For students in 2021, college is an entirely different beast from what it was in years past. A laptop is no longer a helpful accessory but is now a tool that will be essential to complete basic assignments and projects. Of course, as any tech guru will tell you, different laptops are made to perform different functions. If you’re a student looking to purchase a new laptop to complete your coursework, then start your research with this list of top-performing laptops for college students.

1. Asus Zenbook UX305

Ultrabooks are in high-demand right now, but will often run you upwards of $1000 for something reliable. The Asus Zenbook UX305, however, is a solid option that won’t break the bank. This model boasts an HD screen, a respectable 8 GB of RAM and 512 GB of storage. This means that whether you’re looking to study late into the night or play a couple games during an early-morning lecture, the Asus Zenbook is a versatile option. Toss in a light, thin frame to make for easy class-to-class transport, and this laptop is a steal at only $635.

2. Apple MacBook Pro 13-Inch

If your major relates at all to the digital arts, then you need to seriously consider trying out the Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch. Weighing only 3 pounds, this model features stunning Intel Iris Graphics, 10 hours of battery life and a 6th Generation Core i5 CPU to let you run programs like Photoshop and Final Cut without worrying about losing your work to a nasty crash. All these features mean that this laptop is decidedly high-end, which is why the price point is set at $1299.

Schools That Offer the Apple MacBook Pro:

3. Asus F556UA-AB32

You might be, like many college students, working with a tight budget. Just because your pockets aren’t endless, however, doesn’t mean you have to settle for a sub-par laptop. The Asus F556UA-AB32 comes with a 15.6-inch screen and offers beautiful HD graphics, which will make a world of difference if you’re taking a virtual class and need to see what your professor or classmates are doing on a video call. With an Intel Core i3 processor to top it all off, this laptop may not play the latest games, but it’ll work with you through late-night projects for only $390.

4. Samsung Notebook 7 Spin

If you’re after a top-of-the-line 2-in-1 laptop, then look no further than the Samsung Notebook 7 Spin. With a 365-degree hinge, this laptop doubles as a touchscreen tablet, which makes it ideal for taking detailed notes with a keyboard or hand-drawing diagrams in class. You can choose between a 13.3-inch and 15.6-inch screen, although the larger screen does come with a substantially stronger processor. With Ethernet capability, HDMI and multiple USB ports, the Spin is perfect for hooking up with any other mediums and comes in at a reasonable $630.

5. Microsoft Surface Pro 4

This laptop is ideal if you’re a law student or in a major that requires you to get lots of hands-on experience. The SP4 comes with Microsoft’s Surface Pen to jot down quick notes in a busy environment, and its flexible keyboard means you’ll always be ready when you need to sit down and write out a lengthy report. As an added bonus, a well-illuminated 12.3-inch display makes this laptop ideal for office presentations. The SP4 is priced at $647, but you can typically get 10% at the Microsoft store with an active .edu email address.

6. Acer Aspire E5-575G-53VG

If you’re an incoming freshman looking for something to last you the next 4 years, and possibly into grad school, then you’ve found it. A 6th Generation Intel Core i5 processor combined with 8 GB of Ram and 256 GB of memory means that you’ll be able to run any demanding, specialized programs you may need for class. The cherry on top? A 12-hour battery life to last you from your 8 AM lecture to when you get back from your 7 PM lab, with an affordable $550 price tag.

7. Dell Inspiron i5577-7359BLK-PUS.

Whether you’re a game design student or just an avid collegiate gamer, this laptop offers the perfect balance between office and recreational capabilities. The Intel Quad Core 3.8 GHz i7 Processor is to die for, and with 8 GB of SDRAM and a whopping 1 TB HDD, you’ll be hard pressed to find a video game or design software that this bad boy can’t run. The 15.6-inch display means you won’t miss a single pixel of your favorite games, but all these cutting-edge features do mean that the Inspiron will cost about $900. Still, for game-creators and collegiate gamers, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better alternative.

Schools That Offer Dell Laptops:

Your laptop could be one of the most important purchases you’ll make for college. You’ll be using it to complete assignments for most, if not all, of your classes, so you need one that performs well and that you’re comfortable using. To make sure that you choose the right one, here are the factors you need to consider.

Screen Size

Most laptops have screen sizes anywhere from 11 inches to 17 inches. The most common screen size used to be 15 inches, but smaller laptops have been gaining popularity because of their sleek style and portability.

Since you’ll probably be taking your laptop with you to school and occasionally using it at your desk, you don’t want anything too cumbersome. A laptop with a 13-inch screen strikes a good balance, as it’s easy to carry around but still has a screen large enough for most tasks. If you’ll be using your laptop for graphic design or video editing, you may want to opt for a larger screen.

Battery Life

You don’t want your laptop dying in the middle of class, and there won’t always be a conveniently located outlet. Laptop batteries usually last at least eight hours and can last 12 to 14 hours if you keep the screen brightness down and don’t perform intensive tasks. Your laptop’s size also plays a role here, as laptops with smaller screens tend to use less power.

Display

Display resolutions on laptops have been getting better by the year, and even with a low-end laptop, the display will likely have at least a 1366 x 768 resolution. Many laptops now offer 1080p, which you should get if you’re performing tasks that require a high resolution, such as graphic design.

RAM

More RAM means better performance from your laptop, and you’ll be able to run multiple programs at once without lagging. The standard amount of RAM for basic laptops is 4GB, and this works if you’re sticking to simple tasks – typing documents, browsing online, and streaming videos. If you need to run two or more programs simultaneously or you plan on using your laptop for intensive tasks, 8GB will better suit your needs. Keep in mind that as technology advances, programs require more memory. While 4GB of RAM may be fine now, it could be insufficient in the future.

Hard Drive

There are two types of hard drives: regular hard drives and solid state drives (SSD). SSDs don’t have any moving parts, so they provide superior performance at a greater cost.

Like with RAM, you don’t need to spend more now, but it is a smart investment. The industry is transitioning to SSDs, so regular hard drives will soon be obsolete. If you choose an SSD, look for one with at least 128GB of storage. With a regular hard drive, you should get at least 250GB of storage.

Operating System

The operating system that you choose is entirely up to you. You may already know which operating system you like, but if you’re undecided, it’s a good idea to try both out. A library may have both Windows and Mac computers available, or an electronics store is another option. Either option will work fine for college, so you should go with whichever one you’re more comfortable using.

The Alternative Option – Chromebooks

An inexpensive alternative to a laptop is the Google Chromebook, which is essentially a laptop that uses the Google Chrome operating system. There are different models available ranging from $199 to just over $300, along with the high-resolution Google Pixel which has a starting price of $1,299.

Chromebooks have two advantages over most laptops. The obvious one, except in the case of the Pixel, is that Chromebooks cost less than laptops. Updates and data backups are also done automatically, so you don’t need to handle that yourself.

The downside of Chromebooks is their much more limited functionality. Chrome is an excellent browser, but if you need to use another one, you’re out of luck. Many programs aren’t available on Chromebooks, with Skype being one of the most notable. If a class requires you to use a certain program and you can’t install it on your Chromebook, it’s going to be a big inconvenience. Another issue is that many programs on a Chromebook require an internet connection and don’t function when you’re offline.

Final Thoughts

Laptops aren’t as expensive as they once were, but they’re still a big purchase, especially when you’re choosing a laptop for school. Carefully consider your needs before you pick one, and when in doubt, go with the more advanced option so you have a laptop that will continue to perform well in the future.