All students need computers these days. But what's right for a college student staying in a dorm may not be the best choice for a sixth-grader at home. Here we make some recommendations for younger students, those in high school, and college students, at a couple of price points for each.
Word to the wise: You can save some money by checking school Web sites for buying programs. And even some manufacturer's sites—Apple's and Dell's, for example—sell computers for students at a discount or provide bonus products.
Many students in this age range are likely using the family desktop computer. So here are a couple of Consumer Reports-recommended desktop computers that are great for schoolwork but also have features that will appeal to everyone.
The HP TouchSmart 520-1165xt ($1,150) is an all-in-one desktop with a 23-inch HD touch screen that can actually tilt back up to 30 degrees, so you can adjust it to your liking.
It has excellent performance and ergonomics, and it's powered by Intel's third-generation quad-core processor, the Core i5. Other nifty features include a built-in memory-card reader and a Blu-ray reader.
(See also: Best lightweight laptops)
The Dell XPS 8500 i5 ($700) full-size desktop comes in at a lower price ($750) but still delivers on many features, earning it a Best Buy designation from our testers. Its performance is excellent, and versatility and ergonomics are very good.
As studies intensify, a student at high-school level may need his or her own PC. A 15-inch laptop is ideal, offering both portability and easy desk-side use.
Any high-school student would appreciate the very portable 15-inch MacBook Pro ($1,800), with its exemplary display, boosted graphics, fast Thunderbolt connectivity for peripherals, multi-touch trackpad, and speedy quad-core Core i7 processor.
It also has Apple iCloud built in, for sharing all your content across your Apple devices.
The Dell 15R-2nd Gen i5 ($600) has very good ergonomics, and it's quite portable and versatile. The full-size keyboard is comfortable to type on, and the spacious 640GB hard drive offers plenty of room for storing music, photos, and movies, along with school projects.
For a college student, a slim and powerful 13-inch Ultrabook laptop works well—and won't take up too much valuable space in the dorm room.
The Apple MacBook Air 13-inch MD231LL/A ($1,200) was an excellent performer in our tests, and has a very long battery life of 9 hours. It's also able to play demanding video games. This MacBook Air's display is very good, with accurate and natural-looking colors, and a wide viewing angle.
The Samsung NP900X3A-B01UB ($900) is thin, light, and has enough juice to last through a full workday. It's among the fastest laptops we've tested. It also comes with a 128GB solid-state drive and has a handy multi-touch touchpad.
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