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

Our top picks feature the best tech advances in portable PCs, from new CPUs and GPUs to new materials.

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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.

[$3,810 MSRP as reviewed]

Best budget gaming laptop

The Dell G3 15 gaming laptop delivers solid performance in a package that’s a little less than an inch thick. The Model 3579 we tested is very affordable, too. 

The G3 15 has its downsides, including a Full-HD display that isn’t as bright as we’d like, frame rates that struggle to reach 60 fps on top-tier games, and a weight exceeding five pounds (although it’s not as massive as some gaming laptops). But when we compared it to the Acer Nitro 5, another budget gaming laptop we like, with an even lower price point, there was no contest. The G3 15 posted stronger benchmarks and battery life. In particular, its GTX 1050 Ti graphics showed the limitations of the Nitro 5’s mere GTX 1050. Nothing wrong with the Nitro 5, but if you can afford the G3 15 we tested, it’s the better choice. Read our full review.

[$850 as reviewed(Model 3579)]

Runner-up

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

[$720 MSRP as reviewed]

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. Read our full review

[$1,799 as reviewed]

Runner-up

Razer isn’t exaggerating when it calls its Blade 15 the “world’s smallest 15-inch gaming laptop.” It’s nearly as small as the popular workhorse Dell XPS 15, yet it offers blistering gaming performance. 

The Razer Blade 15 that we reviewed features a 15.6-inch, 1920x1080 IPS 144Hz factory-calibrated screen, an 8th-gen 6-core Intel Core i7-8750H, 16GB of DDR4/2677 in dual-channel mode, Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1070 Max-Q (optional GTX 1060 Max-Q), and a 512GB Samsung M.2 PCIe SSD

While it’s impressive to get a six-core 8th gen Core i7-8750H and GeForce GTX 1070 Max-Q performance into a compact chassis, note that it’s densely packed and feels heavy for its size. If you can deal with the additional weight, the payoff may well be worth it. Read our review.

[$2,600 MSRP as reviewed]

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. 

[$1,499–$3,299 MSRP; $3,299 MSRP as reviewed. Available on microsoft.com]

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.

[$1,199 MSRP; available on Amazon]

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 (2018 model) 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 2560x1600 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.

[$1,299–$2,799 MSRP; $2,799 as reviewed by Macworld.]

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