Every quarter we like to take a look at the market and offer a summary for a quick recommendation list of laptops. The major announcement of note over the last quarter was the introduction of the 8th Generation Intel Core CPUs for notebooks, which is significant in that it finally brings the option of quad-core laptops in the 15-Watt U series. Prior to this, anyone wanting more than two cores, and four threads, would have had to step up to the 45-Watt H series, which is generally only found in larger notebooks around 15.6-inches or so. However the rollout of the 8th Gen quads is a bit slow, so not everyone has them available right now.

Laptop Recommendations Q3 2017
Segment Model Starting Price (As of writing)
Low Cost Notebooks Chuwi LapBook 14.1 $270 USD
  Chuwi LapBook 12.3 $330 USD
Budget Ultrabooks ASUS ZenBook UX330UA $699 USD
Premium Ultrabooks Dell XPS 13 $799.99 USD
  Microsoft Surface Laptop $899.99 USD
eGFX Support Razer Blade Stealth $899.99 USD
Convertibles HP Spectre x360 $1455 USD
  Microsoft Surface Pro $748.90 USD
15.6-Inch Notebooks Dell XPS 15 $999.99 USD
  Apple MacBook Pro 15 $2399 USD

As always, we’ll break the guide down into several segments to serve various markets, from low-cost, to mid-range, to high end.

Low-Cost Notebooks

First up is the entry-level devices, and although they may cost less than the rest, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be short of features.

Chuwi LapBook 14.1

If you’re after a mid-size notebook at an affordable price, it’s hard to go wrong with the Chuwi LapBook 14.1. It offers a 1920x1080 IPS display, which is somewhat of a rare find in this segment of 1366x768 TN laptops. It’s based on Intel’s Apollo Lake Celeron N3450, which is four Atom Goldmont cores that can go up to 2.2 GHz. 4 GB of Dual-Channel RAM coupled with 64 GB of eMMC storage make this a surprisingly capable notebook for the price, and although it’s plastic, the material has a great texture to it. This is one of my favorite notebooks of 2017 so far, and it sells for $270 USD.

Chuwi LapBook 12.3

Another Chuwi may seem like favoritism, but this company has been releasing some very interesting PCs for price-sensitive buyers, and the LapBook 12.3 continues the trend of the 14.1 by offering a lot of bang for the buck. Obviously, the name gives away the hint that this is a smaller notebook, but the 12.3-inch display is actually the same 3:2 2736x1824 panel found in the Microsoft Surface Pro, so it offers an impressive 267 pixels-per-inch in this laptop chassis. Like the LapBook 14.1, it’s also powered by a quad-core Celeron N3450 with Intel Atom Goldmont CPU cores, but the LapBook 12.3 bumps the memory from 4 GB to 6GB, while keeping the same 64 GB of eMMC storage. It’s relatively light at 1.45 kg / 3.18 lbs, but heavier than a more expensive Ultrabook would be. We just had a chance to review this device, and it was seriously impressive for the cost. Plus, you can add a M.2 2242 SATA SSD if you want to bump the storage. It's a price bump over the 14.1, but the move to an all-aluminum body makes it feel a lot more premium than the $330 price would suggest.

Budget Ultrabooks

Sleek, thin, and capable, Ultrabooks have defined the laptop over the last several years. There have been significant increases to batter life, display quality, and build materials across several lines, and every company now offers at least one laptop in this category.

ASUS ZenBook UX330UA

ASUS has a reputation of offering more for less, and the UX330UA follows in that tradition. It features a brushed aluminum chassis packing a 13.3-inch 1920x1080 IPS display, and it weighs in at just 1.18 kg / 2.6 lbs, so it’s very portable. This is a Core i5-7200U model, with 8 GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD. ASUS also offers a keyboard with an impressive 1.5 mm of travel, and a fingerprint reader for Windows Hello. ASUS is generally quickly onboard with new standards too, and the UX330 offers a USB-C port, although it’s a Gen 1 version. It's hard to go wrong with this for the price though, since the i5 model with 8 GB / 256 GB is only $699, which is a great entry point to the Ultrabook market.

Premium Ultrabooks

Dell XPS 13

Dell’s XPS 13 has aged well, and it still offers one of the slimmest bezels on any notebook. Dell was one of the first to announce support for the 8th Gen quad-core, and it's available now, but the Kaby Lake models are still around as well, so if you're after an i7, pay attention to what you're getting. The base model still comes with just 4 GB of RAM, so the jump to the 8 GB / 256 GB model is likely the best target for entry if looking at the XPS 13. The highest end models come with a beautiful 3200x1800 QHD+ display, compared to the 1920x1080 panel on the base model, but the lower resolution is easier on the battery. The webcam is still in an awkward location on the bottom bezel of this notebook, thanks to the thin top bezel, so if you’re a heavy webcam user this may be enough to dissuade you from considering this otherwise excellent laptop.

Microsoft Surface Laptop

Microsoft’s Surface brand has some significant advantages over much of the competition, including individually calibrated 3:2 displays, which make them much better for content creation. The Surface Laptop also has an Alcantara keyboard cover, which should offer an interesting feel to the typing experience. There is a Core i5-7200U model, or you can opt for the Core i7-7660U with Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640 with 64 MB of eDRAM and 48 Execution Units on the GPU, up from the standard 24 Execution Units of the generic U series. The display is the same size as the Surface Book, at 13.5-inches, but the resolution drops a bit to 2256x1504, compared to the 3000x2000 of the Surface Book. The lower resolution is likely partially to keep costs down, and also to keep battery life in check. The Surface Laptop weighs in at 1.25 kg / 2.76 lbs, and will be the first laptop shipping with Windows 10 S. This will be a more restrictive version of Windows 10, only allowing Windows Store apps to be installed, but Surface Laptop buyers will be able to unlock Windows 10 Pro for free for the first year. The Surface Laptop will be available in four colors, starting at $999 for the Core i5/4GB/128GB model, and up to $2199 for the Core i7/16GB/512GB version. We've not had a chance for a full review of the Surface Laptop yet, but we have had a chance to try it out. The attention to detail is high, which is the case with most Surface devices, and it's hard not to love the 3:2 display.

eGFX Support

Razer Blade Stealth

Razer has updated the Stealth, and the updates are significant. The Stealth was always a great looking Ultrabook, that suffered from large display bezel syndrome. Razer has addressed this with a new 13.3-inch model, in the same chassis as the original 12.5-inch laptop. The new display is a QHD+ (3200x1800) sRGB panel. They still offer a FHD (1920x1080) sRGB and UHD model (3840x2160) with AdobeRGB gamut support, in the original12.5-inch display. The FHD 12.5 is the lowest cost, but the 13.3 is likely the nicest pick of the bunch. Either model comes with a Core i7-7500U, 16GB of RAM, and up to 1TB of NVMe SSD. Razer still brings its gaming roots to the table too, with an individually lit RGB keyboard, offering almost limitless combinations of color, and external graphics support, in case you want to dock this using the Thunderbolt 3 port and add a desktop graphics card. It’s a very nice, light laptop, with the Razer traditional CNC aluminum chassis, which can now be found in Gunmetal Gray, along with the traditional Black.

Convertibles

HP Spectre x360

HP’s design team created a very stunning notebook in the Spectre x360, and it’s certainly not form over function. The 13.3-inch display is 1920x1080, and it’s fitted into a narrow bezel giving it an edge-to-edge screen. The dark ash and copper color scheme on the aluminum is very striking, and it’s powered by the usual Ultrabook components in the Kaby Lake U series, with up to 16 GB of DDR4 and 256 GB or 512 GB SSD options. It’s also a 2-in-1, offering a flip-around display to function as a touch device. For those that want a larger laptop in the same Ultrabook form factor, HP also offers this as a 15.6-inch model with a UHD display and GeForce 940MX graphics. The larger model is 2.0 kg / 4.41 lbs, compared to just 1.31 kg / 2.89 lbs of the smaller 13-inch model, but both are very nice looking notebooks. Even though it's not been updated to 8th gen yet, if you need a convertible, this is still a tough option to not consider.

 

Microsoft Surface Pro (2017)

The Surface Pro has come a long way since the original version launched, and the latest generation is a refinement of the already excellent Surface Pro 4. The biggest changes inside are that it's now powered by Kaby Lake processors, but even more interestingly, the Core i5 model has gone completely fanless. We got a chance to review the Core i7-7660U model with Iris Graphics, and it was simply fantastic. The performance was excellent, while at the same time, the sound levels had decreased, and battery life had increased. Microsoft has softened the edges of the convertible laptop, to great effect. The move ot Kaby Lake has also solved the power management issues that plagued the Surface Pro 4, especially at the start of its life. The high end models can get expensive, and the keyboard and pen are both add-on options, but the 3:2 display and attention to detail put the Surface Pro over most of, if not all, of its competition.

15.6-inch Laptops

We’ve already mentioned the HP Spectre x360, since it has a 15.6-inch version, but for some people they need a bit larger computer, with a true quad-core CPU and possibly discrete graphics. The larger notebooks have the room for the additional cooling required for the 45-Watt quad-core processors.

Dell XPS 15

Dell took the winning formula with the XPS 13 and applied it to their larger XPS 15, and the result is a great looking laptop, which has a 15.6-inch display in a smaller than normal chassis. The latest XPS 15 9560 offers quad-core Kaby Lake CPUs, along with the latest NVIDIA GTX 1050 graphics, which is a big jump in performance over what’s available in any Ultrabook. You can get a UHD display with 100% of the Adobe RGB gamut as well, although the battery life takes a big hit with that many pixels, so the base 1920x1080 offering may be better suited to those that need a bit more time away from the power outlet. The keyboard and trackpad are both excellent, just like the XPS 13, and it features the same styling cues. The XPS 15 starts at $999. We got a chance to review the latest XPS 15, and it doesn't disappoint.

Apple MacBook Pro 15

Apple has kept the same Retina display resolution for the newest MacBook Pro, but improved the color gamut to cover the P3 color space instead of just sRGB. They’ve slimmed the 15-inch model down a lot, making it only four pounds, and they’ve embraced the next generation of IO with USB-C and Thunderbolt 3. Unfortunately, they’ve completely abandoned the USB-A ports though, so be prepared grab USB-C versions of any peripherals you may need.

The 15-inch MacBook launched with Skylake quad-core CPUs, and feature an AMD Polaris GPU that can drive up to six displays, or, two of the new 5K displays that were announced as well, in addition to the laptop panel. Combined with the low profile and weight, and the latest generation MacBook Pro packs a lot of performance into relatively little space.

Apple has moved to the butterfly switch keyboard on this model as well, and they’ve added a touch bar instead of the function keys. Not everyone has loved the latest MacBook Pros, but if you’re after a new macOS device, these are the best offerings right now.

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  • Gunbuster - Friday, September 29, 2017 - link

    The Microsoft surface products have no place on any best list after 16 products in a row using the worst in the industry Avastar WiFi/Bluetooth. Reply
  • kingpotnoodle - Friday, September 29, 2017 - link

    Worse than the Killer WiFi in the Dell XPS? I find it hard to believe it gets much worse than that... at work I'm replacing with an Intel 8265 as soon as delivered. Reply
  • Dr. Swag - Friday, September 29, 2017 - link

    It doesn't look that bad to me.
    https://www.anandtech.com/show/11538/the-microsoft...
    Reply
  • Gunbuster - Friday, September 29, 2017 - link

    Trust me it's bad. It slows down if you mix 2.4ghz and Bluetooth. It's unreliable. It has trouble on corporate AP's with a shared SSID for 2.4 and 5ghz. It has almost no configurable features in the driver (in the beginning it had zero). If it's not "that bad" can you show me any other vendor using the Avastar solution in a popular product? Reply
  • soliloquist - Friday, September 29, 2017 - link

    Well I have used my SP4 for almost 2 years now and have not experienced any real issues with the WiFi. I use it on my home network mostly with both 2.4GHz and 5GHz with out issue. I have never had connectivity issues or disconnections. Reception has been on par with my wife's iPad Pro. Rooms that she gets signal so do I. When the distances increase and the signal has to travel through several walls, my reception is spotty but so is hers.When traveling using hotel WiFi I have had no problems connecting.

    I never use Bluetooth so can't comment on that.

    So I have no reason to believe Avastar is "particularly good" but it does not seem terrible either.

    You mention so specific areas that it is deficient:
    1) slow downs with mixing 2.4GHz and bluetooth - can't comment because I have not used it in this way
    2) It's unreliable - I have had no issues with reliability.
    3) AP's with shared SSID for 2.4 and 5GHz - Don't believe that I have been exposed to this, but if I have I have had no issues.
    4) What additional features in the driver would you like to see that are available in Intel's WiFi solution for example.
    Reply
  • milkod2001 - Friday, September 29, 2017 - link

    You are missing recommendations what most people are willing to spend for not completely crap performance laptops while being reasonably priced at $499 - $599. Reply
  • DanNeely - Friday, September 29, 2017 - link

    I suspect they're waiting for Chuwi to go beyond an atom based system since they're getting a lot more in the $300 race to the bottom package. Professional laptop reviewers universally seem to think $450-600 laptops have too many flaws to justify the premium vs the $300 range. Don't really agree with that, especially since the gap between an atom based CPU and the bottom end of the Core range is as large as it is; but none of them are willing to endorse a $500 crapbook with a non-toy CPU. Reply
  • Brett Howse - Friday, September 29, 2017 - link

    You hit it on the head. I think most people would be happier with a LapBook 14.1 than a 6 lb 15-inch laptop with a small battery and a spinning hard drive, and a terrible display. The jump to an Ultrabook isn't huge either, with the ASUS at just $700. There's definitely a dead spot in the $500 range though that I'm waiting for some manufacturer to really lay claim to. Right now they are all just offering the same. Reply
  • DanNeely - Friday, September 29, 2017 - link

    I'd rather have a cheap TN display and a Core CPU than HDI IPS and an atom as long as both used SSDs for storage.

    OTOH to get all 3 I went with a $1500(?)ish configured XP13 2 years ago. The screen's wonderful, but if I had to economize I could live with a lot less there a lot easier than an atoms slowness.
    Reply
  • serendip - Saturday, September 30, 2017 - link

    I've gone the other way with a cheap Teclast Atom based tablet with the iPad screen. Celerons are slightly faster than the Cherry Trail Atom I'm using but for most office tasks, Atom is fine. The gorgeous screen more than makes up for the CPU speed and I get 10-hour battery life, enough for a whole day outside.

    A Surface Pro is still the best pure tablet Windows machine out there but it's possible to be satisfied with cheaper alternatives. I'd put battery life and screen quality ahead of CPU crunching ability.
    Reply

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