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Be Productive Anywhere with the Best Laptop

As computer component miniaturization has improved, small hardware has become increasingly powerful, allowing for faster and more impressive laptops than ever before. If you’re not on a strict budget and want a powerhouse laptop, then consider a system designed for gaming, high performance, or an ultrabook that combines excellent components with a remarkably slim design.

There are also more wallet-friendly options including laptops under $1,000 and budget models for gaming and general use that give you portability and good performance at very reasonable prices. For Apple fans, there are a number of different MacBooks to choose from, with varying levels of speed and power found within them.

If you want a laptop for professional use, then consider business models or mobile workstations that can offer the performance of a desktop system with remarkable portability. You can even find laptops that are perfect for multimedia editing, while rugged laptops give you a portable computer designed to survive a fall and handle adverse weather.

There’s a lot you should know about laptop computers and the components inside them, so check out our list of the best laptops in 2021 and the laptop buyer’s guide below for important information on picking the best system for your needs.

Best Laptop Worth Considering in 2021

Dell Latitude 5490 / Intel 1.7 GHz Core i5-8350U Quad Core Laptop - Best Laptop Overall

The 16-inch Retina display on this laptop is unmistakably beautiful to look at, so if you watch a lot of media and edit videos or photographs, then this model is pretty hard to beat. The specs on it are also quite impressive starting with a 9th generation Intel i7 2.56Hz 6-core processor you can upgrade to a 2.8GHz model for faster performance. While you can't adjust the RAM that comes in this model, it has 16GB of DDR3 memory which should be more than sufficient for most applications. There are a couple different 16-inch MacBooks to choose from and this particular one is the more powerful option with 4GB of GDDR5 dedicated video memory for optimal performance. You can choose either 512GB or 1TB of fast, Flash storage, and it has four Thunderbolt 3 ports as well as support for Wireless-AC and Bluetooth 4.0. While the customization options on this laptop don't approach the freedom offered by others, you do have some measure of control over the final build of your system.

Dell XPS 15 Non-Touch Performance Laptop - Runner Up

This is a great option if you are not interested in tons of customization choices or other extra features and just want a really good laptop. It has a 6th Generation Intel i7 quad-core processor which runs applications very quickly and should be able to handle just about anything you throw at it. You get 16GB of DDR4 memory which is excellent, and it has a video card with 2GB of dedicated GDDR5 memory so this is a great choice if you play PC games or run demanding software for video editing. The 512GB solid state drive runs very fast and still gives you a great amount of memory for your files and applications. It only has a 15-inch display which is a bit smaller than some other high performance options on the market, but otherwise this is a great choice.

Lenovo IdeaPad 700 17" Laptop - Honorable Mention

The 6th generation Intel i7 quad-core processor in this laptop is fast and powerful to keep your system running beautifully for quite some time. This one has 16GB of DDR4 RAM for excellent speeds, along with an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 940M graphics chip that provides 2GB of dedicated GDDR5 video memory. If you plan on playing a lot of PC games or streaming tons of HD media, then this is a great choice for you. You can even do video and photo editing on this system without any hassle. This model includes a 1TB hard drive along with a 128GB solid state drive, so you get lots of space for your files and fast performance for your OS and common programs. It also has a nice big 17-inch HD display and it includes an integrated camera.You cannot customize very much about this laptop, and there are a few different models of this one available, but this is really the best overall value with optimal power and performance. You also get support for Wireless-AC and Bluetooth 4.0, plus it has two USB 3.0 ports and a USB 2.0 port.

HP OMEN Touch Select Laptop - Consider

This is a great choice if you want a high performance laptop that works great without having to make a ton of decisions about components, but it's not ideal if you prefer customizing your system. With that in mind, this laptop includes an Intel i7 4th Generation quad-core processor that runs beautifully and there's also a generous 15-inch touch-sensitive display. It has 8GB of DDR3 memory which is probably its biggest weakness, though you can easily upgrade that to up to 16GB. You get a 256GB solid state drive standard in this model though you can upgrade that to 512GB. This system also includes an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M graphics card with 4GB of dedicated video memory which runs great and is ideal if you're interested in doing some PC gaming or want to stream and edit HD media. With support for Wireless-AC and Bluetooth, along with four USB 3.0 ports and an HDMI connection, this is a great high performance laptop that really only suffers from low default RAM.

Lenovo Ideapad 700 17" Laptop - 80RV0022US - Best Laptop under $1000

There is a lot to like about this laptop, with only one or two potentially minor issues. The 6th Generation Intel processor in this laptop is very nice, though it's an i5 rather than i7 model. The laptop only has 8GB of RAM but it's DDR4 memory which is significantly faster than DDR3 and actually offers very good performance despite a lower amount of it than some other options on the market. You get a nice and big 17-inch display along with 2GB of dedicated video memory thanks to an NVIDIA GeForce 940M chip. While not amazing it's still quite good for a laptop under $1000. The 500GB hard drive is decent and quite reasonable for the price. It includes an external DVD burner, support for Wireless-AC and Bluetooth 4.0, plus there's a pair of USB 3.0 ports, a USB 2.0 port, and HDMI-out connection.

HP Envy 17" Laptop - Consider

While this is a very good laptop just in the default configuration, there are a few upgrade options that can push it to a much higher level, although they'll also increase the price on it. You get an Intel 6th Generation i7 processor even in the default build though it lacks any dedicated video memory. You can upgrade to 2GB or 4GB of dedicated video RAM, but that will push the price up quite a bit. It comes with 8GB of DDR3 memory which is probably this picks biggest weakness, although upgrades can push that up to 12GB or 16GB, but there's no DDR4 option. The 17-inch display on this model is great, making it one of the best choices on the market if you need a large visual area for watching movies or playing games. It comes with a 1TB hard drive, which you can upgrade to up to 2TB of storage, though there is no option for a solid state drive. You get Wireless-AC and Bluetooth support with this model, plus it has a pair of USB 3.0 ports and an HDMI output.

Apple 13" 128GB MacBook Air - Consider

When ordering this laptop directly from Apple it comes in right at the $1,000 cap, and for that price you should expect a lot more than Apple delivers. This model has a 13-inch display which is decent but pales in comparison with similarly priced PC laptops that have 17-inch displays. You get an Intel i5 dual-core processor with this laptop, which is good but not exceptional. You can upgrade the CPU to a faster i7 model, but doing so bumps the units cost over the $1,000 price point. It only comes with 4GB of DDR3 memory which you can upgrade to 8GB of RAM, and it lacks any dedicated graphics memory. Performance from this laptop will be decent, but certainly not altogether impressive with such limited memory. This laptop only comes with 128GB of storage and while it's Flash memory for fast read/write speeds, that's still a very small amount of space. The small display size helps ensure this laptop is very slim and light-weight for optimal portability yet it still manages to include two USB 3.0 ports, a Thunderbolt port, and support for both Wireless-AC and Bluetooth 4.0.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon 4th Generation - Consider

Despite its very light-weight design, you still get some solid components in this ultrabook such as an Intel i5 processor and 8GB of DDR3 RAM. It doesn't have any dedicated video memory which is about the only weakness with this model but you do get a 128GB solid state drive for storage, and also runs Windows 10 Home edition. The 14-inch display is a bit larger than you can find on most other ultrabooks and when closed, it's only 0.65-inches tall. This model weighs less than three pounds which is perfect for portability and using this pick anywhere you want with ease. While there are some upgrade options with this model, you cannot upgrade individual components. Rather, you have to choose from more expensive pre-built models offering more RAM or a larger hard drive within the same ultrabook case.

ASUS ZenBook Pro UX501VW Ultrabook - Best Ultrabook

While there are some ultrabooks on the market that are lighter and slimmer, this is a great option if you want better performance and don't need the lightest model possible. This is a pre-built ultrabook so it's not a great choice if you want upgrades and customization, but it includes an Intel i7 processor and 16GB of DDR4 RAM for fantastic performance and program speed. One of the really great features of this model is the inclusion of an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M chip with 2GB of GDDR5 video memory which makes this an excellent choice if you want to play some PC games and need better graphics performance. It also has a 512GB hard drive giving you a lot of storage for your files and programs. The 15-inch display on this ultrabook looks great, it's only 0.8 inches high when closed, but it does weighs very nearly five pounds, making it quite heavier than some other options.

Dell Inspiron 5570 Intel Core i5 8GB 256GB SSD 15.6 Full HD WLED Laptop - Consider

In looking at different versions of the Dell XPS 13, the non-touch model with 8GB of memory is probably the most ideal overall choice. It lacks any dedicated video memory but has an Intel 6th Generation i5 processor and  a 128GB solid state drive for decent overall storage and performance. There's another non-touch model available with just 4GB of memory and an i3 CPU, but 8GB of RAM and the i5 chip are definitely worth the slightly higher price tag. If you want a touch-sensitive display, there are a couple models available of this same ultrabook with a touchscreen, and they also offer additional storage and a faster CPU if you want even better performance. In terms of weight and profile, this ultrabook is just 0.6 inches high when closed and weighs only 2.7 pounds.The touchscreen makes it weigh closer to three pounds, so keep this in mind if portability is a major priority for you.

Dell Latitude E6540 Secure Business Laptop - Best Business Laptop

This is a great business laptop ideal for a wide range of situations so it should fit just about anyone's business needs. It has an Intel i7 processor but it's a 4th Generation model which is a bit older than some initials may be happy with. However, with that in mind you do get 8GB of DDR3 memory in this laptop along with an AMD Radeon HD 8790M graphics card that includes 2GB of GDDR5 memory. That lets this laptop run quite smoothly, even if you are streaming HD media or preparing a major presentation with graphics and video. The included 256GB solid state drive gives you a pretty good amount of storage but runs nice and fast for optimal business performance. This laptop includes Wireless-N support and Bluetooth 4.0, but it comes with Windows 7 Professional Edition, so keep this in mind if you need Windows 10 for compliance with your other professional devices and applications.

Acer Aspire V15 Laptop - V3-575-50TD - Best Budget Laptop

In terms of performance, this model excels and has some of the best components that you’ll find in this price range. It has an Intel i5 dual-core processor and 4GB of memory which makes it a great option for some light PC gaming or streaming media. It would be even better with some dedicated video memory, but let’s be realistic, you won’t find that kind of feature in a budget laptop. There’s a 500GB hard drive in this laptop which is quite good for its price and makes this a great choice for saving a lot of media or large files. This laptop comes with Windows 10 so you don’t have to worry about updating an older operating system and it has a 15-inch display. You only get Wireless-AC connectivity with this laptop as it lacks native Bluetooth support, but it does have a nice suite of extra features including a DVD burner, two USB 3.0 ports, and an HDMI connection.

Buyer's Guide

Buying a new laptop computer can be intimidating; there are so many numbers and specifications to consider that it’s hard to know where to start. Fortunately, there are really only a handful of things to be aware of and look for, with the rest of the features in a laptop acting as icing on the proverbial cake. In terms of performance, the processor, memory, and video card are really what matter most. You’ll also want to look at the amount of storage in a laptop, as well as how portable it is and the size and quality of the display. Once you know what to look for and what all the numbers mean, picking the right laptop becomes much easier.

Why do I need a laptop?

Laptops and desktop computers perform the same function of processing information and giving output. But can you imagine rushing out for a business trip and fitting your desktop computer’s monitor, CPU, keyboard, and mouse into your small bag? The answer is a resounding no. A laptop, on the other hand, will easily fit into your bag. Laptops are basically desktop computers that are easy to move.

Laptops evolved out of the need to eliminate the immobility problem that came with desktop computers. By being portable and compact, you essentially carry your office in your bag. They are often lightweight and easy to carry around. The clamshell design means they do not take too much space in the bag.

Laptops have now become a must-have for students, business professionals, gamers, and coders. For each of these users, the laptop computer serves different purposes. It affords them the chance to study, attend virtual meetings, and code from anywhere.

What do I need to consider before buying a laptop?

Since laptops serve different purposes for different people, the factors to prioritize when making the choice of a laptop varies. The following factors are some of the most important things to consider before buying a laptop.

What operating system do you want?

The laptop’s operating system comes top of the list because every program you run on the system revolves around the operating system. The operating system basically controls the system. It usually controls the interaction between the software and hardware of a system. Windows, macOS, and ChromeOS are three of the most popular operating systems. Linux is also an operating system that is popular among programmers and coders.

What’s the Processor Speed?

The processor, or CPU, in a laptop sets the rhythm and speed for all other components within a system, so it’s one of the most important parts of a computer. You’ll want to consider the speed of a CPU, measured in Gigahertz (GHz), with higher numbers indicating faster speeds. A fast CPU lets other components in a system run as fast as possible, so be sure to choose a processor with the speed that meets your needs.

You’ll also want to look at the number of cores and threads in a laptop computer’s CPU. Multiple cores let a processor run like multiple CPUs together, so you’ll get better performance from a system with a four-core or quad-core processor than you will from a single or dual-core CPU. Intel processors also use multiple threads, so keep that in mind when you compare i5 and i7 CPUs.

For in-depth information, check out our processor/CPU buyer's guide.

What does computer memory or RAM mean?

The memory or Random Access Memory (aka RAM) in a laptop is the temporary space used to run programs. More RAM lets you run demanding software or have multiple programs run together without slowing down your system and negatively impacting performance. A laptop’s RAM will determine its efficiency in smoothly running numerous tasks at a time. To make an informed choice of RAM for your laptop, you should consider your usage.

The amount of memory is measured in Gigabytes (GB), so look for more memory for better performance. 4GB of RAM should be sufficient for a low-end system, but if you want to run the latest PC games or need better performance, then look for 8GB or more. For more demanding use, like gaming, graphic design, and animation, laptops with a RAM size of between 16GB and 32GB are ideal. One thing to keep in mind is the type of RAM; you’ll usually find DDR3 in a laptop, but future improvements might make DDR5 more common in laptop computers since it’s much faster.

How much storage do I need?

Your laptop is bound to house different files and media, both new and old; this is where the laptop’s storage comes into play. A high storage capacity translates to more space for you to save various files. The storage capacity of a computer affects also can affect its booting time: systems tend to take longer to boot when the storage is almost filled up. Storage is measured in Gigabytes (GB) or Terabytes (TB), and hard drives are typically either mechanical or solid state. You’ll probably want at least 512GB of storage, though 1TB is better for PC gaming or editing media so you have plenty of room for your applications and files.

Mechanical Hard Drive

These are the most common and least expensive option, providing large amounts of storage, but because they rely on spinning disks inside a casing, they are prone to corruption due to physical shocks and shaking.

Solid State Drive

More expensive and typically have less storage, but their lack of moving parts means falls and shaking are less likely to corrupt or damage your data. Some systems even have a large mechanical drive for storage with a smaller solid state drive for your operating system and other programs.

Video Chip and Graphics Memory

Graphics cards with dedicated video memory have become more common in laptop computers, which has made them better for multimedia editing and gaming. Video memory is used by a computer specifically for rendering 3D graphics, playing or streaming video, and is measured just like other memory so look for 1GB or more of video RAM, preferably DDR5, which is much faster than DDR3 and fairly common for dedicated graphics memory. You’re not likely to find laptops that can handle more than one video card, but a few high-end systems have room for multiple cards.

For in-depth information, check out our graphics card buyer's guide.

How much battery will I need in my laptop?

You will likely be using your laptop mostly away from places with power outlets. Thus, the battery life of your laptop becomes essential. Ideally, you should aim to get a laptop that guarantees at least 5 hours of use. However, you should note that factors like screen brightness and the number of programs running could impact the laptop’s battery life.

How much do laptops cost?

This is a tough question to answer. You can find a laptop priced anywhere from $100 to $3,000. It truly depends on what you need and your budget. A sweet spot for a quality laptop is probably in the $400-$800 range. While the features will get better and better the more you spend, it's important to ask yourself what you're going to use your laptop for!

Extra Features

Despite the small size of a laptop, there are a lot of secondary features you can often find on them. You can get optical drives for playing media on wired or wireless speakers, as well as burners that let you back up data and make DVDs or even Blu-rays with your information and video. Touchscreens can be very handy as a form of input on a laptop, but touch sensitivity usually comes at an increased price.

If you need higher security, there are laptops that include fingerprint scanners, letting you keep others from accessing your data. A lot of laptops include built-in webcams, which make it easy to use video chat programs while traveling or to conference with coworkers. These types of features might not be the first thing you look at, but consider what media you might want to access and if you plan on using video conference software, then make sure whatever laptop you choose has the right optical drive and a webcam.

Customization Options

One downside to laptops is they’re typically difficult to customize and add upgrades to on your own. While it’s easy to open up the side of a computer tower and add components to the motherboard, laptops are harder to get into and change. With that in mind, look at customization options when purchasing a laptop.

Manufacturers like Origin provide incredible customization options, giving you dozens of choices and even the ability to add components they don’t normally offer. If you don’t want to make as many choices, then look at companies like Toshiba or Lenovo that keep it simple and offer a range of pre-built systems.

Convertible Options

As tablets have become increasingly popular, a lot of people have found that a tablet works better for them than a laptop. With that in mind, there are more and more laptops that include convertible options that let them work like a tablet in some way.

For example, there are laptops with displays that can fold back to work in a number of positions, as well as laptops with screens that can rotate around and close to resemble a tablet. If you want something more than a traditional laptop, then look at convertible systems offered by different manufacturers and pick one with the components you need.

Portability and Screen Size

One of the best reasons to have a laptop is the portability it provides you with. Look at the size and weight of a laptop; most of them are based on the size of a screen. If you want a small laptop, then it’s going to have an equally small display. You can get some large size in a slim design with an ultrabook or similar model that is built around optimal portability.

A 17-inch display is about the largest you’ll find in a laptop, but it’s also going to be a pretty big system. Weight is usually based on the components in a system, as well as its size. A laptop with a 17-inch display and minimal components can be lighter than a 15-inch display model that includes two hard drives, an optical drive, and other features. If you know you’re going to be traveling a lot, look for a system that is lightweight and not too large.

Tips for Handling a Laptop

You may encounter problems with your laptop as with any other gadget. However, care must be taken when replacing the parts. Using incompatible parts to replace old ones may negatively affect your laptop’s performance.

For all its compactness and mobility, care should be taken when carrying your laptop computers around. Avoid casually hitting them on walls or railings while transporting them. A crack here today and another tomorrow could render your laptop useless in no time. Also, avoid spilling liquid on the keyboard or any part of the laptop.

Warranties and Product Protection

While good warranties are worth looking for on all electronics, a laptop with a good warranty is very important. Some manufacturers only provide one year of protection, which is much lower than it should be. Others, especially on high-end models, offer three or even five years, which is excellent protection on a portable system. Even companies that only offer one year typically allow you to extend that for more money. While the components in a system might be your first consideration, you should still look at the warranty to ensure your investment is properly protected.

Laptop FAQ

Q: What is the difference between a laptop’s RAM and processor speed?

A: The difference between a laptop’s RAM and a processor is that the RAM size determines how many tasks can run efficiently at a time. The processor speed determines how fast inputs are processed. The RAM is like a chopping board that determines how many ingredients can be chopped at a time. While the processor determines how fast the ingredients are chopped.

Q: Is a convertible laptop worth it?

A: Yes, convertible laptops are worth it. They afford you the full range of a laptop’s functionality and the versatility to serve as a tablet. You get a laptop and a tablet by buying a convertible, hence the name 2-in-1 laptop.

Q: Is it possible to add more storage to a laptop?

A: Yes, you can add more storage to a laptop. Adding more storage to a laptop could take the form of opening up the system and replacing the internal drive. Some laptops also come with a second internal drive bay. However, the easiest option is the external hard disk drive that can be plugged into the computer without opening it.

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