How to choose the best laptop computer for digital art and graphic design
How to choose the best laptop computer for digital art and graphic design
Laptops are one of the most necessary gadgets that many of us use almost every day. Even though smartphones are now capable of covering for many laptop utilities, laptops are still a necessity for students, corporates, , artists, designers , gamers and other user types.
If you're in the market for a new laptop, you'd be forgiven for feeling a little bewildered by the amount of choices. There are, after all, a huge selection of models on the market, what with hardware makers pushing out dozens of new models every year.
The good news is that you don't need to look at every single laptop out there in detail, because you can quickly narrow your options down by asking a few questions about what you want in your next computer.
What will you primarily be using this laptop for? Is it for casual use? Are you a student? Are you on the go often? Do you want a gaming laptop? use for digital art or graphic design work? Etc. There are a lot of such use cases which, when narrowed down, will greatly help when it comes to finalising your purchase.
When it comes to choosing laptops for creative work, art or graphic design, digital painting or 3D modeling, there are a few considerations.
Once you've decided on a use case, you can move on to the next aspect, which is the laptop's specifications. There's a wide range of laptops with an even wider range of specifications between then, of course, the better the specs, the pricier the laptop.
Laptops come with varying performance levels for different needs. Here's how you can pick the right one for you.
1. Which Operating System?
The operating system is the basic software that allows you to easily use your laptop and run programs and applications.
Choosing the right Operating System (OS) is the first and the most important step when buying a new laptop as it determines the environment you will work in. Therefore, verify that the pre-loaded OS meets your end-use needs.
Windows OS is Easy to use, intuitive GUI. An ideal platform for work or study use.Most devices are Windows compatible.
All MacBooks come with Apple's latest desktop operating system, macOS Catalina. Simplified user interface.Ease of multitasking for robust users.Less vulnerable to security lapses.
Open-source operating system.Secure to malicious programmes. Supports wide range of programming languages for coders.Reliable and does not compromise performance.
Choose a user-friendly and simple to make use of setting for your self. Both Windows OS and Mac Operating methods work greatest for an artist. However, MAC offers a much-updated display screen decision and therefore an extra vibrant setting.
Laptops outfitted with MAC OS are barely costlier than those with Windows OS. If you're excessive on the price range go for MAC OS, in any other case, Windows Operating System would additionally work wonderfully for you.
digital artist and graphic designer can either use a Windows OS powered compared or a MacBook, as most of the software used by artists and designers are available on both platforms.
What you need to know about hardware
As with any computer, hardware determines what a laptop can do. Better components will naturally be more expensive, so it is important to consider the laptop's primary role and choose hardware suitable for that purpose. A laptop purchased to browse the internet or write documents, for example, doesn't need a high-end processor or video card.
As with any computer, the CPU is the brains of the notebook and does most of the general work. When the computer needs to access or change data, the CPU executes that task. Better CPUs will be able to process more data at quicker speeds.
Starting with the processor, for the casual laptop user, a current gen i3 processor is more than enough if all you need it for is casual browsing, viewing videos and running lite software. If you're a student maybe and are hoping to play a few games possibly, then an Intel Core i5 processor or above will comfortably let you play games and work with more intensive software.
Core i7 and i9 processors are top-of-the-line and offer the best performance, but they come with a price tag to match. Go for these only if you know you have CPU intensive software or want the best gaming performance.
At least a dual-core processor if you want to be comfortable. Anything more is because you need the processing power, especially for 3D rendering.
Get at least a dual-core processor, probably 2Ghz dual-core.
Nowadays most computers come with quad-core. Not many applications utilize quad-cores, but they are good to get if the price difference isn't too much over the dual-core. That's because the OS can use assign the processors to OS functions, and some processors to the software, and when there's no sharing of processor, you get better response.
Not many applications use quad core processors effectively yet. If you need to render 3D or videos regularly, definitely go for a quad core.
The latest offerings from Intel are its Core i3, i5, i7, and i9 series in 10th- and 11th-generation models. You can see the generation in the chip's part number, shown immediately after the dash. For instance, the i5-9400H is a 9th-generation CPU. Meanwhile, AMD's latest notebook chips are its third-generation mobile Ryzen 4000 Series CPUs, though they are a bit more difficult to find in laptop offerings.
When it comes to picking a laptop based on its CPU, newer is almost always better. Try to avoid buying a laptop with a CPU that's a few generations old. Unless you're doing something intensive like video editing, don't worry about buying a chip outside of the midrange. The four cores available in the Core i5-1135G7, for example, offer enough performance for almost anyone.
If you are planning to use the laptop with software like Adobe Photoshop and Adobe after effects, then it should have a high-end CPU, as most of the photo editing tools depend on the CPU performance.
3. Graphics Card
Next, you look at the graphics card or GPU. A Graphics Processing Unit, or GPU, is a chip that generates all images you see on the screen. Most lower-end laptops ship with integrated graphics, which means the component is mounted inside the main processor. For instance, nearly all Intel laptop chips include integrated graphics. AMD produces Accelerated Processing Units, or APUs, that combine CPU and GPU cores on the same chip (die) in a similar fashion.
If you're a casual user, then you needn't consider this and can make do with an integrated GPU. However, if you plan on playing games or using rendering software, you will need a discrete graphics card.
Unless you're doing 3D modeling, you probably won't require a high end card. 2D digital painting, vector work or layout don't really require that card to calculate 3D data. Generally speaking, the graphics card that already come with your computer should suffice.
If you use a particular 3D software, you should check out the graphics cards recommended by the software company. Each 3D software might have their own little quirks when running on non-recommended graphics card.
If you are a gamer and an artist, then you can consider buying a laptop that offers at least 2GB of dedicated video memory. However, if you are not into gaming, then a regular integrated GPU should do the job. And if you want to play games at reasonable frames besides art, check the list of recommended graphics cards for the game.
Graphics card on laptops can't be upgraded after purchase so choose your laptops wisely. If you don't need to play games, you can save some money here.
RAM is used to store temporary data. When you draw something on screen, e.g. typing, that something is stored temporary in the RAM before you actually save your file. Photoshop layers you have yet to save, the many applications opened in the background but not in use, your many browser windows.
The amount of RAM determines how much art you can put on screen before you save. If you run out of RAM, your computer will slow down. It slows down because it has to switch to storing that temporary data on screen to the slower hard drive.
More RAM helps increase the number of undos you can save. Note that your OS uses RAM too.
Whichever laptop you decide on, a minimum of 8GB RAM is a must. This is ideal to be able to have multiple applications open at the same time comfortably, and have multiple tabs open on your browser without your laptop crashing on you. If you're looking to the game, at the entry-level, 8GB of RAM is fine, but you ideally want 16GB, especially with games today.
RAM is affordable and this is not the area to save significant money.
The amount of storage space on a laptop's internal drive(s) is how much data it can hold in total indefinitely. All data, from installed programs to downloaded music, reside on an internal storage device. These devices either rely on traditional platter-based hard drive technology or NAND Flash technology.
In contrast to RAM, data in storage does not necessarily need to be in use. An installed program that is currently not active takes up storage space but not memory. Many modern laptops now use solid-state drives (SSDs) which are faster and more reliable than traditional hard drives, but more expensive when comparing identical capacities.
An SSD uses NAND Flash to store data, which doesn't have moving parts. It offers a dramatic performance boost over a conventional hard drive – which does have moving parts — and can provide the most dramatic improvement in laptop usage when buying a new system.
This one is simple enough. You could go for a laptop with a high capacity HDD if you're someone who needs a lot of storage space. If you're looking for speed, then you want an SSD. Certain laptops come with support for M.2 or NVMe SSDs to speed up your read and write speeds.
Of course, there's always the middle ground of getting a low capacity SSD with a high capacity HDD. Some laptops offer both solid state drives (SSD) and the slower spinning hard disk drives (HDD) which gives you the best of both worlds - you can install the OS on the fast SSD and store your huge files on the spacious but slower HDD. A 1TB (1000GB) hard drive should be enough.
Most 13-inch laptops have only one slot for storage drives. When it gets to 15-inch, there are some that offer more than one slot for storage drives, which means you get to choose both SSD and HDD.
6. Screen size and resolution
For drawing, you need as big a screen as possible to see your full designs. The resolution and contrast are also important. That's so that the colors and details are as vibrant and crisp as possible.
Get an LCD monitor with a high resolution, with lots of pixels. The more pixels you have, the more things you can display on screen.
Screen size and resolution will affect your productivity. A resolution of 1920 by 1080 pixels should provide ample working space and still be able to show menus, control palettes.
Next consideration is screen size. A larger screen will enable you to see details clearer (if the resolution is high enough) and make it easier to click on the menus and control palettes. I suggest at least a 15-inch screen with 1920 by 1080 resolution.
Nowdays, there are screens that offer much higher resolution than 1080P. E.g. 4K screens at 3840 by 2160 resolution. There are plenty of 4K laptops in the market, but they are battery drainers and will usually always be plugged in.
If you want a high resolution screen, make sure that the software you're using supports it or the user interface, e.g. menus and buttons, are going to appear tiny and almost unusable. Do your research in respective software format. E.g. Adobe photoshop menus are buttons are tiny and incredibly frustrating to use.
Most laptops come with a refresh rate of 60Hz, but you will find gaming laptops with refresh rates of 144Hz and above. You don't need more than 144Hz.
7. Panel type
It's best to get an IPS panel monitor that will provide the widest viewing angle. In another words, you'll be able to see the same colour no matter the angle of the screen.
They have better colour reproduction, colour accuracy and can display more colours. Do not get TN panels for graphic work.
It's also good to get a matte screen instead of one that's glossy. Glossy means you'll get reflections. I prefer matte. It's just a personal preference.
8. Color Gamut
If it's your thing, then go for it, but RGB otherwise does nothing to affect a laptop's performance.
If you're into print production or need colour accuracy, need to compare design on your screen against a physical printout, then get a laptop that supports as close to 100% Adobe RGB as possible. The laptops have good IPS screens with decent colours and viewing angles, however they don't come close to 100% Adobe RGB.
If you do not need the level of colour accuracy required for print production, you can just go for sRGB screens which still have more than satisfactory colour reproduction. 100% sRGB screens cost less than 100% Adobe RGB screens.
9. Connectivity and Ports
Thinner laptops are known to compromise on ports, keep this in mind when making your decision. Try to figure out beforehand what ports you will need on your laptop. Some things you should consider are whether the laptop has USB 3.0 or 3.1 ports, and even if they have the required type you need, such as Type-A or Type-C. If you intend to connect your laptop to a larger display or TV, then you want to keep an eye out for HDMI or DisplayPorts, depending on your need.
Most laptops come with audio ports, but you might want to keep in mind whether you want a laptop with both a headphone and microphone jack or a uni-jack. For people who use cameras or other devices that use media cards, you can consider a laptop that has a media card slot for ease of access.
Like we mentioned above, thinner laptops usually compromise on ports, one which is commonly missing from such laptops is the Ethernet port. This might be a problem if you plan to game online and prefer a more stable, wired connection. Otherwise, consider laptops with 802.11ac Wi-Fi and up to 5GHz standards. If you're looking for Bluetooth support to connect audio devices or wireless peripherals, then look for notebooks with Bluetooth 5.0 support, you can bring it down to Bluetooth 4.2 if necessary.
While the general idea is that laptops are meant to be portable, this isn't always the case. You will find that some gaming laptops can be extremely bulky, with some coming with their own suitcases to be moved around in!
However, there are gaming laptops with smaller form factors as well that weight between the 2-5kg mark. Still pretty heavy. Of course, there are non-gaming high-performance laptops that weigh under 2kgs and can be carried around easily. Most casual use-case laptops are also usually lightweight.
If you like to travel often or work from anywhere, go for a lightweight, portable laptop. Think about whether you want a laptop that has a rotatable screen so that it can double up as a drawing tablet.
11. Battery Life
This is pretty important, especially if you're someone who is going to use a laptop away from a power outlet for long periods. This is a crucial factor to consider for those who travel a lot. Lower power laptops and ultrabooks which come without discrete GPUs are best in this category as they can easily offer you at least eight hours of battery life, plenty of time to find a power outlet.
With gaming laptops, you can throw battery life out the window. These beasts are usually meant to be plugged in at all times, and unplugged will give you up to two hours max.
1. Dell is a US technology company based in Round Rock, Texas. This company was founded by Michael Dell in 1984 and is now one of the largest tech companies in the world. Dell produces desktops, laptops and other hardware and is known for its build-to-order manufacturing and direct sales approach.
2. Lenovo is a Chinese technology company with headquarters in Beijing, China and Morrisville, North Carolina, USA. Growing since 1984, this company now boasts over 54,000 employees. Lenovo was one of one world's largest computer vendors based on unit sales.
Lenovo produces smartphones, TVs, tablets, and a range of laptops. Its ThinkPad and IdeaPad were a hit with consumers across the globe.
3. HP, or Hewlett-Packard, is an American company, founded in Palo Alto, California, in 1939. It became one of the most world's leading PC manufacturer.
4. Asus is a Taiwan-based multinational computer and phone hardware and electronics company. The company is an original equipment manufacturer (OEM). It is currently the world's largest motherboard manufacturer, the world's third largest graphics card manufacturer, and one of the world's leading 3C solution providers.
Its products include desktop computers, laptops, netbooks, mobile phones, networking equipment, monitors, WIFI routers, projectors, motherboards, graphics cards, optical storage, multimedia products, peripherals, wearables, servers, workstations, and tablet PCs. Among them, graphics cards, motherboards and laptops have become ASUS' main competitive strength.
5. established in 1986, MSI is a Taiwanese multinational information technology corporation headquartered in Taiwan. It designs, develops and provides computer hardware, related products and services .
MSI has a massive lineup of notebooks that cover a gamut of uses. Although the company is known for its gaming notebooks, MSI also has workstations and multimedia machines in its stable.
6. Established in 1976, Acer is an international private label company, mainly engaged in the research and development, design, marketing, sales and service of smartphones, tablets, personal computers, display products and servers.
In general, Acer is the fourth-largest computer manufacturer in the world and the fourth-largest manufacturer of Windows-based personal computer brands.
7. Apple's laptops are equipped with its proprietary macOS. Apple Inc is the world's biggest IT company and has been recognized for its innovative products.
Apple Laptops are known for their incredible light bodies and beautiful designs, coupled with the latest technology. The laptops are power-packed with features and offer unique features like a multi-touch keyboard and ambient light sensors built-in.
8. Huawei is out to prove they are more than just a great mobile phone company. Huawei has a pretty well-established design language for its MateBook line of laptops and has been compared to Apple's Macbook, both in design and interface. All are powered by Windows OS.
If you're an artist, not just any laptop will do. You need a powerful laptop that can handle graphics programs. Most artists and designers choose to attract on a graphic drawing tabet ( such as XPPEN ) by connecting it to the PC.
But it also needs to provide you with advanced editing capability. It's essential to create high-quality, detailed art.
Narrowing down all the options on the market can be overwhelming. That's why I've created this guide to help you find the best laptop for your needs.
Though a laptop computer by no means constructed for a particular performs, some options matter greater than the others whereas selecting for your self the best laptop for drawing.
As you can probably see, there are lots of options. My preference for choosing a laptop would be to have at least SSD for storage, an IPS panel with at least 1080P resolution , its display should have good color calibration and at least 2 years of warranty.
Best Laptops of 2022
Owning a computer is almost a necessity in 2022, whether it be for business or educational use or just surfing the internet, streaming videos, and checking email. While you used to need a desktop computer to perform more intensive tasks like gaming and photo editing, those days are long gone. Modern laptop computers are powerful enough for virtually any purpose and light enough to take with you to work, school, or even on vacation.
We also explain the different types of laptops, as well as how much laptops cost and how to buy one. Read on to see where laptops like the Dell XPS 13, Lenovo Chromebook Duet, and MacBook Pro place in our ratings. If you need a tablet or antivirus software, or you want to protect yourself from identity theft online, we've got you covered there, too.
Our Best Laptops Rating
Compare the Best Laptops of 2022
Best Laptops in Detail
MacBook Pro (2021) » Buy at Amazon 4.3 U.S. News Rating Warranty 1 Year Memory 16 GB - 32 GB
Pros: Faster Apple M1 processors
Battery lasts up to 21 hours
Webcam has 1080p resolution Cons: Can cost up to $6,000 when fully optioned
Doesn't have a USB-A port
MacBook Pro (2021): The 2021 MacBook Pro places No. 1 in our rating of the Best Laptops of 2022. Available in a 14-inch or 16-inch model, the newest MacBook Pro from Apple has a second-generation M1 processor and battery life of up to 21 hours. This is a best-in-class laptop with a price to match, starting at $1,999. It's especially suited for people in creative fields. Professional reviewers praise the 2021 MacBook Pro as the best laptop the company has ever produced. Design improvements over the previous year's MacBook Pro include thinner screen bezels around the Liquid Retina XDR display and full-height buttons to replace the touch bar at the top of the keyboard (which didn't get a great reception). Even more importantly, the 2021 MacBook Pro has more ports, including USB-C and others.
Read more in our MacBook Pro (2021) review.
MacBook Pro 13-inch (2020) » Buy at Amazon Best Business Laptop of 2022 4.2 U.S. News Rating Special Limited-Time Offer: Take $287 OFF now! Warranty 1 Year Memory 8 GB - 16 GB
Pros: Very fast eight-core M1 CPU
Long battery life Cons: Screen resolution limited to 2K
Pricier than PC competitors
MacBook Pro 13-Inch: Coming in at No. 2, the MacBook Pro 13-inch is the default choice for many graphics and video professionals who want a small, speedy laptop. The new M1 chips are blazing fast. While the sleek design has been copied by many Windows laptop manufacturers, Apple's quality and simplicity are still class-leading. All of this comes at a cost, however, as the MacBook Pro 13-inch starts at a relatively high $1,299. And because Apple MacBooks can be difficult to integrate with a Windows-dominated business environment, many business users would do better with a more affordable Windows-based laptop. Gaming also isn't the MacBook's strongest suit. But if your business is primarily Apple-based or your team absolutely needs Apple products, the MacBook Pro never disappoints when it comes to performance or ease of use.
Read more in our MacBook Pro 13-Inch review.
Google Pixelbook Go » Buy at Amazon Best Cheap Laptop of 2022 3.9 U.S. News Rating Warranty 1 Year Memory 8 GB - 16 GB
Pros: Comfortable keyboard
Long battery life Cons: Not convertible
Expensive for a Chromebook
Google Pixelbook Go: Placing No. 3 in our rating, the Google Pixelbook Go starts at a higher price point than many Chromebooks at $649. Unlike the Lenovo Chromebook Duet or other 2-in-1 laptops, the Pixelbook Go is not convertible and thus can't be used like a tablet. However, it gains points with its 8 GB of memory and 64 GB of storage – both of which can be upgraded – in a compact machine weighing just 2.3 pounds, the perfect size for taking to school or the office. Professional reviewers note the long battery life, comfortable keyboard, and bright and sharp touch screen. The 1080p camera is also a bonus for anyone who regularly makes video calls. Like any Chromebook, we don't recommend the Pixelbook Go for gaming or other high-demand activities. While this Chromebook doesn't run Windows 10 or 11, it's still a great option for simple business or school tasks. If you're looking for a higher-end product for all business needs, compare options in our guide to the Best Business Laptops of 2022.
Read more in our Google Pixelbook Go review.
MacBook Air M1 (2020) » Buy at Amazon 3.7 U.S. News Rating Special Limited-Time Offer: Take $50 OFF now! Warranty 1 Year Memory 8 GB - 16 GB
Pros: Nearly as powerful as the more expensive MacBook Pro 13-Inch
Great battery life Cons: Bested by some sleeker, lighter Windows-based machines
Lack of cooling fan limits performance
MacBook Air M1: In the No. 4 spot in our rating is the MacBook Air M1. With the same M1 processor chip as the MacBook Pro 13-inch (No. 2 in this rating), the Air M1 can keep up with faster, heavier laptops in many ways. The battery life on this machine is exceptional, and professional reviewers noted the brilliant screen brightness and contrast. However, the MacBook Air M1 still doesn’t match toe to toe with the equally thin and light Windows model laptops at the same or lower price points. This laptop does not come with the enterprise-level security features the MacBook Pro has, and it slows down slightly under heavy use due to the lack of a cooling fan. If you are looking for an Apple laptop on a budget, this may be a good option for you.
Read more in our MacBook Air M1 review.
Dell XPS 17 » Buy at Dell 3.4 U.S. News Rating Warranty 1 Year Memory 8 GB - 64 GB
Pros: Large, bright display screen
Large, responsive touchpad Cons: Bulky and heavy
No USB-A ports
Battery life isn’t great
Dell XPS 17: The Dell XPS 17 ties for No. 5 with the Dell XPS 13 and Acer Nitro 5 in our rating of the Best Laptops of 2022. This 17-inch laptop has a large LCD screen and a responsive touchpad. Professional reviewers say the XPS 17's speed and performance are adequate for most tasks. The base XPS 17 (starting at $1,899.99) comes with a 17-inch non-touch, anti-glare LCD screen with 1920 x 1200 resolution and a 16:10 aspect ratio. It has InfinityEdge with thin bezels to keep the weight down and maximize screen real estate. An ultra-high definition (UHD) screen with a 3840 x 2400 touch screen and other upgrades are available. However, this is a heavy laptop to carry around, some reviewers say the keyboard is cramped, and the webcam is subpar with only 720p resolution.
Read more in our Dell XPS 17 review.
Acer Nitro 5 » Buy at Amazon Best Gaming Laptop of 2022 3.4 U.S. News Rating Warranty 1 Year Memory 8 GB - 16 GB
Pros: High refresh rate
Budget-friendly Cons: Plastic build
Acer Nitro 5: Also coming in at No. 5 in our rating is the Acer Nitro. At $699.99, it qualifies as a budget laptop and is particularly inexpensive for a gaming laptop. Despite the low price, the Acer Nitro can run the latest games. Although the base model is a decent gaming laptop, you will need to upgrade the processors, memory, and graphics card for the best experience. Display choices include a high-definition 1920 x 1080 screen or a QHD 2560 x 1440 display. Refresh rates are supported up to 165 hertz, which is great for fast-paced games. Battery life is adequate, but the screen is dimmer than some more expensive gaming computers, according to professional reviewers.
Read more in our Acer Nitro 5 review.
Dell XPS 13 » Buy at Dell 3.4 U.S. News Rating Warranty 1 Year Memory 8 GB - 32 GB
Pros: 4K display
Slim and light design Cons: Only two USB-C ports
Dell XPS 13: The Dell XPS 13 is a direct competitor to the MacBook Air M1, except it runs Windows 10 or Windows 11 instead of macOS. As such, it is similar to the Air in size, weight, and features. Although it isn't as fast as some competitors, the XPS 13's screen is excellent, with touch-screen functionality, a slim bezel, and 4K resolution. The starting price is reasonable at $999.99. Professional reviewers say the keyboard is comfortable for extended typing sessions, and the speakers sound good for a laptop. For college students and businesspeople who want to run apps in Windows 10 or Windows 11, the Dell XPS 13 is an excellent choice.
Read more in our Dell XPS 13 review.
Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 » Buy at Dell Best 2-in-1 Laptop of 2022 3.3 U.S. News Rating Warranty 1 Year Memory 8 GB - 32 GB
Pros: Bright touch screen
Convertibility options Cons: Low-quality webcam
Dell XPS 13 2-in-1: The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is a compact, lightweight, convertible laptop that weighs less than 3 pounds. You can use it in four different configurations: as a laptop, a tablet, an easel, or a tent. This means you can do standard work on the laptop, use the touch screen in tablet mode, or watch videos and present work in either easel or tent mode. The battery life is quite good, making the Dell XPS 13 a great choice for business use. Professional reviewers like its fast performance and small stature, as well as its competitive price. However, they say the webcam and keyboard are subpar.
Read more in our Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 review.
Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio » Buy at Amazon 3.2 U.S. News Rating Special Limited-Time Offer: Take $260 OFF now! Warranty 1 Year Memory 16 GB - 32 GB
Pros: Excellent, high-refresh-rate touch screen
Tablet-based design with unique pivoting screen Cons: More expensive than many 2-in-1 laptops
Underperforms many 2-in-1 laptops
Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio: Tying for No. 9 in our rating, no other tablet or 2-in-1 laptop is quite like the Surface laptop. That's because the screen can pivot over the keyboard like a picture stand. Alternatively, it can lie flush with the base to act as a tablet. This innovative design appeals to creatives by offering a tablet form factor with the higher performance of a conventional laptop. The Surface laptop also has a stylus pen that magnetically attaches to the frame and can be used during meetings, presentations, or business travel. The good-looking display has a 120-Hz refresh rate. However, the Surface laptop is slower than many other 2-in-1 laptops that are nearly as stylish and much cheaper.
Read more in our Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio review.
Acer Swift 3 » Buy at Amazon 3.2 U.S. News Rating Special Limited-Time Offer: Take $180.99 OFF now! Warranty 1 Year Memory 8 GB - 16 GB
Pros: Good quality
Low-cost Cons: Poor tactile feel of keyboard and trackpad
Acer Swift 3: Also tying for No. 9, the Acer Swift 3 starts at less than $700 but makes some concessions to hit that low price point. For example, professional reviewers say the keyboard and trackpad don't have the best feel, and the laptop won't win any design awards. However, it covers the important bases, with performance and battery life that are comparable to more expensive competitors. Another plus is the display’s taller 3:2 ratio, which helps when viewing or writing documents. The Acer Swift 3's port selection is good as well, with USB-A, USB-C, and HDMI ports. Plus, this 13-inch laptop is thin and light enough to carry around all day.
Read more in our Acer Swift 3 review.
HP Envy x360 » Buy at HP 3.1 U.S. News Rating Warranty 1 Year Memory 8 GB - 16 GB
Pros: Long battery life
Budget-friendly price tag Cons: Large size to be used as 2-in-1
Mediocre camera quality
HP Envy x360: The HP Envy can be used as a tablet or a traditional laptop. However, it's relatively heavy at 4.42 pounds, so it doesn't make the best tablet. Professional reviewers do like the 12 to 13 hours of battery life you can get doing basic tasks, although more demanding tasks like watching videos will use the battery up faster. The camera is relatively basic with just 720p resolution, which isn't great compared to the 1080p cameras found in many other laptops. The AMD Ryzen 5 or AMD Ryzen 7 processors held up well in professional testing when it came to performing typical business tasks for which you might use a 2-in-1 laptop.
Read more in our HP Envy x360 review.
Lenovo Chromebook Duet » Buy at Amazon 3.0 U.S. News Rating Special Limited-Time Offer: Take $25 OFF now! Warranty 1 Year Memory 4 GB
Responsive touch screen Cons: Limited memory
Lenovo Chromebook Duet: Professional reviewers say this budget-friendly Chromebook, which ties for No. 12 in our rating and starts at only $229.99, is a great budget laptop for basic tasks like surfing the internet, checking email, and making video calls. This machine also has 2-in-1 functionality, which means you can easily transform it from a laptop into a tablet. It’s small and portable, weighing less than 1 pound. The battery can last up to 13 hours depending on how you're using the laptop. However, you only get 4 GB RAM and 64 GB of storage, both of which are relatively low and can't be upgraded. But people on a budget who just need a computer for simple tasks will find a lot to like in the Lenovo Chromebook Duet, especially if they want a 2-in-1 Chromebook for school or work.
Read more in our Lenovo Chromebook Duet review.
Razer Blade 14 » Buy at Amazon 3.0 U.S. News Rating Special Limited-Time Offer: Take $50 OFF now! Warranty 1 Year Memory 16 GB
Pros: Bright display
Excellent CPU and GPU Cons: Expensive
Razer Blade 14: The Razer Blade 14 also ties for No. 12 in our Best Laptops of 2022 rating. At almost $2,000 to start, it is much more expensive than the other gaming computer we rated, the Acer Nitro 5. However, the Razer Blade has advanced features that will appeal to gamers, like an AMD Ryzen processor, a NVIDIA RTX 3080 GPU, and a refresh rate up to 165 Hz. Professional reviewers also say the Razer Blade's display is bright and sharp. This gaming laptop is relatively small, which means the keyboard can be cramped, and overheating can be an issue. The Razer Blade also can be a bit pricey for what you get, and some professional reviewers prefer comparable gaming laptops that are cheaper.
Read more in our Razer Blade 14 review.
Lenovo Yoga 9i » Buy at Lenovo 3.0 U.S. News Rating Special Limited-Time Offer: Take $55 OFF now! Warranty 1 Year Memory 8 GB - 16 GB
Pros: Long battery life
Comfortable keyboard Cons: Limited port selection
Shadow Black design costs more
Lenovo Yoga 9i: The Lenovo Yoga 9i rounds out our three-way tie for No. 12. This 2-in-1 laptop is durable, has a comfortable keyboard, gets up to 15 hours of battery life, and has an attractive 1080p display. There are Thunderbolt 4 ports, a USB-A port, and a headphone jack, all of which are on one side. There's no facial recognition feature. It comes with a stylus that attaches to the computer and charges when attached. The speakers sound good and can swivel to match the laptop’s display position. Professional reviewers also love how quickly the Yoga accomplishes intensive CPU and GPU tasks. It can actually keep up with regular higher-performance laptops in some 3D games, which is more than can be said for most 2-in-1 laptops.
Read more in our Lenovo Yoga 9i review.
HP Spectre x360 14 » Buy at HP 2.9 U.S. News Rating Warranty 1 Year Memory 8 GB - 16 GB
Pros: Aesthetically pleasing
Long battery life Cons: Expensive
HP Spectre x360 14: The HP Spectre x360 is last in our rating at No. 15. The starting price is a hefty $1,519.99, making it one of the more expensive laptops on this list. It’s fully customizable, so you can change the display, processor, memory, hard drive, and other components to suit your needs. It even comes in several colors. Professional reviewers praise this laptop's performance in most computing tests. Lower-priced machines have similar specs, however, so you’re mostly paying extra for the Spectre x360's sturdy build and luxury look and feel.
Read more in our HP Spectre x360 14 review.
Types of Laptops
There are several types of laptops that are best suited for different users. These include:
Traditional Laptops: Traditional laptops like the MacBook Pro 2021 and Dell XPS 13 are what most people think of when they envision a laptop. These machines come in various configurations with different processors, memory capacities, screen sizes, and other features adequate to the tasks they will be used for.
2-in-1 Laptops: Often called convertible laptops, 2-in-1 laptops run the Windows operating system (there currently are no macOS 2-in-1s) and have touch screens like tablets. You can operate them by touch or with a stylus if you want to take notes or draw. 2-in-1 laptops like the HP Envy x360 are different from tablets like the Apple iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 in three major respects: convertible laptops run Windows rather than Android or iOS, they're usually more powerful than tablets, and they're usually bulkier and heavier.
Gaming Laptops: These are advanced, specialized computers that are specifically designed to play demanding games. As a result, gaming laptops like the Acer Nitro 5 and Razer Blade 14 have high-end central processors and dedicated graphics processors. They also have 512 GB SSDs or 1 TB SSDs for storing games, high-resolution screens with high refresh rates, and other features that make them quite expensive. They are usually overkill for anyone but serious gamers.
Business Laptops: Businesspeople need specific features in a laptop. In particular, they need long battery life, a large enough SSD to store all of their files, and at least 8 GB RAM to seamlessly switch between Microsoft Office applications and other programs like Zoom. They also need to be thin and light enough to carry around regularly. Models like the MacBook Air M1, Dell XPS 13, and Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio fit the bill.
Chromebooks: Chromebooks like the Google Pixelbook Go and Lenovo Chromebook Duet are slimmed-down laptops that run ChromeOS, a simplified, web-based operating system owned by Google. They're fine for many everyday computing activities like web surfing, word processing, and video chatting. Although they don't use Windows or macOS, Chromebooks are all the computer many people need.
Best 2-in-1 Laptops of 2022
If you can't decide whether to get a laptop or tablet, a 2-in-1 laptop can provide the functionality of both. These devices, also called convertible laptops, feature a touch screen that you can write on with a stylus. At the same time, unlike a true tablet, 2-in-1 laptops run Windows and have other standard laptop features like a hard drive. To help you compare, the table below lists some of the key features of our Best 2-in-1 Laptops of 2022.
Best Gaming Laptops of 2022
Our Best Gaming Laptops rating consists of laptops taking from our Best Laptops of 2022 rating that have the minimum specifications required to play most games reasonably well: a refresh rate of at least 144 Hz, at least 8 GB of RAM, a screen resolution of at least 1920 x 1080, and an AMD RX 5500M or NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1660 Ti processor (or higher).
Best Business Laptops of 2022
To select our Best Business Laptops, we chose models from our Best Laptops of 2022 rating that have a battery life of at least 14 hours, at least 8 GB of RAM, and a solid state hard drive (SSD).
Best Chromebooks of 2022
Some people just want to surf the web, compose documents, and perform other basic computing tasks without the complexity and expense of a regular laptop computer. A Chromebook, which is a no-frills laptop that runs on Google's Chrome operating system, fills that niche. The downside is that they typically come with smaller 128 GB SSDs and slower processors.
To aid you in your search for the right Chromebook, the table below lists some of the primary features of our Best Chromebooks of 2022. For more information about Chromebooks, see our What Is a Chromebook? guide.
Best Laptops for College of 2022
All college students need to work with computers, and most of them need a laptop of their own to take notes in class and complete their assignments. Because college students tend to have limited budgets, cost is a major consideration when purchasing a laptop for college.
Size and weight are important factors as well, given that students often have to haul their laptops over long distances to and from class. In addition, some students may need more storage like a 512 gigabyte (GB) SSD if they have large files. Below, we list some of the most important features in our Best Laptops for College of 2021 to help you find the best one for your situation.
How Much Does a Laptop Cost?
The base price of our Best Laptops of 2022 ranges from $229 for the Lenovo Chromebook Duet to $1,999 for the Apple MacBook Pro (2021) and Razer Blade 14. Laptops in general can cost anywhere from a couple hundred dollars for an inexpensive Chromebook to upwards of $5,000 for a high-end gaming laptop.
Generally speaking, paying more for a laptop will get you a faster processor, more memory, a better screen, and/or other options that you may or may not want. Apple laptops tend to be more expensive than Windows laptops for similar configurations, in part because many more companies make Windows machines and thus the competition is higher. That said, lots of people are willing to pay a premium for a MacBook Pro or MacBook Air M1 because they like macOS better than Windows or simply like how Apple computers operate.
How to Buy a Laptop
Laptops are one of the most popular types of computer, according to the research firm Canalys . With a vast number of processor types, screen sizes, and other options to choose from, buying a laptop can seem overwhelming. However, the basic process of buying a laptop is the same no matter what type of machine you're looking for. To buy a laptop:
Decide how you will use the laptop Pick an operating system Choose the screen size and resolution Choose the processor, storage, and memory Select a manufacturer
“The biggest factor used to be size and performance, but today I would focus first on purpose,” said Avi Greengart, founder and lead analyst at the consultancy Techsponential . “You can greatly narrow your choices and budget if you know if you are planning to game, edit videos, work on the go, or surf the internet around the house.”
For gaming and video editing, for example, you may need a 512 GB SSD or even a 1 terabyte (TB) SSD, along with a top-of-the-line processor and screen. For web surfing and Microsoft Office applications, a midrange laptop will work just fine.
As for selecting a manufacturer, research firm Gartner reports that the top three in terms of U.S. market share in the first quarter of 2022 were Dell, HP, and Lenovo. But you don't necessarily have to choose one of these brands; configuring a computer to meet your needs and budget is much more important than which company makes it. If you want a computer that runs macOS rather than a Windows laptop, Apple is your only choice of manufacturer.
For more information, see How to Buy a Laptop.
To help you compare, the table below lists key specifications of our Best Laptops of 2022.
One of the most important considerations when buying a laptop is the size and quality of its screen. Below, we list the screen specifications of all of our Best Laptops of 2022.
When shopping for a laptop, also think about things like the finish options, dimensions, weight, and whether there's an SD card slot for removable storage. The chart below provides this information for our Best Laptops of 2022.
What Is a Chromebook?
A Chromebook is a simple laptop that uses Google's Chrome OS rather than Windows or macOS. Chrome OS is based on Google's Chrome web browser. Chromebooks usually have slower processors, less memory, and lower-resolution screens than regular laptops, which makes them cheaper and lighter. That said, they're just fine for everyday computing tasks like surfing the web, taking a Zoom call, typing a document, or checking email. Realize, however, that Chromebooks aren't designed for serious gaming, demanding business tasks, or photo or video editing. If you need to do these things, a regular laptop is a much better option.
For more information, see our What Is a Chromebook? guide.
Best Laptops of 2022
Our 360 Methodology for Evaluating Laptops
The Fastest Laptops for 2022
Since 1982, PCMag has tested and rated thousands of products to help you make better buying decisions. See how we test. (Opens in a new window)
There are different kinds of speed when talking about laptop performance, some of them intertwined and some not. And it pays to know what kind you need, so you don't overspend. There are also many different use cases across varying types of laptops, and speed does not always mean the same thing in one as in another. Below, we've detailed our picks for the fastest laptops in different categories. Check 'em out, then read on for our buyer's guide full of advice on what to look out for when shopping laptops based on performance.
You're here because you want the fastest laptop computer your money can buy. That's a challenging goal: It depends on how you define "fast", and to some extent on how you define "laptop", too.
MSI GT77 Titan Fastest Cost-No-Object Laptop 4.0 Excellent Bottom Line: MSI's gigantic GT77 Titan ushers in a new era of gaming laptop performance, thanks to its Intel Core HX processor and Nvidia RTX 30 Ti series GPU. PROS Deity-level performance
Deity-level performance Room for four storage drives (including one PCI Express 5.0!)
Room for four storage drives (including one PCI Express 5.0!) Tactile mechanical keyboard
Tactile mechanical keyboard Plentiful RGB lighting
Plentiful RGB lighting Built-in biometric features
Built-in biometric features Impressive battery life CONS Huge and heavy
Huge and heavy Colossal price, especially for RTX 3080 Ti configuration
Colossal price, especially for RTX 3080 Ti configuration Loud under load
Loud under load Ho-hum webcam Sold By List Price Price Amazon $2,898.93 $2,898.93 See It (Opens in a new window) Read Our MSI GT77 Titan Review
Lenovo Legion 7i Gen 7 Fastest High-End Gaming Laptop 4.0 Excellent Bottom Line: Lenovo’s kitted-out Legion 7i Gen 7, powered in our test unit by a top-flight Core i9 HX processor, is brutally fast, looks flashy, and has a great screen. Just don’t expect it to last long on battery, or be that portable. PROS Superb gaming performance
Superb gaming performance Top-notch screen
Top-notch screen Metal, RGB-infused chassis
Metal, RGB-infused chassis Plenty of connectivity CONS Short battery life
Short battery life Fans run frequently
Fans run frequently Bulky Sold By List Price Price Amazon $2,169.00 $2,169.00 Check Stock (Opens in a new window) Read Our Lenovo Legion 7i Gen 7 Review
MSI Katana GF66 Fastest Value-Priced Gaming Laptop 4.0 Excellent Bottom Line: MSI's Katana GF66 is a well-priced, well-rounded budget gaming laptop that cuts competing models down to size. PROS Aggressive price for the component mix
Aggressive price for the component mix Solid 1080p gaming performance
Solid 1080p gaming performance 144Hz display
144Hz display Roomy 1TB SSD CONS Display isn't overly bright or colorful
Display isn't overly bright or colorful Middling CPU performance
Middling CPU performance Brief battery life Sold By List Price Price Amazon $1,167.00 $1,167.00 See It (Opens in a new window) Micro Center $999.99 $999.99 See It (Opens in a new window) Read Our MSI Katana GF66 Review
Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 (2022) Fastest Thin Gaming Laptop 4.5 Outstanding Bottom Line: The Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 laptop offers blazing performance for gaming and everything else, and pairs it with awesome battery life and great portability. PROS Powerful processing and graphics
Powerful processing and graphics Superb gaming performance
Superb gaming performance Great battery life for a gaming laptop
Great battery life for a gaming laptop Gorgeous 2,560-by-1,600-pixel display CONS A bit pricey, as tested
A bit pricey, as tested 720p webcam could be sharper
720p webcam could be sharper Hard-to-see keyboard backlight Sold By List Price Price Amazon $1,069.99 $1,069.99 See It (Opens in a new window) Read Our Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 (2022) Review
Lenovo Slim 7 Pro X Fastest Ultraportable Laptop 4.5 Outstanding Bottom Line: The Lenovo Slim 7 Pro X is an uncommon marriage of compact design, blazing-fast parts, high-end features, and a very fair price. PROS Great price for the components and features
Great price for the components and features Portable design with 14-inch 120Hz display
Portable design with 14-inch 120Hz display Class-leading performance thanks to Ryzen 9 CPU
Class-leading performance thanks to Ryzen 9 CPU Capable RTX 3050 graphics uncommon at this size
Capable RTX 3050 graphics uncommon at this size 1TB SSD, 32GB of RAM, and 1080p webcam CONS Lacks the OLED screen option of some competitors
Lacks the OLED screen option of some competitors No Thunderbolt support
No Thunderbolt support Wi-Fi 6, not 6E Sold By List Price Price Lenovo $1,254.99 $1,254.99 See It (Opens in a new window) Read Our Lenovo Slim 7 Pro X Review
Apple MacBook Pro 16-Inch (2021, M1 Max) Fastest Mac Laptop 4.0 Excellent Bottom Line: The new ultimate Mac laptop, the 2021 Apple MacBook Pro 16-Inch is a finely engineered, high-octane workstation that will thrill content creators. The pumped-up M1 Max silicon in our tester, though, is beyond mere bragging rights—it's reserved for creative pros with specialized needs. PROS Seriously powerful components
Seriously powerful components Exceptional battery life
Exceptional battery life Impressive audio performance
Impressive audio performance HDMI output and SD card reader
HDMI output and SD card reader High-quality 1080p webcam
High-quality 1080p webcam Gorgeous Mini-LED display
Gorgeous Mini-LED display High-quality keyboard, huge touchpad CONS M1 Max CPU option, as tested, represents poor value for most workloads
M1 Max CPU option, as tested, represents poor value for most workloads Configuration upticks are expensive
Configuration upticks are expensive Obtrusive camera notch
Obtrusive camera notch Weighs nearly 5 pounds Sold By List Price Price Amazon $3,649.95 $3,649.95 See It (Opens in a new window) Best Buy $2,499.00 $1,999.00 See It (Opens in a new window) B&H Photo Video $2,499.00 $2,499.00 See It (Opens in a new window) Read Our Apple MacBook Pro 16-Inch (2021, M1 Max) Review
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 5 Fastest Business Laptop 3.5 Good Bottom Line: Desktop-replacement business laptops don't come much better than Lenovo's latest ThinkPad X1 Extreme, but its price is a huge hurdle. Cheaper alternatives with OLED instead of IPS screens may lure buyers away. PROS Trim and light for a 16-inch laptop
Trim and light for a 16-inch laptop Wonderful keyboard
Wonderful keyboard Handsome 4K touch screen
Handsome 4K touch screen Good array of ports and available 5G CONS No OLED screen option
No OLED screen option Unremarkable battery life
Unremarkable battery life Mighty expensive Sold By List Price Price Amazon $2,699.00 $2,699.00 See It (Opens in a new window) Read Our Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 5 Review
Dell XPS 17 (9710) Fastest Giant-Screen Productivity Laptop 4.0 Excellent Bottom Line: Well-equipped (as it should be for nearly $3,000), the Dell XPS 17 is the standard-bearer for non-gaming 17-inch laptops. PROS Elegant design
Elegant design Gorgeous 17-inch 4K touch screen
Gorgeous 17-inch 4K touch screen Available Nvidia GeForce RTX graphics
Available Nvidia GeForce RTX graphics Large touchpad
Large touchpad Four Thunderbolt 4 ports CONS Pricey as configured
Pricey as configured Shorter battery life than expected
Shorter battery life than expected No USB Type-A ports Sold By List Price Price Dell $1,599.99 $1,599.99 See It (Opens in a new window) Read Our Dell XPS 17 (9710) Review
Asus ProArt Studiobook 16 OLED (H5600) Fastest Content-Creation Laptop 4.0 Excellent Bottom Line: The Asus ProArt Studiobook 16 is an impressive laptop made with content creators in mind, from its versatile input dial and 4K OLED screen to its high-flying AMD and Nvidia components. PROS Gorgeous 16-inch, 4K OLED display with high color gamut coverage
Gorgeous 16-inch, 4K OLED display with high color gamut coverage Unique Asus Dial provides contextual input for Adobe Creative Suite apps
Unique Asus Dial provides contextual input for Adobe Creative Suite apps AMD Ryzen 9, Nvidia RTX 3070 GPU ready for demanding creative workloads CONS Keyboard truncated to make room for dial
Keyboard truncated to make room for dial Slow storage throughput in testing Sold By List Price Price Amazon $1,649.99 $1,649.99 See It (Opens in a new window) Asus $1,599.99 $1,599.99 See It (Opens in a new window) Read Our Asus ProArt Studiobook 16 OLED (H5600) Review
Lenovo ThinkPad P17 Gen 2 Fastest Workstation Laptop for Data, 3D Rendering 4.0 Excellent Bottom Line: Lenovo's big, burly ThinkPad P17 Gen 2 is barely portable, but otherwise could be the ultimate mobile workstation. PROS Spectacular CPU and GPU performance
Spectacular CPU and GPU performance Superbly bright and colorful 17.3-inch display
Superbly bright and colorful 17.3-inch display First-class keyboard
First-class keyboard Full complement of ports
Full complement of ports Optional 4G LTE
Optional 4G LTE Tons of configuration choices CONS Huge and heavy
Huge and heavy No OLED or touch screen option
No OLED or touch screen option Expensive Sold By List Price Price Amazon $2,050.00 $1,884.31 See It (Opens in a new window) Read Our Lenovo ThinkPad P17 Gen 2 Review
HP Envy 16 Fastest OLED Laptop 4.5 Outstanding Bottom Line: HP's OLED-screened Envy 16 is poised to upset some famous, four-lettered, 15.6-inch power-user portables. PROS Gorgeous 4K OLED touch screen
Gorgeous 4K OLED touch screen Fancy 5-megapixel webcam
Fancy 5-megapixel webcam Great performance and battery life
Great performance and battery life Robust GeForce RTX 3060 GPU CONS A bit heavy
A bit heavy 60Hz display won't satisfy hardcore gamers Sold By List Price Price HP $1,389.99 $1,389.99 See It (Opens in a new window) Read Our HP Envy 16 Review
Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio Fastest Laptop Designed for Pen Input 4.0 Excellent Bottom Line: Packed with innovative features, Microsoft's Surface Laptop Studio presages a new breed of laptop for creative pros who are pen-input devotees. One big quibble: Performance isn’t nearly class-leading. PROS Unique pull-forward touch screen
Unique pull-forward touch screen Excellent keyboard
Excellent keyboard Groundbreaking haptic touchpad
Groundbreaking haptic touchpad Robust digital stylus support, including magnetic holder
Robust digital stylus support, including magnetic holder 120Hz screen refresh rate
120Hz screen refresh rate Long battery life CONS Disappointing performance, even with upgraded Core i7 and RTX 3050 Ti
Disappointing performance, even with upgraded Core i7 and RTX 3050 Ti Only two USB ports
Only two USB ports Pricey Sold By List Price Price Amazon $2,699.99 $2,379.49 See It (Opens in a new window) Microsoft Store $1,599.99 $1,599.99 See It (Opens in a new window) Read Our Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio Review
Buying Guide: The Fastest Laptops for 2022
The idea of speed in a laptop can be sliced a bunch of ways, but in practical terms, you can look at it in terms of (1) CPU processing power and (2) graphical prowess for tasks such as PC gaming, 3D rendering, or graphics-accelerated content creation. The two are very different things, and we benchmark-test all of the systems that we review with both kinds of speed in mind.
Some laptops are strong in one area and not the other. For example, it's possible to have a notebook with a top-end processor packing lots of cores and threads, but paired with a minimal graphics solution. (Perhaps that is just the processor's integrated graphics silicon, historically no match for a discrete graphics chip.) A laptop like this would net you great performance on programs and workloads that take advantage of lots of CPU resources, but little in the way of power for gaming or applications that rely on graphics acceleration.
(Credit: Molly Flores)
Likewise, having a dedicated graphics processor, the beefier the better, is the key for speed in games. Most of the time, CPU speed will contribute to the gaming equation insofar as it isn't a limiter or bottleneck for the graphics chip.
Now, the prescription for either need—speed for raw processing, or speed for graphics—is to pack in as potent a main processor or graphics processing unit (GPU) as you can. But when you do that, it illustrates the interplay of three key factors in laptop design: cost, power consumption, and thermals.
Higher-powered CPUs or GPUs on a given platform tend to (1) cost more, (2) require more electricity when fully engaged, and (3) run hotter when taxed to the max. That's why buffed-up gaming laptops or high-powered mobile workstations tend to be thick, heavy, expensive beasts. Their high-end chips not only cost more, but they require more space and weighty thermal hardware to keep cool.
The best of all possible worlds—maximum graphics and CPU power, maximum battery life, and thin, light design—is a goal ever out of reach. Rather, laptop design is always a trade-off of these factors, where it's not possible to twist all three of these knobs to 10.
Which CPU Type Is Best for a Laptop?
The fastest laptops, from a raw-CPU perspective, tend to fall into four classes. The first is made up of business machines with top-end processors but integrated graphics. You'll find them under top vendors' business brands, such as Latitude for Dell, ThinkPad for Lenovo, and EliteBook for HP.
The second consists of high-end gaming laptops that pair a powerful mobile GPU, chosen to blaze through the latest games at a level appropriate for the laptop's screen, with a CPU that is at least sufficient not to hamper the graphics chip. (That malady, when it affects a PC game, is often dubbed being "CPU-limited.")
Next are mobile workstations, productivity-minded laptops designed for professional content creation and data analysis and often optimized for the specific advanced applications they use. (This is often referred to in workstation marketing lingo as independent software vendor or ISV certification; these laptops cost their premium, in part, because of it.) You can identify these machines either by brand, such as HP's ZBook and Dell's Precision, or by the Nvidia RTX A series (formerly, Quadro) GPUs they carry.
Finally, some notebooks such as Asus' ProArt Studiobook 16 OLED and HP's ZBook Create G7 target creative pros such as video editors and game designers. They overlap with mobile workstations but lack those systems' ISV certifications for specialized apps. (They may feature Nvidia GeForce RTX rather than RTX A-series/Quadro GPUs, for instance.) Both high-speed and stunning high-resolution screens are featured here.
(Credit: Molly Flores)
Most Intel CPU names end in a capital letter or two, which tells you a bunch about their identities. Any Core chip ending with an "H" is a maximum-power mobile chip with (depending on the specific chip) up to 24 processing threads that your software can tap via a feature known as Hyper-Threading. Not all CPUs support Hyper-Threading, but if the programs you run are fully multi-threaded (that is, able to take advantage of all available computing threads when performing demanding tasks), this will be a big plus.
In business laptops, you'll tend to see the H-series chips only in weighty models meant for heavy calculation work or data analysis. However, you'll see the H-series in almost all gaming laptops, and in many mobile workstations. Some high-end workstation laptops make use of Intel's Xeon processors, which are at heart server chips specially designed for the demands of accelerating specialized advanced-calculation and content-creation programs, as well as for running all-out for extended periods of time. But a Core i7 or Core i9 H-series is more common, and definitely the sign of a legitimately high-end configuration.
CPUs ending in "U" or "G3," "G5," or "G7," on the other hand, signify an ultramobile processor. These are lower-power chips designed to work in slimmer, lighter laptops that have limited thermal headroom. Now, depending on what you do with your laptop, these can be perfectly fine CPUs. You'll be able to do everyday business or office tasks on a Core i5 or Core i7 of this kind with no complaints, and on the best of them, demanding content-creation tasks will be possible without painful delays. Just know that the H-series is where the real muscle is in laptop land.
(Credit: Zlata Ivelva)
Also, starting with its 12th Gen Core CPUs, Intel recently introduced a new "P" class of laptop processors, which fall between the U and H classes. These are for mainstream performance systems and employ the company's hybrid architecture, with high-performance and efficiency-minded cores (P-cores and E-cores) co-existing in the same chip. For much more about the nuances of laptop CPUs, see our deep-dive article on how to choose the best laptop processor.
What about Intel's rival, AMD? The company's Ryzen and Ryzen Pro mobile processors have historically tilted more toward office apps and moderate gaming (with integrated graphics that often top Intel's) than the full-tilt gaming and workstation prowess of the best separate CPU and GPU combinations. But the Ryzen 4000 series mobile CPUs that debuted in 2020 changed that in a big way. AMD's subsequent Ryzen 5000 and Ryzen 6000 mobile processors can slug it out with (and even top) Intel's best, and are used in many creative and professional laptops in 2022.
Finally, we come to Apple's MacBooks, where the above Intel and AMD information no longer applies. In 2020, Apple began using its own silicon in its laptops rather than Intel processors. The most recent MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro utilize the latest M2 processor, the second generation of Apple's homegrown CPUs. In our testing of these systems (and the original M1 chips), we found them to be fast and impressive.
(Credit: Molly Flores)
In a way, Apple's switch to its own processors takes the decision out of your hands, because you're choosing within a much smaller band of CPUs. The M1 chips do have some variation (the M1 Pro and M1 Max are boosted versions of the base chip), but the equivalent has not yet launched (yet) for M2. The real decision is whether to stick with a Windows system and the processor options above if you're already in that ecosystem, or jump over to macOS.
Understanding Laptop Graphics Performance: Power for Play and Content Creation
If the kind of speed you are after is for PC gaming, what you need is a laptop with a dedicated graphics chip, or GPU. Most of the leading-edge gaming laptops these days use various flavors of Nvidia's GeForce mobile chips, with the RTX 30 series (model numbers in the 3000s) the current kings of the hill.
If your laptop has a 1080p (1,920-by-1,080-pixel) display, a GeForce RTX 3050 or higher chip will generally suffice, if you play modern games at high settings. The RTX 3070 is usually a good match for a resolution of 2,560 by 1,440 pixels (or 1080p, if you want to buy with an eye to the future), while a GeForce RTX 3080 or 3080 Ti will be overkill for 1080p but a good starting point for gaming on a 4K (3,840-by-2,160-pixel) screen. That said, most gamers stick to 1080p.
(Credit: Molly Flores)
If you'll use your gaming laptop with an external monitor or monitors that have a higher resolution than the laptop's built-in screen, you might consider a GPU that's several steps ahead of the laptop's own screen. Otherwise, you'll want to match the performance of the GPU with the upper limits of the laptop's own panel.
One wrinkle to all of this is the emergence of high-refresh-rate displays in laptops. A typical 60Hz laptop display (which redraws the screen 60 times per second) won't show much benefit from frame rates in excess of 60 frames per second (fps). If your high-powered GPU can churn in a given game at a consistent 100fps, you won't see much added smoothness. However, all of the latest gaming laptops now ship with high-refresh panels capable of rewriting at 120Hz, 144Hz, or even 300Hz. These screens can make use of those extra frames for smoother game play, and can justify a high-powered GPU paired with a 1080p screen. (For more on the topic, see our explainer Does Your Gaming Laptop Need a High-Refresh-Rate Screen?)
(Credit: Molly Flores)
On a related note, laptops with screens that support Nvidia's G-Sync technology are worth looking out for. In these, the screen rewrites at the same rate that the GPU churns out frames, in essence adjusting the refresh rate dynamically. This reduces screen artifacts and "tearing" (in which parts of the screen misalign for a beat as they are rendered). With a high-refresh screen, a top-notch GPU will be better leveraged; with G-Sync, a marginal one will be enhanced.
Another factor, if you're shopping for a maxed-out laptop, is virtual reality compatibility. You'll want to look for a model with a GeForce GTX 1660 Ti or higher GPU if you mean to run a virtual reality headset. It's best to opt for the right GPU now if you might want to explore VR later, as you can't upgrade the GPU after the fact. (See our guide to the best laptops for VR.)
We've mentioned one Nvidia technology, G-Sync. You may encounter another one called Max-Q, which dials back the speed of a GeForce graphics chip slightly in order to reduce its operating temperature, letting you get, say, an RTX 2070 or RTX 3070 in a thinner laptop with quieter cooling fans than would otherwise be possible.
Does Storage or Memory Make a Computer Faster?
Assessing storage speed is more straightforward than weighing CPUs or GPUs. The storage solutions in today's laptops fall into three classes: hard drives, SATA solid-state drives (SSDs), and PCI Express SSDs. That sequence is a fair summary of their relative speed (slowest, faster, fastest) and their relative cost (least to most expensive, in terms of cost per gigabyte).
These days, the fastest laptops all use PCI Express SSDs, and indeed, this class of drive is taking over the field. These are either implemented as M.2 drives (see our guide to the best M.2 solid-state drives) or soldered down to the motherboard, and top out in most configurations at 1TB or 2TB. PCI Express describes the bus pathway that your data takes when using these drives, and it is often associated today with the term "NVMe," a protocol for making the most of PCI Express drives' speeds. Both are good buzzwords to look out for. The alternative to a PCI Express SSD is Serial ATA or SATA, which is perfectly serviceable in an SSD but is yesterday's interface. Often, a laptop vendor won't differentiate between the two.
(Credit: Molly Flores)
If you're looking to maximize real and perceived speed in a laptop, the boot drive should be an SSD, and preferably a PCI Express/NVMe one. If the laptop has a hard drive, it should be implemented as a secondary drive used for bulk storage. You're more likely to see such dual-drive arrangements in larger laptops.
As for assessing the RAM in the system, it's an exercise in making sure you get enough for your typical tasks without overpaying or underestimating. 8GB is the barest minimum we'd settle for in a power laptop, with 16GB a much better baseline. Getting even more can make sense if you make use of RAM-hogging content-creation apps like Adobe Photoshop or Premiere Pro. If you're outfitting a tricked-out gaming laptop, 16GB ought to do.
Which Are the Fastest Laptops to Buy?
The laptops below in our detailed spec breakout chart are very good places to start looking if absolute speed is a key concern for you. We looked at Cinebench and Handbrake benchmark scores for a measure of raw CPU speed and multithreaded power; these tests tax a CPU to its limits on all cores and threads. We also checked out 3DMark scores for a measure of graphics processing capability, and PCMark 10 results for office productivity and overall system performance. (Click through to the actual reviews linked below for details and much more performance talk.)
Use these as launching points for your laptop search. Remember, many of these models can be bought in lesser or brawnier configurations, so the limit tends to be how much money you have, and how much hardware a laptop maker can stuff in a 15- or 17-inch-screened chassis within thermal and practical limits.
You'll also find more speedy, powerful choices in our roundups of the best gaming laptops and the best mobile workstations. Other top performers can be found in our roundups of the best ultraportables and the top 2-in-1 convertible laptops.
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