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From PCs to Macs and Chromebooks: The best laptops for students

You might not be ready for classes to start again, but it helps to be prepared.
February 6, 2022
man studying in cafe on laptop

Universities are keeping hybrid classes for students, though it’s more of an option at this point. For some, that means more Zoom lectures and remote exams. It’s a safer move for students that need it, though some won’t have easy access to computers like they would on campus. Here are some of the best laptops for students to help prepare for next semester.

Choosing the right laptop can be tricky for students. After all, graphic design students typically have different needs than business students. We’ve done our best to cover a range of operating systems and price points, and many of these options work for high school students as well.

We’ll start with a few Windows options and then move through Macs and Chromebooks to cover all bases.

Also: The best laptops you can buy

Buying the best laptop for students

There are plenty of laptops options available for students. When picking the best laptop for students, it comes down to what kind of usage is required from the computer. You get the choice between three operating systems — Windows, macOS, and Chrome OS.

For young students, a Chromebook is usually the best way to go. There are plenty of options available, and these machines do great at the basics like document processing, video calls, and more, on a tighter budget. Windows laptops are the more versatile options, with the ability to run traditional PC apps and do more or less everything you expect from a computer.

MacBooks are solid offerings and will handle even the heaviest workloads, making them great for intense workloads. These are good laptops for students in a creative field like designing or video editing. MacBooks aren’t meant for gaming, though, so if you want a student laptop that doubles as a gaming machine, you’d be better off with a Windows laptop.

See also: The best Chromebooks you can buy

Another factor to consider is the price. Generally, cheaper sub-$500 laptops make sense for younger students, while top-of-the-line Windows laptops and MacBooks make more sense for students enrolled in professional courses. There’s no set price bracket to watch out for while shopping for the best laptops for students. The price will depend upon the kind of usage you’re looking at.

However, there are many great options available either way, and now is a great time to buy a laptop for students. If you’re looking for deals, it makes more sense to wait for back-to-school deals, or maybe even until Black Friday, to get some discount on your purchase.

The best laptops for students

Editor’s note: We’ll make sure to update this list of the best laptops for students as new laptops launch, but many of these options are newly refreshed. Be sure to check back as more schools announce plans for the fall.

Microsoft Surface Pro X: The best Windows laptop for students

Microsoft Edge Chromium Surface Pro X

We’ve written about the Surface Pro X before in our review, and it remains the most advanced Surface available. Thanks to the LTE connection, it’s an excellent option for web-based applications on the go. With a 13-inch screen and slim bezels, the Surface Pro X is a powerful two-in-one that can go pretty much anywhere. Now that Microsoft updated the powerful 2-in-1 tablet with a custom SQ2 CPU, it’s an even better pick.

You also get a 13-inch PixelSense display with a 3:2 resolution. RAM options are 8 or 16GB, and storage comes in 128, 256, or 512GB versions of removable SSD. The only issue is that this is an Arm-based laptop, so all Windows apps may not work as expected. However, this laptop is a great pick for students with lighter workloads.

Microsoft Surface Pro 8: The best Windows tablet for students

Microsoft Surface Pro 8

The Surface Pro 8 is similar to the Surface Pro X with a tablet design and detachable peripherals, though it’s built for different applications. It sacrifices the LTE connectivity for an 11th-gen Intel Core i3, Core i5, or Core i7 processor that’s better for heavy-duty tasks. The Pro 8 is an upgrade to the Pro 7 and improves upon an already solid Windows laptop.

RAM options are 8, 16, and 32GB. Storage is SSD, with options between 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, and 1TB. With 11th gen Intel processors on board, you also get two USB-C ports supporting Thunderbolt 4.0. You also get Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.1 to round it off. Microsoft promises up to 16 hours of battery life on the Pro 8.

Dell XPS 13 9310: The best high-end Windows laptop for students

dell xps 13

Dell’s XPS 13 has been at the top of best laptop lists for years, and for a good reason. The latest edition combines the power of an 11th-generation Intel Core i7 processor with almost nonexistent bezels. It’s a popular pick among our team here at Android Authority, and we use our laptops for hours on end. 

The XPS 13 is one of those laptops that have improved with every iteration. This model packs up to 32GB of RAM and up to 2TB of storage, which should be more than enough for your most demanding jobs. The 13.3-inch display also goes up to UHD+ resolution, and there’s also an OLED option there.

Acer Aspire 5: The best budget Windows laptop for students

Acer Aspire 5

Not only is the Acer Aspire 5 more affordable than the last few options on the list, but it also offers far more connectivity. It packs an HDMI port, a gigabit ethernet port, two USB 3.0 options, and a USB-C port. The Acer Aspire 5 also shows that you don’t have to break the bank to pick up a new 10th-generation Intel Core processor or a secure fingerprint reader.

The Acer Aspire 5 offers a choice between 11th gen Intel chips and AMD Ryzen 5000 series CPUs. RAM options go up to 24GB. Storage options include up to 1TB PCIe SSD and 2TB HDD. All in all, this is a great budget laptop for students.

MacBook Pro 14: The best MacBook for students

MacBook Pro 14 inch

Moving over to macOS, the new 14-inch MacBook Pro is a brand new MacBook that makes for a great high-end option for students. You get a lot of the goodness of the larger model, with the option to pick between the new M1 Pro and M1 Max chips. You also get a brilliant 14-inch display, although it comes with the infamous notch.

Apple has also done a lot right with this new MacBook. You get the new, improved Magic Keyboard. Even better, this new Pro brings back some important ports, including the HDMI port and an SD card slot. The MacBook Pro 14 is the best in years, making for a solid investment for anybody looking for a powerful MacBook.

MacBook Air (M1): The best budget MacBook for students

Apple MacBook Air M1 open showing colorful photos
Gary Sims / Android Authority

The MacBook Air is probably the better Mac laptop for students. It’s slimmer and lighter than the MacBook Pro, though it also features the powerful M1 chip. While the MacBook Air may not be a top pick for gaming, it packs in a crisp Retina display. The MacBook Air switched to the Magic Keyboard before the MacBook Pro, and it has a 20-percent larger trackpad for Multi-Touch gestures.

The M1 chip is also a very solid performer. This MacBook Air will handle most workloads and then some more. You also get the classic thin-and-light design that Apple has perfected and used as inspiration by so many other laptop manufacturers.

Google Pixelbook Go: The best low-key Chromebook for students

Google Pixelbook Go Review open with pixel 4
Eric Zeman / Android Authority

If you primarily use Google apps to get through your day, you may want to give a Chromebook a shot. They start up quickly, and the operating system is extremely light, though you’ll have to get used to sacrificing some apps. You still get Android and Linux apps support, so not all is lost.

Google’s Pixelbook Go offers up to 12-hours of battery life with up to an 8th-generation Intel Core i7 processor and 16GB of RAM. It may be more than you need in a Chromebook, but it’s always nice to have extra power. Lower-end models with i5 and m3 processors are also available if you’re hoping to save some cash.

ASUS Chromebook Flip C436: The best Chromebook for students

ASUS Chromebook Flip C436 review front left profile

Another solid Chromebook option is the ASUS Flip C436. It’s significantly more affordable than the Pixelbook, and it has the added benefit of a two-in-one design. The Flip C436 has a 14-inch screen, and the extra real estate might make a difference. You’ll also get one year of access to Google One when you grab a Flip C436, which means an additional 100GB of free cloud storage.

The C436 finds a spot on many of our best Chromebook lists, and it is one of the finest Chromebook offerings available right now. ASUS makes some great laptops, and the C436 is proof its Chromebook offerings are equally as impressive. You can pick between an Intel Core i3 or i5 CPU.

Other frequently asked questions

Q: Can an iPad replace a laptop for a college student?
A: iPads are great tablets, but they aren’t proper laptop replacements. iPad OS functions like a tablet OS rather than a laptop OS, so there are limitations. That being said, whether an iPad can replace a laptop for a college student depends on what kind of workload the student has. An iPad can handle most workloads, especially light ones like document processing, video conferencing, and such, but may not be a great replacement if the workload includes heavy apps for uses like coding, video editing, and such.

Q: Do college students need a laptop?
A: It depends on what kind of course the student is enrolled in, but most students will need a computer of some sort. Tablets will be better for younger students or students that need to take notes, while laptops are better for students enrolled in professional courses. A Windows tablet will function as both a tablet and a laptop if you pair it with a keyboard. As such, it is a great pick for students.

Q: How much should you spend on a laptop for a student?
A: It depends on the kind of use the student needs from their laptop. For younger students, you should be able to get by with a cheap sub-$500 laptop. For college students, you’re likely to need a more powerful machine that will cost you between $1,000 and $1,500.

Q: Are Chromebooks better for students than Windows laptops?
A: Chromebooks are great for younger students, but may not have the necessary power or app support required for college students.

Q: Should you get a MacBook for a student?
A: MacBooks are great laptops for students. If you have the budget, and macOS can run all the apps the student requires for their usage, a MacBook would be a great choice of laptop for a student.