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You may not be very excited about going back to school every year, but what better excuse to invest in some new gadget than this? Laptops have become an essential part of our constantly connected life. For freshmen and returning students, such a device can prove as vital as the textbook handed out in class or even one’s school ID. That’s because many teachers have started using Facebook, Yahoo! Groups and other services for handing out homework and courses.
Also, students who choose a career in design or architecture need computers to render objects and create drawings. Even the most basic curriculum requires minimal Word and Excel skills. There are hundreds of things that students can do on their computers, but not all of them are related to school activities. Our article for best laptops for college isn’t only for schoolwork devices. Every student now wants to engage on social networks, watch movies, stream TV series, and, of course, indulge in occasional gaming sessions.
The bottom line is that laptops are absolutely essential for students and they should be sturdy enough to endure long years of mistreatment and over-use. Before you start searching for your new college laptop, there are a few things to consider.
For example, have you considered what operating system you want to use? Each school has specific requirements regarding software, so you should consider installing a compatible operating system. Do you really need strong CPU and GPU, or are you going to use the laptop for casual browsing, essay writing and communication?
There are plenty of things to take into account and the needs of each student are very specific. This is why we decided to choose from a broad range of laptops – some low-cost, others mid-tier, and some even with gaming specs. This means that every budget should be able to find a suitable laptop in our list.
Without further ado, here are our best laptops for college picks:
#1 ASUS ZenBook UX305
A solid ultrabook at an affordable price
Asus has always produced extremely fine laptops at affordable prices. Some actually refer to it as the MacBook knock-off manufacturer. The company has recently released its latest device in the ZenBook series, the UX305. I have used ASUS computers my entire student life and they never failed me when the going got tough. Most ASUS computers have a sturdy build and durable casing. They are built to last and designed to perform.
- CPU: 800MHz Intel Core M 5Y10 (dual-core, 4MB cache, 2GHz with Turbo Boost)
- Graphics: HD Graphics 5300
- RAM: 8GB DDR3
- Weight & Size: 2.6 pounds, 12.8×8.9×0.5 inches
- Screen: 13.3-inch FHD 1,920 x 1,080 (matte)
- Storage: 256GB SSD
- Ports: 3 x USB 3.0, micro HDMI, SD card slot, headphone/microphone combo jack
What I really liked about this ZenBook is the fact that it has all the things a student needs, but it doesn’t come at an obscene price. For $699, users can enjoy solid performance, a vibrant full-HD 13-inch screen, comfortable keyboard all packed in a 12.7mm thick machine.
If you’re looking for an affordable laptop that doesn’t compromise performance but is easy to carry around, the Asus Zenbook is your best bet. Also, if you feel that the UX305 is lacking in terms of power, you will be happy to hear that the company is planning on releasing a $1,000 version of it with upgraded specs.
#2 HP Pavilion 15 (2015)
Perfect for general computing, great price, not suited for serious gaming
I have never been a HP fan, but I have to admit that the company’s refreshed Pavilion line-up is pretty decent, especially for students. One thing I truly appreciate about the HP is that, although it is experimenting with various forms of laptops, it has maintained the traditional design on its Pavilion notebooks. In addition to this, Pavilion laptops come in all sizes (14, 15 and 17-inches).
If you are already familiar with Pavilion notebooks, you should know that the biggest improvement for the laptop this year is Intel’s latest Broadweel architecture as well as the partnership with Bang & Olufsen for better sound.
The HP Pavilion price comes at the hefty price of $479 but options of upgrading processors, RAM and storage can lead to a price of $599.
As far as design goes, the computer hasn’t changed very much, compared to its predecessor. The case and construction feel solid, but the entire device is a bit bulky and heavy. But there is a reason why the Pavilion doesn’t yet meet Intel’s slimness specifications: it refuses to take out the optical drive which proves so useful for university and high-school students.
There is also an option to personalize the laptop with colors such as blizzard white, sunset coral, cobalt blue, peachy pink etc.
The Pavilion is definitely not slim. Having to carry it around campus might prove to be a daunting task, so unless you’re planning on replacing your table computer, you might want to go for something a bit smaller.
If size is not an issue, you will be happy to know that the Pavillion performs well for general use (web-browsing, document editing and general computing), but because it has a weak graphics processor, it is not well-suited for gaming.
#3 Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display (13-inch)
Best laptop for college students, amazing battery life, great performance, beautiful design, quite expensive
Say what you will about Apple, but the fact of the matter is that it produces stunning devices. The Apple MacBook Pro with 13-inch Retina display is a perfect example. This device is without a doubt the best thing you could ever own during your college life, except the next generation MacBook Air, of course. Apple has already announced a new MacBook with improved specs, so you should keep your eyes open for news.
In terms of design, the laptop looks exactly like its previous models: it sports an elegant unibody aluminium chassis and, even though it feels a bit fragile, it is a sturdy device. This year’s model is using the latest Broadwell processor, Iris Graphics 6100 GPU, Retina Display and a Force Touch touchpad technology from the 12-inch MacBook.
Specifications for the standard model:
- CPU: 2.7 GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor (Turbo Boost to 3.1 Ghz)
- Graphics: Intel Iris Graphics 6100
- RAM: 8B of 1866MGz LPDDR3 onboard memory
- Weight & Size: 1.8 cm x 31.4 cm x 21.9 cm (H x W x D) , 1.58 kg
- Storage: 128GB PCle-based flash storage
- Screen: 13.3-inch diagonal, LED-backlit display with IPS technology, 227 ppi, 2560×1600 resolution
- Ports: MagSafe 2 power port, 2 Thunderbolt 2 ports, 2 USB 3 ports, HDMI port, headphones port
You can make this device yours for $1,299 dollars. For a student, this price may seem like a loot, but the MacBook Air is worth every penny.
Apple’s MacBook Air combines the best of everything. The laptop is comfortable to carry around, sturdy enough to avoid damage and thanks to the new processor and updates GPU it will deliver incredible performance.
#4 Toshiba Chromebook 2
This is the best laptop you can get under $300
Students who spend a lot of time online will be more than happy to purchase a Chromebook instead of a regular laptop. At the moment, the Toshiba Chromebook 2 offers the best experience with Chrome OS. Its flagship perfectly combines entertainment with work capabilities.
Toshiba’s Chromebook 2 truly has an impressive display, which can be comfortably used outside and boasts incredibly vivid graphics.
Of course, since the device is a Chromebook, you will have to store most of your files on the cloud. The device offers 100GB free storage via Google’s Drive and your very own Microsoft Office suite (which is extremely useful at school). On the downside, this means that the Chromebook is only suited for students who are comfortable with having all their files stored only online. When it’s not connected to the internet, this laptop is pretty useless.
- CPU: 2.58Ghz Intel Celeron N2840 Processor
- OS: Google Chrome
- Graphics: Intel HD Graphics
- RAM: 4GB
- Weight & Size:
- Screen: 1920 x 1080 resolution
- Storage: 16GB SSD
- Ports: USB 3.0, Combo headphone/Mic Jack, HDMI, SD card slot, security lock slot, USB 2.0
Another impressive feat of the Chromebook is its battery life: it can deliver 9 hours of mixed use. The touchpad and keyboard are comfortable to use, and due to its lighweight design it is also easy to carry around.
Word of caution: If you are used to Windows operating systems, you must understand that Chrome OS only works with web apps. In order to use all its tools you will need a Google account and internet access.
The company is currently offering two versions of the device: with HD screen or with Full HD screen. If you wish to choose the latter you will have to add an extra $50 to your total tally. And, honestly, if you are willing to pay a few hundred dollars for a device, why not add a little extra and enjoy movies in terrific quality?
If it’s a Chromebook you want, then you should get the Toshiba. If you are confused about this operating system, you’d better stick to regular laptops.
#5 Dell Precision M2800 Review
Affordable workstation that doesn’t compromise performance
Last on our list of best laptops for college is a portable workstation best suited for students who are heavy users of programs such as Photoshop, Autocad, 3DsMax etc. The problem with powerful workstations is that they usually come at outrageous prices. This is not the case of the Dell Precision M2800, which packs quite some power for the hefty sum of $1,079.
- CPU: Intel Core i& (4810MQ, 4710MQ, 4610M) or Intel Core i5 (4310M, 4210M) – possibility to choose between different processor types
- Graphics: Intel Integrated HD Graphics 4600, AMD FirePro W4170M
- Memory: 16GB Single Channel DDR3L at 1600Mhz
- Weight & Size: 14.92 x 1.31 x 9.86 inches (WxHxD) and 2.56 KG
- Screen: 15.6” HD (1366×768) Anti-Glare LED or 15.6” FHD (1920×1080) Anti-Glare LED
- Security: Dell Data Protection Security Tools, Encryption Software and Upsell Options
- Ports: Memory card reader, Docking connector, HDMI, VGA, 4 x USB 3.0, Network connector, stereo global headset jack, SIM card connector
This beast of a machine is built to fit a Core i7 processor, full-HD 1920×1080 display and decent AMD graphics card. Aside from these specs, the Dell Precision also comes with updated security and protection systems and a solid military-tested chassis. Yes, it is a robust device, one that you will not be happy to carry around campus. However, robustness was a necessary evil to ensure that the computer endures the test of time.
Most computers with high-end specs cost around $2,000. Dell Precision M2800 is an exception. It may be a bit behind on new technologies, but it packs one hell of a punch for no more than $1,079.
I believe that this is a well-balanced computer with strong capabilities. It is probably one of the few real choices for architecture and engineering students.
Of course, the behemoth won’t be winning any beauty prizes either, but if power and durability is what you need, then the Precision M2800 will get the job done.
This concudes our list of best laptops for college. You’ve probably already read lists for 2013 and 2014, but these are some of the latest models worth considering. Some of the mare also inexpensive in comparison to other models.