Best Computers for Back to School

Michael Kwan
Young student using a laptop computer

In addition to traditional school supplies like pens and paper, one of the most important purchases for any student going back to school in the modern age is a reliable computer. Regardless of the field of study, computers have become an integral part of any educational program and it is important to shop around for the best laptop, desktop, or convertible PC to suit the student's particular needs and budget.

1. Apple MacBook Air

Many students look for a laptop that is comfortable to use and offers good performance. They also want one with good battery life in a thin and lightweight frame. Embodying all of these characteristics is the 13-inch Apple MacBook Air. Selected by The Verge as the best laptop of 2015, the MacBook Air is "super sleek" and comes in multiple configurations. The base model features a 1.6GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB RAM and 128GB of flash storage.

Price: About $1000

2. Dell XPS 18

Not every student necessarily wants to carry around a notebook computer all day. One of the best all-in-one PCs on the market today is the Dell XPS 18. Earning an Editor's Choice Award from PC Magazine, the XPS 18 is unique in that it can function as an extra large tablet with a five-hour battery life or it can be docked and work like a traditional Windows desktop PC. Features include an 18-inch full HD screen, Intel Core i7 processor, 256GB SSD and 8GB of system memory.

Price: About $1,200

3. Lenovo C560 Touch

For those who seek the convenience of an all-in-one PC but have a tighter budget, the Lenovo C560 Touch is a desirable option to consider. Named the best affordable all-in-one by Tom's Guide, the 23-inch C560 Touch is perfectly adequate with a Core i3 processor, integrated webcam, and excellent audio. This is a great way to get the bigger screen of a desktop PC without needing to have a separate tower. It's a great idea for small dorm spaces as it can serve as a multimedia center for services like Netflix too.

Price: Around $850

4. Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Particularly of interest to students in creative fields like graphic design but equally versatile for those studying other subjects is the Microsoft Surface Pro 3. Technically a Windows tablet with an optional keyboard, the Surface Pro 3 features a unique pen for writing right on the screen, plus surprisingly robust performance in a slender package. Engadget scores it a 79/100 with user reviews averaging a very impressive 8.9/10.

Price: About $800

5. Dell Chromebook 11

With the continued growth of web-based apps, the pure online experience of Chrome OS is increasingly compelling. While the far more expensive Chromebook Pixel and the much heavier Acer Chromebook 15 C910 were rated higher in TechRadar's list of the best Chromebooks, the third ranked product was the far more affordable Dell Chromebook 11. TechRadar says it is a "star in almost every regard," featuring a 2.6GHz Intel Bay Trail-M processor, 4GB of RAM, and an 11.6-inch 1366 x 768 pixel touchscreen display. Students who have smaller budgets and don't require extraordinary performance will find a great value here.

Price: Close to $250

6. Asus Zenbook UX305

For those heading back to school who love the slick form factor of a MacBook but prefer a Windows-based machine at a more affordable price point, the Asus Zenbook UX305 is an exceptional choice. With high-end specs like the 13.3-inch full HD anti-glare display, 8GB of RAM, 256GB SSD and 8-hour battery life, the super thin UX305 earned a Laptop Mag Editor's Choice Award. The "gorgeous, all-aluminum body" is terrific, easily sliding into even slim backpacks. It's far thinner and even lighter than many textbooks.

Price: around $700

7. Acer Predator AG-605-UR39

Dollar for dollar, spec for spec, traditional desktop tower PCs will always be more powerful than their laptop counterparts. Particularly for those going back to school in fields that require more computing power, like 3D modeling and video editing, a powerful desktop like the Acer Predator AG-605-UR39 could fit the bill. PC World loved it, saying that few other PCs are "this competitively priced for the components delivered," which include a fast Core i7 processor, 8GB of DDR3-1600 RAM and a powerful NVIDIA GeForce GTX 770 graphics card.

Price: About $1,000

8. HP Stream 13

Buying a brand new Windows laptop does not need to be an expensive endeavor. Offering a tremendous value is the cheerfully colorful HP Stream 13. It's very affordable and includes one-year of Microsoft Office 365 Personal. Recode applauds the "roomy" keyboard and the "good selection of ports," calling the Stream 13 a good alternative to Chromebooks. Basic specifications include a 1366 x 768 pixel 13-inch screen, 2GB of RAM and an Intel Celeron processor. This is a good choice for middle school and high school students who want a dash of personality in a functional Windows computer.

Price: About $230

9. Apple MacBook Pro

The Apple MacBook Air is good, but some students need to have more power than what that machine can offer. Stepping up the OS X scale is the hugely popular Apple MacBook Pro. Boasting excellent battery life and great build quality, the 13-inch MacBook Pro (2015) earned a perfect 10/10 score from Trusted Reviews with the review citing "not much" for cons. The base 13-inch configuration features the Force Touch trackpad, 2.7GHz Core i5 processor, 128GB flash storage, 8GB of LPDDR3-1866 memory and a 10-hour battery. Students who need the added power for photo and video editing, among other multimedia applications, should find a lot to like here.

Price: Around $1,300

10. Build Your Own

The convenience of purchasing a ready-to-go computer for back to school cannot be understated, but the option of building your own computer should not be ignored either. PC Gamer explains why you should build your own PC, describing the learning experience that is inherently in line with the goal of education. What's more, the customization options for building your own computer are near limitless, creating the ideal combination of processors, graphics cards, chassis, storage, and more. Students in engineering and computer science can glean many great lessons by learning how their computer is put together by doing it themselves.

Price: Varies

Best Computers for Back to School