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Best laptops for college students in 2019

With picks from Acer, Apple, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo and Microsoft, we've got an affordable laptop for every student.

School's out, making this one of the best times of the year to shop for a new laptop. This foundational academic tool is likely to be one of a student's most significant investments, aside from tuition, room and board. And that makes it well worth spending the time to seek out the best deal possible.   

You can now get 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 that will last longer and perform better. This list, which represents our top choices for college, university and even high school students, is based on our own hands-on use and benchmark testing. 

Most of these laptops cost $500 or more -- although you can still find some deep discounts in the wake of Amazon Prime Day. If you're looking for something less expensive -- or if you're interested in an alternative to Microsoft Windows and Apple's MacOS -- we'd recommend checking out our list of the best Chromebooks for students. Though the prices are generally lower, they're great for basics like email, getting on the internet, creating documents or working with spreadsheets -- especially if you're already working with Google's apps.  

Disclosure: CNET may get a share of revenue from the sale of products featured on this page.

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We really liked HP's x2 at $540. Selling for around $400 at Amazon right now, we like it even more. It's a terrific laptop with a great detachable display, a keyboard that's comfortable to type on and surprisingly peppy performance. And it doubles as a fabulous standalone tablet -- thin and lightweight, responsive to touch and stylus and perceptive to orientation. 

Plus -- and this is a big one -- it comes with stylus and keyboard included at a time when many premium hybrids insist you buy them separately. If you can live without the few remaining apps that require Windows or MacOS -- and trust me, most of you can -- the Chromebook x2 is your jam. Check out some other great picks in our roundup of the best Chromebooks for students.

Lenovo

The Yoga C630 Chromebook is a great, inexpensive laptop -- that doubles as an enormous tablet -- with a killer 4K display and blazing performance for everyday productivity 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.

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Just about any laptop can handle the basics at this point -- but if you're looking for one that can double as a gaming system, that narrows the field considerably. Starting at $600 or so, the Nitro 5 is wallet-friendly but still brings a respectable graphics card to the table: the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 or 1050Ti, which is sufficient for solid gameplay. You end up with tons of performance at a reasonable price. 

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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 Yoga devices, which are also two-in-ones, are better laptops than they are tablets.) Amazon's current deal -- $799, which includes the essential Type Cover, usually $89 on its own -- is a no-brainer. 

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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 laptop than the XPS 13. This CNET Editors' Choice is attractive, incomparably slim and offers a ton of customization (and price) options -- but Amazon has a very solid configuration on sale for $999. Dell also makes a 15-inch version, which starts at $999.

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In 2018, Apple announced a new version of the MacBook Air -- an evergreen student favorite -- upgrading it with a Retina display, Touch ID and USB-C ports. After debuting at $1,199, which seemed a tad too expensive to me, Apple has since lowered its price (and added True Tone display technology to models sold after July 9). And at the moment, Amazon is selling the MacBook Air for less than $1,000. It's a solid deal on one of the best and most versatile laptops on the market.

That noted, there are those who would argue that the entry-level MacBook Pro -- also discounted by $200 at the moment -- makes for the better value. You can check out CNET's Dan Ackerman ongoing analysis for more on that topic.

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I reviewed the Zephyrus S last year and loved its 15.6-inch HD display and backlit keyboard. This configuration delivers very solid performance for the price: For around $1,400, you get an Intel Core i7 CPU and a GeForce GTX 1070, with 16GB of DDR4 RAM and a 512GB PCIe SSD.

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