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The best laptops

Matthew S. Smith
Best Laptops

A laptop has to do it all. It needs to be light, portable, powerful, beautiful, and reasonably affordable. Fortunately, there are a handful of fantastic options that fulfill all or most of those, depending on your needs.

Below you’ll find our picks for best overall laptop, as well as the best MacBook for Apple die-hards, the best Chromebook for those who desire an affordable laptop with a super-light OS, and the best laptops if you’ve little money to spend. We’ve also selected the best 15-inch laptop, best 2-in-1, and the best gaming laptop.

At a glance

Product Category Rating
Dell XPS 13 Best laptop overall 4.5 out of 5
MacBook Pro 13-inch (without Touch Bar) Best MacBook 3 out of 5
Samsung Chromebook Pro Best Chromebook 4 out of 5
Surface Pro Best 2-in-1 laptop 4 out of 5
Asus ZenBook UX330UA Best budget laptop 4 out of 5
Alienware 17 R5 Best gaming laptop 4 out of 5
Dell XPS 15 Best 15-inch laptop 4.5 out of 5

Dell XPS 13

The best laptop

Dell XPS 13 9370 review |

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this: It’s portable, fast, attractive, and reasonably priced.

The best laptop
Dell XPS 13 (2018)
Portable, powerful, and beautiful, nothing offers the same value as Dell's flagship XPS 13.

$1,299.68 from Amazon.com

Who’s it for: Everyone except gamers.

How much will it cost: Starts at $1,000

Why we picked the Dell XPS 13:

Dell’s XPS 13 has a great look that blends a metallic exterior with a white woven-fiberglass interior. Its design feels premium, yet inviting — the kind of cool new toy you’ll be itching to show off to anyone willing to look. The super-thin InfinityEdge bezel is another highlight of the design. Although a lot of laptops have copied this design, the XPS 13 did it first and did it best with less than a quarter of an inch around each side. It’s as functional as it is beautiful, making the overall footprint of the system smaller and lighter.

Does that make the XPS 13 too small? Nope. The touchpad is as large as the competition and the keyboard is a breeze to use. The system is also energy efficient with a respectable battery size, so it can last all day on a charge in most situations and handle pretty much anything you throw at it.

There really just one oddity you should know about: The webcam. The bezels are so thin there’s no room for it, so it’s below the display, rather than above. That makes for an awkward angle, though it’s becoming an increasingly common feature of bezel-less laptops.

The two models we tested, the i5 and i7 versions, start at $1,000 and $1,400 respectively. Both feature 8th-generation processors, alongside a selection of solid state drives and up to 16GB of RAM. If you want to opt for something cheaper, you can still purchase the 7th-gen version Core i3 model, which starts at just $800.

Read our full Dell XPS 13 (2018) review

MacBook Pro 13-inch (without Touch Bar)

The best MacBook

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this: You need MacOS and Windows just won’t cut it.

The best MacBook
Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch with Touch Bar
Apple’s notebook will appeal to commuters, Apple adherents, and anyone who despises the finicky trackpads Windows PCs are known for.

$1,299.00 from Amazon.com

Who’s it for: Anyone who doesn’t mind paying the “Apple Tax.”

How much will it cost: Starts at $1,300

Why we picked the MacBook Pro 13-inch (without Touch Bar):

The MacBook Pro is a beautiful laptop, but it has a few controversial features (such as the Touch Bar) and downright missteps (the faulty keyboard). That’s why the best we could do was recommend the non-Touch Bar version to Mac lovers looking for the best value.

Things were complicated recently, though, as Apple launched its 2018 MacBook Pro refresh that highlights the addition of Intel’s latest quad-core and six-core 8th-generation CPUs. The problem: Only MacBook Pros with Touch Bar are included this time around, and the MacBook Pro 13 without Touch Bar was relegated to the past. That means Apple is sticking with 7th-generation Intel Core processors for the entry-level model, not even packing in the quad-core version that provides a real boost in performance.

Aside from build quality and industrial design, Apple does justify its high prices with customer service. The company tends to cover defective hardware that other manufacturers might refuse to service, and you can take your Mac to any Apple Store if you need help. Given the MacBook Pro’s robust build, and reputation for longevity, it’s a nice safety net to have — especially when your Mac gets old and you end up losing your warranty paperwork. Even when there’s a serious issue like the MacBook Pro’s keyboard, Apple usually gets around to offering free repairs or replacements.

We stand by our recommendation of the non-Touch Bar MacBook Pro, while lamenting the fact that Apple left it out in the cold. Maybe the company will release its MacBook Air redesign and give us another option to recommend.

Read our full MacBook Pro 13-inch review (with Touch Bar)

Samsung Chromebook Pro

The best Chromebook

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this: You want an inexpensive, but well-built laptop.

The best Chromebook
Samsung Chromebook Pro
If you’re looking for a cheap laptop to use as a second PC, you can’t go wrong with the Samsung Chromebook Pro.

$599.99 from Samsung $549.00 from Amazon.com

Who’s it for: Students, people who need only basic functionality, anyone who wants a cheap laptop to use as a second PC.

How much will it cost: Starts at $600

Why we picked the Samsung Chromebook Pro:

Chromebooks — laptops that run Google’s Chrome OS — have become a popular budget laptop over the last few years, and for good reason. The Samsung Chromebook Pro is a great example of their strengths: It has a 2,560 × 1,600 display, an Intel Core M processor, and plenty of memory — solid specs at a decent price.

Indeed, if you’re looking for a budget laptop, Chromebooks as a category are a good choice to look into. But since these systems rarely sell for north of $600, their price tags do bring limitations. You won’t find a Chromebook with a lightning-fast quad-core processor, a fast solid state drive, or an optional discrete GPU, for example. Even if the best Chromebooks were equipped to compete with the best laptops, the operating system would hold them back.

Chrome OS, which is designed around Google’s Chrome web browser, is wonderfully simple and intuitive. While it used to only run extensions and web apps, that has been expanded to now include everything in the Google Play Store. That means all the games, apps, and services available on your Android smartphone, are now available on Chromebooks like the Samsung Chromebook Pro. While Chrome OS still doesn’t take full advantage of the Chromebook Pro in tablet mode, it’s getting better.

The Samsung Chromebook Pro has a variant in the Chromebook Plus, which now has a second generation that can be configured with an Intel CPU rather than an ARM-based processor.

Read our full Samsung Chromebook Pro review

Surface Pro

The best 2-in-1 laptop

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this: You want a great laptop and a good tablet.

The best 2-in-1 laptop
Microsoft Surface Pro (2017)
The Surface Pro is a 2-in-1 without compromises, combining stellar performance with a flexible, premium-built chassis.

$469.99 from Amazon.com

Who’s it for: Anyone who needs versatility on top of performance.

How much will this cost: Starts at $800

Why we picked the Surface Pro:

In the past couple of years, 2-in-1 laptops have gone from an acquired taste to completely mainstream. If you’re not sure about laptops-as-tablets though, the Surface Pro is the one to change your mind. First and foremost, it’s a stylish, lightweight, and powerful tablet that pulls double duty as a laptop.

Worried about the Surface Pro as a laptop replacement? Think of it as a laptop with a detachable keyboard. Seriously, this thing has the power to do anything you need a laptop to do and more. With a full version of Windows 10 and a super-light form factor, the Surface Pro is just as capable for a workday at the office as it is for laying on the couch watching cat videos.

Coming in at just 0.33 inches thick, and weighing 1.73 pounds, it’s also easily the most portable laptop on this list. Toss it in a bag and you’d never notice the extra weight. The form factor is even more impressive when you consider the power it packs. There are a few different configurations with different price points, starting at $800 for students and topping out at $2,700. No matter which configuration you choose, you get the 7th-generation Kaby Lake processor under the hood — our review unit was one of these top-spec machines.

That extra oomph really shows. Not only did it perform spectacularly well in our benchmarks, it’s excellent as an everyday workhorse. It’s quick, snappy, and versatile, everything you could want out of an ultra-portable laptop — plus it’s the best tablet around when you need it to be. The smaller, $400 Surface Go comes out this August, while rumors point toward a redesigned version of the Surface Pro coming in 2019 and an 8th-gen CPU update later this fall.

Read our full Surface Pro (2017) review

Asus ZenBook UX330UA

The best budget laptop

Best laptops Asus Zenbook UX330

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this: You want an affordable Windows PC that’s also a joy to use.

The best budget laptop
Asus Zenbook UX330UA-AH54
The ZenBook starts at $700, and has far better specs than what you’ll find from competitors at this price point.

$749.00 from Amazon

Who’s it for: Everyone except gamers, other power users.

How much will it cost: $750

Why we picked the Asus ZenBook UX330UA:

The Dell XPS 13 starts at $1,000. That’s often where you’ll get a good laptop for the money you spend. However, the average selling price of new laptops has hovered around $600 for years.

One option is to watch out for a sale. You shouldn’t have to wait long. Refurbished models have sold for as little as $470, and budget laptops sometimes dip near the $600 mark. Keep an eye out for coupons on Dell’s site and for sales at major retailers including not just the usual suspects but also the Microsoft Store, which carries a selection of the best Windows laptops.

If that doesn’t work, then we suggest the Asus ZenBook UX330UA, another ultrabook we’ve awarded an Editor’s Choice to. The ZenBook isn’t as powerful as the Dell XPS 13, and doesn’t emulate the Dell’s strikingly thin bezels. But otherwise, it’s a powerful machine, worthy of our best laptops list.

And its value is incredible. The base model, which is routinely priced at $750 on Amazon, has a 8th-generation Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB solid state drive. That’s twice the memory and storage of the $800 Dell XPS 13 — and better battery life than what you’ll find in other competitors. Although you can still buy the laptop on Amazon, Asus and other retailers appear to no longer sell it.

Read our full Asus ZenBook UX330UA review

Alienware 17 R5

The best gaming laptop

Jayce Wagner/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this: It provides a fantastic gaming experience on the go.

The best gaming laptop
Alienware 17 R5
The Alienware 17 has everything you'd want in a gaming laptop.

$1,608.99 from Amazon.com

Who’s it for: Gamers who value performance above all.

How much will it cost$1,500+

Why we picked the Alienware 17 R5:

If you want the best gaming performance on a laptop, look no further than the newest Alienware 17. Among the first laptops on the market to feature a six-core Intel Core i9 processor, the Alienware 17 also has an Nvidia GTX 1080 graphics card, and 32GB of RAM. It’s probably the most powerful laptop we’ve tested to date. 

With a GTX 1080 graphics card and that monster of a processor, which is unlocked and overclock-ready, the Alienware 17 R5 made short work of just about everything we threw at it. 

That’s because of the incredible amount of power Alienware has crammed into this laptop. Between the Core i9 and GTX 1080, you can run just about anything at just about any resolution. The display tops out at 1440p, but it has a refresh rate of 120Hz, so your gameplay is just impossibly smooth. Plus, with hardware like this, we had no trouble hitting at least 120 FPS in most games. 

The design is definitely one you’ve seen before if you’ve ever laid your eyes on an Alienware laptop, but it still works and the build quality is as excellent as ever. The Razer Blade might look be a more elegant laptop, but for pure performance, the Alienware 17 R5 is the machine you want.

Read our full Alienware 17 R5 review

Dell XPS 15

The best 15-inch laptop

pc market sales increase in first quarter of 2017 budget gaming dell xps 15 2

Why should you buy this: You want a sleek PC, but also need excellent performance.

The best large display
Dell XPS 15 9560
Beyond a quick CPU and powerful graphics, the Dell XPS 15 can be kitted out with a Stellar 4K display.

$1,599.99 from Amazon.com

Who’s it for: Power users, and those who want a big, beautiful display.

How much will this cost: $1,000+

Why we picked the Dell XPS 15:

The XPS 13 is great, but you may want something with a larger display. You’re not alone. Sales figures have continually shown 15-inch systems beating their smaller rivals. We think this is partially because good, small laptops aren’t cheap — but also because some people just want a bigger display. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Fortunately, Dell also has the XPS 15. It’s great for all the same reasons as the XPS 13, and because it’s larger, it can be optioned with the fastest hardware available today — up to a six-core 8th-gen Intel Core i7 processor, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 TI graphics, and a 4K display. It’s easily the best all-around 15-inch laptop on the market today.

The XPS 15 was recently refreshed with the fastest 8th-gen processors, as well as with a more powerful GTX 1050 Ti in the higher-end configurations.

Read our full Dell XPS 15 (2017) review

How we test

You’ve read our laptop reviews. You’ve read our conclusions. And now you’re wondering how we came to them.

Good question. Reviews often lack context, which is evident in the wildly different scores some laptops receive from different publications. Conflicting opinions can actually make buying a laptop more difficult if the review’s criteria isn’t made clear.

Allow us to lift the veil. Here we’ll explain the benchmarks we use for objective testing and the perspective from which we approach subjective topics. We don’t expect everyone to agree with our opinions, but we hope that sharing our process will leave you better equipped to decide what laptop best fits your needs.