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How we tested

How much battery life do I need?

There’s nothing worse than having your laptop’s battery start to die halfway through a lecture or when you head to the student union to study only to find all the power outlets are occupied. Long battery life is key for students, so having one that can go most of the day (or even overnight for those all-nighters in the library) is essential.

Most manufacturers list battery life in terms of “average battery life” or “up to X hours,” but keep in mind that this is highly dependent on what you’re actually doing with the laptop. If you’re just typing up a paper in Word or streaming some Netflix, chances are you’ll get a little longer out of your battery than if you’re creating 3D animated models. Many of the best laptops for students these days get anywhere from eight to up to 20 hours of battery life, so look carefully to find one that’s going to accommodate your workload without making you hunt for outlets all the time.

How much should my laptop weigh?

The last thing you want in a laptop is one that you have to lug instead of carry, and with full days going between classes on campus, the lighter the computer, the better. (This is, of course, if you don’t need a super souped-up machine — the performance you need should always come first.) Something in the range of one to two pounds is ideal, and make sure you check the weight before you buy —some computers can top out at close to six pounds. Trust us: Your back will thank you. Surprisingly, touchscreen laptops can sometimes be heavier than regular ones, so make sure you’re looking at the right set of specifications when you’re weighing (sorry) this decision.

How much RAM does a student laptop need?

In general, the amount of RAM a student laptop needs will depend on the software you’ll be using. For the bare minimum when it comes to running computing essentials, 4GB of laptop RAM should be sufficient. However, if you want your laptop to run quickly or be able to tackle multiple demanding tasks at the same time, then you should consider upgrading your laptop to a model with eight to 16 GB of RAM. 

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How much should a student laptop cost?

While laptops are a pretty essential school supply these days, that doesn’t mean there’s the money to drop a couple grand on a machine that’s top of the line. And chances are high that, on a student budget, the price point might make or break a purchase. That being said, you don’t want a laptop that’s going to crap out on you after a year, either.

But laptops these days come in a full range of prices, from super-basic Chromebooks to extremely fancy specialized machines, so there are plenty of options out there. In fact, the number of options can sometimes veer toward overwhelming, so we’ve done the hard work for you (you have enough to think about right now, anyway).

No, you don’t need a MacBook Pro

Yes, MacBook Pros are kind of a status symbol — and while they’re always going to be cool, the stuffy, fuddy-duddy rep of PC users is starting to fade. Dell, Lenovo, Acer, and other companies are coming up with models like the Dell XPS, Acer Aspire, HP Chromebook, and more that are high performers and built for the high-performance jobs that Macs were formerly coveted for. They’re also often cheaper — and yes, some are just as cool as the MacBook Pros. Don’t think of it as a compromise to get a PC for a college laptop — think of it as expanding your options. Some computers now even have messaging that integrates between the cell phone and computer-based messenger programs, just like the iMessage ecosystem. Plus, who’ll be laughing when their superior battery life carries them through a lecture?

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