The best laptops: Premium laptops, cheap laptops, 2-in-1s, and more


Today’s best laptops bask in the glow of Intel’s 8th-gen Core CPUs, which at last bring quad-core performance to mainstream machines. The only thing missing is Oprah shouting, “and you get an 8th-gen quad-core laptop!”

There’s plenty of good news with this new generation. Our favorite convertible laptop, HP’s Spectre x360 13, sports a quad-core 8th-gen chip while maintaining its diminutive size. It’s really the total package. 

But let’s be honest: You probably don’t need a quad-core powerhouse, especially if the hottest application you run is Microsoft Excel. Check out our budget favorites, like the Acer Aspire E 15 and Asus ZenBook Flip, whose dual-core CPUs do just fine with mainstream fare. Or read about the Asus Chromebook Flip, a well-priced and versatile laptop for living on the web—or delving into the wide, wide world of Android apps. 

Read on for our picks in all categories and price points.

Update 8/27/2018: We review the latest bargain version of the popular Acer Aspire E15, our new top pick for best budget laptop; and we anoint the Acer Nitro 5 the best budget gaming laptop. We also review the superslim, nearly perfect (for a price) Huawei Matebook X Pro. Finally, we talk to AMD about the future of Raven Ridge’s surprisingly potent integrated graphics—keeping performance up while taking power consumption down. 

Laptop buyer’s cheat sheet

Our quick-hit recommendations

Latest laptop news

  • We interviewed AMD about the future of Raven Ridge (aka Ryzen 3 2200G and Ryzen 5 2400G), the APU that delivers surprising performance given its integrated graphics—yes, even in games. The next step: Bring its power consumption down while keeping the performance up.
  • We got our hands on the Asus ROG Zephyrus S GX531, a surprisingly slender gaming laptop that’s the shape of things to come. This is a good trend for gamers tired of lugging around the bulkier laptops still predominant. 
  • Looks like ARM is getting serious about putting its chips into PCs. It usually lets clients like Qualcomm take center stage, but the company has made public its roadmap through 2020, introducing two chips, Deimos and Hercules, designed to face down Intel. Good luck with that.

Best thin-and-light laptop

Dell made a bold statement when it claimed its completely redesigned New XPS 13 would be among the fastest laptops in its class, if not the fastest. But Dell ain’t just trash-talking. Thanks to a new cooling system, the XPS 13 with an 8th-gen Core i5 is as fast, if not faster than, most 8th-gen Core i7 laptops, and many larger, beefier laptops, too.

But that’s not all. The mid-range model we tested boasts an improved display and keyboard, and satisfyingly long battery life of about 12.5 hours.

All these goodies can’t quite help us forget the disappearance of USB-A ports—that’s right, it’s USB-C all the way. We don’t like it, but we’d all better get used to it.

Runner-up

Make no mistake: There’s a lot to like about the Razer Blade Stealth. It’s just as beautiful as its predecessors, and Razer’s upgraded the parts to the latest and mostly greatest: a quad-core Intel i7-8550U processor clocked at 1.8GHz (with 4GHz Turbo), Intel’s internal UHD Graphics 620, 16GB of 2,133MHz DDR3 RAM, and a tiny ol’ 256GB m.2 SSD. It also sports a 13.3-inch screen where there was a 12.5-inch one before, though the chassis size is basically the same.

It’s not perfect, though. Its performance, while very competent overall, clearly lagged in places due to thermal throttling (a common solution to managing the heat in slender laptops). The battery still doesn’t last quite as long as the competition’s. And a new feature we’d normally welcome, USB-C charging, has an alarmingly delicate-seeming port and plug.

But the real kicker is the price ($1,500 via Amazon). Spec for spec, competing ultrabooks give you more for the money. Razer has charisma to spare, and fans may be willing to shell out for that; but anyone less faithful will probably think twice.

Best laptop under $500

Acer’s Aspire E line has been popular for years, and you can see why when you look at the bang-for-buck. The latest model sports a few upgrades from the prior generation. Foremost is an 8th-gen Intel Core i3-8130 CPU, which is an entry-level dual-core chip, competent for mainstream use. You also get 6GB of RAM, a 1TB HDD, and an 8X DVD drive. It stacks up nicely as an everyday workhorse, perfect for web browsing, productivity applications, casual photo editing and even spinning good old-fashioned optical discs. 

Given its low price, mainstream users may be willing to overlook the laptop’s extra weight, so-so display and lack of keyboard backlighting. But note that if you have any high-demand applications (or a bit of a gaming bug), it would be better to consider one of its pricier cousins, like the $600 Aspire E15 E5-576G-5762. Read our full review.

Best convertible laptop

While Apple and Dell are content to show up to dance in the same dress year after year, you won’t have that from HP. Just two years removed from its original launch, the Spectre x360 13t (available at HP.com) has now gone through no fewer than three major redesigns. The latest, of course, is the best and adds a fingerprint reader, a nifty rechargeable pen, and of course, an 8th-generation Core i7 CPU too.

In raw performance it doesn’t quite keep up with Dell’s XPS 13 but this is a convertible and most convertibles give up a little performance for the ability to work as a tablet. What matters more is that it leaves the 7th-generation Spectre x360 13t in the dust on CPU heavy workloads.

Adam Patrick Murray

The best part is battery life doesn’t suffer (it’s still damned good) and it’s even a couple of ounces lighter to boot. HP doesn’t make the faux pas, or is that port pas, and keeps a USB Type A port along with two Thunderbolt 3 ports that support external graphics.

So yeah, it’s easy to see why the Spectre x360 13t is our go to convertible laptop and the one everyone is chasing right now.

Lenovo’s latest Yoga 920 (reviewed here) comes close to pushing the Spectre from the top of the President-of-the-Hill contest (‘Murica folks) but in the end, the extra weight of the 14-inch Yoga and the extra cost hurt its position.

Runner-up

We call this a runner-up, but you could also think of it as an upgrade. If you want a convertible, but with more screen and more power, it’s hard to beat the new HP Spectre x360 15. Unlike most 360 designs that either under-spec (and thus lack muscle) or over-spec (with too much hardware stuffed into the design causing inefficiency), HP’s Spectre x360 15 and its newfangled Intel Kaby Lake G CPU doesn’t give up much ground at all. 

HP actually sells two different Spectre x360 15 laptops that are quite different on the inside. Our recommendation is for the Kaby Lake G version, which gives up some battery life for a lot of CPU and graphics performance (although, if gaming is your primary concern, make sure you see our recommendation for best gaming laptop first). The other Spectre x360 15 is based on the Kaby Lake R and sacrifices some CPU and graphics power in favor of more battery life. 

Best budget convertible laptop

For years, Asus has offered great value in its notebooks, and the ZenBook Flip (available at Amazon) is a strong example of its affordable, high-performing offerings. For $700, you get a fully convertible notebook that can handle everyday tasks with ease.

In fact, its pricing and specs are virtually identical to our favorite budget ultrabook, the Asus UX305 (now discontinued). Inside you get a Core m3-6Y30, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD, and outside there’s a 1920×1080 IPS screen with an anti-glare finish.

Yet despite the modest CPU, the Asus ZenBook Flip is fairly peppy. In our benchmarks, it actually outperformed faster (and newer) Core m5 and m7 processors in rival machines during short CPU-intensive tasks. Its storage drive is no slouch, either.

This laptop is slender and lightweight, too. It measures 0.54 inches thick and 2.8 pounds, which keeps it in line with more expensive ultraportables. You’re not saddled with chunkier dimensions or extra weight in exchange for a lower price.

A couple of compromises do exist: There’s no backlighting on the keyboard, and the trackpad is a tad springy. Still, it’s a good deal in a price range that usually nets you thick, ugly, and plastic.

Best 2-in-1 / tablet / hybrid laptop

This category originally started out as the best “Surface” category because, well, for a time, there was nothing like Microsoft’s 2-in-1 / tablet / hybrid device.

The best Surface-like device isn’t built by Microsoft anymore, though. Instead, our pick for our top 2-in-1 / tablet / hybrid is Lenovo’s IdeaPad Miix 520 (currently about $876 on Amazon.) Besides being almost affordable, the Miix 520 wowed us because of its 8th generation Core i5 CPU. Yup: That’s a real quad-core CPU in a Surface-like device. Take that, iPad Pro.

If you’re turning your nose up at the Miix 520 because it’s “only” a Core i5, just know that in multi-threaded CPU-bound tests, you’re looking at a 36-percent increase in performance over a high-end Core i7 Surface Pro.

So yeah, if you thought there was no way you could do CPU-heavy tasks on a Surface clone, you can. There’s a price to be paid for that but you’ll have to read our review for those details.

Runner-up

Samsung’s follow-up to its first 2-in-1 (available at Amazon) doesn’t take any extreme turns off the established path. It’s still incredibly thin and lightweight, and it offers an even more stunning AMOLED screen that supports HDR.

But it’s still not quite our favorite convertible, and that’s partially due to Samsung’s decision to sell both a small and a big version of the Galaxy Book. The more affordable, lower-power Core m3 model has a smaller 10.6-inch screen. If you want a 12-inch screen, you’ll have to jump to a starting price of $1,130.

Despite these two tougher choices, the Galaxy Book is still compelling. It offers solid performance (including over 10 hours of video playback on the 12-inch Core i5 model) and addresses some of our complaints with the Galaxy TabPro S. You now get two USB-C ports, and the keyboard secures tightly to the tablet. And of course, it has that gorgeous display.

So while it may no longer have a huge advantage in price, Samsung still manages to hold its own with a few compelling features. Particularly the included pen—Microsoft’s equivalent accessory is a $100 optional purchase.

Best gaming laptop

The Alienware 17 R5 is the latest in a long line of well-regarded laptops from this Dell subsidiary, but this one raises the bar. Actually, it throws the bar high up in the air, leaps after it, catches it mid-somersault, and lands cleanly while onlookers stare, agog.

The key difference: an upgrade to Intel’s 8th-gen mobile processors, which pack more CPU cores than previous generations did. Even better, the one in our review unit is Intel’s high-performance Core i9 -8950HK, which turns this already beastly gaming laptop into an utter monster.

The Alienware 17 R5 is available in a variety of configurations, from a $1,560 model with a 6-core Core i7-8750H, an overclocked GeForce GTX 1060, and a 60Hz 1080p display, all the way up to the price-is-no-object-I-want-performance version we tested ($3,810 from Dell). Optional features could push that total even higher, but there’s already plenty to love. This is 10 pounds of gaming-laptop-slash-desktop-replacement-extraordinaire. Read our review.

Best budget gaming laptop

Acer’s Nitro 5 gaming laptop says you can have a modest budget of $800 or less and get a decent amount of horsepower for playing AAA games. While most of the Nitro 5’s parts are midrange at best, it takes things up a notch with its new Coffee Lake CPU, offering solid mobile gaming performance in an affordable, if somewhat hefty package

Gamers who insist on maxing out their graphics will have to settle for middling frame rates on the Acer Nitro 5, and battery life is on the short side. But even with those caveats, the Nitro 5 is a good value. Read our full review. 

Best portable gaming laptop

Just a few years ago a gaming laptop meant a laptop as big as a house and heavier than an engine block. Today’s gaming laptops are truly portable power houses. Take for example, our best pick for portable laptop: The MSI GS65 Stealth Thin.

This laptop packs an 8th-generation Core i7-8750H with six cores and a full-power GeForce GTX 1060. MSI also ups the battery capacity to 85 watt hours to decent effect. What’s amazing though is the weight. Our postage scale pegs the MSI GS65 at just over 4 pounds. 

For a six-core, GTX 1060 laptop with decent battery life, that’s just impressive as hell. When you compare it to the 4.5-pound convertible HP Spectre x360 15 above, well, we’d say it’s a real dilemma. 

If we needed a touchscreen and pen support, we’d go with the HP. But If our mission requires CPU and GPU power, or we’re all about gaming, we’d definitely go with the GS65.

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin 8RE Adam Patrick Murray

Runner-up

Nvidia’s Pascal GPUs have accomplished a lot. They’ve put the traditional beefy gaming laptops on a par with desktop machines. They’ve also upgraded the term “portable gaming laptop” from an oxymoron to a reality. Put a GTX 1060 into a laptop, and you have a capable machine that can survive away from a wall socket—and won’t break your back carrying it, either.

Now, at five pounds, the Alienware 13 (available at Dell.com) is a little heavy for its size—but it’s worth toting around those extra ounces. The model we reviewed packed a gorgeous OLED 2560×1440 display, a quad-core i7 processor, and a VR-capable Nvidia GTX 1060 for flawless 1080p gaming. (Yes, you can play at 2560×1440, too, if you crank down some of the settings…or buy an Alienware Amplifier and pop in a beefier video card.) 

Its extra weight comes from its incredibly sturdy and solid chassis, built to withstand hot climates and gamers who react physically to the highs and lows of gameplay. For some, that’ll be a drawback. But it’s hard to hold the Alienware 13’s design against it, especially after experiencing the pure luxury of its OLED screen. Gaming on it makes the best LCD panels seem pixelated and washed-out.

While performance is a hair under that of rival machines like the MSI GS63VR, the difference is almost negligble—just one or two frames fewer per second in our Tomb Raider and Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor benchmarks. If you can splurge on this version of the Alienware 13, we say do it. From its slick design to its performance, battery life, and OLED display, it’s exceptional in every metric we usually examine.

Best luxury laptop

Years after its release, it’s still very difficult to find a class to put Microsoft’s Surface Book-series of laptop / hybrid / tablet / convertibles / dunno (review here.) If there is one place we could put it, though, it would be in the “stupidly fast” category.

With the Surface Book 2, our top pick for all-out luxury laptop (our test unit costs $3,299), Microsoft basically took its original Surface Book, put it into the copier and hit Enlarge. What you get is a new Surface Book with a 15-inch 3:2 aspect ratio screen, a quad-core 8th-gen CPU, and ta-da: a GeForce GTX 1060 GPU.

That’s basically enough firepower to run modern games at 1080p+ on Very High to Ultra settings. You get all that with the expected futuristic design of the Surface Book 2, and what is arguably the most powerful tablet convertible we-still-don’t-know-what-to-call-it device around.

Is there a gotcha? Yes, and it’s something you should know: The Surface Book 2 has a slight problem with its power (documented here). Microsoft bundled a slightly undersized power brick for the amount of hardware it packs. As a result, under heavy GPU and CPU loads, the battery will start to discharge slowly—by as much as 15 percent in our tests. At that point (when set on maximum performance), it holds the line because the GPU has heated up enough that it begins to throttle back on power consumption, basically reaching an equilibrium.

Should Microsoft have included a slightly bigger power brick to compensate or maybe used an Nvidia Max-Q part? Probably. Is this a deal-breaker? Nope. This is an amazing amount of graphics performance in an amazingly portable machine. In fact, there’s a good chance the GTX 1060 here, even set at a somewhat slower clock speed, will be untouched by the upcoming crop of Kaby Lake G laptops in graphics performance. 

All we know is, if you’re looking for lots of power in a portable package with some style and class, today, it’d be hard to beat the Surface Book 2. 

Best high-end Chromebook

Google’s own Pixelbook sets the standard for all Chromebooks, and then some. The successor to the flagship Chromebook Pixel is pretty, for sure, with its glass panels and gorgeous screen. It also flips around 360 degrees to function as a tablet, and it offers pen support with apps that nurture artistry as well as plain, old note-taking. Battery life is fantastic at a projected 11.67 hours.

Now that Chromebooks support Android apps, the Pixelbook is the ultimate expression of what you can do with this platform. And the most expensive. So check out our favorite budget Chromebook below for a similar, far more affordable alternative.

Best budget Chromebook

Most Chromebooks are budget models, but the Asus Chromebook Flip (C101PA-DB2) has an extra talent: It can rotate backward into a 10.1-inch tablet. Now that Chromebooks can run Android apps, too, the Flip is a versatile as well as affordable machine.

The Chromebook Flip is powered by the new OP1, a no-name processor made by Rockhip with help from Google that will handle everything you throw at it just fine. Just note that the Flip is a bit small for day-long productivity with adult-size fingers, though fine for the hands of children.

 [$300 MSRP; available on Amazon]

Best MacBook

Apple’s laptops might not be game-changing or cheap, but they don’t need to be. Paying more for the same kind of hardware you’d find in a Dell, HP, or Asus laptop is the entry fee for access to macOS and its integration with iOS devices.

Of the options available, we think that the $1,499 13-inch MacBook Pro (available at Apple.com) provides the best balance of value and performance. While the MacBook Air is more affordable, this MacBook Pro features faster hardware and a higher-resolution screen. It also has a far better keyboard than the smaller and lighter 12-inch MacBook.macbook pro 13in no touchbar gray 2017 Apple

This particular model offers a 7th-generation 2.3GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of memory, 256GB of flash storage, Iris 540 integrated graphics, a 2560×1600 screen, and two Thunderbolt 3 ports. If you want Apple’s new Touch Bar as a feature, you’ll need to upgrade to the $1,799 model. The $1,799 model also offers a faster 8th-generation 2.3GHz quad-core Core i5 processor, a Touch ID biometric sensor, and two additional Thunderbolt 3 ports.

Note: The $1,799 model replaces a dual-core model with one sporting a quad-core CPU. The new model probably offers a boost in performance with multi-core apps, but we haven’t gotten one in to test. That being said, there’s probably still a good bang/buck value with the $1,499 laptop.

The main downside to the MacBook Pro is that its ports are all USB Type-C connections. While they all support the Thunderbolt 3 spec and thus allow you to use them for DisplayPort output, charging, and data transfer, it does mean you’ll need to buy adapters or a dock to use USB-A devices and wired LAN connections.

You can read more about the MacBook Pro and its recent upgrades at our sister site, Macworld.

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