Best overall: Dell XPS 13

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The XPS 13 (starting at $799) is a premium laptop offered by Dell, and it is a superb match for students. Sporting the latest generation of Intel processors, even in the base model configuration, the slim and powerful notebook will be more than a match for both studies and downtime.

Bottom line: Great overall product with enough punch for demanding tasks.

One more thing: It has a backlit keyboard for those late-evening sessions.

Why the XPS 13 is the best laptop for students

Picking the best laptop before heading back to school (or graduating) in 2018 doesn't have to be yet another chore on the list of things to get done. The beauty of the XPS 13 is you're able to configure it exactly how you wish. Need more than 128GB of solid state drive (SSD) storage? Simply add a 256GB drive when ordering or install one after the laptop gets delivered, if you can save money through Amazon or another online retailer. Then you have a Full HD display with barely any bezel, which can be bumped to QHD with touch-screen support.

Speaking of specifications, the XPS 13 was recently refreshed by Dell to include Intel's seventh-gen "Kaby Lake" processors. These components are matched with at least 4GB of RAM and Killer 1535 wireless connectivity. The latter improvement with the XPS 13 is a major benefit for students, thanks to its excellent wireless range and reliability. The laptop can also be personalized with a choice of color: silver or rose gold.

The keyboard is likely what will be used the most, and this is probably the laptop's weak spot. It's not the worst keyboard by any means, but it's also not among the best. With only 1.3 mm of key travel (how far the key can be pressed down), it can feel somewhat "mushy" to those who are used to desktop mechanical keyboards or other portable PCs with enhanced means of input. There's also an issue with oil stains after considerable amounts of use.

Overlooking the keyboard, you have a super-portable laptop with a gorgeous display and excellent performance. Couple all that with improved battery life (thanks to expanded capacity and the newest processors) and you've got one fantastic device for any student.

See our review of the XPS 13

Practical: Acer Swift 3

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Powered by an Intel i5 processor alongside 8GB of RAM, this capable Acer laptop (costing just $699) is ready to go with up to seven hours of use. Take advantage of the 15-inch display and super-fast SSD for maximum productivity.

Bottom line: It's a good, portable notebook that won't break the bank.

One more thing: The battery can last up to 10 hours on a single charge.

Portable: ASUS ZenBook UX330UA

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This ZenBook laptop (commanding a price tag of $699) is made out of aluminum, sports an Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and has a great keyboard for those intense Word document sessions. Being rather thin and light also makes this ASUS notebook incredibly portable.

Bottom line: This is the best looking laptop in our roundup.

One more thing: There's a built-in fingerprint sensor.

Affordable: Chuwi Lapbook 15.6

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Chuwi is a Chinese brand you might not be familiar with but that is putting out some really great, really affordable Windows 10 hardware. The Lapbook 15.6 has a Full HD IPS display that looks terrific along with some decent internal hardware for the price.

You'll find an Intel Atom quad-core processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of internal storage with a microSD card slot to expand it. It has a full-size keyboard and a decent trackpad, too, not to mention plenty of ports and a 10,000mAh battery.

It looks great, and it costs only $240. There's a lot to like and very little to complain about.

Bottom line: Looks and performs great at a ridiculously low price.

One more thing: The Lapbook 15.6 has a full HD 1080p display for under $300.

Professional: Microsoft Surface Pro

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The Surface Pro is Microsoft's main tablet-come-laptop combo, and it starts at $799. Depending on your desired configuration, the Surface tablet can be as powerful as your needs require, with the option of an Intel Core i7 processor. Solid construction meets powerful components and a stunning overall design.

Bottom line: The Surface Pro brings a whole new level of productivity to the portable-PC table.

One more thing: Special pricing for students means there are savings to be had ahead of a new term.

Conclusion

The XPS 13 by Dell is a stunning laptop and is one of our favorites. A gorgeous design, solid performance and reliability make it fit for purpose at college. Should you need a little more, Microsoft's Surface line-up is where it's at, taking into account student discounts.

Best overall: Dell XPS 13

See at Dell

The XPS 13 (starting at $799) is a premium laptop offered by Dell, and it is a superb match for students. Sporting the latest generation of Intel processors, even in the base model configuration, the slim and powerful notebook will be more than a match for both studies and downtime.

Bottom line: Great overall product with enough punch for demanding tasks.

One more thing: It has a backlit keyboard for those late-evening sessions.

Updated May 24, 2018: We replaced the Surface Pro 4 with the new Surface Pro.