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The best laptops of 2016: Budget PCs, 2-in-1s, Ultrabooks and more

Gordon Mah Ung, Melissa Riofrio | Jan. 19, 2016
Our top picks show off the best tech advances in portable PCs, from new CPUs and GPUs to new materials and of course, Windows 10.

Best Gaming Laptop: MSI GT72S Dominator Pro G Dragon

msi gt72s dragon 
MSI’s GT72S Dominator Pro G Dragon features a G-Sync panel and GeForce GTX 980 card. Credit: Gordon Mah Ung

We love our desktop gaming rigs, but there are times when a full-tilt boogie semi-portable laptop just makes more sense. Take the MSI GT72S Dominator Pro G Dragon, which packs a GeForce GTX 980—Nvidia’s top-dog GPU for laptops that offers 1:1 performance with its desktop counterpart. Yes, you read that right. A laptop that performs every bit as fast as a top-of-the-line gaming desktop rig with a $550 GPU in it. In fact, our review unit even slightly outperformed the desktop we compared it against.

But the MSI GT72S Dragon isn't just a one-trick pony. Across the board, it held its own against comparable desktop systems, and even edged out the desktops in certain tasks when we overclocked its Core i7-6820HK processor from 3.2GHz to 4.0GHz.

The only drawback to this system isn't its weight, though with a 17.3-inch IPS panel it's certainly heavy. Our review model pushes $3,100, thanks to its quad-core Skylake CPU and G-Sync 75Hz display. MSI throws in a free backpack to lessen that price tag’s sting, and honestly, a comparable desktop setup isn’t astronomically cheaper—but it's still a good chunk of cash. You get what you pay for, though, and that’s true desktop performance in a laptop.

Best high-end Chromebook: Dell Chromebook 13

dell chromebook 13 front 
Dell's Chromebook 13 is the first built expressly for business, with a wide range of configurations and prices from $399 to $899. Credit: Melissa Riofrio

The best Chromebook in someone's dreams is the Chromebook Pixel. For the rest of us, Dell's new Chromebook 13 is attainable and a noticeable cut above most other models.

Whereas many lower-end Chromebooks feel like toys, the Chromebook 13 is made for grown-ups. Its build includes a tough carbon-fiber lid with a rubber gasket for even more durability. It houses a 13.3-inch, 1920x1080 IPS display—either anti-glare (as with the unit we're testing), or a Gorilla Glass touchscreen. Inside the magnesium-alloy body you'll find a Broadwell Celeron CPU. Our review unit's Celeron 3205U is looking peppy in our performance tests, and battery life seems close to Dell's promise of 12-13 hours. 

Dell's Chromebook 13 is no bargain at $429 as configured. We know most people like Chromebooks costing $300 or even far less. For a category that's hitting its stride, however, with growth in education and the enterprise, the Chromebook 13 is a laptop that looks and acts like it means business.


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