Best College Student Laptops for PC Gaming 2018
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, we’re not placing a huge emphasis on battery life, the weight of the laptop, or even the materials in its construction. Rather, we’re looking for laptops that give you the best processor and graphics card combinations for the price.
That doesn’t mean these laptops aren’t quality options. Rather, many of them are very highly rated. Still, if you’re looking for an option that’s ultraportable, lightweight, and lasts a week without having to plug it in, you may want to go elsewhere for that.
Under $1,000 - For Gamers, 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.
You'll come across several versions of this, so you'll want to go with the newer models that have the i7-8750H. The upgraded processor has an extra 2 cores and these machines typically have the NVMe SSD rather than the older options.
Killer Gaming Specs
This laptop from Acer includes a 6 core i7-8750H that boosts up to 4.1GHz, a GTX 1060 6GB graphics card, 16GB of DDR4 Memory, 256GB NVMe SSD, and a 144Hz 15.6″ IPS display.
Even though these may seem like gaming specs, they make are 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 Mass Effect Andromeda without a problem. The 144Hz refresh rate monitor is nothing short of beautiful.
Overall, this is a great laptop for someone looking for a bit more performance. The best part is that it only costs $1,000. The Energy Efficient GTX 1060 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.
MSI GV62 8RD-200
In the $800 range, I like MSI's GV62 84D-200 right now. It comes with an Intel i5-8300H that turbos up to 4GHz and a GTX 1050Ti dedicated graphics cards.
This should allow you to play even today's latest AAA titles. Will you be able to run them on super ultra premium max? Probably not. That being said, they still look fantastic.
Display and Keyboard
In addition to the hardware, the GV62 also gives you a 15.6" IPS-Level display and a Black SteelSeries Red backlit integrated keyboard.
Additional specs include 8GB of DDR4, 16GB Intel Optane drive, and a 1TB hard drive. If you're not familiar with Optane, it makes loading levels, large files, and doing everyday tasks much quicker.
The Final Verdict
Serious gaming, serious parts, and serious features all for $800. The GTX 1050Ti is equivalent to a much more expensive GPU in previous generations. So, you really get a rock solid GPU and CPU here that's capable of a lot. If you're in this price range, I highly recommend it.
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.
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.
Acer Aspire E5-576-392H
If you’re looking for a good PC laptop under $400 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 ZenBook F50UA-AH51
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 an i5-8250U processor, 128GB SSD (optional upgrade), 1TB 5400RPM HDD, and 8GB DDR3 RAM. In addition to these specifications, the Zenbook UX330UA-AH54 has a fingerprint reader with one-touch login, a good quality keyboard, plenty of connectivity options, and quality speakers.
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 do some very light gaming and be a great option for school because of its light weight. If you're wanting to play some basic games on low settings, it'll do that for you. Just know what you're getting ahead of time with the i5-8250U's integrated graphics and you won't be disappointed.
ASUS GL504GS-XS76 ROG Strix SCAR II Gaming Laptop
Asus makes some of the best laptops around. If you're willing to go with a previous generation i7 processor, you can get a dedicated GTX 1080 rather than the GTX 1070 in this price range.
Yet, this laptop is the newer option with newer features. And since a GTX 1070 still does a fantastic job in 10880p, this is the gaming laptop I'm recommending at under $2,000.
This laptop includes SCAR II which delivers crisp and clear sound through its amazing side speakers. In addition, you get the i7-8750H here which boosts up to 3.9GHz and has 6 cores!
Last but not least, this model comes with a 512GB NVMe solid state drive. So, everything you load will be lightning fast.
The Display for this laptop is a 15.6" 144Hz IPS-Type Display with a slim 5mm bezel and a 3 ms 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, a GTX 1070 8GB graphics card, and a customizable Asus AURA Sync RGB Gaming Keyboard.
The Final Verdict
The Asus ROG STRIX Scar II is quite expensive. It definitely gives you enough hardware to justify its price tag. If you're at this price point, it's definitely one of the best out there.
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.