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Second only to the best smartphones, the best laptops are some of the modern world's most constant companions. They follow us to work, perch on our desks at home, and serve as a conduit to every aspect of our connected universe. These days, buying a laptop isn't just a business or tech concern, it's a lifestyle decision. Your laptop isn't just a way to tap into all the apps and software clients you rely on to stay up to date, it's a statement about who you are, and it needs to be powerful, portable, and sleek, with potent hardware and an ample hard drive for storage.
Are you someone who values aesthetics, and loves the sleek profile and elegant design of the latest ultrabook? A working professional who needs the latest tech and enterprise-level performance to stay abreast of a constantly evolving marketplace? Or maybe you're a gamer who wants bold RGB lighting and a beefy musclebook so you don't have to trade resolution and frame rate for mobility? These days, laptop manufacturers offer solutions for everyone, and we've filtered an increasingly crowded field to find the very best of the best.
4K UHD touch display
Only 2.8 pounds
Upgraded processor for faster performance
Durable unibody design
Relatively small screen
Few laptops have as solid a reputation as the Dell XPS 13. Lightweight and powerful, this is a great laptop for both work and play. The 2019 model comes with a new set of updates that truly earn the XPS 13 its "Best Overall" spot. The new 8th-gen Intel Core i5 processor and 8GB of memory deliver speedy and reliable performance that’s perfect for multitaskers. Our reviewer fell in love with how it balanced a lightweight, gorgeous design with power and versatility.
No matter what you use your laptop for, the 4K Ultra HD touch display makes all your media look its best — and while the screen is on the smaller side at 13.3 inches, the InfinityEdge design with ultra-thin bezels makes it feel larger without the added bulk of a big-screen laptop. In fact, the XPS 13 is made from a single block of aluminum and weighs only 2.8 pounds, so it has the portability and durability that’s especially important for students and commuters.
With the newest round of upgrades, there’s a lot to love about the Dell XPS 13. It earns this spot as a tried-and-true favorite that just keeps getting better.
"The Dell XPS 13 doesn’t just feel like a facsimile of the other premium competition, and that’s a distinctive edge that helps set it apart from the pack." — Andrew Hayward, Product Tester
Over 11 hours of battery life per charge
Can be configured with up to 1 TB of storage
Affordable price point
More powerful configurations quickly become more expensive
Some reports of port and other hardware issues after several months
If you’re a college student looking for the perfect school laptop, you’ll want something that’s portable, has a great battery life, and fits your budget. The Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 checks all those boxes and costs a lot less than many similar devices. It has a 13.5-inch touchscreen, an Intel Core i5 processor (it can also be configured with an i7 processor if you have a little extra money to spend), and 8GB of RAM with 128GB of storage.
These should be powerful-enough specs for most students, but the Surface Laptop 3 can also be configured with 16GB RAM and up to 1TB of storage if your major requires lots of large files or complex software packages. It’s also ready for all-day use with up to 11.5 hours of battery life per charge. And if you’re running low on power, the Surface Laptop 3 has fast-charging capabilities that can charge up to 80 percent in just one hour.
It’s available in four different colors: Matte Black, Platinum, Cobalt Blue, and Sandstone.
HP True Black HDR screen
HP Display Control for accurate color calibration
2-in-1 design for use with a stylus
15.6-inch display can be unwieldy in tablet mode
Keyboard not detachable
If you’re primarily planning to use your laptop for photo editing, then display quality is paramount. No one wants to find out their printed product — or the product on a client’s website — looks strange because it was edited on a subpar laptop screen. If color accuracy is what you’re after, the HP Spectre x360 15 has your back. Our tester loved the 15.6-inch OLED screen features stunning 4K resolution with HP's True Black HDR for truly beautiful visuals, plus HP Display Control color calibration. This feature actually has a "photo editing" setting that automatically adjusts the display color for the highest level of color accuracy.
But the Spectre x360 offers more than just accurate colors. It has a 360-degree hinge that lets you flip the screen all the way around to use its touchscreen as a tablet. Depending on the editing software you use, touch and stylus compatibility can be a huge advantage. And with its Intel Core i7 processor, 512GB of SSD storage, and 16GB DDR4 RAM, this laptop has the power to handle complex programs and large files without missing a beat. We thoroughly tested the Spectre for our full product review and were wowed by the remarkable display and the added flexibility offered by its 2-in-1 design.
"Instead of flat edges and square angles, the edges of this beauty are cut to reveal shining metal surfaces that catch the light and draw the eye." — Jeremy Laukkonen, Product Tester
13.3-inch Retina Display
Now with smaller bezels
Only 15.6mm thick
Thunderbolt ports only
Some device integration features work only with other Apple products
If you’re looking for an all-purpose laptop that’s portable and powerful enough for your daily needs, then check out the ever-popular MacBook Air. With an 8th-gen Intel Core i5 dual-core processor and up to 16GB memory, it’s perfect for entertainment, productivity tasks, and quick switching between applications. At only 2.75 pounds and a mere 15.6mm thick, the Air lives up to its name as a lightweight and super portable laptop that can go with you anywhere. When our reviewer put the MacBook Air through its paces for our review, testing proved out just how excellent this big, bold display is in practical use, and he loved the speedy, responsive MacOS experience.
This ultra-thin laptop has been updated with the signature Retina Display with True Tone technology, enhanced clarity, and 48% more colors than Apple's non-Retina screens. The bezels have been shrunken as well, so you get even more display real estate. It also has the battery life to last all day — up to 12 hours — so you can browse, watch, or work without scrambling to find an outlet. But if you’re already an Apple user, then one of the biggest advantages of the MacBook Air is its seamless integration with your existing devices.
"The 2018 MacBook Air keeps everything that was great about the original while making it a fully useful and competitive premium laptop for today." — Andrew Hayward, Product Tester
1TB HDD storage
13.5 hours of battery life
Heavy at 5.27 pounds
If you’re looking for an excellent value laptop, then the Acer Aspire E 15 is one of our favorites. With an 8th-gen Intel Core i3 processor boasting speeds up to 3.2GHz, 6GB dual-channel memory, and a whopping 1TB HDD, this is a reliable and well-performing laptop for an extremely wallet-friendly price. It has plenty of processing power for everyday home or business tasks, plus its 13.5 hours of battery life can put other more expensive laptops to shame. And if you use your laptop to watch videos, the 15.6-inch HD display and TrueHarmony audio provide a surprisingly good viewing experience. When we tested the Aspire for our review, we were deeply impressed by the sharpness of the FHD display and the spectacular battery life.
The main disadvantage is its bulkier size — at 5.27 pounds, it’s definitely on the heavier end. Our reviewer pointed out that the aesthetics are the biggest downside, but if you need an inexpensive laptop that performs above its price point, the Acer Aspire E 15 makes up for the design drawbacks in sheer value.
"The full HD screen and snappy performance make productivity tasks a breeze." — Jeremy Laukkonen, Product Tester
Largest screen on a MacBook
Tons of processing power for complex software
Touch Bar feature is compatible with many video editing programs
Some device integration features only work with other Apple products
Sporting a dazzling 16-inch Retina Display with True Tone technology, the newest MacBook Pro and its extra-large screen is a dream for anyone working in visual media. But we wouldn’t recommend it based on the display alone — it also features a 9th-gen six-core Intel Core i7 processor and 16GB RAM to support memory-hungry video editing software. If you work with even more demanding media (like 3D rendering or libraries of super high-res footage), then you can pack in even more power with the Intel Core i9 processor option, additional SSD storage, and up to 64GB of DDR4 memory for truly maxed-out processing power.
Our reviewer particularly liked the inclusion of signature Apple features with the MacBook Pro including Touch ID fingerprint authentication and the Touch Bar feature that works seamlessly with many popular video editing programs. Between its incredible processing power and the beautiful 16-inch screen, the new MacBook Pro is our top choice for video editing.
"With the 16-inch MacBook pro, Apple’s delivered a professional’s mobile dream system. The new Magic Keyboard is, in fact, almost magical, the return of the escape key is laud-worthy, and that screen is just plain gorgeous." — Lance Ulanoff, Editor-in-Chief
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti graphics
16GB dual-channel memory
60Hz refresh rate
Heavy at 4.63 pounds
If you’re looking for an absolute premium gaming laptop, the Razer Blade 15 is as good as it gets. Let’s just jump right into the specs: It has a 9th-gen Intel Core i7 six-core processor with blinding 4.5GHz max Turbo speeds, paired with Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti graphics. Combine that with 16GB dual-channel memory and the Razer Blade can run your favorite games at crazy frame rates without a hiccup. And of course it’s upgradeable, so you can keep its performance fully maxed out into the future.
The 15.6-inch full HD display is nearly bezel-less and features 100 percent sRGB color with a 60Hz refresh rate. In short, your games will look amazing and you won’t miss a moment to laggy refresh rates. Whether you’re looking to play all your favorite major titles or simply take your Fortnite skills to the next level, the Razer Blade 15 will be the envy of every other gamer you know.
Can survive drops from almost 4 feet
Automatic Chrome OS security updates
Less processing power
Maximum 32GB flash storage
When you're shopping for a kid's laptop, durability and affordability take precedence. The Asus C202SA Chromebook fits the bill, with enough power for basic productivity tasks and entertainment and an ultra-durable chassis that can handle whatever kids might throw at (or spill on) it. Reinforced rubber edges around the entire body protect against bumps, and it’s rugged enough to survive drops up to 3.9 feet. Our tester liked that fact that the keyboard is spill-resistant and the 11-inch display has a 180-degree hinge that can lay flat, so you don't have to worry about the screen getting pushed too far back.
With an Intel Celeron N3060 processor, 4GB DDR3 RAM, and 16GB of flash storage, there should be enough room for kids’ files, photos, and games. It also runs the Chrome OS, which parents will appreciate — it updates automatically so your child’s device is always running the latest security features, plus it comes with built-in virus protection.
"The C202SA has a unique enough look while not crossing the line into looking like a child’s toy." — Jeremy Laukkonen, Product Tester
3K touch screen display
8th-Gen Intel Core i7 processor and 16GB RAM
Great performance for the money
Camera pops up from the keyboard at an odd angle
With a 13.9-inch 3K (3000x2000) touchscreen, plus an 8th-gen Intel Core i7 processor and 16GB RAM under the hood, the Huawei MateBook X Pro is a surprisingly affordable and high-powered laptop that’s perfect for programmers.
Its upgraded processing power means it can handle running your code over and over (and over) without missing a beat. It also has a 13.9-inch touchscreen with 3K resolution that feels even larger thanks to near-invisible bezels and a 91 percent screen-to-body ratio, a nice perk for a programmer when they’re away from their monitor setup. If you plan to use this laptop for both work and play, Dolby Atmos sound makes for a premium media-watching experience.
There are plenty of laptops out there that offer similar specs and less premium features, often at a higher cost. In terms of value and power, this laptop from Huawei is hard to beat.
Very compact and lightweight
Automatic security updates with Chrome OS
256GB max hard drive storage
High school: It isn’t just paper notebooks and binders anymore. Laptops are becoming essential school supplies for high school students, too. If you’re a high schooler (or shopping for one), the Google Pixelbook Go is a versatile and affordable option that’s perfectly suited to student needs. It weighs just over two pounds, so it won’t add bulk to an already heavy backpack, and it has a whopping 12 hours of battery life that can last a full school day and beyond. That's not just marketing copy, either: our tester found the battery just as long-lasting as advertised, and was also deeply impressed by the sheer portability of the Pixelbook Go.
The m3 processor is plenty speedy for homework and media streaming, though it can be configured with an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor if you need extra power. We chose the configuration with 8GB RAM and 64GB storage — this can also be upgraded to 16GB RAM and a 256GB SSD. For parents’ peace of mind, the Pixelbook Go also has Chrome OS, which brings automatic security updates to keep your teen’s device secure.
"Nearly everything about using this quiet, slim device is enjoyable". — Jonno Hill, Product Tester
If you want a high powered laptop with generous specs and a beautiful 4K touch screen, our top pick, the Dell XPS 13, is an amazing option. If, on the other hand, you're looking for something slightly more mobile and budget-friendly, you may want to consider something in the range of the Microsoft Surface 3, with its less intimidating price tag and svelte form factor.
Our expert reviewers and editors evaluate laptops based on design, hardware specs and performance, display quality, and features. We test their real-life performance in actual use cases, both as on-the-go devices we commute with and take home from the office every day, as well as proper desktop replacements. We also consider each unit as a value proposition—whether or not a product justifies its price tag, and how it compares to competitive products. All of the models we reviewed were purchased by Lifewire; none of the review units were furnished by the manufacturer or retailer.
Emmeline Kaser is an experienced tech writer and e-commerce expert. In her time as a commerce editor for Lifewire, she assigned and edited hundreds of product reviews. This combined with her background as an Editor's Choice curator at eBay means she's accumulated a ton of experience scouring listings for the best products.
Andrew Hayward, who reviewed our top pick, the Dell XPS 13, is a Chicago based writer with over 14 years of experience covering tech and gaming. He loved the XPS for its lavish design and excellent performance, and also reviewed the Apple MacBook Air, our "Best for home use" selection, which he found slim, attractive, and packed with useful features.
Jeremy Laukkonen also penned a pair of reviews for the machines in our roundup. His obsession with technology tempted him away from the automotive industry to become a full-time ghostwriter for several major tech trade publications and a product tester for Lifewire. He loved the Acer Aspire E 15's full HD display and long-lasting battery, and called the HP Spectre x360 15t a "high water mark" for 2-in-1s.
Our own Editor-in-Chief, Lance Ulanoff, has been reviewing products for over three decades. As an industry veteran and award-winning journalist he's previously been EIC of PCMag and Mashable, and has covered just about any iteration of laptops and PCs you can imagine. He reviewed the latest 16-inch Macbook Pro from Apple, and liked their design refinements and substantive improvements.
Buying a laptop can be a stressful experience if you don’t know what to look for. With all of the technical terminology, specifications, brands and manufacturers, where do you even begin? What size laptop should you buy? How much storage do you need? How do you know how much RAM you need? What type of CPU should you look for? All of these questions can quickly become overwhelming. If you go into your purchase armed with the right knowledge, your experience will be much easier, and you’re more likely to get a laptop that better suits your needs. This guide will cover all of the laptop buying essentials, so you can make a smart purchase, armed with our storehouse of knowledge and experience.
Hybrid laptops, or 2-in-1 laptops, are designed to serve as both a laptop and a tablet. These are devices like the Surface Pro, Asus Chromebook Flip, and the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1. Hybrids typically have a touchscreen, and they have either a removable keyboard or a hinged keyboard you can flip around and out of the way when you want to use the device as a tablet .
Although 2-in-1 devices offer additional flexibility, you have to be even more careful when selecting a hybrid. Some have undersized keyboards, some perform well as a tablet but poor as a laptop, and others lack processing power. You may end up with an expensive device that serves as a mediocre laptop and bulky tablet, when you could spend the same money and get a stellar laptop. This is not to say there aren’t good 2-in-1 options out there. It just means you have to consider the device’s merits in both categories, and decide whether that flexibility is worth the extra cost.
Screen size is one of the first things people look at when buying a laptop. Like TV and smartphone screens, laptop screens are typically measured corner-to-corner (diagonally), and not from side-to-side. Most people want a screen that’s large enough so they won’t be squinting when trying to read an email or research a topic, but people have different preferences when it comes to portability. Some people want a laptop that’s as lightweight and portable as possible, while others are going to keep the unit stationary for the most part, and only move it around the house occasionally.
Compact: 11- to 14-inch display
If you’re looking for something ultra-lightweight you can take with you on-the-go, a compact laptop may be a good solution. You can easily find a compact laptop that’s extremely lightweight (under four pounds), and many have slim profiles.
Some people think that compact laptops come with bottom-end specifications, but going with a compact size doesn’t necessarily mean you have to sacrifice performance. You can absolutely find compact laptops that are powerful enough for work, like the MacBook Pro 13-inch and the Dell XPS 13. If you don’t want to spend a lot of cash, and you just want a more basic unit, you can also find budget compact laptops for under $300, like the Lenovo IdeaPad S310.
Average: 15- to 16-inch display
Although there’s not exactly a standard when it comes to laptop screen sizes, the 15- to 16-inch range is pretty common—you’ll often see laptops sized at 15.6 inches. This size is ideal for those who keep their laptop at a desk for the most part, but still like to have the option to take it along with them on-the-go.
The price you’ll pay for a laptop this size depends largely on the specifications and the brand. The MacBook Pro 16-inch will cost you upwards of two grand, while you can buy the Acer Aspire 5 for under $500. You can find a Chromebook this size for around $300 to $400.
Large: 17 inch display or larger
Large laptop displays often come with the advantage of better viewing angles. The 17.3-inch size is common in gaming laptops, as a larger screen can make for a better gaming experience. Gamers may find the compromise in portability is well worth it for a bigger, better screen, especially if this new laptop is acting as a desktop replacement. Typically, you’re going to pay upwards of a grand for a good laptop this size. Budget options in this size are rarer, but you can occasionally find options this size for around $500, like the Lenovo IdeaPad 340.
If you’re buying a laptop for gaming or graphic design, factors like refresh rate and graphics processing are much more significant. Gamers will want a higher refresh rate and a discrete graphics processor from a brand like NVIDIA. But, if you’re buying a laptop for any other purpose, an integrated graphics card is sufficient.
When you look under specifications, each laptop will indicate its screen resolution. Most laptops, even dirt cheap models, will offer at least 1366 x 768 HD resolution. But, if you’re spending any significant amount of cash, it’s best to look for a laptop with at least 1920 x 1080 (FHD). A 4K laptop might be worth it if you’re opting for a large screen size, but not if you’re going with anything smaller than 14 inches.
Although it sometimes gets neglected during the shopping process, the keyboard is an essential part of a laptop’s quality, functionality, longevity, and comfort. You want your hands to be able to comfortably and naturally sit while you’re typing, so you don’t have to scrunch up or stretch out your fingers to reach all of the keys. Therefore, most people will want to aim for a laptop with a full-size keyboard, which is common in most laptops larger than 11.6 inches. Chiclet-style keyboards are also common in laptops. These keyboards have only slightly elevated keys, and space between the keys, so the keyboard stylishly blends into the laptop’s housing.
What features do you want in your keyboard? Many keyboards have additional features like backlighting to help you see the keys in the dark. Security features like fingerprint readers are becoming more common as well, and you can also find different keyboard layouts. Depending on how you’re going to use the laptop, you may prefer a numeric keypad, as opposed to having top-row numbers. Chromebook keyboards are unique from traditional keyboards in that they don’t have function keys, and they have a search key.
A laptop's CPU, or central processing unit, is a chip that acts as its brain. Several factors affect a CPU’s performance, from heat to other components in the system, but these are some of the main factors to look at in a CPU that can quickly help determine its quality: The manufacturer, the number of cores, and the clock speed.
For years, Intel has been known for creating powerful and reliable CPUs. You’ll also see brands like AMD. Both Intel and AMD are a pretty safe bet when it comes to processor brands, and it’s a good idea to opt for a more recent generation, rather than choosing a laptop with a processor that’s three generations old.
Most modern processors will have at least two cores. What are CPU cores? Well, they’re basically separate CPUs. And, since a computer isn’t like a human—its brain isn’t as good at multitasking as ours—a computer can benefit from having more than one “brain.” The more cores a computer has, the better it can multitask, and the faster it can compute (generally speaking).
If you have a dual core processor, does that mean your computer can only perform two tasks at a time? Not really. Processor cores have threads as well, which also help the computer multitask. So, even if your laptop is only a dual-core, modern hyper-threading makes it possible for laptops to efficiently perform multiple tasks simultaneously. You should opt for a higher-core processor if you’re going to be working extensively on your laptop, performing a lot of video or photo editing, or conducting time-consuming research.
Even more important than the number of cores, your processor’s speed is essential for day-to-day operation. You want a laptop that can keep up with your demands. Speed is measured in Ghz, and it’s important for tasks like gaming and watching videos.
RAM, or random access memory, is important in a laptop because it helps the machine access information it needs quickly. Imagine RAM like your bedroom closet. When you need something from your closet, you can just go in and grab it, as opposed to driving all the way to the storage unit or going into the attic and searching through a bunch of boxes. You can randomly access the items in your closet, without having to go through too much effort or take too much time.
RAM is similar for a computer. That’s why more RAM is better. The more it can randomly access (without having to go through too much effort), the better and faster it can perform. You want a laptop with at least 8GB of RAM if you’re doing any sort of demanding tasks like working. But, if you’re only using your laptop for basic tasks, the bare minimum amount of RAM you can get away with is 4GB.
You may also see laptops with DDR4 RAM and DDR3 RAM. DDR stands for Double Data Rate, and the number represents the version. DDR4 RAM is more efficient, and therefore, it’s preferable over DDR3.
Some laptops will have a SSD (solid state drive), some will have a HDD (hard disk drive), and some will even have both an SSD and an HDD. Because they don’t have any moving parts, SSDs are generally faster and more reliable than HDDs. However, SSDs are significantly more expensive, so for the same cost, you won’t get nearly as much SSD storage space as you’d get with an HDD. But, with cloud storage becoming cheaper and more readily available, storage capacity isn’t as important as it once was either.
If you’re using your laptop for basic functions, 256 GB of SSD storage should be more than sufficient. You may even be able to get away with 128 GB, and you can always add an external hard drive if needed. However, if you’re planning on using your laptop for gaming, video editing, or media, you’ll want a laptop with more storage.
Does the laptop have enough USB ports? Does it have an HDMI port? What about a card reader? How about a headphone jack? Examine all of the devices you plan on connecting to your laptop—mice, headphones, speakers, monitors—and make sure the laptop has compatible ports for each of your devices.
Battery capacity is especially important for those who plan on taking their laptop on the go. If you’re keeping your laptop at a desk most of the time, battery capacity isn’t as important.
A laptop with a stellar battery life, like the LG Gram 15, will last around 12 to 13 hours on a single charge. Some laptops will have a much shorter capacity of around five or six hours. Chromebooks tend to have long battery lives because the operating system doesn’t require as much power to operate.
If you’re planning on watching a lot of content or listening to music on your laptop, check out the speakers. Most laptops have stereo speakers, but some speakers have special tuning that leads to better sound.
Do a lot of video chatting and social networking? You may want a laptop with a good-quality webcam, and you can also find webcams that support features like face tracking or facial recognition.
Do you use a voice assistant? Check and see if your laptop includes Siri, Cortana, or Google Assistant.
Lastly, if you want a touchscreen, you don’t necessarily have to go with a 2-in-1. If you’re not the typing type, a lot of laptops offer touchscreen technology as well. But, keep in mind these features use a lot of battery power, so you may not want to opt for a touchscreen laptop if you’re seldom going to take advantage of the feature.
Which is better: Windows or Mac? This has been a great debate for quite some time, and now Chrome has entered into the operating system war. So, should you go with Windows, Mac, or ChromeOS? It depends.
MacOS laptops are pricey, but the OS is generally considered reliable, secure, and user-friendly. Mac is ideal for work and general use, but it’s not as good for gaming. If you want a MacOS laptop, you don’t have as many product options as you would if you were to go with Windows 10 or ChromeOS. The most affordable MacBook, the MacBook Air, starts at $999 retail, while the most expensive MacBook, the MacBook Pro 16-inch, starts at $2399.
ChromeOS is a more minimalistic OS, and it’s designed for basic computing, social networking, and web-based activities. Chromebooks run fast, and they typically have good battery capacity. You can also find Chromebooks at very low price points, but they’re much more limited in terms of their features. If you’re doing most of your work online and in collaboration programs like Slack, you could probably even use a Chromebook for work. You can find Chromebooks from a variety of different manufacturers, including Google, HP, Samsung, Lenovo, and Acer.
A Windows 10 laptop will serve well for just about anyone from gamers to professionals to basic users. Windows offers a great deal of flexibility, a variety of programs and features, and you can find Windows laptops at virtually every price range. Windows 10 laptops come in brands like Dell, HP, Lenovo, Asus, and more.
When buying a laptop, focus your attention on how you’re going to be using the device, and seek out features and specifications that meet your needs. What makes a model the best laptop in 2020? There’s not exactly a set of blanket specifications that make a good laptop because each person has different preferences. Some people simply want the most laptop they can get for a specific price point, while others want the most powerful laptop (regardless of the price).
As a general rule, try to go for at least 8 GB of RAM, seek out a recent generation processor (Intel is on its 10th generation), and look for SSD storage. You may also want to look for additional features like a full-size keyboard, at least two USB 3.0 ports (which are faster than USB 2.0), at least one HDMI port, audio ports for headphones and speakers, and a lengthy battery life.