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The best laptops for high school students

Hunting down the best laptop for your money can be a real pain. Buying for yourself is one thing: You and you alone must suffer from your decision. But when you’re on the market hunting down the best laptops for high school students, making the wrong decision will produce an endless flow of complaints. It’s too slow. It’s too heavy. It won’t run my programs. Painful, we know, so we’re here to save you from the horrors.

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We know exactly what you need to buy. Don’t jump on Amazon and buy a cheap laptop originally released in 2015. There are plenty of modern options sporting the same price tag. Most of what you’ll find below is based on the latest generations of processors, with screens ranging from 13.3 inches to larger. Our pick, the Acer Aspire 5, won’t break the bank, but it offers plenty of durability and performance that will keep a high school student up to date on homework.

The best laptops for high school at a glance

Acer Aspire 5 (2020)

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Why you should buy this: It packs plenty of power into a chassis that’s durable and light enough to carry back and forth from school — without breaking the bank.

Who’s it for: Any student who wants a large, full HD display for getting their homework done and wants the option of some faster graphics.

What we thought of the Acer Aspire 5 (2020):

If you’re looking for an all-around great laptop for your high school student but don’t want to beg the bank for a loan, Acer’s Aspire 5 models fit the bill. This particular version offers a powerful array of features, including a Ryzen 5 4000 Series CPU, 8GB of RAM, and a sizable 512GB solid-state drive that makes it difficult t0 run out of space (upgrades are also an option). The 15.6-inch display is a well-designed HD panel, and at 3.9 pounds, it’s also pleasantly lightweight for all these specs and easy to tote from class to class as necessary.

The model also has an AMD Radeon Vega 3 integrated GPU, a more advanced mobile GPU than previous models had. That makes it an entry-level gaming laptop capable of running popular games like Minecraft or League of Legends, and it can also speed up creative apps that support it.

Ports for the newest Aspire 5 include USB-A 3.1, USB-A 2.0, and HDMI.

Read our Acer Aspire 5 review

Acer Chromebook Spin 311 (2021)

Why should you buy this: It’s an affordable Chromebook with a large display, and you can flip it around for some Netflix bingeing as a reward for hard work.

Who it’s for: Any student who prefers a compact and portable Chromebook.

Why we picked the Acer Chromebook Spin 311 (2021):

The Acer Chromebook Spin 311 is a versatile 360-degree convertible 2-in-1 laptop with a highly mobile 11.6-inch HD screen that makes it easier to tote around between classes and sketch brief notes on. The larger display size ensures that homework won’t feel cramped when two windows are running side by side, either. The Acer Chromebook Spin gives you all the room you need to multitask without being too massive.

Meanwhile, the eight-core MediaTek processor and 4GB of RAM is a capable entry-level CPU that is more than enough for the Chrome OS platform. Storage starts at 32GB eMMC, so — like most Chromebooks — there’s a lot of focus on cloud storage here, although you can add in an SD card for extra space, too.

The Acer Chromebook Spin 311 also includes a decent keyboard and touchpad, and it can run for a good portion of a school day thanks to a sizable 10-hour battery. The updated model includes both USB-C and USB-A connections. If you can spend a bit more, you can also take a look at the best Chromebooks to buy in 2021.

HP Chromebook 14 (2021)

Why you should buy this: It’s a more affordable laptop that still provides HP’s durable design with everything a high school student needs.

Who’s it for: Buyers who want to keep the tech costs down when outfitting their high-schooler but don’t want to sacrifice too much quality.

What we thought of the HP Chromebook 14 (2021):

You can find this Chromebook at under $300, but it still has what it takes to keep up with today’s busy school day. That includes a 14-inch HD touchscreen, Intel Celeron N4000 dual-core processor (several CPU options are available for this model if you prefer a change), 4GB of RAM, and even a USB-C outlet for the latest charging and data transfer. Graphics run on an integrated Intel UHD Graphics 600 chip, and support for Wi-Fi 5 is included.

Keep in mind that this model also has the limitations of a Chromebook, so you are restricted to Chrome OS and Android apps, and local storage is just 32GB (though you do have 100GB of free Google Drive storage). An external hard drive is a good partner for the laptop, and if you don’t like the clamshell design, there is a 2-in-1 version of the HP Chromebook 14 that can convert to tablet mode. The laptop also has access to a number of Android apps to improve functionality. Touchscreen models are an option here, too, but those versions will cost more.

Asus Zenbook 13 (2021)

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Why you should buy this: It offers an excellent combination of value, performance, and durability.

Who’s it for: Anyone who wants a laptop that they can rely on for great performance but won’t break the bank.

What we thought of the Asus ZenBook 13 (2021):

Check out a few of our “best-of” lists, and you’ll find the Asus ZenBook 13 figuring prominently due to the power and performance packed into this slim, innovative laptop. This model also comes with the “Screenpad,” a trackpad that can function as a secondary touchscreen for a variety of uses. This can be fun to play with and may save time with certain tasks, but if it’s in danger of becoming a distraction, you can find models without it.

The laptop has the speedy 11th-generation Intel Core i7-10510u processor, a discrete Nvidia GeForce MX250 GPU (better than the other GPUs on our list for more demanding graphics work), and 512GB of PCIe NVMe SSD storage. Add in the 8GB of RAM, and this laptop is ready for just about anything in the average student’s life. It’s also tested to MIL-STD-810G military standards for durability, meaning it can take a beating. It’s good-looking, too, with its blue and gold color scheme and iconic Asus concentric swirl on the lid.

Amazingly, the ZenBook 13 also sports a display that complements its GPU nicely, with great contrast and the kind of colors you’ll normally find on the typical premium laptop display. Really, you can’t go wrong with this laptop, and it even packs all of that — including its 13.3-inch full HD display — into a very small chassis thanks to some tiny bezels.

Other goodies packed into the Asus Zenbook 13 include 801.11ac wireless networking, HDMI, Thunderbolt 4/USB-C, and facial recognition for greater security.

Microsoft Surface Go 2

Luke Larsen / Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: This versatile laptop from the Surface Line can handle a wide variety of school tasks.

Who’s it for: Students who are interested in more power and spec options than a Chromebook can provide.

What we thought of the Microsoft Surface Go 2:

Microsoft’s Surface line is powerful, includes portable modes like the Go 2, and offers plenty of customization options for you to boost performance. The latest version of the 10.5-inch Surface Go 2 is better than ever, available at a low price for those on a budget, and compact enough to fit in any pack or case you might be using.

While configuration options may vary, the affordable version of the Go 2 includes an Intel Ptenium 4425Y processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of on-board storage space, with a battery rated for up to 10 hours of work. Connections are managed with a USB-C port, and there’s also a headphone jack for wired audio devices.

One notable caveat — while this is one of the most affordable Surface laptops, you’ll still need to get the Signature Type Cover to use it as a laptop instead of just a tablet. On the other hand, if you’re more of a tablet fan, but sure to pick up a Surface Pen, too. These options make the Surface Go 2 an alternative option to Chromebooks that many may appreciate.

Read our full review of the Microsoft Surface Go 2

Apple MacBook Air M1

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Why you should buy this: Apple’s M1 MacBook Air improves performance while keeping all the MacBook’s best features.

Who’s it for: MacOS fans who want cutting-edge MacBook performance without breaking the bank.

What we thought of the Apple MacBook Air M1:

The MacBook Air has always been a solid MacBook option for those who want a lighter option that retains high performance — but Apple has outdone itself with the latest 13-inch M1 version, which uses Apple’s own eight-core M1 chip for a significant power boost but also somehow manages to be whisper quiet without an internal fan.

This MacBook Air also offers 8GB of RAM and 256GB of SSD storage (which can be upgraded if you prefer on-board storage). The Retina display with True Tone color is excellent as always and a great choice for students in design or other classes where visual details are key.

Ports are also ready for the future, and it has the fastest connections available with two Thunderbolt 4/USB4 connections that should be able to handle all the latest devices. The MacBook Air M1 is an excellent choice for a laptop that will last for years, even through college.

Read our full review of the MacBook Air M1

Lenovo Chromebook Flex 5

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Why you should buy this: It’s a sturdy Chromebook with a versatile and affordable design.

Who’s it for: Those who want to save money without compromising on performance.

What we thought of the Lenovo Chromebook Flex 5:

There’s a good reason we called this Chromebook one of the best laptops you can get under $500. The 10th-gen Intel Core i3-10110U processor offers plenty of power for school-related tasks, and the 13-inch FHD touchscreen is ready to support a variety of viewing options. Despite the relatively solid design, this model is a 2-in-1 and can be flipped to tablet mode when appropriate as well.

The computer also comes with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of eMMC storage. The full keyboard offers backlighting and a 1.4mm travel distance that may feel more responsive and comfortable than other Chromebooks you’ve tried. Connections include two USB-C ports, a USB-A port, and an audio jack, with Wi-Fi 6 supported for the latest wireless connections.

Add in 10 hours of battery life, and the Lenovo Chromebook Flex 5 is a well-rounded machine on a budget that makes it an ideal fit for high school work.

How we test

Looks aren’t everything. Laptops are more expensive than books, and we all know you can’t judge a book by its cover, so why would you invest in a laptop just because it looks cool? We dig deep in our testing to gauge how well the laptops perform. We use specific software to test the processor, graphics, storage, read/write speed, and battery life.

For our evaluation of graphics cards and processors, we don’t just read the manufacturer’s documentation. We individually test each machine’s graphics capabilities, using the latest games to assess attributes like frame rates, resolution, and overall image quality.

A high-performing graphics card is nice to have, but it can only do so much. But a machine with a high-quality screen will let you get the most out of your laptop’s graphics capabilities. We use specialized tools to measure screen brightness and make sure that your display colors and contrast ratio levels are the best they can be.

Advanced graphics and modern display settings are nothing without the right battery to power the machine. We use a video loop to evaluate whether a battery is capable of providing sufficient support. We also take a look at the speakers’ frame rendering and audio quality.

We only choose laptops we would purchase ourselves when recommending laptops to our readers. Each computer needs to be task-appropriate and fit the needs of the user. Our evaluation consists of hard data as well as our own opinions based on our experience.

Editors' Recommendations

Kevin Parrish
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Kevin started taking PCs apart in the 90s when Quake was on the way and his PC lacked the required components. Since then…
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