Aside from my phone, my laptop is my most important device. I use it for everything: working on articles for NBC Select, watching the latest movies on Netflix, editing videos, planning travel and so much more. Which is why the thought of replacing it stresses me out, especially when it can be difficult to understand what laptop tech specs mean.
But upgrading your laptop can lead to a faster, lighter and more enjoyable experience for any kind of task. That’s why we spoke with experts on what to look for when shopping for a new laptop, and rounded up top-rated and staff favorite options.
How we picked top-rated laptops
We spoke with electronics experts to better understand the most important things to look for when shopping for a new laptop. We also asked NBC Select staff about their favorite laptops, and chose models that fit the following criteria:
- Operating system: An operating system (OS) is the software at the root of your laptop — it manages nearly all its other processes. Your OS is a deciding factor in what kinds of programs you can download and what kinds of devices you can connect your laptop to. We included laptops that use Mac and Windows OS.
- Performance: Not everyone needs the biggest, most powerful laptop on the market. The amount of speed, memory and storage space you need depends on what you are using the laptop for, according to our experts. We included a range of options so that you only pay for what you need.
- Size: Small laptops are great for anyone on the go, while larger laptops can be better for multitasking, video editing, gaming and performance, according to our experts. We included laptops ranging from 13 to 15 inches.
Top-rated laptops in 2024
Our top picks come from familiar brands like Apple, Acer, Asus and Dell. Below each recommendation, we share specifications we think you should know when shopping, like size, weight, ports, storage size and more.
Best for most people: Apple MacBook Air (M2)
NBC Select staff have used different MacBook Air laptops for years. This latest model is a good fit for anyone, outside of creative professionals and gamers. It has a high-resolution screen and a speedy processor — I can have tons of tabs open, tackle video calls and browse spreadsheets without slowing down. This M2 version has faster all-around speeds than its predecessor, according to the brand.
Aside from its travel-friendly size, my favorite part of this laptop is the MagSafe charger: a cable that magnetically snaps in and out of the charging port. If you (or someone else) accidentally yanks the charging cable, it will snap out harmlessly, without dragging your entire laptop off your desk or lap.
For anyone wanting a larger screen, it also comes in a 15-inch version. Bumping up the storage on this laptop can cost an extra $300 compared to the base model.
Battery life: Up to 18 hours | Operating system: MacOS | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 256GB SSD | Size: 11.97 x 8.46 x 0.44 in | Weight: 2.7 lbs. | GPU: Apple M2 (8-core) | CPU: Apple M2 (8-core)
Best for Windows: Dell XPS 13
I used a Dell XPS 15 laptop for years as my main device — it tackled video calls, video editing and gaming well, albeit a little hot to the touch. But if you are mostly using Google and Microsoft programs, this 13-inch model above is more appropriate. It is the smallest and lightest laptop on our list — at just 2.59 pounds, it won’t make your backpack unbearably heavy. Similar to a Macbook, most of the components are metal, giving it a sleek and durable look. The lack of ports could be a drawback for some, but the XPS 13 comes with two adapters: USB-C to USB-A and USB-C to 3.5mm headset.
Battery life: Up to 12 hours | Operating system: Windows 11 | RAM: 16GB | Storage: 512GB SSD |Size: 11.63 x 7.86 x 0.55 in | Weight: 2.59 lbs. | GPU: Intel Iris Xe | CPU: Intel 12th Gen i7-1250U
Best budget laptop: Acer Aspire 3
This laptop costs around $300, much less than the other options on our list. That’s partly because it has less storage space (128GB) and a less powerful CPU (Ryzen 3) — most of our other picks have at least 256GB of storage and faster CPUs. If you are only doing simple tasks like browsing the web then it will suffice, making it a better fit for younger students than working professionals. Even at this price, it has a big 15-inch HD display and lots of ports — no need to carry an adapter or USB hub to plug in all your devices.
Battery life: Up to 11 hours | Operating system: Windows 11 | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 128GB SSD | Size: 14.3 x 9.4 x 0.74 in | Weight: 3.92 lbs. | GPU: AMD Radeon | CPU: AMD Ryzen 3 7320U
Best budget Mac: Apple MacBook Air (M1)
NBC Select editorial projects manager Rebecca Rodriguez uses this MacBook, which she’s owned for two years, for emails, spreadsheets, budgeting, staying organized and watching TV. It is smaller and more lightweight than many of the options on our list at under three pounds and less than 12 inches wide. While it has less speed, storage space and ports than some of our other top picks, it is more than enough for Rodriguez’s needs.
Battery life: Up to 18 hours | Operating system: MacOS | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 256GB SSD | Size: 11.97 x 8.36 x 0.63 in | Weight: 2.8 lbs. | GPU: Apple M1 (7-core) | CPU: Apple M1 (8-core)
Best gaming laptop: Asus ROG Zephyrus G14
This is one of the best gaming laptops, balancing performance, portability and price. It has powerful internal components and a fast, high-resolution quad-HD display, meaning it is well-equipped to play all the latest games. It also has plenty of USB ports to plug in gaming accessories and peripherals, as well as an HDMI port if you want to plug in another computer monitor. Unlike many other gaming laptops, it is relatively small and lightweight — only slightly larger than a Macbook Pro.
I do not own the G14 but based on my experience with gaming laptops generally, this mid-range gaming laptop is a better value than other top-of-the-line versions, which often have diminishing returns for the money.
Battery life: Up to 10 hours | Operating system: Windows 11 | RAM: 16GB | Storage: 512GB SSD | Size: 12.31 x 8.95 x 0.73 in | Weight: 3.64 lbs. | GPU: NVIDIA RTX 4060 | CPU: AMD Ryzen 9 7540HS
Best budget gaming: Acer Nitro 5
If you are looking to play games on your laptop but don’t need the most recent, most premium parts, this laptop still offers great performance for less than our other picks. It has a fast screen and plenty of ports to plug in all kinds of gaming accessories.
At 5.51 pounds, it is the heaviest laptop on our list — frequent travelers interested in gaming might want to look at the lighter, more battery-efficient Acer Zephyrus G14 instead.
Battery life: Up to 3.5 hours | Operating system: Windows 11 | RAM: 16GB | Storage: 512GB SSD | Size: 14.2 x 10.7 x 1.06 in | Weight: 5.51 lbs. | GPU: NVIDIA RTX 3050 Ti | CPU: Intel 12th Gen i5-12450H
Best for creatives: Apple Macbook Pro (M3 Pro)
While I haven’t tried this latest M3 version, I use last generation’s MacBook Pro for work. It is an excellent all-round laptop that I would recommend to any creative professional. I can open dozens (read: way too many) tabs, hop on video calls and edit large video sequences in programs like Adobe Premiere Pro without the computer slowing down or getting too hot to handle.
The screen in particular is gorgeous, with vibrant colors and the highest resolution of any laptop on this list. And while I wouldn’t call it a gaming laptop, I have played less graphically demanding games like Hades without issue.
It is slightly heavier and larger than the MacBook Air, but that small increase in bulk is worth the increased performance.
Battery life: | Operating system: MacOS | RAM: 18GB | Storage: 512GB SSD | Size: 12.31 x 8.71 x 0.61 in | Weight: 3.5 lbs. | GPU: Apple M3 Pro (14-core) | CPU: Apple M3 Pro (11-core)
How to shop for a laptop
Our experts agree that shopping for a laptop can be intimidating. Asking yourself a few questions before browsing different models can help narrow your options from dozens to a handful of quality contenders fit to your needs and lifestyle.
What is this laptop for?
Think about how you are going to use your new laptop. Depending on your answer, you’ll need a more or less powerful machine:
For photo and video editing: Video and photo editing software runs more smoothly with a more powerful machine, namely one with a stronger GPU and more RAM, says Eric Ackerson, a senior product marketing and brand manager at Acer of America, one of the largest computer manufacturers. (Since Acer sells laptops, we only spoke with Ackerson about technical shopping guidance, and did not ask for specific product recommendations.) I’ve found editing videos much easier using a 15 or 17 inch screen — you have more space to spread out multiple windows or one large application.
For gaming: Games can run more efficiently on a laptop with a more powerful GPU, says Carl Prouty, a product specialist with over 20 years of experience in consumer electronics sales at Abt, a national retailer of electronics and appliances based in Glenview, Illinois. (Since Abt sells laptops, we only spoke with Prouty about technical shopping guidance, and did not ask for specific product recommendations.) Without a strong GPU, games can stutter and lag more often, says Ackerson.
For documents, emails and video calls: Web browsing, streaming and document editing are considered basic tasks for a computer and do not require top of the line specs or GPUs, according to our experts. You can likely purchase a laptop that is less than $1000 and still have smooth performance, in my experience.
What other devices do you use?
Most phones can now sync with your laptop, allowing you to send texts, access photos and more from either device. Android phones tend to work more easily with Windows laptops, while Apple phones sync seamlessly with Apple laptops, in my experience. Matching your phone to your laptop’s operating system can help the two devices work in tandem.
Meet our experts
At NBC Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and without undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.
- Carl Prouty is the Technologist at Abt, a national retailer of electronics and appliances based in Glenview, Illinois. He has over 20 years of experience in consumer electronics sales. (Since Abt sells laptops, we only spoke with him about technical shopping guidance, and did not ask for specific product recommendations.)
- Eric Ackerson is a senior product marketing and brand manager for Acer of America, one of the largest computer manufacturers. (Since Acer sells laptops, we only spoke with him about technical shopping guidance, and did not ask for specific product recommendations.)
Why trust NBC Select?
Harry Rabinowitz is a reporter at NBC Select who has written about consumer technology for years, including recent guides to keyboards, tablets and more. For this piece, he leveraged his personal experience and the experience of the NBC Select team using laptops in their daily lives. He also spoke with electronics experts to better understand the technical specifications of laptops, and did thorough research of top-rated models.