Best laptop: 25 top laptops for every budget
24th Jul 2013 | 14:43
TechRadar's complete guide to the top laptops to buy today
Choosing the best laptop for you
What's the best laptop for 2013? We've got all of today's latest laptops compared and rated.
Now that Windows 8 is edging towards being a year old, we've got a huge number of laptop-tablet hybrids appearing as well as plenty of traditional laptops using the new OS. And that's before you get to Apple's hugely successful MacBook line as well as Google's new Chromebooks.
No wonder choosing the right laptop can be even more confusing than ever.
It's not only high-end powerhouses that are packing in the performance; cheap laptops are more powerful and capable than before, while high-end devices are often perfectly good replacements for your desktop computer, able to cope with more intensive programs.
Those after a fast boot up time and a lightweight machine to carry might drool over an Ultrabook.
Serious gamers will want a machine tailored to their graphical and processing needs, while those after flexibility might fancy a convertible laptop-tablet hybrid.
Here we look at some of the best laptops for 2013 - those that really excel themselves in our extensive testing processes this year. We've arranged them into categories to help you find the best one to suit your needs.
We also list the current selling prices in the UK, Australia and the US, although in some cases a laptop listed here may not be available in every territory.
All of the machines listed here are laptops. Although we have listed the convertible laptop-tablets that fall more on the side of laptop than tablet, we haven't listed those that are more tablet-like. You can find those in our tablet reviews page and buying guides. Similarly, all-in-one touchscreen computers and other desktop PCs are in our PC and Mac desktop reviews page.
PRICING NOTE: The prices listed here are for guidance only and aren't guarantees of availability at a certain price. Because of the wildly fluctuating availability of certain models, we often review laptops by series. As a consequence it may be that there are tens of models with similar or the same name, vailable at various price points.
When considering what to buy, think about your needs and your most important factor, be it laptop battery life or screen size. The most important part is to be honest about what you need, and you could save a fortune on getting the best laptop for you.
Best laptop-tablet hybrids
Since this article seeks to round up the best laptops available, we are only listing those we have fully tested and reviewed in real life situations. More laptop-tablet hybrids will be reviewed as soon as we get them in for testing, so we expect to add more impressive convertible tablets to this list later.
For now, here are the great machines we have tested and loved so far:
1. Sony Vaio Duo 11 - £900/AU$1,500/US$1,500
A full Intel Core processor powers the sliding tablet-laptop design of the 11.6-inch Sony Vaio Duo 11, enabling it to run Windows programs as well as Windows Store apps. Its design is a welcome change from the many docking 'transformer' style hybrid devices such as the Samsung Ativ Smart PC and Asus Vivo Tab.
While it's not a perfect laptop-tablet hybrid, and certainly won't have mass appeal, Sony has furthered the Windows 8 cause with an exceptionally powerful device that challenges the perceptions of what tablets can achieve.
Read our Sony Vaio Duo 11 review
2. HP Envy x2 - £830/AU$900/US$640
The outstanding industrial design in the HP Envy x2 really shows the potential of a tablet/laptop hybrid, and will leave you with little question that this is the direction laptops are heading in. It combines a full version of Windows 8 with excellent battery life in a compact package, with its superb 11.6-inch screen topping things off.
Read our HP Envy x2 review
3. Samsung Ativ Smart PC Pro - £1,000/AU$1,500/US$1,100
When you have it in its Ultrabook form, the Samsung Ativ Smart PC Pro is maybe not the standout laptop some of its peers are. But when it becomes a tablet, it's a great Windows 8 tab with an excellent screen that's powerful, well balanced in your hands and very responsive to touch. You can go from either mode to the other in seconds, and neither is disappointing. Write on it with a stylus, type on it with the keyboard attachment, navigate with your finger - the Smart PC Pro can do it all.
Read our Samsung Ativ Smart PC Pro review
Best budget laptops
4. Samsung Series 3 Chromebook - £230/US$330 (around AU$350)
Cheaper than some tablets, the Samsung Chromebook doesn't run a typical operating system such as Windows, OS X or even Linux. Instead, it is designed just to run Google Chrome, the web browser, and related web apps.
If you think you could do all your computing using Google web apps, you could well benefit from the good battery life, silent operation, light weight and portability, simplicity and implicit security of the Chromebook, not to mention its low price. However, with no 3G connectivity, it is pretty much limited to use only in Wi-Fi areas.
Read our Samsung Series 3 Chromebook review
5. Lenovo IdeaPad S405 - £350/AU$695/US$400
The Lenovo IdeaPad S405 is an attractive laptop that has Ultrabook looks at a rock-bottom price tag. It doesn't offer a huge battery life, so is best around the home instead of out and about, but it's lightweight and smart, making it a great option as a secondary machine. It will happily perform most tasks with ease, such as browsing the web or watching HD movies, although full-on gaming is out of the question. As a bonus, it boots up nice and quickly too. There's even a good array of ports, and the build quality is impressive for the price.
Read our Lenovo S405 review
6. Asus VivoBook S200 - £450 (around AU$685/US$715)
The Asus VivoBook S200 offers supreme good looks, touchscreen operation, slick performance and excellent portability, all for a reasonable price.
This laptop runs on an Intel Core i3-3217U processor, which means it provides more than enough grunt to power Windows 8 through any day-to-day tasks, while keeping power consumption to a minimum.
Read our Asus VivoBook S200 review
7. HP Envy Sleekbook 6-1126sa - £500 (around AU$760/US$780)
The HP Envy Sleekbook 6-1126sa is a system that anyone looking to buy a budget laptop should check out. Its large screen and decent audio subsystem make it great for enjoying music and movies, while the comfortable keyboard and strong battery life make it a joy to use for everyday tasks. It also looks far more expensive than it is, and offers decent specs for its price too. It's not quite up there in terms of raw power, but in almost every other respect, this is a very tempting machine.
Read our HP Envy Sleekbook 6-1126sa review
8. Toshiba Satellite P855-32G - £650 (around AU$1,000/US$1,030)
The Toshiba P855 is one of the better conventional laptops we've seen of late, offering a lot of performance for a relatively small price tag. Though it's in the high-end section of this roundup, it's really more of a mid-range laptop in terms of its price.
Sporting a third-generation 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-3201M and 8GB of RAM, the P855 is certainly no slouch. Its bright screen, Nvidia GeForce GT 630M graphics card and clear Harmon Kardon speakers mean this is the perfect home entertainment powerhouse.
Read our Toshiba Satellite P855-32G review
9. HP Spectre XT TouchSmart - £1,000/US$1,200 (around AU$1,500)
The HP Spectre XT TouchSmart Ultrabook is a milestone. Watch the Ultrabook market over the next year. Watch as heavyweight chips join incredible screens as the norm rather than the exception. This is a great-looking machine, with a brushed aluminium shell and stunning 15-inch touchscreen, but there's a lot of substance here, too. The keyboard is excellent, the 1080p screen makes it great for working or for movies, the hybrid drive makes it run impressively fast and the touchscreen is a great extra… uh, touch. It's a shame it doesn't have the strongest battery life, but we'll forgive it since it's got that great screen to power instead.
Read our HP Spectre XT TouchSmart review
10. Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch - £1,000/AU$1,350/US$1,200
The mid-2012 MacBook Pro 13-inch is a significant step up from its older brother. The new processors and their improved graphical capabilities give it a considerable power boost over its predecessor, and USB 3.0 ports enable it to connect with high-speed storage peripherals.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro is ideal for those who need a little more configurability and storage than the MacBook Air can offer, but also need a very portable machine. Creative professionals and gaming enthusiasts might be better off with a 15-inch MacBook Pro, though.
Read our Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch review
11. Dell XPS 15 - £1,280/AU$2,000/US$1,600
While the Dell XPS 15 doesn't have the skinny credentials to qualify as an Ultrabook, it boasts a huge spec sheet, and an incredible hardware configuration inside a great-looking chassis. We're not sure we've seen anything as impressive on a PC as its Corning Gorilla Glass, Full HD display, though it doesn't quite have the "wow" factor of the MacBook Pro with Retina display.
If you're looking for a high-end PC that marries good looks and superb performance, and are more Windows than Mac, then you really shouldn't look any further than the Dell XPS 15.
Read our Dell XPS 15 review
12. Apple MacBook Pro with Retina display - £1,800/AU$2,500/US$2,200
The new Apple MacBook Pro's most exciting new feature is, of course, its Retina display. With a 2880 x 1800 resolution at 220 pixels per inch, it crams over 5.1 million pixels into its 15.4-inch screen. That's over three million more than an HD TV.
However, it does mean that after-market upgrades are almost impossible, and sacrifices have been made, such as the lack of a hard drive, optical drive and Ethernet or FireWire 800 ports. Clearly aimed at video editors, photographers and graphics professionals, the Retina screen is beautiful, but the laptop's high price tag will put some off.
13. Lenovo IdeaPad U410 - £600/US$700 (around AU$915)
Sure, there is plenty of room for super-skinny, super-slick, ultra-desirable machines with hefty price-tags, but there is also a demand for more affordable portable notebooks. That's where the Ivy Bridge Core i5-toting Lenovo IdeaPad U410 comes in.
Ultrabooks aren't great if you're looking to do some high-end gaming or intense HD video editing, but for everything else this is a brilliant machine that is perfectly suited to meet your digital media demands, with an extremely tempting price tag.
Read our Lenovo IdeaPad U410 review
14. Toshiba Satellite Z930 - £780/AU$1,290/US$1,200
The Toshiba Satellite Z930-10X manages balances power with affordability. Thin, light and powerful enough to handle a wide range of tasks simultaneously, it boasts a wide range of connectivity options and an Intel Core i5 Ivy Bridge processor.
If you want an Ultrabook exclusively for entertainment then we'd recommend looking elsewhere, since it lacks a Full HD resolution and has integrated graphics and fairly weak audio compared to other Ultrabooks. But as a mobile workstation for offices, the Toshiba Satellite Z930-10X is an excellent purchase.
Read our Toshiba Satellite Z930 review
15. HP Envy TouchSmart - £850/AU$900/US$800
The design of the HP Envy TouchSmart is thoughtful, with an excellent level of attention to detail: solid construction and a sweet touchscreen stand out as the best parts here. The brushed aluminium and matt black chassis give this machine a premium look and feel that sets it apart from many of its duller peers. The screen is very responsive to touch commands, making it a breeze to navigate Windows 8, while its 14-inch size gives it a good balance of portability and usability. The keyboard and trackpad are also good, making it an extremely comfortable laptop all round. It's reassuring to know that a well balanced laptop that's practical, fun to use and handsome can shine in a crowded market.
Read our HP Envy TouchSmart review
16. MacBook Air 2012 - £930/AU$1,100/US$1,100
Although not technically an Ultrabook, previous iterations of the MacBook Air were the machines that inspired the creation of Ultrabooks, so we felt it deserved to sit alongside these rivals. The 2012 MacBook Air is just as inspiring, with an Intel Core i5 processor, faster RAM and better connections.
It's easy for us to recommend the newest MacBook Air, because it's a fantastic machine. But, unlike last year, there are other impressive lightweight options out there.
Read our MacBook Air 2012 review
17. Gigabyte U2442 Ultrabook - £970/US$1,100 (around AU$1,480)
A very strong first laptop offering from Gigabyte, which usually makes components, the Gigabyte U2442 Ultrabook has a lot to recommend it. Gamers and power users will appreciate the Nvidia graphics and 8GB RAM, while everyday users will respond well to the lack of bloatware and clever features such as Smart Manager.
Adding power through boosted RAM and extra graphics while keeping the chassis down to a slim and portable size is what this Ultrabook is about, while the screen is well suited to both entertainment and processing tasks.
Read our Gigabyte U2442 Ultrabook review
18. Dell XPS 13 - £1,100/US$1,500 (around AU$1,670)
Dell has really got serious with the internals of the XPS 13. An Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, an SSD for fast performance and an absolutely staggeringly large battery life all combine to make this pretty much the ultimate road warrior's laptop. It's brilliantly thin and light, and the 13-inch screen still gives you room to work. It's a bit of a shame it doesn't offer a touchscreen, but the Dell XPS 13 is still one of the best laptops you can buy, offering top performance, brilliant battery life and excellent build quality.
Read our Dell XPS 13 review
19. Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A - £1,350/AU$1,700/US$1,420
When Ultrabooks were first introduced by Intel, one of the first models to show us that it could stand up to the gauntlet laid down by the MacBook Air was the Asus Zenbook UX21. The Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A continues the styling of its predecessors, and adds a Core i7-3517U processor, Intel HD 4000 graphics and 4GB of RAM.
But the most notable change is its screen - a 1080p IPS wonder that dwarfs its competition's resolution. It falls down on battery life, so you should consider if that's a big issue for you. It's also expensive, but its performance is admirable.
Read our Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A review
20. Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon - £1,500/US$1,500 (around AU$2,290)
The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon is a fantastic business Ultrabook, with one of the most comfortable keyboards we've ever used. Fantastic build quality and lightweight design meet top performance and a range of useful features, such as a long battery life, huge SSD drive, super-fast boot times and blistering processor performance.
A few niggles with the screen and connections aside, if we chose one Ultrabook to be our business companion, we'd pick the comfortable, high performance and long lasting Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon every time.
Read our Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon review
Best gaming laptops
21. Scan 3XS Graphite LG5 - £590 (around AU$900/US$935)
Designed from the core up as an ultra-portable gaming laptop, this packs a punch in the processor and graphics. The Intel Core i5 3210M is a capable workhorse of a chip that will handle all the games you throw at it, and chew through more serious work as well. The GeForce GTX 640M GPU and low native resolution enable you to hit great frame rates, but the 11.6-inch screen is small.
The SSD is also too small, but that's easily rectified online. The undersized screen isn't as easy to fix though, and we'd advise anyone looking to do work to look elsewhere. However, as a gaming system there's a lot to love here.
Read our Scan 3XS Graphite LG5 review
22. Gigabyte U2442F - £800/AU$1,200/US$980
The Gigabyte U2442F is an interesting option for any gamer who wants a laptop that is as happy out on the road as it is plugged into the wall playing the latest games. The gaming performance is impressive for a machine that is so thin and light - you'd usually have to pay heavily in the bulk and weight stakes to hit these kinds of performance figures. It's also a versatile option if you're looking to do something a little more work-orientated, and it has a good array of ports.
Read our Gigabyte U2442F review
23. Alienware M17x 2012 - £1,090/US$1,275 (about AU$1,665)
The Alienware M17x has had an Intel Ivy Bridge flavored refresh for 2012. The most notable addition is the inclusion of a third-generation Intel Core CPU. The model we reviewed packed an i7-3610QM processor, a four-core monster clocked at nominal 2.3GHz, which can be pumped full of Intel Turbo Boost steroids to achieve a top speed of 3.3GHz.
Combine this with a seriously powerful GPU courtesy of the latest Nvidia or AMD graphics technology and you're looking at a top-end gaming machine more than worthy of its hefty price-tag. There's also Intel HD 4000 graphics as part of the Ivy Bridge package, meaning DirectX 11 support.
24. Samsung Series 7 Gamer - £1,350/US$1,900 (around AU$2,060)
The Samsung Series 7 Gamer laptop has the hardware and performance that gamers care about, and a price tag that we would deem fair. Samsung's custom UI, however, mostly detracts from the overall experience, short of one or two niceties, such as being able to disable the trackpad and Windows keys. It's also quite heavy.
From a purely processor to pennies perspective, the Series 7 Gamer is worth the money. It's a gaming machine capable of playing the latest titles at respectable settings. All its case lights and fancy UI, though, make it a bit like a party guest who arrives overdressed. You're glad they showed up, but the bow tie they're wearing just makes them look silly.
Read our Samsung Series 7 Gamer review
25. Razer Blade - £2,000 (around AU$3,050/US$3,170)
The standout feature on the Razer Blade is its Switchblade touchpad interface - a unique feature that turns the Blade's touchpad into a fully functioning small second screen that you can use to check your email, watch YouTube videos or amplify your gaming experience.
The Intel Core i7-3632QM CPU is powerful, and the sound is crisp, but it is expensive, the keyboard is a little stiff and the touchpad placement to the side takes some getting used to. But its long battery life and comparatively lightweight chassis makes portable, quality gaming possible.
Read our Razer Blade review