- post by: Dustin Lunsford
- September 04, 2018
Best laptops of 2018: Cheap PCs, gaming laptops, 2-in-1s, and more
Today’s best laptops bask in the glow of Intel’s 8th-gen Core CPUs, which at last bring quad-core performance to mainstream machines. The only thing missing is Oprah shouting, “and you get an 8th-gen quad-core laptop!”
There’s plenty of good news with this new generation. Our favorite convertible laptop, HP’s Spectre x360 13, sports a quad-core 8th-gen chip while maintaining its diminutive size. It’s really the total package.
But let’s be honest: You probably don’t need a quad-core powerhouse, especially if the hottest application you run is Microsoft Excel. Check out our budget favorites, like the Acer Aspire E 15 and Asus ZenBook Flip, whose dual-core CPUs do just fine with mainstream fare. Or read about the Asus Chromebook Flip, a well-priced and versatile laptop for living on the web—or delving into the wide, wide world of Android apps.
Read on for our picks in all categories and price points.
Update 8/31/2018: Get the highlights from IFA’s load of laptop news below. We also review the latest bargain version of the popular Acer Aspire E15, our new top pick for best budget laptop; we anoint the Acer Nitro 5 the best budget gaming laptop; and we test the superslim, nearly perfect (for a price) Huawei Matebook X Pro.
Latest laptop news
The IFA show in Berlin unleashed a load of laptop news. Here are the highlights:
- Here’s an XPS 13 more of us can afford. Dell’s lauded thin-and-light MacBook Air rival is a little more attainable now that the XPS 13 9370 version has debuted with a price of just $900. What’s the catch? It comes with a Core i3-8130U CPU, a mere dual-core part. But as our Gordon Mah Ung explains, this chip has some hidden powers.
- Lenovo is aiming straight at the MacBook Pro 15 with its ThinkPad X1 Extreme. The new flagship to the ThinkPad lineup has a 15-inch display and as-good or better top-shelf trimmings than its rival, with a starting price $500 lower. It’s almost not fair to compare the ThinkPad’s keyboard with 1.8mm travel to the disappointing butterfly-switch design on the MacBook Pro. Toss in the ThinkPad X1 Extreme’s GTX 1050 Ti discrete graphics, and it’s a killer, indeed.
- Intel unveiled its Whiskey Lake processors. These mobile CPUs remain on the same 14nm architecture Intel’s been nursing for many cycles. The bonuses this time around are integrated Gigabit Wi-Fi connectivity and Boost modes that can give a bit more power at crucial moments. Acer’s Swift 5 will be one of the first out the gate, a 0.63-inch thin, 2.2-pound sliver of a laptop that will ship in January for $1,099.
- What would you do for 25 hours of battery life? Would you buy a laptop with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 850 CPU and Windows 10 S? Lenovo hopes so, offering its Yoga C630 WOS, for $850. This new species of Windows laptop still has a lot to prove, but that long battery life sure is impressive.
Best thin-and-light laptop
Dell made a bold statement when it claimed its completely redesigned New XPS 13 would be among the fastest laptops in its class, if not the fastest. But Dell ain’t just trash-talking. Thanks to a new cooling system, the XPS 13 with an 8th-gen Core i5 is as fast, if not faster than, most 8th-gen Core i7 laptops, and many larger, beefier laptops, too.
But that’s not all. The mid-range model we tested boasts an improved display and keyboard, and satisfyingly long battery life of about 12.5 hours.
All these goodies can’t quite help us forget the disappearance of USB-A ports—that’s right, it’s USB-C all the way. We don’t like it, but we’d all better get used to it.
[$1,199 MSRP; available on Dell]
Make no mistake: There’s a lot to like about the Razer Blade Stealth. It’s just as beautiful as its predecessors, and Razer’s upgraded the parts to the latest and mostly greatest: a quad-core Intel i7-8550U processor clocked at 1.8GHz (with 4GHz Turbo), Intel’s internal UHD Graphics 620, 16GB of 2,133MHz DDR3 RAM, and a tiny ol’ 256GB m.2 SSD. It also sports a 13.3-inch screen where there was a 12.5-inch one before, though the chassis size is basically the same.
It’s not perfect, though. Its performance, while very competent overall, clearly lagged in places due to thermal throttling (a common solution to managing the heat in slender laptops). The battery still doesn’t last quite as long as the competition’s. And a new feature we’d normally welcome, USB-C charging, has an alarmingly delicate-seeming port and plug.
But the real kicker is the price ($1,500 via Amazon). Spec for spec, competing ultrabooks give you more for the money. Razer has charisma to spare, and fans may be willing to shell out for that; but anyone less faithful will probably think twice.
Best laptop under $500
Acer’s Aspire E line has been popular for years, and you can see why when you look at the bang-for-buck. The latest model sports a few upgrades from the prior generation. Foremost is an 8th-gen Intel Core i3-8130 CPU, which is an entry-level dual-core chip, competent for mainstream use. You also get 6GB of RAM, a 1TB HDD, and an 8X DVD drive. It stacks up nicely as an everyday workhorse, perfect for web browsing, productivity applications, casual photo editing and even spinning good old-fashioned optical discs.
Given its low price, mainstream users may be willing to overlook the laptop’s extra weight, so-so display and lack of keyboard backlighting. But note that if you have any high-demand applications (or a bit of a gaming bug), it would be better to consider one of its pricier cousins, like the $600 Aspire E15 E5-576G-5762. Read our full review.
Best convertible laptop
While Apple and Dell are content to show up to dance in the same dress year after year, you won’t have that from HP. Just two years removed from its original launch, the Spectre x360 13t (available at HP.com) has now gone through no fewer than three major redesigns. The latest, of course, is the best and adds a fingerprint reader, a nifty rechargeable pen, and of course, an 8th-generation Core i7 CPU too.
In raw performance it doesn’t quite keep up with Dell’s XPS 13 but this is a convertible and most convertibles give up a little performance for the ability to work as a tablet. What matters more is that it leaves the 7th-generation Spectre x360 13t in the dust on CPU heavy workloads.
The best part is battery life doesn’t suffer (it’s still damned good) and it’s even a couple of ounces lighter to boot. HP doesn’t make the faux pas, or is that port pas, and keeps a USB Type A port along with two Thunderbolt 3 ports that support external graphics.
So yeah, it’s easy to see why the Spectre x360 13t is our go to convertible laptop and the one everyone is chasing right now.
Lenovo’s latest Yoga 920 (reviewed here) comes close to pushing the Spectre from the top of the President-of-the-Hill contest (‘Murica folks) but in the end, the extra weight of the 14-inch Yoga and the extra cost hurt its position.
[$1,090–$1,600 MSRP; $1,100 MSRP as last reviewed]
We call this a runner-up, but you could also think of it as an upgrade. If you want a convertible, but with more screen and more power, it’s hard to beat the new HP Spectre x360 15. Unlike most 360 designs that either under-spec (and thus lack muscle) or over-spec (with too much hardware stuffed into the design causing inefficiency), HP’s Spectre x360 15 and its newfangled Intel Kaby Lake G CPU doesn’t give up much ground at all.
HP actually sells two different Spectre x360 15 laptops that are quite different on the inside. Our recommendation is for the Kaby Lake G version, which gives up some battery life for a lot of CPU and graphics performance (although, if gaming is your primary concern, make sure you see our recommendation for best gaming laptop first). The other Spectre x360 15 is based on the Kaby Lake R and sacrifices some CPU and graphics power in favor of more battery life.
[$1,539 to $2,269 MSRP; $1,619 as last reviewed]
Best budget convertible laptop
For years, Asus has offered great value in its notebooks, and the ZenBook Flip (available at Amazon) is a strong example of its affordable, high-performing offerings. For $700, you get a fully convertible notebook that can handle everyday tasks with ease.
In fact, its pricing and specs are virtually identical to our favorite budget ultrabook, the Asus UX305 (now discontinued). Inside you get a Core m3-6Y30, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD, and outside there’s a 1920×1080 IPS screen with an anti-glare finish.
Yet despite the modest CPU, the Asus ZenBook Flip is fairly peppy. In our benchmarks, it actually outperformed faster (and newer) Core m5 and m7 processors in rival machines during short CPU-intensive tasks. Its storage drive is no slouch, either.
This laptop is slender and lightweight, too. It measures 0.54 inches thick and 2.8 pounds, which keeps it in line with more expensive ultraportables. You’re not saddled with chunkier dimensions or extra weight in exchange for a lower price.
A couple of compromises do exist: There’s no backlighting on the keyboard, and the trackpad is a tad springy. Still, it’s a good deal in a price range that usually nets you thick, ugly, and plastic.
[$699 MSRP (256GB model); $749 MSRP (512GB model) as reviewed]
Best 2-in-1 / tablet / hybrid laptop
This category originally started out as the best “Surface” category because, well, for a time, there was nothing like Microsoft’s 2-in-1 / tablet / hybrid device.
The best Surface-like device isn’t built by Microsoft anymore, though. Instead, our pick for our top 2-in-1 / tablet / hybrid is Lenovo’s IdeaPad Miix 520 (currently about $876 on Amazon.) Besides being almost affordable, the Miix 520 wowed us because of its 8th generation Core i5 CPU. Yup: That’s a real quad-core CPU in a Surface-like device. Take that, iPad Pro.
If you’re turning your nose up at the Miix 520 because it’s “only” a Core i5, just know that in multi-threaded CPU-bound tests, you’re looking at a 36-percent increase in performance over a high-end Core i7 Surface Pro.
So yeah, if you thought there was no way you could do CPU-heavy tasks on a Surface clone, you can. There’s a price to be paid for that but you’ll have to read our review for those details.
[$999 SRP as reviewed with included keyboard cover and pen]
Samsung’s follow-up to its first 2-in-1 (available at Amazon) doesn’t take any extreme turns off the established path. It’s still incredibly thin and lightweight, and it offers an even more stunning AMOLED screen that supports HDR.
But it’s still not quite our favorite convertible, and that’s partially due to Samsung’s decision to sell both a small and a big version of the Galaxy Book. The more affordable, lower-power Core m3 model has a smaller 10.6-inch screen. If you want a 12-inch screen, you’ll have to jump to a starting price of $1,130.
Despite these two tougher choices, the Galaxy Book is still compelling. It offers solid performance (including over 10 hours of video playback on the 12-inch Core i5 model) and addresses some of our complaints with the Galaxy TabPro S. You now get two USB-C ports, and the keyboard secures tightly to the tablet. And of course, it has that gorgeous display.
So while it may no longer have a huge advantage in price, Samsung still manages to hold its own with a few compelling features. Particularly the included pen—Microsoft’s equivalent accessory is a $100 optional purchase.
[$630 or $1,130 MSRP base price; $1,300 MSRP as reviewed]
Best gaming laptop
The Alienware 17 R5 is the latest in a long line of well-regarded laptops from this Dell subsidiary, but this one raises the bar. Actually, it throws the bar high up in the air, leaps after it, catches it mid-somersault, and lands cleanly while onlookers stare, agog.
The key difference: an upgrade to Intel’s 8th-gen mobile processors, which pack more CPU cores than previous generations did. Even better, the one in our review unit is Intel’s high-performance Core i9 -8950HK, which turns this already beastly gaming laptop into an utter monster.
The Alienware 17 R5 is available in a variety of configurations, from a $1,560 model with a 6-core Core i7-8750H, an overclocked GeForce GTX 1060, and a 60Hz 1080p display, all the way up to the price-is-no-object-I-want-performance version we tested ($3,810 from Dell). Optional features could push that total even higher, but there’s already plenty to love. This is 10 pounds of gaming-laptop-slash-desktop-replacement-extraordinaire. Read our review.
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