The best student laptops for school, college and university in 2022

Best student laptops - person working at a laptop
(Image credit: Rubberball/Mike Kemp on Getty Images)

Picking one of the best student laptops isn't just a task for the beginning of the school year. You might want to upgrade or replace your old machine, or maybe you've only just realised exactly what it is you need from a laptop. Every course has its own technological demands, so the best university laptop will look very different from one for younger students, for example.

In this list, you'll find a variety of the best laptops for studying. Mostly, students won't need a mega-powerful flagship laptop, especially if they're young. They might simply need to be able to use applications that run online through a browser, or optimised to work on low-powered hardware like that found in schools.

However, university and college students might require a more powerful device. This is especially true if they're studying in a creative field, like visual effects or 3D modelling. Because of this, we've made sure to include a decent selection of laptops equipped with heavy-duty graphics cards and loads of RAM. And students studying video editing or photography are bound to need a display with amazing colour accuracy and high brightness levels. These are tricky, but not impossible, to find on a budget.

We've personally tested almost all of the selections below, spending time with the machines. Where that hasn't been possible, we've included picks that have brilliant reputations. Want to know more about our process? See our how we test laptops page. For students though, we prioritised laptops that offer value for money, portability and long battery life.

If you don't find anything that suits your needs in the list below, then luckily we have more dedicated guides if you had something in mind, such as products that can be purchased with the Apple student discount. We've also got you covered if you want ideas on the best iMac alternatives for a desktop computer rather than a portable laptop, and we've picked out the best laptops for teachers.

Don't forget that if you're going to be studying a creative subject, you'll probably need the right software, so see our guide to getting an Adobe Creative Cloud discount or download Photoshop for a free trial.

The best student laptops available now

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The 2020 MacBook Air, one of the best student laptops, on a deskCB

(Image credit: Future)
The best MacBook for students

Specifications

CPU: Apple M1 chip with 8‑core CPU
Graphics: Integrated 7-core – 8-core GPU
RAM: 8GB – 16GB unified memory
Screen: 13.3-inch 2560 x 1600 Retina display
Storage: 256GB – 2TB SSD

Reasons to buy

+
Powerful M1 chip
+
Excellent battery life
+
Beautifully designed

Reasons to avoid

-
Fanless design can impact performance

The MacBook Air (M1, 2020) is currently the most affordable laptop in the Apple family, and while its likely to be overtaken in performance by the recently-released M2-powered MacBook Air, the older MacBook Air is one of our picks for best student laptop as it's cheaper than the latest model by quite a bit, while still being an excellent performer.

In our tests it achieved well over a full day of use on a single charge so you can power through your day without anxiously making sure you're sitting near a power outlet, and it has enough ports to support most of the peripherals you'd need at college or school, such as a mouse and webcam.

That fast and powerful M1 chip allows the MacBook Air to be completely fanless, which is ideal for use in libraries or areas of silent study. It's also been well optimized for a wide range of applications so regardless of if you're studying economics or video editing, there's very little that this compact, lightweight laptop can't handle.

See our full MacBook Air (M1, 2020) review for more details.

Surface Laptop 4, one of the best student laptops, on a wooden table in an officeCB endorsed

(Image credit: Future)
The best Macbook rival for students

Specifications

CPU: 11th-generation Intel Core i5 – i7 /AMD Ryzen 5 - 7
Graphics: Intel Iris Xe / AMD Radeon
RAM: 8GB – 32GB
Screen: 13.5-inch PixelSense (2,256 x 1,504) touch
Storage: 256GB – 1TB SSD

Reasons to buy

+
Can be configured to offer a lot of power
+
Beautiful screen
+
Comfortable keyboard

Reasons to avoid

-
Not enough ports

Apple may make excellent laptops, but its old rival Microsoft has a brilliant device in the Surface Laptop 4, and it really gives MacBooks a run for their money. What makes this laptop so good for students? Not only does it have a gorgeous thin and light design, but it has an excellent PixelSense touchscreen that's a joy to use for creative work. 

It's also got an excellent keyboard, powerful specs (including cutting-edge integrated graphics from either Intel or AMD, depending on the configuration you go for) and incredible battery life. This is as close to a rival for the MacBook Air as they come, so if you have an aversion to macOS then rest assured that this will serve you just as well.

Read our full hands-on Surface Laptop 4 review for more information.

The Acer Chromebook 314, one of the best student laptops, on a desk

(Image credit: Future)
The best budget Chromebook for students

Specifications

CPU: Intel Celeron N4000
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 600
RAM: 4GB
Screen: 14-inch LED (1366 x 768) high definition
Storage: 32GB eMMC

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent battery life and performance
+
Bright, crisp screen

Reasons to avoid

-
No touchscreen
-
No fingerprint reader

The Acer Chromebook 314 has everything that most students need to get their work done: a 14-inch display and over 12-hours of battery life to keep you working through the day, with enough juice to finish up any homework in the afternoon.

There are some compromises with buying a Chromebook, notably that Chrome can't run all the software programs you can run on a Windows computer or a Mac, but for most students that won't be an issue as many educational services are available within a browser. 

As a trade-off, Chromebooks are less demanding than both Windows and MacOS which results in that impressive battery longevity, as well as Chromebooks typically being a lot cheaper than rival offerings.

Just because something is budget-friendly doesn't mean it's underpowered either as we found during our review process that it could cope fine with some basic art apps when connected to an Android tablet, which is ideal for those studying subjects like illustration.

Finally, it has plenty of ports to support all your peripherals such as a mouse or webcam, and you can work around the minimal 32GB eMMC of storage by keeping a portable SSD or flash drive handy to save all of your coursework or homework onto.

See our in-depth Acer Chromebook 314 review for more details.

Product shot of Acer Swift 3, one of the best student laptopsCB endorsed

(Image credit: Acer)

04. Acer Swift 3 (2021)

A solid Windows laptop for students

Specifications

CPU: 11th-generation Intel Core i5 – i7
Graphics: Intel Iris Xe Graphics
RAM: 8GB - 16GB LPDDR4X
Screen: 13.5” 3:2 IPS VertiView Display or 14” 16:9 FHD IPS
Storage: up to 1TB PCIe Gen SSD

Reasons to buy

+
Highly portable
+
Excellent multitasker

Reasons to avoid

-
Speakers are average
-
Webcam quality is 'meh'

The Acer Swift 3 is going to be an ideal choice if you want something that sits between the MacBook Air and a Chromebook in budget, style and power. It won't be winning many beauty contests, but this laptop is perfect for students who need an economic device to get online and run Windows applications.

Budget-friendly doesn't mean underpowered either, as there are plenty of configurations available for you to select just how powerful you need the laptop to be, from a capable Intel Core i5 processor up to a beefier i7.

It's fairly spartan in regards to features, but its thin and lightweight design makes it well suited to throwing into a bag and carrying around school or college all day. It also has a healthy selection of ports so you won't need to remember a separate dongle if you want to plug in a wired mouse or webcam.

We would actually recommend getting a dedicated webcam as the built-in one on the Acer Swift 3 is one of its few criticisms, along with poor quality audio from the speakers, but the latter can also be addressed simply by wearing some decent quality headphones. 

Microsoft Surface Go 3, one of the best student laptops

(Image credit: Future)
The best affordable student laptop-tablet hybrid

Specifications

CPU: Intel Pentium Gold Processor 6500Y - 10th Gen Intel Core i3
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 615
RAM: 4GB – 8GB
Screen: 10.5” 1920 x 1280 (220 PPI) PixelSense Display
Storage: 64GB eMMC – 128GB SSD

Reasons to buy

+
Affordable for a hybrid
+
Runs full Windows 11

Reasons to avoid

-
No Touch Cover or stylus included
-
Base model's specs are weak

The Surface Go 3 is the most affordable 2-in-1 tablet in the Microsoft family, and while It's not as powerful as the Surface Pro 8, or even the older Surface Pro 7, it has a similar design and is more than capable of running low-demand software and web-based applications, making this an ideal choice for younger students.

It even comes equipped with Windows 11 so you're getting the latest Microsoft operating system, and while it's not as powerful as a larger laptop device, it can still run some design applications reasonably well. In our tests we had no issues using Clip Studio Paint to create a few digital illustrations for example, but this isn't a device you'll want to edit images or video footage on.

It's important to note that you'll have to purchase the keyboard separately (and stylus too if you'll make use of it), so the device is sold in its tablet-only form, but when paired with its various accessories the Surface Go 3 is more lightweight and compact than most traditional laptops on the market.

You can read more details in our full Microsoft Surface Go 3 review.

Dell XPS 17 9710 review

(Image credit: Michelle Rae Uy)
The best portable workstation for students

Specifications

CPU: Up to 11th Generation Intel Core i9-11980HK
Graphics: Up to NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 6GB GDDR6
RAM: Up to 64GB DDR4-3200MHz
Screen: 17.0" FHD+ (1920 x 1200) InfinityEdge Non-Touch Anti-Glare 500-Nit – 17.0" UHD+ (3840 x 2400) InfinityEdge Touch Anti-Reflective 500-Nit
Storage: Up to 4TB M.2 PCIe NVMe

Reasons to buy

+
Great performance with powerful configurations available
+
Stunning design for a Windows laptop
+
Gorgeous display with slim bezels

Reasons to avoid

-
Lack of port variety

The Dell XPS 17 (2021) is one of the largest laptops on this list of best student laptops, but students' needs will vary depending on age, course and educational level, making this portable workstation ideal for those studying more demanding topics such as video editing or graphic design. 

Its large size means you can pack it with some seriously powerful hardware, with the top-spec model coming equipped with an 11th generation Intel i9 processor, 64GB of memory and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 graphics card. Not only does that make it capable of handling just about any task you throw at it, which also means it's one of the best MacBook Pro alternatives on the market.

We found the huge 17-inch screen's 16:10 aspect ratio to be useful for creative work because it offers more vertical space, and this also made skimming through spreadsheets during our tests much more productive too. The display also supports 100% Adobe RGB and 94% DCI-P3 colour gamuts, and has a 4K Ultra HD+ resolution of 3,840 x 2,400, making this an ideal choice for university and college-age students on creative courses.

We were even able to play a few rounds of Fortnite on it, so this can double as a light gaming machine for a student that truly wants a machine that can handle everything they need from work to play.

See our full Dell XPS 17 (2021) review for more details.

A Dell G15 gaming laptop on a white background

(Image credit: Dell)

07. Dell G15

The best gaming laptop for students

Specifications

CPU: 11th Generation Intel Core i5 – i7
Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3050 - RTX 3060
RAM: 8GB – 32GB
Screen: 15.6-inch FHD (1920 x 1080) Anti-glare LED Backlit Non-touch
Storage: 256GB SSD – 1TB SSD

Reasons to buy

+
Affordable for a gaming laptop
+
Anti-glare FHD LED display

Reasons to avoid

-
The build is a tad flimsy
-
Design is rather uninspiring
-
No powerful GPU options

The Dell G15 might be a gaming laptop, but that makes it pretty well equipped to deal with a student's everyday needs, from playing video games during breaks or after homework is completed, to then utilizing all that raw power to run demanding applications or software in the classroom.

It's also surprisingly affordable for a gaming laptop. It's not the most powerful model on the market, but it doesn't need to be, equipped with 11th-generation Intel processors and up to 32GB of RAM. You won't be able to configure it with any of the flagship graphics cards, but you'd be surprised just how capable the RTX 3060 model is at running AAA games and demanding creative software.

This makes it a great option for students dabbling with Maya or Blender, or indeed, many applications used within the industry to create games and 3D content. Sure, it's not as capable as a full desktop setup, but for something that offers portability as well as power, the Dell G15 is a fantastic choice for students.

The MacBook Pro 14, one of the best laptops for students, in the office

(Image credit: Future)
The best student laptop for demanding work

Specifications

CPU: Apple M1 Pro / M1 Max
Graphics: Integrated 14-core or 16-core GPU with M1 Pro / M1 Max chip
RAM: 8GB - 64GB
Screen: 13.3-inch, 2,560 x 1,600
Storage: 512GB - 8TB

Reasons to buy

+
Top-of-the-line Apple hardware
+
Great battery life 
+
Can run iOS apps

Reasons to avoid

-
No USB-A port
-
Exceedingly expensive for many student budgets

The MacBook Pro 14-inch isn't just one of the best laptops for students right now, its also one of the best laptops in the world period. That power comes with a pretty hefty pricetag, which can make this difficult to justify as a purchase but while it's certainly expensive, let us reassure you that you'll be getting your monies worth.

The Apple-designed M1-Pro and M1-Max chips can run just about every application you throw at them, and while most rival workstation laptops often sacrifice battery life in exchange for power, In our own tests the MacBook Pro 14-inch easily ran for 17 hours without needing a charge. Even wilder for those used to using gaming laptops or workstations is that the M1 processors allow the design to be completely fanless, so you can work in blissful silence at the library.

Our only complaint is while the SD card reader and HDMI port have been reintroduced to the MacBook Pro line, there's no built-in USB-A port which means you'll either have to buy an adapter from Apple or use wirelessly connected peripherals such as a mouse or keyboard over wired versions. 

Sure, it's expensive but for those on demanding creative courses, we would say this is the best laptop for students If you can compromise on price - it really is the cream of the crop.

See our full MacBook Pro 14 (2021) review for more.

The Acer Aspire 5 laptop on a desk

(Image credit: Future)
The best cheap Windows laptop for students

Specifications

CPU: 11th generation Intel Core i5 / Intel Core i7 OR AMD Ryzen 5
Graphics: Intel UHD integrated graphics
RAM: 8GB
Screen: 14-inch, 1080p, IPS LCD
Storage: 256GB

Reasons to buy

+
A very affordable Windows 11 laptop
+
Good selection of ports
+
Decent 1080p screen

Reasons to avoid

-
Not powerful enough for demanding media work

The Acer Aspire 5 is one of the best options for students on a tight budget thanks to it being one of the cheapest laptops running Windows 11. That means you're paying near-Chromebook prices (which are praised for their affordability compared to laptops), all while getting non of the restrictions.

There are a few caveats in that you won't be running any demanding applications on it, but for younger school-aged children that won't make much of a difference. We tried it with Adobe Photoshop during our tests and it managed well enough for basic editing work for example, though anyone who needs something for video editing or 3D design will need to look at more expensive hardware.

There are a few setbacks that come with a laptop at this price, such as the inclusion of a brand-specific charger over the more common USB-C, and it's certainly not the most stylish device on the market but if you're looking for a Windows laptop at a very cheap price, this is our top recommendation.

Read our in-depth Acer Aspire 5 review to find out more.

Product shot of The Asus Vivobook S14, one of the best laptops for students

(Image credit: Asus)

10. Asus Vivobook S14

The best laptop for students on creative courses

Specifications

CPU: 11th Gen Intel Core i5 - Intel Core i7
Graphics: Intel Integrated UHD Graphics 620
RAM: 8GB - 16GB
Screen: 14-inch, 1920 x 1080 16:9 aspect ratio, IPS-level Panel
Storage: 128GB

Reasons to buy

+
Very reasonably priced
+
Good colour gamut for creatives
+
Portable and lightweight

Reasons to avoid

-
Not the highest resolution

The Asus Vivobook S14 is well balanced for students on creative courses, which makes it a niche offering on the wider market, but ideal for handling low-demand creative applications and software on a tight budget. It comes equipped with 11th-generation Intel processors and a choice of either 8Gb or 16GB opf RAM, which is plenty to run most software a student needs.

Where most budget-friendly laptops are ill-suited for creative work, the Asus Vivobook S14 has been created to bridge the gap. It'll run Adobe Photoshop for example, as well as Clip Paint Studio for any digital illustrator, though it might start to struggle if you need something to edit a lot of raw video footage or render 3D models.

There are plenty of ports on offer to support a range of peripherals like graphics drawing tablets, with three USB-A ports as well as a Thunderbolt USB-C. We would suggest this as a better alternative to a 2-on-1 device for graphic designers as you're getting more power, and the support for a dedicated drawing tablet will be a vast improvement over those built into most affordable hybrid tablet devices.

What should I look for in the best student laptop?

One of the most important things for a student laptop is often portability - which means a light, compact machine where possible. While it can be great to have a mini home entertainment or gaming system in your student digs a heavy laptop with a 17in screen could be a real pain to lug to college and back.

Although we do recommend one 17-incher in our guide for those that need that screen space, it's fairly light and svelte for its size. But we'd generally recommend a 13 or 14in widescreen laptop as the best option for students. This will fit easily into a backpack or satchel and in most cases will be reasonably light. 

You'll want to combine that with battery life that can get you through a day of remote study, and when the battery does run out, it needs to be able to be recharged quickly. You might want to consider an external power bank as well (see our guide to the best power banks for that).

How much power do I need for a student laptop?

How much power the best student laptop needs to have depends very much on what you're studying. If you'll only be using your laptop for writing essays and other documents, taking notes, watching and streaming media and maybe connecting to online classes, then you don't need much power at all, and a Chromebook or an affordable 2-in-1 should do you fine. 

However, if you're studying on a creative course and need to run intensive software, you'll want more processing power and probably at least 8GB of RAM, if not more if you're doing video editing or 3D work that requires rendering. Design students may benefit from a laptop with a good graphics card.

What should students look for in a laptop?

Student laptops should be thin and light enough to be easily carried around, and they should also be built to withstand an entire school day in a backpack. Long battery lives are also essential, so that students don't have to worry about having to plug them in half way through a lesson.

These devices should have a high-quality webcam and integrated microphone for remote study. Many students are still taking part in virtual lessons, so making sure they are seen and heard clearly is essential.

Besides that, the specifications will be targeted to your specialism. If you need something more powerful for video editing or 3D work, the ideal laptop will have the capability found in our most powerful laptops guide.

Which laptop brand is best for students?

When buying a student laptop, you want a device that is well built, affordable and reliable. For that last point, it's generally best to go with brands that have a good reputation – you want your laptop to get you through at least your whole course of study, if not a lot longer. 

Good brands for reliability are Dell, HP, Acer, Asus and Microsoft for Windows laptops, and then, of course, Apple. For creatives, Asus has its fantastic VivoBook range which offers good prices on devices built with creative professionals and students in mind, so check out those if you're starting a course for video editing or digital illustration.

It's also always worth checking whether your college has a particular policy or recommendation. Some recommend using Windows-based laptops to reduce software incompatibility issues or facilitate technical support.

Do Chromebooks make good student laptops?

Yes, they do. Not every student will need massive specs. We've included a Chomebook at number 3 in our guide to the best student laptops because for many students giving up a big storage capacity for super speed makes very good sense. The apps that Chromebooks run take up very little space, and with built-in support for Google Drive, it means your documents are all saved in the cloud as well.

Are hybrid 2-in-1s good student laptops?

Again, this is a resounding 'yes' in our opinion. Hybrids, also known as 2-in-1s combine the best of tablets and laptops into a highly portable package that's ideal for slinging in a bag to carry to school or university. Devices like the Microsoft Surface Go 3 at number 6 above are great for working in spaces where you might not have a desk – even on the train, while you can still keep the convenience of a keyboard for when you need it.

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Matt has been a technology journalist for well over a decade, writing for publications such as T3, MacFormat and Creative Bloq. He's a senior editor of TechRadar, Creative Bloq's sister site, where he can be found writing about and reviewing laptops, computers, monitors and more. He often writes for Creative Bloq, helping creatives find their perfect laptop or PC.