The best laptops: Premium laptops, budget laptops, 2-in-1s, and more

With Windows 11 on the horizon, PC makers have been busy announcing new laptops and tablets based on the next-gen operating system.

Add to that heavy competition between Intel, AMD, and Nvidia and we’re in an era of some of the best laptops in history right now. Our top picks from currently available laptops are below: 

Best laptops cheat sheet: Our top picks

Latest laptop news and reviews

Here are the latest stories:

  • HP announced three new Windows 11 devices that may throw you for a curve: the HP 11 inch Tablet, the 14 inch Laptop, and the Spectre x360 16. The Tablet’s cool trick is a swiveling 13MP camera that lets you show off homework. The 14 inch Laptop is also quite different and will be powered by Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon processor. Finally, the Spectre x360 features a 5GHz 11th-gen Tiger Lake H CPU, a GeForce RTX 3050, and a pixel-packed 5 megapixel camera. 
  • Framework wants you to take its laptop apart and repair it. Seriously. While most laptops are difficult to impossible to repair or upgrade, this debut product from Framework not only can be dismantled and upgraded, but the company actually encourages you to do it. Find out what we learned when we took an early-production Framework laptop for a whirl.
framework 4431 Gordon Mah Ung

The Framework laptop is designed to be taken apart for repairs or upgrades.

  • We recently reviewed Acer’s mid-range Swift X which we awarded 4 stars for its mixture of GeForce RTX graphics, an AMD Ryzen CPU, and compelling pricing. Likewise, the Acer Nitro 5 offers great gaming value with a great display.
  • Having your laptop stolen is stressful because you need to replace a pricey piece of hardware—and it also poses a threat to your digital security. Read on to learn about how to prepare yourself against the possibility of notebook theft, how to report the theft if your laptop is stolen, and how to protect your data after it’s in the hands of thieves. 

Best thin-and-light laptop

When we think about the best thin-and-light laptop, it’s always been a close contest between the Dell XPS 2-in-1 and the HP Spectre x360. This time around, we’re giving the luxurious HP Spectre x360 14 some time in the sun, with a nod to the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 9310 that preceded it as our top pick. The Spectre x360 14, now sporting the same Intel 11th-gen Tiger Lake CPU available in the Dell XPS line, trades blows with its eternal rival in test after test. It rises to the top because of a few key advantages: It offers longer battery life (thanks to a bigger battery), a far better keyboard, and little things like a USB-A port and a physical webam shutoff switch, all for a lower price. Well played. Read our full review.

[ $1,590 on HP.com ]

Runner-up

acerswift5hero Jared Newman / IDG

Now that Apple’s M1 chip has raised the bar for lightweight laptop performance, there’s a question every ultraportable PC maker must address: Why would someone buy this instead of a MacBook Air?

Well, here’s an answer for the new Acer Swift 5: It’s fast enough to play Fortnite and a bunch of other games that are absent from Apple’s platform, but it weighs only 2.3 pounds and gets stellar battery life for work or web browsing. It also has a touchscreen and a bunch of useful ports, including HDMI out and USB-A, none of which you’ll find on Apple’s thin-and-light (ahem). Read our full review

[Currently about $1,300 on Amazon.com, but prices fluctuate frequently.]

Best laptop under $500

If this particular model of the Acer Aspire 5 looks familiar, it’s probably because it’s been sitting atop Amazon’s laptop bestseller list for months. It’s easy to understand why. This AMD Ryzen 3-powered Aspire 5 packs some enticing features for the price, including a Full-HD 15.6-inch display, a slim-and-trim chassis, and solid performance on everyday computing tasks.

That said, a Windows 10 laptop this inexpensive has its compromises. In this case, we’re talking a scant 4GB of RAM and a cramped 128GB solid-state drive, while battery life falls significantly short compared to similar Aspire 5 models that don’t cost much more. Read our full review.

[Currently $410 on Amazon, but prices fluctuate frequently.]

Best 17-inch workhorse

Is there a difference between a 17-inch workhorse laptop and a 17-inch gaming laptop? We think there is to be honest and Dell’s XPS 17 9710 squeezes in there by giving you a huge gorgeous screen with a fast 11th gen Intel CPU and a GeForce RTX 3060—all in a package that not much larger than a typical 15.6-inch laptop. The laptop basically compromises on all out gaming while still giving you excellent performance in all things Adobe Creative Cloud. Read our full review here.

Best 14-inch/15-inch workhorse

Laptops like the HP Envy 14 fall into the category of “content creation:”  notebook PCs with a modestly powerful discrete GPU that can play some games, edit video, or simply serve as a solid all-around PC. This 14-inch laptop satisfies all three.

In our tests, we found that while some laptops outperformed the Envy 14, many couldn’t do so for the price. Here, the Envy 14 offers top-notch battery life, support for powerful external Thunderbolt hardware, and a pleasing everyday typing experience. Read our full review.

[$1,149 at Amazon.com]

Best convertible laptop

Dell’s XPS 13 2-in-1 9310 is mostly an evolutionary update to the XPS 13 7390 2-in-1 we reviewed last year, but with one key change. Thanks to Intel’s 11th gen Core i7-1165G7 chip, gaming is actually conceivable on this sub-three-pound laptop.

Most other things didn’t change, and we have our beefs about the design. But that game-ready performance boost alone makes the XPS 13 2-in-1 special. Read our full review

[$1,714 as tested; available on Dell.com]

Best budget convertible laptop

The Asus ZenBook Flip 13 offers a lot for the money. It’s a beautiful laptop that offers decent battery life, very good graphics, and a lot of pep for most of what you’d do on a small 13-inch convertible laptop. Some might fixate on its lack of a headphone jack, but that would be unfair to its impressive 11th-gen Intel Tiger Lake Core i7-1165G7 chip and its drop-dead-gorgeous OLED screen. Read our full review.

[$1,199 on Amazon]

Best 2-in-1 / tablet / hybrid laptop

By naming this Windows tablet the Surface Pro 7+, Microsoft mistakenly implies that it’s some sort of minor upgrade from the Surface Pro 7. Nothing could be further from the truth: We rarely see such massive upgrades in CPU and GPU horsepower, as well as battery life. It also offers an LTE option and an absolutely dead-silent, fanless chassis.

A few decisions made us scratch our heads. Why do we have to choose between an integrated microSD slot or the LTE option? Thunderbolt still isn’t here, either. But even these flaws really can’t mar an exciting leap in performance. This is the best Surface Pro of several generations, and for the moment the best Windows tablet on the market, too.

[$1,650 MRSP as reviewed on Microsoft.com]

Best gaming laptop overall

It’s all-AMD, and that’s a very good thing. If you’re on the hunt for an affordable yet stupidly fast laptop on a medium budget, just stop reading and buy the Asus ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition right now because of its stunning price-to-performance ratio. Read our full review

[$1,650 as tested at Best Buy

Best budget gaming laptop

We’ve long been fans of Acer’s line of affordable Nitro 5 gaming laptops. This new entry in the series ups the ante with eye-popping CPU performance and great battery life. 

Note that it keeps the same GTX 1650 graphics card that we saw in a similar model last year, so don’t expect ray tracing or frame rates much higher than 60 fps or so. But with its revamped cooling system and Ryzen 4000-series CPU, the updated Nitro 5 manages to squeeze every last ounce of performance from its limited GPU power, making it an enticing pick for gamers on a budget. Read our full review.

[$670 as tested via Bestbuy.com]

Best portable gaming laptop

An on-the-go gaming rig with ray-tracing chops that won’t break your budget or your back, the Acer Predator Triton 300 SE serves up an enticing mix of value and performance.

The Predator Triton 300 SE sports Intel’s cutting-edge Tiger Lake H35 “ultraportable gaming” CPU, along with GeForce RTX 3060 graphics and a slim 3.8-pound design. Crack open the lid, you’ll find a 14-inch, 144Hz Full HD display, three-zone RGB keyboard backlighting, and one-touch overclocking. Thunderbolt 4 and solid battery life make a good thing even better. Read our full review.

[$1,500 as reviewed on Bestbuy.com]

Runner-up

Razer isn’t exaggerating when it calls its Blade 15 the “world’s smallest 15-inch gaming laptop.” It’s nearly as small as the popular workhorse Dell XPS 15, yet it offers blistering gaming performance. 

The Razer Blade 15 that we reviewed features a 15.6-inch, 1920×1080 IPS 144Hz factory-calibrated screen, an 8th-gen 6-core Intel Core i7-8750H, 16GB of DDR4/2677 in dual-channel mode, Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1070 Max-Q (optional GTX 1060 Max-Q), and a 512GB Samsung M.2 PCIe SSD

While it’s impressive to get a six-core 8th gen Core i7-8750H and GeForce GTX 1070 Max-Q performance into a compact chassis, note that it’s densely packed and feels heavy for its size. If you can deal with the additional weight, the payoff may well be worth it. Read our review.

[$2,600 MSRP as reviewed]

Best luxury laptop

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano is just the kind of powerful, light, and long-lasting laptop you’ll want to take with you on post-pandemic business trips. It also performs right there in the ballpark with other 11th-gen Tiger Lake competitors, and at a hair under two pounds, it weighs less than almost all of them.

Equipped with an IR camera for facial recognition, a presence-detecting radar, a 2K display with Dolby Vision HDR, and a premium keyboard, the X1 Nano covers the most bases for corporate users, and we haven’t mentioned the superlative battery life yet. But with only two available ports (Thunderbolt 4, at least), you’ll need to invest in a USB-C hub to connect legacy accessories. Read our full review.

[$1,790 on Amazon.com]

Best overall Chromebook

Google’s Pixelbook Go is a perfectly good Chromebook, and that’s exactly what the company set out to create. It offers a careful balance of quality features and economical compromises for a reasonable $649 starting price. And it’s a darn sight better than the typical bare-bones model. If you’re committed to the Chromebook universe, this is a laptop worth buying. 

[$649 MSRP; available via Google]

Best budget Chromebook

The HP Chromebook x360 12b takes you a cut above the rock-bottom basic Chromebooks that hover around $250 (and continue to sell well). Get one of those for your kids—who cares if they destroy it? But you, the adult in the room, deserve this one, with its surprisingly good design and great battery life.

This is still a budget-grade Chromebook, so there are some compromises: Performance is mediocre, and the 3:2 display, while nice and tall, isn’t very bright. Still, we think HP made reasonable choices to provide a productive and enjoyable experience without breaking the bank. Read our full review.

 [$360 MSRP; available on Adorama]

Best MacBook

The MacBook Air with the new M1 processor so absolutely and thoroughly trounces the Intel version released earlier this year (with Intel’s “Ice Lake” Y-series CPU/GPU) that it defies belief.

Unfortunately, Apple changed practically nothing else about the MacBook Air. This new model is exclusively a processor swap. But what a processor! You can read the full review of the MacBook Air M1 at our sister site, Macworld.

[$999.99 MSRP as reviewed by Macworld.]

Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *