It’s easy to fall prey to marketing when purchasing a laptop for college. Some companies boast about design, while others claim to offer record-breaking performance. But, the lesser-known secret to getting the best out of your laptop lies in choosing the right size.
An average college student travels to class pretty frequently. Cramming a large laptop in a bag and carrying a heavy weight to class is not ideal. On the other hand, many small-size laptops have displays that may not be large enough or lack the performance to run specific applications needed in your major.
So, after extensive research, we compiled this article to help you find the best size laptop for college.
Is a 13-inch laptop too small a size for students going to college?
13-inch laptops are the smallest size on the market. Often termed ultrabooks and ultraportables, they are well known for their lightweight and slim designs. They fit nicely into backpacks and weigh less enough that carrying them across campus should be a breeze.
Ultrabooks are available as standalone tablets, 2-in-1 convertibles, and traditional clamshells, spanning different budgets, so many options are available.
The limited space restricts the cooling capacity of 13-inch laptops, and most are not cut for heavy workloads that require powerful processors and graphics cards. Still, the low-powered internals helps these laptops last on battery for long, and you can usually charge the battery over a USB-C charger or power bank.
Still, some manufacturers have tried to pack in high-performance components. The ROG Flow X13 from Asus is one example, featuring an Nvidia RTX 3050Ti GPU and Ryzen 9 processor, with the option of adding an external mobile dock with an RTX 3080 via a special USB-C port to unlock more performance.
Such setups typically feature a laptop that can pair with an external GPU but suffer from thermal issues that force components to be underclocked, throttling performance in the process.
A larger laptop is recommended over these as it costs much less and offers similar performance. Those considering this format for high-performance applications and gaming will need to wait till more efficient technology develops.
These laptops are not exactly bad for gaming as their integrated graphics can handle lightweight PC games, but don’t expect anything more.
To help you decide which of these is a good choice for your major, we’ve compiled a list of the most popular 13-inch laptops for different budgets:
Is a 14-inch laptop good enough for students in college?
Retaining the small form factor of a 13-inch while offering a larger display, 14-inch laptops have surged in popularity. Leading manufacturers have already begun updating their 13-inch lineups to the newer form factor.
Gaming laptops of this size feature decent graphics and processors like the RTX 3060 and Ryzen 7.
Powerful enough to handle most academic programs and PC gaming titles, pairing a 14-inch laptop with a decent gaming monitor and external keyboard should deal with the smaller screen and keyboard.
Packing power in a small footprint, they are a great midpoint between portability and performance and are a solid recommendation for STEM, Arts, and finance students.
Take a 14-inch laptop if your degree demands a powerful laptop but needs something portable. The perfect compromise for a student, there are many great options for you to choose from different budgets.
We have already done the groundwork and listed down the best 14-inch laptops with recommendations for which major they are best suited for:
Is a 15-inch laptop too big for college students?
15-inch laptops are a popular choice for the college crowd. Large screens, an included number pad, and outstanding performance at a low price are what you get from most laptops of this size. But with the arrival of 14-inch laptops, are these laptops too big for college, or are they still a great choice today?
A downside with most 15-inch laptops is their weight and size. They are heavy enough to become a burden to carry daily and take up considerable space, which can be an issue in some classrooms.
Power management on many 15-inch laptops is also poor as the larger screen, and higher-powered internals will drain the battery constantly and require the laptop to be plugged in frequently. During lectures, finding a power outlet and monitoring your battery can get pretty annoying.
Instead of sticking with a smaller laptop, a good alternative is to use an iPad or Android tablet to take notes during class. This reduces the need to carry your laptop to class every day. They also last much longer and are easy to charge from a power bank.
The extra space inside the laptop makes them super-upgradeable. You can add or upgrade 2.5-inch, M.2 drives and the memory in most 15-inch laptops. Additional USB ports, Ethernet, and SD card slots are also present.
If you need a well-performing laptop that fits your budget, the 15-inch laptop is a tried and tested size that will serve you well. If you seldom take your laptop to class, it is highly recommended. A secondary device can help address any portability issues.
We have narrowed down five laptops at different price points and have made recommendations on which major they are suited for, so feel free to check them out:
Is a 17-inch laptop too big for use in college?
Few students ever consider a 17-inch laptop for college. However, the larger size makes sense for coding, CAD, video editing, or accounting tasks.
A bigger size has room for adequate cooling of the processor and GPU. Manufacturers usually pack these laptops with fully unlocked hardware letting you squeeze out every bit of performance through overclocking.
17-inch laptops are sure to see only desk use. Most backpacks for college lack enough space for laptops larger than 15-inches, and the added weight makes it impossible to carry every day to class.
A portable laptop paired with a monitor should go a long way in replacing a 17-inch laptop. If you still need this particular size, consider getting a secondary laptop or tablet.
17-inch laptops are more expensive due to the larger display, so fewer options are available on a student budget. We’ve rounded up the ones we think are the best for you and recommended the best majors for them:
Choosing the right size laptop for college boils down to what you are pursuing and what you’ll use your laptop for.
For students pursuing a degree in Business or Medicine, a 13-inch or 14-inch laptop should be adequate for taking notes, making presentations, typing up essays, etc.,
Students in STEM need laptops with a bit more power and screen real estate, so the ideal laptop size is a 15-inches. Writing code, 2D and 3D CAD, and performing simulations are best done on a larger screen, so take a larger laptop or invest in a monitor accordingly.
Finally, those pursuing Arts will need a powerful laptop with a high-resolution screen for graphic design, renders, photo and video editing, 3D VFX, etc., found in 15-inch laptops. 13 and 14-inch Laptops with pen support are also great for digital drawing. If portability and budget are not an issue, a larger 17-inch screen is also a good option.
If you plan on gaming, you will require at least a 14-inch laptop. Anything smaller will tend to be underpowered and incapable of many playing most PC titles.
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