While we have plenty of priced oriented guides, I’ve noticed we have very little usage oriented guides on our site. I decided to make a comprehensive guide about what makes a good laptop for college, what you should look for and how to select the perfect laptop for your needs. At the end I will show you some deals currently available that I think are good laptops for college right now.
What is a good laptop for college:
The computing requirements in college are some of the most varied ones and your laptop needs to be one versatile device to be able to make it.
If you think about it a college laptop needs to be very mobile, i.e. have a large battery life, so that you can use it for an entire day of courses and still have some left over in the afternoon to unwind. This means that a laptop for college need to have at least 6-7 hours of battery life at all time. Most manufacturers manage this by installing or offering larger battery packs for their laptops.This adds more weight to the package and you don’t want to be carrying a heavy laptop around with you the whole day do you?
As technology has made massive improvements over the years new processors need only a fraction of the energy of previous generations and battery packs have started shrinking in size. This combination makes it possible for some laptops today to be able to be used for 10+ hours.
The mobility aspect also severely limits the screen size you can get. Yes you could go full out get a desktop computer replacement and buy that cool 19-inch laptop you saw that comes with that amazing 4k display grate graphics card and amazing specs but that wouldn’t fare to well for going to courses and seminars will it? Desks in college are small and you have to fit your laptop your notebook you are taking notes on and still leave enough space for the guy or girl sitting next to you. I think that for college, depending on your major, laptops in the 13 to 15-inch range are your best choice. For example 13-inch Ultrabooks are lightweight and usually come with that all important battery life we talked about earlier. Also due to their light weight you won’t be carrying a heavy load with you all the time.
Screen resolution might actually be more important to you that the actual size. Screen real estate is still based on pixels and having a FullHD screen will let you have more windows open while offering superbly crisp images at the same time.
The performance requirements of a laptop for college can vary widely depending on what your major is. This is where it would be smart to ask older students if they do any intensive computing.
For most humanistic sciences you don’t have to deal with math, physics and numbers, but you will have to do a lot of research and typing on your laptop. To do this you don’t need that much computing power and almost any laptop will have enough power for your needs.
The needs for people studying finance are pretty much the same needs with the added need for a full sized keyboard with numpad. This pretty much limits you to the 15.6-inch size as I don’t remember ever seeing anything smaller with a full sized keyboard.
On the other hand if you are going to study any form of engineering, weather mechanical, civil, chemical, electronics or computer sciences you will require some decent computing power. To be able to decently run any CAD-software you will need the aid of the 3D acceleration of a dedicated graphics card. As good as the integrated Intel HDs may be even a lowly entry level GT820M still kicks their ass. I recommend going for a midrange graphics card as these will have the necessary computing and staying power you need.
On top of this you will need a decent Processor to run all the simulations you will be doing and enough RAM to keep everything running smoothly. This is also a requirements for any laptop used for programing.
As a side note, if you are studying architecture you will have to do a lot of rendering and 3D modeling and as opposed to the engineering crowd, you will be needing a much more potent graphics card and I think mid range is the bare minimum for you.
For the people studying marketing, photo/video editing or design, you will need large quantities of RAM and a decent processor to run Photoshop and After Effects smoothly, these are power hungry applications. You also need to consider getting a high resolution screen with a good panel that can render all the needed colors and offer enough screen real estate for everything.
This goes pretty much for all college laptops, you will need a VGA-out to do Power Point presentations eventually. Lately it’s getting phased out of most laptops and adapters have become regularly available, get one for your laptop if it doesn’t have VGA-out.
Also keep an eye out for Ethernet LAN. Some laptops have started leaving it out and only come with WiFi. The last time I checked, not all dorms have WiFi and you need a cable connection.
Dorm room life
I’m not sure if I should leave this section in, but I think its worth considering. Please leave a comment and tell me if this is helpful.
The dorm room is very often not the most organized place on earth and many things fall and bang against each other on a regular basis. On top of this you could have a butter fingered room mate that is careless both with his and your stuff. I don’t think its a good idea to go all out on a laptop and buy an expensive model exactly because of this. If you can find a laptop that comes with accidental damage warranty then it’s a good choice, if not I would always go for a cheaper model that I can replace easily.
As a nice segway into the next section also think of the downtime and what you would be doing with your laptop. You may need a high storage model to keep all the movies and series you watch, or maybe a model with a dedicated video card so you can play a game or two. Also a low noise model will not wake your room mate.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. While you need to get all your college work done right, you also need to be able to unwind at the end of the day. Depending on what your way to unwind is, you should take it into account when choosing your college laptop.
If you are the kind of person that likes to watch many series and movies try getting a laptop with a high resolution high quality display and plenty of storage.
If you want to play your favorite game, take that into consideration and get a model with a dedicated video card that can run it, even if on the lowest settings.
Entertainment is probably the only reason you could buy a laptop with a touchscreen. You won’t need it for anything else during your courses.
And if on the other hand you are a shy person and what to become much more social and outgoing you can screw with yourself by buying an underpowered laptop to force you to go out and meet people.
The choice is yours, but do bare in mind you have to also relax after a long day.
Good laptops for college
After we’ve covered what I think is most important to keep in mind when choosing a laptop for college, let’s see what deals are currently available that will fit these criteria.
The Asus Zenbook UX305FA-ASM1 13.3-Inch Ultrabook
We recently did a review of the Asus Zenbook UX305FA and I think it’s still one of the best choices out there for college students.
It has the compact 13.3-inch form factor, is light, has an 8-hour battery life, enough performance for most peoples needs and has the FullHD screen and fanless design that make it perfect for watching movies without disturbing others. On top of all this it also comes with a accidental damage warranty. It has almost all the points covered and more.
Acer Aspire V 15 V3-572G-543S 15.6-Inch Laptop
This Acer has quickly become one of our most popular laptop reviews and for good reason. You can read the full review here.
I think that it’s very well suited specifically for this usage in mind. It has enough performance and specs for engineering and architecture students, plenty of battery life for a day of courses and thanks to its FullHD screen it is also well suited to entertain you. It doesn’t come with accidental damage warranty though.
Lenovo ThinkPad L440 20AT0020US 14-Inch Laptop
This list would not be complete without a Lenovo ThinkPad. The L440 boasts a 11-Hour battery life. Yes you read that right 11-hours.
There’s a very good reason why they are so popular with engineers around the world. These laptops are generally built to last and take a beating. If you happen to be in the dorm room situation I described earlier this is the device for you. The specs aren’t really to call home about, one would describe them as low actually, but everything else is premium. Knowing Lenovo products first hand, upgrades are easy to make and especially on the L440 as it comes with a very large back panel giving you access to the most important bits.
The 3 laptops we have chosen might not be the perfect match for you so what you can do, is head over to Amazon and make a custom search for the desired details like this one we made earlier. We filtered laptops that have 6+ hours of battery life, have screens between 13 and 15-inch and weigh less than 5 lbs. You could now add a screen resolution and maybe a dedicated video card to the filters and should end up with a good choice.