When it comes to starting a search for a new laptop, it’s intimidating, to say the least. Laptops range wildly in price, from a few hundred dollars to over two thousand dollars. Then, laptops boast their specs in numbers and acronyms that are impossible to translate for some, making it difficult to really see the difference between an affordable model and an expensive model.
If you want a clearer understanding of how to read laptop specs, we’ve got you covered. Or, if you just want to hop right to it and see which laptops are the best of the best right now, keep reading!
What to Look for in a Laptop
Buying a new laptop is no small investment. And with so many different options out there, it’s hard to know which one suits your needs the most. Here’s everything you should consider when choosing your laptop:
- Use Case: What will you be using the laptop for? To scroll social media or take online classes? To stream your latest gaming achievements on Twitch? To edit photos and videos? Having an idea of what you’ll use the laptop for is critical to choosing the right one. If you’ll only be using it for simple tasks (writing an email, scrolling Twitter, online shopping), you won’t need to worry about having powerful high-end specs; likewise, if you’ll regularly be performing more intensive processes with it (streaming, gaming, editing, etc.), you will need a laptop with specs that can keep up with you.
- Operating System: There’s no right answer when picking between operating systems; it all comes down to personal preference. But you do need to be aware of your options. All of the laptops on this list come with either macOS or Windows 10 OS, but there are also options out there for Linux and Chrome OS.
- Specs: Every laptop you can buy will have the same basic structure, comprised of a CPU, storage, RAM, an integrated or dedicated GPU, ports, and more. That said, not all laptops are created equally. Using storage as an easy example, some laptops come with a 256GB model, a 512GB model, or even models with 1 TB of storage or higher. Consider your needs, and keep in mind that the better the specs are, the more you’re going to pay for your laptop.
- Screen Size: Consider how large you want your laptop screen to be. A larger 17-inch screen is great for clearly viewing media and getting work done efficiently, but the laptop won’t be as portable as one with a smaller screen. Smaller screens around 13- or 14-inches work well for those who travel a lot with their laptop, but you’ll be working in a much smaller area. Then, there are 15.6-inch screens, which are kind of that happy medium between a small, portable laptop and a large screen to work on.
- Unique Features: Although most laptops are all built the same in terms of working parts, there are a few special features that not all laptops have. Some laptops have touchscreen capability that allows you to use a stylus or your finger to navigate the screen instead of your trackpad or a mouse. Then, there are also laptops that come with 2-in-1 functionality, meaning that you can use the device normally as a laptop or flip the keyboard backward to use the device as a tablet. Some even have detachable keyboards, but we focused on more stable options for this guide.
- Price & Longevity: You’ll also need to factor in your budget. There are more affordable laptops out there, but they usually mean skimping on specs like extra storage or RAM. Likewise, with inexpensive options, you might end up needing to upgrade components like storage down the line or having to buy an entirely new laptop in a few years. If you spend a bit more upfront, you’ll likely be investing in a laptop that will hold up longer before it needs replacing; plus, you’ll also likely be getting beefier specs like a more impressive CPU, more storage, and sometimes even a dedicated GPU.
- ✓ 2-in-1 capability
- ✓ Decent battery life
- ✓ FHD edge-to-edge touchscreen
- ✗ Could have more RAM
- ✗ 15.6-inch display may be too big for some
HP’s Envy X360 is a great mid-range pick that’ll be perfect for most people, whether you need a laptop for school, work, or just for fun. It’s a 2-in-1 laptop, meaning that it can go from being a regular laptop to a tablet, depending on what you need. Also, it has a 15.6-inch touchscreen with 1920 x 1080 resolution; additionally, its edge-to-edge display maximizes the viewing area and looks clean.
There’s a 512GB SSD for storage, 8GB of RAM for multitasking, and an AMD Ryzen 7 CPU. There’s not a dedicated GPU, but Radeon graphics are integrated with the CPU. The battery can last up to 13 hours in between charges and takes less than an hour to go from 0% to 50% battery life.
- ✓ Super affordable
- ✓ Surprisingly has 8GB of memory
- ✗ Meh overall specs
- ✗ Poor battery life
For a simple budget laptop capable of running basic programs that won’t cost you a lot, Lenovo’s Ideapad 3 is perfect. Though you won’t be able to play intensive games or do anything that’s super demanding on its processor, the Ideapad 3 is perfect for browsing the web and running programs like Microsoft Office for school or work. You can even comfortably stream Netflix or other video content on the 15.6-inch LED touchscreen, though beware that it only has a 1366 x 768 resolution, so you won’t be able to enjoy much HD content.
Inside, the specs are similarly basic. There’s only 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, and a 10th-gen Intel Core i3 CPU with two cores and integrated graphics. With a thin, light design that makes it easy to carry around, the Ideapad 3 is a great choice for college students on a budget. It only has a 7.5-hour battery life, but this is plenty of juice for a day of classes. And you get a full numpad attached to the comfortable keyboard, which can be rare on laptops.
- ✓ Speedy 16GB RAM and 1TB SSD
- ✓ Impressive screen resolution
- ✓ Dedicated NVIDIA graphics card
- ✗ Pricey
- ✗ 15.6-inch screen may be too big for some
Dell’s XPS 15 laptop is a powerful machine that, although expensive, will last you for years to come and run games and other demanding programs with ease. With a 15.6-inch OLED touchscreen that has 3456 x 2160 resolution, video content and games will look crisp and colorful as well.
Looking inside the XPS 15, there’s a 1TB SSD for plenty of storage, 16GB of RAM for great multitasking, and an 11th-gen Intel Core i7 CPU with 8 cores. There’s even a dedicated NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3050 Ti GPU with 4GB of GDDR6 to help games run even smoother. These specs make it easy to do pretty much anything on this laptop, from running intensive design programs to surfing the web to playing a graphically demanding game. If you need something a little smaller, consider the Dell XPS 13, which enjoys many of the same features in a more compact package.
- ✓ Fairly affordable for a MacBook
- ✓ Has Apple’s M1 chip
- ✓ Long battery life
- ✗ Wish it had more RAM for the price
- ✗ Only has two USB-C ports
The latest MacBook Air is the perfect choice for fans of Apple’s signature sleek design and intuitive operating system. For a laptop from Apple, it’s relatively affordable and has a thin, light design that makes it easy to cart around with you.
In terms of specs, there are 8GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD, and Apple’s custom M1 chip. This M1 chip is specifically designed for Mac devices and integrates the CPU, GPU, Neural Engine, I/O, and more on the company’s M1 chip. Then, the MacBook Air has a 13.3-inch Retina display with 2560 x 1600 resolution that shows vivid colors and sharp blacks.
Despite these powerful specs, it has a long battery life that can last you up to 18 hours. And if you want to save a little bit of money, there’s a MacBook Air model with just 256GB of storage.
Best for Apple Fans
2020 Apple MacBook Air
The MacBook Air has impressive specs and a fanless design to make this a powerful, yet quiet laptop for Apple fans.
- ✓ Plenty of RAM and storage
- ✓ Dedicated graphics memory
- ✓ Sleek design
- ✗ Super expensive
- ✗ 16-inch display could be too big for some (and too heavy)
The 16-inch MacBook Pro from Apple costs quite a bit, but you get a pretty powerful machine in exchange. While you’ll, of course, get the sleek, modern design and impressive build quality Apple always delivers, the specs are pretty impressive too.
Inside, you’ll find a 1TB SSD and a whopping 16GB of RAM, which is honestly expected at this high price point. There’s not a proprietary Apple M1 chip inside, but instead a 9th-gen Intel Core i9 CPU and an AMD Radeon Pro 5500M GPU. In between charges, all these impressive specs working together can last up to 11 hours. You’ll charge using the USB-C ports, which is pretty handy.
With a 16-inch display and Apple’s signature aluminum casing, as well as top-notch specs inside, this laptop is pretty heavy. If you’re looking for a laptop to bring with you traveling or to work or school, you might consider getting a lighter laptop. If you’re in love with Apple’s laptops, check out the MacBook Air and you’ll still get a sleek laptop that’s slightly less powerful, but a lot lighter.
- ✓ Affordable
- ✓ 2-in-1 capability
- ✓ Plenty of memory
- ✗ Low storage
- ✗ Smaller screen size
If you love the idea of having 2-in-1 capability in a laptop, but you don’t want to pay a hefty price for it, Lenovo’s Flex 5 is a fantastic option. Because it can function as a tablet as well, it has touchscreen capability and narrow bezels, which makes the 14-inch screen not feel as small. Flip around of course and you’ll get to the keyboard and touchpad for a classic Laptop feel. Plus, the Flex 5 has 1920 x 1080 resolution, which is hard to find in an affordable laptop.
Looking at what’s inside, there are 16GB of DDR4 RAM (which is impressive for this price point!), a 256GB SSD, an AMD Ryzen 5 4500U CPU with integrated Radeon Graphics, and it runs Windows 10 OS. On a single charge, the Flex 5 can last about 10 hours and is able to quick-charge up to 80% in just one hour. It’s also thin and super light, making it easy to cart around the house or to your local coffee shop.
Lenovo Flex 5
Lenovo’s Flex 5 laptop gives you handy 2-in-1 functionality at an affordable price with some pretty good specs.
- ✓ Dedicated (and impressive) GPU
- ✓ Easily portable 14-inch screen
- ✓ Plenty of RAM and storage
- ✗ Pretty expensive
- ✗ Not the most attractive laptop
The ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14 costs a bit more than your average laptop, but that’s due to better specs inside that’ll make games look and feel great. It has a 14-inch screen with an sRGB display, 1920 x 1080 resolution, and a 144Hz refresh rate. All of this together makes for some vivid, clear colors.
Your favorite games will run smoothly, too, with a dedicated NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 GPU that has 6GB of GDDR6 RAM. Overall, the laptop has 16GB DDR4 RAM, a 1TB SSD, and an AMD Ryzen 9 CPU to keep everything running as quickly as possible. Plus, it’s thin and light, making it easy to game on the go.
If you’re looking for a gaming laptop that’s a bit larger, go for the Alienware M17 R4. It has a larger 17.3-inch screen, a dedicated NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 GPU, and a max 360Hz refresh rate.
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