Best value student laptops 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.
A good student laptop should be right at the top of your list of things to take to uni. Particularly as you'll likely be spending more time with your laptop than you will with your friends at uni, getting the right one matters.
Great laptops for university don't need to break the bank – when you know where to look, you can find a good deal.
We've taken the time to research the best student laptops for any budget. In this student laptop guide, we'll take you through the buying process and what you need to consider when looking for the best laptop for university.
What's in this guide?
Best student laptops 2021
With so many student laptop deals to choose from, it's easy to get overwhelmed. We've distilled the best university laptops to meet each student budget in this quick table:
|Dell XPS 13||Long battery life, Stunning HD display, Future proof||Sizeable investment||£859|
|Acer Swift 3||Great value, Good performance, Lightweight||Could have poor sound quality||£669|
|HP 14 Laptop||14" screen, Good spec for the price||Not great battery life||£329|
Prices correct at the time of writing.
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:
How much can you afford to spend on your uni laptop?
As there are so many laptops to choose from on the market, 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.
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.
What size laptop do you need?
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.
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!).
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
Do you need to insure your uni laptop?
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.
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.
What specifications does your budget laptop need?
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 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 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 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 which makes it faster at retrieving information than a traditional hard disk drive (HDD, which is a spinning disk).
As SSDs are still relatively new to the market, they tend to be on the costly side. What's more, they're 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.
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.
How big should your laptop keyboard be?
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!
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
|Retailer||Student discount*||Delivery cost**||Shop|
|Amazon||–||Free with Prime|
|Apple||Up to 10%||Free|
|Argos||–||Free click and collect|
|ASUS||Up to 15%||Free|
|Currys PC World||–||Free|
|Dell||Up to 20%||Free|
|eBay||–||Depends on seller|
|HP||Up to 35%||Free|
|Lenovo||Up to 20%||Free|
|Very||–||Free click and collect|
* 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.
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.
Do you need a laptop for university?
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.