Getting a laptop for college is easy. For most students, a simple Chromebook or basic Windows device will suffice. If you’re looking to get a lightweight and affordable PC that can create documents and browse the web, one can spend very little money. On the other hand, if you need a more robust PC capable of editing video, doing many tasks at once, playing games, and running a full installation of Windows, one will want to spend a bit more money. Of course, we’ve also included a Mac on our list as well, for those who like OSX, or want to know simply what people are paying for when they get a Mac.
On this list, there are no bad computers, but Chromebooks and cheap PCs in general do have their limitations. Only the pricier machines on this list will be good for gaming or editing 4K video, for instance. That said, for most student applications like editing word documents, spreadsheets, creating presentations, and doing research, every PC on this list is fully capable. Of course, having a more powerful machine always makes things smoother and faster.
All that out of the way, here’s the 10 best, cheap laptops for students from lowest to highest price.
1. Samsung Chromebook 3
Processor / Passmark Speed Celeron N3050 / 884 | RAM 2GB | Graphics Card Integrated | Hard Drive 16.0GB eMMC | Weight 1lb | Display 11.6″, 1366 x 768 |
For those who don’t need a full Windows installation, Chromebooks offer an affordable and surprisingly robust option. Sure, these PCs only let one use the Google Chrome browser, but there is a lot more that can be done than many would expect just using Chrome. Google Docs lets one edit docs of virtually any kind. In conjunction with Google Sheets, Slides, and other Google Apps, one will hardly be left out in the cold with a Chromebook. Of course, if you need advanced apps like Photoshop, Premiere Pro, or anything that’s Windows specific, this PC won’t be for you. That said, if you are willing to use a Chromebook, not only is the price dirt cheap, the battery life is excellent and the weight is almost nothing; it’s by the far the lowest weight on the list. This isn’t just a cheap PC; it’s extremely practical for the right user. The right user is someone who does (or can do) all of their work within Google Chrome.
- Among the lightest laptops; great for document editing & web browsing
- Easy to use, setup and maintain
- Out of this world battery life of 10 hours
- Bad speakers
- Not good for watching movies or any other (even vaguely) demanding computer resource
2. HP Elitebook 8470p (Certified Refurbished)
Processor / Passmark Speed i5-3320M / 4077 | RAM 8GB DDR3 | Graphics Card Integrated | Hard Drive 500GB (5400RPM) | Weight 4.65lbs | Display 1366 x 768, 200 nits, 60hz, 112 PPI | Extras Webcam |
For those willing to get a refurbished device, there is only one real caveat with them: be sure to back up your important files. Hard drives are known to fail and this is even more likely on a used machine. Beyond this, however, this certified refurbished device (which includes 30 day under Amazon’s protection should you find fault with it) has a large hard drive, decently fast processor, and a webcam. It includes a full installation of Windows so you’re truly not skimping where it matters if you need to run apps like Photoshop or edit 1080P video (though it will be on the slow side for this latter function). Still, at this price, this PC is a very reasonable deal for a full Windows PC, as long as you’re willing to deal with the look of a used device.
- Cheap price for a full installation of Windows
- Solid processor and good RAM for the price
- Hard drive capacity is great
- Built-in webcam for chatting etc.
- Amazon-reconditioned products get 30 day warranty
- Hard price to beat for decently capable Windows PC
- Resolution is on the low side
- Hard drive is slow
3. Acer Aspire 15.6″
Processor / Passmark Speed i3-6100U / 3606 | RAM 4GB DDR3L | Graphics Card Integrated | Hard Drive 1TB HDD | Weight 5.29lbs | Display 1366 x 768, 15.6″ |
This Acer helps put in perspective what kind of saving the refurbished computer above provides. It has a slower processor, weighs more, and has half as much RAM, but it’s quite a bit more expensive. Still, for those who want a new PC, this is a very reasonably priced device. It also boasts a large 1TB hard drive, a very nice touch for those who want to hold on to a lot of big files like photos or videos. Having a new machine is always nice, and this PC has a few perks like a disc drive and the fact that its components can be upgraded (RAM would be the best way to go, since 4GB is on the low side for multitasking).
This Acer Aspire’s biggest shortcoming is its low RAM, but if you want a new machine and can handle a few less Google Chrome tabs, it’s a great price for a new PC that will get the job done in a full Windows environment.
- Reliable and durable PC; well built
- Great price for the performance on a new PC
- Cheap way to do simple things like browse the web or edit documents with large hard drive
- RAM and HDD can be upgraded
- Has a disc drive for CD users
- Not good for any advance uses such as editing photos, video, or gaming
- Resolution could be better
- On the heavy side
4. Asus VivoBook F510UA
Processor / Passmark Speed i5-8250U / 7390 | RAM 8GB DDR4 | Graphics Card Integrated | Hard Drive 1TB HDD (5400RPM) | Weight 3.7lbs | Display 15.6″ 1080P |
This Asus Vivobook hikes the price up noticeably, but this is really starting to be a nice machine. Boasting a new i5 processor, one only need peek that Passmark score to get an idea of how fast it is (almost twice as fast). This means that this PC will run smooth compared to the others on our list. It also has 8GB of RAM, meaning multi-tasking (and loads of Google Chrome tabs filled with research) can fill one’s screen). The biggest drawback with this PC, as with the others above it (besides the Chromebook) is its slow 5400RPM hard drive. This can make things like the start-up time run a little long. Beyond this, however, this is a great looking PC with a thin bezel, fast processor, and plenty of RAM for an enjoyable and easy schoolwork experience. While the PC below is the editor’s choice, if you’re going to be editing video, this PC may be preferable for its much faster processor. However, for most applications, it is likely to be a bit slower due to its hard disk drive.
Price: $499 (17 percent off MSRP)
- Fast 8th-generation i5 processor
- Solid RAM for the price
- Spacious hard drive
- Low weight for its specs and price
- Nano-edge nearly bezel-less display is very attractive
- Hard drive is on the slow side
- No optical drive
5. Asus F556UA (Editor’s Choice)
Processor / Passmark Speed i5-6200U / 4006 | RAM 8GB DDR4 | Graphics Card Integrated | Hard Drive 256GB SSD | Weight 5.1lbs | Display 1080P |
Finally, the editor’s choice! This Asus unit may not have as fast as a processor as the above PC (which makes it weaker for things like processing photos or editing videos), but the inclusion of an SSD is such a massive performance improvement, it has to be the editor’s choice. SSDs make everything about using your PC faster. This PC has a faster boot time, better file management (because it’s faster) and boasts 8GB of RAM for great multitasking. About the worse that one can say here is that it is a bit on the heavy side. 5.1lbs is a bit much to haul around campus all day if you’re a small person or are sensitive to weight. Still, this PC is the editor’s choice because it’s not only good enough to fit the bill, it’s more than fast enough for virtually any and all student uses. It boots quick, runs decently fast, has enough RAM for all those PDFs and papers your instructors will make you read, and has solid battery life. This is a great way to go for any student.
If you were ready to move on at “5.1lbs,” have no fear the next model is just the one for you.
- SSD for fast boot time and quick loading
- ASUS has excellent customer service
- Battery life is good
- Large, responsive touch pad
- Enough RAM for multitasking
- Speakers are subpar
- Lacks backlit keyboard
6. ASUS Zenbook
Processor / Passmark Speed i5-7200U / 4686 | RAM 8GB DDR3 | Graphics Card Integrated | Hard Drive 256GB SSD | Weight 2.6lbs | Display 13.3″, 1080P |
Boasting very similar specs to the above machine, this Zenbook is bound to please. It boasts similar RAM (8GB), a sufficient SSD for fast boot times, and a nice 1080P screen. So why pay the extra money? It only weighs 2.6lbs. Not only that, the Zenbook is objectively a much better looking machine. While it’s not for everyone, if carrying around an over 5lb laptop seems like a dealbreaker, this Zenbook hits the mark beautifully. The only real bummer with this machine is its relatively short battery life. Beyond this, however, it’s a Macbook killer, boasting a similar appearance, and better performance (it has a faster processor).
For those who want a lightweight PC, this is an outstanding option.
Price: $699 (8 percent off MSRP)
- Lightning fast boot time of around five seconds
- Solid build quality with great display
- Great Macbook alternative at a cheaper price
- SD Card reader slot is built-in
- Screen can be wonky on some units; check upon arrival
- A small percentage of users had issues with reliability and needed new units
7. Acer Aspire Gaming, Editing, and Design PC
Processor / Passmark Speed i5-7300HQ / 6826 | RAM 16GB DDR4 | Graphics Card GTX 1050 Ti – 3GB | Hard Drive 256gb SSD | Weight 5.51lbs | Display 15.6″, 1920 x 1080 |
This model from Acer boasts a real strong set of features. Let’s talk briefly about its biggest downsides: heavy weight and only OK battery life. If you can look beyond this, however, for $1,000 or so, this machine is really almost a desktop replacement. It has a nice FHD screen, a dedicated graphics card capable of playing modern games at medium to high settings, 16GB of RAM for extravagant multitasking (tons of Chrome tabs, no problem!), and a reasonably quick processor. This is a great PC if you’re looking to do some Photoshopping, video editing, and/or gaming. It’s likely overkill, or not best-suited to users who are only doing normal student work like Powerpoints and Docs. Of course, it’s more than up to the job, but one may want to opt for a different PC in that case.
Price: $999 (5 percent off MSRP)
- Can play modern games at medium to high graphical quality
- Easily upgraded RAM and SSD
- Speakers are pretty good for this type of PC
- Solid construction
- Can play Overwatch, League of Legends
- No CD/DVD drive
- One user had an issue with how the trackpad is off center
- Some bloatware is included on the system
8. Acer Predator Helios 300 (For gaming, editing)
Processor / Passmark Speed i7-7700HQ / 8943 | RAM 16GB DDR4 | Graphics Card GTX 1060 – 6GB | Hard Drive 256GB SSD | Weight 5.95lbs | Display 15.6″ 1920 x 1080, IPS 60HZ |
This PC is one of the best values on the market. It boasts a fast graphics card, high quality display (though it is a bit dim), powerful processor (about as good as it gets with laptops) and plenty of fast RAM. It’s great for virtually all purposes. Though, it is about 6lbs, which can get pretty heavy for some users. Still, if you want a PC that can do it all, this is a great way to go. It’s extremely popular for a reason; there’s just nothing it can’t do, including be a great desktop replacement. Its graphics card is monstrous, its processor is fast, and it has plenty of RAM. With an external monitor, this can be one’s desktop and laptop easily.
- Unreal value for gamers; great for outputting to multiple displays
- Solid processor with robust graphics card means it’s good for video editing other uses
- Can edit 4K video (though screen is only 1080P; GFX card can easily output to second monitor
- Backlit keyboard
- Speakers surprisingly good
- Screen is somewhat dim
- Hard drive space goes fast at 256GB
- Keyboard can heat up
- Battery life is on the low side (2 to 3 hours max, one hour when gaming)
9. LG Gram 14″ Touchscreen (The lightweight high-performance PC)
Processor / Passmark Speed i5-7200U / 4689 | RAM 8GB | Graphics Card Integrated | Hard Drive 256GB SSD | Weight 2lbs | Display 14″ 1080P, IPS |
For users who want a PC that’s as light as it gets, but still includes solid specs and a full Windows installation, this LG Gram brings the fire. Boasting a nice SSD, decent processor, and most impressively, a 2lb weight, it’s a no-compromises PC on every level besides price. Still, comparing the specs of this machine to the Macbook below and one can see that it is truly a great deal. Not only is it faster than the Macbook, it has a touch screen too. Of course, the display isn’t quite as detailed, but this is a minor drawback when one looks at the value picture. This is a great PC if you want a snappy workstation at a very low weight.
Price: $1099 (8 percent off MSRP)
- Backlit keyboard useful at night
- Touchscreen display
- Uses USB Type C input for fast transfer rates
- Awesome battery life
- Slim and good-looking bezel
- Extremely light but with solid build quality
- Raw power of specs could be better
- Not for gaming at all
10. Apple Macbook 12″
Processor / Passmark Speed M-5Y71 / 3052 | RAM 8GB | Graphics Card Intel HD 615 (integrated) | Hard Drive 256GB SSD | Weight 3.4lbs | Display 12″ 2304 x 1440 |
This Macbook is quite the looker. Let’s talk about the pluses: it has a stunning display with a very high resolution, boasts a fast SSD, and has enough RAM for multitasking. Plus, Macs tend to last much longer than PCs. In addition, Mac OSX is one of the most stable and best operating systems. This is what you’re paying for when you buy a Mac. On the negative side, this Mac is mainly looks. With a processor that is definitely on the slow side, and only decent RAM, it won’t even outperform PCs that are half as expensive. Of course, it will be probably the most reliable computer on this list, and it will look good doing it. For certain users, Mac is the only way to go. For most of us, however, restarting a PC every now and again isn’t the end of the world.
If you want a reliable, attractive, and beautifully-displayed device, this Macbook is a great way to go. If you want a good deal, however, scroll back up!
Price: $1198 (8 percent off MSRP)
- One of the best keyboards on any laptop (though can take some adjustment
- Build quality likened to a work of art
- Powerful enough for web browsing and document editing
- Stable OS; great trackpad
- Battery life is really good
- Disturbingly expensive for the performance
- More looks than substance
- Dongles are pricey for using this device’s one USB port to adapt to things like flash drives or monitors (it only has USB-C)