Benchtop saws are the most portable. Most come with a folding stand of some sort and can be carried with relative ease. These saws are ideal for job sites because they are easy to transport but are good for a shop too. The tables are usually cast iron and may have stamped steel, aluminum, or cast iron wings (side tables). The fences usually have a maximum ripping capacity of about 25″. Benchtop saws tend to lack the table surface and power sometimes required when cutting large sheets of plywood or ripping thicker lumber. Because they are light, they are less stable – more tipsy than bigger saws. The universal motors (same as a circular saw) are loud and connected directly to the motor. Dust collection on the better benchtop saws is usually excellent. If you plan to use a dado head on your saw, check the length of the arbor.
Contractor saws are the next step up. They come with a non-folding metal base and have a bigger table surface, usually cast iron. These saws feature a bigger motor with capacitors (1 or 2). The motor hangs out the back of the saw and is connected to the arbor with a single belt. The fences on contractor saws are a big step up from a benchtop – beefier and with greater ripping capacities. To help move these saws around, you’ll want a mobile base. It takes at least two people to lift one. Dust collection is not great with a contractor saw.
Cabinet saws are the pinnacle of table saws. They often boast 3 or 5HP motors which are tucked away in the cabinet base. A series of belts connects the motor to the arbor, reducing vibration. Coupled with the mass of these saws, they are very quiet. Dust collection is excellent because of the closed cabinet. The fence systems are the same as contractor saws and you will need a mobile base to move one of these saws. The trunnions which hold the saw arbor are mounted to the base, rather than the bottom of the table, making blade-table alignment much simpler.
Depending on your expected use, you can decide which level of saw suits your needs best. For light duty use, a benchtop saw may be all you need. But if you intend to cut a lot of thick lumber (hardwoods especially) and plywood with the table saw, have a good look at a contractor or cabinet saw.