The laptop, just like every other mobile device, has been developed in order to allow us to leave the desk from time to time and work or have fun in whatever kind of environment we see fit. However, can we do that with a 17.6” laptop or even a heavier 15.6” model, especially when it comes to a bulkier gaming rig? Nope. Not the least bit. They’re difficult and uncomfortable to carry around, due to both weight and size, and will damage our health in the long run. As such, if you want portability, we think it’s time for you to pick a tinier 13-inch model.
Rest assured, this doesn’t mean you’re giving up performance. In fact, if you look at an Alienware 13, you will find components similar to just about any other heavy gaming laptop, but without such a massive frame. A 13” laptop is a lot easier to store and carry, as it will always fit in a smaller backpack or even a purse, while a classic 15.6” requires a full-size backpack or a special bag to carry. It’s always going to be lighter, with some models even reaching below 1kg (we’re looking at you, MacBook Air) and many 13 inch laptops will also be significantly slimmer than a full-size one. In fact, they will be the same size as your average textbook and not much heavier, which is quite important if you travel around all day. When it comes to personal favorite models, here’s a list of ours:
- 1 Best gaming model: Alienware AW13R2-8344SLV
- 2 Best workstation model AND overall model: Dell XPS 9350-8008SLV
- 3 Best business laptop AND best design: ASUS ZenBook UX330UA-AH54
- 4 Best multimedia laptop: Samsung Notebook 9 Spin 13.3″ – NP940X3L-K01US
- 5 Best budget laptop: HP Stream 13 C-110NR
- 6 Best Chromebook: Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Chromebook
- 7 1. CPU
- 8 2. Graphics card
- 9 3. RAM
- 10 4. Storage
- 11 5. Battery life
- 12 6. Laptop type
- 13 7. Ports
- 14 8. Thickness and weight
Best gaming model: Alienware AW13R2-8344SLV
This laptop is powered by an Intel i7-6500U, 2.5GHz and up to 3.1GHz with Turbo Boost. It’s a low-voltage processor, but powerful enough for pretty much anything you need, including newer game releases. It also features an nVidia GTX 960M, which is quite standard for laptops in this price range, with 2GB GDDR5, 16GB Dual Channel DDR3L RAM, and a 256GB SSD. The display is a beautiful QHD+ (3200×1800) LED Touchscreen, one of the greatest assets of Alienware laptops. All in all, the very best if you’re into gaming and don’t mind carrying around a bit of extra bulk.
Best workstation model AND overall model: Dell XPS 9350-8008SLV
In spite of Alienware belonging to Dell, this XPS model could not be more, unlike our top gaming model, while also being in the same price range. It’s a stunningly classy device, with a QHD+ Infinity Edge display that makes one wonder why the thick bezels on other laptops still exist when Dell could fit such a huge screen on a 13.3” laptop. It’s also only 0.6” thick and 2.8lbs heavy, a far cry from any gaming laptop, and the design is about as classy as it gets.
The performance, however, is the exact opposite of what you’d expect from such a tiny thing. It had an i7-6560U, 2.2GHz and overclocked up to 3.2GHz, even better than the 6500U. It doesn’t have a dedicated graphics card, but it does come with the Intel Iris 540 integrated chip, which is on par with the discrete workstation graphics card nVidia Quadro M500M. It also features 16GB DDR3L, as well as a great 512GB SSD, which is enough for all multimedia applications.
Best business laptop AND best design: ASUS ZenBook UX330UA-AH54
The only reason why the Dell XPS model didn’t take the “best design” prize was that of this little beauty. In spite of it not having an Infinity Edge display, which would make it just too perfect, it’s still the prettiest one here, in our honest opinion. In fact, what this model has and the XPS doesn’t is a Gorilla Glass 4 screen protection, which is a very rare thing for a laptop. It features a slim, 0.5” chassis made of Aerospace-grade aluminum, and it’s light at only 2lbs. What’s more, it’s much cheaper than the other two models without sacrificing much performance.
The processor on this one is a latest-generation i5-7200U, 2.5GHz with Turbo Boost up to 3.1GHz, which comes with Intel HD Graphics 620, a modern integrated video chip. It has 8GB DDR4 RAM and a 256GB SSD, which complete its overall excellent spec list. All in all, it’s an amazing business and multimedia laptop.
Best multimedia laptop: Samsung Notebook 9 Spin 13.3″ – NP940X3L-K01US
The first 2-in-1 model on our list, this is also one of the best Samsung laptops to date, even if we consider bigger laptops as well. It has a beautiful QHD touchscreen which can become a tablet with a single flick of your wrist, and it’s just as slim as the ZenBook (0.6”) and only a bit heavier at 2.5lbs.
The performance is not the least bit lacking either. This 13-inch Spin model is powered by an Intel i7-6500U, clocked at 2.5GHz, overclocked up to 3.1GHz, with Intel HD Graphics 520. It has 8GB LPDDR3 @1666MHz, as well as a 256GB SSD. Considering all these things, the price tag does not seem all that big.
Best budget laptop: HP Stream 13 C-110NR
Sometimes you really don’t have a lot or so to spend on a computer. For those moments, there’s always a 13-inch HP Stream to rely on. If you’re into pretty blue or purple chassis, in particular, we’re sure you will find this model very appealing. It’s relatively slim and light, at only 0.7” and 3.4lbs, and it’s an excellent choice for students, for instance, or people who want to do their daily thing without a bother.
The Stream 13 is based on a modern Intel Celeron 3855U, dual-core, 1.6GHz, with Intel HD Graphics 510 integrated chip. It has 2GB DDR3L SDRAM and 32GB eMMC storage, which is not surprising for this price range.
Best Chromebook: Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Chromebook
The OS on a Chromebook is not the usual Windows or MacOS, but ChromeOS, a modified version of Linux. It’s designed to be very light, lightning-fast, and simple to use for day-to-day tasks. While there are tens of different models from different companies, we consider this ThinkPad one of the best due to its straightforward and efficient design. The fact that it has two USB Type A and two USB Type-C ports also helps.
This model’s CPU is the same as the HP Stream 13, a Celeron 3855U. Unlike the Stream, however, this model benefits from 4GB DDR3L, which allow for a whole new level of Internet browsing experience – especially considering that the OS doesn’t use as much RAM as Windows does. It only has 16GB eMMC storage, but it comes with an SD card slot which can be used for expansion.
Before analyzing the laptop market, you have to answer a crucial question: what is the purpose you’re buying the laptop for? You can buy one for gaming, and quite a good one, although it’s not particularly comfortable to play on a 13-inch laptop. You may use it for graphic design, video editing, Photoshop, and so on, in which case you will need a small workstation. You could be a writer or, at any rate, someone who writes a lot, in which case you will need a comfortable keyboard and a good screen. Or you could simply want it for some good entertainment while you’re on your way somewhere, which makes budget models more appropriate.
Having understood that, you must now take into account what a 13-inch laptop has to offer. The variety is as great as it is with 15-inchers, so there are quite a lot of options to consider. You must pay attention, though, to quite a couple of aspects when purchasing such a laptop. Otherwise, you may be tricked by cheaper models that promise quality but offer you absolutely nothing. Also consider that, usually, such small laptops are not user-upgradable, which means that you will have exactly what you buy and you can’t add anything more. Here are the most important aspects:
Regardless of whether you want a gaming laptop or a movie-watching laptop, the processor is essential, and there’s no way around it. You probably won’t find the i7-6700HQ which is used in most high-end gaming rigs, but you can still get a 6500U, which is good for gaming as well as anything else. There are also quite a lot of good i5 models, so you don’t have to worry you won’t get high performance.
If you just want a small laptop for daily tasks, you shouldn’t worry about this. Just about any i5 or i3 model will do, and so will the modern Celeron models such as N3050 or 3060.
2. Graphics card
There’s no need for a discrete one if you’re not a gamer or video editor. Modern i5 processors come with an integrated graphics chip which can even deal with AutoCAD and such, so you’ve got graphics design and multimedia use completely covered.
If you’re a gamer or you need a workstation, certain 13” models may feature a Nvidia GTX 950M or even 960M (such is the case with Alienware). This is more than enough for what you need, and it brings your small laptop on par with its bigger brothers.
Not much to say about this, except for one thing: the bigger the numbers, the better. DO NOT be satisfied with anything less than 4GB DDR4 (DDR3 is only acceptable on cheap models). You can even get 16GB on some laptops (yes, it’s Alienware again), but that’s going to cost a bit.
Hard disk drives have size limitations that make them difficult to mount inside a 13-inch frame. An SSD, on the other hand, does not have such limitations, and it’s our recommendation to get one if possible. For all practical purposes, a 256GB SSD should be more than enough, and so will a 128GB one if you don’t need all that much space. Just get a big SD card or even an external HDD for mass storage purposes.
Individual budget models, especially Chromebooks, have eMMC storage, which is not as fast or as big as an SSD but still way faster than an HDD. It’s no problem if you get an eMMC-based computer, as long as you also get some external storage unit. Unless all you deal with are documents and such, you will need it.
5. Battery life
This is very important if you want your laptop to be truly portable. It may appear as odd that smaller laptops have the best average battery life by far, but it’s not all that weird if you think about it – the battery has to support a significantly smaller display, which makes all the difference.
Gaming laptops have poor battery life, due to high-performance high-consumption components. On the other hand, certain budget Chromebooks hit the 10-hour mark no problem. As such, if you want to watch movies during an entire airplane trip, you should probably not get a gaming model. Conversely, if you do get one, don’t expect your battery to last more than 3-4 hours if you’re playing.
6. Laptop type
A couple of years ago, a laptop was only a laptop. Nowadays, you can choose between touchscreen laptops, 2-in-1 models, convertibles, and so on. If you want to use your laptop for presentations and such, perhaps it’s a good idea to get a convertible. If not, a classic model is all you’ll ever need, especially considering that more exotic options are also a lot more expensive.
It’s quite common among tiny 13-inchers to have very few ports, and that’s a problem. It’s understandable; you can’t fit 12 USB ports on a 7-inch side border, but still. Certain MacBooks have only one or two USB ports, which is even more of a problem. It may not seem like that much of an issue in the beginning, but it will prove to be an issue in the long run.
Try to find something with at least two or three USB ports, an HDMI, a 3.5mm audio combo, and maybe a USB Type C. Everything else extra is a bonus, but try to get at least these.
8. Thickness and weight
While all 13-inch laptops have a 13-inch (no really) diagonal, not all of them share the same overall dimensions. There’s an immense difference between 0.6” thickness and 2lbs weight on the one hand and 1.15” thickness and 4.65lbs weight on the other.
Newer models are slimmer and more portable, but high-performance laptops are still bulky due to cooling necessities and so on. If you need something more portable, you may need to sacrifice some performance in return.
These are about all the things you should take into account when buying a 13-inch laptop. Of course, there are probably a hundred of other smaller things, but you should check the reviews of your favorite model for such details.