The best laptops for work and play
The best laptop is one that meets your computing needs. If you use a computer primarily for surfing the Internet or composing documents, a mainstream laptop costing $850 or less will probably be just fine. We cover these models separately in our report on cheap laptops.
This report covers full-featured laptops -- both PCs and Macs -- suitable for serious work or serious play. Business users and frequent travelers might want to look first at ultraportable notebooks that weigh less than 4.5 pounds and typically have very good battery life. Intel's Ultrabooks, for example, require at least five hours of battery life but aren't the most powerful laptops available. Experts say they're great for everyday computing, but most don't recommend them for gaming or intensive number crunching, graphics rendering or multimedia tasks.
Convertible laptops feature clever touch screens that either fold away or detach to let you use them as a laptop or a tablet. Convertibles pack Ultrabook-like specs, so they're fine for everyday tasks but not for heavy-duty gaming and similar tasks.
At the other end of the spectrum are powerful desktop replacement, gaming and multimedia laptops. Desktop replacement models are a good choice for mainstream users who don't care about portability. Although they often weigh much more than 5 pounds, desktop replacements have enough firepower to serve as your primary computer. Gaming laptops add discrete graphics processors and dedicated graphics memory, so you can fire your way through the most intense first-person shooters. Multimedia-focused laptops sport movie-friendly features like 3D displays, wireless streaming technology and Blu-ray Disc drives.
To find the best laptops, experts run benchmark and real-life stress tests such as 3D gaming, video streaming and graphics crunching. Features such as beautiful displays, rich-sounding speakers and comfortable keyboards, and silky-smooth touchpads and touch screens earn bonus points. Owners are polled to find out which laptop brands prove durable, and one professional source puts customer service to the test by having staffers go undercover with tech-support questions.
We scour hundreds of reviews from about two dozen sources to find the best laptops on the market. 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.