10 best student laptops 2018 for when you go back to school, college or university

Find the right machine to help you cruise and cram your way through education

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Are you planning to head off to (or back to) college or university? Are you in the market for a new laptop to help with your work? Well, look no further, weary student, because we’ve got ten of the best portable machines for your needs.

The following models all range in price and performance, but each one is guaranteed to offer you all the space and power you need to ensure you’re working to your best on campus, at home or out and about.

Our top choice is the impeccable Dell XPS 13. The new and improved model has it all – a powerful CPU, a versatile GPU and a display that’ll make most spreadsheets and word processing docs look clean, crisp and on point. Oh, and it looks pretty swish, too. Read on for all the details below.

There’s also the brilliant Acer Chromebook 15, a great all-round device that’s ideal for all students - providing you're happy with Google's Chrome OS rather than Windows 10 or OS X. Check it out below for more details.

How to choose the best student laptop for you

Today's computers need to be able to do much more than the primitive number-crunchers of Turing's day. They need to support a huge range of software, given that several courses have special requirements, as well as the standard office packages – although that said, Google's Chromebooks and the associated Google Docs suite are extremely good (and free) substitutes if you don't want to pay over the odds for Microsoft Office.

They need to be able to run HD video lectures without juddering – and a set of good speakers always comes in handy when the university day is done. These machines also can't break the bank, given the increased cost of schooling all round the world. Integrated webcame are also important for web lectures and broadcast media-related courses.

Given that, these are our pick of the notebooks currently available, ranging from humble typing machines to top-of-the-line desktop replacements for those hoping for a bit of LAN gaming between all that work...

The 10 best student laptops you can buy today

These are the best school or college laptops you can buy, in order of preference.

Best student laptop

1. Dell XPS 13 (2018)

Dell raises its game once again

CPU: 8th-generation Intel Core i5 – i7
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620
RAM: 4GB – 16GB
Screen: 13.3-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080; non-touch) – UHD (3,840 x 2,160; touchscreen)
Storage: 128GB – 1TB SSD
Reasons to buy
+Powerhouse performance+For student use and beyond

If you’re looking for one of the most refined and revitalised laptops on the market, look no further than the impressive Dell XPS 13. When it comes to performance you won’t be left wanting, thanks to its super slick 8th-generation Intel Core i5 – i7 CPU, while you can game lightly with the Intel UHD Graphics 620 graphics card.

Add in a repositioned webcam (for vlogging and streaming purposes, naturally) and a simply stunning 13.3-inch Full HD display and you’ve got a powerhouse in portable form. The only caveat is it’s quite the investment, but it’ll definitely see you through college, uni and beyond.

 Read the full review: Dell XPS 13

2. Acer Chromebook 15

This Chrome OS laptop is an absolute bargain

CPU: Intel Celeron 3205U 1.5GHz (dual-core)
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics
Screen: 15.6-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 pixels
Storage: 32GB SSD
Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
Camera: 720p
Weight: 4.85 pounds
Dimensions: 15.08 x 9.65 x 0.95-inches
Reasons to buy
+An amazing monitor+Long-lasting battery
Reasons to avoid
-Flat speakers-Big and heavy

The Chromebook 15 is ridiculously cheap but very capable for the price. The hardware is in line with that price, with lower specs across the board, but the machine is running Chrome OS, so doesn't seem to mind. And that screen is an absolute delight. Again, its speakers are poor, with flat treble and weak bass – but at this price, you can afford an iPod as well.

Best student laptop

3. Apple MacBook Air 13-inch

The ultrabook inspiration plods on

CPU: Intel Core i5 1.3GHz (dual-core, up to 2.6GHz with Turbo Boost)
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 5000
Screen: 13.3-inch, 1440 x 900 pixels
Storage: 128GB SSD
Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
Camera: FaceTime HD
Weight: 2.96 pounds
Dimensions: 12.8 x 8.94 x 0.68-inches (W x D x H)
Reasons to buy
+Fantastic battery life+Haswell processors
Reasons to avoid
-No Retina Display-Dated design

The Air may be in severe need of a redesign, like much of Apple's range, but it's still the machine that birthed the Ultrabook – slim-line with good core performance from a solid CPU and nippy storage. 

It's a pity so much of this machine is second-rate these days – particularly the oddly low-spec screen – but we wouldn't look anywhere else for reliability and customer support.

Read the full review: Apple MacBook Air 13-inch

4. Dell XPS 15

A portable 15-inch powerhouse

CPU: 2.6GHz Intel Core i7 6700HQ (quad-core, 6MB cache, up to 3.5GHz with Turbo Boost)
Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M (with 2GB GDDR5)
RAM: 16GB Dual Channel DDR4 (2,133MHz; 8GB x 2)
Screen: 15.6-inch, 4K Ultra HD (3,840 x 2,160) InfinityEdge touch
Storage: 512GB PCIe SSD
Reasons to buy
+Dazzling 4K display+Portable for a 15-incher
Reasons to avoid
-Average battery life-A bit heavy

Like its smaller sibling, the awesome XPS 13, Dell's XPS 15 sports an almost bezel-less InfinityEdge display but is better for long hours of work because of the larger display. It brings the dual benefit of making whatever you're doing on its gorgeous 15-inch '4K' screen come to life while also lending it the dimensions of a 14-inch laptop. 

It's bag-friendly to boot and comes packing the goods, including an Nvidia GTX 960M mobile graphics card that's beefy enough to handle just about any game so long as you stick to 1080p. The XPS 15's battery life is its main weakness, so don't expect its runtimes to stretch into the double figures without taking a booster pack along for the ride.

Read the full review: Dell XPS 15

HP Spectre x360

5. HP Spectre x360

Another Spectre that's oddly brilliant

CPU: Intel Core i5 2.2 GHz
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 5500
Screen: 13.3 inches 1920x1080
Storage: 128GB SSD
Connectivity: 3x USB3
Camera: HD
Weight: 1.48kg
Dimensions: 12.79 x 8.6 x 0.63 inches
Reasons to buy
+Superbly thin+Vibrant, bright display
Reasons to avoid
-Too heavy to use as a tablet-Weird, wide trackpad

There's something oddly brilliant about HP's Spectre range. Clearly intended to compete with Apple in terms of build quality, but priced just a tiny bit lower to gain some traction with potential buyers. 

The X360 is another convertible that allows you to fold the screen backwards to create a tablet-style device. This is ideal for Windows 10, although you'll probably not use it much as a tablet because it's still a laptop-weight device.

Read the full review: HP Spectre x360

Best student laptop

6. MacBook Pro 13-inch

A class act

CPU: From Intel Core i5 2.0GHz
Graphics: Intel Iris Graphics 540
RAM: From 8GB
Screen: 13.3- inch
Storage: From 128GB
Connectivity: USB-C
Weight: 1.37kg
Dimensions: 11.97 x 8.36 x 0.59-inches
Reasons to buy
+Superb display+Excellent battery life
Reasons to avoid

The MacBook Pro is a larger, heavier machine than the MacBook Air we looked at above but it's also the powerhouse of the range. Starting at £1,449 it's not cheap, however. 

You'll get ten hours out of the battery, in the ideal conditions, and the real keyboard makes for a pretty delightful user experience. Oh, and the trackpad - there's simply nothing like it on any PC we've ever used, it's a class act. If you need Windows 10, that's no problem either, just install with Apple's Boot Camp.

Best student laptop

7. Samsung Notebook Pro 9

An all-round student powerhouse

CPU: 7th generation Intel Core i7
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 620 – AMD Radeon Graphics (2GB GDDR5)
RAM: 8GB – 16GB
Screen: 13.3-inch – 15.6-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) LED display with Touch Screen Panel
Storage: 256GB SSD
Reasons to buy
+Powerful enough for light gaming+Great support for S-Pen

When it comes to 2-in-1 laptops, it’s often hard to find a model that ticks most of the major multi-tasking boxes needed for student computing. Doubly so when you try and do it at an affordable price point. 

Samsung’s latest Notebook aims to do all that (and more), with a Radeon RX 540 GPU, an integrated S-Pen and a relatively decent battery. It might not hold up to the HP Spectre x360 in terms of raw performance, but it’s not far behind. 

If you’re looking for a laptop to run multiple programs at once with minimal slowdown - and the ability to support low-level gaming - then this is a sound investment for the semesters ahead.

Best student laptop

8. Microsoft Surface Pro

Versatility in compact form

CPU: 7th generation Intel Core m3 – i7
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 615 – Iris Plus Graphics 640
RAM: 4GB – 16GB
Screen: 12.3-inch, 2,736 x 1,824 PixelSense display
Storage: 128GB – 1TB SSD
Reasons to buy
+Seamless 2-in-1 experience+Significantly better performance than previous model

Once upon a time, tablets lagged far behind the raw power of a laptop, but that chasm of performance has long been covered by the likes of Microsoft and its impressive Surface range. 

The latest Pro model is as versatile as they come, with a 7th generation Intel Core m3 – i7 CPU and a fanless cooling system for truly silent running. If you’re looking to keep working on the commute to and from class, on campus, in halls or at home, the Surface Pro can flip in and out of either mode with silky smooth ease.

Best student laptop

9. Asus Chromebook Flip

A 2-in-1 laptop that won’t cripple your bank balance

CPU: Intel Core m3
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 515
Screen: 12.5-inch, Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) LED backlit anti-glare
Storage: 64GB eMMC + TPM
Reasons to buy
+Impressively vibrant 1080p display+Android app support

If you’re looking to bring the world of 2-in-1 computing into your student life without burning your bank balance to the ground, then the Chromebook Flip from Asus is an ideal choice. 

At less than £500, you’re not getting knockout specs, but with an Intel HD Graphics 515 and a Intel Core m3 CPU this acrobatic laptop offers enough grunt to run all the programs you could need for school, college or university. 

The real selling point here is its gorgeous 920 x 1080 Full HD 12.5-inch display that runs its support for Android app and the Google Play store with vibrant style.

Best student laptop

10. Apple 12-inch MacBook

The most fashionable laptop around

CPU: 1.1GHz or 1.2GHz dual-core Intel Core M processor
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 5300
Screen: 12-inch 2,304 x 1,440 pixel-resolution Retina display
Storage: 256GB or 512GB PCIe-based flash storage
Connectivity: USB-C (USB 3.1)
Camera: 480p FaceTime camera
Weight: 0.92 kg
Dimensions: 28.05cm x 19.65cm x 1.31cm (W x D x H)
Reasons to buy
+Thin and light+Retina display
Reasons to avoid
-One USB-C port-Shallow keyboard

Apple's 12-inch MacBook isn't just the most portable MacBook of them all, you won't find a more compact laptop with a high-resolution display full stop. Every inch of Apple's impossibly-thin machine is gorgeous, but it comes at the expense of usability. 

With just one USB Type-C port, the MacBook requires an adapter if you want to use multiple USB devices - or a combination of peripherals and a display - at the same time. If you don't mind carrying one around in a case, the MacBook's surprisingly punchy speakers, good battery life and catwalk looks make it a unique (and fun to use) laptop.

Read the full review: Apple MacBook

Lead image credit: Getty