Specs are only the beginning: Our in-depth guide offers the recommendations (and top selections!) you need to choose the best laptops for 2022 for you, whether you want a basic budget PC, a productivity workhorse, or a screaming gaming notebook.
Your daily routine won’t be revolutionized by a laptop the way it may be by a smartphone. You can’t just pull one out to buy a cup of coffee, pass the time in the elevator, or take a picture of the most beautiful sunset.
Laptops, however, have developed their own skills in the years since cellphones took on all of these tasks. If you search in the correct location, amazing battery life and stunning displays are becoming commonplace. Games may be played at full HD resolution for a reasonable price. And those standard, antiquated features—like touchpads and full-size keyboards—that you won’t find on any mobile device tend to grow better virtually every iteration.
However, significant features have also led to enormous fragmentation. There is a bewildering selection of low-cost laptops, gaming laptops, 2-in-1 laptops, Chromebooks, and ultraportables available on Amazon, Newegg, and even your local electronics megamart. We evaluate as many laptops as we can here at PC Labs—hundreds each year—so we’ve pretty much seen every kind of laptop you can purchase. Below are our top selections for each category, followed by a thorough purchasing guide that will provide you with all the information you need to choose your new laptop.
It can be frustrating to buy a laptop solely based on specifications. Your budget and intended use for your laptop will determine which features and laptop class are best for you. When shopping, it’s better to use a methodical approach. Let’s go over how to make a wise choice.
How Much Will the Right Laptop for You Cost?
Don’t give a damn about strong components and cutting-edge design? You could be OK with a low-cost laptop. Today’s market is swamped with inexpensive, full-featured devices that are simplistic in design. Presidents’ Day and other real holidays, as well as “shopping holidays” like Prime Day and Black Friday, often include promotions that further reduce the price of some of these devices.
The majority of them will do word processing and email checking quite well, but they’ll struggle with heavier jobs like running many memory- and CPU-intensive apps or several web browser tabs at once. If you want to compare performance, you should check out our reviews. Many of the most recent low-cost laptop models have been examined by PC Labs; some of them are traditional clamshells, while others are convertible or detachable 2-in-1s. (We’ve included a few of our best selections for inexpensive laptops in our list of favorites above.)
A $1,000 increase in spending will give you access to almost all of the cutting-edge capabilities that contemporary laptops have to offer. These include sleek, durable aluminum chassis, stunning, touch-enabled 4K screens, powerful CPUs and graphics processors, and long-lasting batteries.
You will need to choose which features are most necessary in this pricing range, which is the main drawback. At this price, you may be able to get a laptop with a stunning 4K display or a massive terabyte of solid-state storage, but definitely not both.
You may choose practically any set of features you like if your piggybank has $2,000 or more. But the laws of physics still apply to even the most powerful laptop money can buy. Strong hardware produces heat, and the cooling systems needed to keep such components from overheating take up room. Hardcore gamers can’t expect to find a 17-inch display and a blazing-fast graphics processor on a tiny, light laptop since they need big cooling pipes and fans.
Business laptops that are IT-manageable and security-conscious—models mostly produced by Dell, HP, and Lenovo—have their own price dynamics, and they often cost a little bit more, everything else being equal. The reason for this is because they have more robust build quality, premium warranty or support plans, enterprise-specific silicon that is managed or secure, fingerprint or facial recognition login capabilities, and enterprise-specific silicon.
Which Operating System Should I Choose Between Chrome OS, Windows, and Mac OS?
Unless the seller is called “Apple,” the majority of laptops you’ll find in stores or on your favorite online retailer’s website will run Windows. However, Microsoft’s most well-known product isn’t necessarily the best operating system for everyone. There is now a Windows alternative at every price point because Google’s Chrome OS has recently risen up the ranks of budget laptops. Around $1,000 marks the breaking point for non-Windows laptops; above that price point, a MacBook serves as your primary Windows alternative, and below it, a Chromebook.
The main competition for low-cost Windows laptops nowadays is Chrome OS-based computers. For someone who just wants a laptop to view movies, produce text documents, send emails, and fiddle about with simple spreadsheets, a Chromebook could be a good, cost-conscious option. Since cloud services like Google Drive can handle the majority of your storage and processing demands, the only laptop characteristics you will actually need with a Chromebook are a good screen and a comfortable keyboard. Furthermore, if you insist on having some creature comforts, you can now get midrange Chromebooks with full-HD (1080p) screens and cozy keyboards just as readily as you can find ones at rock-bottom prices.
Chromebooks of various shapes and sizes, including clamshell devices, convertibles, and even a few detachable 2-in-1 Chrome tablets, have all been examined by PC Labs. (Our best Chromebook selection is described in our list of favorites above.)
If you’re okay with conducting your day-to-day computing life on macOS, an Apple MacBook could be the best option for folks with comparable demands but higher finances. Nowhere in the Apple family will you find a “cheap” MacBook, but you will discover a strong industrial design, generally outstanding battery life, and a wealth of built-in applications to manage your media library and sync with your iCloud account and the rest of your Apple devices.
With the choice for a 16-inch Retina display and CPUs up to the Core i9 from Intel, higher-end MacBook Pros are also suitable for multimedia makers. Lack of touch-screen functionality, which is an option on certain Chrome OS and Windows laptops, is one of the biggest problems with Mac laptops.
The majority of AAA games are available on Windows-based machines, but the subset of well-known, top-tier games on macOS is substantially smaller, and the only games available on Chrome OS are those that can be downloaded as Android apps or via the Chrome Web Store. The biggest form-factor flexibility is also provided by a Windows system. A few Chromebooks include keyboards that are foldable or detachable so you can use them as tablets, but Windows has a far wider range of these adaptable physical designs.
Since there are so many Windows-compatible devices, Microsoft’s operating system really affords you the greatest amount of freedom when selecting a laptop. Therefore, the majority of your other purchasing choices, which we’ll discuss below, are mostly applicable to Windows computers. (However, we’ll make sure to mention when a certain functionality is also available on Macs or Chromebooks.)
What Weight and Dimensions Are Ideal for a Laptop?
The majority of individuals looking for a general-purpose laptop should choose one that is 3 pounds or less and around half an inch thick. For us to classify a laptop as ultraportable, its size and weight must generally be within these limits, and for most users, mobility is essential to getting the most out of their devices.
There are laptops running Windows and Chrome OS with screens as tiny as 10 or 11 inches. Some of them are tablets with detachable keyboards rather than true laptops in the traditional sense. Avoid these designs unless you’re expressly searching for a light laptop or a part-time tablet. They’re generally less than 2 pounds lighter than most 13-inch ultraportables, but they don’t perform as well as tablets as the Apple iPad do, and most of them have substandard keyboards, making them less useful as laptops too.
17-inch behemoths are at the opposite extreme of the size scale. They mostly appeal to serious gamers, but if you want a bigger screen for other reasons, you may sometimes find a 17-inch productivity computer or workstation. At the sacrifice of size and weight, a 17-inch laptop may roughly approximate the experience of a desktop.
Some of these designs have a weight limit of 8 pounds and are thicker than an inch. A 17-inch monitor is an option if you want to leave your gaming setup on your desk and almost ever move it. If not, most gamers should continue using 15-inch laptops.
Which Laptop Screen Should You Purchase?
Over the last ten years, laptop displays have become denser, fitting more pixels into the same space. Because of this, text, pictures shown on screens, and often colors seem better. The primary characteristic that distinguishes a laptop screen is its native resolution, which is stated in horizontal by vertical pixels. Display density is sometimes measured in pixels per inch (ppi).
The majority of laptops with prices of $500 or more feature displays that are at least “full HD” in quality. They are often referred to as “1080p” screens, have a 1,920 by 1,080 pixel resolution (or, in certain circumstances, 1,920 by 1,200 pixel resolution), and primarily use LCD panels constructed using in-plane switching (IPS) technology. Although the quality of IPS panels may vary, they are best recognized for maintaining a high level of picture quality when seen from an off-side or oblique angle. When not seen directly, thin-film transistor (TFT), the other common screen type in contemporary laptops (and the one often found in models designed for gaming), has a tendency to alter colors or seem faded. That important if you often show people what is on your screen, such while making spontaneous presentations.
Cheap Windows and Chrome OS laptops often use thinner-film transistor (TFT) screens with lesser resolutions (1,280 by 720 pixels and 1,366 by 768, respectively), which means text won’t seem as sharp and colors may not be as vibrant as you’ve become accustomed to from your smartphone or TV. A lower-resolution display can be a reasonable trade-off if you don’t care too much about visual quality in your effort to save money.
There are options greater than full HD if you want the sharpest writing and the most vibrant colors. Presently, many high-end laptops come with basic or add-on 4K native resolution screens (often 3,840 by 2,160 pixels). Most of these displays employ the same IPS technology as full HD panels, but a handful also use OLED technology, which is used in some of today’s most advanced smartphones. OLED panels are expensive, and movie enthusiasts benefit most from their deep blacks and exquisite colors.
People who want to use their laptops in highly lit spaces or outside should ensure that the panel has a maximum brightness level of at least 500 nits, whether the screen is OLED, IPS, or TFT.
Is a Touchscreen Laptop Required?
You need to find a touch-enabled laptop and possibly even a digital pen to write or draw on it in order to benefit from the touch-screen capabilities offered by Windows and Chrome OS. Check the specs carefully before making a purchase since certain Windows laptops are available in both touch- and non-touch variants. Touch support is often included on glossy panels, but is typically absent on matte screens intended to reduce glare from ambient light.
However, you should be sure that the graphics processor, or GPU, is powerful enough to drive the kind of games you play at a high enough frame rate to matter before you shell out a significant premium for a high-refresh screen. A high-refresh screen often won’t provide any value if you plan to play games at 60 frames per second or below since most laptop displays have 60Hz refresh rates.
What Processor Is Best for Your Laptop?
The majority of $1,000 ultraportable computers use Intel Core i5 or Core i7 processors, or, less often, AMD Ryzen 5 or Ryzen 7. However, bear in mind that larger CPU model numbers often signal more processing cores, greater maximum clock speeds, and sometimes even multithreading. All of them provide more than enough power for common computing activities. With multithreading, each CPU core can run two sets of software instructions simultaneously, instead of just one. Modern software is designed to use as many CPU cores as feasible in order to operate more quickly on multithreaded CPUs.
While low-cost laptops often employ Intel’s Celeron, Core i3, or Pentium chips or AMD’s A-series or Ryzen 3 CPUs. These usually only contain two or four distinct cores. On the opposite end of the range, workstation-class Xeon CPUs with up to eight cores or Intel’s Core i9 are found in high-end powerhouse laptops.
Whatever CPU a laptop has, it is normally built to use less power and produce less heat than a desktop computer. The most recent popular, lightweight laptops with Intel laptop CPUs often use 15 watts or less of electricity, as opposed to 45 watts or more for their desktop counterparts.
Higher-powered CPUs are often seen in gaming laptops; these CPUs are commonly identified by a “H” in the model name. These have performance that is more akin to a desktop PC, but they need more cooling gear and use more energy. H-series CPUs are available from both AMD and Intel.
If you want a solid overview that doesn’t overwhelm, see our guide on picking a laptop CPU that matches what you do instead than becoming too specialized with laptop processors.
Which graphics chip for your laptop should you choose?
For the majority of regular laptop usage, an integrated graphics processor, or IGP, which is part of the CPU, is more than enough. If an Intel-CPU laptop is described as having HD Graphics, UHD Graphics, or Iris as its graphics solution, you’ll know you’re looking at an IGP (or Radeon Graphics on an AMD-based laptop). The CPU’s processing cores, memory, or both are shared by an IGP. Increasing system memory won’t improve graphics performance since the integrated graphics chip’s memory allocation is often fixed.
The majority of gamers will want to think about a standalone GPU with separate computational power. When it comes to playing 3D games, even a low-cost gaming GPU will provide a significant advantage over an integrated graphics processor. (Although they are a step higher than IGPs, some laptops will include low-end dedicated graphics solutions like the GeForce MX series that are not designed for serious gaming.) Hardcore gamers should opt for Nvidia’s newest GeForce RTX GPUs at the top end.
The amount of GPU you want for gaming laptops is closely related to the frame rate you wish to run at the laptop’s native screen resolution as well as the kind of games you play. This is where our reviews are helpful. To give you a general idea of a laptop’s graphics capability, we evaluate it using a number of challenging gaming and industrial benchmarks. For much more, see our compilation of the greatest late-model gaming PCs and the best cheap gaming laptops. All of the newest gaming laptops on the market, including low-cost and extravagant versions, have been examined by PC Labs. Our list of favorites above also includes a breakdown of our three best recommendations in three different price ranges (cheap, mainstream, and high end).
How much memory and storage space does your laptop require?
Solid-state drives (SSDs), which store data using memory cells rather of a spinning platter (the traditional hard drive), are a common feature of laptops priced more than entry-level models. SSDs are the best and most widely used disk configuration because data stored in cells can be accessed considerably more quickly. They are also resistant to shocks and disturbances that may cause the heads of a spinning platter to smash.
Some laptops, particularly those with bigger chassis that are meant for gaming, include two types of drives: a smaller SSD to contain the operating system, necessary software, and a select few games, and a larger spinning one to store the majority of your game files or other space-hungry media. That’s a totally acceptable choice if you want to save some money or just require the most local storage space available, but you should always stay with an SSD-only arrangement.
Be aware that not all SSDs for laptops are made equal. Instead of the more traditional, somewhat slower SATA interface, SSDs that employ the more recent, typically quicker PCI Express NVMe standard are preferred. (Anyway, PCI Express SSDs are gradually dominating the market.) However, any of them is significantly superior than a third kind, a not-quite-SSD: the much slower eMMC, a form of flash storage device available in low-cost computers. (Your low-cost laptop is likely utilizing eMMC if it has 32GB, 64GB, or maybe 128GB of local storage.) Unless you merely require the greatest amount of capacity for the smallest amount of money, they are all superior than a conventional rotating hard drive.
For the majority of laptop buyers, 256GB of storage capacity should be the absolute minimum. There will be enough capacity left enough to satisfy the enormous needs of operating system upgrades and major software like Microsoft Office. A least of 512GB should be sought for by those who have substantial collections of films, images, or music as well as all but the most casual PC gamers. High-end laptops with 1TB or even roomier SSDs are available, and they will sound fantastic. However, be aware that the largest capacities may drive up the cost of a laptop dramatically—a 4TB SSD can increase the cost of a high-end laptop by thousands of dollars. If you need more capacity, it is more cost-effective to purchase a 512GB SSD plus an external drive.
Which laptop would be the best purchase for you?
A laptop purchase requires a lot of patience. Because of the intense competition in the market, even if you have very particular needs, you can almost surely find a few exceptional models that will satisfy them as well as a few perfectly adequate but unimpressive ones that will, too. We think that it will be much simpler to separate the excellent from the poor now that you know what standards to look for. Our current top recommendations for laptops are shown below. We regularly update our top picks.
AMD Ryzen 5 5500U
Core™ i7-32GB Memory