If you’re looking to buy a laptop right now, the answer is Dell’s XPS 13. It’s light, portable, powerful, beautiful, and reasonably affordable — making it the best laptop available now. We recommend it not only over every other Windows notebook, but also over Apple’s MacBook line and Google’s Chromebooks.
Still, if you insist, we have picked out the best MacBook for MacOS die-hards, the best Chromebook for those who desire an affordable laptop with a super-light OS, and the best laptops if you’ve $600 or less to spend. We’ve also selected the best 15-inch laptop — though it, perhaps unsurprisingly, is the Dell XPS 15, and the best budget gaming laptop. So sift through this list and pick your poison — and then head over to our list of the best laptop bags to keep your new ride safe and sound.
Dell XPS 13
Why should you buy this: It’s portable, fast, attractive, and reasonably priced.
Who’s it for: Everyone except gamers.
How much will it cost: Starts at $800
Why we picked the Dell XPS 13:
Dell’s XPS 13 has a great look that blends a metallic exterior with a carbon-fiber interior. Its design feels premium, yet inviting. The XPS 13 is the kind of cool new toy you’ll be itching to show anyone willing to look.
The super-thin InfinityEdge bezel is another highlight of the design. Most laptops have a half-inch to an inch of plastic surrounding the display on all sides; the XPS 13 has less than a quarter of an inch. That’s as functional as it is beautiful, as it makes 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 even squeezes in a large battery, which means most models can last a full day before needing a charge (the top-shelf Core i7 model with a 3,200 × 1,800 panel is borderline, though it can manage eight hours if you’re easy on it).
There’s just one oddity you should know about — the web cam. 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. Most people won’t care, but it will bug you if you frequently do video conferences while traveling.
The two entry-level models, starting at $800 and $900, both feature 7th-generation Kaby Lake processors (i3 and i5, respectively), alongside a selection of solid state drives and up to 16GB of RAM. Meanwhile, the two top-end models feature cutting-edge 8th-generation Coffee Lake CPUs, which is the first time we’ve seen quad-core processors available on the XPS 13.
Nothing else offers better overall value, and many competitors feel hopelessly out of date when placed next to Dell’s flagship.
Our full Dell XPS 13 review
The best Mac
MacBook Pro 13-inch (without Touch Bar)
Why should you buy this: You need MacOS and Windows just won’t cut it.
Who’s it for: Anyone who doesn’t mind paying the “Apple Tax.”
How much will it cost: Starts at $1,400
Why we picked the MacBook Pro 13-inch (without Touch Bar):
Most people are looking at a Mac for one of two reasons. Either you’re a fan of MacOS, or you’re attracted to Apple’s brand and want to buy one based on the company’s reputation.
If you’re in the first group, and Windows just won’t cut it, your options are limited to what Apple currently has to offer. In that case, we recommend you purchase the MacBook Pro 13 without Touch Bar. Why not one of the highly anticipated more expensive models, which have an OLED Touch Bar where the function keys used to reside? In our opinion, the Touch Bar just doesn’t add enough functionality — certainly not enough to justify a $200 addition to an already high price tag.
The latest MacBook Pro models all feature 7th-generation Intel Core processors, like a lot of the other offerings on this list, so you do get quite a bit of bang for your buck. But they’re still a little more expensive than they need to be, and if you’re on the fence about MacOS you might want to give Windows 10 a chance — if for no other reason than to save yourself a little cash.
Aside from build quality and industrial design, Apple does justify its high prices with one important feature — service. The company tends to cover defective hardware that others 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.
Our full Macbook Pro 13-inch review (with Touch Bar)
The best Chromebook
Samsung Chromebook Pro
Why should you buy this: You want an inexpensive, but well-built laptop.
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 $550
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. The Samsung Chromebook Pro also has a flashy new design that makes it stand out from the crowd of plastic Chromebooks on store shelves. The rounded edges and aluminum finish make it feel more like a tablet than a traditional laptop.
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 you still can’t go and download applications off the internet like with a Windows or Mac PC, the amount of things you can do on a Chromebook has significantly increased.
The Samsung Chromebook Pro has a variant in the Chromebook Plus, which includes a faster ARM-based, hexa-core CPU, and a $450 price tag. Both models are on the higher end of the spectrum for Chromebooks, exceed only by the Google Pixelbook.
Our full Samsung Chromebook Pro review
The best 2-in-1 laptop
Why should you buy this: You want a great laptop and a good tablet.
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:
2-in-1 laptops are still something of an acquired taste, but if you’re not sure about laptops-as-tablets, the Surface Pro might 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 can 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 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.
Our full Surface Pro review
The best budget laptop
Asus Zenbook UX330UA
Why should you buy this: You want an affordable Windows PC that’s also a joy to use.
Who’s it for: Everyone except gamers, other power users.
How much will it cost: $600 to $800
Why we picked the Asus Zenbook UX330UA:
The Dell XPS 13 starts at $800. We don’t think that’s a lot for a laptop, but the world obviously disagrees; 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 an incredible machine, worthy of our best laptops list.
And its value is incredible. The base model, which is routinely priced at $700 on Amazon, has a 7th-generation Intel Core i5 processor, eight gigabytes of RAM, and a 256GB solid state drive. That’s twice the memory and storage of the $800 Dell XPS 13 — and far better than what you’ll find in other competitors. The laptop also has a successor called the ZenBook UX331, which includes the Intel 8th generation-processor treatment for $750.
Our full Asus Zenbook UX330UA review
The best gaming laptop
Acer Predator 17X
Why should you buy this: It provides a fantastic gaming experience on the go.
Who’s it for: Gamers who value performance above all.
How much will it cost: $2,500+
Why we picked the Acer Predator 17X:
The Predator 17X has been our favorite gaming laptop for a while now — and for good reason. When it comes to things gamers want in a laptop, the Predator 17X has you covered across the board.
The newest version features Nvidia’s GTX 1080 to run your graphics and Intel’s Core i7-7820HK for your processor. These are top-of-the-line offerings for GPUs and CPUs, promising desktop-level performance in a portable system you can take wherever you want.
The Predator 17X also includes a fantastic, 17-inch 4K display that supports Nvidia’s G-Sync technology to ensure that your gaming experience is as immersive as possible. It’ll even perform well with VR systems, which is a nice bonus if you’re interesting in powering a Rift or Vive headset. On top of all that, the Predator 17X includes 32GB of RAM and two hard drives: A 1TB HDD and a 512GB SSD.
It’s not cheap with a starting price of $2,500, but what you get is a fantastic selection of components, chosen specifically to create the ideal gaming experience. It might not be as sleek and thin as Razer products, but if you want efficient gaming performance on a laptop that doesn’t compromise in other areas, the Predator 17X is your best bet.
Our full Acer Predator 17X review
The best large display
Dell XPS 15
Why should you buy this: You want a sleek PC, but also need excellent performance.
Who’s it for: Power users, and those who want a big, beautiful display
How much will this cost: $1,000 to $1,650
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 — including a quad-core 7th-gen Intel Core i7 processor, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 graphics, and a 4K display. It’s easily the best all-around 15-inch laptop on the market today.
The XPS 15 starts at $1,000, though, which is a steep sum. Is there anything more affordable?
There is, but nothing stands out as the clear winner. Acer’s Aspire E15 is affordable and powerful, but not attractive. Asus’ X555UB-NH51 looks and feels more luxurious, but is priced higher without a performance bump. Dell’s Inspiron 15 Gaming is a powerful do-it-all entry that can even serve as a budget gaming laptop, but its display is disappointing. Acer’s Chromebook 15 can’t be beat in value, but you have to be alright living with Chrome OS.
Yes, that’s a lot of options. Picking a budget 15-inch is a tough choice, but if you’re tired of looking and just want a name, go with the Acer Aspire E15 (make sure you buy one with a 1080p display). It’s ugly, but it’ll do the job well enough at an extremely low price.
Our full Dell XPS 15 review
Should you buy now, or wait?
Intel has started rolling out its 8th-generation processors already, but they’re not as big a leap forward as previous generations have been, so it’s still a good time to buy. The 7th-generation Kaby Lake chips and the 8th-generation Coffee Lake chips aren’t far apart in their raw specs, and for everyday use, you likely won’t notice a difference.
AMD also has new hardware available. While we don’t generally recommend AMD over Intel in laptops, the company’s APUs can make sense in some affordable systems. Keep an eye out for the new chips, which will finally offer some decent competition in the laptop CPU market.
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.
Updated 12/28/2017 by Jon Martindale – Added budget gaming category.