Best Laptops for Back to School – 2017 Edition


We’re sure this list is going to cause some controversy. After all, in the world of tech, opinions are more varied than knock-off brands at the local dollar store. Still, chances are your student could benefit from a new laptop as they enter the 2017 school year.

If you find yourself looking to the best combination of performance, power, and value, this list is going to be right up your alley.

We aren’t normally the most tech-savvy group, so we reached out to certified geek and lifelong tech junkie, Cameron Martel, to pinch hit for us on this one. He’s also the one currently writing this post, and subsequently writing about himself in third person. Awkward…

What’s here: As a full-time internet marketer and lover of all things spreadsheetey in nature, I decided to focus on what matters to students: productivity, of course, but also overall performance in gaming, applications, and internet usage.

To keep this list organized I’ve broken it down into three categories: under $500, $500 – $1,000, and over $1,000. Let’s do it!

1. Productivity Focused: Signature Lenovo Z50-75
2. All in One: Lenovo 2-in-1 15.6”
3. Ultra-Affordable Barebones Budget Warrier: HP Chromebook 11.6” (Refurbished)
1. Good: Acer Aspire E 17 E5-774
2. Better: Dell Inspiron 15.6″
3. Best: Acer Aspire VX 15 Gaming Laptop
1. Good All-Arounder: HP Envy 17t Gaming Edition
2. Great At Everything: HP Open 17t Gamer VR Laptop
9. Texas Instruments TI-83 Plus Graphing Calculator
10. Overkill: Acer Predator 17 X GX-792-77BL

My Laptop Picks for Under $500

At this price point there are going to be compromises- there’s just no way around it. However, depending on your need, you can cut the chaff from certain components to maximize enjoyment.

1. Productivity Focused: Signature Lenovo Z50-75

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$499 – Lenovo is a brand commonly found in offices everywhere, so it’s no surprise that it’s my budget pick when the focus is on productivity. This one’s got all the essentials: 16gb of DDR3 ram, a 1TB HDD, and a quad-core AMD FX-7500 APU that’s clocked at 2.1 ghz.

It comes with all the standard features, too: bluetooth 4.0, built-in Wifi, a DVD-RW drive, and a 15.6” screen.

Lacking an SSD or a dedicated graphics chip, this Lenovo isn’t going to be winning any races. Still, if your student wants to play a few games, this laptop should be able to play today’s latest and greatest… though probably not on the greatest settings.

 

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2. All in One: Lenovo 2-in-1 15.6”

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$489 – Another Lenovo, which doesn’t come at any surprise given they dominate this end of the market. Unlike the pick above, which sports a healthy amount of ram, this unit is somewhat down on specs (notably, using Intel integrated graphics).

Under the hood is 8GB of SDRam, a 2.4ghz Intel i3 processor, and a 1TB HDD. However, this laptop can be flipped over and used as a tablet. The multi-touch capable screen is surprisingly capable and is perfect for light computing, drawing/art, and note taking.

As a portable tablet, casual Netflix watcher, and user of all things Office-related, this 2-in-1 is perfectly capable. However, its lackluster amount of ram and slow 5,400rpm HDD makes it a less-than-stellar performer for today’s latest games- though golden oldies should run just fine.

 

 

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3. Ultra-Affordable Barebones Budget Warrier: HP Chromebook 11.6” (Refurbished)

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$140 – For under $150 you can set your student up with a perfectly capable laptop with proper keyboard. While this little laptop won’t be winning any races or setting any impressive benchmarks, it delivers incredible value at an insanely low price.

The specs hit way above the $140 price-point: 11.6” LED display, integrated webcam, 1.6GHZ dual-core processor, and a 16GB SSD. Ram comes in weak at a paltry 2GB, but Google’s Chrome OS is hyper-optimized- 2GB of ram goes a lot further on it compared to a Windows installation.

It does have limitations though: the 16GB SSD is spritely, but tiny; to solve the storage problem, Google includes 100GB of cloud storage. So long as there’s an internet connection, the user can access it worry-free.

Perfect for homework, Google’s online suite of productivity apps, and surfing the web, this is the stripped-down solution that does a lot while costing a little.

 

 

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My Laptop Picks: $500 – $1,000

As we get closer to the $1,000 mark we find laptops that really hit all the right buttons and check the right boxes. Let’s check ‘em out.

1. Good: Acer Aspire E 17 E5-774

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$725 – With 16GB of ram, a 128GB SSD (boot drive) and a supplementary 1TB HDD, a quad-core Intel i5-7500U, and a 17.3” display, this affordable laptop doesn’t pull many punches. In fact, for most students, this laptop will have everything they need to last them the school year (and then some) without issues.

The integrated SSD makes for lightning-fast boot times, and with all the usual essentials (bluetooth, wifi, etc.), this laptop is perfect for most applications. From running Office apps to playing today’s latest games, this Acer will fit the bill nicely.

However, the integrated graphics chipset (Intel Graphics 620), while capable of HD movies and playing most games, lacks the graphical horsepower needed to really perform well for intensive 3D applications (read: 3D rendering, heavy Photoshop use, and gaming on nicer settings). Still, at just $725, it’s great value.

 

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2. Better: Dell Inspiron 15.6″

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$799 – This dell is more business oriented than it is for general home use. At just $75 more expensive than the Acer listed above, this Dell isn’t “better” so much as it’s “better at a different applications”. The most notable difference is the inclusion of a touch-screen, which doesn’t seem like the benefit that it is until you start using it.

Loaded with an Intel i7-7500U 2.7GHZ processor, 16GB DDR ram, and a 1TB HDD, this Dell has more than enough horsepower to run today’s latest productivity apps. The DDR ram really helps with multitasking, making it a Photoshop powerhouse. In addition to the above, it features an AMD Radeon R7 M445 graphics chipset, allowing it to handle games and 3D-intensive applications with relative ease.

This is a great all-around laptop: it may not win any races, but it’s more than capable of running the marathon.

 

 

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3. Best: Acer Aspire VX 15 Gaming Laptop

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$999 – If you’ve got $1,000 to spend and not a dollar more, this is the laptop to pick. It’s specs are top-notch for its price point: Intel i7-7700HQ 2.8GHZ processor, 16GB of DDR4 ram, a Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti 4GB graphics card, and a 256GB SSD.

This beauty boots in no-time thanks to the SSD, and the combination of the graphics chipset/ram/processor allow it to run most 3D applications and games at great graphics settings. Streaming HD content is a breeze, and playing League of Legends or CS:GO at 1080p settings is no problem.

Battery life is acceptable (at 6 hours), and the 15.6” IPS display renders colors well. For the best bang for your buck under $1,000, you can’t go wrong with this Acer.

 

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Stepping Up: Best Laptops Over $1,000

As we move into the four-figure territory, we start seeing impressive specs and fantastic design.

1. Good All-Arounder: HP Envy 17t Gaming Edition

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$1,240 – HP has been in the personal computer game for a long time, and they’ve gotten pretty good at offering competitive laptops that perform well and hold up over time. Case and point: the Envy 17t “Gaming Edition”.

This one ticks all the right boxes: Intel i7-7500U 2.7GHZ processor, 16GB DDR3 ram, a 512GB SSD, and a Nvidia GeForce 940MX graphics chipset. Naturally, bluetooth/wifi/etc. are all here and running as you’d expect. These specs let this HP do basically everything, from streaming HD movies to running today’s latest games.

The 17.3” IPS display is full 1080p HD, and the integrated SSD keeps it snappy. Be warned: 512GB of space is plenty for most, but downloading large media libraries (HD movies, mostly) and games will quickly use up available storage.

 

 

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2. Great At Everything: HP Open 17t Gamer VR Laptop

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$1,499 – Another HP makes the list, and this one’s a real doozy. Check these specs: Intel i7-7700HQ 2.8GHZ processor, 16GB DDR ram, a 256GB SSD and 1TB HDD, and a Nvidia GTX 1060 6GB graphics card make this laptop a serious powerhouse. It out-specs most desktop computers!

Blazing fast performance is the name of the game here, and it runs nearly any application with ease: from Photoshop to Crysis 3, Office-applications to serious multitasking, this HP will run anything you throw at it smoothly. For students that need a laptop that can do it all, this $1,500 option is a great choice.

Bonus points for a snazzy backlit keyboard, slick clamshell design, and a 3-year limited warranty.

 

 

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3. Do it All Ultra-Fast: Acer Predator G9-793-79V5

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$1,749 – So, you need to put a nail in the wall. You could use a regular hammer, or you could get a little crazy and use a sledge. Guess which type of hammer this Acer is? Yea, it’s that fast.

The specs speak for themselves: 16GB DDR4 ram, 256GB SSD and 1TB data-drive, Intel i7-7700HQ quad-core processor, and a 8GB Nvidia GTX 1070 graphics card. This laptop outclasses most gaming desktop PC’s. It’s seriously fast, and it puts all that horsepower to use: run your favorite game, stream an HD movie, and play around in photoshop at the same time with ease.

If you want a laptop that refuses to make compromises, we strongly recommend this Predator- it turns everything else into prey.

 

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Ludacris Mode: a Laptop That Simply Dominates

Overkill: Acer Predator 17 X GX-792-77BL

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$2,899 – So, you’ve got $3,000 burning a hole in your pocket and you want to use it to equip your student with the most badass laptop available? Introducing the Predator 17X. This laptop is part-laptop, part plot for world domination, this laptop can do basically anything.

The specs: Intel i7-7820HK, 32GB DDR4 ram, Nvidia GTX 1080 8GB graphics, a 512MB SSD with supplementary 1TB HDD, and a 4K UHD display make this thing an incredible machine. Name something you want to do on a computer and this laptop does it… easily.

Yes, it’s expensive, and yes, it’s a little excessive. Still, if you want the best, here it is.

 

 

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