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The best laptops: Apple, Dell, Microsoft, and more compared

The best laptops offer clear displays, lightning-fast processing units, and all-day battery life.
Written by Taylor Clemons, Staff Writer on
Reviewed by Gabriela Jordan

Maybe you're intrigued by Apple's new MacBook Pro, or perhaps you're looking to upgrade from your 10-year-old laptop that's run its course. No matter the reason, now is a great time to buy a new laptop while snagging discounts on mid-range and high-end models for creative professionals and home use. Brands like Apple, Acer, and Microsoft offer laptops at various price points to suit almost any budget.

Also: The best laptop deals you can buy now

To help you find the best laptop for your home, office, or student, experts from across ZDNET have researched and tested each laptop that appears on this list to ensure you're getting the best value for your money. My pick for the best laptop is the MacBook Pro M2 16-inch for its incredible, 22-hour battery life, M2 Max chipset, and 120Hz display refresh rate. You can keep reading below to find out more about the MacBook Pro M2 16-inch as well as our other top picks.

The best laptops of 2023

Pros & Cons
  • M2 Max chip
  • 22 hour battery life
  • Best-sounding speakers of any laptop
  • Very expensive
  • Heavy to carry around
More Details

MacBook Pro M2 Max-16 inch features: Display size: 16.2-inches | Display type: Liquid Retina | Resolution: 3456 x 2234 | RAM: Up to 96GB | Storage: Up to 8TB | CPU: 12-core M2 Max | Battery life: Up to 22 hours of movie playback

Hitting the market earlier this year, the newest 16-inch MacBook Pro is powered by Apple's powerful M2 Max chip, which promises faster connectivity than the earlier generation -- M1-- chip. ZDNET went hands-on with the laptop, along with sports editor and producer, Tom Filip to test out the powerhouse features. 

Ultimately, both ZDNET's Reviews Editor, June Wan, and Filip found that the laptop touted faster performance when powering through pro-grade apps and services, making workflows even more efficient with an upgraded battery life. In what June calls a "testament to Apple's golden age of mobile computing," the $3,499 laptop is fast and impressive but could do with some upgrades like a lighter form factor and a notch that isn't as complacent with older, dated models. 

Review: Apple 16-inch MacBook Pro (M2 Max 2023): A content creator's dream machine

Pros & Cons
  • Lightweight and ultraportable for a 15-inch laptop
  • M2 chip is reliable
  • 18 hour battery life
  • Lack of utility ports
  • Slower refresh rate
More Details

MacBook Air 15-inch features: Display size: 15.3 inches | Display type: Liquid Retina | Resolution: 2560 x 1664 | RAM: Up to 24GB | Storage: Up to 2TB SSD | CPU: Apple Silicon M2 | Battery life: 18 hours

Will Apple's MacBook Air go two for two with winning ZDNET's title of product of the year? It might be a little early to make the official call, but so far, 2023's 15-inch model is quite impressive for its specs alone. Powered by an M2 chipset, a 1080p camera, and what looks to be a bright Liquid Retina display with an 18-hour battery life to boot, the 3.3-pound model is a lightweight powerhouse. 

"To keep it simple, besides the larger chassis and some upgrades under the hood, the new 15-inch MacBook Air is the same system as last year's 13-inch model," said ZDNET's Reviews Editor, June Wan after going hands-on with the unit. 

Overall, Wan is impressed by the newest Mac, even if the lack of utility ports and slower refresh display made it not necessarily the laptop for him. "This is the MacBook most people have been waiting for and is the one that most people should buy," he concludes. 

Review: I can't recommend the 15-inch MacBook Air enough, even if it's not for me 

Pros & Cons
  • Tons of configuration options
  • Excellent design pedigree
  • 4K display
  • Expensive
  • No Dolby Atmos or HDR support
  • No voice control integration
More Details

Dell XPS 17 features: Display size: 17 inches | Display type: LED | Resolution: 4K | CPU: Up to 13th Gen Intel Core i7 | RAM: Up to 64GB | Storage: Up to 8TB SSD | Battery life: 10 hours 

ZDNET reviewed the most recent Dell XPS 17 in July and gave it the top spot in our list of the best 17-inch laptops. The latest iteration of XPS 17 has tons of configuration options with either a 12th or 13th-generation Intel Core CPU, up to an Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 graphics card, up to 64GB of RAM, and up to 8TB of storage. 

It also features a 4K, LED display for crisp, clean detailing and rich colors for more lifelike images. The display also works with touch inputs for more ways to control your laptop and use your favorite programs. ZDNET's Cesar Cadenas tested the laptop and described it as a "jack of all trades laptop that can handle daily tasks and larger asks. The graphical fidelity of the games I played was simply amazing." 

With Wi-Fi 6 compatibility, you'll get super-fast wireless internet speeds for smoother streaming, gaming, and virtual work or learning.

Review: I tested Dell's latest XPS laptops and can't recommend them enough

Pros & Cons
  • Under $500, AMD and Intel configurations
  • Lots of storage configurations
  • No dedicated GPU
  • Somewhat short battery life
More Details

Acer Aspire 3 features: Display size: 15.6 inches | Display type: LCD | Resolution: 1080p | CPU: Intel Core i3-11154G4, Up to AMD Ryzen 5 7520U | RAM: 8GB | Storage: Up to 1TB | Battery life: 8.5 hours 

This budget-friendly laptop from Acer retails for under $500 without sacrificing power or performance. It's built with an AMD Ryxen 5 7520U or Intel Core i3-11154G4 processor, 8GB of RAM, a 512GB storage drive, and either Intel UHD or AMD Radeon integrated graphics. 

Also: The best 2-in-1 laptops: Top flexible, hybrid, and convertible notebooks

This means that the Acer Aspire 3 is great for web browsing, streaming, homework, and casual home use. The 15.6-inch display produces excellent 1080p resolution, while the built-in webcam and microphone make it easy to join video calls, virtual meetings, or online learning courses.

Pros & Cons
  • Excellent components
  • Great display
  • MSI Pen 2 writes on paper and screen
  • Somewhat short battery life
  • Expensive
  • No 2-in-1 lid hinge
  • MSI Pen 2 sold separately
More Details

MSI Creator Z17 features: Display size: 17 inches | Display type: LCD | Resolution: 2560 x 1600 | CPU: Intel Core i9-13950HX | RAM: 64GB | Storage: 2TB SSD | Battery life: 7 hours 

The Creator Z17 HX Studio from MSI is designed from the ground up to be the ultimate machine for content creators and creative professionals. The 17-inch, QHD display not only gives you excellent color, detailing, and contrast, but it also supports touch inputs via the MSI Pen 2; which is great for anyone who wants to take notes during client meetings, create digital drawings and paintings, or have more control over your apps and programs. 

The MSI Pen 2 can also write on paper, meaning you won't have to worry about carrying around multiple writing implements for meetings and work. 

The Z17 HZ is also built with 64GB of RAM, an Intel Core i9-13950HX processor, Nvidia GeForce RTX 4070 GPU, and a 2TB SSD for all of the power, performance, and storage you'll need for both raw and finished files. It also supports Wi-Fi 6 for faster wireless internet speeds as well as Thunderbolt 4 connectivity for quick file transfers, charging devices, and setting up secondary displays. 

Review: This $3,000 laptop is a feature away from being my dream machine

Pros & Cons
  • Elgato Stream Deck integration
  • Great power and performance
  • Excellent display
  • Great battery for a gaming laptop
  • Very expensive
  • No Intel version
  • On the heavy side at 5.3 pounds
More Details

Corsair Voyager a1600 tech specs: Display size: 16 inches | Display type: IPS/LCD | Resolution: 2560 x 1600 | CPU: AMD Ryxen 9 6900HS | RAM: 32GB | Storage: 2TB SSD | Battery life: 6 hours 

I was able to get some hands-on testing experience with the Corsair Voyager a1600, and I can confidently say that it's one of the best (if not the best) gaming laptops on the market. It's built with an AMD Ryzen 9 6900HS CPU, AMD Radeon RX 6800M graphics card, 32GB of RAM, and a 2TB SSD. This gives you tons of power and performance to handle just about any triple-A title in your library or on your wishlist as well as the ability to smoothly multitask for streaming on Twitch or play videos and music while you work or play games. 

The laptop also has Elgato Stream Deck integration, which means you'll get unprecedented control over your favorite programs as well as your laptop. Additionally, it houses one of the better batteries in a gaming laptop that I've seen, providing about six hours of use on a full charge. And while that does sound like it's on the shorter side, it's an eternity for gaming laptops where you might only average three hours before you need to plug in.

Review: This laptop with a programmable touch bar is what the MacBook Pro should've been

Pros & Cons
  • New and faster Intel Core processor
  • Converts into a tablet
  • Draw on it with a Surface Pen
  • Battery life is just fine
  • Not the cheapest laptop available
More Details

Surface Go 3 tech specs: Display size: 12.4-inches | Display type: PixelSense | Resolution: 1536 x 1024 | RAM: 8GB or 16GB LPDDR5 | Storage: 256GB | CPU: 12th Gen Intel® Core™ i5-1235U processor | Battery life: Up to 15 hours | Touchscreen: Yes

Microsoft's ultraportable Surface Laptop Go recently received an upgrade with a new Intel Core processor that promises faster speeds. You can take notes and draw on the Surface Laptop Go 3's 12.4-inch touchscreen, and flip it from tablet to laptop mode for email-writing and social media-browsing sessions. 

Windows 11 is pre-loaded into this device, so most of the latest Bing Chat and Copilot-powered features are present at the get-go. Microsoft says the laptop should hold up to 15 hours of battery life on a typical workflow, but your mileage may vary.

While the Surface Laptop Go 3 may not be a first choice for heavy-duty video edits and intense gaming sessions, for taking notes in lectures, scrolling social media, surfing the web, and enjoying video content on the go, this is a versatile and portable device that's relatively accessible at a starting price fo $799.

What is the best laptop?

ZDNET's top pick for the best laptop is Apple's 16-inch MacBook Pro, which is powered by Apple's new M2 Max chip, features a beautiful Liquid Retina display, and promises 14 hours of battery life. This chart breaks down how it compares with other laptop's top features, including price, CPU/GPU, display size, and resolution. 

Best laptopStarting priceCPU/GPURAM/Storage
MacBook Pro 16$3,299M2 MaxUp to 86GB, up to 8TB
MacBook Air 15$1,199M2Up to 24GB, up to 2TB
Dell XPS 17$2,449Up to 13th gen Intel Core i7, Nvidia GeForce RTX 30 or 40 seriesUp to 64GB, up to 8TB
Acer Aspire 3$300Up to 11th gen Intel Core i3 or AMD Ryzen 5 7000 series, Intel or AMD integrated graphics8GB, up to 1TB
MSI Creator Z17 HX Studio$2,250Intel Core i9-13950HX, Nvidia GeForce RTX 407064GB, 2TB
Corsair Voyager a1600$1,800AMD Ryzen 9 6900HS, AMD Radeon RX 6800M32GB, 2TB
Surface Laptop Go 3$80012th gen Intel Core i58GB, 16GB

Which is the right laptop for you?

The key question when buying a laptop -- as with any product -- is: "What do you want to do with it?" Once you've established the use case, you will have a focus for your research, and should quickly get a feel for the key features to look out for. 

If you're a mobile knowledge worker, for example, you'll want a usable and performant combination of lightweight, flexible configuration, sturdy build, connectivity, security, battery life, and design credibility. But if you're a largely desk-bound graphic designer or creator who occasionally needs to visit a client with a laptop in tow, your priorities will be different.

Here's a well-researched (and tested) shortlist of our favorite laptops for an array of use cases. 

Buy this best laptop...If you need...
MacBook Pro 16A well-rounded laptop for work and home use. The MacBook Pro 16 features the new M2 Max chip for dramatic increases in power and performance for everything from spreadsheets and video calls to streaming and content creation.
MacBook Air 15A lightweight laptop, and MacBook's latest model. The 15-inch MacBook Air weighs just 3.3 pounds, making it perfect for mobile professionals and students alike.
Dell XPS 17A Windows-based laptop. The Dell XPS 17 is highly configurable so you can get the perfect build for your needs.
Acer Aspire 3A budget-friendly laptop. The Acer Aspire 3 retails under $500, and is perfect for web browsing, classwork, and streaming.
MSI Creator Z17 HX StudioA high-end laptop for content creators. With 64GB of RAM, a 2TB SSD, and RTX 4070 graphics card, you'll have plenty of power and performance for video and image editing as well as digital art and streaming.
Corsair Voyager a1600A quality gaming laptop. The Corsair Voyager a1600 features AMD components as well as a QHD display and 2TB storage drive.
Surface Laptop Go 3 A 2-in-1 laptop and tablet that is portable and light, with a 15-hour battery life that survives a workday of answering emails and writing before a recharge.

How did we choose these laptops?

Based on our extensive research and hands-on testing, we chose laptops that had superior design, performance, and effective storage and RAM. We also considered the different purposes for which you may need or use your laptop and the ultimate value (including the price point) that the laptop promises. 

  • Design: Whether your laptop is your ultimate work station or source of entertainment, it's design, display, and even portability determines how you interact with the unit. 
  • Performance: For many, laptops are essential for workflow and communication. The best laptops promise efficient speed and performance, powered by the best and latest chipsets (like the Apple M2 Max). 
  • Storage and RAM: It's likely you'll use a laptop to store key documents or memories and the best models have plenty of room for you to do so. 
  • Purpose: We strive to answer the question, "what laptop should i get if ___" as we know you have different workflow and entertainment needs and preferences, from graphic design to gaming. 
  • Value: The best laptop can be a pricey investment, so we considered qualities that assure you'll get your money's worth. 

Why should you buy a laptop, and not a desktop or a tablet?

For most people these days, a "computer" is a type of laptop. While the desktop form factor, especially in the form of all-in-one (AIO) devices, still exists, laptops come in various sizes and cover many use cases (as mentioned above). They range from thin, light, and ultraportable to bulky, powerful, and deskbound. If a smaller laptop screen is an issue, an external monitor can always be connected. Additionally, many hybrid 2-in-1 devices straddle the divide between laptop and tablet. 

Which operating system should you choose: Windows, MacOS, Chrome OS, or Linux?

While every computing platform has its loyal supporters, most people end up using a particular operating system because of key applications running on it, employer preferences, or budgetary constraints. Windows, which ranges from budget to premium, and Apple's MacOS, which is mostly available in premium devices, cover a broad spectrum, while Chrome OS is mostly limited to affordable devices.

Also: Comparing the best Macs: Is a MacBook or Mac Studio right for you?

All Windows devices listed here meet the requirements for Windows 11. If you purchase a device with Windows 10 installed, you will be able to upgrade to version 11 if you choose to do so. Note that after October 14, 2025, Windows 10 support will end, and there will be no further security patches or feature updates.

What brand of laptop is best?

In general, the leading PC vendors have the most extensive range of offerings and the best-documented track records for product development and customer relations. Therefore, if you do not have a specialized use case or budgetary constraints, you will typically consider vendors such as Lenovo, HP, Dell, Apple, and Asus. These vendors currently lead the PC market in terms of shipments, along with several other well-known brands.

What are the best laptops for gaming?

The good news is that you don't need to have the biggest, best, newest components to get a decent gaming laptop. To play most triple-A and indie titles, you'll need a rig with at least 16GB of RAM, 512GB of storage, a 120Hz refresh rate for the display, and at least an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 graphics card. 

Also: Best gaming laptops you can buy right now

And if you want to try your hand at content creation, something like the Corsair Voyager a1600 is a sure bet with Elgato Steam Deck integration for streamlined workflows when editing videos and thumbnails, going live for streams, and even setting up Zoom meetings and video calls with channel moderators or collaborators.

What are the best laptops for students?

It really depends on the student, but there are some common factors to consider when shopping for a school-specific laptop. You'll want something small and lightweight for easier commutes to and from school, as well as between classes. 

Also: The best laptops for college students 

You'll also want something with at least an 8-hour battery life to get through a typical school day without needing to plug in (which is excellent for younger kids who may be forgetful and leave their charging cable at home). Also look for a laptop with at least 4GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, and cloud-storage backup to create duplicate copies of important files and classwork. You'll also want to avoid laptops with dedicated graphics cards aimed toward gaming to help cut down misuse and procrastination.

What are the best laptops for business?

Whether you're looking for a single laptop for yourself or a fleet for your business, the best laptops for work not only give you great components but also tons of connectivity options as well as robust, durable builds. 

You'll want to look for a model that has at least 8GB of RAM, a 512GB storage drive, quad-core CPU, and a display that is large enough to work on without feeling bulky and clunky to travel with. You'll also want a model with at least an 8-hour battery life to get through a typical shift without needing to plug in.

What are the best laptops for video editing?

Tech YouTuber and CEO of NBT Inc, Jacklyn Dallas, prefers to edit her videos on an M2 14-inch MacBook Pro as she uses Final Cut Pro, an editing software exclusive to the Mac ecosystem. 

Review: Apple 16-inch MacBook Pro (M2 Max, 2023): A content creator's dream machine

Therefore, Apple MacBook Pros are a popular choice as are any laptops with powerful processors, dedicated graphics cards, and high-resolution displays such as the Dell XPS 13 and 15. 

Are there alternative laptops worth considering?

There are many laptops on the market other than those listed above. If you're still looking around, consider these alternative best laptops listed below.

Close-up of the MSI Stealth Studio laptop

Best alternative for content creators

MSI Stealth 14 Studio

This is a great option for gamers looking to upgrade or buy their first gaming-specific laptop. It features a 165Hz refresh rate, 13th generation Intel Core i7 CPU, and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 4060 graphics card.

View at Best Buy
Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2

Best laptop alternative

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio 2

The newest Surface Laptop Studio 2 promises faster speeds and is built with the 13th Gen Intel Core processor for twice the CPU power, according to Microsoft. 

View at Microsoft
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