If you’re a student, your laptop is your toolbox, your textbook, your everything — and you need a solid machine that’s going to last you from orientation to graduation. It’s an essential tool, and you need one that you can rely on: No one has the extra cash to be replacing a subpar laptop halfway through school, and you don’t want to be dealing with unexpected repairs when you have papers to write and parties to attend. Luckily, there are a ton of options out there these days for affordable student laptops — as well as ones that (while a little pricier) are the specialized tools you need if you’re going into a field that requires specific hardware (think video game engineering). Whether you’re looking for a Mac or PC (and yes, you should definitely consider PCs — they’re actually quite cool these days), there’s something out there for any college student.
Memory and processors are important when you’re looking for a laptop, especially for classwork: You’ll want something that can handle a ton of tabs and simultaneous programs, as well as enough storage to save downloaded lectures, textbooks, films, the dreaded term project, and other study materials. And that’s just speaking generally — if you’re studying graphic design, video production, or other computer-intensive subjects, you’ll need a laptop that has a little more oomph in the CPU department so you can power through those projects.Here are a few other factors to consider:
Battery life matters
There’s nothing worse than having your laptop’s battery start to die halfway through a lecture or when you head to the student union to study only to find all the power outlets are occupied. Long battery life is key for students, so having one that can go most of the day (or even overnight for those all-nighters in the library) is essential.
Most manufacturers list battery life in terms of “average battery life” or “up to X hours,” but keep in mind that this is highly dependent on what you’re actually doing with the laptop. If you’re just typing up a paper in Word or streaming some Netflix, chances are you’ll get a little longer out of your battery than if you’re creating 3D animated models. Many laptops these days get anywhere from eight to up to 20 hours of battery life, so look carefully to find one that’s going to accommodate your workload without making you hunt for outlets all the time.
Don’t overlook a laptop’s weight
The last thing you want in a laptop is one that you have to lug instead of carry, and with full days going between classes on campus, the lighter the computer, the better. (This is, of course, if you don’t need a super souped-up machine — the performance you need should always come first.) Something in the range of one to two pounds is ideal, and make sure you check the weight before you buy —some computers can top out at close to six pounds. Trust us: Your back will thank you. Surprisingly, touchscreen laptops can sometimes be heavier than regular ones, so make sure you’re looking at the right set of specifications when you’re weighing (sorry) this decision.
Know what you need
If you plan to go into a graphics-heavy field, like video game engineering or data visualization, you’re going to want to have a machine that’s a little more than your average Chromebook to get you through your processor-intensive coursework. Keep an eye out for video editing laptops or even gaming ones — you’ll want to look for features like 8-core or AMD Ryzen processors that deliver superior smoothness when there’s a lot going on, as well as souped-up graphics cards.
Consider the price
While laptops are a pretty essential school supply these days, that doesn’t mean there’s the money to drop a couple grand on a machine that’s top of the line. And chances are high that, on a student budget, the price point might make or break a purchase. That being said, you don’t want a laptop that’s going to crap out on you after a year, either.
But laptops these days come in a full range of prices, from super-basic Chromebooks to extremely fancy specialized machines, so there are plenty of options out there. In fact, the number of options can sometimes veer on overwhelming, so we’ve done the hard work for you (you have enough to think about right now, anyway).
We’ve found affordable student laptops that balance not-eye-watering price tags with performance and durability. It’s hard to get around the fact that quality laptops mostly cost north of a grand, so think of this as an investment in your next four years. That being said, the broke college kid life is real, so we’ve included some budget options you can rely on too.
You don’t need a MacBook Pro
Yes, MacBook Pros are kind of a status symbol — and while they’re always going to be cool, the stuffy, fuddy-duddy rep of PC users is starting to fade. Dell, Lenovo, Acer, and other companies are coming up with models like the Dell XPS, Acer Aspire, Chromebook, and more that are high performers and built for the high-performance jobs that Macs were formerly coveted for. They’re also often cheaper — and yes, some are just as cool as the MacBook Pros. Don’t think of it as a compromise to get a PC for a college laptop — think of it as expanding your options. Some computers now even have messaging that integrates between the cell phone and computer-based messenger programs, just like the iMessage ecosystem. Plus, who’ll be laughing when their superior battery life carries them through a lecture?