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Looking at specs is just the start: Whether you want a simple budget PC, a productivity workhorse, or a screamer of a gaming notebook, our deep-dive guide has the advice you need to find the best laptop for you.
A laptop won’t revolutionize the minutiae of your life the way a smartphone can. You can’t easily whip one out to kill time in the elevator, capture a breathtaking sunset, or pay for a cup of coffee.
But in the years since smartphones took on all these jobs, laptops have honed their own talents. Amazing battery life and breathtaking screens are now common, if you look in the right place for them. The graphics muscle to play games at full HD is affordable. And those basic old-guard features that you won’t find on any mobile device, such as touchpads and full-size keyboards, tend to get better with almost every generation.
With great features, though, has come great fragmentation. Amazon, Newegg, and even your local electronics megamart have a dizzying array of cheap laptops, gaming laptops, 2-in-1 laptops, Chromebooks, and ultraportables. Here at PC Labs, we review as many laptops as we can—hundreds each year—so we’ve seen pretty much every remix of laptop you can buy.
Our Experts Have Tested 145 Products in the Laptops Category This Year
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Buying one by looking at specs and speed feeds alone can be maddening, though. Which specific features, and which laptop class, are best for you depends on your budget and how you plan to use your laptop. It’s better to take a systematic approach when shopping. Let’s run through how to make a smart pick. Assess Your Budget: How Much Do I Need to Spend?
Don’t care about cutting-edge design and powerful components? You might be satisfied with a cheap laptop. Today’s market is flooded with basic but full-featured models with list prices under $500. Shopping holidays like Prime Day and Black Friday, and actual holidays like Presidents’ Day, bring frequent sales, discounting some of these models even further. Most of them will handle word processing and e-mail checking just fine, but they’ll struggle with other tasks, such as keeping many web browser tabs open at once.
Increasing your budget to around $1,000 will unlock access to nearly all of the cutting-edge features terbaru laptops offer. These include slim, sturdy aluminum chassis, brilliant touch-enabled 4K displays, powerful processors and graphics chips, and batteries that will last all day and well into the night. The major caveat in this price range is that you’ll have to pick and choose which features are most important. You might be able to land a laptop with a beautiful 4K display or a cavernous terabyte of solid-state storage at this price, but probably not one with both.
If your piggybank has $2,000 or more, you can choose almost any combination of features you want. Even the most powerful laptop that money can buy, though, must still obey the laws of physics. Powerful hardware generates heat, and the cooling mechanisms that such components require take up space. Hardcore gamers who want a 17-inch display and a screaming-fast graphics processor that requires bulky cooling pipes and fans can’t expect to find it in a thin, light laptop.
IT-manageable, security-conscious business laptops—models made primarily by Dell, HP, and Lenovo—have their own pricing dynamic, and they tend to cost a bit more, all else being equal. That’s because of their premium warranty or support plans, enterprise-specific silicon focused on manageability or security, fingerprint or face-recognition login features, and more rugged build quality. Which Operating System to Get in My Laptop?
Most laptops you’ll run across in-store or at your favorite online seller will run Windows 10 (unless the seller is named “Apple”), but Microsoft’s best-known product isn’t necessarily the best operating system for everyone. Thanks to the ascendance in recent years of Google’s Chrome OS up the ranks of budget laptops, there’s now an alternative to Windows at every price level. The tipping point for non-Windows laptops is around $1,000; above a grand, your main alternative to a Windows 10 machine is a MacBook; below it, it’s a Chromebook.
Today, laptops based on Chrome OS are the primary alternatives to budget-priced Windows 10 laptops. A Chromebook could be a fine, value-minded choice for someone who needs a laptop just to watch movies, create text documents, write emails, and putter around in basic spreadsheets. With a Chromebook, the main features you will really need from your laptop are a decent screen and a comfortable keyboard, since cloud services like Google Drive can handle most of your storage and processing needs. And, if you still insist on key creature comforts, you can find midrange Chromebooks with full-HD (1080p) displays and comfortable keyboards just as easily as you can find bargain-basement ones these days.
For people with similar needs but larger budgets, an Apple MacBook might be the way to go, assuming you’re cool with running your day-to-day computing life on macOS. You won’t find a “cheap” MacBook anywhere in the Apple family, but you will find solid industrial design, universally excellent battery life, and a ton of built-in apps to manage your multimedia collection and sync with your iCloud account and the rest of your Apple devices.
Higher-end MacBook Pros also suit content creators, with the option for a 16-inch Retina display and for CPUs up to Intel’s Core i9. One of the most significant Mac-laptop drawbacks is a total lack of touch-screen support, which is an option in various Chrome OS and Windows 10 machines.
A Windows-based machine affords access to the widest range of perangkat lunak, including most AAA games; the subset of popular, first-rank game titles is much smaller on macOS, and games on Chrome OS are limited to what runs in a browser, or that you can download as an Android app or from the Chrome Web Store. A Windows machine also offers the most form-factor flexibility. A few Chromebooks have designs built around detachable or foldable keyboards, letting you use them as tablets, but Windows offers a far greater selection of these flexible physical designs.
In fact, the vast number of Windows 10 devices means Microsoft’s OS gives you the most flexibility in choosing a laptop, period. Most of the rest of your buying decisions, which we’ll address below, are therefore relevant mainly to Windows machines. (We’ll be sure to note when Macs or Chromebooks offer a certain feature as well, however.) What’s an Ideal Size and Weight?
Most people searching for a general-purpose laptop should choose one that measures about half an inch thick and weighs tiga pounds or less. In general, these are the maximum dimensions and heft a laptop can have for us to consider it an ultraportable, and for most users, portability is the key to maximizing use and enjoyment.
Aiming for that weight and thickness, in most cases, will limit the laptop’s screen size to 13 or 14 inches, although a few models with 15-inch or larger screens now fit into the ultraportable category. At most of these screen sizes, you can find models in either the conventional “clamshell” laptop shape or a dua-in-1 convertible design. The latter has a hinge that rotates the screen 360 degrees so you can use it as a makeshift tablet or prop it up like a tent for watching movies.
Some Windows and Chrome OS laptops do have smaller displays, such as 10 or 11 inches. Some of these are not technically laptops in the pure sense, but rather tablets with detachable keyboards. Unless you’re specifically looking for a part-time tablet or the lightest possible laptop, avoid these designs. They’re lighter than most 13-inch ultraportables, often less than 2 pounds, but they’re not as good at being tablets as the Apple iPad is, and their detachable keyboards mean they’re not much good at being laptops, either—typing on most of them tends to be subpar.