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What is the best size laptop for college students?

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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 portable and can last you throughout your day.

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:

Laptop
Acer Spin 5
Microsoft Surface Laptop 4
Microsoft Surface Pro 8
Apple M1 MacBook Air
Dell XPS 13 9310
Acer Spin 5...
Microsoft Surface...
Microsoft Surface...
2020 Apple MacBook...
Dell XPS 13 9310...
Processor
Intel Core i5-1035G4 | 4-core
AMD Ryzen 5 4680U | 6-core
Intel Core i5-1135G7 | 4-core
Apple M1 chip (8 cores)
Intel Core i7-1195G7
Memory
8GB LPDDR4
8GB LPDDR4
8GB LPDDR4X
8GB RAM
16GB LPDDR4x RAM
Storage
256GB NVMe SSD
256 GB PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD
256GB NVME SSD
256GB SSD
512GB SSD
Graphics
Intel Iris Plus Integrated Graphics
Radeon Graphics
Intel Iris Xe Graphics
Apple 8-core GPU
Intel Iris Xe Graphics
Best For
STEM | Medicine | Business | Law
STEM | Medicine | Business | Law | Arts
Medicine | Business | Law | Arts
STEM | Medicine | Business | Law | Arts
STEM | Medicine | Business | Law | Arts
Laptop
Acer Spin 5
Acer Spin 5...
Processor
Intel Core i5-1035G4 | 4-core
Memory
8GB LPDDR4
Storage
256GB NVMe SSD
Graphics
Intel Iris Plus Integrated Graphics
Best For
STEM | Medicine | Business | Law
Laptop
Microsoft Surface Laptop 4
Microsoft Surface...
Processor
AMD Ryzen 5 4680U | 6-core
Memory
8GB LPDDR4
Storage
256 GB PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD
Graphics
Radeon Graphics
Best For
STEM | Medicine | Business | Law | Arts
Laptop
Microsoft Surface Pro 8
Microsoft Surface...
Processor
Intel Core i5-1135G7 | 4-core
Memory
8GB LPDDR4X
Storage
256GB NVME SSD
Graphics
Intel Iris Xe Graphics
Best For
Medicine | Business | Law | Arts
Laptop
Apple M1 MacBook Air
2020 Apple MacBook...
Processor
Apple M1 chip (8 cores)
Memory
8GB RAM
Storage
256GB SSD
Graphics
Apple 8-core GPU
Best For
STEM | Medicine | Business | Law | Arts
Laptop
Dell XPS 13 9310
Dell XPS 13 9310...
Processor
Intel Core i7-1195G7
Memory
16GB LPDDR4x RAM
Storage
512GB SSD
Graphics
Intel Iris Xe Graphics
Best For
STEM | Medicine | Business | Law | Arts

Is a 14-inch laptop good enough for students in college?

14-inch laptops pack a ton of power while still managing to be portable

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:

Laptop
Lenovo IdeaPad 3
Lenovo Flex 5
ASUS ZenBook 14
ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14
ASUS ZenBook 14X OLED
Lenovo IdeaPad 3...
Lenovo Flex 5...
ASUS ZenBook 14...
Asus ROG Zephyrus...
ASUS ZenBook 14X...
Processor
AMD Ryzen 5 5500U (6 Cores)
AMD Ryzen 5 5500U (6 Cores)
Intel Core i7-1165G7
AMD Ryzen 9 5900HS (8 cores)
Intel Core i7-1260P
Memory
‎8 GB DDR4 RAM
16GB DDR4 RAM
‎‎8 GB LPDDR4X RAM
16GB DDR4 RAM
‎16 GB DDR5 RAM
Storage
‎256 GB SSD
256 GB M.2 SSD
256 GB SSD
1TB PCIe SSD
512GB SSD
Graphics
AMD Radeon 7 Graphics
AMD Radeon 7 Graphics
Intel Iris Xe Graphics
NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060
NVIDIA GeForce MX550
Best For
STEM | Medicine | Business | Law
STEM | Medicine | Business | Law | Arts
STEM | Medicine | Business | Law | Arts
STEM | Medicine | Business | Law | Arts | Gaming
Arts
Laptop
Lenovo IdeaPad 3
Lenovo IdeaPad 3...
Processor
AMD Ryzen 5 5500U (6 Cores)
Memory
‎8 GB DDR4 RAM
Storage
‎256 GB SSD
Graphics
AMD Radeon 7 Graphics
Best For
STEM | Medicine | Business | Law
Laptop
Lenovo Flex 5
Lenovo Flex 5...
Processor
AMD Ryzen 5 5500U (6 Cores)
Memory
16GB DDR4 RAM
Storage
256 GB M.2 SSD
Graphics
AMD Radeon 7 Graphics
Best For
STEM | Medicine | Business | Law | Arts
Laptop
ASUS ZenBook 14
ASUS ZenBook 14...
Processor
Intel Core i7-1165G7
Memory
‎‎8 GB LPDDR4X RAM
Storage
256 GB SSD
Graphics
Intel Iris Xe Graphics
Best For
STEM | Medicine | Business | Law | Arts
Laptop
ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14
Asus ROG Zephyrus...
Processor
AMD Ryzen 9 5900HS (8 cores)
Memory
16GB DDR4 RAM
Storage
1TB PCIe SSD
Graphics
NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060
Best For
STEM | Medicine | Business | Law | Arts | Gaming
Laptop
ASUS ZenBook 14X OLED
ASUS ZenBook 14X...
Processor
Intel Core i7-1260P
Memory
‎16 GB DDR5 RAM
Storage
512GB SSD
Graphics
NVIDIA GeForce MX550
Best For
Arts

Is a 15-inch laptop too big for college students?

15-inch laptops offer the best performance for the price and have a big enough screen for most tasks

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:

Laptop
Dell Inspiron 15 3525
Acer Aspire 5
2022 Lenovo IdeaPad 3
HP Omen 15
MSI Creator 15
Dell Inspiron 15...
Acer Aspire 5...
Lenovo IdeaPad 3...
Omen 15 Gaming...
MSI Creator 15...
Processor
AMD Ryzen 5 5625U (6 Core)
Intel Core i5-1235U (10 Cores)
AMD Ryzen 5-5600H (6 Core)
AMD Ryzen 7 5800H (8 Core)
Intel Core i7-11800H (8 Core)
Memory
8GB DDR4 RAM
8GB DDR4 RAM
16GB RAM
8 GB RAM
16GB RAM
Storage
256GB SSD
512GB NVMe SSD
1TB PCIe SSD
512 GB SSD
512GB NVME SSD
Graphics
AMD Radeon 5 Graphics
Intel Iris Xe Graphics
NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3050 Ti
NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060
NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060
Best For
STEM | Medicine | Business | Law
STEM | Medicine | Business | Law | Gaming
STEM | Medicine | Business | Law | Gaming
STEM | Medicine | Business | Law | Gaming
Arts
Laptop
Dell Inspiron 15 3525
Dell Inspiron 15...
Processor
AMD Ryzen 5 5625U (6 Core)
Memory
8GB DDR4 RAM
Storage
256GB SSD
Graphics
AMD Radeon 5 Graphics
Best For
STEM | Medicine | Business | Law
Laptop
Acer Aspire 5
Acer Aspire 5...
Processor
Intel Core i5-1235U (10 Cores)
Memory
8GB DDR4 RAM
Storage
512GB NVMe SSD
Graphics
Intel Iris Xe Graphics
Best For
STEM | Medicine | Business | Law | Gaming
Laptop
2022 Lenovo IdeaPad 3
Lenovo IdeaPad 3...
Processor
AMD Ryzen 5-5600H (6 Core)
Memory
16GB RAM
Storage
1TB PCIe SSD
Graphics
NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3050 Ti
Best For
STEM | Medicine | Business | Law | Gaming
Laptop
HP Omen 15
Omen 15 Gaming...
Processor
AMD Ryzen 7 5800H (8 Core)
Memory
8 GB RAM
Storage
512 GB SSD
Graphics
NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060
Best For
STEM | Medicine | Business | Law | Gaming
Laptop
MSI Creator 15
MSI Creator 15...
Processor
Intel Core i7-11800H (8 Core)
Memory
16GB RAM
Storage
512GB NVME SSD
Graphics
NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060
Best For
Arts

Is a 17-inch laptop too big for use in college?

17-inch laptops have the largest screens and the best performance but are highly incontinent to carry around.

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:

Laptop
Lenovo IdeaPad 3
HP 17-inch Laptop
ASUS TUF Gaming F17
Acer Nitro 5
HP Omen
Lenovo IdeaPad 3...
HP 17 Laptop PC,...
ASUS TUF Gaming F17...
Acer Nitro 5...
OMEN by HP 17-inch...
Processor
AMD Ryzen 5 5500U (6 Core)
Intel Core i5-1135G7 (4 Core)
Intel Core i5-11400H (6 Core)
Intel Core i7-11800H (8 Core)
Core i7-12700H (14 Core)
Memory
8GB RAM
8 GB RAM
8GB DDR4 RAM
16GB DDR4 RAM
16 GB DDR5 RAM
Storage
512GB Storage
512 GB SSD
512GB PCIe SSD
1TB NVMe SSD
512 GB SSD
Graphics
AMD Radeon 7 Graphics
Intel Iris Xe Graphics
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050
NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3050Ti
NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060
Best For
STEM | Medicine | Business | Law
STEM | Medicine | Business | Law
STEM | Medicine | Business | Law | Gaming
STEM | Medicine | Business | Law | Gaming
STEM | Medicine | Business | Law | Arts | Gaming
Laptop
Lenovo IdeaPad 3
Lenovo IdeaPad 3...
Processor
AMD Ryzen 5 5500U (6 Core)
Memory
8GB RAM
Storage
512GB Storage
Graphics
AMD Radeon 7 Graphics
Best For
STEM | Medicine | Business | Law
Laptop
HP 17-inch Laptop
HP 17 Laptop PC,...
Processor
Intel Core i5-1135G7 (4 Core)
Memory
8 GB RAM
Storage
512 GB SSD
Graphics
Intel Iris Xe Graphics
Best For
STEM | Medicine | Business | Law
Laptop
ASUS TUF Gaming F17
ASUS TUF Gaming F17...
Processor
Intel Core i5-11400H (6 Core)
Memory
8GB DDR4 RAM
Storage
512GB PCIe SSD
Graphics
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050
Best For
STEM | Medicine | Business | Law | Gaming
Laptop
Acer Nitro 5
Acer Nitro 5...
Processor
Intel Core i7-11800H (8 Core)
Memory
16GB DDR4 RAM
Storage
1TB NVMe SSD
Graphics
NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3050Ti
Best For
STEM | Medicine | Business | Law | Gaming
Laptop
HP Omen
OMEN by HP 17-inch...
Processor
Core i7-12700H (14 Core)
Memory
16 GB DDR5 RAM
Storage
512 GB SSD
Graphics
NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060
Best For
STEM | Medicine | Business | Law | Arts | Gaming

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.

Please share this article with your friends and classmates if you like this article. Feel free to ask anything in the comment section, and we’ll always be there to answer.

About Paul Jacob

As an avid hardware enthusiast, Paul always takes the opportunity to explore the underlying technology through teardowns of the laptops, smartphones, and graphics cards he owns. He is also pretty passionate about stuff like sideloading the latest Android ROM to his smartphone or tweaking the processor clocks on his laptop to improve performance and lower temps.

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