Best College Laptops: Tested Picks for Research, Writing, Gaming and More

Best College Laptops
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

For a college student, there is no more important tool than a laptop. It's a catch-all for note taking, studying, homework, collaboration, procrastination (don't tell your professors) and extracurricular activities. When you pick one, you're likely choosing a tool for at least four years of education, if not further studies or just life afterwards.

Picking a college laptop can feel like homework in itself. There are a ton of laptops on the market, and you may get some help by checking out recommendations from your school or department. In our opinion, most students should prioritize on portability, battery life and then performance, unless your school recommends something else.

Going into the Spring 2023 semester, the latest parts in laptops include Intel's 12th Gen CPUs, AMD's Ryzen 6000 processors (though these have been difficult to find) and GPUs, Apple's M2 chips and Nvidia's RTX 30-series GPUs. There are a select few laptops with discrete Intel GPUs, but we haven't had the opportunity to test them as of this writing.

If you're taking classes remotely, be sure to take the webcam into consideration. More and more laptops are finally getting 1080p webcams, which often include higher-quality lenses for better images.

Also, don't forget to look for student discounts. Many vendors may give you a break, gift card or free extra when you can prove that you're a student, either with a .edu email address or other proof, like a schedule or ID, in person.

Cyber Monday College Laptop Deals

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As we fast approach the holidays, Cyber Monday deal season is here. We're tracking the best savings on our Best Cyber Monday PC and Laptop Deals page, but our favorite one is below.

Lenovo IdeaPad 3 Laptop (2021): now $543 at Amazon (opens in new tab)

Lenovo IdeaPad 3 Laptop (2021): now $543 at Amazon (opens in new tab) (was $639)
This Lenovo IdeaPad is powered by an AMD Ryzen 5 5500U processor with integrated AMD graphics that output to a 15.6-inch FHD display. It comes with 512 GB of internal storage and 8 GB of DDR4 RAM. For a laptop released in 2021, it still stands up as a fairly substantial laptop for both light gaming and casual use.

Quick College Laptop Shopping Tips

  • Consider your major or specialization: Science majors and liberal arts majors may have different needs. An engineering major working with computer-aided design software might want a notebook with a discrete graphics card, while students who primarily do research and write papers may be fine with a thin ultrabook. Your school or department may also have recommended specifications, so be sure to check those out.

  • Learn if your work will live locally or in the cloud: Find out if your school or department uses cloud storage, such as Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive. If they do, you may be able to get by with less internal storage. Of course, if you want your own copies of your work or would like to keep personal files as well as school files, budget for a bit of extra space.

  • Weight and battery life matter: After all, you'll be carrying this laptop around all day in a backpack as you move from class to class. Lightweight and long battery life can both save your back and leave more room for books.

  • Consider how you take notes: A good keyboard is always important, especially when you're writing papers. But some students still prefer to take notes by hand, and those people will want to consider a convertible or detachable 2-in-1 with a stylus.

  • See if you can get a student discount: Some stores will offer you a discount with your proof of affiliation with a university or college. It's also possible that your school will have a relationship with a vendor for deals on certain models. Others may just throw in a gift card or some free earbuds. If you can find a deal, great; school is expensive enough.

Best College Laptops You Can Buy Today

The MacBook Air with M2  is the best college laptop you can buy with a thin design and plenty of power. (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
Popular in the Lecture Hall

Specifications

CPU: Apple M2 8-core CPU
GPU: 10-core GPU
Display: 13.6-inch, Liquid Retina, 2560 x 1664, True Tone
Weight: 2.7 pounds (1.24 kg)

Reasons to buy

+
Sleek, thin new design
+
M2 is powerful and efficient
+
Long-lasting battery
+
1080p webcam
+
Bright display
+
MagSafe returns to MacBook Air

Reasons to avoid

-
Starts pricier than previous generation
-
Supports only one external display
-
Display notch will bother some people

The MacBook Air with Apple's new M2 chip is likely to be one of the most popular laptops on college campuses this fall. Apple has brand cache, and the new Air has the performance and battery life to back it up. 

Apple's new redesign has abandoned the classic wedge in favor of a flatter design reminiscent of the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro, which also includes the MagSafe 3 charger to connect the charger magnetically and save the laptop from spills if you trip over it.

The new MacBook Air also has a nicer display than the prior model and can easily last a day on a charge (it ran for over 14 hours on our test). The 1080p webcam is also an upgrade, either for joining remote classes or for video calling family from campus.

This M2 verison starts at $1,299, so those looking to save a bit might want to consider the M1 model, which is still on sale and starts at $999, though it lacks some of the niceties.

Read: MacBook Air (M2) review


The HP Pavilion Plus 14 is one of the best college laptops thanks to top tier screen specs at a good price. (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
A Great Screen at a Great Price

Specifications

CPU: Intel Core i7-12700H
GPU: Intel Iris Xe (Integrated)
Display: 14-inch, 2880 x 1800, 90 Hz, 16:10
Weight: 3.09 pounds / 1.4 kg

Reasons to buy

+
16:10 OLED display
+
Strong port selection
+
Configurations under $1,000
+
A capable performer

Reasons to avoid

-
Disappointing battery life
-
Lots of pre-loaded software

You can get a laptop under $1,000 with plenty of trappings. The HP Pavilion Plus 14 offers strong performance with  up to an Intel Core i7-12700H series processor and a beautiful OLED display with a 16:10 aspect ratio. You don't often find that combination at the $999 price point we reviewed.

There is a bit of a hit on battery with the combination of a high-res OLED screen and an H-series processor. But those may be worth the tradeoff for those who want those high-end features, alongside a suite of ports that include USB Type-C, USB Type-A,  HDMI 2.1, a headphone jack and microSD card reader. 

For those on a budget, there are non-plus models with 1080p displays that go even lower in price, as well as AMD Ryzen models. The Plus also comes in its own variety of configuration that includ eIntle' s12th Gen P and U series processors. (The U series likely does the best on battery in a tradeoff for performance, but we haven't tested that one.)

Read: HP Pavilion Plus 14 review 


The Lenovo Yoga 9i is one of the best college laptops with great sound and a variety of ports. (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
A Well-Rounded Machine

Specifications

CPU: Intel Core i7-1260P
GPU: Intel Iris Xe
Display: 14-inch, 3840 x 2400, 16:10, OLED touchscreen, Dolby Vision
Weight: 3.09 pounds (1.4 kg)

Reasons to buy

+
Slim, sleek design
+
Bright OLED display option
+
Loud, versatile 360-degree sound bar
+
Thunderbolt 4 and USB Type-A ports

Reasons to avoid

-
Too much preinstalled software
-
Difficult to upgrade SSD
-
Extra laptop keys should be programmable

The Lenovo Yoga 9i is one of the best ultrabooks with a rounded, thin design with plenty of ports, including both Thunderbolt 4 and USB Type-A, for your mice, backup drives or other peripherals.

We tested the Yoga 9i with an OLED display that measured 352 nits of brightness and covered 140.1% of the DCI-P3 color gamut. It's bright, colorful and very impressive, especially with Dolby Vision support.

If you want to use the Yoga to take notes, you can flip it into a tablet. When you're ready to start your term paper, it works as a laptop. You can also use it as a display to give presentations, with audio coming from the excellent 360-degree sound bar. 

Read: Lenovo Yoga 9i (Gen 7, 14-inch) review


(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
For the Dedicated Notetaker

Specifications

CPU: Intel Core i7-1255U
GPU: Intel Iris Xe
Display: 13-inch, 2880 x 1920, 120 Hz PixelSense Flow touchscreen
Weight: 1.94 pounds (0.88 kg) without keyboard

Reasons to buy

+
Strong webcam and audio
+
Type cover keyboard is still top-notch
+
Vivid, 120 Hz display

Reasons to avoid

-
No headphone jack
-
Keyboard adds a lot to the starting price

There are two versions of the Microsoft Surface Pro 9 — one with Intel chips and one with Arm. Both come in the same sleek aluminum chassis, though if you want fun colors like blue or green, you have to go for the Intel model.

We feel that most people will want the performance boost from the Intel model, which also has the benefit of starting at a lower price. It has fewer issues with app compatibility because the Intel chips don't need to emulate any software.

If Wi-Fi doesn't cover the quad, you may want the SQ3 version, which works with 5G (assuming you have a cellular plan for it). It also has slightly longer battery life, though you should get a day's charge out of either model.

Microsoft hasn't changed much with the Pro 9, but it's still the Windows tablet to beat. It's still expensive, though, and a keyboard and stylus continue to add more to the cost.

Read: Microsoft Surface Pro 9 review


(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
For Budget College Gamers

Specifications

CPU: Intel Core i5-12500H
GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti
Display: 15.6-inch, 1920 x 1080, 144 Hz
Weight: 5.51 pounds / 2.5 kg

Reasons to buy

+
Affordable
+
Clean design
+
Decent performance for the price

Reasons to avoid

-
Way too much bloatware
-
Display is a little washed out

The Acer Nitro 5 proves you can get a solid gaming machine for under $1,000, which is fitting for the gamer on a budget, as long as your expectations for performance are reasonable.

It doesn't hurt that the Nitro 5's latest design is a bit more adult. Sure, it still has a backlit RGB keyboard, but without an aggressive design with tons of angles and red accents, it will fit in in the classroom as well as your school's gaming meetups.

The Nitro 5 also comes with a SATA cable in the box so you can add more storage later. This is a decent way to save money, as laptop companies often charge an arm and a leg for more storage, so those who are handy with a screwdriver can get more storage on the cheap.

Read: Acer Nitro 5 review


(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
For Sciences, Coding and Video

Specifications

CPU: Intel Core i7-12700H
GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti
Display: 15.6-inch, 3456 x 2160, 16:10, OLED touchscreen
Weight: 4.31 pounds / 1.96 kg

Reasons to buy

+
Sturdy aluminum design
+
Vivid OLED display
+
Surprisingly long battery life for the specs
+
Strong performance

Reasons to avoid

-
Limited ports
-
Middling webcam

Some students may need a bit of GPU power. For that, we like the Dell XPS 15, which is portable enough to carry around, but also goes up to an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti alongside 12th Gen Intel H-series CPUs. Students who are making in some sciences, those coding with deep learning models or arts or journalism students exporting video may appreciate the extra kick of performance. (If you want an even bigger screen, consider the Dell XPS 17.)

We found the XPS 15 to offer a surprisingly long battery life considering its powerful components. It ran for nine hours and 43 minutes on our test.

The XPS 15 has a sturdy design with thin bezels around the display, making it easy to carry around and putting plenty of focus on your work. The OLED display option is a treat, if you're willing to pay for it.

If you need an HDMI output, you'll need to use a dongle to connect to an external monitor, unlike Apple's latest MacBook Pros, which have it built in.

Read: Dell XPS 15 (9520) review 


(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
Power and Battery Life

Specifications

CPU: AMD Ryzen 9 6900HS
GPU: AMD Radeon RX 6800S
Display: 14-inch 2560 x 1600, 16:10, 120 Hz
Weight: 3.79 pounds / 1.72 kg

Reasons to buy

+
Long battery life
+
Sleek, portable design
+
Asus finally added a webcam 
+
Surprisingly good speakers

Reasons to avoid

-
Some keyboard touchpoints run uncomfortably warm
-
Pricey

You can use the same laptop for gaming and your studies. The Zephyrus G14, with its AMD Ryzen 9 6900HS and AMD Radeon RX6800S, delivers gaming-grade performance, but also has some features great for working on campus.

For instance, on our battery test, the Zephyrus lasted more than 10 and a half hours, which means you can go through long lecture halls or stints at the library without plugging in (unless you're gaming, of course). The AMD Advantage model has a 16:10 aspect ratio to show a bit more text, spreadsheets or other work than prior versions.

And while it goes without saying on most laptops, Asus brought the webcam back to this model, for when you need to work remotely or collaborate with others from your dorm room.

Read: Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 review


Finding Discounts on the Best College Laptops 

Whether you're shopping for one of the best gaming laptops or another model that didn't quite make our list, you may find some savings by checking out our lists of Dell coupon codes, HP coupon codes, Lenovo coupon codes, Razer promo codes or Newegg promo codes.

MORE: How to Buy a Gaming Laptop

MORE: Best Gaming PCs

MORE: Best Ultrabooks and Premium Laptops

Andrew E. Freedman is a senior editor at Tom's Hardware focusing on laptops, desktops and gaming. He also keeps up with the latest news. A lover of all things gaming and tech, his previous work has shown up in Tom's Guide, Laptop Mag, Kotaku, PCMag and Complex, among others. Follow him on Twitter: @FreedmanAE

  • RebeliusGaming
    I had you as a referent, but Apple laptop as number 1 option for gaming?.... It has to be a mistake.
    Reply
  • aindriu80
    This list makes no sense at all, going to college with the highest-end machines consumers can purchase??, what about the college part?
    Reply
  • Old Molases
    What do you think of Acer Nitro 5?
    Reply
  • shady28
    Bad list.

    In college you want something light, good battery life, a good adjustable screen, decent keyboard, and fairly rugged. Those are paramount. Gaming is a far distant concern. A lot of corporate laptops fit this bill

    A big bulky low battery life Nitro 5 is horrible. You'll look really dense sitting in a classroom with that thing and its huge power brick. Which means it'll sit in the dorm.

    The Surface would be perfect, but that's a $1500+ laptop there. You probably should have set a price limit of $800 or so.

    The XPS, beyond being expensive, again you picked a 15" model. Do you guys imagine a bunch of students in class with 15" screens on their 12" wide flip up tables? I mean yes, get a 27" 1440p IPS monitor for the dorm, the laptop needs to be usable in class.

    The Mac would be the perfect form factor with a great screen and solid construction, but unless you are going for a media related degree like graphic design or some such, it is a no go. Too much requires Windows software. It's also expensive.

    There are plenty of options out there but this list is trash.
    Reply
  • JimboCA
    Mac may be out of the budget of many college students. I have both PC and Mac laptops. The PC laptop is necessary for PC-specific applications. In my work, I need MS Visio. The Mac substitutes do not work for me as well. I love the Mac for its intuitive layout.
    On the PC side, I like the HP laptops. I have a Z Book 17 (not the best for lugging around, however it has a top notch discrete graphics card and 32 gb of RAM. I have a smaller HP for portability's sake. The elite book is small and fairly powerful.
    The best considerations need to be:
    What software do I need to run?
    How portable do I need it to be?
    What kind of battery life do I need?
    There are great choices that fit the spectrum.
    Reply
  • walldoo99
    Admin said:
    , portability and the power to tackle everything your major requires. Our list includes Windows PCs, Macs and some gaming systems for those who like to play when they aren't working.
    I never heard of anyone gaming from a mac.
    Reply
  • walldoo99
    Admin said:
    The best college laptops offer great battery life, portability and the power to tackle everything your major requires. Our list includes Windows PCs, Macs and some gaming systems for those who like to play when they aren't working.

    Best College Laptops: Tested Picks for Research, Writing, Gaming and More : Read more
    I sell used laptop with great battery life for a fractopn of what they are charging.
    Reply
  • walldoo99
    shady28 said:
    Bad list.

    In college you want something light, good battery life, a good adjustable screen, decent keyboard, and fairly rugged. Those are paramount. Gaming is a far distant concern. A lot of corporate laptops fit this bill

    A big bulky low battery life Nitro 5 is horrible. You'll look really dense sitting in a classroom with that thing and its huge power brick. Which means it'll sit in the dorm.

    The Surface would be perfect, but that's a $1500+ laptop there. You probably should have set a price limit of $800 or so.

    The XPS, beyond being expensive, again you picked a 15" model. Do you guys imagine a bunch of students in class with 15" screens on their 12" wide flip up tables? I mean yes, get a 27" 1440p IPS monitor for the dorm, the laptop needs to be usable in class.

    The Mac would be the perfect form factor with a great screen and solid construction, but unless you are going for a media related degree like graphic design or some such, it is a no go. Too much requires Windows software. It's also expensive.

    There are plenty of options out there but this list is trash.
    I have some client that are student and need the 15" workstation like the W520 and W530 for cad rendering, video editing and such. I feel sorry for them lugging that beast arond , but the Dell equivilant weighs almost twice as much. But they are still cheaper than the a fraction of what these sell for.
    Reply