Finding the best laptop for you isn’t an easy task. And it can be a major investment, one that you may have to live with for years. Many products look the same, spec and feature lists can be confusing, and prices can run from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. Our CNET computer experts have spent a combined 60 years (seriously) testing and reviewing laptops, covering everything from price to performance to battery life, all to help you pick the perfect laptop.
This hand-curated list represents our top picks across various laptop sizes, styles and budgets and running on Windows, MacOS and Chrome. If you want more options for a particular category, we also have specialized lists you can check out while you’re shopping, including the best gaming laptops, best 15-inch laptops, best two-in-ones and best Chromebooks, as well as the best laptops for college students, the best laptop for creatives and the best MacBook Pro alternatives for the Windows set. And if you need to stay as low as possible on the price of a new laptop computer, check out our picks for best budget laptops and best budget gaming laptops.
This list is periodically updated with new models we’ve tested and reviewed. It’s a great place to start to get an idea of what’s available. But if you’re asking if a particular laptop or two-in-one is right for you, here’s some general advice to help with that.
How much does a good laptop cost?
Setting a budget is a good place to start when shopping for the best laptop for yourself. The good news is you can get a nice-looking, lightweight laptop with excellent battery life at prices under $500. If you’re shopping for a laptop around $500 or less, check out our top picks here, as well as more specific buying advice for that price range.
Higher-end components like Intel Core i-series and AMD Ryzen processors and premium design touches like thin-display bezels and aluminum or magnesium bodies have made their way to laptops priced between $500 and $1,000. You can also find touchscreens and two-in-one designs that can be used as a tablet or a laptop — and a couple other positions in between. In this price range, you’ll also find faster memory and solid-state storage — and more of it — to improve performance.
Above $1,000 is where you’ll find premium laptops and two-in-ones. If you’re looking for the fastest performance, the best battery life, the slimmest, lightest designs and top-notch display quality, expect to spend at least $1,000.
Which is better, MacOS or Windows?
Deciding between MacOS and Windows for many people will come down to personal preference and budget. Apple’s base model laptop, the MacBook Air, starts at $999. You can sometimes find it discounted or you can get educational pricing from Apple and other retailers. But, in general, it’ll be at least $1,000 for a new MacBook, and the prices just go up from there.
For the money, though, you’re getting great hardware top to bottom, inside and out. Apple recently moved to using its own processors, which resulted in across-the-board performance improvements compared to older Intel-based models. But, the company’s most powerful laptop, the 16-inch MacBook Pro, still hasn’t been updated to Apple silicon.
But, again, that great hardware comes at a price. Also, you’re limited to just Apple laptops. With Windows and Chromebooks (more on these below), you get an amazing variety of devices at a wide range of prices.
Software between the two is plentiful, so unless you need to run something that’s only available on one platform or the other, you should be fine to go with either. Gaming is definitely an advantage for Windows, though.
MacOS is also considered to be easier and safer to use than Windows, especially for people who want their computers to get out of the way so they can get things done. Over the years, though, Microsoft has done its best to follow suit and, with Windows 11 coming in October, it’s trying to remove any barriers. Also, while Macs might have a reputation for being safer, with the popularity of the iPhone and iPad helping to drive Mac sales, they’ve become bigger targets for malware.
Are Chromebooks worth it?
Yes, they are, but they’re not for everyone. Google’s Chrome OS has come a long way in the past 10 years and Chromebooks — laptops that run on Chrome OS — are great for people who do most of their work in a web browser or using mobile apps. They are secure, simple and, more often than not, a bargain. What they can’t do is natively run Windows or Mac software.
What’s the best laptop for home, travel or both?
The pandemic changed how and where a lot of people work. The small, ultraportable laptops valued by people who regularly traveled may have suddenly become woefully inadequate for working from home. Or maybe instead of needing long battery life, you’d rather have a bigger display with more graphics power for gaming.
If you’re going to be working on a laptop and don’t need more mobility than moving it from room to room, consider a 15.6-inch laptop or larger. In general, a bigger screen makes life easier for work and is more enjoyable for entertainment, and also is better if you’re using it as an extended display with an external monitor. It typically means you’re getting more ports, too, so connecting an external display or storage or a keyboard and mouse are easier without requiring a hub or dock.
For travel, stay with 13- or 14-inch laptops or two-in-ones. They’ll be the lightest and smallest while still delivering excellent battery life. What’s nice is that PC makers are moving away from 16:9 widescreens toward 16:10- or 3:2-ratio displays, which gives you more vertical screen space for work without significantly increasing the footprint. These models usually don’t have discrete graphics or powerful processors, though that’s not always the case.
Which laptop is best for gaming or creating?
You can play games and create content on any laptop. That said, what games you play and what content you create — and the speed at which you do them — is going vary greatly depending on the components inside the laptop.
For casual browser-based games or using streaming-game services like Google Stadia, Nvidia GeForce Now and Xbox Cloud Gaming, you don’t need a powerful gaming laptop. And similarly, if you’re just trimming video clips, cropping photos or live-streaming video from your webcam, you can get by with a modestly priced laptop or Chromebook with integrated graphics.
For anything more demanding, you’ll need to invest more money for discrete graphics like Nvidia’s RTX 30-series GPUs. Increased system memory of 16GB or more, having a speedy SSD for storage and a faster processor such as an Intel Core i7 or AMD Ryzen 7 will all help you get things moving faster, too.
The other piece you’ll want to consider is the display. For gaming, look for screens with a high refresh rate of 120Hz or faster so games look smoother while playing. For content creation, look for displays that cover 100% sRGB color space.
This is our go-to recommendation for those in search of a MacOS laptop for everyday basic use. The MacBook Air was updated in the first half of 2020 with new Intel processors and, most importantly, a new keyboard. However, in November, Apple announced its new homegrown M1 processors would be replacing Intel’s CPUs in the Air. Using Apple’s M1, the company promises an operating system with better performance and longer battery life — up to 18 hours. The Intel-based models will still be around, though, and regardless of which chip is running the Air, you’re getting a great little Mac laptop starting at $999.
Read more about the new M1-based MacBook Air.
Regularly available for less than $700, this thin, 3-pound convertible is a solid choice for anyone who needs a laptop for office or schoolwork. The all-metal chassis gives it a premium look and feel, and it has a comfortable keyboard and a responsive, smooth precision touchpad. Though it’s light on extra features compared to its premium linemate, the Yoga 9i, it does have one of Lenovo’s sliding shutters for its webcam that gives you privacy when you want it. And it has a long battery life to boot.
The Dell XPS 13 is a perennial favorite for its size, weight and performance and just overall good looks. In 2020, Dell made the laptop even smaller, while making the laptop screen larger and increasing performance for both CPU and graphics-intensive tasks. It’s not a huge leap, but this Dell XPS is still the best in the category. And for those who want the latest and greatest Intel processors, the Dell XPS 13, as well as the company’s XPS 13 2-in-1 (also a great pick), are available with the chip-maker’s 11th-gen Core processors, with Intel Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7 options. This Dell also offers a selection of solid-state storage and memory options, starting with a 256GB SSD hard drive and 8GB of memory.
Read our Dell XPS 13 (2020) review.
Tired of trying to work on documents or spreadsheets on a small widescreen display? The Acer Chromebook Spin 713 uses one of Acer’s bright VertiView displays, a 13.5-inch 2,256×1,504-pixel touchscreen with a 3:2 aspect ratio. As the name implies, it gives you more vertical room to work, but it still has the width of a typical 13.3-inch laptop with a 16:9 ratio. Between that and its battery life, which lasted nearly 13 hours in our tests, you’ll be able to get more work done in a day — and it’s still thin and light enough for an everyday carry.
The latest version of this Chromebook is the first to receive Intel’s Evo verification, which means you’ll be getting the best possible mobile experience with this model. It’s also the first with Thunderbolt 4 support, which lets you connect to multiple external displays as well as providing fast data speeds and networking.
Read our Acer Chromebook Spin 713 review.
Co-engineered with Intel for its Evo platform, the Spectre x360 14 we tested had zippy performance and more than 14 hours of battery life. Along with an assortment of privacy features, this HP laptop has a bright, 1,920×1,280-pixel-resolution, 13.5-inch touchscreen with a 3:2 screen ratio that is roughly the same as a standard A4 sheet of paper and gives you about 20% more vertical viewing space than a 16:9 display. That means you do less scrolling when you’re working. It also makes it more comfortable to use as a tablet, especially with the included active pen.
Read our HP Spectre x360 14 review.
The combination of the larger MacBook Pro’s hardware and MacOS extracts the maximum performance from the components while delivering class-leading battery life in a way the Windows operating system never seems to do, and the high-resolution display screen remains terrific. Plus, this powerful laptop model’s keyboard uses scissor-style switches under the keycaps, rather than the much-derided butterfly-style switch. You pay for it, though — base price for the 16-inch model of this premium laptop is $2,399.
Read our Apple MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2019) review.
The Book 13 is a more office-friendly version of the company’s Razer Blade Stealth gaming laptop, with a 13.4-inch display with a taller 16:10 aspect ratio, fast mobile performance, long battery life and enough connection options to make working from home easier. Its high-quality build is up there with the best MacBooks but, like an Apple, it’s not necessarily the best laptop deal, even compared to other premium laptops.
Read our Razer Book 13 review.
Although it’s not the Surface Laptop, the Surface Pro continues to hit all the right notes if you’re looking for a do-it-all Windows tablet that doubles as a Windows laptop. This powerful Surface laptop features the 10th-gen Intel processor, fast Wi-Fi 6 wireless and long-lasting battery life. This Surface is also the first in the range to feature an honest-to-goodness USB-C port.
Read our Microsoft Surface Pro 7 review.
A remarkable deal for simple tasks like email, word processing and much more, thanks to the new AMD Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 7 processors. This budget laptop has a backlit keyboard, a fingerprint reader and a USB Type-C port, too. The Acer Swift 3 is also an incredibly lightweight laptop — less than 3 pounds — for a machine that can be found for less than $700.
In addition to this Acer Swift, we’re also fans of the Acer Aspire 5, which has a larger 15.6-inch display. The Acer Aspire 5 is available in a variety of configurations starting as low as $400, but can go up to $690 if you want entry-level discrete graphics for basic gaming and content creation.
Read our Acer Swift 3 (14-inch, 2020) review.
There are simply no other 17-inch laptops that are this light and also have long battery life. The Gram 17 lasted 13 hours on our streaming video test, beating last year’s model by 47 minutes on the same test. Processor performance is stepped up some from the 2019 version, too, thanks to the addition of a 10th-gen Intel Core i7 processor. This is partnered with more powerful Intel Iris Plus integrated graphics as well, giving you a little extra speed for photo and video editing and casual gaming.
Read our LG Gram 17 (2020) review.
Though HP and Dell have excellent premium two-in-one convertible laptops, they have smaller 13.5- and 13.4-inch displays. If you want a bit more room for your work or entertainment, the Yoga 9i is a great choice. It’s available in 14- and 15.6-inch size options in a variety of configurations and everything about these Lenovo laptops is fast. Well, except for their battery lives, which are good and long. Plus, they come with pens that charge and are stored in the body.
Read our Lenovo Yoga 9i review.
Dell streamlined its G-series gaming laptops, going from three models down to just one — and it’s all for the best. Instead of having to decode the various feature and quality differences between them, there’s just one chassis available with a variety of configurations with an 11th-gen Intel processor or AMD Ryzen 5000 H-series processor. All of the processors can be paired with up to a 6GB Nvidia RTX 3060, 8GB or 16GB of memory and up to 1TB of storage. They’re basically a more budget-friendly version of those from its Alienware division, but still capable of playing the latest AAA titles. Due to availability issues, the prices are unstable but do normally start below $1,000.
If you’re going for the best, go big. Yes, there are faster 17-inchers, but I draw the line at dual humongous power bricks. The Blade Pro is fast and provides powerful gaming performance with an Intel Core i7 processor and Nvidia GeForce RTX 30-series graphics, but doesn’t sacrifice its svelte figure. While I recommend getting this Blade Pro laptop with its 4K-resolution display option for creators, gamers will want to get the display with a 360Hz refresh rate that Razer offers for this model.
The Asus ZenBook 13 is a stylish but not showy 13.3-inch ultraportable with the perfect footprint for squeezing onto a tiny table. You’ll get 12-plus hours of battery life depending on your configuration — it’s available with an Intel Core i5 processor or 11th-gen Core i7 processor and 8GB RAM — and plenty of performance to make quick work of daily office or school tasks. Plus, like many of Asus’ laptops, the ZenBook adds a few gadgety extras to hopefully make your life easier while you’re out and about.
Read our Asus ZenBook 13 review.
More for people who spend all day on their computers
- What to look for in a cheap gaming laptop
- Best WordPress hosting of 2021
- 5 monitors worth checking out for 2021
- Best 32-inch monitor deals: Five 4K UHD displays for under $450
- Fastest VPNs of 2021
- Best VPN service of 2021
- Best Mac VPN of 2021
- HP Envy 17: A home laptop that’s sleek and satisfying, but not a standout
- Best Windows 10 laptop to update your retired Windows 7 dinosaur
- Best laptop backpack for 2021
- Best Chromebooks for 2021
- Best 2-in-1 PCs in 2021 for when you need a laptop and tablet in one
- Best gaming laptop performers of 2021
- Best gaming PCs for 2021
- Best MacBook Pro alternatives for 2021
- Best printer for 2021
- Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 graphics gives your gaming PC wings
- Best gear for video chats from home: Webcams, lights, mics and more
- Best racing wheels and pedals for iRacing and your budget
- Best Android VPNs of 2021
- What’s the best cheap VPN? We found 3 good options
- Best tablets in 2021
- 7 must-have ergonomic upgrades for your home office
- Best office chairs to buy in 2021
- Best cheap internet providers of 2021
Source from www.cnet.com