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: April 15, 2014
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
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
For under $500, the Acer Aspire E1 provides a snappy keyboard, solid performance and reasonable battery life. This 15-inch laptop also weighs a modest 4.6 pounds, which is fairly light for this price and size.
Starting Price: $479
Acer Aspire E1 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
With a lightweight, 3-pound frame, blazing fast storage memory and a colorful 13.3-inch, 1440 x 900 display, the MacBook Air 13-inch is equal parts performance and portability. Throw in a comfortable keyboard, industry-leading touchpad and over 9 hours of battery life and you have the best ultraportable laptop on the market today.
Starting Price: $1,199
MacBook Air 13-inch (2013) 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
Who needs a home theater when you can have the ultimate media laptop? The ASUS N550JV's gorgeous 1080p IPS, 10-point touch display provides bright images and wide viewing angles. It can also bend backward a full 180 degrees. A quad speaker array with a subwoofer and Waves MaxxAudio provides thumping bass at loud volumes, while an Nvidia GeForce GT 750M graphics chip gives the system enough oomph to play taxing games such as "BioShock Infinite."
Starting Price: $999
ASUS N550JV 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
Alienware laptops have long been the gold standard for portable gaming, and the current-generation Alienware 17 shows why. In our tests, the laptop's high-end Nvidia GTX 780M graphics and 2.7-GHz Intel 4th Generaiton Core i7 CPU were powerful enough to play "BioShock Infinite " at 106 fps and "World of Warcraft" at 144 fps. Alienware's sci-fi-inspired design and customizable keyboard, grille and touchpad lights make the 17 as exciting to look at as it is to use.
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