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Best student laptop: Top 5 notebooks for school and university

Trusted Reviews reveals the key things to look out for, how much you should spend and where to find discounts when you’re searching for the best student laptop

Introduction

Whether you’re in school or university, a laptop is one of the most valuable tools you need, especially now students can take online classes via video calls. 

Since laptops are basically the new pen and paper for students, we thought we could lend a hand in helping pick out your next educational device. Our team of experts has reviewed countless laptops, making us the perfect group to come up with a list of the five best student laptops that are available to buy right now.

We have taken into consideration that students may not have the most money to throw around, which is why there is a mix here in regards to pricing and made sure to include one device that hits under the £500 mark.

And if none of these laptops is taking your fancy, make sure to bookmark this page and come back later, as we will be updating it continually whenever a new laptop fit for students hits the shelves. Plus, you can always check out the upcoming Apple MacBook Air 2022 and the Dell XPS 13 Plus, for even more options. 

So, without wasting any more time, here are our picks for the top five student laptops.

How we test

Learn more about how we test laptops

Every laptop we review goes through a series of uniform checks designed to gauge key things including build quality, performance, screen quality and battery life. 

These include formal synthetic benchmarks and scripted tests, plus a series of real world checks, such as how well it runs the most frequently used apps. 

We also make sure to use every laptop we review as our primary device for at least a week to ensure our review is as accurate as possible.

MacBook Air (M1)

Best student laptop you can buy
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Pros

  • It’s so fast thanks to M1
  • Exceptional battery life
  • Strong app support
  • Great keyboard

Cons

  • Poor webcam
  • Same design as before
  • Poorly positioned (and only two) USB ports

The Apple MacBook Air is our current first pick for a student laptop since it was fitted with the Apple Silicon M1 chip, with our review noting how incredible the performance is for a laptop at this price.

Not only did it impress us during basic productivity tasks, but we were able to render 4K video content with a smooth performance, even with multiple apps running in the background. 

Since this is a fanless machine you will be able to work in the library without worrying about the annoying whirr of the fan, with our review claiming that it didn’t produce any sound even when used for heftier tasks. The battery also shines, with our model lasting up to 11 hours during normal day-to-day use, which will get you through those long classes with battery to spare. 

The MacBook Air M1 is a great all-rounder laptop, ideal for both those who need a high-powered productivity machine and others who need a bit more grunt to edit video. However, it’s worth keeping an eye on the recently revealed MacBook Air M2, which flaunts a sleeker design and a more powerful performance – although you will need to pay a bit more for the luxury.

Reviewer: Max Parker
Full review: MacBook Air M1 review

Surface Laptop Go

The best value student laptop
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Pros

  • Incredible value
  • Small and classy design
  • Excellent performance
  • Comfortable keyboard

Cons

  • Low-resolution display
  • No keyboard backlight
  • No fingerprint scanner on base configuration

The Surface Laptop Go is a great laptop with a very reasonable price. Coming in as one of the smallest laptops we have ever reviewed, we found it will fit easily into a rucksack or a tote back, making it the perfect travel companion. 

Despite the small size of the Surface Laptop Go, Microsoft has managed to fit in a full-sized keyboard. Our review noted that the keyboard offers enough travel to ensure comfortable typing, which is ideal for anyone who needs to start churning out essays at the start of term. 

The Surface Go we tested featured a 10th-gen Intel processor, with out benchmark results showing it to be one of the most powerful laptops at this price point. We found that it breezed through basic tasks like typing up a document on Google Docs and did not struggle when multiple browser tabs and apps were opened at the same time. 

Unlike the MacBook Pro, this laptop is not made for content creation, so we would advise that any media or creative students steer clear, since the laptop uses an integrated GPU. However, its small size and competent performance for productivity tasks make it a bargain, and an easy recommendation for any student who needs a device to type up their latest essay. 

The only other thing to be aware of is that Microsoft has unveiled a new Surface Laptop Go 2, though until we get one in for testing we can’t recommend it in this list.

Reviewer: Ryan Jones
Full review: Surface Laptop Go review

Acer Chromebook Spin 513

Best Chromebook for students
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Pros

  • Super-light and portable design
  • Sharp display with decent colours
  • Outstanding battery life
  • Whisper-quiet performance

Cons

  • Flat speakers
  • Mediocre performance
  • No keyboard backlight

The Acer Chromebook Spin 513 is our favourite Chromebook on the market right now, and can be found for under £300, ensuring that it won’t make too much of a dent on your student loan. 

The Spin 513 weighs in at only 1.2kg and is very easy to take out on the go, which we found to be useful for hybrid working. Since this laptop runs on ChromeOS, this won’t be the best pick for those who need access to software like Adobe Photoshop, but is perfectly fine if you stick to the basics.

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 7c processor worked wonderfully for us during web browsing, word processing and didn’t falter when we ran multiple Chrome taps on it at once. The processor also doesn’t require a dedicated cooling system, meaning that this machine will run quietly during those late-night study sessions. 

The foldable design of the Spin 513 – as well as the bundled stylus – also means you can use this as a tablet if you want to kick back and watch some TV after a long day of classes. While we wouldn’t recommend this as a creative device, it will fare fine for any essay-based work and ChromeOS should ensure a seamless and simple experience.

Reviewer: Reece Bithrey
Full review: Acer Chromebook Spin 513 review

MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021)

Best student laptop for high-performance content creation
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Pros

  • Stunning display
  • Amazing performance
  • The ports and MagSafe are back

Cons

  • RAM upgrades are expensive

If you are looking for the best performance for content creation, the MacBook Pro is your best bet. Our review gives this the title of best laptop for creative duties for a reason; the 14 / 16-inch Mini LED screen has a resolution of 3456 x 2234 and presents a wonderfully crisp and detailed picture based on our time using it. 

The latest MacBook Pro is available with either an M1 Pro or M1 Max chip, which offer blistering speeds that can handle everything from basic productivity tasks to complex 3D animation and 4K video renders. Our benchmark results show that there are very few laptops available that can deliver a performance as good as this for content creation.

We were also pleased to see Apple adding a number of ports to this laptop, with MagSafe charging, HDMI, Thunderbolt and an SD card reader all present and accounted for.

Since the MacBook Pro 16-inch does cost a pretty penny as the most expensive laptop on this list, we would not recommend it to anyone who doesn’t need a high-end performance. Any creative student will definitely see a stark difference between this laptop and many others in regards to demanding media tasks, though any essay writers out there don’t need to splash out this much to find their perfect laptop.

Reviewer: Max Parker
Full review: MacBook Pro review

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio

Best student laptop for designers
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Pros

  • Versatile hinge is great for digital artists
  • Sharp and vibrant display
  • Top-class design and keyboard
  • Surprisingly good battery life

Cons

  • Weak graphics power compared to rivals
  • Screen lacks pro-grade colour accuracy
  • Stylus isn’t bundled in

The Surface Laptop Studio is the best laptop on this list for any students who like to create digital art. Featuring a versatile hinge that allows it to be used both as a clamshell laptop and a tablet, this is ideal for typing up essays as well as drawing directly onto the screen.

During testing, we loved how easy it was to pull the screen forward and magnetically clip it to the deck just above the trackpad. Unfortunately, the Microsoft Slim Pen is not bundled with this device and will need to be bought separately. However, if you do get one, we found it felt great on the touchscreen with the 4069 pressure levels available making it wonderfully reactive and great for digital painting and design work. 

The Surface Laptop packs an 11th-gen H-Series Intel processor – with i5 and i7 options available – with our unit performing well during basic tasks like web browsing and watching Netflix. This is not the most powerful laptop on this list, but its touch screen and versatile hinge set it apart from the rest, and it will work great provided you don’t need the most powerful specs. 

While the MacBook Pro is the better option for high-performance tasks, any student who partakes in digital art should still seriously consider the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio.

Reviewer: Ryan Jones
Full review: Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio review

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FAQs

What should a student look for in a laptop?

A good keyboard, long battery life and snappy performance are all key things to consider when purchasing a student laptop. You’ll also want to make sure it isn’t too heavy, with 1.3kg and under being an ideal heft. Screen quality is worth thinking about if you plan on using the laptop for Netflix and YouTube.

Do students need a laptop with a GPU?

A dedicated GPU is only worth considering if your a creative/design student who who will be doing lots of video editing, 3D modelling or animation. Gamers will also benefit from a powerful GPU. But be warned, a GPU will crank up the price, make the laptop heavier and shorten the battery life, so only get a laptop with one if its essential.

How much RAM does a student laptop need?

Honestly, most people will be fine with 8GB RAM, but it may be worth investing in 16GB of RAM or beyond for heavier workloads such as content creation and gaming.

Specs compared

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Trusted Reviews test data

PCMark 10
Geekbench 5 single core
Geekbench 5 multi core
3DMark Time Spy
CrystalDiskMark Read speed
CrystalMarkDisk Write Speed
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Founded in 2004, Trusted Reviews exists to give our readers thorough, unbiased and independent advice on what to buy.

Today, we have millions of users a month from around the world, and assess more than 1,000 products a year.

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