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A Windows laptop in 2020 has to do a lot more than a laptop had to do even a few years ago. Whether you want a powerful, reliable, professional machine meant for business, or you want an entertainment machine that folds fully over giving you the best of a laptop and a tablet, there are a lot of specs to consider. But you first need to decide if a Windows laptop is even the right OS for you—if you’d prefer lighter browsing and are part of the Google ecosystem, a more affordable Chromebook might work. The same goes for iPhone users and fans of Apple who might prefer a Mac.
If you’re in the market for a Windows laptop, it’s best to start with budget. Are you okay with less power featuring dual-core CPUs that run at speeds as low as 1–1.5GHz? If that’s the case, you can get a lot of value on the budget end of the market. If you need more power, you’ll tend to find much more premium form factors, featuring pixel-dense displays, touchscreen options, dedicated graphics cards, and more. As some of the most feature-rich gadgets on the market, laptops can be a little daunting, so our recommendation is to start by determining your primary use. If you want to use your machine for gaming, you’ll want a great display and tons of power, but you’ll also spend more. If a business machine is your focus, power is important, but a flashy display might not be needed. On the other hand, All-in-one machines with touchscreens can actually replace your need for a tablet. Once you pick your end-use, the research and the required price range becomes much clearer.
Read on for a few of our favorites in these different categories, and be sure to check out our guide to choosing the right laptop for you.
Lavish design details
Fabulous 4K touch display
Battery life could be better
Adaptive brightness is distracting
Dell’s XPS 13 has always been considered one of the best laptops on the market — and with a 2019 update, Dell has made a great device even better.
You’ll get plenty of power and speed with Intel’s latest and greatest chip: the Whiskey Lake 8th Generation Intel Core i7-8565U Processor, up to 16GB of RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive. The XPS also comes with a 13-inch display, which can be upgraded to include a touchscreen and 4K resolution.
At 2.7 pounds and 0.3 to 0.46 inches thick, this laptop is sleek and lightweight. And while there are only two Thunderbolt 3 ports and a USB-C port, our testing was pleased to find a handy microSD slot. One of the biggest complaints about the last XPS model was the awkward placement of the webcam. But Dell got the message — and the 2019 XPS model returns the webcam to the laptop’s top bezel. The downside is that you can’t use facial recognition to log in anymore, but the laptop has a fingerprint reader on the power button that lets you log in with a touch.
"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
Good build quality
Wide port range
Expandable storage and memory
Thick and heavy
Dim, dull display
Featuring vivid images and a powerful processor, the Acer Aspire E 15 is an affordable, high-performing everyday computer. The 15.6-inch full HD (1920 x 1080) widescreen is suited to both entertainment and work, and Acer TrueHarmony technology ensures crisp, high-quality audio whether you’re listening to music, watching a show, or playing a game. The 8th-generation Intel Core i3 processor is paired with Intel Turbo Boost Technology 2.0 for rapid, smooth computing. With up to 13.5 hours of battery life and an MU-MIMO technology wireless antenna that will help you maintain a strong wireless connection, the Aspire E is designed to accommodate whatever your schedule requires. The laptop features both a USB 3.1 Type-C port and a USB 3.0 port, which can continue to charge your devices even when the laptop is off.
Almost 16 hours of battery life
Ethernet requires a dongle
High surface temperatures under load
A work laptop needs to be more functional than flashy, but the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon turns heads with both its elegance and its all-business performance. The “soft-touch” carbon fiber exterior gives it a sleek, premium look while being sturdy enough to pass a number of durability tests. Yet even with its high-quality build, the ultraportable laptop’s 2.5-pound weight is lighter than many 13-inch competitors. It’s slim, while still making room for a wide selection of inputs including two full-size USB-A 3.0 ports and two USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 3. Lenovo lists battery life at 15 hours, so it’s certainly enough to last a work day. Plus, with “RapidCharge” technology, you can refill most of that power over your lunch break.
The X1 Carbon’s 14-inch screen displays stunning visuals, with an option for 2560 x 1440 resolution and high dynamic range (HDR) support. HDR mode offers unparalleled brightness and color, and it’s a rare premium feature for a laptop. You can also opt for a full HD (1920 x 1080) touch screen.
Top-end models feature a quad-core 8th generation Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB RAM, and 1TB SSD storage, but all configurations pack more than enough power to handle large spreadsheets and other productivity work with ease. You’ll stay comfortable while you’re working, too, with an excellent and responsive backlit keyboard. ThinkPad’s trademark red TrackPoint remains right in the middle for those used to it as an alternative to the touchpad.
Compact and light
Excellent battery life
No SD card slot
The HP EliteBook x360 is perfect for business executives who need plenty of power, security, and portability.
A zippy Intel Core i5-8250U chip has enough processing power for business users, but you can also upgrade to a higher-end Intel Core i7-8650U processor with 16GB of RAM and 512GB SSD. A 360-degree hinge lets you fold the laptop’s touch screen back into tablet mode, making it easier to take notes or flip through presentations. Graphics should look sharp and crisp on the 1080p display, but if you’re video or photo editing, you can also purchase an EliteBook x360 with a 4K display.
Since this laptop was made for businesses, there are some built-in security features for users, including some extra protection from malware and other cyber-attacks. An Intel vPro processor comes makes it easier for IT departments to remotely manage the laptop. You can even opt to get HP’s Sure View feature, which limits the screen’s field of view so it's harder for people to physically snoop. Overall, the HP EliteBook x360 is a solid 2-in-1 for business users.
Long battery life
Keyboard sold seperately
When it comes to Windows 10 laptop/tablet hybrids, the very best you’ll find is the Microsoft Surface Pro 7. The Surface Pro line has been around for a long while, so what you’ll mostly find here is refinement. Like previous models, the Surface Pro 7 is a touchscreen tablet with a kickstand on the back, and if you attach a keyboard (like the Surface Pro Type Cover), you can turn it into a sharp-looking laptop that also has a touchscreen.
This version of the Surface Pro has a 12.3-inch screen with 2,736 x 1,824 resolution, a 5-megapixel front-facing camera, 8-megapixel rear-facing autofocus camera, dual microphones, and 1.6W stereo speakers with Dolby audio. It also has top-of-the-line battery life that will last you more than 10 hours of regular usage.
Good battery life
Fast CPU and GPU performance
Gets hot under load
Lacks OLED option
The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 ranges from high-end to super high-end, depending on which of the four possible configurations you choose. As a hybrid laptop/tablet, it is one of the best available today, especially considering all of the enhancements Dell made in the 2019 iteration.
Fitted with a 13.4-inch touchscreen display with a stunning 1920x1200 resolution and 16:10 aspect ratio, the XPS 2-in-1 offers a consistently vibrant picture. At just under three pounds, it’s also lighter than the Microsoft Surface, making it slightly better for travel and comfort while holding it in tablet mode.
Configurations range from a 10th-generation Intel Core i3 processor to a beefy Core i7 with impressive integrated graphics powerful enough to run some games and intensive applications with ease. The Core i3 unit houses 4GB of RAM and a 256GB NVMe SSD. A mid-tier Core i5 model increases the RAM to 8GB while the Core i7 configurations offer 16GB of RAM and more powerful integrated graphics. The better, Core i7 variant has an Ultra HD display and 512GB of storage.
Keyboard and touchpad are top-notch
Stays cool under load
Short battery life
Lid attracts dust and fingerprints
Asus has welcomed a newcomer into the Windows laptop domain, and this one prioritizes transportability and comfort. Ultraportable at 2.3 pounds and 0.5-inches thick, the laptop stimulates the experience of writing at a desk thanks to its ErgoLift Hinge, which allows the screen to tilt upward by an inch and the keyboard to tilt at 5.5-degrees. This is meant to ensure easier typing, enhance speaker quality, and create more airflow beneath the chassis.
Asus has still managed to pack some of today’s top specs within the barely-there metal frame: the highest-end option includes an Intel Core i7-855OU processor, Intel HD Graphics 620, 16GB of memory, and 1TB SSD. Built both for every day and for days on the go, the 50Wh lithium-polymer battery can last 13.5 hours from a single charge and the Tru2Life video technology enhances image contrast and sharpness for great-looking media streaming. While the ZenBook S isn’t the cheapest, or even thinnest, Windows laptop, its sophisticated design and vibrant color options make it a strong contender.
Display could be brighter
No 4K option
The Samsung Notebook 9 Pro is a powerful laptop packed with features. It’s the Pro model of Samsung’s Notebook 9, so it has enough power to handle professional editing programs and even some light gaming. But it also has a stylus, touchscreen, and 360-degree hinge. This makes it a versatile machine that has enough power for professionals, but with the portability of a lightweight tablet.
Under the hood, the Samsung Notebook 9 Pro has a 7th Gen Intel Core i7-7500U mobile processor, an integrated AMD Radeon 540 graphics card, and 16GB of RAM. That’s enough heft for professional photographers and video editors. The laptop also comes with support for Windows Ink, an extra perk for digital artists.
Although heavier than it’s non-Pro counterpart (the Pro comes in at 4.8 pounds), the laptop still has several features usually found in lightweight laptops and tablets, including an S-pen passive stylus, a touchscreen, and a full-range hinge that allows the keyboard to fold back into tablet mode. The stylus is the same model found in all Samsung phones and tablets — and it makes the Notebook 9 Pro great for notetaking or doodling.
"An increasingly problematic factor with modern laptops is waste heat, some laptops can get incredibly hot under load. So if possible, check reviews to see if your laptop of choice received a stress test." — Alice Newcome-Beill, Associate Commerce Editor
SD card slot not included
Thin, light, and elegant, the Huawei Matebook X Pro might not look like a workhorse, but the laptop is as powerful as it is portable. The metallic grey body weighs 2.93 pounds and measures just 0.57 inches. The 4.4mm bezels result in a 91-percent screen-to-body ratio for the 13.9-inch 3K touchscreen, which also boasts a 3000 x 2000 resolution for vibrant graphics. Featuring Windows 10 Home Signature Edition, the notebook has no bloatware, resulting in performance up to 40 percent better than previous iterations.
Whether you’re running between classes, meetings, or terminals, the 57.4 Wh battery can support up to 15 hours of web browsing and will prevent you from having to scramble for a charger. The webcam, positioned on the keyboard, only rises when relevant apps are being used to enhance security, and the one-touch power button can power up your computer and take you to your home screen in just 7.8 seconds.
If you're in the market for a rock-solid laptop with windows, the Dell XPS 13 is a top performer bringing together a gorgeous 4K display with excellent hardware specs.
Our testers and expert reviewers use a variety of methods and benchmark tests to evaluate Windows laptops. We look at design, weight, screen size and resolution, port placement, and any other special features like touchscreens or 2-in-1 form factors. For objective performance measures, we use common tests like PCMark, 3DMark, Cinebench, and others to get scores for CPU and GPU capabilities. If relevant, we also fire up a demanding game to see frames per second during gameplay.
Additional factors we take under consideration are the strength and quality of wireless connectivity and audio quality. To test battery life, we stream video at maximum brightness to measure runtime, along with general usage over the course of a day. Finally, we look at the value proposition and competition, to see how a laptop stacks up against rivals in a similar price range. All of the laptops we test are purchased by us; none of the review units are provided by a manufacturer.
David Beren is a tech writer with more than 10 years of experience in the industry. He has written and managed content for tech companies like T-Mobile, Sprint, and TracFone Wireless.
Andrew Hayward is a Chicago-based writer who has been covering technology and video games since 2006. His areas of expertise include smartphones, wearable gadgets, smart home devices, video games, and esports.
Alice Newcome-Beill is an avid gamer and has reviewed gaming systems for PC gamer and PCMag. She currently uses a Lenovo Y740.
Size - While having a 17-inch screen on a laptop can be appealing, that will directly translate into the size of your laptop. Depending on how much traveling you intend to do with your laptop, this can quickly become an inconvenience.
Performance - Some higher-end laptops can even give some desktops a run for their money. While internal storage is important, that can be expanded through flash drives and external hard drives. However, the CPU and GPU can't be upgraded.
Battery - One of the perks of a laptop is the fact that you can take it wherever you want. But without a decent battery, you're going to be lugging around an adapter too. Unless you're fine leaving your laptop seated around the house, you'll want something that can stand being unplugged for more than 8 hours.