For the first time in seven years, Saritza Martínez was without a computer. She had done her share of fixing and swapping parts over the years, but after the most recent problem, she said, "It’s dead for good." So the search began for a new laptop at the Best Buy near New York City's Union Square.

"There are so many options to think about," Martínez said, as she stood in front of a long line of computers. How many options? The day she went shopping, 105 separate laptop models were available at the store, with an additional 479 for sale online.

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Adding to the computer confusion are the wide-ranging laptop brand names. Some brands divide their laptop offerings in up to six categories whose names don't always indicate who they're best for or their cost.

Enter Consumer Reports' laptops brand guide, which breaks out the product-line designations for some of the biggest makers in the computer business, explaining what sets each line apart.

As for Martínez, she left the store without a laptop—she went home to do more research.


Acer has one of the most confusing lineups in the laptop world, simply because it has so many models, about 50 at last count. These range in price from sub-$200 Chromebooks to gaming machines with prices that race past the $2,000 mark.

However, the company's mainstream, Windows-powered machines fall into just four lines: Aspire, Swift, Switch, and Spin. 

The Acer Aspire line includes most of the Acer's clamshell laptops—those where the display and keyboard fold together, which includes the great majority of laptops ever sold. The only clamshell machines found in other Acer lines are a few gaming laptops and some computers in the Swift line (details below). You can purchase an Aspire laptop at almost any level of performance.

Acer Swift laptops are also clamshell models, but they are ultraportable. For instance, the Swift 3, which did well in Consumer Reports testing, has a 14-inch display but weighs just 3.4 pounds. In the Swift line the number following the name indicates its position in the family, in ascending order. So the Swift 3 is in the middle of the lineup. (The same is true of the Spin line, described below.)

Acer Switch computers are 2-in-1 notebooks, meaning they have a detachable display that can be used as a tablet. You may see a few aging "Aspire Switch" models on the market; these are holdovers from when Acer grouped all of its notebooks under the Aspire name. Newer Switch products, such as the ones launched in April, do not have the Aspire branding. Unique among Acer laptops, the Switch model names include screen size. The Acer Switch Alpha 12 SA5-271-594J, for instance, has a 12-inch display.

The Acer Spin line consists of convertible computers, such as the Acer Spin 5 SP513-51-55ZR. (In convertibles, the keyboard can't be detached from the display, but it can fold all the way back, allowing you to use the display as a tablet.) As with the Swift computers, the Spins are numbered in order of performance, from low to high: The Acer Spin 1 is an entry-level model (and a great deal), and the Acer Spin 7 sits at the top of the line.


Apple offers just a couple of laptop models; these computers are organized neatly by performance and price.

That simplicity means you basically have a two-step buying decision: Decide which screen size you want, then buy as much MacBook as your budget allows.

There are two up-to-date models to choose from: the MacBook, which starts at $1,300, and the more powerful MacBook Pro, which starts at $1,500. Both come with Apple’s Retina display and that classic aluminum chassis.

Unlike most laptops on the market, this pair includes only USB Type-C ports for both charging and connection to peripherals. If you have a printer or keyboard that uses older USB connectors, you can join many other consumers in quietly cursing Apple—and then buy adapters.

The Apple MacBook Air line has not seen a significant update since March 2015. A 13-inch model still in the Apple Store costs $999.


Asus' naming convention for its laptops can be confusing. As far as one company representative could tell, most Asus laptops aren't grouped by any particular feature—just about any computer could end up in at least half of the series. "There is no guideline or specific manual that spells it out black and white," he says.

However, things start to make more sense when you study the specs. Asus has seven groups that include the word "Series" in their product line names, as well as a premium ZenBook line. Here's what the designations all mean.

Asus E Series models occupy the low end of the company's offerings in terms of price and performance, and have smaller screen sizes. These laptops are equipped with Celeron or Atom processors, which will struggle with more demanding tasks, such as video editing.

If you're looking for a mainstream Asus laptop and don't need a convertible or 2-in-1, the F or K Series are your best bets:

Asus F Series computers are a step up, consisting of midrange laptops with high-performing processors. Most F Series laptops use Core i5 or i7 processors, which you'll also find in high-end computers from Apple, Lenovo, and others. The F Series line also includes some bigger screen sizes. 

Asus K Series laptops are a step up from F Series models, with thinner designs and dedicated GPUs, which render graphics for intensive applications such as gaming. 

Asus Q Series laptops are convertibles (their display can fold all the way back so that you can use the machine as a tablet). That's the only feature that defines them; Q Series machines come in a wide range of prices and screen sizes.

The next two series really do seem to be all over the map. Asus R Series and Asus X Series laptops run the gamut from low-end to high-end, and some are convertibles.

Asus B Series computers are designed for businesses and professionals. So these machines have powerful components, easily swappable batteries, and more security features, such as preloaded security software and a fingerprint reader.

Last, Asus ZenBooks are the brand's premium, thin and light convertibles. For those looking for the functionality of a touch screen, CR's recommended Asus ZenBook Flip features an aluminum chassis and is available for about $750, and it received a Very Good rating in all categories of Consumer Reports' testing.


Unlike several other Windows-powered laptop brands, Dell has relatively simple naming conventions.

The Dell Inspiron brand encompasses the company's low- to midrange laptops and desktops. Usually following the product name is a Series number which denotes the computer's position in the lineup. For more power (and a heftier price), look for a bigger number. For example, 3000 Series notebooks start at less than $200 and 7000 Series models can cost almost $800.

Premium-level laptops are grouped in the Dell XPS line, which includes convertibles and ultrabooks. This includes the $1,400 Dell XPS 13 Convertible, which scored Excellent marks for both ergonomics and performance in Consumer Reports' testing.

Dell also makes it easy to find convertible laptops by including 2-in-1 in their names. For instance, the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is a premium notebook that can also function as touch-screen tablet.


HP, like Dell, groups its laptops in an easily understandable way. There are four lines: HP, Pavilion, Envy, and Spectre.

The budget HP line includes laptops with relatively inexpensive, lightly powered components. And the computers are designed to handle simple stuff such as web browsing and email, but not more intensive tasks such as video editing and gaming.

HP's midrange laptops with a bit more power carry Pavilion branding. These laptops come in multiple sizes (and color options, for fashion-forward computer users), and hover in price between $500 and $700. 

HP Envy laptops are higher-performance PCs with powerful components. These laptops are more expensive but offer better build quality and thinner designs.

Rounding out the company's offerings is the thin-and-light ultrabook HP Spectre line. These 13-inch laptops have powerful processors and use USB Type-C ports to charge and for connection to peripherals. 

Some Pavilion, Envy, and Spectre model names include x2 branding, which means the touch screens can detach to function as tablets. Models that include the moniker x360 can fold backward to turn the display into a tablet; an example is the HP Spectre x360 13t.

Some, but not all, HP computer names also denote screen size and touch-screen technology. Take the HP Laptop 14t: It's a budget laptop (no product-line name beyond "HP") with a 14-inch display. And the lowercase "t" indicates that the laptop is a touch-screen device. 


Four product lines make up Lenovo's mainstream laptop offerings: IdeaPad, Flex, Yoga, and ThinkPad.

Lenovo IdeaPads are traditional, clamshell-style notebooks. They run the gamut between the low-end to higher-performance laptops. The IdeaPads are numbered in order of performance, from low to high. For instance, the IdeaPad 100 Series is the lowest-end, cheapest laptop, and the IdeaPad 700 is its high-performance model. 

Lenovo Flex and Lenovo Yoga devices all have touch screens. There's little to differentiate these lines, except that Flex laptops are generally more budget-friendly than Yoga models. The Lenovo Yoga 910 tops CR ratings for 14-inch laptops, with Excellent scores for ergonomics, portability, and performance. 

Lenovo ThinkPad is the company's business line of notebooks, but the computers have a big consumer fan base that swears by the laptops for their reliability. ThinkPads are easy to spot—most have the distinctive red TrackPoint center button that can be used as an alternative navigation tool.

The $1,300 Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga, one of our recommended models, has features from the ThinkPad and Yoga lines. It combines the TrackPoint of a ThinkPad with the tablet functionality of a Yoga computer.


Microsoft is fairly new to making hardware. All of the company's computers carry Surface branding. All of its laptops include a touch screen, and all but one can function as tablets.

The company's current line includes the budget Surface and a more powerful Surface Pro, which are both sold as tablets with optional detachable keyboards.

The Surface Laptop, introduced earlier this month, is Microsoft's Windows 10 S flagship model. It's a traditional, clamshell-style notebook designed for the education market and is a competitor to Chromebooks.

The premium Surface Book is a larger, more powerful detachable laptop and the company’s first to use an electro-mechanical hinge to lock and unlock the display from the base to turn it into a tablet. Unlike the Surface and Surface Pro, the Book comes with a keyboard.


Samsung offers just a few laptop models, a fraction of those offered by other Windows computer manufacturers. Its laptops are broken into the Notebook, Spin, and Galaxy Book lines. 

Each Samsung Notebook laptop is numbered by its position in the lineup. The higher the number, the more powerful the laptop. For example, the CR-recommended Samsung Notebook 9, $1,200, is the company's flagship model. It received Excellent marks in performance and portability in Consumer Reports' testing.

Samsung laptops with the Spin name are convertible models, with displays that fold all the way back to function as tablets.

The Samsung Galaxy Book, $1,130—the only computer in the Galaxy Book line—is a 12-inch computer set to take on the Microsoft Surface line in the higher-end 2-in-1 market. Like the Surface Book, the Galaxy Book is a detachable, which means its display can be separated from its keyboard and used as a tablet.