How we test laptops
By Michael Passingham
How we test laptops in a nutshell
Our reviews answer common laptop questions such as:
- What’s the laptop screen and sound quality like?
- What’s it like to use day-to-day?
- How long does the battery last?
- How fast is it?
- Should I buy it?
What makes a Best Buy laptop?
Which? tests laptops to help you find the best model for your lifestyle, whether you’re looking for a quick, light ultra-portable laptop, a powerhouse desktop replacement model or something in between.
The best laptops are quick, can multitask with ease, are simple to set up and feel great to use, from their crisp screens to their quality speakers.
We subject each laptop to a barrage of technical tests, as well as placing them under the scrutinising eyes and ears of our lab experts, so we can give you a verdict you can trust to help you choose your new laptop with confidence.
Every laptop goes through the same tests in our lab, so you can directly compare their strengths and weaknesses.
What's the laptop screen and sound quality like?
To assess the quality of the screen, we use technical and subjective tests, and take measurements of the screen colour temperature and brightness. Our panel of experts also cast their eyes over the screen in different lighting conditions.
- Colour and brightness We run technical tests to measure the accuracy of colours on the screen and the maximum brightness, so you can avoid wishy-washy looking models. Our experts also check the viewing angle of the screen.
- Reflections Glossy screens can look great, but if you're working with a lamp or window behind you the reflections can make it virtually impossible to see what's on screen and leave you straining your eyes. We look out for this in every laptop we test.
- Sound using the speakers and headphones There are big differences in the sound quality on laptops, particularly if you're using the speakers - poor sound can ruin a movie, but using headphones can improve on the built-in speakers.
What's the laptop like to use day-to-day?
- Everyday tasks From opening the laptop and starting it up, to surfing the net, typing documents, making a Skype call and listening to music, our testers try out each laptop to see how easy they are to use for everyday tasks.
- The feel of the laptop We also assess the feel of the keyboard and spacing of the keys, the responsiveness of the trackpad, plus the spacing of the connections and ports - these can sometimes be too close to fit in two USB memory sticks side-by-side. If the screen is too heavy and so wobbles every time you type, we'll let you know..
- On the move We weigh the laptop as well as the cables and charger, so whether you're on a day trip with a fully charged laptop, or away for the week with the whole kit and caboodle, you can find a portable laptop that will put the least strain on your shoulders when you're carrying it around.
How fast is the laptop?
- Boot speed We time how long each laptop takes to start up and reboot to the main screen if the laptop's gone to sleep while you were off doing something else.
- Copying and ripping data If you're copying a lot of photos to your laptop, you don't want it to take forever. We test the speed that each laptop can copy files over wi-fi and ethernet connections and from a USB stick or flash drive.
- Technical tests Our lab runs a number of technical test to assess the performance of laptop's core components. These tests push the limits of the processor, memory, hard drive and graphics, ensuring we receive an accurate picture of how each model copes with the different workloads.
How long does the laptop battery last?
A laptop battery will run down faster with some tasks than others, so we test the battery time per charge of each laptop when web browsing and watching movies.
The best models we've tested achieve more than double the battery running time of the worst laptops, giving you hours more time surfing the web.
Our lab experts play a movie from the hard disk over and over again to see how much movie time you'll get from a charge of the battery. Some struggle to last two hours. In the space of a year of testing our lab experts have played 'The Adjustment Bureau' more than 200 times - that's a lot of Matt Damon.
Should I buy it?
We give the laptops we review a total test score, so you can easily see which are the best and worst and directly compare models to each other.
The score we give each laptop is made up of a combination of the elements of our tests, ignoring price. The scoring break down is different for large screen (15- to 17-inch) and small screen (10- to 14-inch) because they tend to be designed for different users and so are not necessarily easy to compare outright.
For example, the portability rating for large laptops is relatively low, as we don't think these behemoths - unlikely to stray too far from your desk - should be penalised too harshly for lacking portability.
Large screen laptops (15- to 17-inch)
- Ease of use ........................... 30%
- Performance ...................... 27.5%
- Screen & sound quality ..... 22.5%
- Battery .................................. 10%
- Portability ............................... 5%
- Features .................................. 5%
Small screen laptops (10- to 14-inch)
- Ease of use ............................ 25%
- Battery .................................. 20%
- Performance .......................... 20%
- Screen & sound quality ........ 15%
- Portability .............................. 15%
- Features .................................. 5%
Large screen laptops Best Buys must score 74% or above while portable small screen machines have to score 73% to be Best Buys. Any brand which scores two stars or fewer in our laptop reliability survey is incapable of receiving a Best Buy award for its laptops - no matter how good those laptops may be. They're simply too unreliable to recommend without reservation.