Walk into any college classroom and you’re likely to see a row of MacBooks. Apple’s laptop is a staple of college life because it’s particularly well suited for it. It is equally useful for productivity and entertainment, making it perfect for anyone who owns a single computer.
The only problem is price. I never owned a MacBook in college because I could never afford one. If you’re in the same bind, I have good news. There are alternatives that work well for student life and cost less than $600.
Students demand a lot from their laptops. Every major has a laptop for it, but there are some common points. They need it to be portable enough to take to class or to a study session, but they also need adequate performance. Students also use laptops as gaming machines, portable music players, and televisions. It’s a lot to ask for in one device.
The laptops listed here meet these needs. They all have powerful processors. They all last at least four hours on a charge. And they all handle basic games, HD video, and other entertainment needs. All for $600 or less.
Under $200: Asus Chromebook C201 ($198)
- Incredible battery life
- Comfortable keyboard and trackpad
- Low price
If you haven’t heard of Rockchip processors, don’t worry. Rockchip is well-known, and the Asus C201 ranks among the better-performing budget laptops.
It’s in our roundup of the best laptops under $300, mainly because of its 13-hour battery life. If you need a laptop that lasts the whole day, this is it.
The C201 also has a comfortable keyboard and large trackpad, but apart from that, you get what you pay for.
The better option at this price, in my opinion, is the refurbished Acer Chromebook 14 ($199). Refurbished computers are a great way to save money. The manufacturer itself inspects and repairs refurbished models — and you get a heavy discount to boot.
Under $300: Acer Chromebook R11 ($299.99/£200)
- Touchscreen with 360-degree flip
- Runs Android apps
- Above average performance
- Long battery life
We’ve often said that Chromebooks are perfect for students. If you’ve got $300 to spare, the Acer Chromebook R11 is the absolute best you can buy.
The big reason: Some Chromebooks run Android apps. In case you didn’t know, Chrome OS and Android are joining, and you can already run Android apps on some Chromebooks. Google officially says the Acer R11 is one of three Chromebooks that support Android apps. Which means there are some amazing Android apps you can install on the R11 Chromebook. Perfect to go with its flip-around 11-inch touchscreen.
The R11 also has capable hardware. Among Chromebooks, it’s among the better laptops in terms of performance. And it will last for over 9 hours on a single charge of the battery. What’s not to like here?
Under $300: Acer Aspire ES 15 ($299.99)
- Long battery life
- 1TB hard disk drive
- 6th generation Intel processor
What the Acer Aspire ES 15 offers for $300 astounds, to say the least. On the downside, the ES 15 feels big and bulky with its large 15-inch screen and 1TB hard disk drive.
The Aspire ES 15 also includes a high-capacity battery that promises 5-6 hours of battery life on a single charge. It has 4GB of RAM inside, which might be a little too low. But the good news is that you can upgrade the laptop’s RAM whenever you want.
The 6th generation Intel Core i3 processor comes as a nice surprise. It’s more powerful than almost anything else below $300. Just remember, this is still a basic processor with entry-level HD 520 graphics. It’s up to you to decide if you need an i3, i5, or i7 processor.
Under $400: Asus VivoBook E403SA ($399.99/£285)
- Amazing battery life
- 14-inch Full HD screen
- Lightweight, very portable
- USB Type-C port
The Asus VivoBook E403SA was our pick for the best sub-$500 laptop in 2016. It offers great performance and .
The performance isn’t outstanding, what with the Intel Atom Braswell processor and 4GB of RAM. But it’s good enough for college students who don’t demand any coding or design needs.
Two parts about the E403SA stand out. The 14-inch Full HD screen is something you don’t usually get at this price. You’ll love watching movies on this. But what you’ll love even more is the battery life.
The VivoBook E403SA is one of the laptops with the best battery life in 2016. And in case even that 10-12 hours of usage isn’t enough for you, you can recharge it with a USB Type-C power bank. Coupled with its light weight, you’ll never think twice about taking the E403SA out with you.
Quick note: The Asus VivoBook E403SA is cheaper on Best Buy and other sites than on Amazon.
Under $500: Asus X555 DA-AS11 ($448)
- Matte display
- DVD writer
- Loud speakers
Have you ever been working on your laptop, only for the sun’s glare to make the screen unviewable? You need a screen with a matte finish. It’s one of the major points in buying a $600 laptop. So the Asus X555 DA-AS11 is just perfect.
Plus, the large 15.6-inch has Full HD resolution and comes with a 256GB SSD. Complementing that is 8GB of RAM and an AMD A10 quad-core processor, which performs pretty decently for gaming too.
The X555 DA-AS11 makes no compromises on connectivity either. It’s one of the few laptops that still features a DVD writer. There’s also an HDMI port, a VGA port, a card reader, and three USB ports.
Just make sure you buy the DA-AS11 version, and not the DA-WS11 version. The WS11 has a 1TB HDD, but it skips the matte finish and reduces the resolution to 1366×768 pixels.
Under $600: Acer Aspire E5-575G-53VG ($550/£430)
- Large 15-inch screen
- Long battery life
- Nvidia graphics for good gaming
- Loud speakers
- USB Type-C Port
At $550, you will love the Acer Aspire E5-575G. For laptops that double as televisions, the large 15.6-inch screen makes movie-watching pleasurable. Even the speakers are quite loud. It doesn’t have great viewing angles, though, so it can only be you watching, not a group of friends.
The Acer laptop also packs some powerful hardware for speedy performance. This includes a dedicated Nvidia GeForce 940MX graphics card, which is good enough for playing most PC games. There’s also a 256GB SSD; as we know, SSDs improve performance on Windows.
But what really sells the Aspire E5-575G is its battery life. You can expect about 10 hours of usage on a single charge, according to LaptopMag’s battery test. Unlike other laptops, though, you can’t charge this one through the USB Type-C port.
Which Laptop Did You Like?
If you’re on a budget and have been laptop shopping, which notebook computer has caught your eye? And students, where do you stand on the Windows vs. Chrome OS issue?