Brandon has been writing online and creating YouTube videos for the past 6 years. He specializes in computer hardware and PC gaming.
Looking for a laptop that can not only handle your college classes, but game as well? Here are 6 options, from $350 to $1,500, that give you great value for the price.
Before we begin our reviews, I want to mention that we’re placing a considerable emphasis on performance here. So, considerations like battery life and weight take a bit of a back seat to processing power and graphics.
That doesn’t mean these laptops aren’t quality options. Rather, many of them are highly-rated. That being said, if you’re looking for an option that’s ultra-portable, lightweight, and has a long battery life, this may not be what you're looking for.
A Gaming Laptop Under $700 for School
Acer Nitro 5 Gaming Laptop
If you're looking for pure performance and looking in the $600 to $700 range, you'll have a hard time finding better specs than you get with Acer's Nitro 5 AN515-54-5812. It features a dedicated GTX 1650 and a 4 core / 8 thread processor in Intel's i5-9300H.
Most laptops at this price point don't carry a dedicated graphics card. So, what are you giving up here to get it?
Turns out, not a whole lot.
While I'd consider the Nitro 5 to be a bit bulky with relatively low battery life (around 4 to 5 hours of regular use), I found it to be better quality than I was expecting. And at around 5 pounds you could definitely still handle it inside a backpack. It does have a right-handed layout, so lefties may want to keep that in mind.
The screen is a 1080p IPS display that is nice and bright while hard drive space is a bit limited with a 256GB NVMe SSD. Plus it comes with a good looking, albeit average performing, backlit keyboard.
Easy Upgrade Path
The Nitro 5 Has an open M.2 slot and hard drive bay as well as an additional slot for ram. So, if you add another $100 to it down-the-line, you could improve its performance as well as capacity without a problem.
For pure performance, I definitely recommend the Nitro 5 here. It'll handle popular games like Valorant, Fortnite, and League of Legends without a problem. For AAA titles, a bit of tweaking and you should be fine as well.
Overall, Acer has done an excellent job here of providing performance users exactly what they're looking for; high performance without the bricky feel.
From $800 to $1,200: Gaming Laptops for Editors and Student Engineers
Acer Predator Helios 300 Gaming Laptop
Looking for a machine with gaming specs for your engineering program or just want an awesome gaming machine? The Acer Predator Helios 300 is a fantastic choice and my choice for those who are looking for a laptop in the $1,200 range.
You'll come across several versions of this, so you'll want to go with the newer models that have the i7-9750H which has 6 cores along with a more recent graphics card.
Killer Gaming Specs
This laptop from Acer includes a 6 core i7-9750H that boosts up to 4.5GHz, a GTX 1660 Ti 6GB graphics card, 16GB of DDR4 2666MHz Memory, 512GB NVMe SSD, and a 144Hz 15.6″ IPS display.
Even though these may seem like gaming specs, they're also an ideal option for someone who is in an engineering program. This is especially true for those who have an intense CAD workload. That being said, some engineering students may find that this kind of laptop is ultimately unnecessary. So, understanding the classes you plan on taking is the first step.
Other than being a fantastic laptop overall, the Helios 300 also does amazing things in today’s modern games taking on the likes of Battlefield 1 and giving gamers a high FPS experience in ultra settings on a game like Valorant. The 144Hz refresh rate monitor is nothing short of beautiful and definitely gives you an edge against the competition.
Overall, this is a great laptop for someone looking for a bit more performance. The best part is that it only costs around $1,100. The Energy Efficient GTX 1660 Ti means that overall it doesn’t get too hot while still allowing you to run any game you come across. For those looking for a color-accurate option, this one is probably not what you’re looking for. Yes, the display looks brilliant; however, it isn’t exactly calibrated.
Battery life is also not too bad while you're not gaming and gives you up to 6 hours. You may still want to take your charging cable with you, but it's definitely enough to get through a long day.
Under $900: MSI GF63 Thin 9RCX-615
Looking for a gaming laptop that has less of the clunk but still a lot of spunk?
In the $800 range, I like MSI's GV62 84D-200 right now. It has a thin bezel and sleek look while inside boasting an Intel i5-9300H that boosts up to 4.1GHz and a GTX 1050TI graphics card.
Why the older GTX 1050TI? You save several hundred dollars here by losing about 20% performance to the GTX 1650.
Battery life is better than most at around 7 hours of normal use.
This should allow you to play today's latest titles. Will you be able to run them on super ultra premium max? Probably not. That being said, they should still look really good.
Display and Keyboard
In addition to the hardware, the GV62 also gives you a 15.6" IPS-Level display and a fairly solid backlit keyboard.
Additional specs include 8GB of DDR4, a 512GB NVME SSD, and 7-hour battery life.
The Final Verdict
Let me be clear. This isn't a lightweight laptop at 7 and a half pounds. However, unlike many gaming laptops, the look here is still very sleek. The thin bezel helps with that.
It comes with a good enough processor and a decent graphics card as well. The GTX 1050Ti isn't going to perform any miracles here. However, you can still play anything with some tweaking and it looks great on the 1080p IPS display.
Under $600: Acer Aspire E 15 E5-576G-5762 Laptop
We reviewed the Acer Aspire E15 last year and this model is the upgrade to it. It provides an amazing amount of value in terms of specifications while still maintaining quality on the simple things like its keyboard and monitor.
Battery life for the E15 is up to 12 hours during typical use. We found that this was substantially decreased while gaming.
Speaking of gaming, even though the E15 boasts a $599 price tag, it still has a dedicated MX150 graphics card. This is a direct replacement of the 940MX. While we haven’t benchmarked the MX150 directly we have benchmarked the 940MX in a variety of games in our review. In a popular game like Overwatch, it gets an average of around 59 FPS in medium settings.
For more benchmarks, I listed a Tech Deals review below that includes additional games like Fortnite and PUBG.
Solid State Drive
Another plus for the E15 is that it comes with a 256GB solid-state drive. This makes boot times and loading almost instantaneous. As I’ll discuss below, a solid state drive is now a must-have for any laptop.
The E15 has a 4 core and 8 thread i5-8420U processor. This is a fantastic option for everyday use, videos, as well as PC games.
For weight, the E15 comes in at around 5 pounds. So, you can throw it in your bag, use the up to 15-hour battery (much less while playing video games), and have pretty much everything you’d need.
The Final Verdict
This is a great laptop for college with some light gaming built in. The 5.27-pound weight, the quick loading, and booting of the included solid state drive, and the built-in MX150 graphics make it a great deal for under $600.
Gaming Benchmarks for the Acer Aspire E15 E5-576G-5762 Laptop
Overall if you’ve got around $500 to $600 to spend, we highly recommend this 15-inch laptop. It has great specs, good quality, is very affordable, and lightweight for carrying around.
A Laptop for Gaming Under $600: Acer Aspire E5-576-392H
If you’re looking for a good PC laptop around $600 there’s an Acer Aspire E15 version, model E5-576-392H which comes with a Kaby Lake i3-8100U, 6GB of DDR4, and a 1TB 5400RPM hard drive. It does not include the graphics card that the above model has.
If you go with this option, there is an M.2 SSD slot. I highly recommend you spend another $80 here and use it if you’re tech savvy at all. If not, you might want to look elsewhere as without a SSD this laptop feels kind of slow.
But Will it Play...
Playing on this computer should allow you to play basic e-Sports like WoW, CS:GO, Hearthstone, and Moba games on low settings.
As Austin Evans will show you in the video below, you'll get above 30FPS on 600p with settings turned down in Fortnite. Not bad for such an inexpensive option.
An Ultra-Slim and Portable Option: Asus VivoBook 15" Thin Laptop with R53500U
Integrating AMD's 4 core r5-3500U and Radeon Vega 8 Graphics, this Asus VivoBook is both inexpensive and powerful.
If a lightweight option is a priority for you, I highly recommend you check out the Asus Zenbook. In this price range, take a look at model F50UA-AH51 or F510UA-AH55 with the SSD. This ultra-slim option comes with a .3" Asus NanoEdge Bezel for an almost bezel-free experience.
Not only is this laptop slim and lightweight, it comes with good performance as well. Technical details include the AMD R5-3500U quad-core processor, 128GB SSD, 1TB 5400RPM HDD, and 8GB DDR4 RAM. In addition to these specifications, you also get a quality ergonomic backlit chiclet keyboard, plenty of connectivity options, quality speakers, and even a fingerprint reader.
Speaking of connectivity some of you may like to know that this particular option also comes with a USB-C port.
The Final Verdict
Overall, this laptop will perform well on a game like Fortnite and be a great option for school because of its lightweight. For examples of the type of performance you can expect, I've included a video below with 12 tested games. If you're wanting to play some basic games on low to medium settings, it'll definitely do that for you.
Beastmode Option: ASUS GL731GT-EB76 ROG Strix G Gaming Laptop
Available in a 15.6 inch and 17.3 inch display, the ROG Strix G gaming laptop comes in at $1,100 and around $1,200. Both options give you the GTX 1650 as a graphics card.
This laptop delivers crisp and clear sound through its amazing side speakers. In addition, you get the i7-9750H 6 core processor. Considering some i7s had just 2 cores a few years ago, it's great to have such a good option.
Last but not least, this model comes with a 1TB PCIe solid-state drive. So, everything you load will be lightning-fast and you get enough capacity for all your favorite games.
The Display for this laptop is a 15.6" or 17.3" 144Hz IPS-Type Display with a slim bezel and a fast response time. This is ideal for gaming and looks absolutely fantastic.
The ROG STRIX Scar II Gaming Laptop also includes 16GB of DDR4 at 2666MHz, i7-9750h processor and a 1650 graphics card.
The Final Verdict
This laptop is somewhat pricey but it gives you a great CPU and graphics card combination. It definitely gives you enough hardware to justify its price tag; however, there are certainly options at this price range with the 1660Ti. That being said, I'm more impressed with the quality and design of the laptop itself.
College Student Laptop Buying Guide
Why You NEED a Solid State Drive
If you don’t know what a solid state drive is, it’s like a hard drive but a lot faster. It not only makes your boot time almost instantaneous, it also makes all of your programs open more quickly. In general, it also makes everything feel more “snappy”. In 2017, I honestly wouldn’t even buy a laptop without one. I’ve taken old laptops, added a solid state drive, and they feel perfectly new. Ultimately, it’s something I wouldn’t go without.
If You Can, Go Lightweight
Having taken more than six years of college, I know just how heavy a laptop can be that you have to haul around all day. For this reason, I highly recommend you go with something that’s somewhat lightweight and compact. Otherwise, you’ll hesitate to take it with you in your backpack which kind of defeats the purpose.
Battery Life is Very Important
Another important consideration when buying a laptop is how much battery life you think you’ll need. If you plan on being at campus all day long, having a battery life of 8 hours for basic browsing is a good idea. Most of the more gaming-oriented laptops don’t last that long.
Pentium, i3, i5, vs i7
Laptop processors are pretty confusing and most of the Intel ones have 2 cores. Only the HQ Intel processors have 4 cores. So, whether you’re looking at an i7 or an i5, keep that in mind. Processor speed is important too; however, not super important if you’re just doing standard browsing.
Overall, what processor you need again will depend on the tasks you’re trying to do. For gaming, assuming you have a dedicated graphics card, I’d recommend a processor that has “HQ” on the end of the model number. The extra 2 cores make a big difference while gaming.
For general browsing, word documents, excel spreadsheets, and other general computer tasks you may find that an i3 or even a Pentium is more than enough.
A dedicated graphics card is not only for games. It can also be very useful for editing, rendering, and many other tasks. So, how much you want to spend on a graphics card will likely depend on that. For most gamers, even a GTX 1050 will provide a good amount of FPS in today’s latest games as long as you’re running in 1080p.
Color Accuracy and Monitors
If you’re studying photo editing or graphic design, you’ll likely want a color accurate monitor. Typically, these are a bit more expensive. Any MacBook will do, of course, but if you’re trying to save some money go with an IPS panel that covers a lot of the Adobe RGB color spectrum. Alternatively, you can hook up an IPS monitor into your laptop and use that as your color accurate option rather than your monitor’s screen.
What about screen size?
Screen size comes down to personal preference more than anything else. Personally, I like a 15″ screen for doing work because it’s easier to see. However, I have a lot of friends who prefer 11 and 13″ screens. So, go with whatever feels comfortable for you. If you’re not sure what size you’d prefer, go to your local Best Buy or Costco and take a look at the various sizes.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2018 Brandon Hart