Gone are the days of overloaded backpacks full of notebooks and hand-cramps from trying to write as fast as possible. Nowadays, a good laptop elevates your productivity and allows you to keep all your important lesson materials in one place. Whether you’re a freshman or heading into your final year, having a laptop that’s capable, sturdy, and portable, with good battery life will help keep you on top of your studies—or gaming (no judgement).
Why you should trust us: It’s in our name, PCWorld. We’ve been reviewing laptops for decades, with exacting standards applied to all facets of the user experience, from performance benchmarks to features to the rigors of daily use. Our experts know their stuff and have curated a comprehensive list of the best laptops for college students, with their particular needs in mind.
After you finish looking over our recommendations, be sure to hit our daily updated roundup of the best laptop deals to try and score your favorite laptops on sale. Or check out our roundup of the best laptops for even more recommendations
Updated 11/22/2023: We’ve added a bunch of new picks including the Dell XPS 13 Plus as our new pick for best ultraportable and the Acer Swift Edge 16 as the best budget ultraportable. We also made the MSI Thing GF63 our choice for best budget gaming laptop. Read more about these excellent new laptops in our summaries below.
Samsung Galaxy Book3 Pro 360 – Best overall
Stunning OLED upgrade in resolution, performance, more
One of the first 13th-gen Core laptops
Top-notch battery life
1080p webcam and very good audio
Good, not great, performance
Webcam effects are iffy
From the convertible form factor and 1080p webcam to the spectacular battery life and lovely OLED display, the Samsung Galaxy Book3 Pro 360 really has it all. The laptop itself weighs 3.66 pounds, which is light enough to take with you from class to class. The display swings back 360 degrees, which is really nice, especially when you want to share notes with a fellow classmate. The 1080p webcam will make you look good during remote sessions and the 13.5 hours of battery life means you’ll be able to keep working well into the evening hours. Let’s take a quick peek at the hardware inside.
The Galaxy Book3 Pro 360 comes equipped with an Intel Core i7-1360P CPU, Intel Iris Xe integrated graphics, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB of SSD storage. That’s more than enough power for writing papers, watching YouTube, working on collaborative class projects, and much more. The 16-inch AMOLED touch display features a resolution of 2880×1800 and a refresh rate of 120Hz. That means visuals should be both smooth and vibrant. Overall, this is one killer laptop. If you’re looking for a laptop with powerful hardware and plentiful features, then the Galaxy Book3 Pro 360 is one to consider.
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Samsung Galaxy Book3 Pro 360 review
Acer Chromebook Spin 514 – Best Chromebook
Great processor performance
Sturdy, premium design
Top-notch keyboard and touchpad
Two USB-C ports with Power Delivery
Long battery life
A bit heavy for a 2-in-1 device
Display could be brighter
Android game performance is unreliable
Expensive compared to Windows alternatives
If you regularly use Google apps, you should consider picking up the Acer Chromebook Spin 514, as it’s a phenomenal productivity machine based on ChromeOS. The design is chic and durable, and processor performance is quite zippy. It’s designed to handle most day-to-day tasks like checking email, working on documents, or using web-based apps. The keyboard and touchpad are a joy to use as well. According to our reviewer, the Spin 514 has a “wide keyboard layout with large, easily located keys.” As for the hardware, it’s got a decent amount of power for a Chromebook.
The Spin 514 is packing an AMD Ryzen 5 5625C CPU, AMD Radeon graphics, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB of SSD storage. The display, which folds back 360 degrees, has a resolution of 1920×1080 and is touch-enabled. It’s plenty sharp for general use. Contrast and color performance are adequate, too. The $699.99 price tag is a little steep for a Chromebook, but if you’ve got the money to spend, then you won’t be disappointed.
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Acer Chromebook Spin 514 review
Acer Aspire 3 – Best budget laptop
Spacious keyboard with number pad
Solid video playback performance
Decent business app performance
Workday-long battery life
Poor gaming graphics performance
Basic 1080p display
Small 128GB storage drive
With its affordable price point, solid build, decent performance, and excellent battery life, the Acer Aspire 3 is a good budget option for students. While the aesthetics are a bit bland, the build is surprisingly rugged. During our testing we were surprised by its solid and durable feel—this is not some cheap plastic kids toy, but rather a rugged machine built for work. The full-size keyboard is nice, too. It has a spacious layout, which is perfect for longer typing sessions. Performance is fast enough for general-use tasks like writing emails and browsing the web, but that’s about it. If you’re shopping around for a solid everyday laptop that won’t break the bank, the Aspire 3 is definitely worth a look.
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Acer Aspire 3 review
Dell XPS 13 Plus (2023) – Best ultraportable
Stylish, eye-catching design
OLED with excellent color reproduction
High display resolution
Decent computing power
Quiet, even under load
Moderate battery life
Only two ports
Camera only with 720p resolution
Calling all coffee shop goers and laptop notetakers. The Dell XPS 13 Plus is the perfect laptop to take to class or to your local café. It provides great CPU performance with a 13th-gen Core i7-1360P processor and also comes with a generous 32GB of RAM. And at just 13.4-inches wide, it packs all of that performance into a very small package. Plus, it weighs a mere 2.9 pounds, which means it’s about the same size as a MacBook Pro 14 but weighs even less.
The Dell XPS 13 Plus also comes with a superb 4K display, which is a big upgrade over similarly priced models with lower resolutions from competitors. It’s only real downside is its less-than-ideal battery life, which isn’t terrible by any means, but it doesn’t last as long as we would expect. Still, the XPS 13 Plus is more than worthy of being your main around-town portable laptop.
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Dell XPS 13 Plus (2023) review
Acer Swift Edge 16 – Best budget ultraportable
Extremely thin and light
Gorgeous OLED display
Strong CPU performance in short-duration tasks
Integrated Radeon graphics performs well
Design doesn’t impress
Mediocre keyboard and touchpad
Very weak speakers
If you’re looking for an ultraportable, but can’t swing for the Dell XPS 13 Plus, then your next-best option is the Acer Swift Edge 16. This ultra-thin and lightweight machine comes in at a svelte 0.6-inches thick and only weighs 2.71 pounds. It also packs a 3200x2000p 120Hz OLED display which impresses with deep, inky blacks and perfect contrast. It comes with pretty good performance features as well such as a Ryzen 7 7840U CPU and 1TB of onboard SSD storage.
As is the case with all ultrabooks, to achieve that level of portability they have to sacrifice something and it’s usually the battery. The Swift Edge 16 comes with a smaller 54 watt-hour battery and our tests showed you can expect about six or seven hours of continuous use between charges—not bad, but behind the curve. Let that not take away from the advantages of this affordable, lightweight laptop. The Acer Swift Edge 16 is a solid ultraportable with a gorgeous screen, good performance, and a great price.
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Acer Swift Edge 16 review
Asus Chromebook CM34 Flip – Best battery life
Spectacular battery life
Heavier than expected
Display is too reflective in outside environments
Price When Reviewed:
The Asus Chromebook CM34 Flip has a fantastic battery that just doesn’t seem stop. In our testing it lasted a jaw-dropping 19 hours on a single charge—we even ran the benchmark twice just to double check. That’s positively wild. For most laptops if you can eek out 10 hours on a single charge that’s considered a great battery life. But the CM34 Flip almost doubles that number.
In addition to a marathon battery life, this 2-in-1 Chromebook also comes with a vibrant touchscreen display, spacious touchpad, and surprisingly high-quality 1080p webcam. It does run heavier than the average convertible at just over 4 pounds. But if you’re on the hunt for a long-lasting everyday machine that won’t break the bank, you can’t get much better than the CM34 Flip.
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Asus Chromebook CM34 Flip review
MSI Thin GF63 (2023) – Best budget gaming laptop
Decent 1080p gaming
Attractive red keyboard backlighting
Not the most powerful
Poor battery life
College is an extremely expensive undertaking for everyone and many students don’t have the room in their budgets to go big on a laptop, especially for extra-curricular activities such as gaming. Thankfully, MSI has recognized this problem and made the latest MSI Thin GF63 model in order to appeal to gamers on a very tight budget. It won’t blow your socks off with performance features, but it does come with a Core i5 processor and an Nvidia RTX 4050 GPU—which gives enough horsepower to play modern games at 1080p with decent framerates. The biggest plus however is the price tag which gives you gaming features without breaking the bank.
In order to keep the price this lower though, MSI needed to sacrifice some things. The 1080p screen doesn’t have great color or brightness, but it is capable of 144Hz refresh rate. Likewise, the battery life is rather poor, especially if you’re gaming without the charger. That being said, it’s the value of the MSI Thin GF63, not the features, that give it an edge over competitors and the rock-bottom price for a model with discrete graphics is a rarity indeed in today’s market.
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MSI Thin GF63 (2023) review
HP Dragonfly Pro – Best MacBook alternative
Powerful AMD Ryzen chip
Surprising four speaker setup
Good battery life
High degree of value for the dollar
All myHP keyboard keys should be remappable
No user upgradeable components
No headphone jack
Only 2 high-speed USB-C ports
Price When Reviewed:
Want the attractive design, incredible efficiency, and great performance of a MacBook Pro but in a Windows device? Well, the HP Dragonfly Pro comes about as close as you can get to Apple’s line of premium laptops. HP partnered with AMD to create this slim laptop that packs the latest generation Ryzen 7 processor with 8 high-performance cores and a surprisingly powerful Radeon 680M graphic card.
The laptop’s design is thin and attractive with a high quality feel made from aluminum and polycarbonate. However, just like the MacBook Pro models, this laptop takes a minimalist approach to ports, making those who rely on a bunch of plug-in accessories to feel a little hard done by. The display is nice enough, but it does have some catching up to do if it hopes to rival Apple’s best. Still, for a laptop that is significantly cheaper than the current line of MacBook Pro models, this Dragonfly Pro laptop from HP is a more than worthy competitor.
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HP Dragonfly Pro review
Acer Aspire Vero – Best eco-friendly option
Good 1080P display
Eco-friendly, quality materials
Excellent battery life
Convenient, fast fingerprint reader
Still some bloatware
Flex in the laptop is more noticeable
The Aspire Vero is Acer’s latest from their eco-friendly line of notebooks. The eco-conscious buyer can rest easier knowing this laptop is built from recycled materials, meaning you’re reducing your carbon footprint. It also sports some pretty good hardware for the price too. From strong Core i7 CPU performance to a surprisingly good 1080p display, this laptop has more to offer than just being environmentally friendly.
All of these things and more make the Aspire Vero a great everyday laptop. Its only real downside is that some components such as the soldered-on RAM are not replaceable, meaning you won’t have the option to upgrade in the future. This is a minor nitpick however and doesn’t take away from a well-performing laptop that’s both affordable and sustainable.
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Acer Aspire Vero review
Lenovo IdeaPad 5 Gaming Chromebook – Best Chromebook for gaming
Large, bright 2560×1600 display
Ideal wireless and wired connectivity
Good display, strong speakers
Mediocre keyboard and touchpad
Lackluster webcam and microphone
Chromebooks are a college student’s best friend—reliable, lightweight, and affordable. But they might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you want a gaming computer. Thankfully, Lenovo has made gaming more accessible to Chromebook users with its IdeaPad 5 Gaming. It comes with a Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, and a bright 16-inch 2560×1600 display. Plus, in a rarity for any type of laptop, the speakers are surprisingly good.
If those specs seem good, but not enough to game with, don’t worry. Gaming on a Chromebook is done mostly, if not entirely, through a cloud gaming service anyways. For only the monthly fee of one of these services, you’re able to stream the very best modern games straight from the cloud to your Chromebook. When testing this Chromebook we even found that we could stream AAA games at good resolutions and up to 120Hz. That’s pretty impressive for a laptop that costs less then a third of what you’d pay for a more powerful Windows gaming rig. For more on which cloud gaming services are our favorites, check out our roundup of the best cloud gaming services.
Read our full
Lenovo IdeaPad 5 Gaming Chromebook review
How we tested
The PCWorld team puts each and every Windows laptop through a series of benchmarks that test GPU and CPU performance, battery life, and so on. The idea is to push the laptop to its limits and then compare it against others we’ve tested. Chromebooks, on the other hand, go through a series of web-based tests. It wouldn’t be fair or possible to run the same kinds of tests on a Chromebook, as they’re Chrome OS-based machines. Below, you’ll find a breakdown of each test and the reasons why we run them.
PCMark 10: PCMark 10 is how we determine how well the laptop handles lighter tasks like web browsing, word processing, spreadsheets, and so on.
HandBrake: HandBrake is more intensive than PCMark 10. It basically measures how long a laptop’s CPU takes to encode a beefy 30GB file.
Cinebench: Cinebench is a brief stress test of the CPU cores. It does this by rendering a 2D scene over a short period of time.
3DMark: 3DMark checks if 3D performance remains consistent over time by running graphic-intensive clips.
Video rundown test: To gauge battery life, we loop a 4K video using Windows 10’s Movies & TV app until the laptop dies.
CrXPRT 2: The CrXPRT 2 benchmark tests a Chromebook’s battery life.
Speedometer 2.0: This test determines a Chromebook’s web browser performance. It simulates this by adding, completing, and removing a to-do list.
Basemark Web 3.0: This benchmark gauges how well a Chromebook can handle web-based applications.
What to look for in a laptop for college
The first thing to consider is budget. How much are you willing to spend on a laptop? If you’re working with an inflexible budget, Chromebooks are a good option. They’re affordable and designed to handle everyday tasks like writing papers, working on spreadsheets, and so on. Chromebook prices can range anywhere from $200 up to $1,000. If you want to spend a bit more, laptops with convertible touchscreens (otherwise known as 2-in-1s) offer a great deal of functionality. You can flip the screen around and use it like a tablet or prop it up like an easel for watching movies.
If you’ve got a jam-packed schedule, you’ll probably be running from class to class with very little downtime in between. That’s why we recommend a laptop with a long-lasting battery. We recommend something that’ll last 7 to 10-plus hours on a single charge, unless you want a notebook that can play games on the side—gaming laptops are notorious for their shorter endurance, even during everyday tasks. That 7 to 10 hours is a good figure if you plan on taking your laptop with you everywhere.
Things like navigating your e-mail or watching Netflix will require more RAM. We recommend springing for 8GB of RAM or more. 4GB of RAM is fine and good for web browsing and basic office work, but 8GB is better for having more tabs open and whatnot. Plus, applications like Google Chrome and Spotify tend to eat up a lot of RAM. Most people can get by with 4GB in a pinch if you’re on a tight budget, but you won’t be able to multitask as much.
The final thing is a decent keyboard. In college, you’re going to be spending a lot of time typing. Depending on your personal preference, you may want either a full or short travel keyboard. Mechanical keyboards, for example, normally have longer travel. This helps prevent accidental keystrokes. The keys also give a lot of tactile feedback, as they bounce back after they’re pressed down.
For more specifics regarding the hardware you want inside your laptop, be sure to check out our comprehensive guide on how to buy a budget laptop without getting screwed, as well as our broader cheatsheet on what to look for in a laptop CPU and GPU.
Can you use your Chromebook for gaming?
Simply put, no—at least, not well. It comes down to what type of gaming you intend to do. Chromebooks can run web games and Android games perfectly well. But if you’re looking to play the latest high-powered titles such as Elden Ring, a Chromebook just won’t cut it. This is mainly due to the fact that most titles only run on Windows and Chromebooks typically don’t come with sufficient graphics power.
All that said, Google is trying to bring cloud gaming to its Chromebooks. Cloud gaming services work by using a remote PC or console to play games streamed through the cloud down onto the Chromebook. However, until this service becomes more common, Chromebooks are not good options for gaming.
Can you game with integrated graphics?
Yes, recently the the latest integrated graphics processors from the likes of Intel and AMD can handle modern PC games at reasonable settings. For example, Intel’s latest Iris Xe line of processors with integrated graphics have been shown to run some of the latest releases at 1080p and 30fps. Be careful, however, as not all integrated graphics are created equal.
Regarding gaming performance, Intel and AMD’s integrated graphics have made huge leaps in recent years. So if you’re on a budget or looking for an ultra-thin laptop and the only options include integrated graphics, fear not, you can still game on. For more information check out Intel’s Core 12th-gen Iris Xe versus AMD’s brand new Ryzen 6000 RDNA 2.
What laptop size is best?
This is mostly personal preference. Students who bring their laptops to class or intend to travel a lot should consider a smaller, more portable size. Anything in the neighborhood of 13 to 14 inches is recommended. However, if you want to use your laptop for gaming, then you should consider something in the 15- to 17-inch range. It’s also important to keep in mind the weight of the laptop before buying it. Ultra thin laptops can weigh a featherlight 2 pounds while hefty gaming rigs top the scales at three or four times that—not exactly something you want to carry in a backpack everyday.
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