The 10 best laptops of 2014 (so far)

With back-to-school shopping season underway and the holidays looming, it’s a perfect time to take stock of the year in laptops

The best laptops of 2014 (so far)
The best laptops of 2014 (so far)

Expect a few more surprises from laptop makers as we approach the end of the year, but here’s a look at what’s impressed us the most so far. While all the laptops mentioned below are based on the review configurations we received from the manufacturers, most are available in more budget-friendly (and over-the-top expensive) versions.

Dell Latitude E7440 Ultrabook

The Dell Latitude E7440's bland aesthetic won't drop jaws the way some of the more stylish Ultrabooks will, but other than that it checks all the boxes: a 14-inch 1080p display with a Gorilla Glass touchscreen, a fast 256GB SSD paired with Core i5 processor, and 4GB of RAM, yada yada yada.

The inclusion of the more potent Pro version of Windows 8.1 is a nice touch, but for anyone who spends a lot of time on their laptop, the real star is the Latitude E7440's comfortable keyboard and responsive touchpad. Ergonomics are everything in a business machine.

Alienware 17 (2014 edition)

There’s really only one word to describe the latest Alienware 17-inch gaming monster: impressive. This 9.4 pound gaming laptop sports a screaming fast Intel Core i7 processor, a GeForce GTX 880M graphics card with 8GB of dedicated memory, 16GB of system RAM, a 256GB SSD boot drive, and 1TB HDD. The downsides? Its battery life stinks and its keyboard and trackpad are mediocre at best.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Ultrabook

Like Dell’s Latitude, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon won’t win any prizes for style, but there’s a lot to like here, from a 14-inch IPS touchscreen with 2560-by-1440 resolution to an oh-so-thin-and-light build to its solid, speedy performance.

The X1 Carbon also has some neat extra features, like a touch-based adaptive function row on its keyboard that changes based on the application you’re using. PC traditionalists may find that Lenovo went too far with its keyboard experimentation, but the basic feel of the X1 Carbon's keyboard, touchpad, and pointing stick are just as blissful as ever, despite its new take on ThinkPad ergonomics. (Ignore the gimmicky voice and gesture controls, though.)

Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook

The XPS 13's Core 15 processor, 128GB SSD, and the Intel integrated graphics are par for the (admittedly speedy) Ultrabook course these days, but there are many other things that set Dell's laptop apart from the competition.

For starters it’s got 8GB RAM, where most laptops in its class have 4. You also get a vibrant 1080p touch display and a solid, but thin-and-light chassis sporting a blend of aluminum, magnesium, and carbon fiber. It doesn’t have amazing battery life or a wide selection of I/O ports. but for a solid travel laptop that looks good and performs well, the XPS 13 gets high marks indeed.

HP ZBook 15 Mobile Workstation

There are machines for work, and then there are work machines. This Hewlett-Packard special falls into the latter category. HP didn’t mess around putting this workstation together—it’s got a 15.6-inch 1080p display, an Intel Core i7-4800MQ processor, 16GB of RAM, an Nvidia Quadro K610M graphics card with 1GB dedicated RAM, and Thunderbolt connectivity. It’s not as heavy as the Alienware 17, but at 6.2 pounds, this desktop replacement still doubles as a nice training weight on business trips.

Digital Storm Krypton (Model S-8298)

Like any laptop, the Krypton isn't perfect. We weren’t fans of Digital Storm’s tech support and the 15-percent restocking fee for returns may keep some away. But overall, it's a stellar 17-inch gaming laptop for an incredible price.

It’s got the same Nvdia GTX 880M card with 8GB dedicated memory as the Alienware 17, paired with a Core i7-4810MQ processor that's somewhat wimpier (but still potent) than its rival's chip. But with a 750GB hard drive, a 256GB SSD boot drive, 16GB of RAM, and 17.3-inch IPS 1080p display, this well-priced gaming rig will keep budget conscious gamers very happy indeed.

Toshiba Portege Z10t

Tablets that double as laptops when connected to a keyboard are nice and all, but if you want something portable that still has some actual power, you’re better off looking for a laptop that doubles as a tablet.

The Toshiba Portege Z10t is the best execution of the detachable 2-in-1 concept yet, sporting an 11.6-inch IPS 1080p display, Core i7-4610Y processor, 8GB of DDR3/1600 RAM, Windows 8.1 Pro, and a 256GB SSD. With a weight around three pounds—most of which is in the display—this is not a tablet you’ll want to hold upright for long periods of time. Nevertheless, it performs like a champ.

Samsung Ativ Book 9 (2014 Edition)

Now this is an laptop that will make head turns at the next board room meeting. Samsung’s beautiful laptop is just 0.63-inches thick and ultra-light thanks to its all-aluminum chassis. Sure, you won’t win a specs war with its 15.6-inch 1080p display, a Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB SSD, but that load out works perfectly for business and casual users.

It's not all roses though. At $1,500, Samsung's laptop sells at a high premium, especially considering the somewhat skimpy Intel hardware you get for the price.

Lenovo ThinkPad X240

The Lenovo ThinkPad X240 is another great example of a PC born for business, but with enough features for casual use. Like its predecessors, Lenovo's 12.5-inch display sticks with a downright disappointing 1366-by-768 resolution, though it does include touchscreen capabilities. Office workers will also appreciate the host of ports, including 2 USB 3.0 ports, a single USB 2.0 connection, mini DisplayPort, an SD card reader, and yes, a crucial-for-business VGA port.

The ThinkPad X240 is bulkier than most Ultrabooks, but still qualifies for Intel’s ultraportable designation. The notebook's most interesting feature, however, is a dual battery set-up that uses a battery bridge to swap power packs without shutting down. Hello, future!

Toshiba Kirabook

True, we felt the Toshiba’s Kirabook fell just short of being unabashedly awesome, but there’s still a lot to love about this Ultrabook. Most notably, it’s got a Retina-like 13.3-inch touchscreen sporting a 2560-by-1440 resolution good for an eye-popping 221 pixels per inch. The Kirabook's HDMI port can pump out full-blown 4K video to an external display, though it's limited to a refresh rate of either 29- or 30Hz at that resolution.

The laptop also boasts a respectable six hour battery life, a nice set of ports—including three USB 3.0 ports—and gorgeous chassis that weighs just under 3 lbs. But at $1,700, you're paying a lot for the Kirabook's stunning looks when compared to other Ultrabooks with Core i7 processors, 8GB RAM, and 256GB SSDs.

Bonus: Surface Pro 3

The Surface Pro 3 isn’t a laptop—at least not technically. That's why it's a bonus pick. But Microsoft's fancy tablet deserves a mention on this list because it’s the first Surface—the first tablet—that is a legitimate contender as a laptop replacement. Previous generations suffered from glaring flaws, but the Surface Pro 3's large, gorgeous screen, improved kickstand and Type Cover connection, and Ultrabook-class processors finally strike a near-perfect blend of portability, productivity, and performance.

The base price starts at $800 (though you'll likely want the $1,000 Core i5 model), but anyone who wants to unlock the full potential of the Surface Pro 3 will also need to pick up that $130 Type Cover to complete the laptop look-alike package.