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Every student needs a laptop. Whether you're taking care of business -- jotting down notes during class, writing a paper or crunching numbers in a spreadsheet -- or taking a break -- watching YouTube videos or listening to music -- your laptop is a fundamental tool.

College, university and high school students on a budget can now pick up an entry-level laptop for $200 to $400. But we think it's worthwhile to spend at least a few hundred more to get a machine with long battery life, a substantial hard drive and better performance and graphics. This list of the best laptops for students is based on our own hands-on use and benchmark testing. 

Read more: Best 2-in-1 PCs in 2020 for when you need a laptop and tablet in one

Note that most of our top laptops cost $500 or more. If you're looking for something less expensive -- or if you're interested in an alternative to Microsoft Windows and Apple's MacOS -- we recommend checking out our list of the best Chromebooks for students. Most are considerably less expensive but are still powerful enough to handle student-life basics such as email, getting on the internet, creating documents or working with spreadsheets -- especially for those already working on Google's apps. And the average Chromebook's battery life is excellent.

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When it's on sale for under $1,000 -- and it usually is, somewhere -- we'd recommend the 2019 Apple MacBook Air to anyone. Having refreshed its most affordable laptop a couple of times over the past year, the current-generation model has some modern touches -- including Apple's beautiful Retina display, USB Type-C ports and Touch ID -- though its Intel processor is older than what you'll find on comparably priced Windows machines. Still, with a winning combination of design, performance and battery life, the Apple MacBook Air remains one of our evergreen student favorites. Read our 2019 MacBook Air preview.

Read more: Best laptop deals 2020: Windows and Chromebooks for under $500

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If you're committed to the Windows operating system and want a balance of portability, power and price, it's hard to find a better 13-inch laptop than the XPS 13. Dell has been making incremental improvements to this machine for so long that it's hard to find a flaw. The design and components are top notch, which is reflected in its great battery life and performance. Read our Dell XPS 13 (2019) review.

Read more: Best gaming PCs for 2020

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The Surface Pro remains the standard-bearer for Windows devices that work as both laptop and tablet, though they're better tablets than they are laptops. (If you're looking for the opposite, Lenovo's two-in-one Yoga devices are better laptops than they are tablets.) In addition to the typical great performance and battery life you can expect, the seventh edition finally gets a USB-C port. Though the company still sells the Surface Pro without its essential Type Cover keyboard and Surface Pen included, it can frequently be found on sale -- sometimes with one or both accessories. Read our Surface Pro 7 review.

Read more: Best 15-inch laptops for 2020

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Dell's G-series deliver a smart balance of build quality, battery life and performance, with plenty of power to play the latest AAA games. The slim, compact design masks its gaming pedigree and because it's no longer brand-new -- you're getting a ninth-gen Intel Core processor -- there are plenty of bargains to be found. This machine currently starts at around $850, and we've found some pretty powerful configurations on sale for around $1,000. Read our Dell G5 15 5590 review.

Read more: Best Chromebooks for 2020

Lenovo

The Yoga C630 Chromebook is a great, inexpensive student laptop -- one that doubles as an enormous tablet -- with a killer 4K display, solid battery life and blazing processor performance for everyday office and entertainment tasks. This is the Chromebook version of Lenovo's excellent C930, one of our all-time favorite two-in-one convertibles, which costs hundreds more. If you're looking for something less expensive, Lenovo also sells the smaller, much cheaper convertible C340-11. Read our Lenovo Yoga Chromebook C630 review.

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Most powerful gaming laptop on a student budget

Asus ROG Zephyrus S

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I reviewed the Zephyrus S in 2018 and loved its 15.6-inch HD screen size and backlit keyboard. If you're looking for a more serious gaming machine on a student budget, this one brings together some potent components for the price. Read our Asus ROG Zephyrus S (GX531) preview.

Originally published last year. Regularly updated with new products and advice.