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Best college laptops for 2020
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Laptops are a fundamental tool for students that will be used for hours and hours each day. They can be crucial for work-focused purposes such as taking notes in class, writing papers or crunching numbers in a spreadsheet as well as taking breaks to listen to music or watch YouTube videos.
High school, university and college students on a budget can now pick up an entry-level laptop with a decent hard drive, graphics card, display and battery life for $200 to $400. That said, with the wealth of really nice laptops out there, we think it's worthwhile to spend at least a few hundred more to get a machine with long battery life, a substantial hard drive and better performance and graphics. This list of the best laptops for college -- and well, all levels -- of students is based on our own hands-on use and benchmark testing. We update it regularly as we review new products.
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Note that most of our best laptops for college cost $500 or more. If you're looking for something less expensive -- or if you're interested in an alternative to Microsoft Windows and Apple's MacOS -- we recommend checking out our list of the best Chromebooks for students. Most are considerably less expensive and the Chrome OS is still powerful enough to handle student-life basics such as email, getting on the internet, creating documents or working with spreadsheets -- especially for those already working on Google's apps. And the average Chromebook's battery life is excellent. But if you're looking for something that can double as a gaming laptop, has a ton of storage or can handle powerful programs like video editing software, read on for some truly excellent options.
Best MacBook for students
Apple MacBook Air (2019)
Sarah Tew/CNET When it's on sale for under $1,000 -- and studybay it usually is, somewhere -- we'd recommend the 2019 Apple MacBook Air to anyone. Having refreshed its most affordable laptop a couple of times over the past year, the current-generation model has some modern touches -- including Apple's beautiful Retina display, USB Type-C ports and Touch ID -- though its Intel processor is older than what you'll find on comparably priced Windows machines. Still, with a winning combination of design (hello backlit keyboard!), performance and battery life, the Apple MacBook Air remains one of our evergreen student favorites.
If price is no object and you're looking for something with a little more power, you might want to upgrade to a MacBook Pro, especially if you're going to be running video editing or design software. Read our 2019 MacBook Air preview.
$950 at Amazon
Best all-purpose Windows laptop for students
Dell XPS 13
ED I T O R S ' C H O I C E Mar 2019
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 13-inch laptop than the XPS 13. Dell has been making incremental improvements to this machine for so long that it's hard to find a flaw. The design and components are top notch, which is reflected in its great battery life and performance. It has a 6GB RAM, a 512GB M.2 NVMe PCIe solid-state drive and a 13.3 in screen for hours of essay writing. Read our Dell XPS 13 (2019) review.
$1,699 at Amazon
Best Windows 2-in-1 for students
Microsoft Surface Pro 7
Sarah Tew/CNET 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 two-in-one Yoga devices are better laptops than they are tablets.) In addition to the typical great performance and battery life you can expect, the seventh edition finally gets a USB-C port. Its super-portable size makes it ideal for high school and college students who may be carrying a lot of gear. Though the company still sells the Surface Pro without its essential Type Cover keyboard and Surface Pen included, it can frequently be found for a very good price-- sometimes with one or both accessories. Read our Surface Pro 7 review.
$789 at Amazon
Best entry-level gaming laptop for students
Dell G5 15
ED I T O R S ' C H O I C E Nov 2019
Dell's G-series deliver a smart balance of build quality, battery life and performance, with plenty of graphics card power for college students looking to play the latest AAA games when they aren't hitting the books. The slim, compact design masks its gaming pedigree and because it's no longer brand-new -- you're getting a ninth-gen Intel Core processor -- there are plenty of bargains to be found. This machine currently starts at around $850, and we've found some pretty powerful configurations on sale for around $1,000. Read our Dell G5 15 5590 review.
$888 at Amazon
Best convertible Chromebook for students
Lenovo Yoga Chromebook C630
Lenovo 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 processor performance for everyday office 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. If you're looking for something less expensive, Lenovo also sells the smaller, much cheaper convertible C340-11. Read our Lenovo Yoga Chromebook C630 review.
$779 at Walmart
$699 at Best Buy
Most powerful gaming laptop on a student budget
Asus ROG Zephyrus S
Sarah Tew/CNET I reviewed the Zephyrus S in 2018 and loved its 15.6-inch HD screen size and backlit keyboard. If you're looking for a more serious gaming device with a good processor on a student's budget, this one brings together some potent components for the price. Read our Asus ROG Zephyrus S (GX531) preview.
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