Choosing the best laptop

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With Windows 8.1 here and Windows 10 on the way, Ultrabooks taking off in popularity and laptop-tablet hybrids seeing more releases, choosing the right laptop is even more confusing than ever.

Cheap laptops, like Chromebooks, are more powerful and capable than ever, 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.

It might seem overwhelming at first – and it can be what with all of the choices – but we're here to help. Believe us when we say that there is a perfect laptop out there for you. With this guide, you'll find not only that, but which is the absolute best.

Types of laptop

Back in the day, there were simply laptops for leisure and those for labor. Today, there are several options for both sides of the fence, some of which jumping back and forth over it. Let's start with the basics:

Ultrabooks

These laptops are essentially devices that must meet certain standards of thinness, lightness, power and size established by processor-maker Intel in an effort to help Windows-loyal notebook vendors compete with Apple's 13-inch MacBook Air a few years ago.

The result has been some seriously premium machines that have lately been enough to rival Apple's best. Think of laptops under an inch thin with long battery life and crisp screens, like the Samsung Ativ Book 9 PlusorAcer Aspire S7. And lately, folks have been squeezing dedicated GPUs into the form factor, like the Acer Aspire S3.

Workstations

Designed almost solely for work, hence the name, these usually beefy laptops have one thing in mind: productivity. Vendors generally equip these units with professional-grade GPUs, like the Nvidia Quadro series or AMD FirePro line.

Other characteristics of workstations include a wider variety of ports and easier access to internals than most consumer-grade notebooks. Not to mention more legacy inputs, like trackpoint cursors, and hardware-level security options, like fingerprint scanners. Examples include the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbonand HP ZBook 14.

Chromebooks

These laptops run on an all-new operating system created by Google and called Chrome OS. As the name implies, Chromebooks rely almost solely on Google's homebrewed browser, Chrome. This means that everything from creating word documents to listening to music to printing and beyond is handled with the Chrome browser.

The result is a system that can run with super low-end hardware, which lends Chromebooks to best serve the budget market and education sector. Of course, Chromebooks are best in areas with wireless Internet access, but Google has vastly boosted their offline functionality over the years. Check out the Dell Chromebook 11 and Toshiba Chromebook for a better idea.

2-in-1 laptops (or hybrid laptops)

If you find yourself jumping back and forth between your laptop and tablet, then perhaps the hybrid was made for you. Enabled by Microsoft's dual-purpose Windows 8, these devices either come as tablets than become more like laptops with accessories, or as laptops that can detach from their keyboards and become tablets in a pinch.

Of course, the idea is to provide one device that successfully serve both use cases, rather than have homes and businesses overwhelmed with gadgets for every scenario. The category has fought an uphill battle toward mainstream acceptance, but by far the most shining example of its potential is Microsoft's own Surface Pro 3.

Gaming laptops

You'll always know a gaming notebook when you see one: hulking size, pulsating lights, garish paint jobs and whirring fans. But with thin-and-light (and stylish) products like the Razer Blade or MSI GS60 Ghost Pro, even that paradigm is starting to shift.

Generally speaking, gaming laptops are equipped with the latest mobile GPUs from Nvidia and AMD in order to play the latest games close to how well they run on their more sedentary counterparts. (In some cases, they're enough to outright replace the desktop.) Look at the Origin EON17-S andAlienware 17 for more perspective.

General use laptops

Notebooks of this sort are tough to categorize. They still adhere to the standards established decades ago of what a laptop is, only vastly refined. Given how the market has siloed itself into several distinct categories at this point, this variety of laptops is generally considered "budget" or "mid-range".

Ranging in screen sizes from 11 to 17 inches, there usually aren't many stand-out characteristics with these mostly-plastic clamshells. These laptops are easy to peg as jacks of all trades: readily able to handle all of your daily tasks, but suffer in more extreme or specifically demanding scenarios.
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