Computer buying guide

Last updated: September 2015

Getting started

If you're in the market for a new PC, you'll find the latest models loaded with Windows 10, the latest version of Microsoft's operating system. There’s lots to like about Windows 10: a new Start menu; Cortana, a personal digital assistant; and a Settings menu that's easier to access and use.  

The latest version of Apple's Mac OS X operating system, Yosemite, resulted in an extensive facelift for the OS. The next version, El Capitan, is due out in the fall.

Laptops and even all-in-one desktops continue to get thinner and lighter. For example, as you're shopping around you'll find Ultrabooks, which are laptops with Intel-mandated standards for thinness, performance, and other features.

Here are some features you'll see in computers:

Touchscreens. Touchscreens have been available on all-in-one computers for some time. But many laptops also started getting touchscreens with the advent of Windows 8.1, which emphasized multi-finger touch controls. Windows 10, which is engineered to work on mobile devices as well as conventional computers, is likely to accelerate the trend. Computers with touchscreens do cost more, however.  

Enhanced touchpads. Most laptops also have enhanced touchpads that enable multitouch gestures. 

Gesture controls. You use gesture controls by waving your hands in various ways in front of a computer's webcam, to control volume, fast-forward or rewind videos, scroll through photos, and the like. Supplied by third-party software, this capability is also popping up on some desktop computers.

Hybrid drives. These combine a traditional hard drive with a small solid-state drive (SSD). The SSD stores start-up files for fast start-up or resume, while the hard drive provides plenty of storage space.

Do you need a new computer?

Before you replace a sluggish computer, try these steps to beef up its performance.

Get in the habit of closing applications you’re not using. That will keep them from straining system resources.

Shut down your computer at the end of the day. This will clear out digital detritus (such as temporary files) and free up system memory and other resources.

If a virus scan is running, pause it until you’re finished working. Scans hog system resources, slowing everything down. Set auto scans for times you’re not using the computer. Don’t skip antivirus software entirely, because malware can really mess with your system. Also set Windows for automatic updates so that you get the latest security patches.

Delete programs you no longer use. If that isn't enough, and if the computer is no more than four years old, make sure you have at least 4GB of memory. Adding memory is an inexpensive and easy way to upgrade your computer.

If you're running out of hard drive space, burn your music, photos, and videos onto CDs or DVDs, or onto an external drive, and delete them from your hard drive. To gain storage space, consider adding a hard drive. (Adding an external drive is an upgrade even a novice can do.)

If you're using Windows, run its Disk Defragmenter utility. That will help your hard drive access files faster.

If none of that works, and the computer is more than four years old, it's probably time to replace it. See the "Recycling your old computer" section in our computer shopping tips.


Choices among computers can be confusing. New desktops can actually be as small and inconspicuous as some laptops.

Some laptops offer features and capabilities that rival those of traditional desktops.

Then there are two-in-one computers. Those are convertibles and detachables that have a full computer operating system and hardware that mimics or converts into a tablet.


Many people have moved away from desktops in favor of slim, portable laptops. However, there's still a lot to recommend desktops for many users.

First, desktops deliver more performance for the money than laptops and are less costly to repair. They allow for a more ergonomically correct work environment, let you work on a larger screen, and typically come with better speakers. Finally, desktops are available in various styles and configurations, all designed to appeal to different tastes and uses.

Desktop Computer Types

These computers incorporate all components, including the monitor, in one case. The components are tightly packed behind and underneath the display, making them difficult to upgrade or repair. Meant to be space-savers, they're also designed to look less stodgy than traditional computers. You'll pay a premium for these models.

At less than half the size of full-sized desktops, compacts or slim desktops are ideal if you lack the space under your desk or you plan to put the computer on your desk. Like their larger brethren, compact desktops tend to be inexpensive. But they may be more difficult to upgrade and repair.

Though they require a lot of room under or on top of your desk, full-sized desktops are the least expensive and the easiest to upgrade and repair. They also offer the most features and options.

The sky's the limit for gaming systems. You get the fastest processors, the most sophisticated graphics cards, multiple large hard drives, and lots of RAM. Cases are usually large and offer room for expansion.


Laptops let you use your computer away from your desk, but you pay for that mobility with a keyboard that's a little more cramped, a higher price, and sometimes, reduced performance. They're also more expensive to repair than desktops. Technological advances have lessened the performance compromises for the most part, however.

Some new Ultrabooks have solid-state or hybrid drives, for fast boot and resume-from-sleep speeds, and some have ambient light sensors that automatically adjust screen brightness. Intel specs battery life to be at least 6 hours when playing videos, and most models we've tested have hit the mark and gone beyond it. Intel also wants computer makers to hold the price to less than $1,000.

Although vendors are shooting for price points lower than you're used to seeing with thin-and-lights, some may find that number hard to reach. Still, you can expect to see more Ultrabooks with prices hovering around $700. Many Ultrabooks are also likely to incorporate touchscreens, but that could add to the price.

Such thin-and-light laptops have long been available in the form of Apple's MacBook Air. Models with AMD chips are also available. Other features might include non-metal chassis for reduced cost, GPS (their small size makes them suitable for use in cars), and proximity sensors that automatically turn the unit on when you're at the keyboard.

Whether your main consideration is portability or power, screen size will be an essential factor in deciding which type of laptop is right for you:

Laptop computer types

If you're planning to carry the laptop around with you frequently, an 11- to 13-inch model is probably the right choice. In our tests of 13-inch laptops, we found you might have to sacrifice some speed. But you'll also lighten your load by 1 to 3 pounds, compared with 17-inch models.


These laptops have many of the same features as larger models, including webcams and memory-card readers. Most models shave a few ounces by leaving out the DVD drive.

This size range offers the ideal balance of performance, portability, and price for many users. At about 4 to 6 pounds, it's a good choice if you take a laptop along less frequently. Such a laptop can easily be configured as a desktop replacement.


Until recently, only 17-inch-and-larger models had graphics processors with dedicated video memory, but now some 14- to 16-inch models have them, making them suitable for gaming. Laptops with AMD's A-Series processors and Intel's latest core processors with Iris graphics, though they have integrated graphics and shared system memory, are also suitable for gaming.


For photo editing, our tests of the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display ($2,000) reveal its screen to have the best color accuracy we've seen, as well as being one of the crispest.

For an entertainment-oriented desktop replacement, these laptops tend to deliver better performance than smaller machines, along with better speakers. And, of course, the larger screen can boost your comfort and productivity. These laptops will cost more thancomparable desktops, but they are handy if you have space constraints or will use the computer in multiple areas of your home.

The tablet-like features in Windows 10 make convertible laptops an appealing category. These look like a regular laptop, but the display either pulls out of the keyboard or twists around and lays flat so it can be used like a tablet. What distinguishes these from tablets are the keyboard docks that come with them.


Chromebooks are based on Google's Chrome operating system. They're generally inexpensive, with some starting as low $200. They're designed for users willing to work on and store most of their files online. Chromebooks are quick to start up, partly because the operating system doesn't place the demands on the computer that a heavy-duty OS like Windows does, and partly because they use solid-state drives instead of hard drives.

On the downside, there's not a lot of storage space on a Chromebook. You need access to the Internet to get the best work out of one of these machines. And these aren't workhorse computers, though they are fine enough for creating and sharing documents.


See our Tablet buying guide for detailed information about shopping for a tablet. But, in brief, for some users a tablet can take the place of a laptop. These machines are lightweight and highly portable. They're multifunctional, serving as Web browser, e-book reader, digital picture viewer, movie viewer, and music player.

Most of our top picks are very easy to use, have a display with a wide viewing angle, and can download apps from a market approved by the maker of its operating system. They weigh from just under a pound to about 1.5 pounds and have 7- to 10-inch touch screens. Many have webcams. And, in our tests, battery life ranged from 4 hours to nearly 13 hours. Tablets are not ideal for office productivity tasks, but you can add a keyboard to many of them.


Many components play a key role in how a computer performs, including the processor, memory, operating system, hard drive, video adapter, optical drive, and display (monitor).

Laptops have additional features and considerations that are important.

Where applicable, we've noted feature information that is important and distinctive to the type of computer.


Also known as the CPU (central processing unit) by Intel and CPU and APU (accelerated processor unit) by AMD, this is the computer's “brain,” responsible for processing information. Performance is the most important factor, and is determined primarily by the number of cores it has and its clock speed.

Intel and AMD are the dominant processor manufacturers. Within each company's product lines are various processor families.

Intel's include the Atom, Celeron, Pentium, and Core; AMD's include the Sempron, Athlon II, Phenom II, E-Series, A-Series, and FX.

Intel's new CPUs are the fifth-generation Core i3, i5, and i7. They're setting a new standard in in battery life, with one laptop we tested lasting a full 19 hours.

AMD's new top processor is called A Series Elite. The A Series Elite integrates discrete graphics into the processor. As a result, you can play more challenging video games on these computers without needing separate graphics processors. They also add an automatic speed boost when needed.

Processors with multiple cores can process more data simultaneously. Check Intel's or AMD's website to determine how many cores a particular processor model has.

Clock speed, measured in gigahertz (GHz), determines how quickly a CPU can process information. Generally, within a processor family, the higher the clock speed, the faster the processor.

Clock speeds typically start at around 1GHz for a mobile processor and can exceed 3GHz for a desktop processor. Processors can up the speed a bit for a brief time to yield maximum performance.

Power consumption is another important factor when choosing a processor, especially for laptops—lower power consumption translates to longer battery life.

When buying a computer, make sure it has a processor that will be fast enough to handle your needs. If you’re looking for a very basic or budget computer to web surf, email, work on Office documents, then the Intel Celeron or Pentium or AMD A4 should suffice.

If you plan to check emails, surf the web, and do some simple gaming, the Intel Core i3 or AMD A6 should do the job.

If you plan to watch videos or play mainstream games, the Intel Core i5 or AMD A8 is a good choice.

And if you're a gamer or plan to edit HD video, go for a high-end processor such as the Intel Core i7 or AMD A10 Series.


The computer's memory, or RAM, is used to store data temporarily while the computer is on. The more memory a computer has, the faster it is, up to a point.

Memory is measured in gigabytes (GB). On desktops, 8GB is common; a few laptops include 8GB of RAM. We've found that for anything other than heavy multitasking or video editing, 4GB is plenty. Many store-bought desktops with the Intel Core i3, i5, and i7 processors have 8GB.

Log-on security

Some computers use face-recognition technology, where the laptop's webcam performs an initial scan of your face and then scans it every time you log on to make sure it matches the initial scan.

We found facial recognition easier to use but less secure than a fingerprint scanner. It didn't work as well in low light and for some faces with glasses. In addition, we found at least one report of the software being fooled by photographs of people's faces.

Operating system

Windows PCs often cost less than Macs. Windows fans also may choose PCs because they are familiar with them through their workplaces, because they have full compatibility with Windows apps, and because a wide selection of games are available for Windows computers.

Windows 10 continues the work of Windows 8.1, bringing a more uniform interface across a variety of devices: computers, tablets, Xbox, and smartphones. In addition, "universal apps" developed for Windows 10 will look and work the same on a variety of devices.

Macs can be more expensive, but they're less prone to most viruses and spyware, and Apple's support has been tops in the industry in our surveys. The company's phone support is free for only 90 days, but you can get unlimited technical support through the Genius Bar at an Apple Store. Apple's OS X Yosemite is the company's current OS; the new El Capitan version is due to be released this fall.

Graphics adapter and graphics memory

Also known as the video card, GPU, or graphics card, this hardware is responsible for drawing what you see on your screen. Graphics processing comes in two basic flavors: It can either be integrated into the same chip that's running the rest of the computer, or it can run on a discrete piece of equipment

The vast majority of computers sold have integrated graphics. This has usually been the less expensive and lower-performing option—fine for most computing tasks, but inadequate for gaming. If you wanted a high level of performance, you'd make sure to get a discrete GPU. However, some new CPUs integrate discrete-class graphics. Those include AMD's new "Elite" A Series chips, as well as Intel third- and fourth-generation Core processors that use the HD Graphics 4000 series (and Iris) integrated graphics. They offer excellent graphics abilities without adding a separate chip.

Integrated graphics use up part of your system's memory, so make sure you have at least 4GB of memory in your computer. If you choose a system with discrete graphics, look for at least 256MB of graphics memory. Gamers should get 512MB or more.

Built-in wireless video

If you have an Intel Wireless Display (WiDi)-enabled laptop, which has special Intel hardware and software built in, you can wirelessly stream content to a TV. This includes photos and videos, as well as movies and TV shows streamed from services such as Netflix. It requires you to purchase and connect an external box to your TV.

Similar streaming media technologies include Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA), Wireless Home Digital Interface (WHDI), and Wireless HD. (Other products, such as Roku and Apple TV, let you wirelessly stream Internet-based video directly to a TV without a computer.)

3D capability

A few laptops and desktop monitors allow 3D viewing, using either passive or active glasses. We were impressed with the 3D images on those we tested, but it's an expensive add-on, especially when you factor in the cost of the glasses.

Video outputs

If you're buying a desktop, check to see which video outputs it has. Except for all-in-ones, almost all desktops have a VGA (analog) output, but most also have a digital output, either DVI (digital visual interface) or HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface).

VGA is fine for most uses, but for a cleaner, crisper image on large displays, go with DVI or HDMI. You may have to buy a cable, which costs around $10.

If you're buying a laptop, you can use a VGA output with a projector for delivering presentations. Most new desktops and laptops have an HDMI output to feed video to an external HDTV.

Hard drive/solid state drive

Also known as a hard disk, or HD, this is where your programs, documents, music, photos, and videos are stored.

Bigger is better. Hard drive sizes are measured in gigabytes and terabytes, and commonly range from 250GB to more than 1TB (terabyte).

Though size matters, speed is equally important. Speed is measured in rpm (revolutions per minute). A slow hard drive will take longer to start up the OS and programs, and complete tasks (such as installing programs or scanning your hard drive for viruses).

For best performance, get a desktop with at least a 7,200rpm hard drive and a laptop with a 5,400rpm hard drive.

Hard drives often fail after a while, so you must back up your data periodically to avoid losing it. The best option is an external hard drive, which connects to your computer through its USB, FireWire, or eSATA port.

Some high-end desktops and laptops can be configured with a RAID (redundant array of independent disks) setup. These computers have two or more hard drives. There are several types of RAID, the most common being RAID 0 and RAID 1.

RAID 0 distributes your data across multiple hard disks, which can greatly improve speed. But if one fails, you'll lose data on all your drives. RAID 1 automatically copies data from one drive to the other. If one crashes, all your data will be safe on the other.

A service that could ease the agony of a crash is cloud computing. With a backup solution such as Carbonite, all your data resides on the company's servers. Any documents, files, data, applications, and e-mail you put on Carbonite will be available to other computers, as well as iOS, Android, and Blackberry devices.

Solid-state drives (SSDs, also called flash drives) are a newer type of storage technology, letting your computer access data without the moving parts required by a traditional hard drive.

SSDs don't have the spinning disk of a conventional hard drive, so they use less power, work more quietly, and should be more resistant to damage from rugged use. And because there are no moving parts, they promise quicker access to data.

But they cost several times as much as traditional hard drives and have smaller capacities. Lower-priced hybrid drives, which combine a hard drive with solid-state memory, represent a good compromise.

Optical drive

Optical drives let you read and write to CDs, DVDs, and Blu-ray discs.

DVD burners are standard gear on today's desktop computers. They can read and write to CDs and DVDs so you can back up your home-video footage or digital photos, for example. Recordable CDs (CD-R) can hold up to 700MB of data. Recordable DVDs (DVD+R, DVD-R, or DVDRAM) can hold up to 4.7GB (single layer) or 8.5GB (dual layer) of data.

Blu-ray Disc (BD) drives are the newest standard. They're capable of playing Blu-ray movies and can store 25GB (single layer) or 50GB (dual layer) of data, respectively.

Many of today's laptops come without an optical drive, saving weight and cost. With high-capacity flash drives available, extra storage isn't a problem on these models. But installing older software—typically distributed on a CD or DVD—could be a problem. Most of today's software is distributed via download, so there's little need for an optical drive.

Monitor (for desktops)

Screen sizes (measured diagonally) generally range from 15 to 24 inches, but you can find larger ones. The most common sizes are 19 and 20 inches.

Most are wide-screen, which fit widescreen movies better but give you less screen area per inch. Those who plan to edit photos or videos should note differences in color, viewing angle, contrast, and brightness.

Monitors are often less expensive when bundled with a new computer.

Display (for laptops)

A 15- to 16-inch display should suit most people. Displays that are 13, 14, and 17 inches are also common, and some manufacturers are also offering 11-inch laptops.

The screens on most laptops are glossy instead of matte. Glossy screens have more-saturated colors and deeper blacks but are also much more prone to glare. Like desktop monitors, most laptop displays are wide-screen to fit wide-screen movies better.

LED-backlit displays provide more efficient use of power, resulting in longer battery life. In most cases, color on LED-backlit screens is not significantly different than that on other types of displays.


Borrowing from tablets, companies have begun including touchscreens on many laptops. These have custom, touch-enabled multimedia apps and include multitouch capability, which lets you use your fingers to zoom, turn, and scroll.  


When not plugged into a wall outlet, laptops use a rechargeable lithium-ion battery for power. Laptops go into sleep mode when used intermittently, extending the time between charges. You can lengthen battery life if you dim the display, turn off wireless when it's not needed, and use only basic applications.

Playing a DVD movie uses more battery power than other activities, but most laptops should be able to play one through to the end. Many laptops can accept an extended battery, adding size and weight but giving as much as twice the battery life.

Some laptops, most notably Apples, Ultrabooks, and other thin-and-light models have nonremovable batteries, which may be costly to replace when run-time starts decreasing.

Some all-in-one desktops have a battery. Called “portable desktops,” these models are meant to be moved around a home. They often fold flat to enable multiple users to interact with them simultaneously, such as when playing a game.

Case (for desktops)

Form factors for computers are varied. Mainstream computers usually come in towers, which fit on or under a desk.

All-in-one computers, such as the Apple iMac and HP TouchSmart, pack all the components into the same enclosure as the LCD display, with only the keyboard and mouse separate. Toshiba, Asus, Dell, Acer, Lenovo, and many other manufacturers also offer all-in-one models.

Mini cases include models such as Apple's Mac mini.


For connecting to the Internet, all desktops come with an Ethernet port that lets you run a cable between your desktop and your router. If it's not possible to run such a cable through your home, consider a Wi-Fi adapter. Some desktops have this built in. If not, you can buy one for about $40 and plug it into a USB port. You'll also need a wireless router.

Laptops come with wireless built in, and most have a port for connecting an Ethernet cable.

Wireless adapters mostly use the newer 802.11n standard (which is backward-compatible with 802.11g). The latest use 802.11ac, a new standard.  

Intel's WiDi capability is built into some new laptops that have an Intel Core i-series processor (with a four-digit processor number). WiDi lets you wirelessly stream video from your laptop to a TV. As mentioned earlier, it requires an external box, which costs $60 from Netgear.

WiDi supports 1080p resolution. Similar streaming-media technologies include DLNA, WHDI, and WirelessHD. Other products, such as Roku and Apple TV, let you wirelessly stream video directly to a TV without a computer.


Most of those that come bundled with desktops are optical, meaning light sensors on their undersides track movement.

Apple offers its Magic Mouse, which has a touch-sensitive top surface that works like a multi-touch touchpad.

Some mice are ergonomically contoured to match the shape of your palm, while others are designed to be stylish. They can also be either wired or wireless.

If you have a wireless mouse, you won't have to deal with a cord, but you will have to recharge or replace the batteries every few months.


Most laptops use a touchpad in place of a mouse; you slide your finger across it to move the cursor. You can also program the pad to respond to a "tap" as a "click," or scroll as you sweep your finger along the pad's right edge.

Touchpads come in various sizes; the larger ones let you move the cursor farther across the screen without lifting your finger. Some let you use multifingered gestures for zooming and rotating images.

An alternative pointing system uses a stick the size of a pencil eraser in the middle of the keyboard. If you prefer, you can attach a mouse or trackball.


Most computers come with a standard wired keyboard.

Some keyboards have CD (or DVD) controls that let you pause, play back, change tracks, and change the volume. Some also have additional keys to expedite getting online, starting a search, launching programs, or retrieving e-mail.

Like mice, keyboards can also be wireless.

Sound system

On most desktops, except for all-in-ones, speakers are optional.

Computers with three-piece speakers include a woofer, which delivers deeper, more powerful bass. If you plan to turn your computer into a home theater or action gaming center, consider creating a six-channel speaker system (commonly called a 5.1 system) adding two rear and a front, center speaker for surround sound. You'll also find connections for audio input and headphones.

The small speakers built into laptops often sound tinny. And a familiar brand name like Altec Lansing doesn't mean they'll sound good. Headphones or external speakers deliver much better sound.

Some larger laptops include better speakers and even a woofer.


The latest port to arrive in computers is USB C. It's reversible, so you'll never insert a USB C plug in the wrong way. It can also be used to supply power to your laptop. With an adapter, it's compatible with earlier versions of USB.

Other ports to look for include USB 2 and 3, FireWire, Ethernet, eSATA, and S-video or HDMI.

USB ports let you connect a variety of add-on devices, such as digital cameras or external hard drives, as well as flash drives for copying files to and from the hard drive. Having these ports at the front of the case makes connecting devices more convenient.

An Ethernet port or wireless network card lets you link several computers in the household to share files, a printer, or a broadband Internet connection.

FireWire or IEEE 1394 ports are used to capture video from digital camcorders and connect to other peripheral devices.

Apple desktops and laptops have a port called Thunderbolt, by far the fastest data-transfer port. However, there are fewer compatible devices available for it than there are for USB, eSATA, or FireWire. Current models include Thunderbolt 2, a faster form of Thunderbolt.

An eSATA port lets you connect an external hard drive for faster file transfer than with USB 2.0. USB 3.0 matches the speed of eSATA-connected hard drives. Some combo ports can serve as either eSATA or USB ports.

An S-video or HDMI output jack lets you run a video cable from the computer to a TV so you can use the computer's DVD drive to view a movie, or stream from an online service such as Netflix to a TV instead of watching on computer monitor.

For laptops: Most laptops have at least two USB ports, with many new models including USB 3.0, for easy hookup of a printer, digital camera, or scanner.

Some new laptops have a USB port that maintains power for charging, say, a smart phone while the laptop is off.

Also common are a wired network (Ethernet) port and an internal wireless-network (Wi-Fi) adapter. Though rare, Firewire ports are still included on some laptops.

Some laptops also have an internal Bluetooth wireless adapter to link to a Bluetooth-capable cell phone, camera, or another laptop.

Card slots

A laptop's ExpressCard slot lets you add a cellular modem.

Docking station

Some laptops offer a connection for a docking station, a $100 to $200 base with connections for a monitor, keyboard, mouse, printer, network, and power.

By fitting your laptop into this base you can connect to all these devices at once.


Acer arrow  |  Apple arrow  |  Asus arrow  |  Dell arrow  |  Google arrow  |  HP arrow  |  Lenovo arrow  |  Microsoft arrow  |  Samsung arrow  |  Sony arrow  |  Toshiba arrow

This list comprises the major computer brands. In choosing a brand, consider the manufacturer's technical support and reliability as shown in our surveys.  


Acer Aspire laptops and desktops run the gamut of computers from budget to high end, including a full line of ultrabooks and detachables.  Acer also produces Chromebooks that run Google's Chrome operating system. Gateway is also owned by Acer. The company does not sell its products direct to consumers, unlike most other computer makers. 


Apple computers usually cost more than similarly configured Windows-based systems. Apple computers use Mac OS X as their operating system, which had fewer problems with viruses and other malware. Macs can also run Windows in a virtual setting. The company offers several consumer lines, the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air (laptops), the iMac (all-in-one desktops), and the Mac mini (a small, budget desktop). The Mac Pro desktop is its professional line. Apple's free telephone tech support is limited to three months, but you can get unlimited free support at the Genius Bar in Apple stores.


Asus offers computers geared toward entertainment, gaming, and everyday computing. It also offers ultrabooks, convertibles, Chromebooks, and all-in-one desktops. Asus does not sell its products directly to consumers, unlike many other computer makers.


Inspiron is Dell's mass-market line of laptops, desktops, and all-in-ones. For higher performance and gaming systems, Dell offers the XPS convertible line. For hard-core gamers, Dell offers Alienware systems. Inspiron One and XPS are its all-in-one brands, and they include touchscreens in some models. There's also a Chromebook geared toward students.


Google, the designer of the Chrome Operating System, offers just one Chromebook, the Pixel.


HP is the No. 1 seller of desktops and laptops in the United States. For laptop users, it offers the mainstream Pavillion line, which includes the G, NE, NV, the Envy high performance models, and convertible and detachable models in the Split and Slatebook line. Desktop lines include the Pavillion and Envy models, and all-in-one Pavillion and Touchsmart lines.  HP also offers a line of Chromebooks.


IdeaPad is Lenovo's consumer laptop line that encompasses mainstream and premium models. Yoga is the convertible series. Lenovo also offers gaming, budget, thin and light, detachable convertibles and Chromebooks. Lenovo ThinkPads are its business notebooks; ThinkCentre are business desktops. IdeaCentre is Lenovo's brand of midrange consumer desktops and all-in-ones. The company also offers Android-based all-in-ones. Erazer is its gaming line.


Microsoft offers the Surface PC, a series of detachable computers.


Samsung offers a variety of laptops ranging from slim and light to detachable to desktop replacements. The line is known as the ATIV Books—with a numbered series. Its all-in-ones are the ATIV One series. Samsung also produces a Chromebook, which runs Google's Chrome operating system. It does not sell its products directly to consumers, unlike many other computer makers.


Sony exited the laptop and desktop market in 2014. The company has promised to continue product support for seven years.


Toshiba's laptop lines include its consumer Satellite line and premium Kira line. The Qosmio line is for high-end gaming. Tecra and Portege are its business laptop lines. The company also offers a Chomebook, which runs on Google's Chrome operating system.

Shopping tips

Shop smart

Shop online

Our subscriber surveys have generally found online retailers superior to walk-in stores for selection and price.

You can save money by using coupons and forum sites such as Techbargains,, and Ebates, which provide information on rebates.

Buy a la carte

If you have special requirements, order from a manufacturer's website. Menus show you all the options and let you see how a change affects the overall price.

Configure-to-order will often give you choices you won't get if you buy an off-the-shelf model. But be sure to double-check your choices before ordering, and look for unwanted items that some manufacturers include by default.

Shop at the right time

January, July, and October are usually good times to shop; new models show up in stores at those times, meaning older inventory must be cleared out to make room. If a computer you like isn't on sale, ask for a better price.

Apple often offers free iPods and educational discounts to students buying computers during the back-to-school season.

Macs aren't discounted that often, so take advantage of the price cuts that usually occur around the time Apple announces new models. That's when retailers such as, MacConnection, and MacMall tend to clear out older stock.

Models from other PC brands may also be discounted when their successors arrive.

Pay attention to ergonomics

Especially when you're buying a laptop, try it before you buy it, if you can.

The keyboard shouldn't bend under continuous tapping, the touchpad should be large enough so that your finger can cover the span of the screen without repeatedly lifting it, and touchpad buttons should be easy to find and press.

Carry the laptop around for a few minutes and make sure it isn't too heavy or too big.

If it's been on for a while, feel the bottom. A laptop shouldn't get uncomfortably hot during use, and it should run quietly.

Glossy screens are now standard on most laptops. Several manufacturers have added antireflective coatings, with mixed results.

Finally, manufacturers are emphasizing design as much as substance; find a laptop that suits your style.

Think green when you buy

Some computers meet the new Energy Star standard for efficient power use. Energy-use guidelines cover three operating modes—standby, sleep, and running—with systems entering sleep mode within 30 minutes of inactivity.

Power supplies also need to operate more efficiently. You probably won't notice much difference in the operation of your computer, but your electricity bill might go down a bit.

Look for the Energy Star label on qualified computers. Prices won't increase because of the new standard, according to a representative for the Energy Star program.

Another standard is EPEAT, which offers guidelines on what materials can be used in a computer. Depending on how well each computer meets the criteria, it is rated bronze, silver, or gold.

A list of EPEAT-compliant systems can be found at

Before you toss, try recycling

Most manufacturers have recycling programs that help you to dispose of your old computer, but the programs vary considerably by company. But don't forget to wipe your hard drive before you recycle your old computer.

Consider tech support

At some point in its life your computer will probably break down, or you'll run into some technical difficulty installing or removing software. So it helps to know which companies offer the after-sale support that matches your needs.

Who's tops for manufacturer tech support? Don't expect it to be any company on the Windows side, according to our latest surveys on computer tech support.

The two surveys (both available to subscribers), one for manufacturer tech support and one for in-store support, conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, is based on our readers' personal experiences with more than 7,571 desktop, laptop, and netbook computers.

Apple owners are far more likely to have a positive tech-support experience than those with Windows computers. Apple solved Mac problems 82 percent of the time, according to those surveyed who used its support.

Overall, the news isn't stellar when it comes to using tech support to fix annoying computer problems.

According to those surveyed, problems were solved for only 64 percent of those who had to contact tech support, regardless of manufacturer. And many computer makers' free technical-support policies end after a year or less.

One notable exception is, again, Apple, which offers unlimited free support at Apple Stores after the 90-day free phone support runs out.

Sales staff often pitch an extra-cost "extended" service plan. Our advice is to skip such pricey extended service warranties unless you really need the handholding or you travel everywhere with your laptop.

Find Ratings

Computers Ratings

Subscribers can view and compare all Computers Ratings.

E-mail Newsletters

FREE e-mail Newsletters!
Choose from cars, safety, health, and more!
Already signed-up?
Manage your newsletters here too.

Electronics & Computers News


Cars Build & Buy Car Buying Service
Save thousands off MSRP with upfront dealer pricing information and a transparent car buying experience.

See your savings


Mobile Get Ratings on the go and compare
while you shop

Learn more
left arrow right arrow
See also:
See buying guide down arrow
121 rated down arrow
122 rated down arrow
See buying guide down arrow