Buying a new laptop is like picking a new car, spouse, or tattoo. Whether it’s the right choice for you or not, you’re going to be spending a lot of time with it. That’s why we’ve made this guide to the year’s best new laptops as simple as possible. If you tell us what kind of person you are, we’ll tell you the new laptop that is most likely to bring you joy. Or at least a convenient way to watch YouTube.
The Best Laptop for Nearly Everyone (Who is Used to Using Windows devices): Dell XPS 13 9370
A sleek design that rivals Apple and a tiny bezel that maximizes the viewable portion of the screen. You get the computer most of us need: capable of watching videos, browsing the web, and sending email, and it has a battery life of nearly an entire day. It has an eighth-generation i7 processor, 256GB drive and 8 gigs of RAM. Plus, there’s facial recognition and a fingerprint reader, if you’re concerned about security.
The Best Laptop for Nearly Everyone (Who is Used to Using Apple devices): MacBook Pro
The MacBook Air may be the newest shiny toy from Apple, but we’d recommend spending $100 more for the entry-level MacBook Pro. Although you get a shorter battery life (10 hours instead of 12), the 8 GB of RAM and 128GB SSD drive are the same, the 7th-generation i5 processor speed is nearly 50 percent faster at 2.3GH, which will make a big difference, and it weighs only 0.25 pound more. Don’t worry about paying more for the touch bar. In our tests, we’ve found that we don’t use it that much.
The Best Laptop for Under $700: ASUS Vivobook S15
Okay, so it’s just a penny under, at $699.99, but that's still under $700. The S15 is a cool mix of fun and professional, with a metal body and (optional) colorful trim. (Or get the whole thing in a funky aqua color.) The insides are plenty for daily use: a 1.6GHz 8th-generation i5 processor, 256 GB of storage, and 8 GB of RAM. It has plenty of ports—including 3 USB-A—if you’re still beholden to thumb drives or charging cables. There’s also a cool hinge that props the keyboard up at a small angle, which makes a big difference in typing comfort.
The Best Chromebook: Acer CB3-431 Chromebook 14
If you use a laptop only to browse the web, send emails, and maybe work on the occasional Google doc, save your money and buy a Chromebook. This Acer has 4 gigs of RAM, a 32GB hard drive, a 12-hour battery, and a passable Intel Celeron processor. You won’t be able to install iTunes, or have room to install much software of any kind, actually, but you’ll have a simple, solid machine that should last.
The Best Laptop for Video Editors: MacBook Pro 15-inch
If you’re working in Final Cut or Premiere, you need a powerful machine like this one. It comes with a 2.9 GHz 8th generation intel i9 processor that won’t get bogged down by huge video files. The LED-backlit retina display is crisp and beautiful, which your work obviously deserves. Plus is has 16 GB of RAM and a 256-GB solid-state drive. You’re probably going to want to invest in an external drive, too. Something to hold that opus you’ve been working on.
The Best Laptop for Gamers: Razer Blade 15 ($2,600)
Unlike most gaming laptops, you can actually upgrade components in the Blade 15 when they’re dated, which won’t be for a very long time. It’s thin and well designed, and no matter how hard you push it, it’s unlikely to heat up. For this price, you get a 512-GB SSD, a 6-core intel i7 processor, a top-of-the-line Nvidia GTX 1070 GPU and 16 GB of RAM. The 1080p screen has a 144-hertz refresh rate that will keep pace with the any game that’s currently available—and nearly anything that comes out in the future.
The Best Laptop for Gamers on a Budget: Dell Inspiron 15 7000
For well under a thousand bucks you get a 2.5GHz 7th generation i5 quad-core processor, a discrete graphics card (Nvidia GTX 1050), 8 GB of RAM, and a 256-GB SSD. What does that mean? A computer that lets you play most modern games—maybe not at the highest setting, but at a setting that you can still enjoy. You’ll have to deal with the fans getting pretty loud during marathon gaming sessions, and the battery life is somewhat disappointing at only 4.5 hours, but that’s what the cord is for.
What All of Those Different Specs Mean
The Central Processing Unit is the brain of your laptop. Think of it as the leader of your computer’s parts, telling each what to do and when. Most laptops use Intel processors. Unless you’re looking at a budget model, you want an i5 or i7. i9’s are overkill unless you’re among the hardest-core gamers. Look for the 7th generation or later.
Intel is up to the 9th generation of both processors, which means a 7th generation processor was introduced two years ago. You can tell the generation by looking at the first number after the dash in the model number, so the Intel Core i5-9600K is 9th generation. Some laptops use AMD processors, but it’s not many, so maybe don’t worry about those now.
Processing speed for CPUs is measured in gigahertz. 1.6GHz is fine for basic use. Go higher if you’re going to do more complicated things, like edit images or video or play games. As a normal user, if you’re over 2.0 GHz, you’ll be very happy.
The Graphics Processing Unit creates the images on your screen. Good news: Most are built into the CPU, so you don’t even have to worry about them. Unless you’re a gamer. Then you want a separate GPU. Nvidia GTX processors will treat you right. The GTX 1070 will handle anything.
Random Access Memory is a place for information to be temporarily stored where it can be accessed more quickly, allowing your computer to do multiple things at once. Four gigs is ok for the most basic of laptops—a Chromebook used only for email and some web surfing. Eight gigs will be good for most users, unless you’re one of those people who leaves 200 browser tabs open at the same time. If you’re planning on using your laptop for gaming, or you’ll be spending time in Adobe Premiere, get at least 16 gigs of RAM.
Most everything you see will be a Solid State Drive, or SSD. Some traditional hard drives still exist, but they’re slower, heavier, and louder. Best to avoid them. Standard users will be happy with 256 gigs. Video editors should get as much storage space as they can afford. Plus an external drive.
The numbers are the same as on your TV set. 1080p is the minimum you should get if you want a crisp and clear picture. Upgrade to 4K if you’re gaming, editing, or just really like to zoom in on the photos people send you.