs from macOS and Windows in that it is based on Google’s Chrome browser, and requires an internet connection to get a lot of its functionality. You won’t have access to the same types of software you use on a Mac or PC, but you can still use Google’s G Suite to write papers, prepare presentations, create and edit spreadsheets, and more. Learn more about whether or not a Chromebook is right for you.

Displays

There are three important considerations for a school laptop screen. The first is resolution, which allows you to effectively see how clear the image is. The short version is that the higher the number, the better the clarity.

You’ll often see labels such as 720p (“HD”), 1080p (“Full HD”), or 4K (“UHD”, “Ultra HD”, or 2160p). While more is better, smaller laptop screens tend to look quite sharp at 1080p, and upgrading to 4K often comes with major battery life sacrifices.

Size is the next consideration. Smaller 11- and 12-inch screens are best when you only need to have one window open at a time. The mid-size 13 and 14-inch models are good for light multitasking but can be tricky if you’re not comfortable with small text. Larger 15.6- and 17-inch screens provide more workspace but often mean larger, heavier devices.

Then there is brightness, which is often measured in nits. A screen rated at 300 nits or less would be difficult to use outdoors in bright lighting conditions. High-brightness screens may work best outdoors, as can screens that provide a matte or anti-glare finish.

Treatments

Your processor will play a major role in how fast your computer is. Fortunately, outside of gaming, engineering, or digital art, most modern processors you’ll find in laptops will do just fine for schoolwork.

If the laptop you are looking for has an Intel processor, know that 8th generation and newer Intel Core processors will ensure decent performance. If you don’t see a generation listed, you can always find it by looking at the processor name, the generation number always appears in the underlined dot in the examples: Intel Core i7-9700, Intel Core m3-8100Y, and Intel Core i5-11300H.

For AMD processors, you’ll find the Ryzen 3000, 4000, and 5000 series processors up to snuff. For higher performance needs, look for Intel or AMD processors that have an H at the end of their model name – these refer to higher power models that can offer more cores or faster speeds.

memory

Your computer’s memory, or random access memory (RAM), is what keeps all your apps running. They are measured in gigabytes, and the simple thing to understand is that more is better. For most people, 8GB of RAM is sufficient. But if you often work with a lot of windows and tabs open (especially in Chrome), you may start to use them fully.

Your computer can start to feel a lot slower if all your RAM is used up, and programs may crash. An upgrade to 16GB is likely to cover most users’ needs outside of 3D modeling or HD video editing. You might even be able to get 4GB if you tend to use your computer lightly for word processing and browsing by opening a few tabs.

storage

It’s easy to keep a lot of important files saved on the Internet, so storage has become less important for our laptops. You probably don’t need a terabyte on your laptop if you’re streaming movies and music. If you plan to play after class, this is when the extra storage space will be most important. For non-gamers, 256GB or even 128GB will probably be enough.

The most important thing is to have a solid state storage (or SSD), as it will make a system lighter and feel smoother than a system with an HDD (or HDD). If you think you might need more storage in the future, many USB drives and microSD cards can act as additional storage while adding almost no mass or weight to your laptop.

ports

This is surprisingly important. A computer with only USB-C ports may look modern, but a lot of accessories can be hard to handle. Many mice, keyboards, and external drives still rely on USB-A ports, so it’s easy to have at least one available.

If you want to get fast speeds from a USB connection, check the version: USB 2.0 is good for a mouse or keyboard, while USB 3.0 and above is good for external drives thanks to its fast transfer speeds.

For more speeds, you can search for Thunderbolt. It can also be helpful to have a laptop that charges via the USB-C port, as you’ll have more options if you need to borrow a friend’s charger.

Weight

This may seem like a no-brainer, but the weight of your laptop will make a huge impact on school. We’ll start with 4 pounds as a baseline. This is a common playground for many laptops, and you likely won’t feel much weight in a good backpack during short trips between classes.

But, if you often cycle or walk with your laptop, targeting a laptop that weighs less than 3 pounds can save you some back pain. Heavier, high-performance laptops can go up to 7 pounds quickly, and while that might not sound like much, you’ll quickly start to feel it when combined with your books and other school supplies. And chargers are a compounding factor, with lighter laptops tending to have lighter charging bricks while heavier laptops have narrower bricks.

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