As usual, the annual CES held last month in Las Vegas was full of new product announcements. While laptop and desktop computers may not have gotten as much attention as smart speakers, TVs, and drones, PC makers continue to show innovative and exciting new designs, like incredibly thin-and-light laptops, 2-in-1 convertibles, and Windows-based tablets.

Meanwhile, lots of people are focused on upgrading their desktop PCs—maybe to try to strike it rich in cryptocoin mining. Whatever the reason for wanting a new computer, PCMag is here once again to help you choose the brand that will keep you satisfied for years to come.

As is our tradition, we start our annual set of PCMag Readers’ Choice Awards by reaching out to you, our readers, to find out which kinds of laptop and desktop computers you use and how satisfied you are with your purchases. Your feedback, in conjunction with PCMag’s expert and exhaustive labs-based product reviews, will help you and your fellow readers make the right choice with their next PC purchase.

Our survey asks respondents to rate the PCs they use for home (and work) on several key measures. We start with the most visceral: Overall, how satisfied are you with your computer? We go on to ask about satisfaction with other aspects of PC use including ease of setup, reliability, and support. We also ask if you would recommend your brand of computer to someone else. This often produces very insightful results that indicate the respondents’ faith in the future of the brand or the usefulness of the brands’ products to others.

Respondents provide a rating for each satisfaction question from 0 (extremely dissatisfied or extremely unlikely to recommend) to 10 (extremely satisfied or extremely likely to recommend). To be included in our survey results analysis, a brand needs to receive at least 50 responses.

For years, the PC market has been consolidating around half a dozen different companies, but several smaller brands continue to innovate and vie for market share. Read on to see where you should focus your search when you’re ready to buy your next computer.

The PCMag Readers’ Choice survey for Laptops and Desktops was in the field from January 8, 2018 through January 29, 2018. For more information on how the survey is conducted, read the survey methodology. Each person who completed the survey was entered into a drawing to win an Amazon.com gift card valued at $350.

You can win! Sign up for the Readers’ Choice Survey mailing list to receive invitations for future sweepstakes.

Looking for expert opinion? Read The Best Laptops of 2018 and The Best Desktop Computers of 2018.


Laptops 2018

Apple and Microsoft have battled with each other since the dawn of the PC age. Apple has always focused on an insular ecosystem, creating an OS that only runs on its own computers to maximize its control of the environment.

Microsoft initially focused on making an operating system that would run on nearly any PC, but in recent years, it has come around somewhat to Apple’s way of thinking. While there are still dozens of companies making Microsoft Windows-based computers, Microsoft jumped into the PC hardware business itself about six years ago.

That a computer company should make its own operating system (or vice versa), is just about the only thing that Apple and Microsoft seem to agree upon when it comes to design. All of Microsoft’s laptops include touch screens, and all but one can be used as a tablet. Apple, on the other hand, continues to focus its laptop development on traditional clamshell designs, relegating touch screens and tablet use to its iOS-based iPads and iPad Pros (iPads, iPad Pros and Android-based tablets were not included in this survey).

Who is right? The fact is, both Apple’s and Microsoft’s approaches have found an audience with which they resonate, and both companies win our 2018 PCMag Readers’ Choice Award for laptops.

For Apple, this is probably no surprise. The company has now won the award 11 years in a row. Once again, Apple has the highest satisfaction rating on every key measure, including overall satisfaction (8.9), satisfaction with ease of setup (9.1) and reliability (9.1), and likelihood to recommend (9.0). Its satisfaction with tech support rating of 8.5 is far better than what any competitor received.

However, all of these ratings (except likelihood to recommend) are down slightly from 2017. That is a bit concerning, even though they remain excellent scores. In fact, this is the first time this decade that Apple’s overall satisfaction rating dropped below 9.0.

Microsoft wins the Readers’ Choice Award for receiving the highest satisfaction rating for Windows-based computers in every key measure. In addition, all of Microsoft’s ratings are up slightly from last year. However, there’s a lot more competition in the Windows world and on most measures, Microsoft is tied with at least one other company.

Microsoft’s overall satisfaction rating of 8.8 is up from 8.6 in 2017 and tied with MSI, a manufacturer of gaming laptops. MSI only received a likelihood to recommend rating of 8.5, behind both Microsoft (8.8) and Alienware (8.7), another brand focused on gamers. Microsoft’s satisfaction with reliability rating of 8.8 was tied by both MSI and Alienware, and its satisfaction with ease of setup (9.0) was tied by Asus.

Apple and Microsoft also win a Readers’ Choice Award for home laptops. Again, both companies dominated the results on all key measures with Microsoft facing some stiff competition from Alienware and MSI.

Tablet and convertible 2-in-1 laptops are gaining in popularity with our respondents. In fact, nearly a third of laptops in the survey that were less than a year old (31 percent) were either a 2-in-1 or a tablet, compared to only 12 percent of those laptops purchased three to four years ago.

Asus, Dell, HP, and Lenovo also had a substantial number of respondents who used hybrid laptops, but Microsoft still came out on top with the highest overall satisfaction rating (8.8) and likelihood to recommend rating (8.8) and it earns the Readers’ Choice Award for hybrid laptops as well.

HP did tie Microsoft for satisfaction with overall reliability (8.8) and HP and Lenovo actually scored slightly better than Microsoft in ease of setup, both earning ratings of 9.1 compared to Microsoft’s 9.0. In every case, Asus, Dell, HP, and Lenovo received much higher satisfaction ratings for their hybrid laptops than they did for their conventional models.

Chromebooks—the thin, light and typically inexpensive laptops that run Google’s ChromeOS—continue to gain popularity in certain markets and boost overall PC sales. But only a small number of our respondents use them and no brand received the requisite 50 responses to be included individually in our analysis.

However, as a group, Chromebooks appear to be providing users with a very good experience. Overall satisfaction and likelihood to recommend both rated 8.7. Satisfaction with reliability rated 9.0, just behind Apple and ahead of every Windows brand, while satisfaction with ease of setup rated 9.3, better than every other company including Apple.

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WINNERS: LAPTOPS

Readers' Choice 2010 Award Categories: Overall, Home Use
Apple
For more than a decade, Apple has set the standard for what a laptop has to do to satisfy its users and this year is no exception. The company’s ratings are down slightly from last year, yet still no other brand can match its satisfaction scores.

Readers' Choice 2010 Award Categories: Overall, Home Use, Hybrid Laptop
Microsoft
The Windows-laptop that provides the most satisfying experience comes from the company that developed the operating system: Microsoft. Its focus on tablet and 2-in-1 machines provides an exciting alternative to Apple’s approach.


Desktops 2018

Laptop computers garner most of the attention and sales among PC buyers. In fact, nearly two-thirds of the computers that our survey respondents rated were laptops. Still, desktop PCs simply make sense if you don’t need to be mobile and want the most bang for your buck.

One company, Apple, has consistently received the highest satisfaction ratings for desktop PCs, and this year is no exception. Apple once again wins the PCMag Readers’ Choice Award for desktop computers for its Mac computers. In addition, while Apple’s laptop scores declined slightly this year, that was not the case for any of the company’s desktop satisfaction ratings.

Apple was the only company to get a rating of 9.0 or better on any measure, and it did it on every measure. Apple received a 9.1 for overall satisfaction, up from 9.0 in 2017 and its likelihood to recommend rating improved even more, going from 9.1 to 9.3. Satisfaction with ease of setup and overall reliability stayed the same at 9.5 and 9.3, respectively.

Many people don’t realize it, but you can run Microsoft Windows on a Mac, either through a virtual machine or by setting up a dual-boot environment. Still, if you’d prefer a desktop computer built from the ground up for Windows, look to gaming computer vendor CyberPowerPC which also wins a Readers’ Choice Award. CyberPowerPC may not be a household name, but the company earned top marks among Windows-based PCs for overall satisfaction.

CyberPowerPC didn’t reach Apple’s stratosphere, but it did receive an overall satisfaction rating of 8.8, which is very good. Only Acer and Asus came close, each getting an 8.6. Acer did beat CyberPowerPC in satisfaction with reliability at 8.9 to 8.8, but both are very good scores. Only 2 percent of respondents said their Acer desktop needed to be repaired or replaced in the last 12 months, the lowest percentage in our survey. By contrast, 17 percent of CyberPowerPC desktops needed some sort of repair, which is a little troubling. CyberPowerPC, Acer, and Asus also received identical likelihood to recommend ratings of 8.6, the best for any Windows desktop brand.

Although the vast majority of CyberPowerPCs are used in the home when we look only at home PCs, Asus actually rated slightly better and earns a Readers’ Choice Award for home desktops. The two companies had identical overall satisfaction ratings of 8.7, but Asus’ overall reliability was 8.9 to CyberPowerPC’s 8.8; likelihood to recommend was 8.7 compared to CyberPowerPC’s 8.6. Acer also rated an 8.7 in likelihood to recommend and Dell got an 8.6 from its home users on this measure.

2018 marks the 20th anniversary of Apple’s all-in-one iMac line of desktop PCs, which combine the monitor and computer into one unit. Windows PC manufacturers were slow to adapt all-in-one designs, but they are gaining in popularity. Seventy-seven percent of the Apple desktops reported on in our survey were all-in-ones compared to only 12 percent of the Windows desktops. However, 15 percent of the Windows desktops in the survey that were purchased in the last year were all-in-ones compared to only 11 percent of older machines.

Apple wins a Readers’ Choice Award for its all-in-one, but we didn’t feel either Dell or HP, the two Windows brands that received enough responses, were deserving of an award. They lagged too far behind. For instance, Apple’s overall satisfaction rating for its all-in-ones was 9.2 compared to HP’s 8.1 and Dell’s 8.0. Apple rated a 9.3 for likelihood to recommend whereas Dell only received an 8.1 and HP a 7.9. We think all-in-ones can make a lot of sense in certain environments, but right now you’re far better going with an Apple iMac than one of its competitors.

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WINNERS: DESKTOPS

Readers' Choice 2010 Award Categories: Overall, Home Use, All-in-One Desktop
Apple
A perennial favorite among PCMag readers, Apple received satisfaction ratings this year that were even better than last. Most respondents prefer the all-in-one design of Apple’s iMac and new iMac Pro, a design Apple’s competitors seem yet to be able to master.

Readers' Choice 2010 Award Categories: Overall
CyberPowerPC
If you’re looking for a Windows PC, especially if you’re a gamer, take a close look at CyberPowerPC. The small PC company earned big satisfaction numbers from its users, including the best overall satisfaction rating.

Readers' Choice 2010 Award Categories: Home Use
Asus
Asus is the best choice this year among Windows-based desktops for the home. The company’s satisfaction ratings improved nicely from its 2017 scores.




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