One of the best things about Windows PCs is how many different kinds there are. There are laptops that are as small as 8 inches and as big as 18 inches or even bigger. And if you really need a certain feature, like a touchscreen or pen input, you’ll probably be able to find it on a notebook that works for you.
But having so many options can make it hard to know where to start when shopping. And before you even start looking, you really need to think about what you want to do with your new laptop. If your main goal is to get things done, all you need is a sleek ultraportable. But if you want to edit photos and movies or play AAA games, you might want a bigger system with separate graphics. Still, there are a few general things we look for when choosing our top choices.
When you think about success, the hard part is finding your sweet spot. That’s because a fast laptop is nice, but you might be paying for more speed than you need. But if you try to save money by buying a weak processor, even simple jobs can become hard, and you might need to upgrade again sooner than you’d like. Performance isn’t just about clock speeds, so we also look at things like fast start times, storage speeds, the ability to do more than one thing at once, and more advanced features like ray tracing support.
The screen and webcams
Whether a notebook has a touchscreen or a more traditional panel, we look for bright screens (300 nits or more) that are easy to use outdoors or in bright rooms, accurate colors, and wide viewing angles. Competitive games need screens with high refresh rates, while content creators need screens with a wide range of colors. Even if you don’t plan to use video calls a lot, every laptop needs a good webcam (1080p or better).
Ports and ways to connect
Even though cellular modems and WiFi have improved, a laptop’s success or failure depends on whether it has specific ports for transferring data or connecting peripherals. Even the thinnest and lightest computers should have at least three USB ports, and built-in SD card readers can be very helpful when you want to import media from a camera. And if a laptop has a slow or old WiFi router (we’re looking for Wi-Fi 6 or later), it’s pretty much out of the running right away.
How long do batteries last?
No matter how strong a laptop is, it’s useless if it dies when you need it most. We usually look for at least eight hours of use per charge, but longer is always better. Still, you may have to settle for less on game computers with GPUs that need a lot of power. On bigger machines, it’s also important to think about whether the system can be charged through USB-C or if it needs a bigger, custom power brick.
Best overall: Dell XPS 13
We love the Dell XPS 13, which isn’t a big surprise. It’s small, light, and has one of the best 13-inch ultraportable screens you can find. Even though the XPS 13’s CPU isn’t the fastest, a 12th-generation Intel chip is fast enough for most tasks. The newest XPS 13 model is the thinnest one yet, but it doesn’t have a headphone jack. If you want to save money or need a 3.5mm port, you might also want to look at the slightly older XPS 13 models. And if you want your next laptop to be more ready for the future, think about the XPS 13 Plus. It has 13th-generation Intel processors and is the best Windows laptop for college students right now, in our opinion.
Best budget Windows laptop: Acer Aspire 5
The Acer Aspire 5 is our top pick for the best cheap Windows laptop because it is strong, fast enough, and has a good battery life. We don’t usually expect much from computers that cost less than $500, but the Aspire 5 has always done a good job. It’s a great laptop for teachers, kids, and other people who aren’t too picky. We are also surprised by how many ports it has, like HDMI and Ethernet. Even though we don’t usually suggest laptops with only 8GB of RAM and small 128GB SSDs, we can make an exception for the Aspire 5 because it’s so cheap. Just think of it as a Chromebook with a few more features.
Best gaming laptop: ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14
The ROG Zephyrus G14 has been one of our favorite gaming PCs for years, and we still think it’s the best gaming laptop for most people. It only weighs 3.5 pounds and has the fastest Radeon RX 6000-series mobile graphics from AMD. It also has the powerful new Ryzen chips from AMD. The ROG Zephyrus G14 has a sleek retro-future look, a comfy keyboard, and a smooth 14-inch, 144Hz screen. Even though a 15-inch laptop would be more immersive, they usually cost more and are much heavier than the Zephyrus G14. The G14 is hard to beat if you want a good mix of power, style, and price.