The key to sorting among the best laptops for college is choosing one that is affordable, has the most updated technical specifications, and includes all the features you need for your specific major. Ranging from extremely cheap to insanely expensive, the amount of options can be overwhelming.
Must-Know Tech Specs
If you don’t know anything about the technical specifications of a laptop, here are the basics:
Processor and Speed. Most of the best laptops for college come with an Intel processor. Intel’s current lineup is their i3, i5, or i7 processor. You may also see the Intel Celeron processor, which is their entry-level processor. AMD is the other popular processor, but doesn’t show up much in laptops.
Processing speed is how quickly the laptop can run a task, such as opening Spotify, or searching the hard drive for that assignment you swore you wrote. Processor speed is measured in gigahertz (GHz). Today, the average best laptops for college processing speeds are 2.2 – 2.4 GHz. The higher the GHz, the better.
RAM. RAM is your laptop’s memory. In simple terms, it determines how quickly your laptop can load and jump between different programs. The best laptops for college have at least 4 GB of RAM, but more is better.
Hard Drive. A hard drive is where the computer’s operating system (Windows, Linux, Apple OS X) is loaded from, and where programs like Microsoft Office are stored. The bigger the hard drive, the more programs, music, and photos you can store.
For years, hard disk drives (HDD) have been standard, but now, solid state drives (SSD) are becoming more popular in laptops. HDD uses moving mechanical parts, while an SSD uses microchips.
HDD hard drives are more affordable, have more storage space, and are common in desktop computers. In theory, because the HDD has moving parts, they’re more prone to failure and breaking.
SSD hard drives are faster, don’t have any moving parts, but are more expensive and have less storage space. In theory, because an SSD has no moving parts, it makes a laptop more reliable, especially if your laptop is moved a lot.
Battery Life. When buying one of the best laptops for college, battery life is usually an afterthought. Whether you’re on the go all day long, can’t find a spot near an outlet to recharge the battery, or you simply lost the power cord, good battery life can make or break the relationship with your laptop.
Of course, there are plenty of other specs to mull over, like graphics cards, weight, warranty coverage, and if the laptop has a CD / DVD drive.
For college students, travelling between classes, Skull and Bones meetings, and Starbucks, there’s a risk of falls and spills that could kill your computer. Investing in a warranty, such as one offered by SquareTrade or Warrantech, will take the headache out of repairing or replacing your laptop should something awful happen to it.
Top 10 Best Laptops for College Comparison Guide
*Average battery life. Battery life decreases as batteries get older and varies for each individual laptop
Reviews of the Top Rated Laptops for College
Apple’s third generation MacBook Pro is widely hailed as one of the best laptops for college, but it also comes with a hefty price tag. Despite being almost double the price of some of the other top contenders, the MacBook Pro has features that set it apart:
- Intel i5 processor with a speed of 2.7 GHz
- Intel Iris 6100 Graphics card
- 8 GB RAM
- 13.3 inch screen
- Beautiful 2560 x 1600 resolution Retina Display
And of course, being an Apple, the compatibility with other Apple products is seamless, and it’s all backed by Apple’s state of the art engineering and customer service.
A few drawbacks of the MacBook Pro are the inability to upgrade RAM beyond 8 GB, no built in CD / DVD drive, and no option for an Ethernet connection.
The Apple MacBook Pro is available with several upgradable options, including a larger 15.4 inch screen and 512 GB SSD. These top of the line upgrades will increase the price.
The MacBook Air is Apple’s smaller and less expensive version of the MacBook Pro. While not as technologically powerful, it is lighter and costs a few hundred dollars less. Some of the MacBook Air’s specs are:
- 4 GB RAM (Upgradeable to 8GB)
- Intel i5 processor / 1.6 GHz processor speed (Upgradeable to Intel i7 2.2 GHz)
- 1366 x 768 resolution (13-inch model has a resolution of 1440 x 900)
- 2.38 pounds total weight
- Built in programs like GarageBand, Pages, and iMovie
Like the MacBook Pro, the Air doesn’t come with a built in Ethernet port or CD / DVD drive. It also isn’t as upgradeable as some PCs, and replacing the “built-in” battery requires a bit of DIY work. Apple offers a battery replacement service that comes with an additional cost.
If you’ve looked at the specs of both the MacBook Air and Pro, you may wonder why Apple laptops cost so much more than PCs by Dell, Acer, or HP. Apple laptops are considered one of the best laptops for college because of their unique engineering, local customer service, hardiness to virus and spyware, resell value, and their overall reputation for just “working” better. Of course, opinions differ, and Apple laptops still get viruses and inexplicably stop working, just like PCs.
With specs that give the Apple MacBook Pro a run for its money, the Acer Aspire E15 is another great choice for college students. Incredibly fast, easy to upgrade, and with enough power and memory to last an entire college career (unless you’re on the 10 year plan), the Acer Aspire E15 E5-575G has been Amazon’s best-selling laptop for over a year. Some of the Aspire E15’s best features include:
- 8 GB of RAM (upgradeable to 32 GB!)
- USB 3.0 for fast synching and transfers
- 1920×1080 resolution screen
- Built in CD / DVD drive
- GeForce 940MX graphics card
- 256 GB SSD
Acer’s website claims that the Aspire E15 has a potential battery life of 12 hours, which is a pretty bold statement. However, most independent tests have found that the battery life is around 7 to 8 hours. A few reviewers have found that the laptop mouse trackpad is of poor design, resulting in a lot of accidental clicking and sensitivity issues. One work around for this would be to use a small wireless mouse.
For the price, the Acer Aspire E15 E5-575G is certainly one of the best laptops for college. For an additional cost you can also opt for the faster Intel i7 processor.
Doubling as both a laptop and a touchscreen tablet, the ASUS Chromebook Flip has become the go to laptop for financially savvy college students (and their parents). The ASUS Chromebook Flip is affordable, portable, and basic.
- 1280 x 800 resolution touchscreen
- Chrome Operating System
- Doubles as a laptop with keyboard or tablet
- 4 GB RAM
- 16 GB SSD
- 1.8 GHz processing speed
The touchscreen monitor really sets the ASUS Chromebook Flip apart from other best laptops for college and is great for reading digital textbooks, watching videos, or using as an entertainment hub.
The lack of a CD / DVD drive might bother some who aren’t big on digital only software and media. Also, with a SSD of only 16 GB, music and movie buffs will have to monitor how much storage space they have left. One option is to take advantage of Google Drive’s Cloud Storage. Google offers 100 GB of free storage for Chromebook owners.
Of course, the ASUS Chromebook Flip isn’t a great laptop for those that need to run demanding programs like Photoshop or a video editor. For writing papers, reading digital books, or watching videos, the Chromebook Flip is a great bargain.
The HP Stream is another highly portable, light weight, and affordable laptop. However, it doesn’t quite stack up to its ASUS Chromebook competitor, lacking touchscreen capability and it only has 2 GB of RAM (compared to the Chromebook’s 4 GB). It does make up for it with a larger 13 inch screen and a 32 GB SSD. It’s also about $65 cheaper, coming in at $199. Like other laptops in this size, the HP Stream doesn’t have a CD / DVD drive, but one can be attached via USB.
The HP Stream is one of the best laptops for college if all you need is barebones computing at a bargain price.
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