Finding the best laptop can feel overwhelming when you're staring at a sea of brands and specs. That's why we put each laptop we review through a bevy of tests that not only measure its performance, but answer the questions that matter most. Does the laptop have a comfortable keyboard? Is the screen colorful or washed out? And does the touchpad work reliably?
Even if it gets all the little things right, no laptop is right for everyone. Most shoppers opt for a notebook with a 15-inch screen. But if portability is your chief concern, you'll want a 13- or 14-inch laptop that weighs less than 5 pounds. And if you want a machine for serious gaming, you'll likely prefer a beefier system with powerful discrete graphics. Whatever your needs, we've identified the best laptop in each category to narrow your search.
Find the Best Laptop for You
By Avram Piltch, Online Editorial Director — Last Updated: July 21, 2014
With a lightweight, 3-pound aluminum frame and blazing fast flash storage, the MacBook Air 13-inch is equal parts performance and portability. The killer feature is the Air's long battery life. This ultraportable lasted more than 12 hours on the Laptop Mag Battery Test. Throw in a comfortable keyboard, industry-leading touchpad and a reasonable sub-$1000 price tag and you have the best laptop on the market today.
Starting Price: $949
MORE: Why the MacBook Air is the Best Laptop You Can Buy
Have an 18-hour flight to Asia coming up? No problem, if you've got the 12.5-inch Lenovo ThinkPad X240. With its extended battery, this 3.6-pound business system lasts more than 20 hours on a charge -- the longest of any laptop on the market. With an optional 1080p touch screen, responsive keyboard, accurate TrackPoint pointing stick and speedy performance, the ThinkPad X240 helps you make the most of all those minutes.
Starting Price: $860
Lenovo ThinkPad X240 Review
Most hybrid laptops promise the best of both worlds but end up giving you a heavy tablet and a subpar laptop for more than the cost of both. However, the Dell XPS 12 stands out from the crowd by providing a gorgeous, 1080p display that flips backward within its bezel to turn this lightweight laptop into a 12-inch Windows tablet. Add in a comfortable keyboard, large touchpad and more than 9 hours of battery life, and Dell has a winner.
Starting Price: $799
Dell XPS 12 Review
The HP Spectre 13t has everything you want in an Ultrabook. You get fast performance (courtesy of a Core i5 CPU and 128GB SSD) and more than 9 hours of battery life in a slim aluminum design. In addition to a full HD touchscreen to navigate Windows 8.1, HP offers a unique Control Zone touchpad, which provides extra room for executing Windows 8 gestures. A solid keyboard and sweet sounding speakers solidify the Spectre 13t as our favorite Ultrabook.
Starting Price: $999
HP Spectre 13t
Touchscreen notebooks have never been more affordable, and the Acer Aspire E1-510P delivers a lot for its modes $450 price. You get a vivid 15-inch touch display, a responsive keyboard, and a capable Intel Celeron quad-core processor with 8GB of RAM. Although the 5.5 hours of battery life isn't the longest runtime in this price range, overall the Aspire E1 is a very good value.
Starting Price: $450
Acer Aspire E1-572-510P Review
Lenovo's ThinkPad T series line of business laptops have long been known for their powerful performance, long battery life and superior usability. The 14-inch ThinkPad T440s builds on that rich tradition, offering a gorgeous, 1920 x 1080-pixel touch screen; a durable, MIL-SPEC-tested design; and the most responsive keyboard on the market. With more than 14 hours of endurance with the extended battery, this lightweight powerhouse lets you get your work done in style, anywhere at any time.
Starting Price: $1049
Lenovo ThinkPad T440s Review
The MacBook Pro 13-Inch with Retina display combines strong performance with long endurance and a best-in-class display. Starting at $1,299, this laptop provides an eye-popping 2560 x 1600-pixel Retina display with stunning colors that are good enough for artists and media mavens alike. A 4th-generation Intel Core i5 processor and blazing-fast Flash storage drive make the MacBook Pro with Retina display a speed demon, while a lightweight, 3.46-pound chassis and 9.5 hours of battery life let you carry it all day.
Starting Price: $1,299
MacBook Pro 13-Inch with Retina Display Review
It's not the smallest Chromebook or the least expensive, but Toshiba's 13-inch CB35-A3120 provides a ton of value and performance for its $279 price tag. With a colorful display, loud audio output, a slick design and a powerful Intel Celeron processor, the CB35-A3120 outperforms other sub-$300 Chromebooks. Even better, its 8 hours and 2 minutes of battery life beats its closest competitors by close to two hours.
Starting Price: $279
Toshiba CB35-A3120 Chromebook Review
A stylish laptop with an eye-popping quad HD touch display (3200 x 1800) pixels, the Dell XPS 15 delivers serious a fantastic amount of detail along with impressive audio and fast overall performance. We also like the comfy soft-touch deck and more than 7 hours of battery life. You can even enjoy some of the latest games on this sleek system, thanks to the optional Nvidia GeForce graphics.
Starting Price: $1,499
Dell XPS 15 Review
Apple's refreshed 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display is ideal for graphics professionals or anyone who needs a notebook with equal doses of speed and endurance. This 4.5-pound juggernaut packs Intel's latest quad-core Core i7 processor, blazing PCIe solid state storage and Nvidia GT750M graphics, making quick work of any task-or multiple tasks at once. Plus, you still get an eye-popping 2880 x 1800-pixel display. With the 15-inch MacBook Pro, your high-res videos and photos will look fantastic, and you can edit and transcode in the blink of an eye. Add about 9 hours of battery life and you have the best mobile workstation money can buy.
Starting Price: $1,999
Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch with Retina Display Review
The Alienware 17 is now more powerful and just as menacingly beautiful. Alienware's gaming notebook has received some significant upgrades, including a faster Core i7 processor and a blazing Nvidia GeForce GTX 880M GPU. The laptop's rich 1080p display and bevy of keyboard lighting effects continue to impress, as well as the excellent audio system. Among all gaming laptops, the Alienware 17 offers the best combination of design, audio and pure power.
Starting Price: $1,499
Alienware 17 Review
If you're looking for a lightweight, touch-friendly notebook that lasts all day on a charge and won't break the bank, you'll find it in the Lenovo IdeaPad U430 Touch. The 14-inch, 4-pound laptop features a sharp, 1600 x 900-pixel touch screen; a speedy Intel 4th-generation Core i5 processor; and more than 8 hours of battery life.
Starting Price: $628
Lenovo IdeaPad U430 Touch Review