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.
As parents, 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 are based on the latest generations of processors, with screens ranging from 13.3 inches and larger. Our pick, the 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
- Best laptop for high school: Acer Aspire 5
- Best Chromebook for high school: Acer Chromebook Spin 15 (2020)
- Best budget laptop for high school: HP Chromebook 14 (2020)
- Best premium laptop for high school: Asus ZenBook 13 (2020)
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 SSD 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 an HDMI port.
Why should you buy this: Your student needs an affordable Chromebook with a large display — and you’d like it to be able to flip around for some Netflix binging as a reward for hard work.
Who it’s for: Any student who needs a large screen to handle their Chrome OS chores — on a budget.
Why we picked the Acer Chromebook Spin 15 (2020):
The Acer Chromebook Spin 15 is a versatile 360-degree convertible 2-in-1 laptop with a highly mobile 15.6-inch HD screen that makes it easier to tote around between classes and sketch brief notes on. The lager display size ensures that homework won’t feel cramped when two windows are running side-by-side, either. The Acer Chromebook Spin 15 gives you all the room you need to multitask without being too massive.
Meanwhile, the Intel Celeron N3350 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.
This laptop 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.
Read our review of an older Acer Chromebook Spin 15
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 (2020):
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, AMD A4-9120C 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 AMD Radeon R4 chip.
Keep in mind this model also has the limitations of a Chromebook, so there’s no optical drive and only 32GB of memory onboard. 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 Chromebook 14 that can convert to tablet mode. The laptop also has access to a number of Android apps to improve functionality.
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 (2020):
Check out a few of our “best-of” lists and you’ll find the Asus ZenBook 13 UX333 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 10th-gen 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 16GB 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 with iconic Asus concentric swirl on the lid.
Amazingly, the ZenBook 13 UX333 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 packing into the laptop include 801.11ac wireless networking, HDMI, USB-C, and facial recognition for greater security.
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 great graphics card will only get you so far. A laptop’s screen quality ensures you’ll be able to appreciate your machine’s graphics capabilities. For that reason, we use specialized tools to measure screen brightness and assess whether display colors and contrast ratio levels are accurate.
Advanced graphics capabilities paired with next-generation displays need a battery that’s up to the task. We use a video loop to evaluate battery performance, as well as frame rendering and audio quality from the laptop’s speakers.
Ultimately, our evaluation stems from both software-generated numbers and our hands-on personal opinion. We always ask ourselves whether the laptop is appropriate for the task and only recommend laptops that would be ideal for our own children to use for school and beyond.
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