The best laptops to buy for college students in 2022
These days, computers are often essential parts of the learning process, and you want to make sure you have one that can handle the things you need them to do. There are a lot of fantastic laptops out there, and we’ve already highlighted a few for students of different ages. This time, we’re specifically focusing on the best laptops for college students.
College students are likely to be using their laptops for a lot of similar things — reading, writing documents and assignments, and browsing the web. But even within that context, everyone is different. Some students like to play games, some want an ultraportable machine, and others might want something that’s priced reasonably. As such, we have a handful of choices to help you find the perfect match for you.
Navigate this article:
- Best overall: HP Spectre x360 13.5
- Best clamshell: MacBook Air
- Best mainstream laptop: HP Pavilion Aero
- Best for gaming: Razer Blade 14
- Best 17-inch laptop: Dell XPS 17
- Best for portability: Surface Go 3
- Best Chromebook: Acer Chromebook Spin 713
Best overall: HP Spectre x360 13.5
HP’s Spectre lineup has been one of the more popular families of Windows laptops in recent years, and that popularity is wholly deserved. For 2022, HP introduced the new SPectre x360 13.5, the successor to the old x360 14, and it’s one of the best laptops you can buy as a college student, though it is a bit on the pricy side.
First off, the performance is as top-notch as it’s always been with the Spectre lineup. You can get it with up to an Intel Core i7-1255U, which has 10 cores and 12 threads, and it’s capable of boosting up to 4.7GHz. Additionally, the Spectre x360 can be configured with up to 32GB of RAM and a 2TB SSD, so it covers all the basics as far as performance goes. That amount of RAM ensures you can run multiple apps at the same time easily, whether you’re doing some research and writing in Word at the same time or whatever the case may be. And 2TB of storage is enough for pretty much any school projects you need to do for a long time.
One of the best things about the original Spectre x360 14 was its screen, and while HP hasn’t made a whole lot of changes with this new model, it’s still a great experience. It’s a 13.5-inch panel and it comes in the 3:2 aspect ratio, which means it’s quite a bit taller than a typical 16:9 display. It can be hard to understand how useful that is until you’ve tried it, but it’s a big boon for productivity. The base model comes with a Full HD+ (1920 x 1280) display, but you can also upgrade to a 3K2K (3000 x 2000) OLED panel which is not only very sharp, but also an OLED panel with vibrant colors, pure blacks, and high contrast ratios.
The webcam is one thing that didn’t stay the same compared to the previous iteration of the Spectre x360 14. Instead of the small 720p webcam, the new Spectre x360 13.5 now comes with a 5MP camera supporting 1080p video, on top of having smart features like auto framing, backlight adjustments, and even filters to help you look your best during meetings and video calls. It’s one of the best webcams you can find on a laptop right now.
HP also changed up quite a bit of the design with the latest Spectre refresh. What used to be completely flat surfaces with diamond-cut edges has made way for a slight curve at the edges with much more subtle accents. The color options available are slightly different – Natural Silver and Nightfall Black are still here, but now we have an option called Nocturne Blue, which uses dark blue surfaces mixed with “celestial blue” accents along the edges. It’s a bit more subdued than previous models, but it still looks and feels premium. It weighs 3.01lbs and measures roughly 17mm in thickness, so it’s fairly portable for a premium convertible.
Finally, there are the ports, and we get a decent selection of them. Two Thunderbolt 4/USB-C ports, a USB Type-A port, a headphone jack, and a microSD card reader make for a solid enough selection for a modern laptop, especially considering its size. Some may prefer having a bit more, but this is still one of the better setups we get in premium laptops these days.
It’s not perfect, but the HP Spectre x360 13.5 is definitely one of the best laptops you can buy if you’re a college student. It’s fast, it has a great display, and it looks stunning. It has some downsides, but if you can overlook those, it’s going to give you a great experience.
Best clamshell laptop for college students: MacBook Air
Not a Windows fan? MacBooks are very popular laptops among college students, and the latest MacBook Air is probably the best one you can get right now, depending on your needs. The MacBook Air is probably best for most students who don’t need the absolute fastest processor and graphics.
That’s not to say the latest MacBook Air isn’t a fantastic performer by any means, though. It comes with the Apple M1 processor, which is Apple’s first foray into in-house processors for laptops. It has 8 CPU cores (four for performance, four for efficiency), and it can boost up to 3.0GHz. That may not sound like much, but comparing that to previous ultramobile Intel processors, including those in previous MacBook Air models, the Apple M1 is both faster and more power-efficient. Even with the latest generation of Intel processors, the Apple M1 is significantly more efficient. It can easily last you through any normal day, and perform great while doing so. You can also configure it with up to 16GB of RAM and 2TB of SSD storage, so it will handle just about anything you throw at it just fine.
The MacBook Air also has a great display. It’s a 13.3-inch panel, and it comes in a 16:10 aspect ratio, which has been the staple for Macs for a while. This aspect ratio is taller than 16:9 (though not as tall as 3:2), and as we’ve mentioned, that means more surface area for the display. You can see more of webpages and documents in a single view, which is great for productivity. On top of that, it comes in a 2560 x 1600 resolution, and that’s the standard across the board. That means you’ll get a great display experience regardless of the model you choose.
The camera, which is above the display, has a resolution of 720p, but unlike some other laptops, it still looks pretty good. MacBooks have some of the best webcams on a laptop, and Apple also improved the image single processing with the M1 chip, so you should look great in video calls. Macs have yet to add support for something like Face ID, but if you want a more convenient way to unlock your laptop, you do have Touch ID built into the power button.
Design-wise, the MacBook Air is certainly a MacBook, for better or for worse. It weighs 2.8lbs, which is fairly light (albeit not as impressive as it used to be), and it measures up to 16.1mm at its thickest point, so it’s certainly a very portable laptop. The design is potentially a bit boring, however, being a very standard clamshell laptop without much flair. It comes in silver, space gray, and gold colors, and that last option is potentially the only one that stands out at all. Of course, a somewhat plain look may be a good thing for many people – we’re just a bit more partial toward unique devices.
Ports are also quite limited with the MacBook Air, but that’s been the case for a few years now. You get two Thunderbolt (USB Type-C) ports and a headphone jack, and that’s it. The Thunderbolt ports let you connect just one external display, and with adapters, you can also connect a wide range of peripherals. But that’s just the thing, you’re very likely going to need a USB-C hub to connect anything to your laptop. Also note that these Thunderbolt ports are limited compared to what you might find on Windows laptops, because they only support one external display and no external GPUs due to the Apple M1 processor.
While it has some limitations, the MacBook Air is still a fantastic laptop, and if you’re a Mac fan, these limitations are already familiar to you. Apple did recently launch an updated MacBook Pro with more power and more ports, but it’s much more expensive, and only a handful of users can truly make use of that extra power. The MacBook Air remains our recommendation for most people.
Also great: Dell XPS 13 Plus
Dell’s XPS lineup is another iconic presence in the Windows laptop space, and for this year, we got a bit of a surprise with the XPS 13 Plus. There are quite a few big changes with this year’s model, starting with a radical redesign, but also including some upgraded specs.
Let’s start with the latter. The Dell XPS 13 Plus comes with Intel’s 12th-generation processors, as you’d probably expect, but instead of sticking with the U15 series and its 15W TDP, Dell upgraded to Intel’s new P-series processors, too. This is a new line of CPUs, and it has a 28W TDP, meaning it uses more power, but it can also deliver more performance. The Dell XPS 13 Plus can be configured with up to an Intel Core i7-1280P, which is a 14-core, 20-thread CPU capable of boosting up to 4.8GHz. However, that does come with the serious downside of taking a hit to battery life, so you’ll have to be prepared to charge if you use your laptop a lot throughout the day. Aside from that, it can be configured with up to 32GB of LPDDR5 RAM and 2TB of SSD storage, so you won’t be missing out on performance.
The display is one of the few things Dell hasn’t changed with the XPS 13 Plus. It’s a 13.4-inch panel and it comes with a 16:10 aspect ratio, and the base configuration starts with a Full HD+ (1920 x 1200) panel, which is already pretty good for a laptop of this size. From there, you can add touch support to that panel, or upgrade to the two more premium options: One is an OLED display with 3.5K (3456 x 2160) resolution, while the other is an Ultra HD+ (3840 x 2400) IPS panel, giving you extra sharpness and color accuracy if you need to do color-sensitive work. The OLED display is likely the most beautiful for the majority of users, thanks to the vivid colors and high contrast ratio. Still, these are all fantastic options.
Unfortunately, the webcam also hasn’t changed, or at least not as much as it should have. Dell is sticking with a 720p camera, but it least it has separated the main RGB camera (that you actually use for calls) from the IR camera that’s used for Windows Hello. Having these sensors separated from each other should result in a higher quality image, but we would have liked to see a 1080p webcam in line with what other premium laptops are offering in 2022.
If what you want is one of the coolest-looking laptops around, though, then the XPS 13 Plus is absolutely for you. This is a futuristic-looking laptop, starting with the fact that there’s no touchpad, or at least not one that you can see. Dell has blended it completely into the chassis, so it’s there, but you can’t see it. That does mean it doesn’t have proper buttons, but using haptic motors, it simulates the feel of a click when you press on it. Dell has also replaced the function row at the top of the keyboard with capacitive touch buttons that change their appearance when you press the Fn key, and the keyboard itself has a modern look with a zero-lattice design and dished keycaps making for a more comfortable typing experience.
This ultra-modern design and the more powerful CPUs do come with a downside, which is the ports. The Dell XPS 13 Plus has two Thunderbolt 4 ports, and that’s it. You get a USB Type-C to Type-A adapter and the option for a USB Type-C to 3.5mm headphone jack adapter, too, but that’s it. Yes, you don’t even get a headphone jack built into the laptop. Of course, Thunderbolt docks can add tons of ports, but it’s not the most convenient setup.
While it’s not a perfect laptop, the Dell XPS 13 Plus has enough going for it to make for one of the best laptops you can buy today. Its modern design is a good enough reason to like it, and you get fantastic performance and a great display, too. Whether you’re a college student or not, this is one of the best laptops you can buy right now.
Best mainstream laptop for college: HP Pavilion Aero 13
Premium laptops are great, but they can also be very expensive, and many times, they’re out of the reach of many college students. Thankfully, the HP Pavilion Aero brings a lot of what makes a premium laptop to a much more reasonable price point. This is a fantastic laptop for a college student without a huge budget, and at first glance, it almost seems too good to be true.
Starting with performance, you can get the Pavilion Aero with up to an AMD Ryzen 7 5825U processor, 16GB of RAM, and 1TB of SSD storage if you’re willing to spend that kind of money (which is still cheaper than most of the premium laptops above). With the base model, you get a Ryzen 5 5625U, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of SSD storage – already a great combination. And while it officially starts at $749, you can often find it discounted well below that – at writing time, it costs just $550, which is an insane deal for what you’re getting here.
The display also adds to this enticing package. It’s a 13.3-inch display, but it comes in a 16:10 aspect ratio. We’ve seen taller screens on a few premium laptops, but the Pavilion Aero brings that to a much more reasonable price point, and it’s great to see. The base configuration uses a Full HD+ (1920 x 1200) display, but you can even upgrade to Quad HD+ (2560 x 1600), which is something else that’s very rarely seen in a mainstream laptop like this. This all adds up to making this a great value proposition.
As you might have expected, the webcam is a simple 720p camera, so it could be better. It also doesn’t have Windows Hello facial recognition, which isn’t entirely surprising at this price point. You do get a fingerprint reader on the keyboard base, so it’s still fairly easy to unlock your PC when you need to.
The design of the HP Pavilion Aero also has some standout features. It’s the first laptop on this list to use a magnesium alloy chassis, another material that’s often reserved for more premium laptops. Magnesium is light, and that means the HP Pavilion Aero weighs just 2.2lbs, making it one of the lightest laptops on this list. It also measures just 17.02mm in thickness, so this is a very portable machine, especially considering its price range. Another great thing about it is that it comes in four colors: Natural Silver, Ceramic White, Warm Gold, and Pale Rose Gold. They’re fairly subdued colors, but it does allow you to get something that suits your personal style a bit better.
The ports on the HP Pavilion Aero also cover most of the basics. You get one USB Type-C port, two USB Type-A ports, HDMI, a headphone jack, and a microSD card reader, so you can connect just about anything to it. The USB Type-C port supports charging, but the Pavilion Aero also has a proprietary barrel charging port, which is what’s used by default. You also don’t get Thunderbolt support, and that’s because this is an AMD laptop and Thunderbolt is an Intel technology with expensive licensing.
No matter how you slice it, the HP Pavilion Aero is a fantastic value proposition. If you don’t have the budget for a premium laptop, this is the closest you can get at a reasonable price, and it’s easily one of the best laptops you can buy for a college student.
Best laptop for college gamers: Razer Blade 14
One thing that many college students like to do is gaming – or at least I hope that wasn’t just me. It used to be pretty hard to find a laptop that could handle demanding games and was still easy to carry around, but today, things have gotten a lot better. The Razer Blade 14 is a powerful gaming laptop, but it’s still portable enough that you can carry it around at school without too much of a hassle.
Let’s talk performance first: The Razer Blade 14 is powered by an AMD Ryzen 9 6900HX, which is a powerful 45W processor with 8 cores, 16 threads, and boost speeds up to 4.9GHz. The Blade 14 also comes with NVIDIA GeForce RTX graphics up to an RTX 3080 Ti, and that’s a version with 100W of power – a very impressive number for a laptop this small – though you will need to spend a lot of money if you want that configuration. You also get 16GB of RAM and up to 1TB of SSD storage, though that storage is upgradeable down the line. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for the RAM.
The display on the Razer Blade 14 offers a great balance of quality and smoothness. It’s a 14-inch panel with a 16:9 aspect ratio, fairly typical of gaming laptops, and the base model comes in Full HD (1920 x 1080) resolution and a 144Hz refresh rate. If you want to get an even better experience, you can upgrade to a higher tier with a Quad HD (2560 x 1440) panel and 165Hz refresh rate, ideal for taking advantage of the powerful GPU options you can get. Combining the powerful specs and GPU gets a bit pricy, but this is a laptop you can use for a long time to come.
The 2022 edition of the Razer Blade 14 upgrades the webcam to a 1080p sensor, a very welcome improvement over the previous generation. This jump in quality should mean you look great during calls or online classes, plus the camera supports Windows Hello facial recognition, making it easier than ever to unlock your PC. This is actually not that common among gaming laptops, so it’s great to see here.
The design of the Razer Blade 14 does have hints of that classic gamer aesthetic, with a glowing Razer logo on the lid and an RGB backlit keyboard, but it also looks very clean. It’s an all-black laptop, and even the RGB lighting on the keyboard only comes through the key labels, so it’s not obnoxious. What’s most surprising about this laptop is that it measures 16.8mm in thickness, which is very impressive very a laptop with this kind of power. And weighing 3.92lbs, it’s also fairly light for what it offers.
Despite its powerful specs and compact design, the Razer Blade 14 still makes room for a decent amount of ports. You get two USB Type-C ports with DisplayPort and Power Delivery, two USB Type-A ports, HDMI 2.1, and a headphone jack. There’s no Thunderbolt support (remember, this is an AMD laptop), but there are enough ports here to cover just about any basic need you might have. Plus, the USB ports are distributed evenly on both sides, so you can plug in the charger and peripherals in the way that’s most convenient to you.
The Razer Blade 14 is a very impressive laptop in more ways than one, and if you’re a college student who likes to game, it’s easily one of the best laptops out there. It’s a personal favorite of mine among the laptops on this list. You can buy the top-tier model below to check out the other configurations on Razer’s website.
Best 17-inch laptop for college: Dell XPS 17
For some of us, a large screen is important, and the Dell XPS 17 is one of the best 17-inch laptops you can buy. We say that because it makes great use of the extra space afforded by a 17-inch screen, so it’s not only big, it’s also very powerful.
On that note, let’s start with performance. The Dell XPS 17 can be had with up to an Intel Core i9-12900HK processor, which comes from Intel’s H series of processors. It has a total of 14 cores, 20 threads, and it can boost up to 5GHz, making this one of the most powerful laptops around. Even if you opt for the lower tiers, you’re getting a ton of performance here. On top of that, you can add dedicated NVIDIA graphics up to a GeForce RTX 3060, making this a fantastic choice for students with 3D rendering workloads, or those who want to do some gaming on the side.
If that’s not impressive enough, you can configure it with up to a whopping 64GB of RAM and a massive 8TB of SSD storage. That’s more than most students will ever need, but if you do see value in those upgrades, you can go that route. These components can also be upgraded later on, so you don’t have to spend extra right off the bat.
The display on the Dell XPS 17 is also fantastic. It’s a 17-inch panel, and it comes in a 16:10 aspect ratio, so you get the productivity benefits of a taller screen. That, plus the sheer size of the display, makes for a fantastic productivity experience. The base configuration has Full HD+ (1920 x 1200) resolution, which is pretty good, but for a 17-inch laptop, you may want to upgrade. Thankfully, you have the option for an Ultra HD+ (3840 x 2400) panel with 100% coverage of Adobe RGB for color-sensitive work, which also supports touch. Both models have up to 500 nits of brightness, too, so they should be visible in any environment.
The Dell XPS 17 has a large 17-inch laptop, but thanks to the tiny bezels around it, it’s about as big as many 15-inch laptops. Dell even says the XPS 17 is smaller than 14% of 15-inch laptops. But to allow for that, the company used a tiny 2.25mm webcam with 720p resolution, meaning it won’t capture a lot of light and images can look grainy. It also has a single sensor for the main camera and the infrared camera used for Windows Hello, which can result in worse image quality, too.
The design of the XPS 17 is great in other ways, too. It uses a dual-tone design, and that’s combined with unique materials. The external shell is a relatively plain Platinum Silver color, and it’s made of aluminum. The keyboard deck, however, is made from woven carbon fiber, and it’s black. This makes the XPS 17 look fairly unique on the inside, but still subdued to not stand out to those around you. Despite all the power it’s packing, it’s just 19.05mm thick, which is definitely impressive for this kind of laptop. It is a bit heavy, though, starting at 4.87lbs for the Full HD+ model.
Finally, there’s the matter of ports, and the Dell XPS 17 leans heavily into Thunderbolt support. It has four Thunderbolt 4 (USB Type-C) ports, a headphone jack, and an SD card reader. By itself, that can be somewhat limiting, since you’ll need a Thunderbolt dock to connect any kind of peripheral, but Dell ships the XPS 17 with a USB Type-C to Type-A and HDMI adapter, so you can still connect some legacy peripherals and displays without spending extra. It’s not the most convenient approach, but it works well enough.
Overall, the Dell XPS 17 is a fantastic choice for users who demand more power and a bigger screen. That’s not a description that fits every college student, but if you do need that kind of power in a compact form factor, this is one of the best laptops you can find. If you want the full suite of configurations, you’ll have to look at Dell’s website, but you can also buy it on Amazon using the link below.
Best for portability: Surface Go 3
Almost on the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of power is the Surface Go 3. This may not be the most powerful PC out there by any means, but it is meant to be light, thin, and affordable. And it does that while still delivering a premium experience, making it one of the best laptops to buy if you just want to take notes in college classes.
The Surface Go 3 is a notable upgrade from its predecessor, even if it’s not impressive compared to the most premium laptops. It comes with up to an Intel Core i3-10100Y, and that’s a dual-core processor with four threads, capable of boosting up to 3.9GHz. That’s not going to compete with the premium laptops on this list, for basic tasks like taking notes, writing up assignments, and participating in online meetings, it’s still a serviceable option. It also comes with up to 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD for storage, which is a solid combination for basic work and multi-tasking.
The display on the Surface Go 3 is also quite good considering it’s price. It’s a 10.5-inch display, and it comes in a 3:2 aspect ratio, a feature that’s very often reserved for premium devices. That means you get extra surface area on the display, making it ideal for browsing the web and reading documents. The resolution is Full HD+ (1920 x 1280), and for a display of this size, that’s going to look pretty sharp. And, of course, since it’s a tablet, it supports touch and the Surface Pen.
That’s not all the good news, either. The Surface Go 3 has arguably the best webcam of any laptop on this list, so if you have college classes or meetings online, it’s a fantastic device. The front-facing webcam is a 5MP sensor, and it supports 1080p video, and you also get an 8MP rear camera, which also supports 1080p video.
As we said at the start, being thin and light is the focus of the Surface Go 3. It’s just 8.3mm thin, and it weighs just 1.2lbs, making this an extremely portable machine you can take anywhere. The crux of it is that it’s a tablet, and you also have to take into account the Surface Go Type Cover, which adds 4.6mm in thickness and 0.54lbs of weight. Even with that, though, it’s the most portable device on this list, and you can detach the keyboard when you don’t need it to make it even easier to carry.
The Surface Go 3 includes a decent supply of ports, including one USB Type-C port, a headphone jack, a microSD card reader, and a Surface Connect port. With how thin the device is, the lack of USB Type-A or HDMI is more understandable, plus, it’s a very affordable device. You’ll need to use a Surface Dock or a USB Type-C hub to connect these types of peripherals, and while that’s to be expected with a tablet, it’s not so much with a typical laptop.
All in all, while the Surface Go 3 isn’t the best choice for those who need the most performance, it’s a fantastic tablet and laptop for college students who need portability above all else. It offers many elements of a premium experience and with a starting price of $399, it’s very good. However, you’ll definitely want to upgrade to 8GB of RAM and SSD storage, and then you have to pay extra for the Surface Go Type Cover and the Surface Pen if you want them. That adds up, and you have to keep that in mind if you want the Surface Go 3.
Best Chromebook: Acer Chromebook Spin 713
For all the merits of Windows and macOS, Chromebooks have become increasingly popular, especially in schools. If you feel more at home on Google’s operating system, the Acer Chromebook Spin 713 is frankly one of the best laptops around, and it’s fast enough to meet the demands of college students, too.
For starters, it has an Intel Core i5-1135G7 processor, a quad-core, eight-thread processor that can boost up to 4.2GHz. It also includes Intel Iris Xe graphics, and putting that all together makes for one of the most powerful Chromebooks out there already. Most Chromebooks have Intel Celeron processors or are still using older CPUs, but this is using a relatively modern chip with pretty high performance, so it’s easily one of the best experiences you can get on Chrome OS. Combine that with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of SSD storage, and you have a fantastic combination that stands head and shoulders above its competitors.
The display is also fantastic on the Acer Chromebook Spin 713. It’s a 13.5-inch IPS panel, and it has a 3:2 aspect ratio. That’s not too uncommon on Windows laptops, but for a Chromebook, that’s something you almost never see, and it’s fantastic. On top of that, this is a very sharp display, with a resolution of 2256 x 1504, making for a fantastic screen for productivity but also for media consumption. And since this is a convertible laptop, the display supports touch, and you can use it as a tablet.
Like most laptops on this list, the webcam is only 720p resolution, which isn’t impressive, but it should suffice in a pinch. There’s no IR facial recognition – not that it would be supported by Chrome OS anyway – nor a fingerprint sensor, which is unfortunate.
The Acer Chromebook Spin 713 matches its internal specs with a premium design, too, using an aluminum chassis and Corning Gorilla Glass to protect the display. It’s just silver, but that’s forgivable when it already does so much right compared to other Chromebooks. It’s also designed to meet the MIL-STD-810H rating for durability, so it should be able to survive the bumps and scuffs of college life without a problem.
Coming around to the ports, the Acer Chromebook Spin 713 has two Thunderbolt ports, one USB Type-A port, HDMI, a microSD card reader, and a headphone jack. That covers pretty much all the basics, and with Thunderbolt support, you can connect even more peripherals using a Thunderbolt dock.
The Acer Chromebook Spin 713 has all the elements of a premium laptop, which makes it almost incredible that it costs just $699.99. What’s more, at writing time, it’s seeing a huge $170 discount, so you can get it for just $529.99. For that price, this is an absolute no-brainer for any college student looking for a new Chromebook, and it’s one of the best laptops you can buy.
Those are our top laptop recommendations for college students, and they should be good enough for almost any workload a student might have. There are various options for different target audiences here, so you’re sure to find something you like. Not only is it at the top of this list, but the HP Spectre x360 13.5 would also be my personal pick if I was buying a laptop today. I find the versatility of a convertible extremely appealing, and the beautiful design of the Spectre x360 makes it that much more compelling.
However, back when I was entering college, I probably would have wanted the Razer Blade 14 instead. I was much more into PC gaming at the time, and the Razer Blade 14 is perfect for that while still being very compact and portable. If you feel the same way, that would be my recommendation. With that being said, every option on this list is great, and it could be the perfect one for you.