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ZDNET's reviewers spend weeks to months testing each laptop on this list, using it for both everyday tasks like browsing, streaming, and gaming, to more performance-intensive work like photo and video editing. We aim to give you a view into how each laptop could actually fit into your life and workflow, and the pros and cons of their various features like performance, display, and battery life.
What to Consider
Whether your laptop is your ultimate workstation or source of entertainment, its design, display, and even portability determines how you interact with the unit.
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.
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.
The best laptop can be a pricey investment, so we considered qualities that assure you'll get your money's worth.
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, any time is a great time to buy a new laptop. Brands like Apple, Acer, and Microsoft offer laptops at various price points to suit almost any budget or use case. What's more, many mid-range and high-end models see frequent discounts, especially during the holiday season.
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. Our pick for the best laptop is the MacBook Pro (M3 Max) for its incredible, 22-hour battery life, M3 Max chipset, and 120Hz display refresh rate. You can keep reading below to find out more about the MacBook Pro (M3 Max) plus our other top picks
MacBook Pro M3 Max features: Display size: 14-inch and 16-inch | Display type: Liquid Retina XDR | Resolution: 3456 x 2234 pixels | RAM: Up to 128GB | Storage: Up to 8TB | CPU: 14-core M3 Max | Battery life: Up to 22 hours
Desktop-class laptop – that is what ZDNET's Editor-in-Chief Jason Hiner called the MacBook Pro M3 Max. It's a very apt description for it because the performance of this device can rival a Mac Studio. This machine is capable of taking large RAW image files, processing them through Adobe Photoshop's AI Denoise feature, and removing all the graininess from them in less than 20 seconds. That's less than half as long as it would take on a MacBook Pro sporting an M1 Pro chip.
The MacBook Pro M3 Max's performance is pushed even further thanks to its GPU's unique architecture called "Dynamic Caching, which is a more sophisticated form of graphics memory allocation". This allows for faster mesh shading enabling high-quality graphics, better rendering, and even ray-tracing which is something you normally only see on high-end graphics cards. It allows for more "photorealistic" lightning, perfect for enhancing immersion.
The accolades don't stop there. The MacBook Pro M3 Max sports a stunning display, capable of outputting a 120Hz refresh and 1,600 nits of peak brightness for a level of clarity people have been asking "for a long time." Plus, it's very power efficient allowing it to last up to 22 hours with low-end configuration. Or you can activate High-Power Mode to have it fire off on all cylinders when unplugged.
If it wasn't already clear, the MacBook Pro M3 Max is a monster. It's coming at a perfect time too because the next-generation of virtual reality is here and we'll need this to experience Apple's Vision Pro at its peak.
Lightweight and ultraportable for a 15-inch laptop
M2 chip is reliable
18 hour battery life
Lack of utility ports
Slower refresh rate
MacBook Air 15-inch (M2)
The best lightweight laptop
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
While not as powerful as the previous entry, Apple's MacBook Air 15-inch is still an impressive machine just by looking at its specs alone. After all, it did win ZDNET's product of the year title. 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 was 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. It's capable of rendering large image files, plus it can perform "complex video and photo editing", making this laptop a great fit for creative professionals. All this will be displayed on a 13.6-inch screen that is 20 percent brighter than the previous iteration.
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.
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.
This means that the Acer Aspire 3 is great for web browsing, streaming, homework, plus 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.
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.
We were able to get some hands-on testing experience with the Corsair Voyager a1600, and we 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.
ZDNET's top pick for the best laptop is Apple's MacBook (M3 Max, which features a stunning Liquid Retina XDR display, great performance, and promises 22 hours of battery life. This chart breaks down how the laptop stacks up with the top features on other devices, from price, to CPU/GPU, screen size, and display resolution.
MacBook Pro (M3 Max)
Up to 128GB, up to 8TB
MacBook Air 15
Up to 24GB, up to 2TB
Dell XPS 17
Up to 13th gen Intel Core i7, Nvidia GeForce RTX 30 or 40 series
Up to 64GB, up to 8TB
Acer Aspire 3
Up to 11th gen Intel Core i3 or AMD Ryzen 5 7000 series, Intel or AMD integrated graphics
8GB, up to 1TB
MSI Creator Z17 HX Studio
Intel Core i9-13950HX, Nvidia GeForce RTX 4070
Corsair Voyager a1600
AMD Ryzen 9 6900HS, AMD Radeon RX 6800M
Which is the right laptop for you?
The main 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 on finding the right machine to help you achieve that purpose.
If you're a mobile knowledge worker, for example, you'll want a usable and performant combination of flexibility, sturdiness, connectivity, security, long 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.
MacBook Pro (M3 Max
A powerful, well-rounded laptop for the office and home. This MacBook Pro model features the new M3 Max chip, resulting in a big increase in power and performance for everything from spreadsheets and video calls to content creation.
MacBook Air 15
A 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 17
A Windows-based laptop. The Dell XPS 17 is highly configurable so you can get the perfect build for your needs.
Acer Aspire 3
A budget-friendly laptop. The Acer Aspire 3 retails under $500, and is perfect for web browsing, classwork, and streaming.
MSI Creator Z17 HX Studio
A 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 a1600
A quality gaming laptop. The Corsair Voyager a1600 features AMD components as well as a QHD display and 2TB storage drive.
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 workstation or source of entertainment, its design, display, and portability determine 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 M3 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?
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. They range from thin, light, and ultraportable to bulky, powerful, and deskbound. Because of how good laptops are nowadays, most people opt for sticking with a laptop to serve as their main computer. If a small laptop screen is an issue, an external monitor can be connected.
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 exclusive to premium devices, cover a broad spectrum. Chrome OS is mostly limited to mid-range devices.
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 Windows 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, or 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, we recommend a rig with at least 16GB of RAM, 512GB of storage, a 120Hz refresh rate for the display, and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 graphics card.
And if you want to try your hand at content creation, something like the Corsair Voyager a1600 is a sure bet. You might also want to consider equipping with accessories. An Elgato Steam Deck integration, for example, can offer streamlined workflows when editing videos, livestreaming, and even setting up 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 laptop for school. You'll want something small and lightweight for easier commutes to and from school, as well as in between classes.
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 offer great performance but also multiple connectivity options and durable builds.
You'll want to look for a model that has at least 8GB of RAM, a 512GB storage drive, a quad-core CPU, and a display that is large enough to work on without being too bulky to travel with. You'll also want a model with, at least, 8 hours of battery life to get through a typical shift without needing to plug in.
What are the best laptops for video editing?
We strongly recommend getting a MacBook Pro (M3 Max) and purchasing Final Cut Pro, an editing software exclusive to the Mac ecosystem. There's also the option of buying the 16-inch MacBook Pro from early 2023. It sports an M2 Max chip and offers great performance for content creators. The machine can handle 4TB of footage with ease.