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Back to School: the best laptop for every budget

Back to School: the best laptop for every budget


Which laptop should you buy this school year? We've got answers.

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There's no more important thing you'll buy for school than a laptop. Whether you're doing research, writing papers, watching movies on Netflix, reading for class, watching movies on Netflix, goofing off on Facebook, or watching movies on Netflix, you're going to be using your laptop a ton during the school year. That's why it's so important to get the right one — having a good computer that you can depend on makes a huge difference. And, as we've found out, you don't have to pay an arm and a leg to get a laptop that will serve you well.

Below, we've picked a few of the laptops that will suit students perfectly. Why? For one, they're powerful, capable of handling any and every school-related or extra-curricular task you throw at them. They're also light and thin — when you've got a 900-pound chemistry textbook in your backpack you need to save all the weight you can. They have long-lasting batteries for the marathon class / library / Netflix sessions you'll pull. They have the ports you'll need, whether you're connecting your computer to a TV or backing up your papers onto an external drive. Mostly, they're dependable — these are good laptops that won't make you spend more time fixing them than using them. (I'm looking at you, Dell Inspiron that I had during college that went through four motherboards in two years.) No matter your price range, here's the computer for you.

Acer Timeline U M5


Best budget laptop

It may be technically an ultrabook, though at four pounds and almost an inch thick it doesn't feel much like one. Still, Acer's Timeline U M5 is a capable Windows machine. The M5 starts at $679.99 for fairly basic specs, but it's extremely upgradable — you can get an Intel Ivy Bridge processor, or an Nvidia graphics chip that will turn the M5 into a decent gaming laptop.

You even get a DVD drive, which is increasingly a rarity for ultrabooks and thin laptops. The Timeline U M5 probably isn't the way to go if you're looking for a top-notch performer, but it should stand up nicely to the rigors of academic life. At about five and a half hours, its battery life is also plenty to get you through even your longest classes.

Lenovo ThinkPad X230


Best mid-range laptop

Lenovo's earned its reputation over the years, and it's hard to go wrong with a ThinkPad. The X230 isn't the prettiest or most exciting computer on the planet, but it'll get the job done as well as anything we've ever tested. Its new Precision keyboard is a dream for typing on, and its seven-hour-plus battery life makes it one of the few laptops you can actually use all day. There's a lot of weight behind the ThinkPad name, and the X230 lives up to it — don't expect gaming fireworks for the price, but do expect a machine that'll do everything you need it to without friction or fuss. Plus, Lenovo loves a good sale, so you can probably find the X230 for cheaper than its list price (it’s $755 as I type this, for instance).

MacBook Air (13-inch, 2012)


Best overall laptop

Look around a college campus this year and you're almost guaranteed to see an enormously high percentage of MacBooks in use. There's a good reason for that: Apple's nailed the combination of light, thin, fast, and attractive laptops. The Air was recently upgraded with new processors, and is more powerful than ever; combine that with Apple's penchant for making great keyboards and great trackpads, and it's hard to argue against a Mountain Lion-running Air as the perfect school machine. $1,200 is a steep price to pay, of course, but if you can afford it (and don't need to use a lot of Windows-specific software) it's hard to recommend against the Air.

Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A


Best overall laptop

One word: screen. The Zenbook Prime's 1080p display is dense, crisp, and just beautiful — and if you're counting, it has the same resolution as your TV (assuming you have a good TV). If you have a small dorm room and need your computer to double as your entertainment system, a display this good is a must for your laptop.

All that screen doesn't hurt the battery too much either, since the Zenbook Prime lasts nearly six hours on a charge. The trackpad's a problem here, but an external mouse is rarely a bad idea with a Windows laptop — and with a screen this good you'll probably just end up staring at the computer anyway.

Compare all our laptop picks in The Verge Database!