Student Computing Gear – Best Laptops for College in 2016

There are over 4,140 universities with about 17,400,000 students in the whole US. Each of these students will eventually need to use some sort of computer, but choosing the perfect one may seem like a scary task.

You can probably browse at student stores to find decent laptops with good discounts, but it’s hard to say if any of these machines will be up to the challenge when completing assignments and meeting coursework deadline is concerned.

If you’d rather skip the guide and see our recommendations, you can click the following link: laptop recommendations list

Aside from the computer, you’ll want to also look at different accessories that might go with it. A good mouse, a comfortable backpack and maybe even a printer. You should also think about the software suites you need to have installed to stay productive.

Use the following links to see more laptops relevant for your specific major:

During your college years, you will find yourself running across campus, from class to class, and a laptop is probably the computer type you will opt for. Have a look at a few laptops we have selected for this guide.

As a student, your computer is perhaps as fundamental as your school ID or textbooks. Campus life is not all about learning. You should think about getting a laptop that allows you to browse social media, watch movies, listen to music, post photos, play games, chat with your family and friends and so forth.

The best laptop for any student needs not only to satisfy the criteria above, but also be durable. You’ll need a laptop that can last the whole four years for undergraduate and an extra year if you’re planning on doing graduate work. Don’t worry, our guide has you covered.

First things first. You will need to check if the school of your choosing has posted special requirements for the computer you should use. Some universities request that you carry a laptop with the Windows operating system, just to eliminate potential incompatibility issues. Other schools will let you use the operating system of your choosing, be it OS X or Ubuntu.

A lot of schools have their own repair shops. This can reduce repair time a lot, since you don’t have to send your computer to the manufacturer for servicing, a process that can take several weeks.

You should also be aware that many schools offer significant discounts for some vendors, and these offers often come bundled with software, which can help quite a lot if you’re on a tight budget.

Light and portable matters

A laptop with a large screen might not always be a good idea. While it might seem cool to have a laptop with a large 1080p or even 4K screen, lugging around a bulky laptop around campus, from one course to another will soon make you realize the poor judgement call you made when you decided to purchase the beast.

Ideally, you will want a 13-14 inch laptop, that’s lightweight. This will allow for more room in your backpack for other things you need to take along while keeping the backpack much lighter. If you are not sure about a smaller screen, think about it this way: every page on the web will re-dimension itself to adapt to your screen size, so fonts will seem smaller, and you’ll need to scroll a lot more to read through the whole content on the page.

Most of your time will be spent writing essays and research papers, along with chatting online with classmates and friends. You need to get a laptop with a full-sized keyboard and comfortable touch-pad. If you think the smaller the laptop, the better, try typing at regular speed on a smaller-than 13 inch laptop. It’s not a great experience, believe me.

The best way to ensure you don’t get a laptop with a crappy keyboard, is to simply walk into any store that carries laptops, and try typing on a few different models to see which one feels best.

Why choose ultra-specs when standard is enough?

Low-end laptops carry most of the common features high-end laptops have. One example are USB ports which allow you to extend your storage capabilities when the internal hard drive simply won’t cut it.

Laptops today carry sufficient storage space to install an operating system, games, software suites and even store movies and music. Most of these models also allow you to upgrade your current drive to a larger one without breaking the bank, but if you’re not keen on storing a large amount of information, why do that? You might also run across the standard VGA port on most of these laptops, but newer models come with Display-Port or HDMI that allow for high-definition media streaming.

Most laptops nowadays come with HDMI ports that you can use to hook up a second display that also carries the port. You won’t need to purchase a separate webcam or a card reader, since most if not all laptop models carry one. So you’ve got all you need to keep in touch with the folks at home when you purchase the thing.

Are Chromebooks any good?

While in the past Chromebooks used to be crappy computers with little storage space and subpar processing power, we’ve noticed quite a rise from these devices lately. They have evolved from those simple netbooks they once were to fully packed laptops.

If you’re attending a school that uses the cloud for its courses storage, a Chromebook is perfect to use as your main laptop. Also, on the bright side, since these devices don’t pack a lot of powerful hardware, their battery life is way better, so you can use a Chromebook for a whole day without the need to plug it in. Another thing to take into account is that these laptop types will cost a lot less than regular notebooks, their prices ranging between the $200 and $300 mark. You need to make sure that you’re covered if WiFi is concerned, since Chromebooks still don’t pack quite a lot of storage space.

What are hybrids?

These are a new breed of computing device that have emerged in recent years. Hybrids are combination between laptop and tablet. Their covertible design allows you to easily switch between the laptop and tablet setup.

Many of these hybrids come with a design that allow you to fold away the keyboard if you need to use it as a tablet instead.

Some of these laptop hybrids allow you to dock the tablet part into a keyboard, and effectively switch the functionality to that of a laptop. You should really keep this in mind if you’re looking into a system that brings a full laptop functionality, with the added benefit of a tablet when needed.

Processing power is important

Usually, processing power dictates just how well you can run demanding software. But this will sacrifice battery life in most cases. Think about your budget and decide if you need a laptop that’s powerful or one that has great battery life. You can have the best of both worlds, but these choices usually cost a pretty penny – think Macbooks here.

There is another factor to take into account. The newer generation of Intel processors are both powerful and power efficient. If you really need a laptop with the longest battery life and have no requirements where processing power is concerned, then you will most likely choose a Chromebook. Chromebooks typically employ a low power processor. If performance does matter, then you should be looking at something like the i5 or i7 CPUs from Intel, since these are the best in their ranks at the moment. If you do decide to get a laptop that’s packed with one of these processors, you should not expect a great battery life.

Power also means graphics. If you’re a gamer, designer or CAD user then you will probably need a laptop that comes with a dedicated GPU. For all other types of uses, an integrated GPU does the job just fine. High-end dedicated graphics cards are great if you like computer games, do complex 3D designs or watch high-definition content, but they will also use a lot of battery power.

Battery life

A large battery can add some weight to your laptop, but it will allow you to use the laptop for longer between charges, which means you can attend more classes without the need to plug-in. Most laptop that are designed with students in mind come with a different battery options.

If you find battery life to be lacking, either think about getting another laptop or getting an extra battery for your current choice. If you do purchase an additional battery, you might want to check how many “cells” it has got. More cells, means more battery life. Carrying an additional battery with you will weigh you down, but it’s well worth it if it means you can run the laptop all day.

About Warranties

While most laptops are covered by at least a 1-year warranty, you can also think about extended warranties. These can go up to 3-4 years, so you will be covered for the extent of your college years, should a laptop part decide to fail.

Keep in mind that the standard warranty will not cover accidents like spilling liquids on the laptop or dropping the laptop on a hard surface.

You can always opt for “accident coverage”, but this will usually cost quite a lot if you’re on a budget. A better investment would be a back-up external drive or cloud storage. If your laptop decides to fail one day, you data will be safe.

There are even cases when the laptop screen or the main logic board (motherboard) will fail, and replacing these will cost about 50-60% of the original laptop cost. This happens from time to time, but if you opted for extended warranties, you should not be concerned.

What’s the best laptop to get for college? Like mentioned above, it’s up to you to choose. If you need power, you’ll sacrifice battery. If you need an all-day battery life, you’ll get an ultralight laptop, maybe a hybrid or a Chromebook. The perfect choice is the one that suits your student needs.

The laptop has become an essential tool in school work, and it has to serve you well when you need to write papers, take online exams, chat and collaborate with your fellow classmates, reviewing the syllabus, creating spreadsheets or presentations and everything else student life implies.

If you are a student looking for a basic laptop, or a parent who needs to send their child away to college, this guide will cover some of the best student laptops the market has to offer.

Now let’s go a bit deeper and look at the different laptop recommendations for common majors:

Science Students

Science students will need a capable laptop that can both run simulations and also allow them to connect to highly capable computer clusters.

Most people will agree that laptops for science students will run some derivative UNIX operating system. This means that getting a laptop that can run Linux or a MacBook is quite recommended. Windows is also ok, but it’s a lot harder to get everything running smooth since you will sometimes need exotic compilers or libraries installed and most of these have no support for Windows systems.

Unless you’re looking to get a laptop that can run LabView, some version of Mathematica and other Windows-only products, you’ll most likely be able to do everything you need on a UNIX based operating system.

On the hardware side, it’s not recommended at all that you get a Chromebook, or some sort of under-powered laptop, since science-related software iterations are demanding and rely heavily on hardware.

So, you should look at laptops that carry a powerful processor, like the Intel Core i5 or Core i7, along with 8-16GB of RAM.

We recommend:

Computer Science Students

As a computer science major, you’ll most likely want to use Linux. It’s one of the most flexible platforms out there, and you’ll learn a lot about how everything comes into place.

If you require Windows, you can configure a dual boot environment, where you can boot both into Windows and Linux. The only reason I can think that you would require Windows is simply to play games.

Most CS classes will be a lot easier in a Linux environment. Perhaps some engineering disciplines will require Windows, but usually these sorts of tasks can be done in Linux as well.

We don’t actually know why, but most laptops in the market have weaker Linux support. As far as we know, Lenovo laptops have pretty good support for this OS. Their laptop line feature some sturdy models that can handle a lot of wear and tear, and even severe mechanical shocks. There’s also a new breed of Linux laptops that started to emerge and they are produced by System 76, but these are just starting out. Their laptop line, while pricey, offers unparalleled support for this OS, along with super powerful processors, hefty amounts of system memory and usually SSDs as the storage option. Even their keyboards are optimized for coding, and they even integrate the “unity” button, a feature found in Ubuntu and other Linux based OSes. If you’re interested in learning more about what models of System 76 laptops are available, you should look at this amazon search result.

The keyboard is another crucial component you should take into consideration if you’re getting a laptop for the CS major. It should be comfortable to type on, since you will probably be writing a lot of code.

You should also consider getting a second monitor and a full external keyboard for those extended coding sessions. Typing a lot of hours on a laptop keyboard can get tiring, and working with just the laptop screen can get annoying since you want to constantly switch between the code and the output.

If you’re not building demanding software, a computer with a Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 500GB HDD should suffice. You can get something better if you want a high performance coding rig, but you will have to pay a lot more.

We recommend:

Business Students

As a business student you will need something portable, light and with diverse connectivity options. Think about a slim ultra-book that can output presentations, spreadsheets and anything else to a projector or external display.

You can, of course, get something with a bit of heft, but why would you want to lug around something heavy?

Hardware performance is not an issue here, since most business majors don’t require demanding software. You can probably get away with using a Chromebook, or if you’re not on a tight budget, you can always get a Macbook Air, since these are light and have a long battery life.

We recommend:

Film & Animation Students

If you’re thinking about film school, you will need a higher-end laptop, since the types of tasks involved rely quite heavily on a more than decent hardware setup.

Think about getting a laptop with a powerful processor like the i7, a minimum of 8GB of RAM, at least a 1TB hard drive, along with an additional SSD.

Graphics performance is also essential if you’re considering a laptop for video editing. A laptop with a dedicated graphics card from NVIDIA would be a plus.

A large display with a high resolution should also make it on this list. Since you’re doing visual work, it’s important that you capture every detail.

All in all, you should be thinking about getting the most powerful laptop your budget can afford. Incidentally, this type of setup is perfect as a gaming laptop as well, so there’s that as well.

We recommend:

Medical Students

Nowadays many colleges demand that you bring a laptop for your school work. So what type of laptop does a medical student need? Well, since many courses have moved online, the first thing you should consider is connectivity.

You need a laptop that can easily access the internet, whether through a wired connection, or WiFi. This way you’ll get easy access to all your textbooks, coursework and even some lectures.

There are some laptops that are better suited for the med student than others. These offer sizable screens, a high storage space and manage to remain sufficiently portable.

Some of the key features you should be on the lookout when browsing for a new laptop for your studies is a large screen, high-speed hardware, diverse connectivity options, high storage capacity and a more than decent amount of RAM.

The large display will allow you to better view your study texts and slides. Advanced hardware means your installed software will run smooth, provided a sufficient amount of RAM is available. RAM will determine the overall loading speed of applications or demanding software programs.
We recommend:

Engineering Students

As an engineering student, you will need something with a kick. Most software that you will get to play with is hardware demanding. Here I am referring to CAD programs or mechanical simulation software, where a powerful processor is needed.

It would also be a good idea to get a laptop with a larger screen, since you’ll need to go into a lot of detail when running engineering software programs. Off the top of my head, I’m guessing you’ll get to play with the Autodesk Product Design Suite or maybe even SolidWorks. These require a lot of processing power if you need to work with multiple components that interact with each other.

As recommended specs for the laptop, we’re thinking a Core i7 processor, about 8-16GB of RAM, an SSD would be nice and a high-performance dedicated GPU.

We recommend:

Art & Design Students

Art and Design are subjects that require creativity, and on the hardware side, a capable system that can run demanding design software in a smooth manner.

While most design professionals will opt for workstation laptops, it’s not quite the need to get such an advanced machine while just starting out.

Most designers nowadays will get Macbooks, since their sreens are quite good at representing accurate colors, but think about this in advance, since not every software application that can run on Windows can also be run on Mac OS.

Fortunatelly, the Adobe Creative Suite can be run on both these operating systems without a glitch. If you would like to do 3D design as well, this is where things can get complicated. Not all 3D design software is compatible with the Mac OS. If this is the case, and you still want to get a Macbook, you should think about setting up a dual-boot environment. You can do this via Apple’s Bootcamp.

On the hardware side, you should look at laptops with a large, high-resolution screen, a fast and powerful processor like the Core i5 or Core i7, a minimum of 8GB of system memory (16GB or more recommended), a dedicated graphics card with its own VRAM.

Going back to the screen type, we recommend that you look at laptops with IPS panels, since these will represent colors much better than regular LCD panels.

Battery life is something you’ll have to sacrifice, since high-powered laptops are energy hungry. You’ll most likely have to plug in your laptop when attending classes, or carry an extra battery around, if your laptop choice allows you to swap battery.

We recommend:

Law Students

It’s recommended that as a law student, you’ll get a computer that’s fast, portable and secure. As a general spec list, you should aim at getting a notebook with a Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and for storage a hard drive with about 512GB space should be enough.

While we do recommend that you make sure your laptop carries an SSD, it’s not quite required for the type of work you’ll be doing. Should your budget be limited, you can always get a laptop that carries an SSH (hybrid drive) or a regular HDD.

The operating system should be a either a Windows 10 Pro or Mac OS X 10.11 with BootCamp or VM with Windows 10 Pro. Why is the Pro version of Windows recommended? Well, most universities use an enterprise networking solution, and some or standard Windows editions simply don’t support connections to such a network.

If you still opt on getting a laptop with a home or standard Windows edition, make sure you make the upgrade to Pro when you get to your university, otherwise you will run into a whole host of troubles in the long run.

Microsoft_Surface_BookMicrosoft Surface Book

Don’t let the small footprint fool you, as this slim hybrid is quite fast, portable and very easy to set up. The Microsoft Surface Book has two usage modes – laptop and tablet. This feature means that Microsoft’s hybrid is quite portable, being a great choice for the busy students that run from one class to another.

The small hybrid carries a 13.5 inch display, an Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of system memory and a 128GB SSD. What all those specs mean is that the Surface can handle demanding software used by graphic design students, like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator or even 3D design software that takes a lot of processing power.

Its ability to easily convert from one device to another (laptop->tablet) is another good reason to just get the Surface instead of a laptop / tablet bundle. It’s quite one of the best laptops/tablets for college life.

See customer reviews at amazon.com

Dell_XPS_13Dell XPS 13

While you might notice that the XPS is a bit pricey, it’s worth every penny. Having a quick glance at its specs, you’ll see why.

When you open the lid, you notice the 13.3″ Full HD Infinity display. Then you’ll boot it up, and notice it takes a lot less than other computers, since it’s super fast. The 4GB of RAM and the 128GB SSD make sure of this.

Since it is so well equipped, you can expect it to perform quite well should you need to run complex software on it. But it’s not just for that, you can also look at it as an entertainment machine when you’re not attending a course. The beautiful screen displays a sharp picture and the slim bezel is hardly noticeable.

What does all this mean? Well, the Dell XPS 13 can keep up with your busy student schedule, allowing you to use tools like Photoshop, Autodesk Inventor, watch movies in high-definition, play games and anything else that might come to mind.

Check price at amazon.com

HP_Stream_13HP Stream 13

This is a laptop that comes in different flavours, or colors to be more precise. Available colors in the market include Cobalt Blue, Orchid Magenta, Violet Purple and Horizon Blue.

While it might be considered a low-end machine if you look at the specsheet, it’s one of the most affordable picks in our list. It integrates a 13.3-inch display, an Intel Celeron N3050 processor, 2GB of system memory and a 32GB SSD.

Why did the HP Stream 13 make it on this list? Well, aside from the affordable price, you also get one year free for the Office 365 software suite, it’s very portable and comes with a great battery life.

Check it out at amazon.com

ASUS_X551MAASUS X551MA

The ASUS X551MA is a mid-range laptop. This means that it can run the vast majority of software you’ll most likely need for writing papers, study, assemble presentations and spreadsheets, watch movies and play less demanding games when you feel like it.

Its specs list includes a 15.6 inch display, a dual-core Intel Celeron N2830 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 500 GB hard drive.

Like mentioned above, it’s a basic laptop that can run most applications and even a few demanding ones, without any problems.

It truly is one the best laptop choices for college students on a budget.

Best price at amazon.com 

Samsung_Chromebook_2Samsung Chromebook 2

Here are a few reasons a Chromebook made it on this list. The Chromebook 2 from Samsung is well equipped in terms of hardware, carrying an Exynos 5 octa-core processor, 4GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage and the Intel HD Graphics integrated GPU.

It’s a simple and lightweight laptop that comes packed with Google’s app suite.

It will allow you to write your papers, compile spreadsheets and presentations for class and store them in the cloud easily. Google has included 100GB of free Drive storage. This addresses the issue of local storage and data backup directly.

The 11.6 inch HD display allows you to stream high-definition content flawlessly. Also, since it’s not an overly powered laptop, the battery life is quite high, lasting up to 8 hours on a single charge.

View it at amazon.com

ASUS_C201ASUS C201

This small Chromebook is both cheap and powerful. It weighs just 2 pounds, has a huge battery life and sports a Rockchip 3288-C quad-core processor.

It’s both powerful and reliable.

If you don’t take into account anything else about it, just think about the 13 hours battery life on a single charge.

That would allow you to run it for even the longest college days.

It’s also very light, so it’s the perfect companion when you’re always running from one class to another.

See this laptop at amazon.com

Acer_Chromebook_15Acer Chromebook 15

If you’ve never heard of an Acer Chromebook, don’t worry, neither have we.

But the Chromebook 15 looks good, it integrates quite a powerful processor and it’s situated in the under $500 budget section.

Like most Chromebooks, this one also comes with the free 100GB of Google Drive storage, which is super useful for storage in the cloud.

This particular Acer Chromebook carries the Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 32GB SSD.

Check price at amazon.com

Asus_Zenbook_ProAsus Zenbook Pro

The large 15.6 inch touch IPS 4K UHD display is perhaps its first noticeable feature. This screen will render sharp images without any problems.

It also comes with a 512GB SSD, which is a fast storage option. At the core of the laptop lies a 6th Gen Core i7 processor from Intel, aided by 16GB of system memory.

There’s also an NVIDIA GTX960M dedicated GPU, that will allow you to watch high-definition movies and play the latest games.

See it at amazon.com

Apple_Macbook_ProApple Macbook Pro

The beautiful, large Retina display on the Macbook Pro displays true-to-life colors. As far as storage goes, you have three options available: 256GB, 512GB or 750GB SSDs.

Along with 8GB of RAM and the Core i7 processor, this is one of the best laptops you can get as a student.

The large screen displays a 2880×1800 pixel resolution and it renders all texts and pictures crisp, like you were reading from a magazine.

It’s also an IPS screen, so you’ve got larger viewing angles, along with a wider color gamut.

View this laptop at amazon

MSI_GS70_Stealth_ProMSI GS70 Stealth Pro

Don’t wonder why a gaming laptop made it on this list. It’s got pretty much every feature you could be looking for.

It comes with a 17.3 inch screen, the Core i7-6700HQ Intel processor, an NVIDIA GTX970M dedicated graphics card and 16GB of system memory.

This configuration would work for pretty much any major you would attend.

The storage is made up of a 128GB SSD and 1TB HDD, so you can install the OS on the SSD for fast boot times and keep everything else on the large 1024GB hard drive.

See this product at amazon.com

Dell_Inspiron_15

Dell Inspiron 15

This one is quite a good combination of low price and high performance. The Inspiron 15 7000 Series comes with a 15.6 inch screen, a Core i7 processor that runs at 3GHz, 12GB of system memory and a 1TB hard drive.

It also comes with Windows 10 preinstalled, the latest operating system from Microsoft. The backlit keyboard is a nice addition for those late night studying sessions.

As far as connectivity is concerned, the laptop carries an HDMI port for high-definition output to a secondary monitor, TV or projector. Also, the 802.11AC WiFi means you will be able to connect to pretty much any WiFi network available on campus or outside.

View it at amazon.com

Lenovo_IdeaPad_300Lenovo IdeaPad 300

The Lenovo IdeaPad 300 is both large and powerful. It has a 17.3 inch screen that’s perfect for study, since it can fit more content on the screen at the same time.

The laptop comes equipped with an i7 processor, 8GB of system RAM and has Microsoft Windows 10 pre-installed.

You will even find the new USB 3.0 port on the side, for faster file transfer between your external hard drive or pen drive to your computer.

See it at amazon.com

Know of some great laptop choices that you don’t see on this list? Well, you can either use the comments section below, and tell us about a great laptop model that you use for schoolwork, or one that you would like to be included in our guide, then we’ll do the research and if we find it fits, we’ll add it to the list of recommendations.

There are over 4,140 universities with about 17,400,000 students in the whole US. Each of these students will eventually need to use some sort of computer, but choosing the perfect one may seem like a scary task.You can probably browse at student stores to find decent laptops with good discounts, but it's hard to say if any of these machines will be up to the challenge when completing assignments and meeting coursework deadline is concerned.If you'd rather skip the guide and see our ...
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