What Mac Laptop Is Best For College

Posted By admin On 15.02.22
  • The 5 Best College Laptops for University Students to Buy Right Now. Here are the five best laptops you can buy for college right now. But for now it’s the best candidate for a Mac.
  • Apple’s 15-inch MacBook Pro (2017) is the best Mac laptop for photo and video editing. The MacBook Pro’s 15.4-inch Retina display (2880×1800) is as color-accurate as the Dell XPS 15’s, and the MacBook Pro’s screen reproduces slightly more of the sRGB color gamut.

For college any mac is good. If you're comparing the 15' and 13', the only thing that really makes the money worth while is the extra graphics card in the 15' (battery life is about the same, harddrive is customizeable online, so is ram, but don't buy ram from apple!).

Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.

The Rundown

  • Best Overall:Acer Aspire E 15 at Amazon, “The ideal mix of value and performance that's built to last.”
  • Best Rugged:ASUS Chromebook at Amazon, “A rugged computer that’s capable of being repeatedly thrown in your backpack.”
  • Best 2-in-1:Acer Chromebook R 11 at Amazon, “A laptop that can handle both homework and extra-curricular internet use.”
  • Best Lightweight:ASUS ZenBook S at Amazon, “A 2.2-pound, 0.5-inch thick design made from aerospace-grade aluminum.”
  • Best Apple: MacBook Air at Amazon, 'It's portable, offers great battery life, boasts a gorgeous display, and packs more than enough power to spare.'
  • Best Value:Dell XPS 13 at Dell.com, 'Has the performance and memory to handle a last-minute essay and a stream of your favorite Netflix series at the same time.'
  • Best Budget:HP 15 at Amazon, “The trade-off in power and ability is well worth the extra heft.”

Our Top Picks

Best Overall: Acer Aspire E 15 E5-576-392H

4.5

The latest Acer Aspire model is the ideal mix of value and performance that's built to last through all your college years. It’s also significantly cheaper than most high-end laptops, which college students can truly appreciate. First off, it contains an 8th-Generation Intel Core i3 processor, 6GB dual-channel memory, and a 1TB hard drive. It also features Intel Turbo Boost Technology for smooth video streaming and high-speed performance, along with a long-lasting 13.5-hour battery. The hardware should satisfy the needs of most college students, but if your workload is particularly demanding, then upgrading the memory or hard drive is a simple process — just open the easy-access compartment in the bottom of the laptop to replace the parts.

The Acer Aspire is built for both work and entertainment. The 15.6-inch screen features full HD resolution, although the color isn't as vibrant as some of its competitors. This model is also on the heavier side at 5.27 pounds. However, it comes with a DVD drive, SD slot, and has port space for USB 3.0, 2.0, Type-C, as well as Ethernet and HDMI inputs. As an added bonus, you can even charge your USB-connected devices when the laptop is powered down.

Want to take a look at some other options? See our guide to the best Acer laptops.

Best for Durability: ASUS Chromebook C202SA-YS02

3.7

The ASUS Chromebook C202 is a rugged computer that’s capable of being repeatedly thrown in your backpack. It has a spill-resistant keyboard, a reinforced rubber bumper to protect it from minor drops and scratches, and nano-molding technology on its edges and corners to reduce the impact of falls. In a drop test, the Chromebook C202 was capable of withstanding a fall from as high as 3.9 feet — and that's particularly impressive given it only weighs 2.65 pounds.

The C202’s 11.6-inch 1366 x 768 display even comes equipped with anti-glare technology, so you can work while you catch some rays on the quad. With a 180-degree hinge, you can also manipulate the laptop into whatever angle you like. On the inside, it packs an Intel Celeron N3060 Processor ( 2M cache up to 2.48 GHz) and 16GB of flash storage. The Chromebook runs on, you guessed it, Chrome OS, so you can download and edit files via Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides. Like other Chromebook models, the C202 also employs automatically-updating anti-virus protection so you don't have to worry about accidentally downloading any malicious software when you're surfing the web.

Interested in reading more reviews? Take a look at our selection of the best ASUS laptops.

Best 2-in-1: Acer Chromebook R 11

4.4

Every college student needs a laptop that can handle both homework and extra-curricular internet use — like those early morning hours when you’re five hours deep into a Netflix original series. The Acer Chromebook R 11 gets an A+ for both. The convertible, 360-degree laptop/tablet runs on Chrome OS, so you can download apps — both productive and just for fun — from the Google Play Store and use Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides to complete your classwork.

With an Intel Celeron N3150 Quad-Core Processor 1.6GHz with Intel Burst Technology up to 2.08GHz combined with 4GB of onboard memory and 32GB of internal storage, the Chromebook R 11 multitasks with ease. Built-in virus protection — which updates itself automatically — also safeguards your files, so you don't have to worry about crashes or data loss. And once you’ve submitted your report or finished your online quiz, you can flip the screen all the way back to enjoy your favorite games and shows in tablet mode on its 11.6-inch HD IPS touch display with 1366 x 768 resolution. The battery life is rated at about 10 hours, so it’ll last you a full day of classes and then some. You also get 100GB of free storage on Google Drive for two years, so you won't have to worry about storing important documents or photos.

Want to take a look at some other options? See our guide to the best 2-in-1 laptops.

Best Lightweight: ASUS ZenBook S

4.5

The ASUS ZenBook S is one of the most rugged and portable laptops out there, with a 2.2-pound, 0.5-inch thick design made from aerospace-grade aluminum. It’s got a neat backlit, tilting keyboard, too, that can angle your typing surface by 5.5 inches. This function also allows for additional airflow which helps keep the machine cool — in tandem with a copper-alloy heat pipe and liquid-crystal-polymer fan — so it won't sound like a rocket ship when it's working hard. Add in a headphone jack and three USB-C ports (with two that can handle Thunderbolt 3 cables) and you’ve got some serious connectivity in this highly portable device.

The ZenBook S also comes with Alexa integration for voice commands and a lithium polymer battery that can last up to 9 hours without a charge. You can gear it up with either an i5 or i7 Intel CPU for some serious power in exceptionally small form, and you can outfit your ZenBook S with either 8GB or 16GB of RAM for a smooth, multi-app running experience. If you’re looking for something a little different, you can opt for the laptop in Deep Dive Blue or Burgundy Red. Media-types will dig being able to add a 4K glossy touchscreen as an option, with HD glossy non-touch or HD anti-glare screens as the other two.

Best Apple: MacBook Air

Since their conception, MacBooks have been extremely popular laptops among college students and, for most, Apple’s MacBook Air is the one to buy. It’s slim, it’s portable, offers great battery life, boasts a gorgeous display, and packs more than enough power to spare for the needs of most college programs. In short, Apple has taken a formidable MacBook for college students and made it even better, with a screen that is, rest assured, easy on the eyes.

Under the hood, you’re still getting a 1.6GHz 8th-generation Intel Core i5 CPU that can burst up to 3.6GHz when you need it, plus 8 GB of RAM and a 128 GB SSD. If all you’re doing is writing essays, this base model will likely be more than enough, but you can bump both the RAM and the SSD up to 16GB or 1TB, respectively, if you have a few extra bucks to spend. Of course, it goes without saying that your course load will help determine this as well, but remember that there are also a pair of Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports, so keeping some high-speed external storage on hand back in your dorm room is always an option, too.

What Mac Laptop Is Best For College

At only 2.75 pounds and 0.61 inches thick, it’s portable enough that it won’t weigh you down, and its 12- to 13-hour battery life means it will easily keep you going all day long without needing to worry about toting a charger around. Apple has also built-in its T2 security chip, along with Touch ID, which will keep your work encrypted and also help protect your MacBook should it ever get lost.

Or you could step up the processing power with one of the best MacBook Pro models of 2019. Your choice.

Best Value: Dell XPS 13

Packed with power, the Dell XPS 13 is a lightweight, portable laptop with the performance and memory to handle a last-minute essay and a stream of your favorite Netflix series — at the same time. Weighing just 2.7 pounds, the laptop can be outfitted with the new 8th Gen Intel Quad Core processors, meaning performance isn’t impacted when multiple applications are running. The screen has a 4K Ultra HD resolution with 8 million pixels and 1500:1 contrast ratio for a stunning visual experience. The 400-nit brightness and anti-reflective screen let students use it either inside or out, while the 21-hour battery life allows it to last between long days of classes and late-night study sessions.

A new HD webcam located at the front and center of the top of the frame delivers crystal-clear images, temporal noise reduction, and better video quality for calls back home or with friends across the country. Sleek and sophisticated, the laptop is available in frost, rose gold, or platinum silver colors.

Best College Laptop For 2017

Best Budget: HP 15-BS013DX

3.6

If you have a $500 budget to play with, you'll have no trouble finding a value laptop suitable for college students. Right now, our favorite is the HP 15-BS013DX which delivers a 15.6-inch touchscreen, an Intel i3-7100U processor, a 1 TB hard drive (AKA tons of storage), and a full 8 G of RAM to keep things responsive and smooth. The Intel HD Graphics 620 card will run some decent games when you need to take a break from your studies, too. Add Bluetooth, two USB 3.1 plugs, and an HDMI port, and you’ve got a killer machine that will feel equally at home in the coffee shop as in the class (or dorm) room.

While it might be a bit unwieldy at 15' x 10' x 0.9' and 4.5 pounds, the trade-off in power and ability is well worth the extra heft. Reviewers on Best Buy really like the features included (touch screen, more RAM, etc.) for the price — especially if you'll be doing little more than surfing the web, streaming videos, and typing up Word documents.

Tested by

How We Tested

We bought five top-rated laptops for college students that our reviewers tested for more than 100 hours. We asked our testers to consider the most important features when using these laptops, from their operating system to their durability. We’ve outlined the key takeaways here so that you, too, know what to look for when shopping.

What to Look for in a College Laptop

Operating system -Apple’s Macs are known for having an intuitive interface that’s sleek and ideal for designers, while Windows PCs are capable of more customization and are often better suited for productivity.

Portability -If you need something that’s easy to toss into your backpack, you might prefer a smaller and lighter model like a two-in-one. However, if you’re mostly working in your dorm, a larger laptop might not be so cumbersome. For creative or design students, a larger screen is likely necessary.

Budget -Between buying textbooks and planning spring break, college doesn’t come cheap. If you’re looking to save a few dollars on a laptop, you can still get plenty of premium features, like a cutting-edge processor or advanced security features. If you’ve got some cash to spare, you might be more comfortable splurging on a MacBook, which has unrivaled displays.

Test Results: Acer Aspire E 15 E5-576-392H (Best Overall)

4.5

What We Like

  • High-quality display

  • Extensive battery life

  • Good speed

What We Don't Like

  • Heavy

  • Internet connectivity issues

  • Lots of pre-installed software

This laptop came highly recommended by our testers as an overall good value. “It offers a great-quality display, relatively high speeds, an easy setup, and a great operating system (Windows 10),” remarked one of our reviewers. Our testers also enjoyed the long battery life. In terms of negatives, one of our reviewers reported “frequent issues with internet connectivity,” which didn’t happen with another laptop, and also didn’t like all of the pre-installed software. But while one of our testers wished the laptop were more lightweight, she declared, “For an everyday budget laptop, this is a great choice.”

Test Results: ASUS Chromebook C202SA-YS02 11.6-Inch (Best for Durability)

3.7

What We Like

  • Very portable

  • Great value

  • Impressive battery life

What We Don't Like

  • Limited features

  • Screen on the smaller side

One of our testers liked the “no frills” approach this Chromebook takes to give students exactly what they need for class. She said, “For the price, this has everything you need for school or home — docs and sheets, a camera, Internet access, and durability.” This laptop’s battery life also gets an A+ from our testers: “For school, I'm positive this computer would last a full day,” said one, “and likely have time for homework back at home.”

Test Results: Acer Chromebook R 11 Convertible, 11.6-Inch HD Touch Screen (Best 2-in-1)

4.4

What We Like

  • Stylish design

  • Intuitive touchscreen

  • Google integration

Our testers loved the fact that this laptop was integrated with Google, reporting that it made it easier for them to power through daily tasks. One of our reviewers also raved about its speed and responsiveness, saying it was “intuitive” and a “joy” to use. However, one of our testers did experience some ghost clicking, which caused the cursor to click on things when the user didn’t mean to. (This can usually be remedied by restarting the computer.)

Test Results: ASUS ZenBook S (Best Lightweight)

4.5

What We Like

  • Very portable

  • Crisp screen display

  • Comes with case

Our testers loved that the ZenBook S was slim and portable: “You can easily hold it in one hand or carry in a small bag. I liked how it felt compact,” one wrote. Our reviewers also reported that the laptop has a crisp screen display, great-quality sound, and impressive battery life. One of our testers summed it up: “I felt the computer met and exceeded expectations for working quickly and being easy to use.”

Test Results: HP 15-BS013DX (Best Under $500)

3.6

What We Like

  • Attractive design with some premium touches

  • Includes a touchscreen

  • Good battery life

  • Big hard drive

What We Don't Like

  • Bloatware

  • Touchscreen could be easier to use

  • Display resolution is only 1366 x 768

Our tester felt that this laptop’s battery life was good compared to similar models. He also liked its design but wished that its touchscreen was more pleasant to use: “Something about the glossy screen causes the finger to stick and skid across instead of sliding smoothly,” he said. Other negatives were that it comes with too much bloatware and that it doesn’t have a full HD display. Overall, he thought that “you can get better overall specifications and performance for less money, but this is a budget-priced laptop that performs well enough.”

The Lay of the Laptop Land

The laptop market has undergone major changes in the past few years, and there's likely to be more confusion in the notebook aisle now than at any other time. Today's models encompass everything from featherweight, business-savvy ultraportables that barely tip the scales at less than 2 pounds, to lap-crushing gaming behemoths of 10 pounds or more.

Your standard laptop doesn't look the way it once did, either, with dozens of convertible designs that rethink the standard clamshell to take advantage of touch interfaces. Some laptops double as tablets, with hinges that bend and fold, while other touch-enabled PCs are actually slate tablets that come with hardware keyboards for notebook-style use. There's simply too much variety in the laptop space for one size or style to fit every person's needs.

That's where this buying guide comes in. We'll brief you on all the latest designs and specs, and parse the current trends, helping you figure out which features you need and how to find the laptop you really want.

The Best Laptop Deals This Week*

  • Samsung Chromebook 3 Intel Celeron N3060 11.6-Inch Laptop With 4GB RAM, 16GB SSD $159 (List Price $229.99; Save $70.99)
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  • HP 14 Slim Laptop with an AMD Ryzen 3 3200U and Radeon Vega 3 Graphics $269 (List Price $379.99; Save $110.99)
  • HP Pavilion 14 Intel Core i5-8265U Quad-Core 14-Inch 1080p Laptop With 256GB SSD — $499 (List Price $699; Save $200)
  • Lenovo Flex 14 AMD Ryzen 5 3500U 14-Inch 1080p 2-in-1 Touch Laptop with 256GB SSD, Active Pen — $529.99 (List Price $650; Save $120.01)

*Deals are selected by our partner, TechBargains

Finding the Best 12- to 13-Inch Laptop

At the small-screen end of the spectrum, 12- and 13-inch laptops, or ultraportables (more on these below), are worth considering if you plan on toting your laptop. These models are small enough to weigh 3 pounds or less, but large enough that they include a full-size keyboard and a decent size-screen. The downside is that port selection tends to be minimal due to the limited amount of room available on side panels. These laptops usually serve simple needs like surfing the web or modest word processing, and they're a good choice for business travelers who need to tote a laptop frequently. Smaller 10- and 11-inch laptops (now less common than they used to be) have even less room for ports, and will have smaller keyboards and space between the keys, so you'll have to adjust your typing style to accommodate.

Sweet Spot: The Best 14- to 15-Inch Laptops

Laptops with 14- to 15.6-inch screens are the most popular, because they hit the sweet spot between portability and features that most users find desirable. Yes, they may weigh a few more pounds than their smaller-screen siblings, but in return you get easy reading on a larger screen, more room for various I/O ports, better internal components, and extra battery cells. You're up to 3 or 4 pounds in weight at this screen size, but that's still easy to carry around an office building or your home.

Screen Giants: The Best 17-Inch Laptops

The largest screens available typically show up in workstation-class and gaming laptops, though there are a few budget desktop-replacement options here as well. A 17-inch screen is large enough to share for presentations, or if you need the extra pixels to immerse yourself in your graphics projects or 3D games. The extra space in the chassis can be used for one or more graphics processors, desktop-class CPUs, or multiple banks of hard drives and SSDs. The larger chassis also usually means a more roomy keyboard. Weight is typically more than 6 pounds at this screen size, and sometimes 10 pounds or more for gaming rigs. These systems aren't meant to be portable, and they typically don't have long battery life.

Almost all offer screen resolutions of at least full HD or 1,920 by 1,080 (often abbreviated 'FHD' or '1080p'), while an increasing number feature displays with the big-screen resolution of 4K (3,840 by 2,160 pixels). Between 4K and 1080p, an emerging resolution in panels this size is QHD, or 2,560 by 1,440 pixels; QHD is showing up in a few elite-level machines, such as certain high-end configurations of the Alienware 17. But 1080p is by far the most common resolution you'll see. Also know: Touch screens are rare at this size. (See our roundup of the best 17-inch laptops.)

Ultraportables

Walk down any laptop aisle, and you'll notice that the selection of laptops has become dramatically thinner and sleeker over the last couple of years. Each of these wafer-thin systems represents a new vision for ultraportable computing: a no-compromises laptop light enough that you'll forget it's in your briefcase, with a long-lasting battery that will keep you working even when no power outlet is available. Fast storage, including 128GB, 256GB, or 512GB solid-state drives (SSD), or more affordably, 32GB to 64GB of slower eMMC flash, gives these ultraportables the ability to resume work in seconds after being idle or asleep for days. A significant slice of this market now belongs to convertible-hybrid laptops and detachable-hybrid tablets, often called '2-in-1' devices (see the next section for more information), but ultraportables are still a distinct category.

Most important, the entire category has thinned down in general. Whether you're looking at sliver-thin ultraportables, mainstream PCs, or even gaming machines, laptops of every flavor today are thinner, lighter, and better suited to life on the go. The best of these models will still cost you a pretty penny, particularly if you're looking for a business system that won't weigh you down when you travel for work, but they offer remarkable performance and often come with several high-end features as well. Touch screens (with 1080p resolution), full-size HDMI ports, and 8 or more hours of battery life are commonplace, and premium laptops (with premium prices) now come with high-resolution screens, up to 3,840-by-2,160 resolution (4K) at the top end.

For more, check out The Best Ultraportables and The Best Business Laptops.

Hybrid Laptops

The parallel evolution of powerful tablets and laptops' emphasis on touch capability haven't just encouraged the growth of those individual categories—they've created one that combines them. Hybrid systems, a.k.a. 2-in-1s, are capable of functioning either as a laptop or a tablet, depending on what you need (or want) at any given moment. This gives you a lot more freedom when interacting with the device, and makes it more functional in more places.

There are two types of 2-in-1. The first is the convertible-hybrid, which transforms from a laptop to tablet and back again by rotating all the way around on the display's hinge. You can also stop at various positions along the way, if you want to stand the screen up on the keyboard like a kiosk display, or if you want to balance it on its edges, tent-style, so you can use just the touch screen in very little space. This design is best if you're interested in a tablet, but expect to need a good keyboard with some frequency.

If the keyboard is less important, the second kind, the detachable hybrid, might be the better way to go. These are primarily tablets that you can dock with an accessory keyboard for laptop-like functionality. Some of these designs offer docking keyboards with secondary batteries that provide all-day charge, while others opt for Bluetooth keyboards, forgoing the bulk of a docking hinge and connecting wirelessly.

Interested in one of these alternative types? Check out our roundups of the Best 2-in-1s and the Best Windows Tablets.

Mainstream and Premium Models

While the entire laptop category has gotten slimmer, there's still a market for larger 'classic' desktop-replacement laptops that blend premium design and function. Desktop replacements aren't quite as easy to cart around as smaller ultraportables, but these 14- and 15-inch laptops offer everything you need in a day-to-day PC. They have bigger displays, as well as a broader selection of ports and features, and are one of the few categories that still offer optical drives. Screen resolutions run the gamut from 1,366 by 768 for budget systems to the more mainstream 1,920-by-1,080-pixel resolution, up to the 3,840-by-2,160-pixel resolution found on high-end multimedia laptops intended for graphics professionals.

Media and Gaming Machines

Laptop and desktop sales may have started to decline in recent years, with tablet sales expanding to fill the gap, but gaming PC sales have actually increased. For anyone who wants top-of-the-line performance for PC games, the combination of a high-end processor, a potent discrete graphics card, and a large, high-resolution display is well worth the higher prices that such gaming rigs frequently command. And do those prices ever run high—while an entry-level gaming laptop typically starts at about $799, you can expect to pay $3,000 or more for a system with a powerful processor, lots of memory, and one or more high-end GPUs with the horsepower needed to play games with all the graphical details maxed out.

Before you drop a grand or two on a gaming laptop, you should know what you're getting for your money. Powerful quad-core processors are par for the course, with Intel Core i7 chips pushing serious performance even for non-gaming applications. Discrete GPUs from Nvidia and AMD provide silky-smooth graphics and impressive frame rates; some high-end rigs come with two GPUs, helping justify their high prices. External GPU docks are also an option, connected to the laptop via a Thunderbolt 3 cable. Additional features to watch for include high-resolution displays and hard drives that offer 1TB or more of local storage space, so you can store your entire game library on the machine.

Not all gaming laptops are hulking beasts, however. The sleek designs of ultraportables have given rise to a new breed of machine that puts gaming-level performance into a more portable design, with the sleek build and long-lasting battery life you haven't traditionally seen in this category. But this high-level performance doesn't come cheap here, either—gaming ultraportables usually run in the $2,000 range.

Check out our top-rated gaming laptop picks.

Chromebooks

Chromebooks are at the other end of the pricing spectrum from gaming laptops. These Chrome OS–based laptops generally run from $199 to around $500 in price, with many in the middle of that range. The $999 Google Pixelbook is an outlier that competes with Windows-based premium ultraportables. These power-efficient systems are made primarily to surf the Internet using Chrome OS. Small in stature, tall in power, narrow of purpose, and wide of vision, Chrome OS is essentially the Google Chrome browser running on hardware specs that would be considered 'tight' for a Windows PC. System memory is typically a lean 2GB to 4GB, and local storage is commonly limited to 16GB of flash memory (though you will see systems with 32GB to 64GB). But that's certainly enough to get on to the Internet, where cloud services like Google Drive store your files.

A primary benefit of Chrome OS is that it is relatively immune to the malware plaguing Windows systems, because you're not running Windows programs at all. Chrome OS updates also take seconds, rather than the minutes and hours you might wait on macOS and Windows updates. If you spend more than 90 percent of your computer time in a Web browser, you should have no trouble using a Chromebook as your primary PC.

A recent development is the ability to run Android apps from the Google Play Store on Chromebooks. This perk lets you use the laptop, even when you're not connected to the Internet. These are the same apps you run on your phone, including games, productivity apps, and streaming video services. Productivity apps like Word and Excel extend the Chromebooks' usefulness offline.

Chrome OS has also recently expanded into the tablet form factor to compete with the Apple iPad and Android tablets. Chrome OS-powered tablets like the HP Chromebook x2 and the Google Pixel Slate come without built-in keyboards, which makes them extremely portable. They're an intriguing option for frequent travelers who don't need a conventional laptop.

In the market for a Chrome OS laptop? We've rounded up the best Chromebooks available. If you're simply on a strict budget, our list of the best cheap laptops is worth a look.

Understanding Laptop Connections: Ports and Slots

Connectivity is key for a modern laptop. Almost every model on the market today offers Bluetooth for connecting wireless peripherals, and Internet connectivity via 802.11ac Wi-Fi. Mobile broadband options, for when there's no Wi-Fi hotspot handy, include 3G, 4G HSPA+, and 4G LTE, but these are increasingly rare, as users opt for personal mobile hotspots that work with several devices or tether their smartphone to use its broadband connection.

Ultraportables and desktop replacements alike depend upon USB connectivity to work with a broad range of accessories and peripherals. USB 3.0, which offers much greater bandwidth and faster data transfer than USB 2.0, can be found in all but the oldest and lowest-priced designs; it's usually identifiable by a port colored in blue or labeled with the letters 'SS' (for Super Speed). Some USB ports can charge handheld devices even when the laptop is powered down. Look for a lightning bolt icon next to the USB logo for these charging ports.

Although for a while manufacturers like Apple, HP, and Lenovo implemented Thunderbolt and Thunderbolt 2 interfaces as a faster alternative to USB 3.0 for hooking up monitors, storage devices, and docking stations, for the most part they did not gain widespread adoption. That's not the case with USB Type-C and Thunderbolt 3, however. In addition to allowing for huge amounts of throughput as well as power delivery, the USB Type-C interface is much smaller than the older (Type-A) USB port. (You also don't have to worry about flipping the orientation of the plug.) This makes it ideal for the svelte laptops (half an inch or less) that are popular today. The downside is that you'll also have to give up larger, useful ports like Ethernet and HDMI, unless you're willing to carry around dongles for each, which can be inconvenient.

Thunderbolt 3 rides in on USB-C's coattails, using the same plug and socket, with extra circuitry to boost throughput to 40Gbps for humungous data transfers. That's eight times as fast as USB 3.0, and four times as fast as USB 3.1/USB-C. USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 are showing up in a lot of new laptops, from $229 budget models to $5,000 mobile workstations; Apple MacBooks and MacBook Pros that use it exclusively are among the highest-profile adoptees to date. Because of the general necessity of having thinner, more extensible ports in computer hardware of all types, these two interfaces are rapidly proliferating. This year, Thunderbolt 3 speeds will be integrated into the USB standard, likely dealing a death blow to USB 3.0.

The venerable VGA interface is rapidly disappearing as well, due in part to space constraints in ultraportables that preclude the bulky connector, and newer monitors and projectors that work better with DisplayPort, HDMI, USB-C or Thunderbolt 3. HDMI is especially popular lately, thanks to the demand for connecting laptops to TVs. Alternately, you can use an Apple TV or Google Chromecast device to beam video and audio to your TV wirelessly.

Also becoming scarce is the optical drive. With so many software and game purchases occurring online, and cloud services taking over for many local applications, the optical drive has been dropped from most model lines, with new systems touting slimmer, lighter form factors. For those who still need to install software from a disc or want to enjoy movies on DVD or Blu-ray, you can still find them (particularly on gaming laptops with 15-inch screens), but it takes some hunting. For those without, external USB DVD and Blu-ray drives are as easy to use as built-in drives.

While premium ultraportables rely solely upon SSDs for the performance boost offered by solid-state storage, most mainstream systems use a combination of an SSD and a traditional spinning hard drive. This lets you run programs quickly and still have lots of (slower) storage for your photos, videos, and other files. SSD-only laptops frequently top out at 256GB or 512GB, though you may occasionally see some premium systems with 1TB and larger drives. If you need more hard drive space, a USB 3.0 or USB-C external hard drive should do the trick.

What's Under the Hood?

The most dominant processor chips come from Intel. Made with ultraportables and hybrid designs in mind, Intel's latest Core mobile CPUs not only stretch battery life, but they also boast improved graphics processing. (See our picks for the longest-running laptops in terms of battery life.) These latest processors, identifiable by model numbers in the 8000s and 9000s (such as Core i7-8550U), also feature more cores than their predecessors. Nowadays, you will find a true quad-core CPU in your Core i5 laptop, with more power than an older dual-core. Dual-core chips live on, though, in the form of the cheaper Intel Pentium and Celeron CPUs that mostly power Chromebooks and entry-level laptops.

AMD's own line of processors also offers enhanced performance at low prices, but it can't match the efficiency gains of Intel's latest chips. You'll see the latest Mobile Ryzen chips in some budget and midrange machines, along with a select few models featuring AMD's Mobile Ryzen plus Vega graphics.

Whether you go with Intel or AMD, you should find an integrated graphics subsystem adequate for graphics tasks, unless you're a part-time gamer or a CAD user. High-end discrete graphics-processing units are terrific for 3D games, transcoding 1080p video, or watching 4K movies, but like fast processors, they also feast on laptop batteries.

Many laptop designs now incorporate non-removable batteries that can't be swapped out. While the move toward sealing batteries into the chassis does allow for thinner designs, it removes the possibility of swapping out batteries on the go for longer use between charging. On the other hand, the efficiency gains of Intel's newest processors mean that most laptops will still last for the better part of a day.

Beyond Plastic

As designs get sleeker and slimmer, manufacturers are using an array of materials in their construction. Plastic (or polycarbonate) is the least expensive and most commonly used material in laptop frames, but manufacturers have shown great ingenuity in making plastic not look cheap. The most common technique is in-mold decoration or in-mold rolling, a process made popular by Acer, HP, and Toshiba, in which decorative patterns are infused between plastic layers. This process has evolved into etched imprints and textures, commonly seen on laptop lids.

In the end, though, plastics are often associated with low-priced laptops, while higher-end models rely on metals. Common premium choices include aluminum, which has a more luxurious look, and can be fashioned into a thinner chassis than plastic. Unibody construction, where the entire chassis is made from a single piece of metal, has become the gold standard, as seen on Apple's MacBook and MacBook Pro lines. Other all-metal designs mimic this same look and feel, securely sandwiching two separate layers together.

Other common chassis materials include magnesium alloy and carbon fiber, both of which add strength while keeping overall weight low. Glass has long been found covering displays, but with ultra-strong variants like Gorilla Glass, you'll find the material being used in everything from the lid to the touchpad.

Should You Buy an Extended Warranty?

What Mac Laptop Is The Best

Most laptops are backed by a one-year warranty on parts and labor. The standard warranty is limited, so it won't cover accidents that stem from, say, spilling a drink on the keyboard or dropping the system to a hard surface.

Most laptop manufacturers also sell accidental coverage as a separate plan on top of optional extended warranties, so you might end up spending close to $300 for three years of comprehensive coverage. Apple offers a maximum three-year extended warranty ($249 to $379), while most Windows-based laptop manufacturers offer up to four years.

Our rule of thumb is that if the warranty costs more than 15 percent of the laptop's purchase price, you're better off spending the money on backup drives or services that minimize downtime. Of course, you can't put a price tag on peace of mind. There are instances when the logic board or the display—the most expensive parts of a laptop—fail, and while rare, such a catastrophe can cost you half of what the laptop is worth. Defective components usually break down during the first year; anything after that is typically attributed to wear and tear. If the breakdown can be attributed to a design flaw, laptop manufacturers will sometimes extend free warranties to cover these flaws, but only for certain models built during limited time periods.

Ready for Our Recommendations?

The systems below, some of the best we've recently tested, span the spectrum of features, performance, and price to provide top choices for each type of user. We refresh the list constantly to include the newest products, but because of the large number of laptops we review every year, not every top-rated product makes the cut. For the very latest reviews, and to search for more top-rated products, check out the Laptop Product Guide.

Best Laptops Featured in This Roundup:

What Mac Laptop Is Best For A College Student

  • Dell XPS 13 (9380) Review


    MSRP: $899.99

    Pros: Compact and classy. Beautiful rose-gold-and-white color scheme. 4K touch screen. Two Thunderbolt 3 ports plus USB-C.

    Cons: No HDMI or USB Type-A ports. 4K display isn't the best for battery life. Loaded models get pricey.

    Bottom Line: Dell moves the webcam to where it always should have been, fixing one of the very few faults of the drop-dead gorgeous, highly capable XPS 13. Earning our highest recommendation and a rare five-star rating, the XPS 13 (9380) is, indisputably, the best ultraportable laptop you can buy.

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  • Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 7 (2019) Review


    MSRP: $1179.00

    Pros: Thin, light, and very sturdy. ThinkPad-typical comfortable keyboard. Long battery life, as configured with 1080p screen. Many screen options. Optional Intel vPro. Full-size HDMI output.

    Cons: Small touchpad. Requires (not-included) Ethernet adapter.

    Bottom Line: With a sturdy, lightweight carbon-fiber exterior, an excellent keyboard, and plenty of security and manageability features, Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 7 is the best laptop you can buy for your business.

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  • Lenovo Yoga C930 Review


    MSRP: $999.00

    Pros: Integrated stylus. Thin and light. Stylish metal design with multiple color options. Optional 4K display. Webcam privacy filter. Dolby Vision (HDR) support. Excellent battery life.

    Cons: No SD-card reader. Ships with some bloatware.

    Bottom Line: With a revamped hinge, an integrated stylus, and a sleek design, Lenovo's Yoga C930 2-in-1 convertible laptop is even better than its winning predecessor.

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  • MSI GS65 Stealth (2019) Review


    MSRP: $1699.99

    Pros: Sharp design. High-quality, portable build. Better-than-60fps gaming at appealing price via GeForce GTX 1660 Ti GPU. 144Hz display. Long battery life for a gaming laptop. Solid port selection. Per-key backlighting.

    Cons: 512GB of storage in tester unit is a little tight for gaming. A bit of lid flex.

    Bottom Line: MSI's GS65 Stealth delivers better-than-60fps gaming performance and a premium, portable build with long battery life. With no real flaws, an appealing price, and power topped only by pricey alternatives, it's our top midrange gaming laptop.

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  • Razer Blade 15 Advanced Model (2019) Review


    MSRP: $2299.99

    Pros: Portable, spiffy design. High-end build quality. Hits well over 60fps while gaming with its RTX 2070 Max-Q GPU. 144Hz display benefits from high frame rates. Per-key RGB keyboard backlighting. Good battery life.

    Cons: Garish lid logo. Runs hot while gaming. White 'Mercury Edition' costs extra.

    Bottom Line: The 2019 Razer Blade 15 Advanced Model takes last year's slick, winning design and adds peppy, muscled-up Nvidia GeForce RTX graphics. It's our top recommendation in its class.

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  • Acer Chromebook 514 Review


    MSRP: $349.00

    Pros: Sharp-looking aluminum design for a budget machine. Excellent battery life. Touch display (as tested) looks great. Comfortable backlit keyboard. Big touchpad.

    Cons: Processor could use a pick-me-up. Ho-hum speakers.

    Bottom Line: Aluminum-clad and ready for all day off the plug, the Acer Chromebook 514 is a reasonably-priced standout on the premium Chromebook stage that's right-priced for students and budget buyers.

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  • Acer Predator Helios 300 (2019) Review


    MSRP: $1199.99

    Pros: Unbeatable gaming performance for the price. Solid build. 144Hz display. Good port selection. Seamlessly integrated component monitoring and boosting.

    Cons: 256GB of storage restrictive for gaming. Brief battery life.

    Bottom Line: Performing like a pricier machine without skimping on build quality or features, Acer's 2019 Predator Helios 300 delivers excellent value. It's our new top pick among entry-level gaming laptops.

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  • Apple MacBook Pro 13-Inch (2019) Review


    MSRP: $1299.00

    Pros: Thin, light, and stylish. Excellent trackpad. Long battery life. Brilliant display. Two Thunderbolt 3 ports.

    Cons: Relatively expensive, even in starting config. Limited connectivity for peripherals in lower-end models. Polarizing keyboard lacks vertical travel.

    Bottom Line: The 13-inch MacBook Pro is Apple's best ultraportable laptop, thanks to stylish looks, an excellent touchpad, and long battery life.

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  • Dell Latitude 7400 2-in-1 Review


    MSRP: $1599.00

    Pros: Proximity sensor streamlines sign in. Sturdy, sleek chassis. Thin screen bezels, and relatively large 14-inch screen. Excellent touchpad and keyboard. Three-year warranty. Prime-time battery life.

    Cons: Relatively low maximum screen brightness. Lackluster audio quality.

    Bottom Line: With a deluxe chassis, keyboard, and touchpad, paired with a snappy sign-in feature and superb battery life, Dell's Latitude 7400 2-in-1 is a top contender among business convertibles.

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  • Microsoft Surface Book 2 Review


    MSRP: $2499.00

    Pros: Premium alloy construction. Elegant convertible design. Sharp high-resolution touch display in new larger size. Discrete Nvidia GTX 1060 graphics. Very long battery life. Multiple configuration options. Xbox wireless controller receiver is integrated.

    Cons: 16GB RAM maximum. Surface Pen is an additional purchase. Adding SSD storage is pricey. Some finicky issues required troubleshooting in our tests.

    Bottom Line: The Surface Book 2 is a feat of design, a top-of-the-line premium convertible 2-in-1 laptop that's fast, long lasting, versatile, and portable. It's even up for gaming.

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