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Whether you work from home, go to an office or just want something to keep yourself entertained, a good laptop is all but a necessity these days. But with so many brands and models to choose from, finding the right notebook for you can be overwhelming.

That’s where we come in. We extensively test the latest laptops on the market from the likes of Apple, Dell and Samsung in order to help you figure out what’s actually worth spending your money on. Whether you’re in search of the perfect MacBook, a tricked-out gaming notebook or just something basic for your daily emails, here are our picks for the best laptops you can buy now.

Cyber Monday Deal
Best Apple laptop
The MacBook Air M2 is the best Apple laptop for most people, perfect for everyday multitasking and able to handle a good amount of gaming and video editing. It's the fastest laptop you can get for the money, and an especially big upgrade if you're coming from an Intel-powered Mac.

The best laptop overall: MacBook Air M2

The MacBook Air M2 is the new gold standard for Apple laptops, marrying some of the best performance we’ve ever seen in a notebook with an overhauled and attractive design that has lots of practical benefits.

The biggest refresh to the MacBook Air in over a decade, Apple’s new laptop ditches the iconic wedged look of old in favor of a more uniform chassis that’s in line with the latest 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros. And while it doesn’t appear slimmer than the M1 Air at first glance, it actually is, with pleasingly thin 11.3-millimeter edges and a 2.7-pound body that’s marginally lighter than its predecessor. That all translates to a laptop that we’ve found incredibly easy to pick up, and one that we barely felt in our backpack while on the go.

The M2 Air also adopts all of the modern niceties of the larger MacBook Pros, including the display. You get a noticeable amount of extra screen space compared to the previous MacBook Air (and the new M2 MacBook Pro) at 13.6 versus 13.3 inches, plus the M2 ditches the thick black borders of old for a thin, seamless bezel, while content still pops with plenty of color and detail.. Apple’s Magic Keyboard feels as great as ever on the latest Air, and you get satisfying, full-size function keys for making quick adjustments — no dreaded Touch Bar here.

Perhaps the biggest physical upgrade to the M2 Air is the revamped MagSafe charger, which, like on the bigger MacBook Pros, allows you to easily attach and detach the charging cable with a quick magnetic snap. On top of reducing the chances that your laptop goes flying after someone trips on your wire, the MagSafe port also frees up the two USB-C Thunderbolt 4 ports for your accessories. We still wish the MacBook Air’s port selection wasn’t so slim (the larger MacBook Pros have HDMI, an SD card reader and an additional USB port), but the addition of MagSafe is a welcome one — as is the nice color-matched braided cable and compact charging brick that includes an extra port for charging your phone.

Other notable upgrades include a 1080p webcam that looks marginally better than the 720p one on previous models, as well as a more robust sound system that pumps out rich (but not speaker-replacing) audio. And then there’s the Air’s new Apple M2 processor, which makes it one of the fastest laptops we’ve ever tested.

The MacBook Air M2 held up to our usual multitasking workload (a mix of email, video calls, Slack, Discord and way too many Chrome tabs) without ever breaking a sweat, and stayed cool and quiet during hours of light music production in Ableton Live. But our benchmark results tell the real story. The MacBook Air posted the highest single-core result we’ve ever gotten on Geekbench 5 (which measures general performance), and came impressively close to the new MacBook Pro M2 when it came to multi-core and graphics capabilities. We also saw roughly a 16% gain in overall performance scores compared to the MacBook Air M1 from 2020. You can certainly do some light gaming on this machine, though we saw low framerates and an excess of heat when running Shadow of the Tomb Raider at its maximum settings. That highlights one of the few advantages of the otherwise dated $1,299 MacBook Pro M2, which sports an internal fan for better sustained performance under pressure.

The MacBook Air M2 frequently got us through long workdays with plenty of battery to spare, largely matching up to Apple’s 18-hour battery rating. However, on our more intensive battery test, which consists of continuous 4K video playback, the MacBook Air’s 5 hours and 21 minutes of runtime fell to the new MacBook Pro by about 45 minutes. Expect great day-to-day endurance, but definitely keep a charger handy for gaming or video-editing sessions.

The new MacBook Air’s biggest caveat is its price — starting at $1,199, it’s $200 more expensive than the still-excellent MacBook Air M1. You’ll get marginally better performance from the M2 chip, but the real question is this: Are you willing to pay an extra $200 for a bigger display, a better webcam, a sleeker design and a useful MagSafe charger? If the answer is yes, and if you’re coming from an Intel-powered Mac or getting your first MacBook, then the MacBook Air M2 is the best laptop you can buy. But if you’re on a budget and can live without those modern conveniences, the $999 (and often discounted) MacBook Air M1 remains an excellent purchase.

Other laptops we recommend

Cyber Monday Deal
Best Windows laptop
The Dell XPS 13 is the best Windows laptop you can buy, offering a stunning display, a great keyboard and long battery life within an attractive, slim design that's easy to take anywhere.
Cyber Monday Deal
The upgrade pick
The 14-inch MacBook Pro offers beastly performance for serious power users, as well as the best ports, display and speakers you can find on a MacBook.
Best 2-in-1 laptop
The Surface Pro 8 delivers fast performance, a vivid display and an excellent keyboard within a versatile, detachable design. It's also a much better value than the newer Surface Pro 9, which doesn't add much beyond slightly faster processors and an optional 5G variant.
Best gaming laptop
The Asus ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition offers the best combination of performance, battery life, features and value of any gaming laptop we've tested, all packed into an attractive and highly customizable design.

How our recommendations compare

Display

13.6-inch, 2560 x 1664 Liquid Retina display

13.4-inch, 1920 x 1200 display

14.2-inch, 3024 x 1964 Liquid Retina XDR display

13-inch, 2880 x 1920 display

15.6-inch, 1920 x 1080 and 300 Hz display

Processor

Apple M2

12th Gen Intel Core i5 / i7

Apple M1 Pro or M1 Max

11th Gen Intel Core i5 / i7

AMD Ryzen 9 5900HX with AMD Radeon RX 6800M graphics

Memory

8GB / 16GB / 24GB

8GB / 16GB / 32GB

16GB / 32GB / 64GB (M1 Max only)

8GB / 16GB / 32GB

16GB

Storage

256GB / 512GB / 1TB / 2TB SSD

512GB / 1TB SSD

512GB / 1TB / 2TB / 4TB / 8TB

128GB / 256GB / 512GB / 1TB

512GB

Camera

1080p FaceTime HD

720p

1080p FaceTime HD

1080p front camera, 1080p rear camera with 4K video

N/A

Ports

Thunderbolt 4 (2), MagSafe charging port, headphone jack

Thunderbolt 4 (2), microSD card slot (USB-C to USB-A adapter included)

Thunderbolt 4 USB-C (3), SDXC card slot, HDMI port, MagSafe charging port, headphone jack

Thunderbolt 4 (2), Surface Connect port, headphone jack

USB-C (1), USB-A (3), HDMI, Ethernet port, headphone jack

Battery life (rated)

Up to 18 hours

Up to 12 hours

Up to 17 hours

Up to 16 hours

8 hours

Size and Weight

11.97 x 8.46 x 0.44 inches, 2.7 pounds

11.63 x 7.86 x 0.55 inches, 2.59 pounds

12.31 x 8.71 x 0.61 inches, 3.5 pounds

11.3 x 8.2 x 0.37 inches, 1.96 pounds

13.8 x 10.2 x 1.1 inches, 5.5 pounds

Price $1,099 $1,598 $1,999 $800 $1,700

How to choose the right laptop for you

While there are a number of factors to consider when choosing the right laptop, we advise that you start by figuring out how much display you need. Most laptops are available in display resolutions ranging from 1080p to 4K (3840 x 2160), and in screen sizes from 13 to 17 inches. Many Windows machines also offer optional touch displays.

We think a 13- to 15-inch laptop at 1080p is the sweet spot for most people, as you’ll get very good clarity and a decent amount of real estate within a machine that’s still fairly portable and reasonably priced.

Display: 13 inches to 15 inches at 1920 x 1080
Processor: 12th Gen Intel Core i5 or i7, AMD Ryzen 5 5000 or Apple M1/M2
RAM: 8GB or more
Storage: 512GB or larger solid state drive
Ports: At least two USB-C connections

A higher screen resolution means you can see more detail when using apps and watching movies, or get more screen real estate for apps (assuming you are willing to look at very small text), but it can also drive the price of a laptop up considerably. So a 4K display (or alternative display technology options like OLED, also available in very high screen resolutions) makes the most sense if you do a lot of graphics work or use your laptop as your main entertainment screen for movies and TV (though you’ll get the most benefit if you choose a 15-inch or larger display). Also think about how you’ll be using your laptop — a slim 13-inch notebook is ideal for working on the road, while a 17-inch machine isn’t quite as portable, but will get you more screen space (and possibly more power) for working at your desk.

Many Windows-based machines also offer optional touch displays, but we generally feel that you can skip this to save some cash. Unless you’re looking to carry only one device and are specifically looking for a 2-in-1 laptop that doubles as a tablet, we think a dedicated tablet does a better job at touch, and touch doesn’t add that much functionality to a laptop.

Many modern laptops are slim on connectivity options, usually packing a handful of USB-C ports in addition to a microSD card reader and a headphone jack. If you want a laptop that can connect to USB-A gadgets (and chances are you have a lot of those) as well as traditional HDMI cables for external displays, you’ll want to check out some of the thicker, business-class Windows notebooks out there from manufacturers like Acer and Lenovo. Alternatively, you can pick up a USB-C hub to augment your Mac or Windows laptop’s connectivity options.

Windows laptops come with a swath of processor options, but we consider the latest 11th Gen Intel Core i5 or the AMD Ryzen 5 5000 series to offer a good amount of performance for everyday multitasking for the price. And to back that processing power up, we recommend opting for at least 8GB of RAM to keep all of your apps running smoothly. If you’re someone who does heavy creative work such as video and photo editing, it’s worth considering Core i7/Ryzen 7 as well as 16GB to 32GB of RAM. And if you’re a gamer, you’ll need a laptop with discrete graphics, starting with at least an Nvidia GTX 1660 Ti or AMD RX 5600 XT.

Of course, you’ll also have to decide between Windows and Mac, which largely comes down to personal preference. Windows can be found on the largest range of laptops, including budget notebooks and powerful 2-in-1 workstations, and offers a better selection of gaming software. Meanwhile, macOS is limited to a handful of Apple’s own laptops, and is ideal for folks who already own lots of Apple products thanks to its ability to sync up with your iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch. Windows laptops can be found for as cheap as a few hundred dollars, whereas MacBooks occupy a premium middle ground that starts at $999 for the MacBook Air or $1,999 for the higher-end MacBook Pros.

How we tested

As with every CNN Underscored review, we rigorously test devices both quantitatively and qualitatively. For laptops, we made the decision to benchmark first to get a standard for quantitative performance. If you’ve read our standalone laptop, tablet or mobile phone reviews, these tests will be familiar.

On Windows laptops, we performed GeekBench 5 and PCMark 10 tests. These run the laptops through a series of workflows and application processes, many of which you’d find yourselves (and we found ourselves) completing on a daily basis. For Mac laptops, PCMark 10 is not available, so Geekbench 5 was performed. If a laptop is gaming-capable, we run it through the Shadow of the Tomb Raider benchmark to see how it’ll hold up against many of the best PC games.

Regardless of operating system, we put each laptop through our standard battery test, which involves charging the laptop to 100%, setting brightness to 50% and engaging airplane mode to ensure connectivity is off. We then loop a 4K video file with the sound set to 15% until the battery dies and the machine turns off.

The combination of battery and benchmark testing gives us a quantitative feel for the devices and a hard number for each that can be used for comparisons. We then used each laptop as our daily driver for work, play and entertainment tasks, testing the battery to see if it could last through a full day of tasks, watching a movie to get a feel for the display and, of course, running a bunch of different applications.

Others we tested

MacBook Air M1

From $999 at Apple

The MacBook Air M1 was our best Apple laptop pick for nearly two years running and is still one of the best laptops you can buy. Its zippy M1 performance and long battery life continue to hold up against newer competitors, and its keyboard and display remain some of the best you can get at this price. We think the MacBook Air M2’s updated design, MagSafe charger and faster performance are worth the extra $200, but for those on a budget, the MacBook Air M1 is a fantastic value — especially since it’s often on sale.

MacBook Pro M2

From $1,299 at Apple

In terms of sheer performance, the MacBook Pro M2 is one of the best laptops we’ve tested. Its M2 processor runs circles around anything in its price range, and makes this machine ideal for intensive video editing and graphics work. It can also survive a full day of work on a charge, and endured close to an hour longer than the MacBook Air on our tests.

However, all of this awesome power is stuck in a dated design that looks and feels exactly like the last few iterations of the 13-inch MacBook Pro. That means you’re getting a Touch Bar you probably don’t want, a meh 720p webcam and the same old 13.3-inch Retina display with thick black borders around the edges. Those considering the 13-inch MacBook Pro should either opt for the MacBook Air M2 — which has similar performance and a much better design for $100 less — or splurge for the far more expansive 14-inch MacBook Pro.

Microsoft Surface Laptop 5

From $1,000 at Microsoft

The Surface Laptop 5 is an extremely close runner-up for the title of best Windows laptop, offering a big, beautiful and uniquely tall screen; a great keyboard; and strong overall performance and battery life. But its design, while attractive, is a bit dated and bulky compared to the competition, and you’ll get better specs for the money on the XPS 13.

Microsoft Surface Pro 9

From $1,000 at Microsoft

The Surface Pro 9 retains everything great about the Surface Pro 8, but doesn’t add much. It’s virtually the same as the 2021 model, just with faster 12th Gen processors, a nixed headphone jack and an optional 5G configuration that makes serious performance sacrifices for always-on connectivity. Unless you need 5G or like the Pro 9’s color options, you’re better off saving your cash on the still-great Pro 8.

Samsung Galaxy Book 2 Pro 360

From $800 at Samsung

The Samsung Galaxy Book 2 Pro 360 is an excellent 2-in-1 laptop, offering fast performance and more than 11 hours of battery life. If you’re deep into the Samsung ecosystem, you may find its plethora of preloaded first-party apps useful — but if you’re not, you’re looking at lots of bloatware. On top of the Book 2 Pro 360’s excess software and relatively low display resolution, we still prefer the Surface Pro 8’s more versatile, detachable design.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2

From $600 at Microsoft

The $600 Surface Laptop Go 2 is a very good pick for students or folks on a tight budget, offering dependable performance and just about the best build quality you can find for the price. However, you’ll realistically want to get the $699 model that comes with a more usable 8GB of storage and fingerprint reader. When you factor that in, we still think the $549 Dell Inspiron 14 is the best overall value for Windows users.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio

From $1,400 at Microsoft

In terms of sheer performance and versatility, the Surface Laptop Studio is arguably Microsoft’s best notebook yet. Thanks to its durable, flexible hinge, this 2-in-1 works well as a laptop for everyday multitasking, a sturdy drawing tablet and a stand-up display for giving presentations or watching movies.

It’s also the only Surface with optional discrete Nvidia graphics, making it ideal for demanding visual tasks and even some light PC gaming. However, with an expensive starting price that only gets higher if you opt for a dedicated GPU and more processing power, we’d only recommend this machine to artists, video editors and general power users.

Microsoft Surface Go 3

From $400 at Microsoft

The Surface Go 3 packs a full Windows 11 experience and a surprisingly good webcam into a tiny 10-inch tablet, which turns into a comfortable mini laptop once you attach a Type Cover keyboard. However, its performance can be frustratingly slow at times, and its alluring $400 starting price quickly balloons closer to $800 once you configure it with a keyboard and halfway decent processor.

Apple MacBook Pro 16-Inch 2021

From $2,499 at Apple

The 16-inch MacBook Pro has everything we love about our upgrade pick in the 14-inch model, just with a larger screen and a few more configuration options for really maxing out the processor. It’s a great choice if those two things matter to you (and if you have the cash to spare), but we think the 14-inch MacBook Pro’s lower starting price and more portable design make it the better pick for most power users.

Read more from CNN Underscored’s hands-on testing: