Gone is the age where students, be they in secondary school or college, roam around with backpacks the size of an average elephant full of textbooks and notebooks. And a really good thing that is, because there’s nothing more damaging to the spine than daily carry of such inhuman weight. How is this change possible? Because all those bulky notebooks, and a couple of textbooks as well, have been widely replaced by the mother of all portable writing instruments: the laptop. There’s nothing more to it than that. It’s a lot more eco-friendly, as it doesn’t consume paper which you throw away afterwards, it can be used for a virtually unlimited number of documents and, most importantly, it’s not limited to taking notes either.
Whether you write down what your teacher says or watch movies during class, play games, do homework and projects, browse the Internet for shopping or research purposes, read books, make presentations, or whatever other similar activity, there’s nothing that’s more necessary than a good laptop. And we mean an actually GOOD laptop. You can’t just get any lame piece of equipment which will probably make you pull your hair out in frustration due to immense lag, nor can you get a $4000 gaming rig which weighs about as much as your textbooks combined and, well, it’s $4000. You shouldn’t get something too high-spec, because you’ll never use all the features and that means wasted money, but you can’t settle for too low either as something with a slow processor, little storage capacity, and not very much memory will perform exactly as you’d think: poorly.
You needn’t even worry about searching for a laptop. The result is a list of the best laptops you could get as a student, with laptops of all sizes, price tags, and performance level. Here’s what we think you’d like:
- 1 1. Asus F556UA-AB54 NB 15
- 2 2. HP Stream 14-AX010NR
- 3 3. Asus ZenBook UX305UA
- 4 4. Acer Chromebook 14
- 5 5. Acer Aspire E15 E5-573G-52G3
- 6 6. Samsung Chromebook 3 – XE500C13-K01US
- 7 7. Apple MacBook Air MMGF2LL/A 13.3”
- 8 8. Acer Chromebook R 11 CB5-132T-C1LK
- 9 1. Brand
- 10 2. CPU
- 11 4. Storage
- 12 5. Battery
- 13 6. Connectivity
- 14 7. Design
1. Asus F556UA-AB54 NB 15
The best overall laptop in this category, in our honest opinion, this Asus model is not one of the cheapest models but not one of the most expensive either. With a 15.6” FHD IPS display, 25mm thickness, and 2.3kg weight, this laptop fits perfectly well into the “classic laptop” category, even a bit on the slim side. It has great overall appearance… and wait ‘til you see what’s inside it!
This model is based on a latest-generation Intel I5-7200U dual-core, 2.5GHz, Turbo Boost up to 3.1GHz. It has exceptionally good power consumption, with a maximum 25W, and it’s accompanied by the Intel HD 620 integrated graphics. It also features 8GB DDR4, the perfect amount of RAM for this kind of laptop, and a more than enough 256GB SSD. It even has the new and crazy fast USB 3.1 Type C port. All in all, the best price/quality ratio around here and the ideal specs for a classic student laptop.
2. HP Stream 14-AX010NR
One of the most highly-reviewed laptops of its kind on Amazon, this electric blue wonder is one of the best non-Chromebook budget laptops we can think of. Of course, you have to deal with the electric blue color, but that may actually be a plus if you’re more into unique pieces. At any rate, this is one laptop reviewers agree it’s an amazing deal for the price and also that it has one of the most comfortable keyboards for the price.
The Stream 14 has an Intel Celeron 3060, 1.6GHz and up to 2.48GHz with Intel Burst Technology. It comes with Intel HD 400 integrated graphics, 4GB DDR3L SDRAM, and 32GB flash storage. It’s not much, but you can always get an extra 64GB SD card and use it as your main storage unit. It has all the ports you need and, at 1.5kg and 18mm thickness, it’s very light and thin and thus very portable.
3. Asus ZenBook UX305UA
If you favor lightness and thinness and prefer a smaller laptop for long-term carry, this will probably satisfy you, if you’re willing to pay the slightly high price tag. Belonging to the premium Asus line of slim laptops, it’s much thinner and lighter than our nr. 2, not to mention our classic nr.1, and you can fit it pretty much anywhere you could fit a normal paper notebook. Its performance is amazing, however, and it’s completely comparable to our nr.1 in that respect.
This ZenBook model features an i5-6200U, 2.3GHz and up to 2.8GHz Turbo Boost. It features the same embedded Intel HD graphics and 8GB LPDDR3 memory, as well as a sweet 256GB SSD. The screen is also great, a 13.3” FHD IPS. It’s only 12mm thick and 1.2kg heavy and, most importantly, its battery is one of the best around, with a 12-hour rating.
4. Acer Chromebook 14
We just had to include a Chromebook here, didn’t we? Designed for Google’s proprietary OS, a Linux mod, Chromebooks are made to be lightweight, fast, resistant, and overall excellent for day-to-day tasks such as reading, writing, browsing the web, watching movies, and so on. Basically, everything a student does, without the strain that a complex OS like Win10 puts on the components. Of course, gaming is pretty much out of the question, but you should quit that anyway. Study time.
This neat little model is only a bit bigger than the ZenBook, at 1.5kg and 17mm. It features an Intel Celeron N3160, quad-core, 1.6GHz and Intel Burst up to 2.24GHz, 4GB LPDDR3 SDRAM, and 32GB internal flash memory. The screen is a really neat 14” FHD IPS ComfyView LED-backlit display and it also has a 12-hour rated battery.
5. Acer Aspire E15 E5-573G-52G3
Yes, we know, we said “no gaming”. But if you do want to game just a little, this model will allow you to play some of the 2015 releases at medium settings, which is quite good for the price. It’s also a very nice design, although the plastic case is not particularly convincing, and it performs well for a fairly comprehensive range of tasks, from office chores to graphic design.
The heart of this machine is a 5th generation i5-5200U, 2.2 GHz, overclocked up to 2.7GHz. It has a dedicated graphics card, a nVidia GeForce 940M with 2GB DDR3VRAM, which powers the 15.6” FHD IPS display. It also features 8GB LPDDR3 SDRAM and a big 1TB HDD. All things together, a laptop suitable for every kind of task. The only downside may be battery life, which is probably not more than 6 hours at medium use.
6. Samsung Chromebook 3 – XE500C13-K01US
The smallest and lightest laptop on our list, this Chromebook is for those who want to be able to carry their laptop in the pocket of their coat. Just like every other Samsung device, including smartphones, this Chromebook also runs on Google-made software and it seems to be doing a pretty good job. It’s only 1.1kg, even lighter than the ZenBook, and also smaller at 11.6”.
This Chromebook is powered by an Intel Celeron N3050, dual-core, 1.6GHz, Burst up to 2.16GHz, which comes with embedded Intel HD Graphics. It features 2GB LPDDR3 SDRAM and 16GB flash storage, which is more than enough for the OS and a couple of documents – not to mention that you’ll use Google cloud storage for most things.
7. Apple MacBook Air MMGF2LL/A 13.3”
We had to include an Apple computer, in spite of the high price tag, because… well, some people can afford it and it’s a great pick overall. In fact, as far as build quality is concerned, MacBooks are quite amazing, ahead of many other top companies. These laptops are beautiful, slim, lightweight, and, most importantly, they work perfectly and consistently. It’s all you could ask for as a student or businessman, provided you can afford paying the Apple price.
This model features an Intel i5, dual-core, 1.6GHz, Turbo Boost up to 2.6GHz, with Intel HD Graphics 6000, 8GB LPDDR3, and 128GB flash storage. It has a beautiful 13.3” 1440 x 900 screen, it’s only 14mm thick, and it also has a 12-hour rated battery, among the highest on this list.
8. Acer Chromebook R 11 CB5-132T-C1LK
Under the tagline “The Chromebook that bends over backwards”, this tiny laptop does whatever you want it to do and another couple of extra things too. It’s a 2-in-1 convertible, actually, with a 1366 x 768 11.6” display with up to 10 fingers multi-touch. It’s small, light, pretty, and performs great – what else can you want from a laptop?
This Chromebook has almost the same specs as our other Acer Chromebook. It has an Intel Celeron N3150, 1.6GHz and up to 2.08GHz, 4GB DDR3L memory, and 32GB internal flash storage which can be extended by using an SD card.
All things considered, you simply have to buy a piece of equipment that suits both your needs and your budget. Perhaps you’re one of the lucky: you either have a good job or your parents do, in which case you can afford a more high-quality one. However, students are well-known for being in financial difficulty, to say the least, and it’s best that you use your budget for wiser purposes and find a laptop that does its job properly and won’t make your wallet cry tears of blood. How do you do that? We’ve made a list of the things you should consider, as a student, when you buy a laptop. Here’s what they are:
Yes, brand is important. Yes, it’s because of the price, mostly, but also because of the quality of their products and also the section of the market they’re oriented towards – after all, why would you buy an Alienware if all you do is watch movies during class? Since the components used are relatively similar, the equation is basically reduced to three variables: price/quality ratio, design, portability. Here’s what we think about the various top brands around:
- Apple: great overall quality and perfectly appropriate for whatever you do as a student. If you can afford a MacBook, that is, and you probably don’t.
- Alienware: mother ship of all gamers. Completely useless for students, though, unless they’re also gamers. On the heavy and expensive side too.
- MSI: relatively new in the business, they produce some hardcore powerhouses. In fact, they actually have the craziest gaming rigs around, even more so than Alienware and Asus. Not particularly suitable for students due to the high price tag and so on, but great if you can afford one.
- ASUS: one of the best, if not the best around here, if you’re on a budget. They tackle all areas of the market and seem to be doing a great job.
- Lenovo: see above.
- Acer: same. Not as wide a range of products as Asus, but still plenty to choose from and great price tags too. Also prettier, in our honest opinion.
- HP: see above.
- Dell: pretty much the same.
- Samsung: unlike their smartphones, the laptops aren’t exactly powerhouses. They do their job and look quite neat, but they’re also fairly expensive.
- Toshiba: not shining very bright in the last couple of years. They try, but the overall quality is not as great as it should be and, quite honestly, they’re far below Asus and the likes.
Unlike in a gaming laptop, where the graphics card is the real deal, a student’s laptop must have a good CPU first and foremost. In fact, it’s best that it doesn’t have a dedicated graphics card at all, as it simply consumes battery life without doing anything practical. What’s more, modern APUs (basically CPU with integrated graphics) perform just as well as lower-end dedicated graphics cards, which is more than enough for anything you do. Well, unless you do 3D design, in which case you may want an nVidia Quadro card.
Modern CPUs are actually all APUs. Intel i5-6200U, a good processor which is pretty much the most powerful thing you’ll ever need as a student, comes with integrated HD 520 Graphics and it will do anything you want from it – it even works pretty well for older games. You don’t even need that much either: an i5-4270 will do just as fine and so will an i3 of the later generations, as well as a Pentium N3700 or a Celeron 3060. That’s about all you need for studying purposes and even light gaming, in some cases.
Long story short, the more, the better. Having at least 4GB is compulsory though – you need that much for Win10 to work properly, not to mention more demanding software. You will also probably multitask a lot and that consumes plenty of memory. This is particularly true about Google Chrome, for instance – it’s fast and works amazing, but eats your memory for breakfast. If you have 80 tabs open, you’ll feel the need for more RAM.
The type of memory is also important. You mostly have to choose between DDR3, DDR3L, LPDDR3, and DDR4, in order of performance. Within the possibilities, pick DDR4. Some processors aren’t compatible with DDR4 though, so you will very often find budget laptops featuring DDR3 memory as well.
Cloud storage is the new thing in town and Google is trying to push it more and more towards buyers. It’s true that it requires an Internet connection and it’s not as safe as a good old HDD, but its lack of limits is quite appealing.
Get an SSD laptop, as much as possible. It is indeed on the more expensive side, unless you’re buying a Chromebook, but it’s totally worth the money. It’s incomparably faster than an HDD, less prone to mechanical damage, and it performs better altogether. If you want traditional storage, at least try to find as big an HDD as possible and get one with 7200RPM instead of the usual 5400RPM.
It’s the point of a laptop to last as long as possible without being plugged in to a power source. It’s impossible for you to keep it plugged in all day, especially when you move between classes, commute, or generally travel. As such, the more battery life, the better. This is why it’s also best to not have a dedicated graphics card, as APU-based computers generally have a battery life at least 30% longer than those with a discrete GPU, at medium usage.
Modern Li-Ion and Li-Polymer batteries can last anywhere between 4 and 14 hours. Don’t trust what the manufacturer says about it: that’s the maximum battery life, under ideal conditions. As a basic rule of thumb, if the battery has 10-hour endurance rating, you can probably rely on it to last for 7-8 hours with Wi-Fi on and a couple of Chrome tabs.
You need to connect your laptop to various things, such as the Internet, your smartphone, a flash memory stick, an SD card, a projector, and many other things. For that purpose, make sure that your laptop has as many, as modern, and as various ports as possible. A couple of USB 3.0, an HDMI, a VGA, an RJ-45 (Ethernet), a 3.5mm audio combo, a USB Type C if possible, and so on.
Check that the Wi-Fi standard is the latest 802.11 ac instead of 802.11 b/g/n. Trust us, you’ll see the difference in speed.
We aren’t talking about how pretty it is, though that may be important for some. The actual important things are size, weight, keyboard and touchpad positioning, key construction, component upgrade possibility, and cooling capacity. And guess what: they’re all dependent on the design!
There are many variables here and we think you should just pick a design that you like. What we advise you to look for is something with easy access to RAM and storage, sufficiently large fan holes, and a good keyboard and touchpad – they’re particularly important for students, as they tend to write a lot.
That’s about all you need as a student. Of course, the screen and speakers are also important, but generally modern laptops perform well enough in those aspects for all practical purposes, so you needn’t worry about that.