Looking for a new laptop to run Windows 10 at its best? We’ve tested five of the latest models
Back in October 2016, we tested a selection of laptops These are great if you’re on a tight budget but they make compromises in design and performance to keep costs down.
If you’re happy to spend more, you’ll get more bang for your buck with one of these mid-range laptops.
With newer, faster processors, better designed cases and larger screens, the laptops in this round-up will give your computing a significant and noticeable power boost.
HOW WE TESTED
We put each of the laptops through its paces using our Windows benchmark tools, which give an overall score based on a series of tests including office tasks, image editing and video encoding.
We also tested how well the laptops performed when playing games by measuring the frame rate of Dirt Showdown, and then tested the battery life by timing how long each laptop lasted when playing a looping video from a full charge.back to menu ↑
Asus ZenBook UX310UA
The slim, tasteful design of Asus’s ZenBook calls to mind Apple’s MacBook Air, but with more palatable pricing. The resemblance isn’t purely aesthetic, either, because this model is also a lightweight travelling companion rather than a desktop replacement.
Unlike most of the other laptops in this test, the UX310UA comes with a dual-core i3 processor, which limits its multitasking capabilities, pushing its performance to third place in our Windows benchmark tests. It also came joint-third in the gaming benchmark, running Dirt Showdown at a playable 29fps (frames per second), outperformed by the Acer and PC Specialist laptops. The specification of its other components is also a bit light: it only comes with 4GB of memory and a small 128GB SSD (solid-state drive).
Despite these limitations, the ZenBook still comes top of the group.
Some of this success can be attributed to its screen.
Its maximum brightness of 341cd/m2 (candles per square meter) isn’t quite the brightest in this round-up but its superb contrast ratio of 1,282:1 lifts it well above its rivals. Its 13.3in panel offers a Full HD resolution of 1,920 by 1,080 pixels, giving it a sharp pixel density of 165ppi (pixels per inch). It’s not a touchscreen but it’s by far the best-looking in this group.
Connectivity is good, with 802.11ac wireless and Bluetooth 4.1. There’s a decent collection of USB ports (one USB 3, two USB 2 and a USB Type-C), a keyboard that has a great feel to it and a spacious touchpad that doesn’t leave you feeling constrained.
The final feather in the ZenBook’s cap is its battery life. It delivered 8 hours and 6 minutes of video playback in our looping video test, which was second to the Transformer Mini, but is no less impressive because it doesn’t have the Tranformer’s low powered, performance hampering Atom processor.
Although it’s not the best-performing laptop in this group, we were impressed with the balance between the ZenBook’s performance and price, and love that Asus has decided to include a top-quality screen, keyboard and touchpad, rather than cut corners to trim the price.
It’s these things, after all, that make a computer a pleasure to work on.
It also has a healthy battery life that should get you through a working day and it’s very portable, being only 18mm thick and weighing 1.35kg.back to menu ↑
Dell Vostro 5468
Dell’s Vostro range is aimed at businesses rather than home users, but if you spend more time using word processors and spreadsheets than gaming, you might appreciate that your money is buying a practical machine with nothing wasted on entertainment-focused fripperies.
It comes with Windows 10 Pro installed, and an Intel i5-7200 processor, paired with 8GB of memory and a 256GB SSD. This combination of components pushed it to the top of the group’s Windows benchmarks with an overall score of 48.
The battery life was disappointing, lasting 5 hours and 40 minutes in our looping video test. We also weren’t enamored with the screen, which is a good size (14in) but doesn’t have the resolution to back it up: its 1,366 x 768 pixels display only provides 111ppi (pixels per inch). It’s not bright, either, with a maximum brightness of 210cd/m2 and a contrast ratio of 264:1
With a sharper and more vibrant screen, the Vostro could have taken our Gold Award, but it’s let down by a low resolution and lacklustre brightness. However, it runs Windows better than the ZenBook.back to menu ↑
PC Specialist UltraNote IV 14
The other laptops reviewed here are mass-produced, but PC Specialist assembles its laptops to order, so you can tweak the components. This pays off because although the UltraNote is more expensive than our other award winners, it’s very well equipped.
An Intel Core i5-7200U processor, 8GB of memory and a 256GB SSD would be impressive enough, but it also has a 1TB mechanical hard drive installed. It wasn’t quite as fast in our Windows tests as the Siver Award-winning Dell Vostro, but it performed well in our games, coming a close second to the Acer Spin 3. Its full HD screen isn’t as good as that of the Asus ZenBook, but it’s a step up from the Vostro’s.
However, it’s not all plain sailing. The UltraNote’s battery only lasted 5 hours and 31 minutes in our test, and the chunky case, which is thicker than any of the other laptops in this test, makes it less portable.
This is a great all-round laptop, almost as powerful as the Dell Vostro at running Windows but with a better screen for entertainment. Its bulky case means it’s not so good for travelling, though, and it has a limited battery life.back to menu ↑
Acer Spin 3
Acer’s Spin 3 has the group’s lowest price and the largest (15.6in) screen, which can flip to convert into an oversized tablet.
However, its 1,366 x 768 pixels ended up looking blocky because they are spread so thin. It’s also heavy, weighing 2.14kg, which is particularly hefty for a tablet. Its internal specifications are disappointing, as our Windows performance tests showed (though it was still faster than the Transformer Mini), but it surprised us by giving the best gaming performance in the test, running Dirt Showdown at 37fps.back to menu ↑
Asus Transformer Mini
The smallest device in this test, the Transformer Mini is a tablet that converts into a laptop using a clip-on keyboard.
This, plus its lighter weight (790g with the keyboard attatched, 530g without) makes it easier to hold in tablet form than the Acer Spin 3. Its screen is bright and clear, even outdoors, and its 12 hours and 13 minutes of battery life will keep it going while you’re on the move.
However, its compact size leaves room for only two ports and a small low-resolution touchscreen of 1,280 x 800 pixels. Its Atom processor placed it last in our performance tests, too.back to menu ↑
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It failed to come top in our performance tests, but we were happy with the Asus ZenBook UX310UA’s balance between power and price, so we gave it our Gold Award. Asus hasn’t cut back on the quality of design, either, and the laptop feels luxurious to work on, with a bright screen and spacious keyboard and touchpad.
For more power, you could opt for the Silver Award-winning Dell Vostro 5468, which pushes all its effort into Windows performance. There’s some compromise, though, with a lacklustre low-resolution screen and mediocre battery life.back to menu ↑
The Bronze Award-winning
PC Specialist UltraNote IV 14 manages to bring a better screen and improved performance to a single package, but it’s significantly more expensive, costing almost more than both our Gold and Silver award winners.