Feature Story  

The best laptop you can buy in 2024

Wed, Jul 10, 2024
The laptop buzzword of 2024 is "AI PC" - notebooks that have neural processing units (NPUs) for AI-related tasks. But while it's smart to be aware of those systems, there are far more important things to consider beyond AI-savviness. It turns out buying a computer in 2024 isn't really that much different than in recent years: You'll still want to find something that balances power, weight and screen size with your computing needs.Out of the 10 notebooks we've reviewed in the first five months of 2024, we consider Apple's 13-inch MacBook Air M3 to be the best laptop for most people. It's powerful enough to handle most tasks (even light video editing); it has a great screen and built-in speakers; and its battery could last around 20 hours (depending on what you're doing, of course). The MacBook Air M3 is also one of the lightest and thinnest systems we've reviewed, and it's dead silent, thanks to a fanless design. While Apple has debuted its new M4 chip in the recent iPad Pro, we may not see it in the MacBook Air until next year. For now, the MacBook Air M3 is still an excellent laptop to buy.As for Windows laptops and Chromebooks, the recommendations are a bit more nuanced and varied. While the aforementioned AI features may dominate the news, the more traditional choices – between Intel and AMD CPUs, and whether or not you want a dedicated graphics chip (or GPU) – still stand. And unlike Macs, your options include systems with touchscreens, 2-in-1 convertible tablets and more. To that end, we have plenty of recently tested and recommended models from brands including HP, Dell and ASUS in this guide.It's also worth mentioning that Amazon Prime Day is right around the corner. We expect Prime Day laptop deals to discounted a multitude of machines, be they MacBooks, Windows laptops, Chrome OS machines and everything in between. Table of contents Best laptops of 2024 How we test and pick laptops Factors to consider when choosing a laptop Best laptops specs comparison chart Other laptops we've tested Laptop FAQs Recent updates Best laptops of 2024 Back to top How we test laptops Engadget has been reviewing laptops for two decades, and while the definition of what a portable PC is has changed considerably since, our obsession with testing their limits and serving up informative buying advice remains the same. Be it a hybrid tablet like Microsoft's Surface machines, a rotating 2-in-1 convertible like HP's Spectre x360s or a plain old clamshell notebook, our review process follows similar beats. How does it look and feel? How fast is it? Whether it's a Windows device, a MacBook or a Chromebook, we aim to answer the most important question: Is it actually worth your hard-earned cash? Back to top Factors to consider when choosing a laptop Price You can expect to spend between $1,000 and $1,800 for a new laptop these days, depending on the configuration. If you're looking for more of a workhorse, that could cost you well over $2,000 for additional RAM, storage, as well as a beefier GPU and CPU. But you can also find some good deals under $1,000 if you're willing to overlook build quality (or buy a refurbished or previous generation machine, which we highly recommend). Systems with AMD chips tend to come in cheaper than their Intel counterparts, but the bulk of their cost will come down to other components like RAM and storage. I've included our favorite affordable model in this best laptop buying guide, but we have a list of the best budget laptops that you can check out as well. Operating system: Apple, Windows or Chrome OS There's a good chance you've already committed to an operating system, but my advice is to be as flexible as possible. These days, most major software is compatible with both Macs and PCs. (Of course, it's another story if you've become dependent on an Apple-only app like Final Cut Pro.) Web-based apps, naturally, will work on any platform with an internet browser. If you're an Apple-loyalist, there aren't many reasons to consider Windows laptops (unless you want a secondary gaming machine). But for Windows users, macOS is becoming more tempting every year. Apple's MacBooks, powered by its M-series Silicon chips, are among the fastest and most efficient laptops we've ever seen. They're incredibly well-built and have tremendous battery life to boot. MacOS itself is also an easy platform to learn, especially if you're used to iOS and iPadOS. That brings up another point: iPhone users may want to consider Macs because of the seamless integration with Apple's other platforms. You can't respond to iMessage conversations easily or hop into FaceTime chats on Windows PCs, but doing so is simple on Macs. (Microsoft's Phone Link app lets you send iOS users individual texts, but not media or group chats.) Android users, meanwhile, may be better off with Windows, as Phone Link can make calls, synchronize all your texts and also access your phone's photos. As for whether you'll want a PC with a dedicated Copilot AI button on the keyboard, that depends on how often you see yourself using Microsoft's generative tools. Given we're only just seeing the first slate of AI PCs, it would be wiser to wait out the hype and see what improvements might come over time. And what about ChromeOS? Chromebooks are a smart and (typically) inexpensive way to browse the web and hop on a few video chats, but they're not the best choice as your primary computer. There aren't many apps or games that work offline, and they also don't work with powerful software suites like Adobe's (you can use the stripped-down Adobe Express and Photoshop online tools, though). Chromebooks are great secondary machines to use alongside a more powerful Mac or PC, and they're popular in schools because they're cheap and easy for IT workers to manage. And if all you need is web access, or a notebook for a kid, a Chromebook might be enough. If, for some reason, you're looking for a powerful ChromeOS system, there are also Chromebook Plus models to consider. These machines sport faster processors and more RAM than typical Google notebooks, and they can also tap into a few of the company's online AI features, like AI image generation and photo processing. Ports and connectivity These days, most laptops ship with a few USB-C ports, which can handle both charging and speedy data transfers. Apple's MacBooks also include a separate connection for MagSafe power, and you'll find custom power connections on some PCs like Microsoft's Surface. Older USB Type-A connections are less common now, but they still pop up in systems like HP's Spectre x360 14, as well as many models from ASUS. If you're a fan of wired headphones, it's worth keeping a close eye on headphone jack availability. Many ultra-slim laptops, like Dell's XPS 13, don't have the 3.5mm socket entirely. They usually include a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter, but that's a clunky solution, and it also takes up a USB port. Sure, most people use wireless earbuds and cans today, but it's still helpful to have a wired one around for when those devices run out of juice. Most laptops in 2024 offer Wi-Fi 6 or 6E and Bluetooth 5.0 or later, which should mean faster and more stable connections if you have compatible routers and devices. While Wi-Fi 7 routers have started appearing, that spec hasn't made its way into laptops yet. As for cellular coverage, there are notebooks like the Surface Pro 9 and Samsung Galaxy Book models that offer integrated 5G. But from our testing, that feature may not be worth the cost of a separate data plan. Instead, you could tether to your smartphone or invest in a wireless hotspot that can keep multiple devices online. Laptop size and weight So how portable do you want your laptop to be? That's the ultimate question you need to ask when choosing between various screen sizes. 13-inch machines have become a solid starting point for most shoppers - it's enough real estate for the majority of tasks like emailing and writing, and it also helps keep machines relatively light (typically between two to three pounds). Thanks to manufacturing advancements, these dainty machines sometimes even come with larger screens (the smaller MacBook Air actually has a 13.6-inch display). If you have trouble seeing fine text, we'd recommend going for a display larger than 13 inches. ASUS's Zephyrus G14 is a solid 14-inch option for gamers, and we're also seeing more productivity-focused machines aim for that size, like the XPS 14 and MacBook Pro. While 14-inch notebooks are a bit heavier than 13-inch models, coming in between three to four pounds, their screens are noticeably roomier. For artists, or anyone else who needs a large canvas, a 15-inch laptop may make the most sense. They typically weigh between 3.5 and 4.5 pounds, but that extra heft may be worth it to fit wider video editing timelines or Photoshop windows. And, as you'd expect, you'll also pay a bit more for a 15-inch notebook compared to smaller ones (the 15-inch MacBook Air starts at $1,299, while the smaller model goes for $999). PC makers are also replacing 15-inch systems with 16-inch versions, which will give you even more space to work. You can still find laptops with 17-inch or 18-inch screens, but those are typically gaming systems or souped-up workstations. They're not meant for mere computing mortals. Battery life A laptop's battery life depends on several factors: The power draw from the screen and other hardware, the optimizations used to avoid unnecessary power drain, and, of course, the size of the actual battery. One of our favorite systems, the Dell XPS 13, lasted 13 hours and 15 minutes in the PCMark 10 battery benchmark. In real-world testing, I was able to use it for a day and a half without needing a recharge. The MacBook Air 13-inch, meanwhile, lasted 20 hours in our benchmark and kept running for more than two work days of my typical workflow. In general, you should expect a modern laptop to last at least eight hours. If battery life is your absolute priority, I'd strongly suggest looking at Macs over Windows PCs. Apple's M-series chips are essentially mobile hardware, with all of the power efficiency you'd expect from something originally designed for phones. Qualcomm's upcoming Snapdragon chips could help Windows PCs compete with Apple's astonishing battery life, but we've yet to see those in action. Chromebooks also typically get decent battery life (as long as you don't overstuff them with power-draining tabs). Refresh rate A laptop's refresh rate refers to the amount of times its screen is cycled every second. Modern displays like LCDs and OLEDs support 60Hz refresh rates at a minimum, but we're seeing more devices offering 120Hz, 240Hz and beyond. The higher the number, the faster the screen is refreshed, which ultimately leads to a smoother experience while mousing around or scrolling through web pages. (If you want to get a sense of what a slow refresh rate looks like, just grab an e-reader like the Kindle and try to flip between book pages.) While high refresh rates used to be reserved for gaming laptops, nowadays we're seeing more mainstream machines like the XPS 13 offer 120Hz (or variable rates that move between 60Hz and 120Hz). If there's one knock against the MacBook Air, it's that it's still stuck at 60Hz. CPU If you're buying a new laptop, you'll want to make sure it's powered by the latest CPUs. For Windows PCs, that includes Intel's Core Ultra chips for thin-and-light machines or the 14th-gen HX chips for beefier systems. The Core Ultra series have NPUs for handling AI tasks, while the HX hardware does not – they're based on Intel's previous chip architecture, and they're more focused on delivering raw horsepower. Intel's older 13th-gen and 12th-gen laptop chips also don't have NPUs, so keep that in mind if you're looking at used systems. You'll also see AMD's Ryzen 8000 and 9000 chips in plenty of new systems like the ASUS Zephyrus G14 and Razer Blade 14. Those CPUs mainly target gaming laptops and high performance systems, while you'll still find AMD's older Ryzen 7000 chips in ultraportables. AMD's main advantage is that its chips also include Radeon graphics, which are far more capable than Intel's Arc hardware (though those are getting better). Qualcomm's new Snapdragon X Elite and X Plus are also an option in Copilot+ PCs (more on those below). Since they're based on mobile chip designs, they're likely also more power efficient than AMD and Intel's hardware. In the past, we've avoided recommending Snapdragon chips because they led to a slow and frustrating Windows experience. But Microsoft claims it's rebuilt Windows 11 around Snapdragon's Arm-based architecture, which should lead to far faster performance and better app compatibility. As for Apple's laptops, you'll be choosing between the M3, M3 Pro and M3 Ultra, each of which is progressively more powerful. Apple is also keeping its older M2 chip around for the $999 MacBook Air, which is still a solid performer for the price. Apple's M4 chip made its debut in the recent iPad Pro, but it's not in any laptops yet (and it likely won't be until the end of 2024). GPU A GPU, or graphics processing unit, is the component that communicates directly with a laptop's display. Laptop CPUs all have some form of integrated GPU: Intel has either its standard graphics or beefier Arc hardware, while AMD's chips include fast Radeon mobile graphics. If you want to play demanding games at high speeds (measured in frames per second, or fps), or if you need some extra power for rendering video or 3D models, you can configure a laptop with a dedicated GPU like NVIDIA's RTX 40-series hardware or AMD's Radeon RX 7000. Just be sure to leave room in your budget if you want a powerful GPU, as they typically add $300 or more to the cost of a laptop. Apple's M-series chips, meanwhile, have GPU cores that can perform as well as NVIDIA's and AMD's lower-end dedicated GPUs. That's quite the accomplishment for systems like this (especially the MacBook Air and 14-inch MacBook Pro), and it's another reason we highly recommend Apple's notebooks. AI PCs, NPUs and Copilot+ Simply put, an AI PC is a computer equipped with a neural processing unit (NPU), which is designed to handle AI-related tasks. Much like how GPUs tackle heavy-duty gaming and rendering workloads, NPUs are designed to handle the complex math necessary for AI workloads. They're also far more power efficient than CPUs or GPUs, which could lead to better battery performance in laptops. While many factors go into NPU performance, for the most part we measure their potential speed by TOPS (tera operations per second). We were primed for AI PCs in 2024 based on the chips Intel and AMD announced late last year. Intel unveiled its "Core Ultra" CPUs in December, its first to include an NPU for AI work. AMD also announced its Ryzen 8040 AI mobile chips that month (and it couldn't help but say they were faster than Intel's new hardware). But in May, Microsoft announced its Copilot+ initiative, which is pushing major PC makers to deliver premium AI PCs with specifications including 16GB of RAM, 256GB SSDs and NPUs with at least 40 TOPS of AI performance. Copilot+ is more than just a marketing term: Microsoft is also launching AI-powered features in Windows 11 that take advantage of powerful NPUs. That includes Recall, which can help you locate anything you've done on your PC, as well as Cocreator in Paint, which can generate AI images based on text prompts and doodles. We haven't had a chance to test out the Surface Pro, Surface Laptop or other Copilot+ systems yet, but keep an eye out for our upcoming reviews. If you buy an AI PC that isn't Copilot+ certified, you'll still be able to use some features like Windows Studio Effects, which can blur your background in video calls or keep you in frame. Developers like Adobe and Audacity are also building features into their apps that can take advantage of NPUs. At the time of this post, Chromebook Plus notebooks can also access a few of Google's online AI features, like image generation and photo processing. Back to top Other laptops we tested that didn't make the cut Apple 15-inch MacBook Air M3 This Apple laptop is just a larger version of the 13-inch M3 MacBook Air. It's still quite portable at 3.3 pounds, and some will appreciating having just a tad more screen real estate all the time. Configuration options are the same as well; you can spec out the 15-inch Air with up to 24GB of RAM and 2TB of storage. But considering it starts off $200 more than the smaller model, it's primarily best for those who absolutely need a larger screen and are willing to pay for it. ASUS ZenBook 14 OLED Aside from its lovely OLED screen, the ASUS ZenBook 14 OLED doesn't stand out from the crowded laptop field in any way. It just looks dull and boring, especially compared to the strikingly beautiful ASUS Zephyrus G14, which also came out this year. While you can probably find the ZenBook 14 for a decent price, I'd recommend holding out for something with a bit more personality (and with a less wobbly screen hinge). Razer Blade 14 The Razer Blade has almost everything you'd want in a 14-inch gaming notebook, but it's far pricier than the Zephyrus G14 on this list, and it doesn't even have an SD card reader. It would be a solid competitor once its price falls a bit, and it's certainly a great option if you just have to have a jet-black laptop. Framework Laptop 16 Framework gave its modularity magic to the Laptop 16, delivering a gaming notebook where almost every single component is user replaceable. But you'll have to pay a pretty penny to snag it with upgraded hardware, and its optional Radeon 7700S GPU was surprisingly slow. Alienware m16 R2 The Alienware m16 r2 has been revamped with a slimmer case, but it's otherwise a fairly typical gaming laptop. It's a solid option for Alienware fans, but you'll find better hardware and deals elsewhere. ASUS ZenBook Duo (2024) The ZenBook Duo is a fascinating dual-screened notebook, and according to my colleague Sam Rutherford it's the first of its kind that's worth buying. But its unique hardware isn't really meant for mainstream consumers, and Windows 11 still doesn't support multi-screen setups well enough to make full use of the ZenBook Duo's ample canvas. Dell XPS 16 Dell's XPS 16 is big and beautiful, but it's far too expensive compared to the competition. Plus, it uses a capacitive row of function keys that you basically can't see under bright light and has too few ports for a machine of this size. See Also: Best Gaming Laptops for 2024 Best Cheap Windows Laptops Best 2-in-1 Laptops for 2024 Best Chromebooks Best Laptops for College Students Back to top Laptop FAQs What is the average battery life of a laptop per charge? It's hard to come up with an average battery life for laptops, since that will ultimately depend on what you're doing with them. An ultraportable like the MacBook Air that sips power can last around 20 hours in our battery benchmark, and around two full work days of real-world usage. But a gaming laptop may last only a few hours if you're actively playing something while on battery. At this point, Macs are delivering far better battery life than PCs, thanks to Apple's Silicon chips, but Microsoft claims Copilot+ systems with Qualcomm chips will also get over 20 hours of batter life. How much RAM do I really need? The more RAM you have, the more things your computer can do simultaneously. For that reason, we recommend buying PCs and Macs with at least 16GB of RAM. That gives you enough memory to have several applications open at once, as well as web browsers filled with RAM-hogging tabs. Many PC games also require at least 16GB of RAM. While you could use a system with 8GB of RAM for basic tasks, you'll quickly run into slowdowns and error messages as your apps stack up. Many laptops, especially ultraportables, don't let you upgrade RAM, too – so you'll have to buy an entirely new computer if you didn't equip enough memory at the start. If you're a hardcore gamer, programmer or planning to render videos or 3D models, then you may want to go for 32GB of RAM or more. And if you just need a secondary laptop for lighter work – perhaps a no-frills system for writing – then you can probably get by with 8GB. Just be sure to keep those browser tabs in check. What is the best storage capacity for a laptop? There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to laptop storage. You'll typically find configurations between 256GB and 1TB SSDs (solid state drives) on most laptops, and I'd recommend most people get at least 512GB. That'll be enough space for large apps, music and video files without stressing your system too much. If you're a media hoarder, or want to play a ton of games, then it's definitely worth getting a 1TB SSD. If you'll mainly be streaming your shows and music, and would rather invest in RAM or other hardware, then 256GB of storage would be serviceable. I'd recommend staying away from any machine with 128GB of storage though. Most of that will be taken up by the operating system, and you'll likely run into issues cramming in large apps after a few months. We recommend springing for extra built-in storage or investing in a portable SSD for backing up your most important files. It's also worth noting that Chromebooks tend to come with less built-in storage - 32GB, 64GB or 128GB - since ChromeOS encourages users to save their files in the cloud rather than on the device. In that case, 128GB is plenty. What's a good price range for a decent laptop in 2024? You can expect to spend between $1,000 and $1,800 for a typical 13-inch laptop today. As I explained above, you'll pay more if you want to stuff in more RAM or better GPU hardware. But you can also find deals below $1,000 if you look for refurbished or older-generation models. What's the difference between macOS and Windows? Which is better? Simply put, macOS is the operating system in all of Apple's notebooks and desktops, while Windows powers the vast majority of PCs. You'll also find Chromebooks running Google's ChromeOS, but those are basically just web browsers running on top of Linux. Debating the differences between Windows and Macs is something PC nerds have been doing since the '80s, so we won't be declaring a winner here. There are some small, negligible distinctions, like using a Command versus a Control key, how file explorers work and concerns about viruses and security. For the most part, those are minor issues or have become moot thanks to better built-in security. But if you care more about playing the newest games, you'll want to have a Windows system. If you're more focused on creative apps, like Photoshop, Premiere and Final Cut Pro, then macOS may be a better fit (especially if you're running an iPhone). What are the best laptop brands? There is no single "best" laptop brand, but judging from this guide alone, we're generally impressed by notebooks from Apple, Dell and ASUS. They all offer fast, reliable and sturdy machines. HP also makes some eye-catching devices if you want an option that's the most aesthetic. Those four brands, along with Lenovo and Acer, dominate laptop sales worldwide. We'd avoid systems from any retail store brands, or companies that don't have a major presence in the US. Back to top Best laptops specs comparison chart Product Tested configuration Tested battery life Rated battery life Apple MacBook Air M3 (13-inch) Apple M3, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD 21 hours Up to 18 hours Dell XPS 13 Intel Core Ultra 7 155H CPU, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD 13 hours Up to 18 hours ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14 AMD Ryzen 9 8945HS, 32GB RAM, 1TB SSD, NVIDIA GeForce RTX 4070 7.5 hours 10 hours Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 13th-gen Intel Core i3, 8GB RAM, 128GB storage 6 hours 10 hours HP Pavilion Aero AMD Ryzen 5800U, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD Up to 9.75 hours Up to 10.5 hours Apple MacBook Pro M3 (14-inch) Apple M3, 16GB RAM, 1TB SSD 24.5 hours 22 hours HP Spectre x360 14 Intel Core Ultra 7 155H, 32GB RAM, 2TB SSD 5 hours Up to 13 hours Back to top Recent updates June 6, 2024: Updated with more information about current AI PCs, Microsoft's Copilot+ initiative and the latest CPUs from Intel, AMD and Qualcomm. We've also added a FAQ query around RAM and updated the "Other laptops we've tested" section to include the Alienware m16 r2, Dell XPS 16 and ASUS ZenBook Duo. Back to topThis article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/best-laptops-120008636.html?src=rss
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