If you or someone you love will be heading to college soon, a laptop will be absolutely essential. Nowadays, a student’s computer is just as important as his or her student ID. But where to start?

College is expensive enough, so it’s important to shop smart. But not to worry. I have done the hard part by figuring out our picks for Best Inexpensive laptops for students — and others — looking for the best quality at the best value.

First, determine what your student will need in a laptop. Not sure? Here’s a quick list of what the typical college student uses a computer for:

  • Writing papers
  • Accessing the Internet
  • Writing emails
  • Storing photos and music
  • Streaming Netflix, YouTube, movies and videos
  • Connecting with friends and family via Zoom and Skype

Both of my picks below — one Chromebook and one Windows-based — are best for college and graduate students, but they’ll work for those in high school, too. And you can expect these laptops to last at least five years, which, in most cases, will take a student through an entire college or grad school experience.

BEST INEXPENSIVE CHROMEBOOK LAPTOP

A Chromebook is not a brand name per se but rather a type of laptop computer or notebook that runs Chrome OS as its operating system.

A Chromebook is designed to be used while connected to the internet. This is not a problem, as Wi-Fi is expected as part of today’s campus or online learning experience, both from an educational and a social perspective. Students expect fast Wi-Fi so that they can learn anytime and anywhere, on campus or off, and always be available for friends and family. There are many brands of Chromebooks.

All Chromebooks have this one thing in common: They run countless Google apps, and those apps are all free.

Just keep this in mind: A Chromebook is not a Microsoft Windows or a Mac computer. A Chromebook is much better (and so much cheaper) in many situations. A Chromebook operates with Chrome OS, which is secure, fast and super simple.

A Chromebook laptop is ideal for anyone who wants to be able to write papers, surf the internet, communicate by email, stream movies and videos, manage lots of photos and collect tons of music. It relies on cloud storage (as opposed to hard drive storage) of documents and files. Chromebooks have become so popular they now outsell Macs.

Asus Chromebook Flip C302 2-in-1

While not the cheapest Chromebook out there, I believe this Asus Chromebook is the best for the money. It works as both a laptop and a notebook, flipping into either style, thanks to its flexible 360-degree hinge.

Super powerful with 4 gigabytes of storage, an Intel Core m3 processor and long-life battery for up to 10 hours, this Chromebook starts up in seconds and lasts all day. It weighs just 2.65 pounds. It has a back-lit keyboard and a touch screen. A dream machine! It’s also available with Intel Core m5 and Intel Core m7 for those who require a more robust machine.

BEST INEXPENSIVE WINDOWS LAPTOP

Asus ZenBook UX330UA

For those enrolled in classes requiring the student to have a Windows-based laptop to download powerful software, this Asus ZenBook is my pick. This is a beautiful machine offering a superlong battery life.

This laptop is super lightweight with the latest eighth-generation Intel Processor, 8 gigabytes of storage, a 256-gigabyte solid-state drive and a 13.3-inch screen with a full high-definition, back-lit keyboard, touchpad and battery up to 12 hours. It comes with Windows 10 Home preinstalled. For the money, you just can’t beat this Asus ZenBook.

Would you like more information? Go to EverydayCheapskate.com for links and resources for recommended products and services in this column. Mary invites questions, comments and tips at EverydayCheapskate.com, “Ask Mary.” This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a lifestyle blog, and the author of the book “Debt-Proof Living.”

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