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Best laptops for students 2021

Need an affordable laptop for university or college? With so many models out there, it's hard to know where to start. Here, we'll help you review the best laptops and make an informed choice.

young person looking at laptops

Credit: Bodnar Taras – Shutterstock

A good student laptop should be right at the top of your list of things to take to uni. Great laptops for university don't need to break the bank. If you know where to look, you can find good deals.

We've taken the time to research and review the latest best student laptops for any budget. In this student laptop guide, we reveal our top picks for 2021 before sharing tips on buying, including what to look for when choosing the best laptop for university.

With so many student laptops to choose from, it's easy to get overwhelmed. So we'll start with a quick comparison table of the best university laptops to meet different budgets and needs:

Best student laptops 2021

LaptopBest forFeaturesPriceBest deal
acer swift 3
Acer Swift 3
Value for money 14" screen
1TB SSD
8GB RAM
11.5hr battery
£699 Check price »
Full review
MacBook Air
Apple MacBook Air M1
Battery life New M1 chip
258GB SSD
8GB RAM
18hr battery
£999 Check price »
Full review
HP Chromebook 14
HP Chromebook 14
Budget 14" screen
32 GB eMMC
4GB RAM
10.5hr battery
£239 Check price »
Full review
Microsoft Surface Go
Microsoft 12'5 Surface Go
Lightweight 1.1 kg
128GB SSD
8GB RAM
13hr battery
£699 Check price »
Full review
lenovo legion 5
Lenovo Legion 5
Gaming 15.6" screen
512GB SSD
8GB RAM
NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060
£999 Check price »
Full review

5 best laptop reviews

These are the best student laptops right now:

Acer Swift 3

acer swift 3 laptop

The best value for money.

Key features

  • 14-inch screen
  • Fingerprint scanner
  • 1TB SSD and 8GB RAM.

Acer Swift 3 review

The Acer Swift 3 is the perfect all-round laptop for students. Considering the great specs, it’s reasonably priced and gives you everything you need for your time at university. It’s reliable, has a decent keyboard for taking lecture notes and writing essays, and the Ryzen 5 processor even lets you use some heavier software as well.

You can easily pop it into your bag to bring to your lectures, as it only weighs 1.2 kg. And if you forget your charger, you can still power through your library sessions with the laptop’s 11.5-hour battery life.

The 1TB storage is another big plus, giving you more than enough space for all your documents, music, photos and movies. Add the HDMI, a USB-C and two USB ports into the mix and you’ve got yourself a solid laptop for your degree.

Buy now »

↑ Comparison table

 

Apple MacBook Air M1

macbook air m1 laptop

The laptop with the best battery life.

Key features

  • 18-hour battery life
  • Stellar performance with new M1 chip
  • 256GB SSD and 8GB RAM.

Apple MacBook Air M1 review

If you’re looking for the best battery life or want to quickly connect your other Apple products to your laptop, the MacBook Air M1 is a great choice. The new M1 chip has been a game-changer for Apple and, on top of that, the 18-hour battery life is almost unbeatable – especially for a laptop this thin and light.

Luckily, this MacBook Air also comes with the new and improved Magic Keyboard. While MacBooks used to have problems with the old Butterfly Keyboard, Apple fixed the issues in this newer model. And that’s great news for students! You’ll need a good keyboard, especially when taking lecture notes or write thousand-word-long essays.

While Apple products always have a certain price tag, the fantastic features that come with this laptop make it one of the best laptops for students.

Buy now »

↑ Comparison table

 

HP Chromebook 14

HP chromebook 14 laptop

The best budget laptop for students.

Key features

  • 10.5-hour battery life
  • Two USB and USB-C ports
  • 32GB eMMC and 4GB RAM.

HP Chromebook 14 review

Buying a laptop for university doesn’t have to break the bank and, luckily, Chromebooks are a fantastic budget-friendly alternative. They run on Chrome OS, allowing you to do anything you can do on a browser: check your email, use Google Docs, do online research, watch Netflix, etc.

While there are quite a few different Chromebooks out there, the HP Chromebook 14 stands out. HP is known for putting good keyboards in its laptops, and this Chromebook is no exception – especially for such a low price point, the quality is pretty solid. 

It only has 32GB of storage, but since you can store a lot of documents and files on the cloud, you probably won’t need a lot more. But the HP Chromebook 14 comes with a USB and USB-C slot on each side, allowing you to use an external hard drive, and a slot for a microSD card.

Keep in mind that Chromebooks are slightly limiting since Chrome OS can’t run certain programs that otherwise would on Windows or macOS. But if you don’t need to use any heavy software, or have a desktop computer at home, it’s the perfect budget-friendly laptop for students.

Buy now »

↑ Comparison table

 

Microsoft 12’5 Surface Go

microsoft surface go laptop

The best lightweight laptop for students.

Key features

  • Super light at 1.1 kg
  • Full-width keyboard
  • 128GB SSD and 8GB RAM.

Microsoft 12’5 Surface Go review

The Microsoft Surface Go is an ultraportable laptop, weighing just over a kilogram. Its slim design makes it easy to pop into a bag to bring to uni. But despite its weight, the body is solid and still includes a full-size keyboard and a large trackpad.

The Intel Core i5 gives you good performance, letting you work in Chrome and stream content without any problems. You could even do some light gaming or run editing software. And, with the 13-hour battery, you don’t have to worry about constantly bringing your charger everywhere.

And while the screen is only 12’5 inches, the 3:2 aspect ratio makes it feel much bigger because it contains more pixels in height compared to a 16:9 display. However, the small size of the Microsoft Surface Go only gives you one USB and USB-C port. That being said, the great performance, price point, and portability make it an awesome student laptop.

Buy now »

↑ Comparison table

 

Lenovo Legion 5

lenovo legion 5 laptop

The best gaming laptop for students.

Key features

  • NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 graphics card
  • 15.6-inch full HD display
  • 512GB SSD and 8GB RAM.

Lenovo Legion 5 review

If you like playing video games in your spare time (and definitely not while you should be researching your next uni project), you may want to get a laptop that you can use for both uni work and games. Luckily, there are some great options on the market, including the Lenovo Legion 5.

Gaming laptops are known to be more expensive than regular laptops because you have to fit desktop PC-like performance in a much smaller device. But the Lenovo Legion 5 sits under £1,000 – and while that’s one of the most expensive laptops on our list, it does give you stellar performance, and it’s very durable.

The Lenovo Legion 5 stands out because it doesn’t look like your average gaming laptop. It has a very clean and mature design. What’s more, the screen is 15.6 inches, which is larger than any of the other laptops on our list.

The backlit keyboard is also very solid, perfect for writing essays and playing games. On top of that, you get four USB and two USB-C ports, and it’s also possible to attach an HDMI cable. All in all, a great option for gamers.

Buy now »

↑ Comparison table

 

Still not quite there with your laptop budget? See our guide on how to make money quickly – you’ll have your funds together in no time.

How to buy the best laptop

Depending on what you intend to use your laptop for, some features will be more important than others. But no matter what you’re after, this list of 10 things to remember when buying a study laptop will ensure you get the right one for you:

  1. How much can you spend on your uni laptop?

    wolf of wall street throwing money off a boat

    Credit: Paramount Pictures

    As there are so many laptops to choose from, there’s a vast difference in price between one model and the next. You could pay anything between £100 and £1,200 (and beyond) for a student laptop.

    But just remember: you tend to get what you pay for.

    We’d suggest choosing a budget, then doing some serious research to see what laptops are best for students within that price range, using this article as a guide.

    When you’re thinking about value for money, don’t forget about lifespan. There’s not much point in buying a laptop that’s half the cost of another if it’s also going to last for half the time.

    Bear in mind that you’ll need to install software updates fairly regularly, and a budget laptop with fairly poor specs (more on this later) will probably struggle to deal with all of this, eventually slowing down to a point where you’ll need to buy another new laptop.

    This means that it’s important to focus on specs vs price to find a mid-ground compromise.

  2. Which operating system is best for your laptop?

    The next step when you’re considering the best laptop for you is to choose between Windows, macOS or ChromeOS operating systems:

    • Windows – This is the most common system and is used by most big businesses, as well as on home computers.
    • macOS – You’ll find this operating system on all Apple products. As with most Apple devices, the focus here is on an elegant, user-friendly experience.
    • Chrome OS – This system is available on Chromebooks (essentially an inexpensive laptop). They’re simple and secure, but a lot more limited in terms of what they can actually do.

    It’s worth noting that for Chrome OS, the introduction of a local file manager and apps mean that the system is becoming more advanced. If you only plan to use your laptop for writing essays and browsing the web, then ChromeOS arguably does everything you need it to. Plus, it’s super easy to use.

    For a system with broader functions, it’s mostly down to personal preference whether you go for Windows or macOS. However, bear in mind that Apple laptops probably won’t fall into the ‘cheap student laptop’ category.

  3. What size laptop do you need?

    words 300 inch flatscreen written over a picture of barney and lily from how i met your mother on a sofa

    Credit: CBS

    Consider the laptop’s size and weight, and whether you’re likely to use it more at home (in which case you can go a bit bigger) or will be taking it to uni each day (in which case you’ll want to go small and light).

    Laptop sizes range hugely from around 11″ – 18″ but we’d recommend going for around 13″ or smaller (and weighing no more than about 1.8kg) if you’ll be carrying your laptop around a lot.

    If you want a lightweight student laptop without having to compromise on specs, you may want to consider going for an Ultrabook. As always, Apple’s take on this (the MacBook Air) is more expensive than the Windows equivalent but, whatever you go for, you’ll be getting an impressive piece of kit.

  4. Do you need a two-in-one touchscreen laptop?

    Nowadays, students looking for study laptops are facing a pretty new dilemma: whether to go for a regular laptop or a convertible two-in-one tablet/laptop hybrid. We really are spoilt for choice.

    With the lightness and portability of tablets becoming ever more popular, two-in-one laptops are becoming a big contender on the market, boasting the best of what both tablets and laptops can offer.

    They can be a bit more pricey than a regular laptop, but shop around and you could come across some decent deals on budget models.

    However, while hybrid laptops are lightweight and convenient, they can be quite difficult to repair if they get damaged. We’d recommend taking out some ADC insurance on this one (see point five for details!).

    tom allingham headshot

    I hate using the touchpad on laptops, so I was really happy when I bought a two-in-one. However, after accidentally treading on it and cracking the screen (less than a year into owning it), it became basically unusable.

    When I took it to be fixed, it turned out that as the product (and many other two-in-one laptops) was relatively uncommon, the manufacturer no longer made the screens for it.

    All this meant that I had to wait three months for an independent repair shop to track down a replacement screen in Hong Kong, and pay the wrong side of £150 for the privilege.

    The replacement screen is nowhere near as sensitive as the original, and aesthetically it’s not as slick either. In hindsight, I wish I’d had insurance!

    Tom Allingham, one of Save the Student’s editors

  1. Do you need to insure your uni laptop?

    smashed laptop screen

    Credit: Pirat Pirat – Shutterstock

    If you’re slightly clumsy and have a track record of damaging your favourite gadgets, a lot of the best student laptops on the market are designed to withstand a punishing owner.

    But, if you don’t like the look of the more durable models (also known as ‘rugged laptops’), another option is to make sure there’s adequate cover and a decent warranty included on the product.

    It’s worth doing some digging to find out just how ‘basic’ the basic warranty of a budget laptop is, as some warranties won’t cover you for fire damage, intentional damage, general wear and tear or loss/theft.

    With manufacturers currently focusing on making study laptops lighter and smaller, they now tend to be a bit less durable, and more difficult to repair.

    Therefore, we recommend you purchase PC accidental damage coverage (ADC) in addition to your free warranty. Laptops might also be included in your or your parents’ contents insurance, so check that out too.

  2. Do you need a student laptop with a high-resolution screen?

    There are several different screen resolutions for laptops, ranging from 1366 x 768 (HD) to 1920 x 1080 (Full HD), all the way up to 3840 x 2160 (Ultra HD/4K).

    If you plan on using your laptop for a creative degree like graphic design, you should opt for a higher resolution screen. But, you’ll need to plan a higher budget for this.

    Regardless of what you’re using it for, don’t go for anything that has a resolution of less than 1366 x 768. These numbers indicate the number of ‘lines’ on your screen which work to build the picture that appears on your screen – the higher the number, the better the picture.

  3. What specifications does your budget laptop need?

    computer programming chip

    One of the most important things to consider when making your purchase is the power and speed a laptop has, as this will affect how the laptop works day-to-day.

    The power and speed of your laptop are determined by three factors: CPU (central processing unit), RAM (random access memory) and the type of hard drive it has (HDD or SSD).

    CPU

    CPU is the raw power of the computer which processes information and instructions. It’s measured in gigahertz (GHz) and its power determines the speed at which it can process information and the number of instructions it can process at one time.

    Budget laptops with 1.0GHz (or less) will only be able to cope with pretty basic tasks, whereas higher-end laptops will have around triple that and, as such, can handle most things you throw at them.

    RAM

    RAM is basically your computer’s short-term memory, temporarily storing the data that you’re actively using so that it can be accessed as quickly as possible.

    So it follows that the more RAM your laptop has, the more you can have running at any one time – like listening to music while playing a game.

    Lightweight laptops can function perfectly with 4GB of RAM, while 8GB is more sensible if you plan on doing more with your study computer.

    Hard drive

    Hard drives store your computer’s data – everything from pictures to music and software is kept here.

    The type of hard drive your university laptop will have is important. A solid state drive (SSD) has no moving parts, making it faster at retrieving information than a traditional hard disk drive (HDD, which is a spinning disk).

    SSDs are almost always smaller than HDDs (which can go into several terabytes, or TB), often capping out at about 128GB or 256GB.

    As such, some laptops will have both an SSD and an HDD, allowing you to quickly access the files you need the most without skimping on storage space.

  4. How much battery life do you need?

    Running out of battery on your laptop can be a real pain. For your study laptop, you’ll want at least six hours of battery life when it’s fully charged to get you through a full day at uni.

    If you’re worried about battery life and expect to have longer days at uni, it’s worth considering the size and weight of the charger that comes with it. If it’s light enough, it won’t be such a hassle to pack in your bag and carry along with the computer.

  5. How big should your laptop keyboard be?

    cat using laptop

    Your keyboard and touchpad setup might not be something you think of prioritising when looking for the best uni laptop. But since you’ll be spending large amounts of time on your laptop, it’s crucial to check that you’ve got a nice set-up.

    Things to watch out for when looking for a good student laptop include the amount of space between each key, and even that it’s got enough keys in the first place.

    Simplified keyboards are common these days as they look pretty and can allow for a smaller laptop. But there’s no denying that they’re a real pain when you have to hold down four keys at once just to use the hashtag symbol!

  6. What extra features does your uni laptop need in 2021?

    Most laptops come with a built-in Ethernet port, a few USB ports and a small webcam – all of these features are pretty standard and essential.

    Amazingly, however, some budget laptop models come without any USB ports nowadays – pretty bold as many of us still rely on them to back up our documents (which you MUST do!) or connect an external keyboard/mouse.

    USB 3.0 is the latest upgrade. Referred to as the ‘SuperSpeed USB’, it can transfer data up to ten times as fast as its predecessor, USB 2.0. Definitely worth looking out for.

    Disk drives, on the other hand, have been scrapped in many new models to save weight and they’re becoming pretty obsolete. If you do a lot of DVD watching or burning things onto disks, you can always buy an external drive if necessary.

    HDMI ports (which allow you to plug your laptop into a separate screen or TV so you can watch streamed shows) are standard, but it’s worth bearing in mind that not all lightweight notebooks will have them. Apple laptops are likely to have a Thunderbolt instead, but you can buy HDMI adapters for just a few quid.

Best places to buy a laptop

RetailerStudent discount*Delivery cost**Shop
Acer15%FreeVisit »
AmazonFree with PrimeVisit »
AO.comFreeVisit »
AppleUp to 10%FreeVisit »
ArgosFree click and collectVisit »
ASUSFreeVisit »
Currys PC WorldFreeVisit »
DellUp to 20%Free Visit »
eBayDepends on sellerVisit »
Ebuyer.com£3.49Visit »
HPUp to 30%FreeVisit »
John LewisFreeVisit »
Laptops Direct£4.99Visit »
LenovoUp to 30%FreeVisit »
Microsoft10%FreeVisit »
VeryFree click and collectVisit »

* We’ve only listed the retailers with ongoing student discounts – some shops run limited-time student discounts, so it’s always worth double-checking.
** Faster delivery is often available at extra cost.

For the best student laptop deals and budget uni laptops, you’ll probably need to search online. Check out our current deals on computers and laptops for our top picks (a lot of these deals are time-sensitive so will only be available for a limited time).

One of our favourite uni laptop discounts in 2021 is the Dell student discount.

You can also sign up to our weekly newsletter and daily Telegram, as these often include deals on laptops and tablets.

Third-party sites like Amazon or Currys PC World may well be cheaper than buying directly from the manufacturer, even without a student discount. Compare the prices before buying.

And no matter where you decide to buy your student laptop from, first check how well the site is rated on sites like Trustpilot – you’ll soon regret trying to save money if you end up with the worst customer service known to man.

Think you need a TV Licence to watch BBC iPlayer on your laptop? Technically you do, but this crucial technicality means most students can get away without paying.

Do you need a laptop for university?

words I have no idea what I'm doing written over a picture of a dog working on a computer

Although prices of laptops have fallen in the last few years, they still don’t come cheap. It’s definitely worth taking a bit of time to think about whether you definitely need a laptop at university or college.

For example, if you’re mostly going to be using your study laptop to check Facebook, do some online shopping and stream your favourite shows, you might be better off with an iPad or tablet as opposed to a laptop.

However, if you’re in the market for something to help you write essays and your dissertation, you’re going to have to raise your game and fork out for a laptop suitable for students.

There’s no point in having the best uni laptop if your internet connection is lagging behind, so check out the top student broadband deals and get the top speeds for less.

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