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Best Laptops for Students

According to our testers, these back-to-school models score high marks for performance and battery life

After completing the painstaking process of choosing the right college, students are routinely confronted with yet another life-changing decision: "Which laptop do I buy?"

Unlike microwaves and twin-sized sheet sets, a computer is a deeply personal purchase—one that, for better or worse, you're likely to be stuck with for the next four years. ('Sup, super seniors.) So before making a final call, be sure to do your homework.

Take a moment to consult the school website for guidelines. University IT departments often provide a list of computer requirements (along with links to exclusive student discounts from manufacturers such as Dell, HP, and Lenovo). Business and engineering students, for example, may have to use Windows-based software that doesn't work on an Apple computer unless they partition the hard drive. Those in creative fields such as film and design may find themselves in need of a Mac operating system.

Be careful, though. School requirement lists are not always up-to-date. Case in point: More than a few strongly recommend laptops with optical drives for CD/DVD use, even though that technology has largely vanished from laptops in recent years.

Below are a few models for your consideration from companies including Acer, Apple, Dell, HP, and Lenovo. All feature solid state drives, which tend to be more expensive. But they're also speedier and more reliable than a traditional spinning hard drive.

Each laptop has at least 8GB of RAM. According to Antonette Asedillo, a Consumer Reports tester, you can get by with 4GB of memory for basic web browsing and word processing, but if you find yourself performing tasks beyond that, you'll wish you had spent the money to upgrade. “Definitely err on the side of more," she says, "because upgradable RAM is becoming rare.”

Best of all, these laptops come recommended by our testers, who have reviewed 50 new models this year, grading them on nearly 200 data points. To make sure each specimen is just like the one you might take home, we purchased every last model from a retailer.

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Lenovo Yoga 710 80V6000PUS

Lenovo Yoga 710 80V6000PUS

With excellent performance, long battery life (11.7 hours), and a $700 price tag, this 11.6-inch Lenovo handily earned the top spot in CR's 10- to 11-inch laptop ratings. The touch-screen display folds all the way back to serve as a tablet with the power of a premium laptop. At 2.3 pounds, the computer is very light, so you'll barely notice it in your bag. However, our testers say that the display and sound quality are just okay, so those who want to stream a lot of movies or TV shows would be wise to look at the other options on this list. For a comparable laptop with a full-sized keyboard, consider the $900 Lenovo Yoga 720-13IKB.

    Acer Aspire S5-371-52JR

    Acer Aspire S5-371-52JR

    The 13.3-inch Aspire S5—a CR Best Buy at $785—impressed our testers with its top-notch performance, handling even tough tasks like video editing and midrange gaming with admirable speed. And the 13.5 hours of battery life can carry students through a typical school day with enough juice left over for a library visit. Acer also offers a touch-screen model, but that one runs closer to $1,000.

      HP Spectre x360 13t

      HP Spectre x360 13t

      The 13.3-inch HP Spectre x360 13t earned a spot near the top of our ratings with over 15 hours of battery life and high marks for portability and performance. Outfitted with 8GB of memory and a 256GB solid state hard drive, the $1,170 computer is among the fastest models we've seen. And thanks to convertible hinges, you can easily flip the screen around to use the device like a tablet.

        Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch MPXR2LL/A

        Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch MPXR2LL/A

        This $1,290 laptop delivers nearly 14 hours of battery life, plus above-average speakers and an impressive (non-touch-screen) display. But the 128GB solid state drive is small, so if you're working on bigger files, such as Photoshop images or video-editing projects, you may want to pay extra for more space. Another drawback: The computer features two USB Type C ports, which is an inconvenience for anyone with accessories—a mouse, an external hard drive, speakers, that sort of thing—that require the far more prevalent USB Type A wired connection. For those who have fully embraced the wireless world of Bluetooth technology, though, this may not pose a problem.

          Dell Inspiron 15 5000 3rd-Gen

          Dell Inspiron 15 5000 3rd-Gen

          For most college students, a laptop serves double duty as a Netflix-streaming screen. In that case, you may want to consider the $785 Dell Inspiron 15 5000, which has a 15-inch touch screen, making it a solid choice for users who want a little more flexibility and a bit more real estate to work with. (Excel spreadsheets, anyone?) It will run an entire workday, too, with a tested battery life of more than 8 hours. However, weighing in at 4.6 pounds, this laptop won’t disappear into your bag like some ultraportable models do.

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            Tercius Bufete

            I'm an avid photographer and tech nerd with a passion for writing about gadgets and consumer technology. Originally from Los Angeles, I'm now an East Coast resident searching for the perfect burrito in Brooklyn. Follow me on @tercius