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Best laptop for college students in 2020: Apple, Dell, Microsoft and more – CNET

A laptop is a foundational tech tool for students for academic tasks such as writing papers and taking notes in class as well as educational and entertainment viewing on Netflix, YouTube and the like. But are the best laptops for college?

Students on a budget can easily spend $200 to $400 for an entry-level laptop with a decent hard drive, graphics card, display and battery life. But we think it’s worthwhile to spend a few hundred more on a machine with long battery life, a faster SSD and better performance. This list of the best laptops for college students is based on our own hands-on use and benchmark testing. We update it regularly as we review new products.

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Note that most of our best laptops for college are between $500 and $1,000. If you’re looking for a less expensive college laptop — or if you’re open to an alternative to Microsoft Windows and Apple’s MacOS — we recommend checking out the best Chromebooks for students. The best budget laptop options are less expensive but still powerful enough to handle student-life basics such as email, getting on the internet, creating documents or working with spreadsheets.

If you’re looking for something that can double as a gaming laptop, has a ton of storage or can handle powerful programs like video-editing software, however, read on for our top student picks.

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The newest MacBook Air hits all the right notes: It’s back to the old $999 starting price and it has Apple’s new Magic Keyboard, which most people prefer to the previous model’s butterfly design. Even better, this Apple laptop features current-era Intel processors, a new Force Touch trackpad and 256GB of storage for the entry-level configuration. The major drawback: The base model features a Core i3 processor, and stepping up to the Core i5 costs an extra $100. 

Still, the brand new MacBook Air and older models are frequently on sale. At the moment, the 2020 MacBook Air is available for $950, which is a super-solid deal for the lightweight laptop. That noted, the 2019 base configuration — which comes with an older but more powerful Core i5 processor — is still a great laptop worth a look, especially when it’s discounted to $900 or less, even though you’ll be stuck with that pesky older MacBook keyboard design. 

Read our 2020 MacBook Air preview.

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If you’re committed to the Windows operating system and want a balance of portability, power and price, it’s hard to find a better 13-inch laptop than the XPS 13. Dell has been making incremental improvements to this Dell XPS 13 machine for so long that it’s hard to find a flaw. For 2020, Dell made the laptop even smaller, while making the screen larger and increasing performance for both CPU and graphics-intensive tasks. It’s not a huge leap, but it’s still the best in the category.

Read our Dell XPS 13 review.

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The Surface Pro remains the standard-bearer for Windows devices that work as both laptop and tablet, though this convertible laptop makes for a better tablet than it does for a laptop. (If you’re looking for the opposite, Lenovo’s two-in-one Yoga devices are better laptops than they are tablets.) In addition to the typical great performance and battery life you can expect, the seventh-edition Surface Pro finally gets a USB-C port. Its super-portable size makes it ideal for high school and college students who may be carrying a lot of gear. Though the company still sells the Surface Pro without its essential Type Cover keyboard and Surface Pen included, it can frequently be found for a good price– sometimes with one or both accessories.

Read our Surface Pro 7 review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Dell’s G-series deliver a smart balance of build quality, battery life and performance, with plenty of graphics card power for college students looking to play the latest AAA games when they aren’t hitting the books. The slim, compact design masks its gaming pedigree and because it’s no longer brand-new — you’re getting a ninth-gen Intel Core processor — there are plenty of bargains to be found. This machine currently starts at around $850, and we’ve found some pretty powerful configurations on sale for around $1,000.


The Yoga C740 Chromebook is a great, affordable student laptop. It has a touchscreen display, terrific battery life and enough performance for everyday office and entertainment tasks. The all-metal chassis gives this touchscreen laptop a premium look and feel, and it has a comfortable keyboard and a responsive, smooth, precision touchpad. Though it’s light on extra features compared to the higher-end C940, it does have one of Lenovo’s sliding shutters for its webcam that gives you privacy when you want it. And it’s frequently available for less than $750, which is a killer deal.

Read our Lenovo Yoga C740 (14-inch) review.

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