Finding the right laptop
The best laptop is the one that meets your computing needs. If, like most people, you use a computer primarily for light duty tasks -- reading and writing email, posting on Facebook, streaming movies and music, playing casual games, writing a document in Microsoft Word, etc. -- a mainstream laptop costing $1,000 or less will almost certainly be just fine. At the higher end of that range, you can find surprisingly powerful laptops, including some configurations of the Apple MacBook Air (though see our discussion on Apple laptops for more on the possible future of system).
We also found some cheap laptops priced at $400 and below with enough power for everyday use, including some that sport a touchscreen display. Many run the full Windows 10 operating system, others use Google Chrome instead. For basic tasks such as web browsing and streaming video, a cheap Chromebook could be all you need. However, they are not the best choice for more intensive use, or if you need to run specific applications like Microsoft Office. They also work best if you have dependable, steady access to the Internet. New for 2016, some Chromebooks will be able to access the full Google Play app store and run most of the Android apps that can be found there.
This report also covers more powerful computers that are designed for serious work and, especially, serious play. High-end gamers demand the power to fire their way through intense 3D games with the smoothest action and the highest possible detail. These kinds of systems are sometimes custom built by boutique firms with cutting edge graphics and other enhancements, and often carry prices that soar into the stratosphere. However, for those gamers who can settle for a system that's simply lightning fast, we name a gaming rig that can satisfy your hunger for action without dinging your wallet too badly
When it comes to laptops, the only constant is change
For most product categories -- including most technology products -- life cycles are measured in years. For laptops, especially Windows laptops, they are sometimes measured in months or even weeks as makers are constantly tweaking configurations to take advantage of even small changes in available technologies and components, either to keep a competitive edge or merely to hit a price point.
Most of these tweaks are small -- showing up as incremental changes in benchmark tests (and not always for the better) but they rarely have very much of an impact on real-world performance. Other changes can be more significant; for example, a step up to a new generation microprocessor can render earlier reviews obsolete -- and many makers (such as Apple) are now re-using model names without noting hardware changes, be they big or small. Complicating matters even more, laptops bearing the same -- or very similar -- model names can come in a host of sometimes substantially different versions ranging from preconfigured models sold only through a specific retailer to user-customized configurations sold directly by the manufacturer.
The bottom line is that the recommendations in this report should be used primarily as a starting point. The specific configurations available when you are ready to purchase may vary. However, we provide the hardware details -- processor, graphics, memory and storage -- for each laptop we recommend. Match those up to the closest available models -- or custom configure your laptop yourself -- and performance should be as good as, or better than, the reviewed configuration. Other aspects of the laptop -- ergonomics, aesthetics, build quality, support, etc. -- should be consistent regardless of how much a manufacturer has overhauled the innards.
How we picked the best laptops
To find the best laptops we scour feedback from expert reviewers, such as PCMag.com, Laptop Magazine, ComputerShopper.com, CNET and others, and user feedback at sites such as BestBuy.com and Amazon.com. We consider not only performance but also factors such as ergonomics, design and value, as well as which laptop makers do the best job of standing by you if trouble crops up. While these Best Reviewed laptops rise to the top, there are a bevy of laptops that don't fall very much behind, and some of those are able enough performers to make them worthy of serious consideration as well.