We’re edging closer and closer to getting back to school, which is terrifying. For all your school needs, you’re going to need a decent laptop. We’ve gathered the best for you to choose from.
With Nvidia currently pushing a back-to-school initiative, it only makes sense for your intrepid tech team to begin looking into the vast, wide, and often bad amount of laptops that are offered to those heading back into education.
A laptop for college requires it to be all singing, all dancing. Nvidia even did research to back this up, which when they spoke to us, highlighted how important a GPU can be to most tasks.
They also highlighted that it needs to be able to be the focal point of their entertainment. While phones are going to keep them glued, they’re not the best for watching or gaming all the time.
Then there’s also the fact they’ll need to be able to survive four or so years of education coming up. So while they might be more expensive than other lists out there, consider that this thing is going to see you through quite a lot.
The best laptop for college students in 2022:
Apple MacBook Air (M2)
While there is a multitude of Windows-based options, there’s actually nothing better in terms of performance, battery, and size than the MacBook Air from 2022.
The M2 MacBook Air might be facing a few issues at the base specs (slow SSD speeds), but upgrading it further to 512GB and the optional 16GB of RAM, will ensure that this laptop will probably not leave your side for years to come. Plus, most users might never even notice the difference.
Having used the M1 MacBook Air in the past, they were already excellent. The M2 upgrade makes it even better.
M2 chips will ensure those budding college students will have a laptop that lasts all day while doing multiple different types of work. The chip itself is powerful enough to handle itself in content creation and even makes for a decent – albeit with a limited choice – gaming machine.
While it’s relatively expensive, with a slight price bump over its younger M1-based sibling, it is the perfect investment to purchase for high school or college students alike right now. You will not be replacing this any time soon. Just make sure you get the specifications you want right off the bat, as it is not user upgradeable in any capacity.
- Processor: Apple M2
- RAM: Up to 24GB of unified memory
- Screen size: 13.6-inch
- Screen resolution: 2560×1664
- Refresh rate: 60Hz
- Storage: Up to 2TB
- Operating system: macOS
- Connectivity: 2x Thunderbolt 4 ports, 3.5mm headphone jack
- Features: 1080p webcam, Four-speaker sound system, MagSafe3 charging
Framework laptop – is it for college students?
The Framework laptop is one of our new favorites, earning a 9/10 in our review. It’s a modular, highly repairable, and upgradable laptop, that allows you to customize it in ways that you want – rather than the manufacturer.
No need for DisplayPort? Then get yourself an additional USB-C port, HDMI, or even Ethernet. What’s better is that when the parts inside get superseded by newer motherboards, you’ll be able to simply pop open the case with the included screwdriver and slap in the latest spec.
It’s excellent to type on, with a 3:2 screen helping with productivity, and lasts long enough on a battery thanks to not carrying all that much when it comes to spec. No GPU might be a hassle for some, but it is USB4 enabled, so you should be okay to get hold of an external GPU if you so wish.
Despite Nvidia, AMD and a host of others convincing you that you’ll need a GPU, a vast majority of tasks can be completed in the creative or generic college space by simply brute forcing it. While the Framework doesn’t have a dedicated GPU on it, you will find the 12th gen Intel i7-1280P CPU more than up to the task of handling various tasks and even a spot of very light gaming.
Framework has made an excellent device that you should really consider if you want something that’s sustainable, powerful, and will maybe produce a tiny mini-PC in the coming years (the motherboard can be converted into another PC!)
- GPU: Integrated Intel Iris Xe
- CPU: Intel i7-1280P
- RAM: Up to 64GB, DDR4 RAM
- Storage: 1TB NVMe
- Panel: 2256 x 1504, 3:2, LCD
Framework Chromebook Edition
Framework has also recently announced a Chromebook version of their 12th Gen device. It comes with the cut-down i5-1240P and a maximum of 256GB but is entirely compatible with the various expansion cards they’ve already released – including the 1TB storage option.
While we didn’t want multiple repeats on this list – just look at the creative applications section – we’d probably recommend Framework’s Chromebook when it releases simply due to it being a 1:1 device with what we already recommended (repairs and all) but just with ChromeOS.
To see our other recommendations, you can check out our Chromebook section below.
The best gaming laptops for college students
We’ve already covered gaming laptops excessively. These laptops are going to be expensive, they’re going to play a majority of your games on the go, and best of all, these are perfect for college students in creative or scientific spaces.
Nvidia pointed out that RTX cards now being included with laptops are perfect not only for video and photo editors, but those who are running CAD programs, code, and other simulations. Having that breadth of diversity at your fingertips is ideal.
However, it was brought up in a one-on-one chat with Nvidia that even lower-end machines with a 3050 Ti or similar inside would actually be ideal for those invested in the esports scene, who want power, but don’t want to leave their massive rigs behind when they have to be on the go between lessons.
Ben Berraondo, Head of Consumer & Regional PR EMEAI at NVIDIA said: ‘You have to consider your core apps, the same thing applies to gamers as well. If you put in hundreds of hours into Overwatch, it’s a very specific application that you’re playing.
‘You have to consider what’s going to benefit you the most for that application.’
The best gaming laptop for college students: ASUS ROG Z13 Flow
The ASUS ROG Z13 Flow came equipped with an Intel Core i9-12900H and an RTX 3050 Ti, which offers heaps of performance for the slim form factor. It’s eye-catching and for a good reason.
While the GPU might disappoint some, remember that this thing is a two-in-one, making it perfect for tablet use. If you’re into Magic The Gathering Arena or Runeterra, as well as smaller puzzle indie games like Dorfromantic, this is ideal.
Connect it up with your usual kit (and the surprisingly good case keyboard) and you have a really great gaming machine. The i7 or i9 CPU makes up for a lot of the bottlenecking from the RTX 3050 Ti.
Though, with DLSS and FSR, this worry should be a thing of the past relatively soon and would make this would be a fantastic gaming machine on the go. The screen also was superb.
While battery life would be a major concern, it didn’t seem to get hot at all during the five-hour duration that we looked at it for.
- GPU: Nvidia 3050/3050 Ti
- Processor: Intel Core i9 12900H/i7 12700H
- RAM: 16GB DDR5
- Screen size: 13.4-inch
- Screen resolution: 3840 x 2400/1920 x 1200
- Refresh rate: 60Hz/120Hz
- Storage: 1TB/512GB SSD
- Operating system: Windows 11
- Connectivity: 3.5mm audio jack, USB 2.0 Type A, USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C, Thunderbolt 4, ROG Mobile Interface, UHS-II SD card reader
- Features: Detachable keyboard, 2-in-1 design, 8MP webcam, Dolby Atmos
The best alternative gaming laptop for college students: Asus Swift X
While our review of the Swift X came off as negative, it’s mostly to do with our personal preference for its physical hardware. Inside, however, is an exceptional set of specs for $1000.
The Swift X comes with a 3050 Ti, last generation AMD chip, and is an overall, solid option to go for if you don’t mind a lack of bells and whistles.
While not as powerful as the above-recommended device, we do think the Swift X is a good middle-of-the-road option to go for.
- GPU: RTX 3050 Ti, 4GB GDDR6
- CPU: AMD Ryzen 5825U
- RAM: 16GB LPDDR4X
- Storage: 1TB NVMe (952.6GB available)
- Panel: IPS, 1920×1080, 60Hz
- You can get the Acer Swift X from Amazon UK and Amazon US.
Features: 2x USB-A 3.2 Gen 2 (up to 10 Gbps), DisplayPort over USB-C, DC-input 19V/65W, fingerprint lock, HDMI port.
The best content creation laptop: Apple Macbook Pro (14-inch, M1 Pro)
Videographers and photographers, getting a Mac with an M1 Pro and a 1TB SSD inside will make your life easier. We’re speaking personally now, as the current M1 Pro that powers a lot of our creative endeavors on Dexerto’s tech side of things has ensured that we’re never caught out.
Everything from the XDR display is semi-accurate enough for some mid-tier color grading and the specs are game-changing for the editor on the go, with the M1 Pro able to play full 4K footage in DaVinci Resolve (on the timeline) without any hassle.
While the translation layer, Rosetta 2, has some hiccups, a lot of developers have already ported programs over to Apple Silicon, so it’s becoming less of a necessity to take into consideration. However, the programs that do still use it, like Adobe After Effects, see minimal if any performance hits. If it worked well on Intel Macs, it’s probably going to work as it should on Apple Silicon.
Things along the lines of Blender and Maya might fair better with a dedicated GPU and full workstation in tow, but the M1 Macs hold their own with reported rendering times on the 2020 M1 Macbook Pro (with 8GB of RAM) having times that clock in around 3-ish minutes with included Metal support.
Maya still uses Rosetta 2, but reports are that it’s fine and works well. Autodesk still hasn’t announced an Apple Silicon version just yet.
- Processor: Apple M1 Pro
- RAM: Up to 32GB unified memory
- Screen size: 14-inch, Liquid Retina XDR display
- Screen resolution: 3024×1964
- Refresh rate: Up to 120Hz
- Storage: Up to 8TB SSD
- Operating system: macOS
- Connectivity: 3x Thunderbolt 4 ports, 3.5mm headphone jack, SD Card slot, HDMI Port
- Features: 1080p webcam, MagSafe3 charging, High-fidelity six-speaker sound system, HDR screen up to 1600 nits
Best Macbook alternative: Dell XPS 15 (2022)
So the big question is, what if you don’t want to go into the Mac space? macOS still has pretty lousy support for games, with even Rosetta 2 failing to get some running. The issue here is that you’ll be sacrificing the M-series battery life, regardless of how much the big three manufacturers, Nvidia, Intel, and AMD, try to make a big play for non-battery draining hardware.
When we spoke to Nvidia, their idea behind jumping into a PC with an Nvidia card is that you get the full buffet, rather than the continental breakfast. Gaming, content creation, and school work are all options you can take without any real limiting factors – outside of the hardware itself.
In this case, it’s best to go with the best analog for Apple and look over at Dell.
Dell’s XPS laptop range is often, without question, the best default choice for a person looking for not only a high-end laptop to do all their tasks, but also something that’s going to last.
The prices might make your eyes balk, but the fact of the matter is you pay for what you want to get out of a laptop. If you go and pay $499 for an i5, 8GB of RAM hunk of junk, you’re going to get the performance and reliability of a $499 hunk of junk.
You’re starting a new school, so ensure you’re going in with the latest and best you can possibly acquire.
The Dell XPS 15 with an i7 and 3050 Ti comes with 16GB of DDR5 RAM. Not only does this make it considerably faster than a lot of our recommendations, but it ensures its future-proof for a majority of the rest of your education. It’ll probably see you through to the end of college.
While the port selection isn’t the best, it’s no worse than Apple’s offerings and the USB-C dongle life has infected us all at some point, so Dell has included one for free inside.
If you need an additional boost in graphical power, while the 3050 Ti will get you through most tasks, some video editing and graphics work will require just that bit more. A good alternative – with the major caveat that you’ll need to open it up – is the Gigabyte Aero 16″.
There’s a super expensive version with 32GB of RAM and a 2TB SSD, along with a 3080 Ti and this would, without a doubt, probably be the last laptop you buy for at least a good seven to ten years, it’s also nearly $4000.
The 16GB option with a 12700H and 3070 Ti, that has 16GB of RAM will do an excellent job across the board, but if you’re running into memory issues, it uses DDR4 RAM, so upgrading to 32GB yourself won’t actually cost an arm and leg.
- GPU: Intel Iris Xe/Nvidia 3050/3050 Ti
- Processor: Intel Core i5 12500H/i9 12900H/i7 12700H
- RAM: Up to 64GB DDR5
- Screen size: 15-inch
- Screen resolution: 1920×1200/3456×2160/3840×2400
- Refresh rate: 60Hz
- Storage: Up to 2TB SSD
- Operating system: Windows 11
- Connectivity: 3.5mm audio jack, 1x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C, 2x Thunderbolt 4, SD card reader
- Features: 720p at 30 fps, HD camera, Dual-array microphones
The best budget laptop : A Chromebook
So you don’t need the frills and you game mostly on your consoles, so laptops for gaming aren’t really your bag. Well, let’s ensure you don’t end up as one of the estimated 200,000 students who might regret their purchase.
Chromebooks might carry a certain… aura. However, the addition of them being built on the same architecture as Android makes them one of the better options for an excellent all-rounder.
Chromebooks can be a little weird to choose from, as you never want to go too expensive due to the limited feature set. These things are for browsing, typing, using the Google Suite, and maybe a few Android apps to bridge the gap between this and a ‘real’ laptop.
Best Chromebook for play
Google might have killed off Stadia, but they seem to still be plugging away at bringing cloud gaming to fruition. In a move that no one had on their bingo cards in 2022, Google and their partners have launched a series of Chromebook intended for gaming on the cloud – but with Nvidia’s GeForce Now service leading the charge.
Each one comes with a three-month inclusion of Nvidia’s top tier 3080 streaming access, and now supports 1600p/120FPS streaming.
While cloud gaming might still be in the lurch as to whether it’s going to be a replacement for local gaming, these laptops all sport great specs and should be able to handle more than their fair share of tasks thrown at them.
Best Chromebook for work
As of right now, Acer’s Spin 713 is the best for work and actually comes in at a cool $700. It has this luxurious screen, in a great-for-working 3:2 aspect ratio (you can fit more vertically than horizontally). It has a great keyboard and additionally, the 11th generation Intel chips will keep the rabid hungry Chrome tabs at bay.
If you need a really budget Chromebook, then look towards Lenovo’s entry. It’s a 4GB tablet-esque Chromebook with a detachable keyboard. While it’ll hold its own for your everyday tasks, go in with expectations as to what you’re getting, and don’t push it over the edge.
Spin 713 Key Specs:
- GPU: Intel Iris Xe
- Processor: Intel Core i5 Evo
- RAM: 8GB
- Screen size: 13.5-inch
- Screen resolution: 2256×1504
- Storage: 256GB
- Operating system: Chrome OS
- Connectivity: 1x USB-C, 2x Thunderbolt 4, USB-A, HDMI, 3.5mm headphone jack
- Features: 2-in-1 fold design, Android app store
Lenovo Duet Key Specs:
- Processor: MediaTek Helio P60T
- RAM: 4GB
- Screen size: 10.1-inch
- Screen resolution: 1920×1200
- Storage: 128GB SSD
- Operating system: Chrome OS
- Connectivity: USB-C
- Features: 2-in-1 Design, Android app store
The best laptop alternative: Apple iPad Air (2022)
iPads are all over the education system in both the UK and US. While they don’t offer the software support that say, even a low-end Windows laptop does, it has plenty of alternatives. Photoshop and Lightroom, as well as Capture One, all have apps and Lumafusion makes it into a pretty powerful video editor.
The new Air comes with an M1 chip, making these programs run exceptionally well and there are the newest updates coming in iPadOS 16 like Stage Manager, which will enable better multitasking. Multitasking is really good on the iPad right now, with the large cache able to keep multiple programs going at once.
While we personally would recommend the Magic Keyboard case, which comes with a trackpad and keyboard, as well as solid protection, it is expensive. Thankfully, there are tonnes of options out there that should do the job for much less.
Of course, with Apple Arcade and its luxury screen, this makes for a great entertainment device at the same time. When we pull that iPad off its Magic Keyboard to just use as a tablet, there’s that proper disconnect between work and entertainment that is unparalleled anywhere.
- Processor: Apple M1
- RAM: 8GB
- Screen size: 10.9-inch Liquid Retina
- Screen resolution: 2360×1640
- Refresh rate: Up to 120Hz
- Storage: Up to 256GB
- Operating system: iPadOS
- Connectivity: USB-C
- Features: Access to iOS apps and features like FaceTime, Universal Control, and Sidecar to use as secondary monitors and 4K video recording
What’s the best laptop for a college student?
Nvidia worked with OnePoll, to conduct a survey that found that one of the biggest purchases a student can make is their laptop and one of the biggest regrets they make, is that same purchase.
Over a third (37%) of students regretted their purchase of a laptop and nearly half (48%) didn’t do enough research.
With just 28% reporting having no online lectures, we’re no longer in a ‘new normal’, but just ‘normal’ that requires a decent machine to be on a desk with the student. Even those who attend physical classes are still going to need something decent to join them on their journey.
Nvidia spoke about how important the form factor was to a lot of college students. A majority of gaming-centric laptops of old would be far too bulky while providing needed power, their excessive weight made them hard to recommend – on top of their lackluster batteries.
Now? Thin and powerful are getting more common, as AMD’s latest Ryzen 6000 mobile CPUs and Nvidia’s latest leap in laptop GPUs with the 30-series doing wonders for both power and form factor.
Speaking about the needs of a student, Ben Berraondo, Head of Consumer & Regional PR EMEAI at NVIDIA said that they need something that ‘they won’t kick off with’ and realize later down the line that they need to upgrade.
“These aren’t cheap purchases, no matter where you go in the market. Whether it’s entry-level or high-end, they’re all relatively expensive. Certainly one of the biggest purchases that students make.”
Nvidia also added that they’re seeing laptops being used outside of their original purpose. Video games and entertainment make up 40% and 41% of the answers, with only 10% admitting to never using the laptop outside of work.
The need to invest a large chunk of cash into this purchase is incredibly necessary. Things need to last. What you put in, is what you will get out of it. While there are great budget options, our budget choices are specifically selected to ensure that you’re still getting quality. We also include an alternative that might actually assist college students better going forward.
Prices might make your eyes roll, but there’s a reason behind it. In this day and age, a student needs to come out with the same laptop they went in with and the current landscape of hardware absolutely allows this.
How often do you need to replace a laptop?
We’d say that you need to replace your laptop every four years or so, depending on what specs your machine currently has. Right now, Laptops are getting more powerful with every hardware cycle. This means that in the last 5-6 years, we’ve seen a significant uptick in the number of systems that use things like SSDs to speed up boot times, in addition to things like the amount of storage and RAM.
These factors have gotten much cheaper over time, and therefore you will be able to get a significantly better laptop on the cheap than you were before. Right now, an upgrade is worth it if you are getting a much more powerful processor, more storage, and RAM. Remember, despite your laptop being marked as having a brand name and tier attached to it, these do age, and so you also need to take this into careful consideration.
Should college students use a laptop?
It can be tempting to forego getting a laptop altogether if you are a college student. Apple’s iPad and iPad Pro both offer a viable alternative to a full-fat laptop, with accessories that also make it as such.
However, if you are looking to do a lot of heavier work, such as accessing complex files, or 3D viewsheds for maps, you might want to look into getting yourself a laptop, as that will be a much more well-rounded option than a tablet would.
We would honestly choose to avoid a tablet altogether if you can because unless you are just looking to tap out essays, a laptop is much more versatile in just about every single conceivable way.
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