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What are the best laptops Best Laptops Under $1,000 in 2016 Best Laptops Under $1,000 in 2016 Unlike desktop PCs, you are unlikely to upgrade your laptop by fitting in a couple of new parts. That's why when you're purchasing a new notebook, paying a premium makes sense. Read More for school? The best device depends on the student’s academic focus. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) students don’t need the same kind of machine as liberal arts majors. Here’s a list of the best laptops for all sorts of students.

This guide covers the best laptops for students pursuing science, design, programming, and other majors.

Builders, Content Creators, and STEM Students

Ask the student what software they need for school. The majority of STEM students, along with future architects and videographers, use particular kinds of software — such as a Computer Aided Design (CAD) program. For example, AutoCAD works best when used with a “discrete Graphics Processing Unit” or GPU.

A discrete GPU can offer excellent performance for rendering 3D images. Unfortunately, high-power hardware tends to cost a bit more than laptops that don’t have a discrete GPU. For this reason, gaming laptops often make for the best tools for those interested in the sciences.

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On the other hand, most computer science students — in contrast to other technology majors — don’t require an expensive device, unless they’re using 3D modeling systems. Most would be better off with a lower-cost unit. Check further down the page for laptops suited for computer science majors.

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Best Rendering Laptop: Dell Inspiron 15 7000 (UK)

Most powerful laptops cost a small fortune, many coming in well over $1,000. However, there’s a less-expensive, but an identically equipped model from Dell selling for over $200 less than competitors: The Dell Inspiron 15 7000. Dell’s model offers the same performance, at much less cost. The price tag? Around $780. For the money, you can’t find a better graphics-crunching laptop anywhere.

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CNET rates the Inspiron 7000 7.8 out of 10 stars on account of its slow hard drive and bulk. Fortunately, the model linked to below includes Solid State Drive (what’s an SSD? Should You Get A Solid State Drive (SSD)? [Opinion] Should You Get A Solid State Drive (SSD)? [Opinion] If you've kept up with some of the latest news about new computer parts, you may have heard about SSDs, or solid state drives. They are designed to replace your clunky, slow hard drive and... Read More ), for zippy performance. The Wirecutter places the Inspiron at the very top of the best budget gaming laptops.

Dell 15.6-Inch Gaming Laptop (6th Gen Intel Quad-Core i5-6300HQ Processor up to 3.2GHz, 8GB DDR3, 256GB SSD, Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M, Windows 10) Dell 15.6-Inch Gaming Laptop (6th Gen Intel Quad-Core i5-6300HQ Processor up to 3.2GHz, 8GB DDR3, 256GB SSD, Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M, Windows 10) Intel i5-6300HQ 2.3 GHz Quad-Core (6M Cache, Turbo up to 3.2 GHz) Buy Now At Amazon $659.99

Best Value Laptop: Acer Aspire E15 (UK)

For those looking for a more inexpensive alternative, look at the Acer Aspire E15, which uses a dual-core processor along with a less powerful GPU, compared to the Inspiron. While it’s decidedly less powerful, it still offers good performance for a budget system.

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It’s also one of the best-reviewed gaming machines on Amazon, hitting an average of 4.3 stars out of five on 288 reviews. Its strengths include a 256GB SSD for fast storage, 8GB of RAM, an NVIDIA 940MX GPU, and robust battery life. Most review sites rank it as good but overpriced — with its recent price cut, though, the Aspire E15 now ranks high on the value scale.

Acer Aspire E 15 E5-575G-53VG Laptop, 15.6 Full HD (Intel Core i5, NVIDIA 940MX, 8GB DDR4, 256GB SSD, Windows 10) Acer Aspire E 15 E5-575G-53VG Laptop, 15.6 Full HD (Intel Core i5, NVIDIA 940MX, 8GB DDR4, 256GB SSD, Windows 10) 6th Generation Intel Core i5-6200U Processor (Up to 2.8GHz) Buy Now At Amazon $549.00

Laptops for Artists and Designers

For those relying on artistic talent, try out a 2-in-1 convertible tablet. A 2-in-1 (what’s a 2-in-1? What Are 2-In-1 Laptops and How to Pick the Best One? What Are 2-In-1 Laptops and How to Pick the Best One? 2-in-1 laptops combine the portability of tablets with the ergonomics of a laptop, but are they any good? Is it better to get a tablet and a laptop separately? We explore. Read More ) combines the best features of a laptop with the touchscreen interface of a tablet. Many even throw in electronic pens for creating sketches by hand. For its creative virtues, artists should strongly consider the Microsoft Surface Pro 4.

Best Model: Microsoft Surface Pro 4 (UK)surface-pro-4

The Surface Pro combines the state of the art in processor technology with elegant, sophisticated design. While it’s not great for gaming, complex video-editing, or rendering graphics, it is one of the most flexible computers ever created.

Unfortunately, its price ranges from between $750 to  $1,200 for the lower end models — and those prices don’t include either a stylus or a keyboard. Those cost extra.

TechRadar rated it 4.5/5 stars for its excellent design but bashed its short battery life. CNET praised the Surface Pro’s stylus capabilities and stylish design, netting an overall 8.8 out of 10.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 (256 GB, 8 GB RAM, Intel Core i5) Microsoft Surface Pro 4 (256 GB, 8 GB RAM, Intel Core i5) Surface Pro 4 powers through everything you need to do, while being lighter than ever before Buy Now At Amazon $994.99

Value Option: Acer Switch Alpha 12 (UK)

If the Surface’s price left you feeling flat, Acer’s newest device might be for you. It’s essentially the same 2-in-1, with slightly less battery life. The selling point: the Alpha runs for $200 less, and it includes a keyboard.

acer switch alpha 12

The Acer Switch Alpha 12 includes solid build construction, excellent performance, and a fanless Core i-series processor. It gets a leg up on the Surface by offering a crucial part in the base package: a keyboard. The total cost comes out to around $350 less than a Surface at full retail. If you go by Amazon’s prices, right now, it’s around $400 cheaper, for a similarly decked out model.

Acer Switch Alpha 12 2-n-1, 12" QHD Touch, Intel Core i3, 4GB Memory, 128GB SSD, Windows 10 Home, SA5-271-39N9 Acer Switch Alpha 12 2-n-1, 12" QHD Touch, Intel Core i3, 4GB Memory, 128GB SSD, Windows 10 Home, SA5-271-39N9 6th Generation Intel Core i3-6100U Processor 2.3GHz Buy Now At Amazon $499.99

As a proud owner of a Switch Alpha, I can honestly say it’s pretty much the same thing as a Surface, with slightly worse battery life and lots of bloatware. Fortunately, Windows 10 offers a debloat How to Easily Remove Bloatware From Windows 10 How to Easily Remove Bloatware From Windows 10 Windows 10 comes with several pre-installed apps that take up space on your device and aren't easy to remove. Sounds like bloatware, doesn't it? We show you how to remove these apps. Read More option.

Laptops for Programming Students

Most programming students don’t require beefy specs. Rather, they just need a reliable processor and a decent screen. An SSD helps with compiling software faster, although truthfully, it’s not needed to get by.

Best Model: Dell XPS 13 (UK)

Dell’s XPS 13 (our XPS 13 review Dell XPS 13 2015 Review and Giveaway Dell XPS 13 2015 Review and Giveaway The XPS represents the pinnacle of laptop design in 2015, and it's the best bang for your buck out of any laptop we've ever seen in the $800 price range. Read More ) managed to impress pretty much every reviewer on the planet. The laptop received incremental updates since its release in 2014, meaning there is another refresh of the hardware pending in 2016. Fortunately, that means discounts on the current line, which is rotating out of circulation.

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CNET  rated the XPS an 8.3 out of 10, based on its amazing screen quality but criticized its battery life. TrustedReviews rated it a 4.5 out of 5 stars, based on its stylish construction, amazing battery life, and great value.

Dell XPS XPS9350-5341SLV 13.3 Inch QHD Touchscreen Laptop (Intel Core i7 with Iris Graphics, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD, Silver) Dell XPS XPS9350-5341SLV 13.3 Inch QHD Touchscreen Laptop (Intel Core i7 with Iris Graphics, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD, Silver) Intel Core i7-6560U 2.3 GHz Processor Buy Now At Amazon $1,276.99

Best Value: Lenovo Ideapad 300

The recommended hardware for programming students is — strangely enough — relatively low-end. Most programmers can get away with almost any kind of Windows, Apple, or Linux computer. In fact, many Linux machines provide a better development environment than competitors.

Even so, students prefer an operating system that they’re comfortable with — most of the time, that means Windows. The lowest-priced Windows laptop to meet the basic requirement of a programming student is the Lenovo Ideapad 300. It includes a modern Intel processor, along with a price of $317. You can’t get a better deal than that. However, I caution readers to avoid any variations of the Ideapad that include “Braswell” processors. It’s Core i3 or bust.

lenovo-ideapad-300

Most reviews of the Ideapad 300 indicate good value. LaptopMag awarded it 3.5 out of 5 stars. NotebookCheck gives it a 75%. The common complaints include weak battery life and a poor webcam. If you purchase an Ideapad, an incredible performance boost is to throw in a Solid State Drive.

The SSD migration process How to Move Windows from HDD to SSD to Improve Performance How to Move Windows from HDD to SSD to Improve Performance A Solid State Drive upgrade really improves performance. But how can you squeeze a large Windows installation onto a tiny SSD? Windows users can comfortably migrate from HDD to SSD in very little time. Read More shouldn’t take more than about 15 minutes of your time. And the advantages are numerous. An SSD won’t just improve performance — the upgrade could improve a laptop’s battery life Seven Laptop Components That Can Improve Your Battery Life Seven Laptop Components That Can Improve Your Battery Life Most manufacturers lie about battery performance. Read More .

2016 Newest Lenovo Ideapad 300 series 80Q7006AUS 6th generation i3-6100U 4 GBram/500GHDD 2016 Newest Lenovo Ideapad 300 series 80Q7006AUS 6th generation i3-6100U 4 GBram/500GHDD 6th Generation Intel® CoreTM i3-6100U Processor, 15.6 inch Display Buy Now At Amazon $358.00

Everyone Else: A Chromebook

For almost everyone else, the best laptops tend to use the Chrome operating system (see why you should buy a Chromebook Looking For A New Laptop? Get A Chromebook Instead! Looking For A New Laptop? Get A Chromebook Instead! Read More ). Unless the student needs proprietary Windows software, they are actually better off with a Chromebook. A Chromebook can do about 90% of what a Windows or Macintosh can do, except without the possibility of catching malware.

Chromebooks also offer long battery life and are lightweight. And because of the Chromebook’s unique immunity to malware, it’s also the best device for children.

Best Chromebook: Toshiba Chromebook 2

The overall best Chromebook is the Toshiba Chromebook 2, which offers reliable performance, low cost, and light weight. While the original Toshiba Chromebook Toshiba CB35-A3120 Chromebook Review and Giveaway Toshiba CB35-A3120 Chromebook Review and Giveaway You can get some really cheap Chromebooks if you're fine with getting an 11.6-inch display. Read More didn’t impress many reviewers, its successor received universal praise as the best of its class on today’s market.

toshiba-chromebook-2

The Toshiba scores universal praise online. Its aggregate review score on Amazon is 4.3/5 stars. The Wirecutter considers Toshiba’s offering as the best, for most people. LaptopMag rates it 4.5 stars out of 5, based on its excellent display and amazing battery life.

Best Value: HP Chromebook 11 G5

In the $200 range, the majority of Chromebooks offer pretty standard screens and the cheapest processors possible — but the HP Chromebook 11 G5 manages to squeeze in a design win by combining solid build quality, along with 12-hours of battery life. The cherry on top: unlike most of the competition, the G5 can run Android applications.hp-chromebook-11-g5

For its retail price tag of $189, you won’t find a better device anywhere. Unfortunately, the Chromebook 11 G5 isn’t yet available on Amazon, although you can purchase it directly from HP’s website.

Back to School Sales?

For those looking to save a buck on a laptop for a student, buying in the late summer often means paying less money. Many manufacturers and retailers try to liquidate as much stock as possible before the holiday season arrives. That means you can get last year’s models for a substantial discount.

Anyone else buying a laptop for school? Let us know in the comments what you bought!

  1. Jonathan
    August 10, 2016 at 1:54 am

    For the stem laptop both the budget version and the best recommended you advise ones with i5 processors and the price was what you'd expect. They both seemed like reasonable choices.

    However for the computer science laptop you went on staying about how you don't need anything great just a decent processor to speed up compiling ("Rather, they just need a reliable processor and a decent screen"). The laptops for the most recommended and budget are night and day different. You choose the best processor (an i7) and about the lowest passable (an i3). You then started you don't needed an SSD drive, "an SSD helps with compiling software faster, although truthfully, it’s not needed to get by" yet choose one for the best recommended and not one for the other. The quality of these two laptops are way different while the STEM laptops are pretty comparable. So for a laptop you claim doesn't have to be that great on specs you find one 40% more expensive.

    If anything you could go 16GB on the RAM for the engineering laptop. Cad software works a lot better on 16 than 8 GB, my work computer has 8 and can start getting slow after a while with Solidworks. As for the programming computer if you say you don't needed anything great just stay with an i5 don't waste like $300 more on an i7.

    • Kannon Yamada
      August 22, 2016 at 4:33 pm

      Hey Jonathan, thanks for the comment. That's a good point. I should have pointed out that the Dell XPS 13 is a configurable system, with the entry model costing $800 (and less, I got one for $650 plus tax). On top of that, the model listed has Iris Pro graphics, so it's definitely overkill for a programmer. When I have a moment, I'll go back and swap in the base-model rather than the high-end model.

      The lowest end Core i3 Dell XPS 13 probably doesn't perform all that much worse than the highest end model with a Core i7. The reason is that both the Core i3 and Core i7 are physically the same processor. The Core i3 has turboboost disabled, a lower clockspeed, and a few other modifications. But it's the same silicon and in a tight chassis like a laptop, turboboost doesn't run for all that long and the higher clockspeed is almost unnoticeable. Basically, for sustained workloads, a Core i3 and Core i5 aren't that different from one another on the same architecture. Does a 10% performance difference substantiate $100 more?

      Regarding RAM, everything I've read online suggests that even for CAD 8GB of RAM is enough. The reason I preferred 8GB over 16GB is that most of these laptops either charge a fortune to jump a tier up, or they are simply not available. Users can also upgrade RAM themselves if they think 8GB isn't enough, although in my experience with Blender, 8GB seems to work fine. I will definitely mention that for large projects, more is better though.

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