A laptop is about as essential to a college student as water is to a fish. Actually, there might be a better chance of a fish growing legs and lungs than there is of you passing college without a laptop.
Your laptop is going to hold all of your projects, all of your correspondence with your teachers and fellow students and all of the information that you’re going to need to research and learn.
This means that you’re going to be spending a lot of your time in college in front of the laptop you decide to purchase.
Luckily, most college assignments consist of essays or papers that you’ll need to submit to your teacher to score a passing grade.
Meaning that as long as your laptop is powerful enough to handle Microsoft Word, you should be alright.
However, this doesn’t mean that you should simply go for the most cost-effective model and call it a day.
Ignoring performance in favor of affordability can lead to buying a computer that is prone to crashing, lagging and making your assignments that much tougher because of it.
What we’re trying to say is that there needs to be a certain balance when picking out the best cheap laptops for college, and deciding which ones are actually worth some consideration.
A Tool For Every Job
We'd like to clarify that the list we've created isn't a comprehensive list of the best laptops currently available.
The items that appear on our list are what we consider to be the most powerful laptops that you can get within a specific price range.
Most college students will have limited budgets, so we’re hoping to help them make an informed decision and pick a laptop that is a good value and will support them through their college years
What we can’t guarantee, however, is that any of these laptops will manage to be a good fit for every field of study.
Graphic design, video editing and programming are only a few courses that require a more robust laptop than anything that you may find on our list.
In those cases, you won’t have a choice but to purchase a more expensive and higher-performance machine.
Speaking of expensive, Apple laptops are particularly notorious for their almost criminally high price tags.
Now, before we continue, we want to mention that we don’t want to go into the MacBook vs. PC debate.
Both sides can endlessly argue over the quality of the touchscreen display or the multiple flaws in Windows 10 and Microsoft that make the Apple operating system much more user-friendly, but quite frankly, we simply don’t care.
The PC vs. MacBook and the Android vs. iPhone debate have been going on for a long time, and they won’t stop anytime soon.
However, regardless of which side you take in this debate, there is one thing that even Apple fans can’t defend, and that's the price of the items themselves.
There are plenty of reasons why people might buy a MacBook Air or a MacBook Pro, key among which is the style, resale value and their own preference for the macOS.
However, none of these are good reasons why the average college student should pick an Apple product over a more affordable alternative with higher performance and stats.
The resale value doesn’t matter since this laptop is meant to be used for college work and not to turn a profit; the software is only ever necessary if the course itself involves Apple-exclusive programs like Final Cut Pro, and the style is meaningless.
In general, most Apple laptops aren’t a viable option for a college student, especially when there are budget laptops with the same or better specs.
What To Look For
Now that we’ve firmly established what to avoid, we thought we should go over the qualities that you should be looking for when browsing for a new laptop.
These are only the most general items that you should look for in a laptop, and we’ll go over a lot more specific details further down in the laptop information portion of the article.
We included this section to give you a general idea of what sort of qualities you should pay attention to when looking for the best cheap laptops for college, in case you decide to ignore our list and simply try to find one yourself.
There really isn’t much point in prioritizing FPS and screen refresh rates unless you’re looking for a gaming laptop to occupy yourself during your free time, rather than something that’s meant mostly for assignments and taking notes in class.
All you really need is to make sure that the laptop has an anti-glare screen, or at the very least one that is non-reflective so that you can see the contents of the monitor better.
This may seem pretty basic, but trust us, with the amount of time that you’ll have to spend in front of your screen, the less possibility of eyestrain, the better.
2. Battery Life
A decent CPU is important, a good keyboard is even more so, but the most important thing you need to be looking for in a laptop is a long battery life.
The benefits of longer battery life for your laptop are pretty self-explanatory, but most people seem to ignore this feature in favor of getting a laptop with better components.
A laptop with no battery life is a laptop with about as much portability as your average static PC, at twice the price and half the build quality.
If you buy a laptop that you can’t use in class without being 2 feet away from a power socket, then you might find that most of the time you won’t even bother bringing it along with you, negating the primary reason for buying it.
3. A Lack of Features
The idea of looking for a laptop specifically by searching out computers that are sparsely equipped is pretty strange, but our reasoning is pretty simple.
In short - regardless of how small or seemingly insignificant, any additional features will cost extra.
Now, we should clarify that we aren’t saying that you should avoid laptops that dare to feature even something as simple as a webcam or an sd card reader.
What we are saying is that even budget laptops will have their price point pushed up by every extra feature, even things as minuscule as print recognition sensors, for example.
Try to look past the information blurbs on features that most laptop sites bombard you with, and simply pay attention to the three main components - the processor, the RAM and the hard drive.
The Best Cheap Laptops for College
There are seven laptops on our list. They all have similarities, but also more than enough differences to make them each an appealing choice for just about any college student.
Of course, there are better and cheaper laptops available out there, but for our money, these 7 provide a perfect balance of affordable prices and versatile performance.
Our list of the seven best cheap laptops for college consists of the following:
1. Acer Chromebook 314 - $233
Processor - Intel Celeron - N4000
RAM - 4 GB
Memory - 32 GB Flash Memory
As the cheapest pick on our list, you might expect this to be the laptop with the least to offer; however, you might be surprised.
In general, the Acer Chromebook does seem to be pretty barebones, having only the most basic components and having no defining traits to speak of.
Contrary to what you might believe, these weaknesses aren’t all that important and this particular Acer can still be useful.
For a computer that costs so ridiculously little, the Chromebook is actually about as well equipped as many other laptop models that cost +$100 or more.
This laptop comes with everything you might need to get by in college - a good battery life of around 10 hours and a full HD 14” screen with a crisp display.
Additionally, the Chrome OS that comes with every Chromebook is very easy to learn and use, and you’ll find some of the features quite useful.
If you’re looking for a laptop that’s geared towards taking notes in class and answering project emails, then this is the best choice, without a doubt.
2. Lenovo Ideapad - $330
Processor - Intel Pentium Gold - 6405U
RAM - 4 GB
Memory - 128 GB SSD
This laptop is a viable option purely due to the large solid state drive that you’ll have at your disposal if you buy it.
Granted, an SSD is about as common as a laptop having wifi connectivity, but for this laptop's price point, the 128 GB SSD is actually pretty decent.
Speaking of internet connectivity, the laptop comes with Bluetooth network tethering options, as well as a pretty decent, 6-hour average battery life on a full charge.
The Lenovo Ideapad also comes with a Windows 10 OS as standard, an integrated Intel UHD Graphics card, a 1366 x 768-pixels screen with anti-glare, and a keyboard with good feedback.
While the general specs aren’t all that bad, don’t expect to use this laptop for gaming or editing video or audio files.
The Ideabook knows exactly what it is - a lightweight, portable laptop that you can use for pretty much any sort of Microsoft Office document that you need for an assignment and very little else.
3. Dell Inspiron - $330
Processor - Intel Celeron
RAM - 4 GB
Memory - 128 GB SSD
The Dell Inspiron comes with a pretty large 15” monitor, with a 1366 x 768-pixel resolution and an Intel UHD graphics card.
The large LED-backlit screen makes writing documents or doing online research much less painful on the eyes.
Unfortunately, the screen size doesn’t really fix the problem of the generally grainy quality of the display itself.
This won’t be an issue for most people, but if you need the laptop for something in the vein of video or picture editing, then you’re going to have a pretty difficult time.
However, the laptop does come with an HD webcam with a resolution of 720p at 3-fps, making it a good choice for attending online classes.
The touchpad is also very accurate and traces your movements with pretty impressive precision.
4. Acer Aspire 5 - $430
Processor - AMD Ryzen 3 - 3200U
RAM - 4 GB
Memory - 128 GB SSD
The 3.5 GHz dual-core processor might not be able to compare to a laptop that’s packing a Ryzen 5, but it’s more than a match for just about any 10th-gen i3 processor.
Add this onto the 1920x1080 Full HD IPS display that’s powered by an AMD Radeon Vega 3 Mobile graphics card, and you’ll get a laptop that can produce an incredibly vivid picture and handle multiple programs, tabs and functions at once, without any lag or freezes.
The Acer Aspire comes with the standard HDMI and power outputs, as well as two USB 2.0 ports and one USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A port.
All-in-all, the Aspire 5 is a great general-purpose laptop with an incredibly slim design and can be carried anywhere and used for just over 7 hours on a full battery.
5. Asus VivoBook - $443
Processor - AMD Ryzen 3 - 3200U
RAM - 8 GB
Memory - 256 GB SSD
The VivoBook has double the RAM that all of the laptops that we've mentioned so far. This extra RAM allows it to handle multiple programs at the same time smoothly.
Additionally, it also has double the amount of memory. While this isn’t quite as useful, there is still no small amount of benefits to having more disc space on your laptop.
A noticeable feature of the VivoBook is that the 15.6” screen has an 88% screen-to-body ratio. This means that the bezels (the borders between the screen and the frame) are an ultra-slim 5.7 mm, giving you a much wider viewing angle and a larger display to work with.
Aside from that, the VivoBook also comes with a backlit keyboard, with individually separated keys, a single Type-A and Type-C USB 3.0 port, two standard 2.0 USB ports and an HDMI port.
6. Acer Swift 3 - $669
Processor - Intel Core i5 - 1035G1
RAM - 8 GB
Memory - 256 GB SSD
You might have noticed a bit of a price jump between the last item on the list and this one.
While this is nothing compared to the price of the last item on our list, indeed, we’ve officially transitioned into the more expensive budget laptops that you can buy.
The price jump is a bit more understandable when you actually stop and think about the quality jump that happens along with it.
The Acer Swift 3 is a pretty good all-rounder, with an ideal balance between the processor, RAM and hard drive, which are all considered to be pretty high-grade.
Being an ultrabook, this laptop is incredibly thin and portable and has a battery life that should last a good 7 hours on a full charge.
The keyboard is also backlit, and all of the keys are separated by the design of the keyboard, making sure that the keys are less likely to get jammed up by dust falling in between.
7. Dell XPS 13 - $945
Processor - Intel Core i7 - 10510U
RAM - 8 GB
Memory - 512 GB SSD
Let’s address the elephant in the room - a laptop that costs more than $900 should by no means be considered cheap.
But here's the thing, while the Dell XPS 13 would be considered overpriced for an everyday computer, it’s actually quite cheap in terms of high-end ultrabooks.
This laptop is about as powerful as a gaming PC if you exclude the Nvidea GeForce GTX card at least, so this means that it can handle pretty much anything you can throw at it.
The 10th gen i7, in combination with the crisp 16:10 FHD screen, makes this a great choice for pretty much everything from programming to video editing and even graphic design.
It’s fully equipped with a fingerprint reader, backlit keyboard, 2 Thunderbolt 3 USB ports, as well as an HDMI and a 2.25mm webcam with 4 array digital microphones.
If you’re looking for a more powerful machine for your classes, then this is the best choice for a quality laptop that you can get at a relatively low price.
As we hopefully managed to convey throughout this article - all of these laptops can be a viable option for most college students.
The final decision of which one you buy, or if you ignore them all, is going to be up to you.
Feel free to see what the customer reviews say about each item on our list, and maybe try and find a laptop on your own.
We’d just like you to keep in mind that these are budget laptops, and they aren’t meant to last you all that long.
This is not to say that they’re unreliable, but just that if you discover that the laptop that you’re currently using is no longer up to the task, then you can easily and cheaply replace it.
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The 7 Best Cheap Laptops For College: