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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.

laptop hub no logo 100678726 orig Rob Schultz/IDG

Today’s best laptops bask in the glow of Intel’s 8th-gen Core CPUs, which at last bring quad-core performance to mainstream machines. The only thing missing is Oprah shouting, “and you get an 8th-gen quad-core laptop!”

There’s plenty of good news with this new generation. Our favorite convertible laptop, HP’s Spectre x360 13, sports a quad-core 8th-gen chip while maintaining its diminutive size. It’s really the total package. 

But let’s be honest: You probably don’t need a quad-core powerhouse, especially if the hottest application you run is Microsoft Excel. Check out our budget favorites, like the Acer Aspire E 15 and Asus ZenBook Flip, whose dual-core CPUs do just fine with mainstream fare. Or read about the Asus Chromebook Flip, a well-priced and versatile laptop for living on the web—or delving into the wide, wide world of Android apps. 

Read on for our picks in all categories and price points.

Update 9/17/2018: Our latest laptop reviews include Lenovo's premier business machine, the Thinkpad X1 Carbon (6th Gen), which earned a rare 5-star rating. We've also reviewed Dell's G7 15, a budget gaming laptop with six sizzling cores' worth of CPU power; and Acer's popular Aspire 5 with Optane Memory—it makes a difference, if you can find laptops that have it. Microsoft dropped the first big hint of new Surface products inbound, and we review Dell’s G3 15, a budget gaming laptop that's our new favorite. 

Laptop buyer’s cheat sheet

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Latest laptop news

Dell's flagship XPS line of laptops is so good, how can you possible decide which one to buy? We help you out by comparing the traditional clamshell versions of the Dell XPS 13 vs. the Dell XPS 15

Mark October 2 on your calendar: Microsoft has an event in New York City that evening. We expect announcements of new Surface products, some of which feel long overdue for a refresh. 

Best thin-and-light laptop

Dell made a bold statement when it claimed its completely redesigned New XPS 13 would be among the fastest laptops in its class, if not the fastest. But Dell ain’t just trash-talking. Thanks to a new cooling system, the XPS 13 with an 8th-gen Core i5 is as fast, if not faster than, most 8th-gen Core i7 laptops, and many larger, beefier laptops, too.

But that’s not all. The mid-range model we tested boasts an improved display and keyboard, and satisfyingly long battery life of about 12.5 hours.

All these goodies can’t quite help us forget the disappearance of USB-A ports—that’s right, it’s USB-C all the way. We don’t like it, but we’d all better get used to it.

[$1,199 MSRP; available on Dell]

Runner-up

Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Carbon (6th Gen) continues its tradition as a premier, though pricey, business laptop that weighs as little as some tablets. Quite simply, it exudes quality.

The variety of ports includes a pair of high-speed Thunderbolt connectors ideal for driving external displays. Battery life is also very good, though that’s assisted by the somewhat basic 1080p 14-inch display that accompanied our review unit.

Under the hood, there’s an 8th-gen Intel Kaby Lake-R processor that accomplishes quite enough for most business tasks. It may be be a few hundred dollars more than the competition, but that hasn’t prevented it from earning our Editors’ Choice award—and a rare five-star rating. It’s still a runner-up to the Dell XPS 13, however, because the ThinkPad X1 Carbon lags a bit in performance and battery life compared to the top pick. Read our full review.

[$1,519.11-; $2,579.01 MSRP; $1,869 as tested (web discounts may apply). ]

Best laptop under $500

Acer’s Aspire E line has been popular for years, and you can see why when you look at the bang-for-buck. The latest model sports a few upgrades from the prior generation. Foremost is an 8th-gen Intel Core i3-8130 CPU, which is an entry-level dual-core chip, competent for mainstream use. You also get 6GB of RAM, a 1TB HDD, and an 8X DVD drive. It stacks up nicely as an everyday workhorse, perfect for web browsing, productivity applications, casual photo editing and even spinning good old-fashioned optical discs. 

Given its low price, mainstream users may be willing to overlook the laptop’s extra weight, so-so display and lack of keyboard backlighting. But note that if you have any high-demand applications (or a bit of a gaming bug), it would be better to consider one of its pricier cousins, like the $600 Aspire E15 E5-576G-5762. Read our full review.

[$399.99 MRSP as reviewed]

Best convertible laptop

While Apple and Dell are content to show up to dance in the same dress year after year, you won’t have that from HP. Just two years removed from its original launch, the Spectre x360 13t (available at HP.com) has now gone through no fewer than three major redesigns. The latest, of course, is the best and adds a fingerprint reader, a nifty rechargeable pen, and of course, an 8th-generation Core i7 CPU too.

In raw performance it doesn’t quite keep up with Dell’s XPS 13 but this is a convertible and most convertibles give up a little performance for the ability to work as a tablet. What matters more is that it leaves the 7th-generation Spectre x360 13t in the dust on CPU heavy workloads.

dsc00032 edited 1 Adam Patrick Murray

The best part is battery life doesn’t suffer (it’s still damned good) and it’s even a couple of ounces lighter to boot. HP doesn’t make the faux pas, or is that port pas, and keeps a USB Type A port along with two Thunderbolt 3 ports that support external graphics.

So yeah, it’s easy to see why the Spectre x360 13t is our go to convertible laptop and the one everyone is chasing right now.

Lenovo’s latest Yoga 920 (reviewed here) comes close to pushing the Spectre from the top of the President-of-the-Hill contest (‘Murica folks) but in the end, the extra weight of the 14-inch Yoga and the extra cost hurt its position.

[$1,090–$1,600 MSRP; $1,100 MSRP as last reviewed]

Runner-up

We call this a runner-up, but you could also think of it as an upgrade. If you want a convertible, but with more screen and more power, it’s hard to beat the new HP Spectre x360 15. Unlike most 360 designs that either under-spec (and thus lack muscle) or over-spec (with too much hardware stuffed into the design causing inefficiency), HP’s Spectre x360 15 and its newfangled Intel Kaby Lake G CPU doesn’t give up much ground at all. 

HP actually sells two different Spectre x360 15 laptops that are quite different on the inside. Our recommendation is for the Kaby Lake G version, which gives up some battery life for a lot of CPU and graphics performance (although, if gaming is your primary concern, make sure you see our recommendation for best gaming laptop first). The other Spectre x360 15 is based on the Kaby Lake R and sacrifices some CPU and graphics power in favor of more battery life. 

[$1,539 to $2,269 MSRP; $1,619 as last reviewed]

Best budget convertible laptop

For years, Asus has offered great value in its notebooks, and the ZenBook Flip (available at Amazon) is a strong example of its affordable, high-performing offerings. For $700, you get a fully convertible notebook that can handle everyday tasks with ease.

In fact, its pricing and specs are virtually identical to our favorite budget ultrabook, the Asus UX305 (now discontinued). Inside you get a Core m3-6Y30, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD, and outside there’s a 1920x1080 IPS screen with an anti-glare finish.

Yet despite the modest CPU, the Asus ZenBook Flip is fairly peppy. In our benchmarks, it actually outperformed faster (and newer) Core m5 and m7 processors in rival machines during short CPU-intensive tasks. Its storage drive is no slouch, either.

This laptop is slender and lightweight, too. It measures 0.54 inches thick and 2.8 pounds, which keeps it in line with more expensive ultraportables. You’re not saddled with chunkier dimensions or extra weight in exchange for a lower price.

A couple of compromises do exist: There’s no backlighting on the keyboard, and the trackpad is a tad springy. Still, it’s a good deal in a price range that usually nets you thick, ugly, and plastic.

[$699 MSRP (256GB model); $749 MSRP (512GB model) as reviewed]

Best 2-in-1 / tablet / hybrid laptop

This category originally started out as the best “Surface” category because, well, for a time, there was nothing like Microsoft’s 2-in-1 / tablet / hybrid device.

The best Surface-like device isn’t built by Microsoft anymore, though. Instead, our pick for our top 2-in-1 / tablet / hybrid is Lenovo’s IdeaPad Miix 520 (currently about $876 on Amazon.) Besides being almost affordable, the Miix 520 wowed us because of its 8th generation Core i5 CPU. Yup: That’s a real quad-core CPU in a Surface-like device. Take that, iPad Pro.

If you’re turning your nose up at the Miix 520 because it’s “only” a Core i5, just know that in multi-threaded CPU-bound tests, you’re looking at a 36-percent increase in performance over a high-end Core i7 Surface Pro.

So yeah, if you thought there was no way you could do CPU-heavy tasks on a Surface clone, you can. There’s a price to be paid for that but you’ll have to read our review for those details.

[$999 SRP as reviewed with included keyboard cover and pen]

Runner-up

Samsung’s follow-up to its first 2-in-1 (available at Amazon) doesn’t take any extreme turns off the established path. It’s still incredibly thin and lightweight, and it offers an even more stunning AMOLED screen that supports HDR.

But it’s still not quite our favorite convertible, and that’s partially due to Samsung’s decision to sell both a small and a big version of the Galaxy Book. The more affordable, lower-power Core m3 model has a smaller 10.6-inch screen. If you want a 12-inch screen, you’ll have to jump to a starting price of $1,130.

Despite these two tougher choices, the Galaxy Book is still compelling. It offers solid performance (including over 10 hours of video playback on the 12-inch Core i5 model) and addresses some of our complaints with the Galaxy TabPro S. You now get two USB-C ports, and the keyboard secures tightly to the tablet. And of course, it has that gorgeous display.

So while it may no longer have a huge advantage in price, Samsung still manages to hold its own with a few compelling features. Particularly the included pen—Microsoft’s equivalent accessory is a $100 optional purchase.

[$630 or $1,130 MSRP base price; $1,300 MSRP as reviewed]

Keep reading for our top picks in gaming laptops and more.

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