Our laptop tests are underpinned by rigorous tests to determine quality, performance and battery life.
We begin by examining a laptop's design to see how strong it feels to the touch and whether it fulfils the role it was designed for.
The overall build quality is important, so we go to great lengths to test the overall strength and durability of each system. We also assess the functionality of all ports, switches and latches. The quality of the screen is also considered, with checks for brightness, evenness of tone, as well as any dead pixels identified.
The final part of our initial tests deals with the weight of the machine and its relative portability. Next, we assess the overall usability of the machine, including the quality of the keyboard, touchpad and user interface.
As every laptop is tested on a level playing field, once it has been benchmarked it can easily be compared against its peers. Each review is accompanied by the test results for that machine, as well as its closest competitors.
Before the hands-on part of our testing has been dealt with, the laptop will spend up to 72 hours in our test labs being run through a series of benchmarks to check overall performance.
Each machine is set at the same high performance level, with even the screen being set to its highest point. This way, we can judge how effectively it will run at its most powerful.
We use a number of synthetic tests to measure a laptop's components. The first, PCMark 8 battery life, tests the device's battery endurance, while 3DMark is specifically designed for testing the laptop's graphics processor(s).
We then test the CPU's multi-core performance through Cinebench. Finally, if we're reviewing a gaming laptop or desktop, we use benchmark tools found within Bioshock Infinite and Metro: Last Light, to truly tax those dedicated graphics chips.
PCMark 8 battery life
This software tests mobile performance and battery life, simulating popular general use cases, such as video chat, web browsing, and document creation while on the device's battery.
Firstly, all laptops are optimized for peak performance, which includes conditioning the hard drive and battery. With the laptop's battery fully charged, the main power is then disconnected.
PCMark 8 then simulates day-to-day use until the battery runs dry. Once it's through, PCMark 8 then provides an estimate of the battery's total lasting power in hours and minutes based on how quickly the battery drained while performing those tasks.
PCMark 8 battery life scores
- 2 hours: This either isn't a very power-efficient machine, or wasn't designed for endurance.
- 3 hours: Generally Ultrabooks come in at around this time, as well as low-resolution laptops.
- 4 hours: Only the longest-lasting laptops can achieve this level of endurance.
3DMark represents our default GPU benchmark, as it is capable of running on high-end dedicated GPUs, as well as low-level integrated solutions.
With each laptop optimized for peak performance, we then run the relevant 3DMark tests: Ice Storm, Cloud Gate and Fire Strike. Unlike PCMark 8, this benchmark is run while connected to a power source to give a reflection of how you are most likely to use the GPU when gaming.
3D Mark scores
- Ice Storm: Designed to test integrated graphics chips with a 720p rendering, scores in the tens of thousands indicate an ability to stream HD video and play casual games without issue.
- Cloud Gate: Intended to test slightly more capable machines, this test includes physics rendering and other intense tasks. Scores close to 10,000 show an ability to play more 3D-intensive games at lower resolutions.
- Fire Strike: Only the most powerful mobile GPUs can score in the thousands on this test. Scores of 3,000 or better translate to an ability to play the latest and greatest 3D without much issue.
This test is designed to isolate the CPU and measure its multi-core performance. The benchmark does this in two ways. First, it measures hyperthreading performance – or how well each processor core works in tandem with the others in a single CPU – through an image rendering test. Scores past 600 points generally point to quite a capable quad-core CPU, while anything less is generally indicative of one with just two cores.
The second test measures the graphics rendering capabilities within the CPU. This is done through an OpenGL graphics rendering test performed in real time. Results are reported in frames rendered per second, or fps. Anything above 20 fps is considered satisfactory, whereas anything above 60 fps indicates a more than capable component.
Bioshock Infinite and Metro: Last Light both include benchmarking tools to measure a laptop for desktop's gaming performance. We run both real-time renderings three times, at two different collections of settings, and record the average frame rates reported.
For both Bioshock Infinite and Metro: Last Light, we run the tests three times at the lowest possible detail settings at the device's native resolution. After recording the average frame rate at those settings, we then run the benchmark another three times at the highest possible settings and native resolution and record that average.
Being a less intense game graphically, Bioshock Infinite frame rates above 45 fps at the highest possible settings indicate a capable GPU. Metro: Last Light, on the other hand, is far more punishing. Few gaming laptops are able to pass this benchmark at the highest possible settings with a playable frame rate, so anything close to 15 fps should be considered impressive.