Updated: Microsoft's newest and smallest tablet yet, the Surface 3 is our latest addition
With Windows 8.1 being bumped off to the wayside for Windows 10's arrival, Ultrabooks taking off in popularity and laptop-tablet hybrids seeing more releases, figuring out what is the best laptop is more difficult than ever.
Cheap laptops, like Chromebooks, are more powerful and capable than ever, while high-end devices are often perfectly good replacements for your desktop computer, able to cope with more intensive programs. To pick the best laptop for your needs, it's important to start off by deciding what it is you're going to be doing with it.
Those after a fast boot up time and a lightweight machine to carry might drool over an Ultrabook.
Serious gamers will want a machine tailored to their graphical and processing needs, while those after flexibility might fancy a convertible laptop-tablet hybrid.
It might seem overwhelming at first – and it can be what with all of the choices – but we're here to help you find the best laptop for you. Believe us when we say that there is a perfect laptop out there for you. With this guide, you'll find not only that, but which is the absolute best.
Our latest addition
After a home run hit with the Surface Pro 3 we had high hopes Microsoft could make lightening strike twice with the it smaller Surface 3 and for the most part it delivered. In many ways the Surface 3 is a petite, shrunken down version of its Pro sibling featuring a similar, but smaller 4:3 aspect ratio screen and nearly the same design.
Unlike the Surface Pro 3, though, Microsoft has outfitted its smaller tablet with only a 1080p screen, Intel Atom processor and just 2GB of RAM with 32GB of storage.Even with these shortcomings the Surface 3 is one of the cheapest and most portable Windows 8.1 tablets around.
Break down the types of laptops for me
Back in the day, there were simply laptops for leisure and those for labor. Today, there are several options for both sides of the fence, some of which jumping back and forth over it. Let's start with the basics:
These laptops are essentially devices that must meet certain standards of thinness, lightness, power and size established by processor-maker Intel in an effort to help Windows-loyal notebook vendors compete with Apple's 13-inch MacBook Air a few years ago.
The result has been some seriously premium machines that have lately been enough to rival Apple's best. Think of laptops under an inch thin with long battery life and crisp screens, like the Dell XPS 13 (2015) or Asus Zenbook UX305.
Designed almost solely for work, hence the name, these usually beefy laptops have one thing in mind: productivity. Vendors generally equip these units with professional-grade GPUs, like the Nvidia Quadro series or AMD FirePro line.
Other characteristics of workstations include a wider variety of ports and easier access to internals than most consumer-grade notebooks. Not to mention more legacy inputs, like trackpoint cursors, and hardware-level security options, like fingerprint scanners. Examples include the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon and HP ZBook 14.
These laptops run on an all-new operating system created by Google and called Chrome OS. As the name implies, Chromebooks rely almost solely on Google's homebrewed browser, Chrome. This means that everything from creating word documents to listening to music to printing and beyond is handled with the Chrome browser.
The result is a system that can run with super low-end hardware, which lends Chromebooks to best serve the budget market and education sector. Of course, Chromebooks are best in areas with wireless Internet access, but Google has vastly boosted their offline functionality over the years. Check out the Dell Chromebook 11 and Toshiba Chromebook for a better idea.
2-in-1 laptops (or hybrid laptops)
If you find yourself jumping back and forth between your laptop and tablet, then perhaps the hybrid was made for you. Enabled by Microsoft's dual-purpose Windows 8, these devices either come as tablets than become more like laptops with accessories, or as laptops that can detach from their keyboards and become tablets in a pinch.
Of course, the idea is to provide one device that successfully serve both use cases, rather than have homes and businesses overwhelmed with gadgets for every scenario. The category has fought an uphill battle toward mainstream acceptance, but by far the most shining example of its potential is Microsoft's own Surface Pro 3.
You'll always know a gaming notebook when you see one: hulking size, pulsating lights, garish paint jobs and whirring fans. But with thin-and-light (and stylish) products like the Razer Blade or MSI GS60 Ghost Pro, even that paradigm is starting to shift.
Generally speaking, gaming laptops are equipped with the latest mobile GPUs from Nvidia and AMD in order to play the latest games close to how well they run on their more sedentary counterparts. (In some cases, they're enough to outright replace the desktop.) Look at the Origin EON15-X and Alienware 17 for more perspective.
General use laptops
Notebooks of this sort are tough to categorize. They still adhere to the standards established decades ago of what a laptop is, only vastly refined. Given how the market has siloed itself into several distinct categories at this point, this variety of laptops is generally considered "budget" or "mid-range".
Ranging in screen sizes from 11 to 17 inches, there usually aren't many stand-out characteristics with these mostly-plastic clamshells. These laptops are easy to peg as jacks of all trades: readily able to handle all of your daily tasks, but suffer in more extreme or specifically demanding scenarios.
What does TechRadar recommend?
We're so glad you asked! Below you'll find what we think are the absolute best laptops in a number of categories, always up-to-date.
10 best Ultrabooks
The most premium computing experiences around with the price tags to match
Ultrabooks tend to be made with design in mind, so they come in more expensive than most mid-range home laptops. They tend to start from around $999 (about £584, AU$1,063) in the lower end, going to nearly $2,000 (around £1,169, AU$2,129) at the very high end. You're likely to ultimately spend between $899 and $1,500 for a newer model, though you can get some older models for even lower prices.
- See which we think are the best Ultrabooks
10 best Chromebooks
Google's Chrome-packed computers make for an unbeatable budget buy
Chromebooks focus on what computing has been all about since the late '90s, the web browser, through Google's Chrome operating system. What should you look out for in a Chromebook? The majority of these Google laptops use either the same or similar low-power components. This is largely what is behind the unquestionable affordability of these mobile rigs – most of which start under $300 (about £175, AU$319).
- Our picks for the best Chromebooks, always updated
10 best gaming laptops
These machines excel in pixel-pushing performance with panache
Focused on real-time, 3D image rendering for the latest games, these laptops almost always come with a premium attached. If you want (at least something close to) the PC gaming experience with the flexibility to move around the house, the asking price generally starts at $1,300 (about £760, AU$1,384) at the low end and maxes out at around $3,000 (around £1,753, AU$ 3,194).
- Here are the best gaming laptops that we've reviewed
10 best 2-in-1 laptops
Business up front, party in the back – the mullets of the computing world
Otherwise known as hybrid laptops, these devices generally sit in the same price range as Ultrabooks, given their mission to serve as two devices in one. That generally gets you a Windows 8 touchscreen device that either flips around its hinge to become a tablet or detaches from its included keyboard accessory (which hopefully doubles as an extra battery).
- These are the best 2-in-1 laptops at the moment
10 best laptops for students
The tech you need to help you land the career you want
Whether you're a freshman in liberals arts or an MBA looking to rock the business world, you need a laptop that will best enable you for the perfect price. While some will naturally be more expensive than others, these are the clamshells best suited for your field of study and, ultimately, your budget.
- Here are the best laptops for students in 2014
Best mobile workstations
The best tech to get you through the work week
Whether you're a small business owner with need for a small, lightweight fleet or a spreadsheet cruncher in need of a locked-down, spacious powerhouse, we know which mobile rig fits you best. Even if you're a digital artist, there's a work-ready laptop out there for you. Just be prepared to spend (or expense).
- These are the best mobile workstations right now
Laptops on our radar for 2015
You've checked out the best laptops out there and now you're hungry for more. Don't worry: so are we, which is why we want to give you a glimpse of some of the hottest devices set to launch soon. Whether you're thinking about picking up a new 2-in-1 to test Windows 10's Continuum feature or intend to replace your ageing gaming laptop in a few months' time, we're keeping an eye on tomorrow's technology so that you can start saving those pennies today.
The new Apple MacBook
Apple has really outdone itself with the new MacBook. For months and even years, we've been waiting for the Cupertino company to upgrade the MacBook Air with a high-resolution Retina screen. Then Apple blew us away with an all new 12-inch MacBook with a thinner frame, redesigned keyboard and trackpad, newly developed batteries, a shrunken logic board, and of course the long awaited 2,304 x 1,440 resolution display.
To meet that benchmark for a thin body, Apple had to make a few concessions including reducing the number of ports to just one USB-C port and a 3.5mm headphone jack. The USB 3.1 port will allow users to still charge their laptop in-lieu of the missing magsafe connector. However, if you want to do anything else at the same time, you'll need an adapter to do so. It's the both the most forward thinking and frustrating laptop that has more than a few of us here at TechRadar all riled up.
Asus ROG G501
Nvidia has added a couple of new graphics cards to its GTX 900 series of Maxwell GPUs destined for gaming laptops, and at the head of the pack is the Asus ROG G501. With it comes an impressive spec sheet including a 3,840 x 2,160 display Surprisingly all it needs to drive this 4K display is a Intel Core i7-4720HQ processor with a capable, but still low-end Nvidia GTX 960M GPU.
Another feature that has us hot and bothered about Asus new ROG gaming laptop is a it's 0.81-inches thick and weighs in at only 4.54 pound. That's fairly thin and light for a 15.6-inch laptop. You can be sure we'll be reviewing this, so stay tuned.
HP Pavilion x360
Although we've only had a brief hands on time with the HP Pavilion x360, we're blown away by what 400 bucks gets you these days. The new 11.6-inch 2-in-1 convertible laptops comes well packaged with a 1080p screen paired with a capable Intel Pentium processor and it even inherits the innovative geared hinge design from the high-end HP Spectre x360.
The HP Pavilion x360 is looking like a sweet deal for users who want an affordable machine that can be more than just a laptop. It's not the prettiest or lightest convertible around, but HP has worked hard to make an appealing budget system. The HP Pavilion x360 is a solid system both in person and on paper, but I'll have to really put it through its paces before I can give the final verdict on this affordable 2-in-1 laptop.
Acer Chromebook C910
Recently we've seen our first 15-inch Chromebook from Acer and the seriously decked out, Intel Core i5-powered Chromebook Pixel. Now the Acer Chromebook C910 hopes to blend these two qualities into one great device. It's a doozy of a device that comes packing a 15.6-inch full HD display as well as the same fifth generation Broadwell Intel Core i5-5200U CPU found inside the Chromebook Pixel.
With the new CPU in tow, this should give the C910 some extra power to help drive its large 1080p display. That said, we had virtually no problems with the 1.5GHz Intel Celeron 3205U-powered Acer Chromebook 15 during the course of our review. Of course all this extra power comes at a cost and the Acer Chromebook C910 will be one of the more expensive devices coming in at $499 (about £338 or AU$326).
Asus Chromebook Flip
Asus has unveiled one enticing new convertible Chromebook called the Flip. Featuring a flexible 10.1-inch IPS display, users will be able to...well, flip the screen back a full 360-degrees to turn this device into a Chrome OS tablet. Adding to the untraditional nature of this Chrome OS-powered machine, it also comes equipped with an 1,280 x 800 resolution panel.
The Asus Chromebook Flip also has one extra little quirk in that it comes rocking a fanless Rockchip 3288 CPU. While Rockchip isn't a very common name in the processor world, this 2GHz ARM chip has proven to be more powerful than Intel's Baytrail Atom processor in more than a few benchmark tests.