The laptop market is a bit strange right now, which is particularly problematic if you’re going back to school. We’ve seen some of the best gaming laptops ever this year, but many solid laptops for going back to school haven’t been updated to the latest generation yet, making it hard to settle on one machine.
We’ve reviewed dozens of laptops in 2023, and there are only a select few that meet the balance of price, performance, and portability that students demand. If you’re going back to school, these are the only three laptops you should even consider.
The high roller: Razer Blade 14
College students aren’t exactly known for having a lot of disposable income, but if you’re fortunate enough to have some extra cash to throw around, it’s worth spending on the Razer Blade 14. As you can read in our Razer Blade 14 review, it’s a little more expensive than last year’s model, but it comes with updated specs to justify its higher price.
It’s almost the perfect gaming laptop for college, and if it wasn’t for the $2,400 list price (yikes), it would be perfect. First, the machine debuts AMD’s Ryzen AI in the CPU, which enables webcam effects like background blur and and eye contact during video calls with much higher quality than we typically see. The CPU itself is also a decent performer, though it really shines due to its efficiency. After tuning the machine in Razer Synapse, you can easily get over eight hours of battery life out of the Ryzen 9 7940HS and RTX 4070 inside the laptop.
And on battery life, another huge plus for the Razer Blade 14 is USB-C charging. You should use the 230-watt AC adapter for the fastest charge and best performance, but the Blade 14 supports up to 100W of charging over the USB-C port, allowing you to quickly top off with a small wall adapter between classes.
All of the previous perks of the Razer Blade 14 still apply here, too — the keyboard is one of the best you can find on a laptop, performance is competitive across the board, and the 240Hz display is gorgeous. Most college students won’t be able to afford a machine like the Razer Blade 14, but if you can, it’s worth the price.
The all-arounder: Lenovo Legion Pro 5
You can get all of the performance of the Razer Blade 14 for half the price with the Lenovo Legion Pro 5. Starting at around $1,100, it’s a crazy deal assuming you don’t mind a larger laptop that’s a little heavier in your backpack.
The Lenovo Legion Pro 5 delivers over eight hours of battery life away from the charger, and it supports USB-C charging so you don’t need to carry the 230W AC adapter around. The keyboard is also excellent, which is a surprising plus for a laptop that’s focused on providing a good value.
What really stands out is the performance, though. Consistently, Lenovo’s laptops punch above the hardware inside of them, and the Legion Pro 5 is no different. At its native resolution of 2,560 x 1,600, it delivers above 60 frames per second (fps) in games like Red Dead Redemption 2 and Returnal when configured with an RTX 4070.
You don’t save over $1,000 without cutting a few corners, though. For as impressive as the Lenovo Legion Pro 5 is, it’s a little heavy at over 5 pounds, and it’s a bit thick at 0.86 inches. The display isn’t the best, either, with decent color and accuracy, but poor brightness. The screen comes with a 165Hz refresh rate, though, so it’s still solid for gaming.
The budget champ: Dell G15
If you’re shopping for a new gaming laptop, the absolute floor of prices is around $800. There are a handful of options around that price, but I’d recommend Dell’s new G15 above any other. It doesn’t come with extras like USB-C charging, it’s thick and heavy, and the screen isn’t the best, but it still offers great battery life and solid performance for a bargain bin price.
Starting at $800, you’re getting an Intel Core i5-1350HX and an Nvidia RTX 3050. Those are solid specs for the price, though unfortunately, you have to settlr for a single stick of 8GB of DDR5 memory and a 256GB SSD. You’re not going to be pushing ray tracing in Cyberpunk 2077 with this configuration, but the G15 can still hold up in games like Rainbow Six Siege, Fortnite, and DOTA 2 without breaking a sweat.
What the Dell G15 really gets right is build quality. The all-plastic construction can’t hold up to aluminum laptops, but it has minimal keyboard and screen flex, as well as a comfortable matte finish on all surfaces. The keyboard is also much better than its price would suggest, and it’s complemented by a thin number pad.
For most people, though, I would recommend looking at a machine like the Lenovo Legion Pro 5, especially if you can find an open box or refurbished model. The G15 only makes sense at its base, budget-focused configuration, but it’s much more expensive if you step up the specs, and there are better options available for cheaper in that case.