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How to buy the best laptop

How to buy the best laptop

By Adam Marshall

Article 1 of 6

With so many laptops for sale, Which? will help you narrow down the options. From cheap laptops to top-of-the-range ultrabooks, here’s how to find the perfect model for you.

Put us to the test

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What makes the best laptop isn’t entirely based on technical specs – it also comes down to what suits your individual needs. You may want a model with super-long battery life, or the one that has the sharpest, brightest display. Do you want to watch movies on it? Or do you simply need a portable workstation?

With so much variation in laptop prices and specifications, this guide will help you find one that suits both your personal needs and your budget. Whether you're after a Windows PC, Apple MacBook or even a Chromebook, read on to help work out which would make the perfect new laptop for you.

Or you can head straight to our Best Buy laptops, to discover the models that Which? recommends.

Buying the best laptop for you

To help being your journey of picking the ideal computer, our dedicated interactive tool will walk you through the key features and buying decisions to consider – as well as whether you'd be better suited to a Windows or Mac model.

If you like the look Apple's machines, you can head straight to our Mac reviews to find the model for you. If it's Windows your prefer, there are loads of brands to choose from including Lenovo laptops, HP laptops and Asus laptops.

Cheap laptops

Budget laptops aren't necessarily terrible – and if all you need it for is word processing and browsing the internet, then you can get something suitable for less than £500. In fact, we've reviewed Best Buy laptops that cost under £200.

£150The price of the cheapest laptop we’ve recently tested

If all you're after is a low-priced laptop for basic everyday tasks, then check out our best cheap laptops for under £500 page. Take a look to see just how far a shoestring budget can go.

Best laptops on test

Apple MacBook Air 13
Today's best price £789.77
Which? score 94%
Tested Nov 2016
Best Buy
Ease of Use:
5 out of 5
Performance:
5 out of 5
Screen quality:
5 out of 5
Portability:
4 out of 5
Battery:
5 out of 5
Screen size (inches):
Member exclusive
Resolution (pixels):
Member exclusive
Weight (kg):
Member exclusive
Processor:
Member exclusive

Best MacBook

Not only is this the best MacBook on test, it's actually the very finest laptop we've ever tested. Delivering both style and substance, we can barely fault it.

Dell XPS 13
Typical price £1,049.00
Which? score 89%
Tested Dec 2016
Best Buy
Ease of Use:
5 out of 5
Performance:
4 out of 5
Screen quality:
5 out of 5
Portability:
4 out of 5
Battery:
5 out of 5
Screen size (inches):
Member exclusive
Resolution (pixels):
Member exclusive
Weight (kg):
Member exclusive
Processor:
Member exclusive

Best Windows laptop

One of the best-constructed and most pleasant to use laptops around. It's a genuine match for the Apple MacBook range.

HP Envy 15
Today's best price £719.00
Which? score 82%
Tested Sep 2016
Best Buy
Ease of Use:
5 out of 5
Performance:
5 out of 5
Screen quality:
4 out of 5
Portability:
3 out of 5
Battery:
4 out of 5
Screen size (inches):
Member exclusive
Resolution (pixels):
Member exclusive
Weight (kg):
Member exclusive
Processor:
Member exclusive

Best large screen laptop

If you're looking for something to replace your traditional desktop PC, then you may just have found it. It features a 15-inch display and power in abundance.

Lenovo Yoga 900S
Today's best price £959.00
Which? score 74%
Tested Jul 2016
Best Buy
Ease of Use:
4 out of 5
Performance:
4 out of 5
Screen quality:
3 out of 5
Portability:
5 out of 5
Battery:
4 out of 5
Screen size (inches):
Member exclusive
Resolution (pixels):
Member exclusive
Weight (kg):
Member exclusive
Processor:
Member exclusive

Best portable laptop

Tipping the scales at lighter than 1kg, this is the ideal laptop for working on your commute and films on the go. It has a decent processor and is easy to use, as well.

Asus E200
Today's best price £199.66
Which? score 73%
Tested Jun 2016
Best Buy
Ease of Use:
4 out of 5
Performance:
2 out of 5
Screen quality:
3 out of 5
Portability:
5 out of 5
Battery:
5 out of 5
Screen size (inches):
Member exclusive
Resolution (pixels):
Member exclusive
Weight (kg):
Member exclusive
Processor:
Member exclusive

Best budget laptop

We couldn't quite believe how good this bargain basement laptop is. Despite its size, it feels really well made. And the battery keeps going and going and going...

Ultrabooks and portable laptops

While you may have heard the term ‘ultrabook’ quite often a few years ago, it has since gone out of fashion. We might simply refer to them as ‘high-end’ or ‘premium’ laptops nowadays, but there’s no real definition for them – you’ll simply know one when you see one.

These laptops are some of the best of the best, with attractive and slim builds, super-powerful specs, dazzling displays and hefty price tags to match. Think something along the lines of the Apple MacBook or the Microsoft Surface Book.

The lightest laptop we’ve ever tested weighs in at less than 1kg, and still packs a processing punch

A slimline model doesn't have to cost the earth, though. We review plenty of 10 to 14-inch models that are light enough to shove in your bag and take from place to place. Look for something that weighs no more than 1.5kg.

Large-screen laptops

If you're a home user that's accustomed to a traditional desktop PC, it may seem a bit daunting to make the change to a laptop. But it needn't be – many 15 and 17-inch laptops have the same features that you'll be used to, such as DVD drives, ethernet ports and comfortable large keyboards. You can even plug in your old mouse via a USB connector.

And if the whole family uses one computer, these large-screen machines usually have plenty of space to store files, photos and music, and enough power to handle everyday tasks.

1TBThe minimum amount of storage you should look for in a family laptop

Laptop features explained

The amount of technical specifications and jargon used by laptop manufacturers and retailers is dizzying. To ensure that your pick has what you need, read on. And if you're still umming and ahhing over a feature that we haven't covered, head to our computers glossary for more jargon busting.

Storage space

Storage capacity, measured in the size of the hard drive in gigabytes (GB) or terabytes (TB, equal to 1,000GB), determines how many things your PC can hold. Documents, photos, music, movies, programs – they all take up space. Bigger is usually better, although solid-state drives (SSDs) are usually more expensive for considerably less space. This is because they load much quicker and are completely silent.

Processors

The processor is the brain of your laptop, and this is one component that can really ramp up the price of a laptop. Generally, the more gigahertz (GHz) a processor has, the faster it will be. But they also come as dual, quad, hexa or octa-core – the more cores, the better it will be at running multiple programs at once.

Because of the different elements available, it can be tricky to unpick exactly whether one laptop is faster than another. Is a 2.5GHz dual-core processor better or worse than a 2GHz quad-core? In our tests, we use industry-recognised benchmarking to tell you which laptops are the fastest and those whose processors move at a glacial pace.

Most computers run off an Intel Core chip. The i7 is the fastest on the market, but the i3 and i5 will normally have plenty of power for opening multiple browser tabs at once and carrying out office tasks smoothly. If you see the words Pentium, Celeron or Atom, these are Intel's older chips and are normally towards the bottom end of the performance register. Some laptops have AMD chips instead – the K10 series is the newest and fastest.

Memory (Ram)

Not to be confused with storage space, memory is measured in ‘Ram’ (random access memory) and determines how much information your computer can store in its short-term memory. Hard-drive storage represents its long-term memory. More Ram means faster load times and smoother switching between programs. The standard for Ram nowadays is 4GB or 8GB, with anything more being a bonus; 2GB of Ram will be painfully slow.

Screen size and resolution

A laptop’s screen is one case where bigger isn’t always better. If you want a longer-lasting battery and a more portable device, then you may want to go for an 11, 12 or 13-inch display. The largest you're likely to see is 15 or 17 inches.

We'd recommend not settling for a screen resolution of lower than 1,366 x 768px (HD), with 1,920 x 1,080px (Full HD) usually being ideal. The more pixels, the sharper the picture.

Battery life

Manufacturers often make heady claims about how long their laptops' batteries last for. But our testing shows that these estimates are often rather exaggerated – the only way you can really know how long a battery will last is by reading our reviews. Find out more about our in-depth review methodology in our guide to how we test laptops.

If you're buying a portable laptop that you intend to use when travelling or on your commute, then make sure the battery life is at least six hours. We've tested some models that last for more than 10 hours before they need recharging. Battery stamina on desktop-replacement models won't be as crucial, as they'll almost always be near a power socket, but we still mark them down if they die after three to four hours.

Laptop ports and drives

Most modern laptops don’t come with built-in DVD drives, so we’ll be sure to make a point of it if one does. 

When it comes to ports, the more the merrier is the general rule. If you don’t have many accessories that need plugging in, though, then you needn’t worry too much. USB 3.0 is considerably faster than USB 2.0, too, so look out for those wherever possible. And some laptops are now fitted with USB-C connections. This is the latest standard of USB – it's faster and smaller than the older style of port, and also uses reversible connectors for easier use.

Chromebooks

We can see why Chromebooks end up on a lot of buyers' shortlists: they tend to be small, light and, most appealingly, cheap. Instead of Windows or MacOS, they run off Google's dedicated Chrome operating system, but they generally require you to be online to access your documents. We've explained exactly what a Chromebook is in our guide, which also includes some top models from our testing.

Now find the perfect laptop for you by checking out our laptop reviews.