Laptop buying guide: how to buy a laptop


Standardized, repeatable testing is a key facet of all of the review we vì at Here's a rundown of how we kiểm tra every laptop that hits the bench at PC Labs.

Bạn đang xem: Laptop buying guide: how to buy a laptop


(Photo: Molly Flores)

We regularly evaluate new benchmark solutions as they hit the market and overhaul our testing procedures khổng lồ keep pace with the latest technologies. In August 2021, we rolled out a new suite of benchmarks, replacing those we"d been using for several years. The downside of changing our benchmarks is that it resets the database of tested PCs that we can use for comparisons in review (though we have been running the new tests on every recent notebook we can get our hands on khổng lồ build it back up). The upside is that it gives us more current, more accurate comparisons that will only get better as we địa chỉ cửa hàng more data.


(Photo: Molly Flores)

Our laptop testing focuses on four roughly divided aspects of performance: productivity and nội dung creation, graphics và gaming, battery life, and display quality. Here"s a breakdown of each. Except for our battery rundown, we conduct tests with the máy vi tính running on AC power và Windows 10"s nguồn profile set to lớn best performance rather than battery conservation.

Productivity Testing

PCMark 10

Our first (and arguably most important) benchmark thử nghiệm is UL"s PCMark 10(Opens in a new window). This wide-ranging suite simulates a variety of Windows programs to lớn give an overall performance score for office workflows. The tasks involved include such everyday staples as word processing, website browsing, videoconferencing, and spreadsheet analysis.


The PCMark 10 launch screen

Running PCMark 10: the video-calling simulation

We run the primary PCMark 10 chạy thử (not the Express or Extended versions), which yields a proprietary numeric score. Results over 4,000 or 5,000 points indicate excellent productivity for everyday Microsoft Office or Google Workspace tasks.


Running PCMark 10: web browsing simulation

Results from the PCMark 10 chạy thử can be used khổng lồ compare systems" relative performance for everyday tasks. (PCMark 10 is also used by large organizations khổng lồ gauge potential new hardware"s suitability to workloads, compared with existing installed hardware.) Bear in mind, however, that PCMark 10 results, lượt thích those from most of our benchmark tests here, are highly sensitive to the specific configuration of the PC being tested.

PCMark 10 Full System Drive Storage demo

We also run PCMark 10"s Full System Drive storage subtest, which measures the program load time and the throughput of the laptop"s boot drive. Nowadays, that is almost always a solid-state drive rather than a spinning hard drive.


The PCMark 10 Storage test launch screen

Like the productivity test, the PCMark 10 Storage demo delivers a numeric score with higher numbers indicating quicker response.


The PCMark 10 Storage chạy thử in progress

The benchmark is designed to factor in lower-end Serial ATA bus architectures and higher-end PCI Express/NVMe ones alike. It aims khổng lồ quantify the real-world differences in performance attributable to these different drive types. (Earlier versions tended not to lớn differentiate much between various implementations of SSD.)

Cinebench R23

Maxon"s Cinebench(Opens in a new window) is a CPU test that uses the company"s Cinema 4 chiều engine lớn render a complex scene. We use the test"s multi-core benchmark, which exercises all of a processor"s cores & threads—the more powerful the chip, the higher the score. Cinebench tends khổng lồ scale well with more cores & threads, as well as with higher clock speeds.


A Cinebench R23 render in progress

Cinebench is a raw test of a PC"s number-crunching ability, and it is paralleled in applications ranging from spreadsheet summations to lớn computer-aided design & 3D rendering. The score reflects how well a máy tính xách tay will handle processor-intensive workloads.

Geekbench 5.4 Pro

Primate Labs" Geekbench(Opens in a new window) is another processor workout. It runs a series of CPU workloads designed to lớn simulate real-world applications ranging from PDF rendering and speech recognition lớn machine learning.


Results screen for Geekbench Pro

We record Geekbench"s Multi-Core Score. (Higher numbers are better.) Geekbench is especially handy because, unlike many other common benchmark tests, it has versions for many platforms (including Apple"s macOS & iOS), which can enable valuable cross-comparisons.

HandBrake 1.4

Video editing is one of the most demanding tasks for a PC. HandBrake(Opens in a new window) is an open-source đoạn phim transcoder for converting multimedia files lớn different resolutions và formats.


Setting up the Handbrake transcoding kiểm tra with Tears of Steel

We record the time HandBrake takes, rounded to lớn the nearest minute, khổng lồ encode a 12-minute 4K H.264 đoạn clip file (the Blender Foundation movie Tears of Steel(Opens in a new window)) to a more compact 1080p version. We use the software"s Fast1080p30 preset for this conversion.

This is primarily a CPU test. Lượt thích Cinebench, it scales well with more cores and threads, and in systems that have the robust thermals to lớn handle heavy, sustained processing loads over several minutes. Because this is a timed test, lower times are better.

PugetBench for Photoshop (Using Adobe Photoshop 22 CC)

Our final productivity chạy thử is Puget Systems" PugetBench for Photoshop(Opens in a new window), which uses version 22 of Adobe"s popular image editor to lớn measure a PC"s performance for content creation and multimedia applications. PugetBench is an automated Photoshop extension that replaces our former stopwatch test, which ran through a scripted workload using a 2018 version of the software.


PugetBench thử nghiệm in progress with Adobe Photoshop 22

PugetBench executes a broad range of general & GPU-accelerated Photoshop tasks ranging from opening, resizing, rotating, & saving an image to lớn applying masks, gradient fills, và filters (including Lens Correction, Smart Sharpen, Field Blur, and Tilt-Shift Blur).

The PugetBench for Photoshop Overall Score is a numeric value based on a 50/50 split between the general and filter tasks. (Higher numbers are better.) This benchmark exercises both the system"s CPU & its graphics cpu or card, as well as its memory & storage subsystems. Cảnh báo that low-memory and budget systems (such as those Windows 10 models with just 4GB of RAM) may not be able lớn complete this test.

Graphics Testing

Whether a máy tính xách tay relies on integrated graphics built into the processor or a discrete GPU like one of Nvidia"s GeForce or AMD"s Radeon series, its graphics capabilities affect everything from whether it can play the latest games to lớn how promptly application windows appear on screen. We use some benchmarks that report proprietary scores and others that measure frames per second (fps), the frequency at which the graphics hardware renders frames in a sequence, which translates lớn how smooth the scene looks in motion.

3DMark Night Raid và 3DMark Time Spy

UL"s 3DMark(Opens in a new window) is a graphics chạy thử suite for Windows that contains a number of benchmarks for different GPU functions & software APIs. We run two DirectX 12 tests on all PCs: 3DMark Night Raid, and 3DMark Time Spy.

Night Raid is the more modest of the two kiểm tra workloads, suitable for laptops with integrated graphics or for sản phẩm điện thoại devices. It"s meant for lower-power, mainstream systems & renders at a simulated resolution of 1,920 by 1,080 pixels.


The Night Raid results screen

Time Spy, meanwhile, is much more demanding, suitable for high-end PCs with the latest graphics cards. It renders at a simulated resolution of 2,560 by 1,440 pixels. The chạy thử leverages features of the DX12 API, including asynchronous compute, explicit multi-adapter, và multi-threading.


The Time Spy launch screen

Each test yields an Overall Score, which is what we report. (We don"t break out the graphics & CPU scores.) Higher numbers are better.

3DMark Port Royal

We run the 3DMark Port Royal test only on certain compatible (mostly, gaming) laptops. Primarily, it is portables with Nvidia"s GeForce RTX series graphics silicon that get this third 3DMark benchmark, which is a real-time ray-tracing exercise.


The 3DMark Port Royal ray-tracing test in progress

Ray tracing is a 3 chiều rendering technique that traces the path of light from your viewpoint through the pixel plane & into the scene, where it may reflect from or be blocked by objects or pass through transparent or semi-transparent objects. It delivers greater visual realism at the expense of greater computational complexity.

The demo renders at a simulated 2,560 by 1,440 pixels. Port Royal reports a numeric score based on how smoothly a PC presents an animated scene.

GFXBench 5.0

GFXBench(Opens in a new window) is a cross-platform GPU performance benchmark that stress-tests both low-level routines lượt thích texturing & high-level, game-like image rendering. We run two of its subtests, Aztec Ruins & Car Chase, rendered off-screen to accommodate different display resolutions và make comparisons valid.


The GFXBench thiết lập screen

Both Aztec Ruins (1440p) & Car Chase (1080p) exercise graphics và compute shaders, but the former relies on the OpenGL application programming interface (API) while the latter uses hardware tessellation. We record the results in frames per second (fps); higher numbers are better.


Launching the GFXBench car Chase subtest

Like Geekbench, GFXBench is extra-valuable as a benchmark kiểm tra because it allows for multiplatform (that is, not just Windows) cross-comparisons. Beyond Windows 10, it accommodates devices using Android, Apple"s macOS, and Apple"s iOS.

Real-World Gaming & nội dung Creation Tests

The synthetic tests above are helpful for measuring general 3 chiều graphics aptitude, but it"s hard to lớn beat full retail video games for quantifying gaming performance. To lớn that end, we’ve chosen three games that each represent a major genre that gamers play, and that bao tay your hardware in different ways: a big-budget AAA title, a sports/racing sim, & a hyper-popular esports shoot-"em-up.

All three of these games include built-in benchmark tests that run through a consistent scene or snippet of chơi game and measure frame rates, delivering results in frames per second. The default demo resolution is 1080p (1,920 by 1,080 pixels), but we’ll also demo at a laptop’s native resolution for anecdotal results if the display is 1440p (2,560 by 1,440) or 4K (3,840 by 2,160).

Assassin"s Creed Valhalla

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is our representative for big-budget (or “AAA”) single-player games, the bread and butter for many performance-conscious gamers. These are usually action-adventure or RPG titles that demo the limits of visual realism and increasingly include big mở cửa worlds. These games push cutting-edge character models, textures, lighting, và expansive landscapes that require some serious processing and graphics power.


Assassin"s Creed Valhalla: A big AAA bruiser of a game

Valhalla is a 2020 kích hoạt role-playing game from Ubisoft. We run this test on the Medium & Ultra High graphics chất lượng presets.

Xem thêm: Mất Cảm Ứng Màn Hình Laptop Bị Loạn Hiệu Quả Nhất, Bật Và Tắt Màn Hình Cảm Ứng Của Bạn Trong Windows

F1 2021

The two other games we chạy thử are F1 2021 và Tom Clancy"s Rainbow Six Siege, which are less visually demanding and serve similar (but still distinct) purposes. F1 2021 is, of course, a Formula One racing sim, so high frame rates for smooth chơi game are a must.


F1 2021: Ready, set, speed

We use this Codemasters title to test the action-sim genre. We run F1 2021"s built-in bench demo on the Monaco thử nghiệm track at 1080p and the Ultra High chất lượng preset.

We also, in some cases, use this kiểm tra to see how much Nvidia’s DLSS technology can help less powerful laptops. Our first F1 2021 test run is done with TAA anti-aliasing, but on a second run we switch the anti-aliasing setting to lớn DLSS, if supported, khổng lồ improve frame rates, and take cảnh báo of the improvement.

Tom Clancy"s Rainbow Six Siege

Rainbow Six Siege, another Ubisoft title, also thrives on high frame rates & represents the mega-popular competitive multiplayer/esports genre, particularly first-person shooters. This title is not meant to be visually demanding, but like the classic Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, is optimized khổng lồ run at high frame rates & to scale well to a wide variety of hardware.


Tom Clancy"s Rainbow Six Siege: In competition, all about the frame rates

Gamers playing on weak laptops will be happy lớn see 60fps scores, but enthusiasts with powerful machines want to lớn see frame rates in the hundreds, often to make use of their high-refresh screens that provide a competitive edge. We test this trò chơi at the Low & Ultra quality presets, with render scaling manually set to lớn 100%.

PugetBench for Premiere (Using Adobe Premiere Pro 15 CC)

In addition to testing all compatible laptops with Puget Systems" PugetBench for Adobe"s Photoshop image editor, we run PugetBench for Adobe"s Premiere Pro(Opens in a new window) video editor on systems suitable for that challenging app: gaming and content-creation laptops.


PugetBench in progress with Adobe Premiere Pro 15 CC

This automated extension performs live playback và file export with several codecs at 4K và 8K resolutions, as well as special-effects sequences that găng the CPU & GPU beyond normal Premiere Pro operations. We report the test"s standard overall score. Like with the PugetBench Photoshop test, higher numbers are better.

Laptop Battery Testing

How long a notebook will run without being plugged into a nguồn outlet varies wildly depending on what it"s doing—playing a game, browsing the web, writing emails, or whatever—and factors such as its screen resolution (more pixels to illuminate will drain the battery faster) & brightness setting.


(Photo: Zlata Ivleva)

We aim for a fair chạy thử of relative battery life by giving all laptops the same job: playing a locally stored 720p đoạn phim file (the open-source Blender movie Tears of Steel(Opens in a new window)) with display brightness at 50% and audio volume at 100% until the system quits. We make sure the battery is fully charged before the test, with Wi-Fi và keyboard backlighting turned off. We set Windows 10"s nguồn profile khổng lồ the "better battery" (or equivalent) setting rather than "peak performance" & configure the system to lớn shut down (hibernate) when battery charge has fallen to lớn 5%.


Tears of Steel: clip playback battery rundown test ("You"re just freaked out by my robot hand!")

A few laptops, mostly Chromebooks with eMMC flash storage rather than solid-state drives, don"t have enough onboard storage capacity khổng lồ hold our Tears of Steel video clip file. In those cases, we play the movie from a solid-state drive connected lớn a USB port.


Windows 10 battery options

Laptop Screen Brightness & màu sắc Testing

To quantify the brightness output đầu ra and màu sắc gamut of the máy vi tính screen, we use Datacolor"s SpyderX Elite colorimeter/calibrator tools to measure display performance.

We chạy thử screen brightness output đầu ra levels at 1/2 and 100% brightness, per the OS"s brightness setting. Results are reported in nits (candelas per square meter). We also use the Spyder tool và Datacolor"s software khổng lồ measure the gamut coverage (by percentage) for the three most relevant màu sắc spaces for máy tính users: the sRGB, Adobe RGB, và DCI-P3 standards.


DataColor SpyderX Elite in action

Acolor spaceis a defined range of colors. Photographers will be most interested in sRGB và Adobe RGB, as they were developed with photos & still images in mind. SRGB is the standard màu sắc space for the web and many other applications. That said, Adobe RGB does have a considerably wider color gamut than sRGB, và savvy photographers may be able to coax a more vivid range of colors when printing Adobe RGB images, whether they"re outputting their own prints or working with a commercial service.

DCI-P3 is more cinema-oriented. It was defined by theDigital Cinema Initiatives (DCI)(Opens in a new window), a consortium of major motion-picture producers. It is geared toward digital đoạn phim projection. If you are purely a photographer, or a photo editor, you can ignore DCI-P3 results, but they will come into play if you work with video.

Special Cases: MacBooks, Chromebooks, & Mobile Workstations

Being Windows benchmarks, PCMark 10 & 3DMark don"t run on macOS và Chrome OS laptops. There are, however, macOS versions of the Cinebench và Geekbench CPU tests & GFXBench GPU tests, which we do run.

The latest version of the HandBrake video clip encoder also supports Apple"s M1 processor. At this writing in August 2021, Adobe Photoshop extensions did not work on M1 MacBooks, but the PugetBench team was working on porting their Photoshop benchmark to lớn the platform.


For Chromebooks, we run one Chrome OS benchmark suite: Principled Technologies" CrXPRT 2(Opens in a new window). It measures how quickly a system performs everyday tasks in six workloads (applying photo effects, finding faces in images, encrypting và displaying offline notes, calculating & graphing views of a stock portfolio, analyzing DNA sequences, and generating 3d shapes using WebGL). The performance kiểm tra yields a numeric score; higher numbers are better.


The CrXPRT 2 suite in progress

We also run Basemark website 3.0(Opens in a new window), which measures how well a Chromebook can run web- or browser-based applications. It combines low-level JavaScript calculations & tests using popular JavaScript frameworks & Document Object mã sản phẩm and CSS features with WebGL graphics content that exercises the GPU. The chạy thử also yields a numeric score; higher numbers are better.

Since Chromebooks can run app android apps, we also run the android versions of the Geekbench CPU and GFXBench Aztec Ruins and Car Chase GPU tests, as well as the Work 3.0 benchmark from UL"s PCMark for Android.

Mobile Workstation Laptops

One last class of laptops we test is the điện thoại workstation. Mostly running Windows 10, these powerful machines tend lớn run Xeon processors và Quadro GPUs, though there is some crossover with the components in high-end nguồn laptops.

With these professional-oriented laptops, we run two additional benchmarks. The first, Blender(Opens in a new window), is an open-source 3D nội dung creation suite for modeling, animation, simulation, & compositing. We record the time it takes for Blender"s built-in Cycles path tracer to lớn render two photo-realistic scenes of BMW cars, one using the system"s CPU và one the GPU. Lower times are better.

The second test, SPECviewperf 2020(Opens in a new window), is a widely recognized testing suite that measures graphics performance for professional applications. The software renders, rotates, và zooms in & out of solid and wireframe models using viewsets from popular independent software vendor (ISV) applications. We run the 1080p resolution tests based on PTC"s Creo CAD platform; Autodesk"s Maya modeling and simulation software for film, TV, & games; and Dassault Systemes" SolidWorks 3 chiều rendering package. Results are delivered in frames per second (fps), và higher numbers are better.

The Result? Authoritative Guides khổng lồ Buying the Best Laptops

All this testing is a key part of how PC Labs informs the content and choices within our roundups and reviews on Performance is just one factor in the overall picture we take of a laptop"s worth, which also includes assessments of its design, feature set, value for money, build quality, & ergonomics.


We maintain more than two dozen guides to lớn buying laptops in a variety of niches, large và small. Our main best laptops guide is the place to lớn start for a wide-ranging overview of the vị trí cao nhất choices on the market across categories (as well as a deep explainer on the key facets of máy tính xách tay buying). Other large máy vi tính niches for which we update guides constantly include gaming laptops, business laptops, 2-in-1 laptops, and Chromebooks. We update these guides in sync with major releases khổng lồ the market and, especially, when we bestow our Editors" Choice award onto a given machine.

Get Our Best Stories!

Sign up for What"s New Now lớn get our vị trí cao nhất stories delivered lớn your inbox every morning.