While the PC market is vast both in quality and quantity, I have thankfully had the opportunity to try many different great PCs this year. The market had a rough start to 2023, hit rock-bottom mid-year and has been rebounding ever since. One thing that I think a lot of people forget about the PC is that the form factor continues to change; we’re seeing a major evolution with foldables and handheld PCs. I also believe that this list will evolve considerably in 2024 with the new wave of AI PCs that are coming, as well as with the expected next version of Windows coupled with new Snapdragon X Elite systems. This list includes mostly systems that I have tested and used extensively.
Full disclosure: All the device makers here except for ASUS are clients of Moor Insights & Strategy, but this article reflects my independent viewpoint, and no one at any client company has been given editorial input on this piece.
Favorite Windows Experience: Surface Laptop Studio 2
This is one of the newer systems I’ve had a chance to use, and it became my default PC almost immediately after I got it. One of the reasons I gravitated towards this system was that Microsoft finally updated it with a more powerful GPU and the latest CPU and memory. As configured when sent to me for review, it sported an Intel 13th Gen Core i7, Nvidia RTX 4060, 64GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD. While I rarely ran the monitor in tent mode, it did come in handy a few times while flying. The machine was also powerful enough for me to edit videos and publish them quickly—not as quickly as on my desktop at home, but quickly enough to get the job done in a reasonable amount of time.
This was also the first PC to ship with Microsoft Copilot and, as with every Surface PC, generally has the cleanest and smoothest Windows experience with inking and seamless updates. Microsoft has breathed new life into the Surface Laptop Studio with this latest model, and it feels a lot more performant for the $3,299 price tag.
Favorite Productivity Laptop: HP Dragonfly G4
This year’s Dragonfly G4 is almost a carbon copy of the Dragonfly G3 from last year—which isn’t a bad thing because that laptop was nearly perfect. While the design remained almost the same, HP updated the G4 with Intel 13th Gen processors and debuted a slew of software integrations with Poly products. (HP completed the $3.3 billion acquisition of Poly in 2022.) The G4 still weighs under 1kg, which is extremely light, and has 5G connectivity as well.
One other note about this product family: I believe that HP’s Elite Dragonfly Max missed the mark and cheapened the Elite Dragonfly series’ reputation as a high-end executive notebook with best-of-the-best technologies in a compact and light form factor. I hope that HP reconsiders next year’s strategy and keeps the Dragonfly branding for enterprise users.
Favorite Gaming Laptop: Alienware X16 R1
The Alienware X16 was one of my favorite laptops to travel with in 2023 and it helped me game on the go in ways that nothing else could. Dell configured the system it sent me with an Intel i9-13900HK, Nvidia RTX 4090, 32GB of RAM and 1TB NVMe SSD. Also, because this is a gaming laptop, it has a 16-inch QHD+ 240 Hz display with 100% PCI-P3 color. This means that not only is the X16 a great gaming laptop, but it’s also a great photo and video editing machine that can easily compete with most desktops.
That said, the X16 is not a true desktop replacement; that’s the Alienware M series. The X series is where Alienware strikes a great balance for portability and comfort while also pushing performance to the absolute maximum and using the best technologies available for cooling. This is all priced at $3,100, which is quite impressive considering the specs and the overall thinness of the X16. Also, Dell ships the X16 with a 330-watt GaN charger—still quite large but considerably smaller than the previous 330-watt and 240-watt non-GaN chargers—which makes transporting it far easier.
Favorite Gaming Desktop: Alienware Aurora R16
Last year, my favorite desktop was an HP Omen 45L. That machine emerged when HP revisited its desktop design—and it hit the mark. This year, Alienware revisited its Aurora series of desktops and came away with a complete redesign, the Aurora R16.
I liked the R16 because Alienware not only went for a more approachable price point, but also considerably improved thermals and graphics options. It offers the R16 all the way up to an Intel 14900K with an Nvidia RTX 4090, which is coincidentally the same configuration that Dell sent me for testing. Pairing this desktop with the industry-favorite 34-inch OLED Ultrawide monitor and other peripherals made it my favorite gaming desktop of 2023. There are some minor changes that I’d like to see Dell implement, but they are mostly cosmetic. I’ll have more on that in my upcoming report on the Alienware ecosystem.
Favorite Portable: Surface Pro 9 5G
The Surface Pro 9 5G was my favorite PC to take with me anywhere. It was the most comfortable to carry to meetings, especially since the 5G connectivity meant I didn’t have to bother connecting to the company Wi-Fi network. Additionally, Microsoft launched a program with T-Mobile to give users 90 days of free 5G, which was a nice bonus that I believe should help people easily realize the benefits of 5G connectivity on a PC. I hope to see this kind of setup available for other 5G-enabled Windows PCs, but right now it is one of the things that sets the Surface Pro 9 5G apart from the others. And that’s on top of the premium Windows experience, which is similar to the experience on the Surface Laptop Studio 2 discussed above.
Favorite Gaming Handheld: ASUS ROG Ally
The ROG Ally is the first gaming handheld to release with the AMD Z Extreme series of processors, which has become the default platform for OEMs wanting to build Windows handheld gaming systems. Lenovo did come out with a more high-end competitor in the Legion Go, but I didn’t get a chance to properly use that product long enough for a review. Meanwhile, I did extensively use the Ally and found it extremely good. The Ally also hit a more aggressive price target, which will make it feasible for more consumers.
I had some reservations about the Ally, but the comfort was pretty good, and the device was fairly compact compared to some of the other designs on the market such as the Lenovo Legion Go or the Steam Deck. This handheld and the AMD platform it was built on may have revitalized the handheld gaming PC category. I tested the higher-end configuration with the faster Z1 Extreme processor, which has more CPU and GPU cores. It sells for $700, while the entry-level model is currently on sale for $399.
Favorite Foldable: HP Spectre 3-in-1 17-inch
I haven’t had a chance to review this laptop, but I have had many opportunities to play with it and see it in action. It is an incredibly well-executed design that clearly borrows a lot of design language from the Elitebook series of laptops—but extends that into a witty and elegant 17-inch foldable design that has no business being as compact as it is when folded. This machine shows how a large foldable can be executed extremely well and still look like a 13-inch notebook when fully folded into itself.
Yes, this machine is $5,000—well beyond what is considered scalable in the PC industry—but I do believe that it establishes HP as a leader in the space. Additionally, this model is a great halo product for the HP brand, from which we could certainly see less expensive foldables do very well in 2024.
Favorite College Laptop PC: Dell XPS 13 Plus
The Dell XPS 13 Plus was one of my favorite other PCs of 2023, especially the OLED model because it is so stylish and such a departure from how most PCs look. It’s still extremely performant and well-built, but also has a gorgeous OLED display for content creation, watching movies and taking with you anywhere you go. I think this is a great overall laptop with good portability and design language. It would be a great pick for a student who wants to be mobile but also look cool and have a well-performing PC in a sea of MacBooks.
The year was a tough one for the PC sector, especially in the first half of the year. Thankfully, things have leveled out and the industry is on a healthy rebound, which has a chance of accelerating in 2024 with the emergence of AI PCs. It will be interesting to see how all the different PC OEMs adopt AI differently as brands and PC manufacturers. It truly seems that there is a big opportunity for Microsoft and its OEMs to pivot the PC towards AI and enable new capabilities and better productivity, or at least less busy work.
I am excited to see what 2024 will bring. It’s clear that there were already plenty of good PCs last year, and it will be exciting to see how many of these get supercharged this year with new capabilities and even more refined designs.