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The 7 Best Laptops Under $1,200 in 2023: An Expert‘s Guide

Are you on the hunt for a high-quality laptop that won‘t break the bank? Look no further! As a computer expert and digital technology enthusiast, I‘ve put together this ultimate guide to the 7 best laptops you can buy for under $1,200.

Landing in this $1,200 price range opens up a world of options when it comes to laptops. We‘re talking premium build quality, powerful performance, and plenty of bells and whistles. But with so many choices, how do you decide which one is right for you?

I‘m here to help! I‘ve done the research and hands-on testing to narrow it down to the top 7 laptops that deliver the best bang for your buck under $1,200. Whether you‘re a student, professional, creative, or hardcore gamer, there‘s something here for everyone.

First, let‘s break down what to look for when shopping for a laptop in this price range:

Key Considerations

1. Processor (CPU)

The brain of your laptop, a powerful CPU is essential for snappy performance, especially if you‘re running demanding applications. Look for 11th or 12th gen Intel Core i5 or i7 processors, or AMD Ryzen 5000 series chips.

2. Graphics (GPU)

A dedicated graphics card is a must for gaming, 3D modeling, and video editing. Aim for at least an Nvidia RTX 3050 or 3060 if you want to play the latest titles. For general use, Intel Iris Xe integrated graphics are sufficient.

3. Display

You‘ll be staring at your laptop screen for hours, so make sure to get a high-quality display. Opt for an IPS panel with 100% sRGB color coverage. QHD or 4K resolution is nice but will cost more and impact battery life. For most, a 1080p screen is the sweet spot.

4. Memory (RAM) and Storage

8GB of RAM is the bare minimum these days, with 16GB being ideal for multitasking and more intensive workloads. Regarding storage, a 512GB solid-state drive (SSD) offers the best mix of speed and capacity. Avoid slower mechanical hard drives.

5. Battery Life

If you plan to use your laptop on the go, prioritize battery life. The best ultrabooks can last 10+ hours on a charge. Gaming laptops tend to have much shorter runtimes. Consider your needs and usage patterns.

6. Build Quality

A laptop is a sizable investment. You want one that‘s built to last with premium materials like aluminum, carbon fiber, or magnesium alloy. Check that the hinge, keyboard, and touchpad feel sturdy and high-quality as well.

With that primer out of the way, let‘s dive into my top picks for the 7 best laptops under $1,200:

The Contenders

1. Apple MacBook Air M1

The M1 MacBook Air redefined what‘s possible in an ultraportable laptop. This sleek machine packs stellar performance and 18-hour battery life into a fanless, 2.8-pound chassis. Its 13.3" Retina display is a joy to behold. The M1 chip integrates an 8-core CPU, 7 or 8-core GPU, and 16-core Neural Engine for machine learning. This is the ideal laptop for students and professionals who value portability and power efficiency.

Just keep in mind, you‘re limited to two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports. There‘s also no touchscreen or 2-in-1 functionality. But those are minor nitpicks considering all you get for the price. The MacBook Air starts at $999 for an 8-core GPU/8GB RAM/256GB storage config, with $1,199 bumping you to an 8-core GPU/8GB RAM/512GB SSD.

2. Dell XPS 13

My other ultrabook pick is the Dell XPS 13, the gold standard of premium Windows laptops. Dell perfected its InfinityEdge design over the years, with the latest sporting a 91.5% screen-to-body ratio. The 13.4" display comes in touch and non-touch versions.

You have your pick of 11th-gen Intel Core i5 and i7 chips, paired with Intel Iris Xe graphics. The i5 is no slouch, but the i7 is noticeably faster for sustained workloads. My recommended config has the i7-1165G7, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD, and 1080p+ non-touch screen for $1,199. Need a touchscreen or 4K+ resolution? You‘ll have to step up to the next tier.

The XPS 13 has a more diverse array of ports than the MacBook Air. Two Thunderbolt 4, one USB-C, a microSD slot, and a headphone jack. The webcam is still 720p—fine for video calls but not ideal for content creation. Battery life ranges from 10-14 hours, depending on your configuration.

3. HP Spectre x360 14

If you need the flexibility of a 2-in-1, the Spectre x360 14 is hands-down the best convertible under $1,200. Its sturdy hinge allows you to flip the screen a full 360° to use as a tablet. The included rechargeable pen attaches magnetically to the side for safe storage and transport.

HP really nailed the details with this laptop. The 13.5" 1920×1280 IPS touchscreen is flanked by quad speakers, a 5MP IR camera, and a physical webcam kill switch. A fingerprint reader is built into the keyboard deck.

My suggested model comes with an Intel Core i7-1165G7, Intel Iris Xe graphics, 16GB RAM, a 512GB SSD, and 64GB of Intel Optane memory to accelerate app load times. All that will run you $1,199, but you can find it on sale for under a grand. Make sure to get the 2021 edition with 11th-gen Intel chips rather than last year‘s 10th-gen model.

4. ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14

Switching gears to gaming laptops, the Zephyrus G14 is a 14" powerhouse that doesn‘t sacrifice portability. This diminutive rig measures just 0.7" thick and weighs a mere 3.5 pounds, thanks to its lightweight magnesium-aluminum chassis. But don‘t let the size fool you—it packs a serious punch.

The $1,199 SKU I recommend has an 8-core AMD Ryzen 9 4900HS CPU, Nvidia RTX 2060 Max-Q GPU (6GB GDDR6), 16GB RAM, and a 1TB NVMe SSD. That‘s an unbeatable collection of specs for the price. The 120Hz 1080p display ensures you can take full advantage of the beefy hardware in esports titles.

Battery life is frankly incredible for a gaming laptop of this caliber. You can get 8-10 hours of productivity or 4-5 hours of gaming on a charge. The main downside is there‘s no webcam, which is an odd omission. Some may lament the lack of a 17.3" screen, but portability is the priority here.

5. Gigabyte AERO 15 OLED

Content creators need a laptop with a stellar screen, and you won‘t find a better panel under $1,200 than the AERO 15‘s 4K OLED. This 15.6" display covers 100% of the DCI-P3 gamut and is Pantone-certified for color accuracy. The 1ms response time and 60Hz refresh rate make it great for gaming, too.

This slim aluminum powerhouse packs an Intel Core i7-11800H, Nvidia RTX 3060 GPU (6GB GDDR6), 16GB RAM, and a 512GB NVMe SSD. That‘s a ton of creative firepower for intensive video and photo editing. Thunderbolt 4, HDMI 2.1, Mini DP, and a UHS-II SD card reader give you ample connectivity options.

The main trade-off is battery life. Don‘t expect more than 5-6 hours with this spec sheet. The 720p webcam and tinny speakers also leave room for improvement. But if you spend all day staring at Photoshop or Premiere Pro and want the best possible picture quality, the AERO 15 OLED is a compelling choice at $1,199.

6. Microsoft Surface Laptop 4

Microsoft challenged the MacBook Air with the Surface Laptop, a premium notebook designed for students and professionals. Now in its 4th generation, you get a choice of 13.5" or 15" touchscreens with a 3:2 aspect ratio that‘s great for productivity.

I suggest the Surface Laptop 4 config with an AMD Ryzen 5 4680U CPU, 8GB RAM, and a 256GB SSD for $999. That‘s plenty of oomph for office tasks, web browsing, and streaming. Splurge for the $1,199 model with 16GB RAM and a 512GB SSD if you‘re a power user.

The aluminum chassis is sleek and sturdy, with a luxurious Alcantara fabric keyboard deck on select colors. The 19-hour battery life bests many competitors. Downsides? The port selection is limited to one USB-C, one USB-A, a headphone jack, and the proprietary Surface Connect port. There‘s also no Thunderbolt support. But overall, this is a very nice laptop for the money.

7. Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 9

My final pick is for the business crowd. ThinkPads are legendary for their build quality and no-nonsense designs, and the X1 Carbon is the cream of the crop. Now in its 9th generation, this 14" ultrabook is tested against military-grade standards for water, dust, and drop protection.

The $1,187 config I like has an Intel Core i5-1135G7 CPU, 8GB RAM, and a 256GB SSD. That‘s not going to win any benchmark contests. But it‘s more than adequate for crunching spreadsheets, drafting documents, and wrangling your inbox. Splurge for the Core i7 and 16GB RAM if you do lots of multitasking.

The X1 Carbon‘s matte 1080p panel won‘t wow you, but it has a nice anti-glare coating. The keyboard is fantastic, with sculpted keys, adjustable backlighting, and Lenovo‘s signature TrackPoint nubbin. You get two Thunderbolt 4 ports, two USB 3.2 Type-A ports, HDMI 2.0, and an audio jack.

The Verdict

So, which of these excellent laptops under $1,200 should you buy? The good news is that you can‘t go wrong with any of my picks. It ultimately comes down to your unique needs and priorities.

If portability is paramount, get the MacBook Air or Dell XPS 13. Need the flexibility of a tablet? Snag the Spectre x360 14. The Zephyrus G14 is the best bet for on-the-go gaming, while the AERO 15 OLED is unbeatable for content creation. Students and office workers will be well-served by the Surface Laptop 4, and frequent business travelers can‘t top the tank-like ThinkPad X1 Carbon.

I hope this expert guide has helped narrow down your choices. Let me know in the comments which laptop you decided on and how it‘s working out for you. If you have any other questions as you shop for your next notebook, feel free to drop me a line, too.

Happy laptop hunting!