Best value student laptops 2020
Need an affordable laptop for university or college? With so many models out there, it's hard to know where to start! We'll help you review what's on offer and make the best choice...
A laptop should be right at the top of your list of things to take to uni. They're not always cheap, but it's likely you'll spend more time with this kit than you will with your closest friends, so it's important you make the right choice.
We've taken the time to research the best student laptops for any budget, but if you want to widen your search we'll guide you through the buying process and what you need to consider.
What’s in this guide?
Best student laptops 2020
With so many laptops to choose from, it's easy to get overwhelmed. We've distilled the best overall laptops to meet each student budget in this quick table:
|Dell XPS 13||Super powerful, Stunning HD display, Future proof||Sizeable investment||£1,249|
|HP Pavilion 14||Best value, Fast, Full HD||Average battery life||£799|
|Acer Aspire 3||1TB hard drive, Big screen, Great spec for the price||Poor battery life||£249|
Prices correct at time of writing.
How to buy the best laptop
Depending on what you intend to use your laptop for, some things will be more important than others. But no matter what you're after, this list of 10 things to remember when buying a laptop will ensure you get one that's right for you:
What is your price range?
We're serious about saving money, so of course, price is first on our list of things to consider!
There's so much choice out there in the laptop world, meaning there's also a vast difference in price between one model and the next. You could pay anything between £100 and £1,200 (and beyond) for a laptop these days, but just remember: you tend to get what you pay for.
We'd suggest choosing a budget, then doing some serious research to see how much you can get for that value, 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.
Remember that you'll need to install software updates fairly regularly, and a cheap-as-chips 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.
Which operating system is best for you?
Choosing between the three main operating systems – Windows, macOS or Chrome OS – is your next step.
Windows is the most common system you'll find on laptops that aren't made by Apple. Windows is used by most big businesses, as well as on home computers.
macOS is the operating system you'll find on all Apple products. As with most Apple devices, the focus here is on an elegant, user-friendly experience.
Chrome OS is the system 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.
The pros and cons of Windows versus macOS are widely debated, and we won't dive into them now.
As for ChromeOS? It's often perceived as quite limited and online-only, but the introduction of a local file manager and apps mean that the system is becoming more advanced. If you mainly 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 (taking into account the fact that Apple laptops are often much more expensive than an equivalent-spec Windows laptop).
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).
Does it fit comfortably into a rucksack? Laptop sizes range hugely from around 11" – 18" but we'd recommend going for something 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 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 a seriously impressive piece of kit.
Do you need a two-in-one touchscreen laptop?
This one is a reasonably new conundrum for laptop buyers: whether to go for a regular laptop or a convertible two-in-one tablet/laptop hybrid. We really are spoilt for choice these days!
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 hybrids 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 laptop?
If you tend to be a bit clumsy and prone to damaging all your best gadgets, some laptops that are designed to withstand a punishing owner.
But if you don't like the look of the more durable models on the market (also known as 'rugged laptops'), another option is to make sure there's adequate cover and a decent warranty included on the product.
Many laptops you'll find come with a free one-year basic warranty, meaning that most damage will be covered by this (but certainly not all). Some warranties won't cover you for fire damage, intentional damage, general wear and tear or loss/theft.
It's worth doing some digging to find out just how 'basic' the basic warranty is and if it's not adequate, ask if you can pay to upgrade it.
With so many manufacturers focusing on making 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 high-resolution screen?
Again, depending on what you want to be using your computer for, the display is something to consider. 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're a movie buff, or use your computer for doing anything creative like graphic design, you should opt for a higher resolution screen.
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 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 (hence why this section is a long one!).
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.
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 it.
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 computer.
Hard drives store your computer's data – everything from pictures to music and software is kept here.
The type of hard drive your laptop has is important. A solid state drive (SSD) has no moving parts and is therefore faster at retrieving information than a traditional hard disk drive (HDD, which is a spinning disk). HDDs also heat up when you try to retrieve lots of information, and overheating can make them function more slowly.
That said, as SSDs are still relatively new to the market, they tend to cost a little more too. They're also 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 long a battery life do you need?
Running out of battery on your laptop can be a real pain. If you're planning on solely using your laptop at home, this isn't such a big deal – but this would also suggest that a desktop computer could be a better choice, as you don't need portability.
If you do want portability, you'll want at least six hours of battery life when it's fully charged to get you through a full day at uni.
Don't trust the seller or manufacturer's word on battery power, as a lot of factors can determine how long it lasts in real life. Have a good read around some review sites for first-hand information from those already using the model you're interested in.
If you're worried about battery life, it's also 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. While some manufacturers like Apple have worked on releasing lighter chargers that are easily portable, some can be really bulky.
How big should your keyboard be?
Your keyboard and touchpad setup might not be something you think of prioritising at first. It may even seem trivial compared to other factors, but if 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 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!
Do you need any extra features?
Some extra features you can live without, but some are crucial. Most laptops come with a built-in Ethernet port, a few USB ports and a small webcam – all of which are pretty standard and essential.
Amazingly, however, some laptop models come without any USB ports nowadays – pretty bold as many of us still rely on them to back up your 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 not all lightweight notebooks 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 15%***||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.
*** 15% only available in the Dell Outlet. Standard student discount is 10%.
As with most electrical goods, you'll almost certainly find the best deal by shopping around online. Check out our current deals on computer and laptops for our top picks (a lot of these deals are time-sensitive so will only be available for a limited time).
Although some of the manufacturers' own sites offer a decent student discount, they're often a lot more expensive in the first place as they tend to sell products at their RRP (recommended retail price).
And no matter where you decide to buy 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! As such, it's worth taking a bit of time to think about whether you definitely need one at university or college.
For example, if you're mostly going to be using your 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 gonna have to raise your game and fork out for a laptop.
There's no point in having a great laptop if your internet connection is lagging behind, so check out the best student broadband deals and get the top speeds for less.