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Best Budget laptops

Best laptops for students

By Michael Passingham

Article 3 of 3

We round up the best laptops from our expert lab tests to help you find the very best laptop for school, college or university life.

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Our Test Labs compare features and prices on a range of products. Try Which? to unlock our reviews. You'll instantly be able to compare our test scores, so you can make sure you don't get stuck with a Don't Buy.

Heading to uni or college brings new challenges, both academic and social. A laptop guide can't help with the latter, but we can definitely get you started in picking the right kit to help with your studies. 

In this guide, we take you through some of the key laptop-buying decisions you'll have to make, then we'll provide our own recommendations for the best laptops for a given task.

Jump straight to our full list of independent laptop reviews.

Navigate this article by clicking on the sections below:

Top five considerations for student laptops 

  • Battery life: If you’re going to be out at lectures and seminars all day, and you can’t guarantee you’ll get a much sought-after plug socket, you’ll want a laptop that can achieve eight hours of battery life in our tests.
  • Weight: If you sling your laptop into a light bag or satchel, you’ll want one that weighs less than 1.5kg, so it doesn’t start weighing you down late in the day.
  • Screen size: If you don’t plan on taking laptop out of halls, go for a bigger screen size, from15.6in up to 17.3in.
  • Fast wi-fi: Not all laptops are created equal when it comes to wi-fi performance, so check our reviews to see whether we comment on particularly slow wireless connectivity that could affect your work.
  • Performance: Don’t overspend on a laptop that’s far too powerful for your needs. If you’re only going to be working on basic essays, you don’t need to spend £1,000 on an ultra-premium high-performance laptop, unless of course you want to. Similarly, you don’t want to spend £200 if you’re going to be editing videos. Our guide on how to buy the best laptop explains more.

Best laptops for essay writing and research 

If your work will predominantly be making notes and writing essays, you won’t need a powerful laptop. In fact, you can get away with spending very little indeed if you simply need a machine for writing words. Below, we’ve recommended one ultra-budget option for very simple work, a mid-range model that’s exceptionally competent and a third, more premium option for those with more money to spend.

What to look for: Chromebooks are usually excellent little writing devices, with a very basic operating system and web browser-centric software. If you’re thinking about picking a very cheap laptop, make sure your course isn’t going to get more demanding in later terms as cheap laptops don’t adapt well to more advanced tasks. See our guides to budget laptops and the best Chromebooks for more. 

All the recommendations, scores and prices in this article were correct in October 2018.

Three top essay and research laptops

Typical price £900.00
Which? score 92%
Reviewed Jul 2017
Performance:
5 out of 55 out of 5
Battery:
5 out of 55 out of 5
Screen quality:
5 out of 55 out of 5
Sound quality:
2 out of 52 out of 5
Portability:
4 out of 54 out of 5
Processor:
Member exclusive
Ram (GB):
Member exclusive
Screen size (inches):
Member exclusive
Resolution (pixels):
Member exclusive
Weight (kg):
Member exclusive

This thin and light laptop looks great and is light enough to carry around with you. Good performance and a wonderful design make it a great option.

Typical price £500.00
Which? score 72%
Reviewed Mar 2018
Performance:
4 out of 54 out of 5
Battery:
4 out of 54 out of 5
Screen quality:
4 out of 54 out of 5
Sound quality:
2 out of 52 out of 5
Portability:
3 out of 53 out of 5
Processor:
Member exclusive
Ram (GB):
Member exclusive
Screen size (inches):
Member exclusive
Resolution (pixels):
Member exclusive
Weight (kg):
Member exclusive

This cheap 2-in-1 will get all the basics done without breaking the bank. A solid choice.

Typical price £190.00
Which? score 65%
Reviewed Feb 2016
Performance:
2 out of 52 out of 5
Battery:
5 out of 55 out of 5
Screen quality:
4 out of 54 out of 5
Portability:
4 out of 54 out of 5
Processor:
Member exclusive
Ram (GB):
Member exclusive
Screen size (inches):
Member exclusive
Resolution (pixels):
Member exclusive
Weight (kg):
Member exclusive

This 11-inch laptop lets you flip it into a tablet thanks to its 360-degree hinge. It has a great touchscreen and the battery should last you all day. Performance isn’t fast, but it’s fine for light use.

Best laptops for film buffs and media students 

These laptops offer fast performance and excellent screens for eking out every last detail of your films.

What to look for: High-resolution screens and Intel Core or AMD Ryzen processors are the must-haves here. Lesser processors might not play high-resolution films so smoothly (although there are exceptions), while there’s nothing worse than watching an atmospheric movie on a screen that lacks contrast and brightness.

Media and movie laptops

Typical price £979.00
Which? score 89%
Reviewed Nov 2018
Performance:
4 out of 54 out of 5
Battery:
5 out of 55 out of 5
Screen quality:
5 out of 55 out of 5
Speaker sound quality:
4 out of 54 out of 5
Portability:
4 out of 54 out of 5
Processor:
Member exclusive
Ram (GB):
Member exclusive
Screen size (inches):
Member exclusive
Resolution (pixels):
Member exclusive
Weight (kg):
Member exclusive

This laptop not only has a great screen, it also has fantastic speakers. Plus, it’s powerful and portable, so it’s perfect for your essays, too.

Typical price £600.00
Which? score 80%
Reviewed Sep 2017
Performance:
5 out of 55 out of 5
Battery:
4 out of 54 out of 5
Screen quality:
4 out of 54 out of 5
Speaker sound quality:
3 out of 53 out of 5
Portability:
4 out of 54 out of 5
Processor:
Member exclusive
Ram (GB):
Member exclusive
Screen size (inches):
Member exclusive
Resolution (pixels):
Member exclusive
Weight (kg):
Member exclusive

This is one of the cheapest laptops we’ve tested to score very well in our screen tests. The Full HD display is rich and vibrant, making for a good movie-watching experience. Plus the laptop itself is thin, light and powerful, making it an all-round good buy.

Best laptops for production and design students, and gamers 

If your course involves editing multimedia or 3D work – such as media production, audio production, architecture, design or fashion design – you’ll benefit from picking a pricier laptop that has high-end internals that will step up to the plate whenever you need to get work done away from campus. Our first model is ideal for video editors and the second is perfect for 3D designers. The other benefit of these laptops is that they can be used for gaming – perfect for a bit of downtime.

What to look for: Intel Core i5 or AMD Ryzen 5 processors are the bare minimum here if you want a smooth experience editing multimedia projects, whatever they may be. An added bonus would be to select a laptop with so-called ‘dedicated’ graphics from a brand such as AMD or Nvidia. Read our guide to AMD, Intel and Nvidia for more information on what to look out for.

Powerful laptops for students

Typical price £1,449.00
Which? score 89%
Reviewed Dec 2016
Performance:
4 out of 54 out of 5
Battery:
5 out of 55 out of 5
Screen quality:
5 out of 55 out of 5
Speaker sound quality:
4 out of 54 out of 5
Portability:
4 out of 54 out of 5
Processor:
Member exclusive
Ram (GB):
Member exclusive
Screen size (inches):
Member exclusive
Resolution (pixels):
Member exclusive
Weight (kg):
Member exclusive

This top-end laptop has been the go-to media production option for years, and it fully deserves its place on your desk. If you can afford it, that is.

Typical price £700.00
Which? score 76%
Reviewed Jul 2017
Performance:
5 out of 55 out of 5
Battery:
4 out of 54 out of 5
Screen quality:
3 out of 53 out of 5
Speaker sound quality:
2 out of 52 out of 5
Portability:
2 out of 52 out of 5
Processor:
Member exclusive
Ram (GB):
Member exclusive
Screen size (inches):
Member exclusive
Resolution (pixels):
Member exclusive
Weight (kg):
Member exclusive

If you’re doing 3D design, a laptop with a dedicated graphics chip is important (see above). This model will whizz through any task you throw at it, and for not an obscene amount of cash.

Laptops to ignore 

And just to prove that not all laptops are created equal, here are two Don’t Buys that aren’t worth the money.

Top two laptops to avoid

Typical price £219.00
Which? score 45%
Reviewed Aug 2018
Ease of use:
3 out of 53 out of 5
Screen quality:
3 out of 53 out of 5
Sound quality:
1 out of 51 out of 5
Features:
2 out of 52 out of 5
Processor:
Member exclusive
Ram (GB):
Member exclusive
Claimed storage capacity (GB):
Member exclusive
Screen size (inches):
Member exclusive

This brand is apparently popular on Amazon, but our tests reveal this budget laptop is a complete false economy. It’s slow, poorly made and the battery life is awful. Other than that, it’s great.

Typical price £250.00
Which? score 41%
Reviewed Jun 2017
Ease of use:
2 out of 52 out of 5
Screen quality:
3 out of 53 out of 5
Sound quality:
2 out of 52 out of 5
Features:
3 out of 53 out of 5
Processor:
Member exclusive
Ram (GB):
Member exclusive
Claimed storage capacity (GB):
Member exclusive
Screen size (inches):
Member exclusive

A cheap laptop that skimps on the processor, speakers, keyboard, screen, and…well, just about all the components. Cheap? Yes. Cheerful? Oh dear no.

Student tech deals 

It's worth looking at how you can get the best deal on your new laptop.

If you’re looking for a higher-end laptop – perhaps you’re doing a course that requires a laptop with video, photo or 3D-editing work, you could opt for a deal from either Apple or Microsoft, both of which offer discounts to students.

The Microsoft Store website offers 10% discounts to students buying devices from its Surface Range. Be it Surface Laptop, Surface Pro or Surface Book, you’ll get a 10% price reduction, although this may not apply if there’s another offer already applied to the product you’re buying.

You’ll need to verify that you’re a school or uni student, but beyond that you won’t have to jump through any other hoops to get the discount – it’s applied at checkout.

Apple also offers student discounts on Mac products. If you’re a verified university student, you can get free Beats headphones (as of July 2018), 20% off AppleCare and differing levels of discounts depending on the product you’re buying.

Other laptop brand deals

All these laptop brands offer discounts if you buy direct from their online stores.

  • 20% of Lenovo laptops and accessories
  • Up to 20% off Dell and Alienware laptops
  • Up to 15% off Asus products
  • Up to 15% off tablets and laptops from Samsung

Keep in mind that while you can get some great discounts from most laptop brands, other online retailers may have better prices on products and might be doing their own limited-time student (or non-student) deals.

Student software deals

You've found your perfect laptop, now you need some software to install on it. 

Student software discounts and free alternatives

If your course requires you (or recommends) you use certain software, check to see whether any discounts or free offers are available.

For example, if your university subscribes to Microsoft Office365, you should be eligible for free Office software downloads, including Word, Excel and PowerPoint. You can find more information on the Microsoft website.

You can also subscribe to Adobe Create Cloud for £10 a month to get Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom: perfect if your course involves photography.

The 3D design software firm Autodesk also offers a three-year free licence to some of its software packages if you’re a student.

If you don’t want to pay for anything, there are free, open-source alternatives to popular software packages. These include GIMP or Pixlr for image editing, LibreOffice for productivity, Google Drive or Office 365 Free for web-based word processing and spreadsheets, and Blender for 3D modelling.

We test laptops more thoroughly than anyone else 

Our tests go further than those carried out by other organisations, and because Which? is independent and does not accept advertising or freebies (we buy all the products we test, unlike other sites), you can trust our reviews to give you the full, honest and impartial truth about a product.

When testing laptops in the Which? test lab we monitor, measure and test more than 260 different criteria to ensure that we have every base covered. Everything from battery life and screen brightness to button dimensions and USB data transfer rate is considered.

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