Getting to college these days and not having a laptop is like running track without any shoes. It hurts a lot. So, whether you’re a parent looking for a good laptop for your university student or a college student trying to keep up with your classes, what laptop should you get? Should you spend a lot or a little? All of this depends on the classes you’re taking. If you’re planning on being an engineer, photo editor, or graphic designer, chances are that you’ll need to spend a bit more.
If you plan on doing some gaming, then the amount you spend has to do with the games you’re planning on playing. If, for example, you just want to play CS:GO, Hearthstone, DOTA 2, WoW, or League of Legends, you won’t need a whole lot. In fact, integrated graphics can handle these games quite well. On the other hand, if you’re wanting to play games like Battlefield 1, the Witcher 3, or Mass Effect Andromeda, you’ll want to pay up for the graphics card.
No matter what your budget, we’re taking a look at the laptops we feel give college students the best overall value for the money you have. We’ll start with laptops under $500 and move clear up to options in the $2,000 price range. We’ll also give you a guide of not only what all the hardware on your laptop means, but what you should look for.
|Model||Profile||Key Specs||Weight, Dimensions, Battery Life||Category|
|Acer Aspire E 15 E5-575G-57D4|
|i5-7200U, 15.6" Color Blast screen, 940MX GPU, 8GB DDR4, 256GB SSD,||15.02 x 10.2 x 1.19 in, 5.27 lbs., 12 hour battery life||Top Under $600|
|i3-7100U, 15.6" Full HD, 4GB DDR4 Memory, 1TB 5400RPM, (M.2 port for upgrade)||15.02 x 10.2 x 1.19 in, 5.27 lbs., 12 hour battery life||Best for Under $400|
|Asus ZenBook UX330UA-AH5Q|
|i5-7200U, 256GB SSD, 8GB DDR3, Harmon Kaardon Audio, Backlit Keyboard, Fingerprint Reader||12.7 x 8.7 x 0.5 in, 2.6 lbs, 12 hour battery life||Ultra-Slim and Portable Option Under $700|
|Apple MacBook Air|
|i5, 8GB DDR3 Ram, 128GB PCIe flash storage, 13.3" Display 1440 x 900||8.9 x 12.8 x 0.7 inches, 3 lbs., 12 hour battery life||Mac Under $1,000|
|Asus Chromebook C202SA-YS02|
|Intel Celeron N3060 Processo, 4GB DDR3, 1366 x 768 11.6" display, 16GB flash storage||0.9 x 11.6 x 7.9 in, 2.2 lbs, 10 hour battery life||Budget $200 Chromebook|
|Acer Aspire VX 15|
|i7-7700HQ, 1080p IPS Display, GTX 1050 Ti, 16GB DDR4, 256GB SSD, HDD Upgrade Kit Available||15.3 x 10.4 x 1.1 inches, 5.5 lbs, up to 6 hours||Best for Engineers Under $1,000|
|Asus Gaming ROG GL702VM-DS74|
|i7-7700HQ, 16GB DDR4, 128GB SSD, 1TB HDD, 17.3" FHD G-Sync Wide View, GTX 1060||10.8 x 16.5 x 0.9 inches, 6 lbs, battery rated 76WHrs, 4 cell Li-ion Battery Pack||Best for Gaming Under $1,500|
Top Under $600 – Acer Aspire E 15 E5-575G057D4 Laptop
We reviewed the Acer Aspire E15 last year and this model is the upgrade to it. It provides an amazing amount of value in terms of specifications while still maintaining quality on the simple things like its keyboard and monitor.
Battery life for the E15 is up to 12 hours during typical use. We found that this was substantially decreased while gaming.
Speaking of gaming, even though the E15 boasts a $575 price tag, it still has a dedicated GTX 940MX. We benchmarked the 940MX in a variety of games in our review. In a popular game like Overwatch, it gets an average of around 59 FPS in medium settings. So, it’s definitely capable of doing some regular gaming.
Solid State Drive
Another plus for the E15 is that it comes with a 256GB solid state drive. This makes boot times and loading almost instantaneous. As I’ll discuss below, a solid state drive is now a must-have for any laptop.
The E15 with a 2 core i5. This is good enough to run the likes of a graphics card like the 940MX. So, even with a 4 core processor you probably wouldn’t manage to get additional FPS.
For weight, the E15 comes in at around 5 pounds. So, you can throw it in your bag, use the 12-hour battery, and have pretty much everything you’d need.
Overall if you’ve got around $500 to spend, we highly recommend this 15-inch laptop for college students. It has great specs, good quality, is very affordable, and lightweight for carrying around.
Best for Under $400 Acer E5-575-33BM
If you’re looking for a good PC laptop under $400 there’s an Acer Aspire E15 version, model E5-575-33BM. It comes with a Kaby Lake i3-7100U, 4GB of DDR4, and a 1TB 5400RPM hard drive. It does not include the graphics card that the above model has.
If you go with this option, there is an M.2 SSD slot. I highly recommend you spend another $80 here and use it if you’re tech savvy at all. If not, you might want to look elsewhere as without a SSD this laptop feels kind of slow.
Best Ultra-Slim and Portable Option Under $700 – Asus ZenBook UX330UA-AH5Q
If a lightweight option is a priority for you, I highly recommend you check out the Asus Zenbook. In this price range, take a look at model UX330UA-AH54. This ultra-slim option comes in at .5 inches thick and weighs just 2.6 pounds.
Not only is this laptop slim and lightweight, it comes with good performance as well. Technical details include an i5-7200U processor, 256GB SSD, and 8GB DDR3 RAM. In addition to these specifications, the Zenbook UX330UA-AH54 has a fingerprint reader with one-touch login, a good quality backlit keyboard, plenty of connectivity options, and quality Harman Kardon quad speakers.
Asus Zenbook Ultra Slim Laptop vs Acer E15 Laptop
So, you’re getting about the same specifications as the Acer laptop above with a more lightweight design, better quality, and what I’d consider a superior 13.3-inch 1080 HD display. If you’d prefer a nicer quality display, a QHD+ 3200 x 1800 screen is available for around $80 more. It does lack a dedicated graphics card, but the Internal graphics of the i5-7200U are good enough for some basic gaming.
Overall you pay a bit more for the ZenBook but get a lot of quality options for the extra money you spend. For college students with budgets of around $700, it’s a fantastic deal.
An Inexpensive MacBook Air Laptop
Looking for a good option for your photography or graphic design class? The Apple MacBook Air sports an Intel i5, 128GB PCIe-based flash storage, and an 1400 x 900 widescreen display. Specs for MacBook computers are always less than Windows options; however, you get Apple’s quality design and build. So, you’ll have to decide whether it’s worth the tradeoff or not. For some, it certainly is. Others, may prefer something like the ZenBook above.
This MacBook comes with OS X El Capitan (some may find that theres has Sierra), has 12 hours of battery life, weighs just 3 pounds, and is .68 inches thick. So, you can take it with you anywhere and not have to worry about frequent charging.
A Good Budget $200 Chromebook for College Students
Just need something good for browsing, using Google Docs, and playing a few Apps? The Asus Chromebook C202SA-YS02 comes in at just under $200.
Asus Chromebook C202SA-YS02
Built with a ruggedized and waterproof design, it’s good for walking around campus even in inclement weather. As it’s rubberized it’s can withstand a drop up to 4 feet. It also should last just about your entire day at school with up to 10 hours of battery life.
Tech specs include 4GB of memory, 16GB flash storage, and an 11.6 inch 1366×768 anti-glare screen.
If you need additional storage, the Asus Chromebook comes with a free 100GB of storage with Google Drive.
Overall, if you understand what you’re getting with a Chromebook, it’s a fast and lightweight option with a long battery life. It’s perfect for college students to take around campus, throwing around a bit, and kicking back to watch some YouTube videos.
Best for Engineers Under $1,000 – Acer Aspire VX 15 Gaming Laptop
Looking for a machine with gaming specs for your engineering program? The Acer Aspire VX 15 is a fantastic choice.
The VX 15 Gaming Laptop from Acer includes a 4 core i7-7700HQ that boosts up to 3.8GHz, a GTX 1050 Ti, 16GB of DDR4 Memory, 256GB SSD, and a widescreen 15.6″ IPS display with G-Sync.
Even though these may seem like gaming specs, they make an ideal option for someone who is in an engineering program. This is especially true for those who have an intense CAD workload. That being said, some engineering students may find that this kind of laptop is ultimately unnecessary. So, understanding the classes you plan on taking is the first step.
Other than being a fantastic laptop overall, the VX 15 also does amazing things in today’s modern games taking on the likes of Battlefield 1 and Mass Effect Andromeda without a problem. Not to mention with G-Sync the games play seamlessly.
Overall, this is a great laptop for someone looking for a bit more performance. The best part is that it only costs $1,000. The Energy Efficient GTX 1050 Ti means that overall it doesn’t get too hot while still allowing you to run any game you come across. For those looking for a color accurate option, this one is probably not what you’re looking for. Yes, the display looks brilliant; however, it isn’t exactly calibrated.
Like to play games and take college classes at the same time? Me too. While some self-restraint may be required, the Asus gaming ROG GL702VM-DS74 will give you your best bang for the buck in the $1,500 budget gaming category.
Best for Gaming Under $1,500 – Asus Gaming ROG GL702VM-DS74
Want to game at an even higher level? The Asus ROG Strix GL702VM is an excellent option for just around $1,500. It comes G-Sync and VR ready for seamless gaming. For graphics, it features the GTX 1060. As NVIDIA recently got rid of their “M” skus, this comes with all the power of a GTX 1060 for a desktop. While you can expect a slightly lower performance than desktop, it’s as close as we’ve ever been.
So, if you’re wanting to game at ultra settings in 1080p in all of today’s AAA titles, the GL702VM is a good choice.
In addition to a great graphics card, it comes with the four core i7-7700HQ, 16GB of DDR4 memory, a 128GB solid-state drive, and a 1 TB hard drive. So, you’ve got a room for your favorite games while still running your OS and other most important programs on a solid state drive.
Even though this is a gaming laptop, you might still be surprised to know that it weighs just 6 pounds and is less than an inch thick. So, unlike most gaming laptops, you should be able to take it to campus as a student and carry it around all day. For battery life, the GL70VM has a 76Whr 4 cell Li-ion battery pack that varies based on whether you’re gaming or just browsing. Still, the battery life of laptops like these is typically fairly low. So, if you’ll be having it on a college campus all day, you should bring your power brick with you.
College Student Laptop Buying Guide
Why You Want a Solid State Drive
If you don’t know what a solid state drive is, it’s like a hard drive but a lot faster. It not only makes your boot time almost instantaneous, it also makes all of your programs open more quickly. In general, it also makes everything feel more “snappy”. In 2017, I honestly wouldn’t even buy a laptop without one. I’ve taken old laptops, added a solid state drive, and they feel perfectly new. Ultimately, it’s something I wouldn’t go without.
If You Can, Go Lightweight
Having taken more than six years of college, I know just how heavy a laptop can be that you have to haul around all day. For this reason, I highly recommend you go with something that’s somewhat lightweight and compact. Otherwise, you’ll hesitate to take it with you in your backpack which kind of defeats the purpose.
Battery Life is Very Important
Another important consideration when buying a laptop is how much battery life you think you’ll need. If you plan on being at campus all day long, having a battery life of 8 hours for basic browsing is a good idea. Most of the more gaming-oriented laptops don’t last that long.
Pentium, i3, i5, vs i7
Laptop processors are pretty confusing and most of the Intel ones have 2 cores. Only the HQ Intel processors have 4 cores. So, whether you’re looking at an i7 or an i5, keep that in mind. Processor speed is important too; however, not super important if you’re just doing standard browsing.
Overall, what processor you need again will depend on the tasks you’re trying to do. For gaming, assuming you have a dedicated graphics card, I’d recommend a processor that has “HQ” on the end of the model number. The extra 2 cores make a big difference while gaming.
For general browsing, word documents, excel spreadsheets, and other general computer tasks you may find that an i3 or even a Pentium is more than enough.
A dedicated graphics card is not only for games. It can also be very useful for editing, rendering, and many other tasks. So, how much you want to spend on a graphics card will likely depend on that. For most gamers, even a GTX 1050 will provide a good amount of FPS in today’s latest games as long as you’re running in 1080p.
Color Accuracy and Monitors
If you’re studying photo editing or graphic design, you’ll likely want a color accurate monitor. Typically, these are a bit more expensive. Any MacBook will do, of course, but if you’re trying to save some money go with an IPS panel that covers a lot of the Adobe RGB color spectrum. Alternatively, you can hook up an IPS monitor into your laptop and use that as your color accurate option rather than your monitor’s screen.
What about screen size?
Screen size comes down to personal preference more than anything else. Personally, I like a 15″ screen for doing work because it’s easier to see. However, I have a lot of friends who prefer 11 and 13″ screens. So, go with whatever feels comfortable for you. If you’re not sure what size you’d prefer, go to your local Best Buy or Costco and take a look at the various sizes.