Whether you love to cook, are always rushing to pull dinner together, or live on reheated coffee and frozen pizza, a microwave is a kitchen essential. Defrosting and reheating are common uses, but not every microwave does both well.

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That's why it's smart to do a little research before you buy yours.  Countertop microwaves are the most common type, but over-the-range models can round out your kitchen suite, especially if you prefer appliances that are all from one brand with matching handles and other details.

No matter what type you choose, you'll want a microwave that measures up in our microwave reliability survey.

Once you make the investment, use it with care so that your microwave will last; you shouldn't have to replace it more than once every 10 years, which is how long manufacturers say microwaves should last.

Here are 8 simple things you can do to keep your microwave in tip-top shape.  A countertop microwave is a key appliance for any starter kitchen, such as in a first home or an off-campus apartment. And you don't have to spend a lot to get top performance, as evidenced by this selection of countertop microwaves for $150 or less.

At Consumer Reports, we test microwaves in every price range and buy every model we test. Our ratings include small, midsized, and large countertop microwaves; over-the-range microwaves; and a few built-in models that sleekly integrate into your cabinetry.

Our tests find big differences in overall performance. To test heating we warm up mashed potatoes, and we use frozen ground beef to test defrosting. We also test speed of heating, noise, and ease of use. We measure usable capacity, too—manufacturers often include space you can’t use. And we test how well the over-the-range models vent.  

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