by Andrew Heinzman on
If you find yourself constantly plugging and unplugging HDMI cables from your TV, then it may be time to buy an HDMI switch.
Windows still rules the roost in terms of PC users and utility. If you’re looking for a new thin-and-light laptop (and macOS and Chrome just won’t cut it), these are the best available today.
“Ultrabook” is something of a nebulous term, first introduced by Intel to describe premium laptops with high-end materials and thin frames. For the purposes of this list, we’re defining it as any Windows-powered laptop that features the follow traits:
Also note that although we’re not including them on this Windows-focused list, all Mac laptops can run Windows via Boot Camp, but require an additional OS purchase.
Dell shocked the PC world with its super-svelte XPS 13 redesign back in 2015, and the model has been at the top of the Windows-powered market ever since. The design combines an aluminum outer shell with a carbon fiber keyboard deck, and the screen’s razor-thin bezels keep the total footprint tiny for a 13-inch laptop. The latest revision adds a few modernized touches, like Intel 8th-generation Core processors, a combined power-in/video-out USB-C port, and more color options.
The power indicator button is an especially thoughtful feature: it lets you see remaining battery levels without turning the machine on. The design’s only weakness is the awkward placement of the webcam beneath the screen, but that’s a foible that’s easy to forgive considering the rest of the machine’s qualities and how rarely you’ll use the webcam at all. A slightly older version can be had for as little as $800, but we recommend stepping up to the $1099 2018 revision with the Core i5-8250U processor and 8GB of RAM. (It’s listed as model number “9370” on Dell’s website and other retailers.) More robust models stretch past the $2500 mark with a 4K touchscreen plus processor and RAM upgrades. Dell also offers the XPS design in convertible and 15-inch varieties.
Lenovo was a big part of the initial wave of modern convertible notebooks, which flip back on themselves for tablet-style use or handy “tent” display in tight spaces. While others have copied their initial dual-hinge Yoga design, Lenovo has iterated and improved it with the more flexible “watch band” hinge. With the improved convertible mechanism and an all-aluminum body, the 920 model lays claim to the best convertible experience on the market.
Two USB-C ports, one of which doubles as the power jack and both of which offer video-out, are handy if you’ve already started upgrading your mobile devices. The base $1200 model is no slouch, with an 8th-gen Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB solid-state drive. All of those options are upgradable, and the 14-inch screen can be bumped from 1080p to 4K resolution (with a notable hit in battery life). For $100 more on its website, Lenovo offers a Gorilla Glass top instead of aluminum with one of four stylish designer patterns printed underneath, but we prefer the durability of the non-upgraded model.
Most ultrabooks use the integrated graphics card that comes with their processor, which can only handle light gaming duties. It’s a necessity: anything more generally needs a beefier machine to handle the power and thermal requirements. But thanks to an advanced dual-chamber cooling system and an 82-watt-hour battery, the G65 Stealth Thin from MSI crams an NVIDIA GTX 1060 or 1070 GPU and an 8th-gen Core i7 processor into a frame that’s just .69 inches high.
Other features are carefully tailored to high-end gaming: the 15.6-inch screen uses only a 1080p resolution, but its ultra-fast 144Hz refresh rate is fantastic for multiplayer gaming. The SteelSeries-branded keyboard offers RGB lighting on every key, and both the Wi-Fi and Ethernet modules are provided by network gaming specialist Killer. Dedicated microphone-in and HDMI-out ports make it easy to hook up to a monitor for long gaming sessions without any extra adapters.
The gold-on-black styling is a little more subdued than some other gaming notebooks—a welcome change if you need to use it for work, too—and the 16GB standard RAM is plenty for both gaming and heavy web surfing or streaming. At $1800 the base model is a surprisingly good deal for the tech inside, but those with some extra room in their budget should upgrade the 256GB storage to better hold those massive Steam libraries.
This Asus model isn’t the sleekest or most powerful Ultrabook on the list. But at just $699 with an 8th-generation Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a full aluminum chassis, it’s easily packing the best dollar-to-feature ratio. That price will also get you a respectable 256GB SSD, a built-in fingerprint reader, a backlit keyboard (sadly still not a given even at this price range), and a single USB-C port.
The 13-inch screen won’t blow you away with its 1080p resolution, but the rare matte finish is quite handy for anyone who likes to take their work outside once in a while. If you’re looking for a solid upgrade above a typical plastic-bodied budget notebook, this is it.
This HP machine doesn’t have the raw polygon-pushing power of the MSI gaming model above, but if you’re looking for an ultra-high-definition media experience, it’s a better choice. The 15-inch 4K screen includes a touch panel and a convertible hinge, and an 8th-gen Core i7-GeForce MX150 GPU combo has enough heft to handle local or streaming 4K videos. (And maybe a little Overwatch or Fortnite on the side.)
Media pros will appreciate the power, along with the free capacitive stylus pen. The $1220 starting price is more than reasonable for the included specs, and those who want more power, RAM, or storage space will be pleased with flexible options. Power users can upgrade to an even faster i7, a Radeon RX Vega M GPU, 16GB of RAM, and a full terabyte SSD for just a hair over $1800—a definite bargain. Earlier iterations of this model had same quality assurance issues, but they seem to be addressed in the latest upgrades.
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