Whether you're loyal to Windows, a Mac fan, or something new, you should know what to look for on your next laptop. Windows and Mac offer a wide range of laptops for different needs, so you can find the model that suits you best. Chromebooks are also worth considering.
A laptop offers more than just an operating system. So read on to find out which laptop is right for you.
Mac, Windows or something else?
The first big consideration when choosing your new laptop is which operating system to run. While this debate has traditionally been dominated by Apple's MacOS and Microsoft Windows, it is also worth considering Google's Chrome OS today, which is offered on much cheaper laptops.
While there are certainly comparable hardware and functions with these platforms, there are some serious differences between them that need to be considered.
PCs are an incredibly diverse category. There are dozens of manufacturers who make PCs, and quality and prices can vary widely depending on the model and brand. The fastest PCs outperform Macs in performance, and many companies customize their PCs for a specific purpose, such as: B. games or companies.
Windows usually runs as an operating system on PCs, which is much more open than MacOS and is updated more frequently. There is also more software for Windows. Windows in particular is the standard for game development and many business-related programs.
Windows devices come in different shapes and sizes. A standard laptop with a clamshell design and keyboard-mouse surface is easy to find. Touchscreen Windows laptops can also be found in the lower price ranges. The more elaborate designs include folding screens or even removable tablet-keyboard combinations such as Microsoft's own Surface Book series. Windows laptops are usually also supplied with touch screens, which is not the case with any Apple MacBook offer – unless you count the touch bar.
In contrast to Apple's more limited hardware offer, there is a large selection in the Windows laptop area. Regardless of whether you choose a large manufacturer like Lenovo or Dell or one of Microsoft's own devices, you have a variety of options with Windows laptops.
Apple has always protected its brand and released products in very conscious iterations. Every Apple product follows its standards, while every manufacturer can make a PC with unique specifications. Therefore, Macs are very user-friendly. Apple tells you exactly what you get, regardless of which MacBook you buy. With all Macs coming from the same ecosystem, the company's resourceful support network can easily help with any problems that arise.
Quality design is one of the hallmarks of a Mac. They are built to look and feel elegant. This also applies to the Apple MacOS operating system, which is straightforward and intuitive. A suite of proprietary software is preinstalled on Macs, and each application works well for tasks like editing videos or music.
Macs also use fast hardware, so those who want a solid computer but don't know much about hardware can rest assured that their Mac will perform well in everyday use. However, they are not equipped with the most powerful graphics chips and have a much higher price than their Windows and Chrome OS colleagues, especially if they are configured with a lot of memory. Apple computers are not known to be cheap.
In many ways, Apple's strict design standards mean that the products are easy to learn and use by anyone, regardless of a person's skills or familiarity with computers. On the other hand, the rigid design of the Mac means less freedom to customize the device. The hardware available is the hardware you get. In addition, Apple only sells a few different MacBook models at a given time. Due to irregular hardware updates, these are not always up to date.
Apple has recently simplified its MacBook range and removed both the 12-inch MacBook and the MacBook Pro without a touch bar. You only have two options: the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro, both of which received minor upgrades in 2019. For more information on the best MacBooks, see our more detailed guide.
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Google's Chrome OS is a little different from the other two main offerings. It powers "Chromebook" laptops and is based on Google’s Chrome browser. This means that desktop applications cannot run like the other two platforms. This is great if you're a PC user who just needs a laptop to read email, watch Netflix, and occasionally play a game or two. It's not that great if you want to use the full functionality of a desktop platform.
Even so, Chrome OS is now faster and more versatile than ever, and supports thousands of Chrome extensions and a variety of Android apps – although they may not always scale well with larger laptop displays. The selection of hardware is much more diverse today than in the past. Powerful offers like Google's own Pixelbook are similar to premium Windows and MacOS laptops. There are even 2-in-1 options like Pixel Slate or HP Chromebook x2.
Chrome OS is certainly a less powerful platform than Windows and MacOS. However, if it meets the requirements for what you want to do on your laptop, you can save a lot of money by using the Google platform versus the other two.
The types of laptops
There are different categories of laptops that are made for a specific use or target group. When buying a laptop, decide what you want to use the laptop for primarily and find a category that fits those interests. Here are some broad categories and some of our favorites for everyone.
Entry ($ 600 or less)
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Laptops can be expensive, but with a few cuts, many manufacturers produce great laptops that cost $ 600 or less. Buyers who need a laptop for the most basic purposes (word processing, surfing the web, etc.) and want to save money may think that an affordable laptop is all they need. Budget laptops are generally easily equipped with hardware such as graphics or RAM. Don't expect to run AAA games or easily switch between a hundred browser tabs. However, this does not mean that they are unable.
This is a category in which Chromebooks shine by missing out on some of the fancier features of Windows and MacOS laptops. However, there are options from these two camps. The best affordable laptops will continue to be built for a long life, with competent construction and ergonomically sensible keyboards and touchpads. Entry-level laptops are generally great for people who may not know much about computers and are simply looking for a device that can do standard tasks.
Some great entry-level laptops worth considering are the fantastic Acer Chromebook 15 Spin or the Lenovo IdeaPad 330S. If portability is more important to you, we also love the Microsoft Surface Go 2-in-1 for its great design and extremely affordable price.
Mainstream ($ 600- $ 1000)
This price range is arguably the best in terms of Bang for Buck. You get much better internal hardware than the entry-level deals, but don't pay a premium for some of the fancy materials used to make the most expensive laptops. You will have to do without one or the other function and you won't see a powerful graphics chip for your money, but the systems in this price range are really excellent laptops.
The fact that this section is a sweet spot for the industry means that you also have a wide choice. There are laptops with great displays, laptops with powerful processors, nice looking laptops, and those that are light, portable, and have great battery life. You may not find a system that meets all of these criteria, but the best laptops under $ 1,000 are some of our favorites.
If you're looking for a great gaming laptop in this price range, the Dell Gaming G3 is a powerful option, while the ZenBook 13 UX333 remains one of the best laptops under $ 1,000.
Premium (over $ 1,000)
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If your pockets are a little deeper, there are few better laptops than those in the premium mount. For a little more money, you get longer battery life, improved performance through more powerful internal hardware, larger and higher-resolution displays, and overall better build quality. This holder contains some of the best laptops you can buy today. So if you're a bit more power user and can afford it, this is the class of laptops you should consider the most.
Despite the excessive cost of the premium laptop category, there is still a wide selection. You can purchase outstanding 13-inch laptops with numerous general computing powers and connectivity options. If you want to play games or create content on the side, consider switching to a 15-inch laptop with a six-core processor and a dedicated graphics card.
This category even includes our favorite laptop of recent years, the Dell XPS 13. If you want something stronger and more powerful for content creation, the Dell XPS 15 is also worth considering. For gamers, the Razer Blade is the best laptop we've ever seen, while the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme offers real performance in an extremely sturdy case.
If you're an Apple fan, we recommend the MacBook Air. The MacBook Pro is also an option, but that's more for power users and offers less money.
2 in 1
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The 2-in-1 laptop or convertible laptop combines the convenience and lightness of a tablet with the usefulness of a keyboard. There are two ways to accomplish this: either both are appropriate, but the keyboard can fold behind the touchscreen, or the tablet side can be completely detached from the keyboard.
Cabriolets offer great versatility, but are not necessarily the best devices available. The uniqueness of their design can come with some notable drawbacks, such as: B. Weight (especially due to the metal hinges on the keyboard) and price. Convertible laptops are often more expensive than clamshell laptops with comparable hardware.
When it comes to buying a 2-in-1 device, some are better laptops than tablets, and some are better tablets than laptops. Before you buy, think carefully about which mode you are likely to use more and do it accordingly.
Our preferred 2-in-1 laptops for 2020 are the Microsoft Surface Pro 6 and the HP Specter x360 13.
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Just because business laptops are designed for business users does not mean that they do not offer interesting functions for the average buyer. While they may not always look like mainstream systems, they tend to pack exceptional battery life under the hood and have more robust and sturdy shells to hit on the go. They also tend to have slightly larger displays, often with great color accuracy, if they are more aimed at video editors and photographers.
Due to the increased emphasis on security and data protection, these laptops are more likely to offer better protection systems such as biometric validation and professional software packages.
The main disadvantage of a business laptop is that it is usually expensive. If you're less worried and you're not a gambler, there are few better laptops than those aimed at business users and commuters.
One of the most well-known laptop lines in the business category is the Lenovo Thinkpad, and the current X1 Carbon is a fantastic entry into this product line. We also love the flagship X1 Extreme – it's our favorite business laptop for 2020.
Dan Baker / Digital Trends
Graphics are getting better, levels are getting bigger and denser, and many games require the ability to press a certain number of keys at just the right time. With all of this, gaming laptops need to be built to keep up with the never-ending progress. The best gaming laptops offer high-end processors and graphics chips, as well as enough RAM for modern games.
Gaming laptops tend to be bulkier to accommodate better hardware and bigger screens. Thanks to its powerful hardware, the battery life is also not too long – especially in systems with 4K displays. However, this is not always the case. Our preferred gaming laptops usually offer a good middle ground or more stealth gaming skills.
The Area-51m from Alienware is more of a traditional gaming laptop with super-strong hardware and a bulky frame, but the Razer Blade is a much more modern version of a gaming laptop.
What you need to know about hardware
As with any computer, the hardware of a laptop determines what it can do. Better hardware is of course more expensive. Therefore, it is important to consider what you are using the laptop for and choose the hardware that is appropriate for that purpose. A laptop that is used only for general purposes such as surfing the Internet or writing documents is unlikely to need a high-end processor or graphics card.
CPU / processor
As with any computer, the CPU does most of the processes for the laptop. Every time the computer needs to access or change data, the CPU performs this task. Better CPUs can process more data faster. Please note that the pure clock speed of a CPU does not necessarily result in the whole picture. If you are not sure about your options, copy the processor model number (eg "Core i5-9400H") to a web search to compare your selection.
The latest offerings from Intel are the Core i3, i5 and i7 series in 8th generation models. However, we are beginning to introduce 9th generation chips in gaming laptops and content creation machines. Below we also see the first 10th generation Ice Lake CPUs in new laptop designs. The latest chips from AMD are third-generation Ryzen mobile CPUs, which are somewhat more difficult to find in laptop offerings.
When it comes to choosing a laptop based on its CPU, newer is almost always better. Avoid buying a laptop with a CPU that is several generations old. Don't worry if you buy a chip out of the middle range unless you're doing something intense like video editing. For example, the four cores available in the Core i5-8565U are a good starting point for most people.
A graphics chip generates the images that a program must display on the screen. With most laptops, the graphics chip is integrated into the motherboard. Unlike a desktop, updating a laptop's graphics is very rare and difficult. It is therefore important to start by buying what you need.
NVIDIA and AMD are the main providers of discrete mobile graphics. NVIDIA's latest series is the RTX 20 series, including the RTX 2060, 2070, and 2080 – with some Max-Q versions that are cooler and quieter. These will be included in the most expensive, high-performance gaming and business-class laptops, although some newer models may use the slightly older 10 series or the GTX 1080, 1070, and 1060.
AMD's offers differ somewhat in that the Vega chips are usually supplied with a CPU in a CPU that AMD calls the Accelerated Processing Unit (APU). There are also a growing number of options with an Intel CPU combined with an AMD Vega graphics core on a single chip. They can be impressively powerful and worth considering if you can find a laptop with this hardware at the right price.
There are also rumors of an upcoming mobile RX 5500M GPU that could be far more powerful. One to see before Christmas.
Although there are some laptops that offer a reasonable sound immediately, such as For example, the MacBook Pro, most laptops have no room for decent speakers in the case. Most laptops offer connections for connecting headphones or external speakers if you want an even more intense listening experience.
RAM, often referred to as memory, refers to the ability of the computer to store and access information for immediate use. Every task currently running on a computer uses RAM. The more RAM a computer has, the more information it can retrieve at a given time and the more things it can do at any time.
How much RAM do you need? 8 GB is the sweet spot for most. However, you want to jump to 16 GB or more when running intensive applications or creating content.
The storage space on the internal drives of a laptop indicates how much data can be stored in total. Programs, videos, music: All of these programs are stored on an internal drive or in cheaper laptops, the "flash memory" – the same type of long-term storage that your smartphone has. In contrast to RAM, stored data does not necessarily have to be used. A program that is installed on the computer but is not currently running is taking up space but not memory. Many laptops these days use solid-state drives – also known as SSDs – that are faster and more robust than traditional hard drives at the cost of storage space.
An SSD offers a dramatic increase in performance compared to a conventional hard drive and can bring about the most dramatic improvement in laptop use when purchasing a new system. Make sure your next purchase has one. If you need more storage space, use a large external drive.
A few years ago, a touchscreen was a novelty that could only be found in high-end laptops, mainly because the hardware and software just weren't sophisticated enough to make it useful for most people. With the explosion of smartphone and tablet users, Microsoft, Google and laptop manufacturers have made great efforts to create a high quality touchscreen experience. Touchscreens are now optional on some budget designs.
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Windows 10 has done a lot to make these touchscreen and combination designs more profitable. The user interface and software are designed with touch in mind, including traditional programs such as Office and the Edge browser. Third-party software such as Google's popular Chrome browser also offers excellent touch support.
With some laptops, you have to pay for the privilege of touch. So before you buy, think again about whether you really need it.