Smart phones and tablets offer a great way to stay connected to your digital life, but for real work, their small screens, virtual keyboards and pared-down apps are just not equal to the task. A laptop can do everything a tablet can and so much more, whether you’re writing the next great American novel, creating architectural renderings for the world’s tallest skyscraper, or just attaining new levels in the latest version of Call of Duty. Their physical keyboards, powerful processors, ample storage and optical drives -- on all but the thinnest and lightest models -- are features you can’t get on a tablet or smart phone. Laptops also offer far more connectivity options than tablets, including HDMI ports, multiple USB ports and media-card slots.
The best laptops have fast, efficient processors, plenty of memory and sufficient storage for all your multimedia files and applications. Additional features such as a high-definition webcam and graphics capability are also important considerations when choosing a laptop.
This review is limited to Windows laptops. While the Apple MacBook Pro is a wonderful machine, it’s pricey. The top-rated laptops in our review are every bit as fast and powerful as the MacBook but a lot more affordable. Our favorites—the Dell XPS, HP Envy TouchSmart series and HP Envy series—have everything you need to perform a wide range of personal and business computing tasks. For more in-depth information, take a look at our articles on laptop computers.
The best laptop for you will depend on what you’ll be using it for. If it’s simply to check email, browse the Internet and listen to music, just about any laptop will do. But if you’ll use it for video editing, graphics design, or high-end gaming, you’ll need a device with a large hard drive, an ample amount of RAM and a powerful processor. The laptops in our review are the base models of each series, but you can choose to upgrade their components to better meet your needs.
Below are the criteria we used to evaluate laptop computers.
The best laptops have a fast, powerful processor. The current leader in the processor field is Intel, whose highest-end series is the Core i7. The latest, greatest processor will boost the final price, so consider how much power you really need. The operating system you’ll find on PC laptops will be either Windows 7 or Windows 8. The latter offers enhanced touch-screen capabilities.
If you’re into advanced gaming, powerful graphics is essential. Most laptops have only integrated or on-processor graphics. If you’ll be playing demanding video games or using other video-intensive applications, look for a laptop that offers a discrete graphics card. These cards offer faster performance, because they are dedicated – rather than integrated -- parts.
RAM, or random access memory, is what your computer uses to store applications and data you’re currently accessing. The more RAM you have the more apps you can run simultaneously. Look for a laptop with at least 6MB. For permanent storage, some laptops give you the option of a hard drive (HDD) or a solid-state drive (SSD). HDDs offer more storage but SSDs have no moving parts so they’re less susceptible to crashes. They’re also more expensive, however. Finally, consider a laptop’s battery life. The best laptops can run for nine hours on a single charge, even with moderate use.
Laptops are designed for portability, but the smaller and lighter a laptop, the less powerful and full-featured it’s likely to be. If you’ll be using your laptop as a desktop replacement, it’s likely to be large and heavy, but you probably won’t be carrying it around much, so the weight and size won’t matter. If you’ll be carrying your new laptop around a lot, its size and weight are important. A mini laptop with a high definition webcam and different screen size options is the most desirable for general users.
Laptops offer several connection options, both wired and wireless. Wireless options include Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. With Wi-Fi you can connect to a network or to Internet hotspots, and with Bluetooth you can do things like listen to music through wireless headphones. Wired ports include HDMI for connecting to HDTVs, Ethernet for connecting to wired networks, multiple USB 3.0 ports for connecting devices such as printers and SD card slots for reading memory cards from cameras or camcorders.
Help & Support
Wear and tear happens to electronic devices no matter how well you take care of them. Before you buy, compare warranties. Most computers include a one-year warranty, but some may offer more. Most also offer extended warranties. Also, if technical problems arise, you’ll want multiple support options. Common offerings include email, phone, live chat and FAQs.
Whether your new laptop will be an indispensable travel companion or a desktop replacement, one of these 10 models is likely to offer the right combination of portability, performance, features, and price.
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