The best laptops for students: HP, Surface, MacBook, and more!

The best laptops for students: HP, Surface, MacBook, and more!

Summer break always seems to end much more quickly than we’d like it to. Just like that, we’re approaching back-to-school season once again, and that often means it’s time for a new PC. As learning becomes increasingly reliant on technology, it’s essential for students to have a good laptop. That’s even more true after a year and a half of remote learning. Finding a laptop that works well now and for the next few years can be tough, but we’re here to help. We’ve selected some of the best laptops you can buy for students ahead of the upcoming school year to make your choice easier.

Good laptops are abundant nowadays, but it can be hard to find something that’s just right. We’ve tried to cover a wide range of use cases and price points, so you’re very likely to find something you’ll like here. There are also devices with different operating systems so you can choose whichever you prefer.

Best Windows laptop for students: HP Spectre x360 14

HP Spectre X360 14

HP Spectre x360 14

No matter your use case, it’s very hard to go wrong with the HP Spectre x360 family. HP’s premium line of convertibles has one of the most unique, but still classy designs, and it’s super capable. With the Spectre x360 14, HP did something great and introduced a tall 3:2 display, which is great news for students. A tall display means you get more vertical space for text, so reading and writing becomes easier. It’s more convenient to use two windows side-by-side and still be able to see all the content you need in one page. That’s even better with the option for a 3K2K OLED display, where the added resolution makes it possible to fit even more content on the screen.

Of course, that’s all backed up by top-notch specs. You can configure the HP Spectre x360 with up to an Intel Core i7-1165G7 processor, which includes Intel Iris Xe Graphics. Add 16GB of RAM and up to 2TB of SSD storage (though you don’t need that much), and you have a stellar machine that can last you all the way through college.

Bonuses include Windows Hello facial recognition, a privacy shutter for the camera, and two Thunderbolt 4 ports. You also get the benefits of a convertible PC, so you can use it as just a tablet, plus support for active pens with once included right in the box. What else could you ask for? It’s easily one of the very best laptops for students.

    HP Spectre x360 14
    The HP Spectre x360 is a phenomenal Windows PC with just about everything you could ask for. It has top-notch specs, a high-quality 3:2 display with pen support for taking notes, and more.

Best budget Windows laptop for students: Microsoft Surface Laptop Go

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go

We don’t all have the budget for something like the Spectre x360, but you can still get a premium-feeling experience for a low price. Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Go keeps the signature Surface design and build quality, but it cuts down in certain areas to make it more accessible. It’s still a fairly powerful laptop, packing an Intel Core i5-1035G1 processor, up to 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. The base tier is $549, but that only includes 4GB of RAM and 64GB of eMMC storage, so we recommend upgrading to 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. That will set you back $699, but it also adds a fingerprint reader for Windows Hello, which is also a very nice addition.

The most notable sacrifice made here is in the display. It’s a 12.4-inch panel with a resolution of 1536 x 1024, which isn’t super sharp, but it should be fine for a display of this size. You still get the classic 3:2 aspect ratio of other Surface devices though, so it’s still great for productivity. Plus, it’s a touchscreen, even if you can’t spin it all the way around. It’s still a premium-feeling laptop for students that’s more than capable enough to get you through college.

    Surface Laptop Go
    Microsoft's Surface Laptop Go is an affordable, but premium-feeling laptop that's great for younger students. It's capable of handling most types of school work and it has a nice tall display that's great for productivity.

Best rugged Windows laptop: Acer Enduro Urban N3

Acer Enduro Urban N3

Whether it’s for a younger kid or someone who’s just a little clumsy, sometimes it’s good to have something that can handle some bumps or spills. The Acer Enduro Urban N3 does exactly that while still being a powerful PC. It’s packing an Intel Core i5-1135G7 with Iris Xe Graphics, 8GB of RAM, and a large 512GB SSD. That’s enough power and storage for almost any work you may have to do in college, and the 14-inch Full HD display should give you a fairly sharp image, too.

Of course, the big standout feature of the Enduro Urban N3 is it meets military standards for durability (MIL-STD-810H). The four corners of the laptop are reinforced so it can survive all kinds of drops and bumps. Plus, it has a spill-proof design that even protects the laptop from liquids if you happen to knock over a glass or cup. All of that fits into a design that still feels relatively modern, though it will definitely stand out a bit from more typical laptops. That’s without sacrificing features like ports since you still get three USB Type-A ports, Thunderbolt 4, and HDMI.

    Acer Enduro Urban N3
    The Acer ENDURO Urban N3 is a rugged laptop that's still somewhat sleek, while also being powerful. It's packing Intel's latest processors, 8GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD. All protected by a shell with reinforced corners and a spill-proof design.

Best for portability: Microsoft Surface Go 2

Microsoft Surface Go 2

Some students just want something that’s thin, light, and small, all while also being affordable. Microsoft’s Surface Go 2 fits that bill perfectly and it brings some premium elements of the Surface family along with it. It uses the same iconic Surface design, using magnesium for most of the build. It has a fully adjustable kickstand and a 10.5-inch display with the 3:2 aspect ratio that’s also typical of Surface devices. Again, this is great for productivity, and it comes at a very solid 1920 x 1280 resolution, which is pretty sharp for this size.

The internal specs aren’t mind-blowing, starting with an Intel Pentium Gold 4425Y, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of eMMC storage. We definitely recommend upgrading to 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. Here’s where it gets better — if you upgrade to the Intel Core m3-8100Y processor, you can even get LTE connectivity. For the student who wants to be able to work anywhere, the Surface Go 2 is one of the best laptops to get. It’s light, thin, and you can always stay connected without depending on Wi-Fi. It can handle most school work without any problems too, though that will depend on the kind of work you’re doing. You may also need to add a Type Cover and Surface Pen to get the most out of it, though.

    Surface Go 2
    The Surface Go 2 is an affordable tablet that retains the premium feel of its more expensive siblings with solid build quality and a sharp, tall display that's great for getting work done. You might need to add a Type Cover to use it for work, but it's still a super portable and capable device.

Best gaming laptop for students: Razer Blade 14

Razer Blade 14 angled view

Kids may have to do school work, but a lot of them also love video games. Buying two computers isn’t feasible for most people, so it’s great when you can get something that does it all. For that, we believe the Razer Blade 14 is one of the best options you can get. We chose this one because it strikes a good balance of performance and design. Gaming laptops tend to be bulky and heavy, but the Razer Blade 14 is just 16.8mm thin, and it starts at 3.9lbs. That’s important because there’s a good chance you’ll be carrying this laptop everywhere, and you want to be as comfortable as possible. On top of that, it has one of the more subtle designs, so it’s safe to take into the classroom without getting too much attention.

As for the gaming side of things, the Razer Blade 14 spares no effort. It has a very powerful AMD Ryzen 9 5900HX CPU, which has a whopping 8 cores and 16 threads. On top of that, you can get it with up to an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080 GPU with up to 100W of power. That combination makes this an incredibly powerful laptop. You can also get up to a Quad HD display with a super-smooth 165Hz refresh rate, a great combination for both gaming and productivity. All of that comes in a package that’s much easier to carry than other gaming laptops, making it perfect for the young gamer going off to college. You may be able to find gaming laptops with better cooling and performance, but for a student, this is probably the best choice.

    Razer Blade 14
    The Razer Blade 14 is an excellent gaming laptop with a lot of power from the AMD Ryzen 5900HX and NVIDIA GeForce RTX 30 series GPUs. It also has a fairly lightweight, thin, and subdued design, which makes it ideal for the student taking the laptop into the classroom.

Best for gaming on a budget: HP Pavilion Gaming 15

HP Pavilion Gaming 15 laptop

The Razer Blade 14 is fantastic, but if you’re aiming for the top-tier model, you’re looking at paying $2,800. For many of us, it’s more important to be able to play most games at an affordable price. If you don’t need the absolute latest and greatest, and you’re also ready to carry something a little heavier, the HP Pavilion Gaming 15 is a great starting point. It’s powered by an AMD Ryzen 5 5600H or a Ryzen 7 5800H, and those are already two very powerful CPUs. Even the lower-end Ryzen 5 is a 6-core, 12-thread processor, so you’re getting plenty of power for gaming and productivity. On top of that, you get an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650. Sure, it’s not the most powerful thing out there, but it will run most modern games at playable settings and solid frame rates.

To go along with that, you get a 15.6-inch Full HD IPS display. The base configuration only has a 60Hz refresh rate, but for just $20, you can upgrade to a 144Hz panel for extra smooth performance in more lightweight games. If you’re into games like Rocket LeagueFortnite, and other e-sports titles, this laptop should be able to run them at medium to high settings and get those buttery smooth frame rates. For the student gamers with a tighter budget, this is one of the best laptops you can get.

    HP Pavilion Gaming 15
    The HP Pavilion Gaming 15 is a great starting point for on-the-go gaming, featuring Ryzen 5000 series CPUs and a GeForce GTX 1650 GPU.

Best premium Chromebook for students: Acer Chromebook Spin 713

Acer Chromebook Spin 713

You may have heard this before, but the Acer Chromebook Spin 713 is one of the best Chromebooks you can get. We’ve praised it highly in the past, and the latest refresh makes it even better. It now comes with an Intel Core i5-1135G7 with Intel Iris Xe Graphics, which makes it very powerful among Chromebooks. That will get you quite a bit of performance, and when you add Thunderbolt 4 support, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of SSD storage, you have a really strong contender for the best Chromebook out there.

That’s not all, though. You also get a 13.5-inch Quad HD+ display with a 2256 x 1505 resolution. That’s not only a super-sharp display especially for its price, but it’s also a 3:2 aspect ratio, ideal for productivity. Of course, that display spins on a 360-degree hinge so you can use it as a tablet whenever you want. For the student who prefers a Chromebook, the Acer Chromebook Spin 713 is definitely one of the best laptops out there. For just $699, it’s almost impossible to find anything this good.

    Acer Chromebook Spin 713
    The Acer Chromebook Spin 713 is almost unbeatable when it comes to Chromebooks. With a powerful 11th-gen Intel Core i5 processor, a crisp and tall display, and a premium build, it's an incredible deal for what it offers.

Best for young kids: ASUS Chromebook Flip C214

ASUS Chromebook Flip C214

You can’t exactly trust young children to take good care of their electronics, so it’s important to buy the right kind of device for them. The ideal laptop here is durable and meant to withstand the drops, bumps, and spills that come with being handled by kids, but it’s also affordable enough that if it somehow breaks, it’s also easy to replace. The ASUS Chromebook Flip C214 fits that bill perfectly, offering a fully rugged design for the clumsiest of children. It has a rubber bumper all around to protect from drops at all angles, and a spill-resistant design that prevents liquids from seeping in through the keyboard. The keyboard is also designed to prevent tampering with the keys. On top of that, it has a grippable design and a textured finish to prevent fingerprints and scratches from showing up over time.

While it’s affordable, the Chromebook Flip C214 is still capable as a Chrome OS laptop. It has a convertible design that can easily be used as a tablet, and the small 11.6-inch display is easy to handle for kids of all ages. It’s powered by an Intel Celeron N4000, 4GB of RAM, and 32GB of eMMC storage, and while that doesn’t sound amazing, Chrome OS runs pretty well on lower-end hardware like this. For a younger child’s first laptop, this is one of the best options to get.

    ASUS Chromebook Flip C214
    The ASUS Chromebook Flip C214 is a laptop meant to withstand being used by young children. It's designed to resist drops, bumps, scratches, and spills, so you can have peace of mind while your child uses it for school.

Best Mac for students: MacBook Air

apple macbook air

Of course, no list of laptops for students could be complete without a MacBook, and the latest refresh of the MacBook Air is still a phenomenal choice. Apple refreshed this laptop with its in-house Apple M1 chip, and the results are impressive. It’s a super-fast PC that can handle almost anything, even with its base configuration. It also starts with 8GB of unified memory and 256GB of SSD storage, which gives you a solid place to start as a student. You can always upgrade to the higher tiers if you need more, though.

In terms of design, the latest MacBook Air is pretty much the same as before, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s an iconic and recognizable design, even if it’s become a little monotonous with lots of other companies trying to mimic it. You also get a fingerprint reader for touch ID, two Thunderbolt/USB Type-C ports, and a super sharp 13.3-inch display with a resolution of 2560 x 1600. That’s a 16:10 aspect ratio, and while that’s not as tall as some other laptops, it’s still great for school work.

    MacBook Air
    The latest MacBook Air is a feat of engineering, packing high-end performance in a thin fanless design thanks to the Apple M1 chipset. It can handle pretty much anything you throw at it, even if you stick to the base model.

There’s a lot of options, but each one has its strengths and weaknesses that make it more suitable for specific users. If you want the absolute best Windows experience, you’ll probably want the HP Spectre x360, but if you’re more of a Mac user, the latest MacBook Air is the way to go. For those with tighter budgets, options like the Surface Go 2 are great for getting work done at an affordable price. It all comes down to your needs, so think about what you want, and you’ll surely find something you like on this list.

About author

João Carrasqueira
João Carrasqueira

Writer at XDA Computing. I've been covering the world of technology since 2018, but I've loved the field for a lot longer. And I have a weird affinity for Nintendo videogames, which I'm always happy to talk about.