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Best laptops 2021: MacBooks, Windows laptops, ultrabooks, and 2-in-1s

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Best laptops 2021
(Image credit: HP)

When looking for the best laptops to buy in 2021, you're going to want to be well informed. A good laptop can be used for a variety of activities, from gaming to Photoshop or even just simple video calls.

Searching for the best laptops requires a lot of work. Essentially, you should look for the best device that's suited for your individual needs. After all, there's no point buying a bulky gaming laptop if you're only going to watch Netflix.

However, if that's all you plan on doing, maybe you need to look at the best tablets instead. Likewise, if you don't really need the portability that a laptop offers, you might be better off with one of the best home computers, as you'll be able to build something more powerful for less money.

Finding the product for your needs is a careful balance. For high-end gaming, you'll need at least 16GB of RAM, a powerful Intel or AMD Ryzen CPU and a fairly beefy graphics card. If you're more interested in photo editing, you'll need a laptop with a crisp, color-accurate screen. No matter the need, we've likely got the laptop for you.

Laptops explainer

CPU
CPU stands for central processing unit, and it’s essentially the brain of your laptop. The more powerful your CPU, the faster your laptop will run and the more demanding tasks it can handle. There are two main manufacturers of CPUs - Intel and AMD. Most laptops use Intel, or offer a choice of both. Intel is currently on its 11th generation of laptop CPUs and these include i3, i5, i7, and i9 models. I3 is the slowest processor in the range, and i9 is the fastest. We’d recommend an i5 at a minimum.

RAM
RAM stands for Random Access Memory, and it basically helps your computer when it comes to running multiple tasks at the same time. The more RAM your laptop has, the more programs you’ll be able to run at once. It’s also important for gaming and other complex programs.

SSD/HDD
SSD stands for solid state drive, while HDD stands for hard disk drives. These are the two types of storage devices in laptops. Your operating system, programs, and files are all stored on this. HDDs are older and slower technology, but they’re cheaper too. Typically in a laptop we’d recommend an SSD so that your system will run quickly. HDDs are better suited to storage of large amounts of data like photos, music, and movies. If you need this, you can get an external hard drive.

GPU
GPU stands for graphics processing unit, though they’re more commonly referred to as graphics cards. Some laptops have a dedicated GPU, while cheaper models may have on-board graphics as part of the CPU. These are responsible for rendering images and animations, which means you’ll need a powerful GPU for 3D modelling, video editing, and playing games.

Best laptops 2021

1. HP Elite Dragonfly: Best laptop overall

HP Elite Dragonfly

(Image credit: HP)

The best laptop overall, especially for agile working.

Specifications
CPU: 8th Gen Intel Core i5 or i7
Memory: 16GB LPDDR3 (2,133MHz)
Storage: 512GB SSD
Display: 13.3-inch, FHD (1920 x 1080)
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620
Dimensions: 11.98" x 7.78" x 0.63"
Reasons to buy
+Thin and light+Excellent keyboard+Long battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive

If you're looking for a seriously powerful and lightweight laptop then you'll struggle to find a better choice than the exceptional HP Elite Dragonfly. This stylish ultrabook is lightweight and compact, making it perfect for mobile workers who are constantly moving between appointments or commuting to work on the train.

With an 8th gen intel core i5 or i7, 512GB SSD and a whopping 16GB of RAM, this pint-sized laptop has some serious power under the hood. The only downside is the Intel UHD Graphics 620, which is fine for some light gaming but won’t run AAA games at their top specs.

The screen is only FHD rather than 4K, but a 4K screen on a laptop of this size is unnecessary – you’ll barely be able to see a difference. The choice of FHD screen does mean a significant saving on battery usage though, allowing the HP Elite Dragonfly to run for up to 16 hours between charges (24.5 hours if you upgrade the battery). 

It’s not cheap though, with price starting at $1629 for the base model. You can get similar specs and build quality elsewhere for cheaper. But if the light weight is your primary concern, and if you can afford the steep price, the HP Elite Dragonfly is one of the best laptops there is.

2. MacBook Pro 2019: Best Apple MacBook

MacBook Pro 2019 16 inch

(Image credit: Apple)

The best MacBook that Apple has to offer

Specifications
CPU: 9th Gen Intel Core i7 or i9
Memory: 16GB to 64GB DDR4 (2666MHz)
Storage: 512GB to 8TB SSD
Display: 16-inch (3072 x 1920)
Graphics: AMD Radeon Pro 5300M to 5500M
Dimensions: 14.09" x 9.68" x 0.641"
Reasons to buy
+Great keyboard+Best in class speakers+Epic battery
Reasons to avoid
-Very expensive-Webcam isn't great

Apple's latest incarnation of the MacBook Pro, this 16-inch model features a whole host of upgrades and improvements on the older models. Like all Apple products, you're paying a bit of a tax for the Apple name, but that doesn't stop the MacBook Pro 2019 from being one of the best laptops on the market.

While most laptop configurations top out with an Intel Core i7 CPU, the MacBook Pro starts there, and works its way up to a monstrous i9 on the top end models. That huge CPU is backed up by 16GB of RAM (upgradable to 64GB, though we have no idea what you'd need that much RAM for) and a 512GB SSD (again, this can go up to 8TB if you need to store all the pictures ever taken by humanity).

On the more practical side, the keyboard is much improved on older models, which is great because the old one sucked so bad that Taika Watiti called it out in his Oscars speech. The battery life is great too, so you don't have to worry about charging it when you're out and about.

3. Alienware m-15: Best gaming laptop

Alienware M15

(Image credit: Alienware)

The Alienware m-15 is a gaming powerhouse

Specifications
CPU: 9th Gen Intel Core i5 or i7
Memory: 8GB to 16GB DDR4 (2666MHz)
Storage: 5256GB to 2TB SSD
Display: 15.6-inch FHD or 4K
Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650/2070
Dimensions: 14.19" x 10.9" x 0.791"
Reasons to buy
+Gorgeous, understated design+Powerful hardware
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive-Fans can be loud

Alienware has always been the go-to name when it comes to gaming laptops, and the Alienware m-15 proves that it hasn't lost its touch. This thing is an absolute beast.

There are various options for different CPUs, RAM configurations and graphics cards that you can put in this thing, but even the base model is going to outshine a standard laptop when it comes to gaming. There’s also the gorgeous 4K OLED screen option on the higher spec models, which let you show off the beautiful graphics of the latest games. 

But what you might not expect is that the Alienware m-15 can also be used a grown-up, sensible laptop... should the need arise too. While it still looks a little bit sci-fi with its too cool for you sports exhaust on the back, the Alienware m-15’s styling is much more reserved and understated than previous Alienware laptops. This means that it’s something you wouldn’t be embarrassed to use at work if the need arises. But make no mistake, this is a gaming laptop first and foremost.

4. Dell XPS 13: Best thin and light laptop

Dell XPS 13

(Image credit: Dell)

A powerful thin and light option, for those with deep pockets

Specifications
CPU: 10th Gen Intel Core i7 or i9
Memory: 8GB to 16GB LPDDR4
Storage: 512GB to 1TB SSD
Display: 13.4-inch FHD or 4K
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620
Dimensions: 11.65" x 7.83" x 0.58"
Reasons to buy
+Excellent lightweight design+Powerful and versatile internals+Beautiful screen with small bezels
Reasons to avoid
-Needs more ports

The Dell XPS 13 has been consistently reaching the top of best laptops lists since its inception, and this latest revision continues that stellar record. With a gorgeous slim design and impressive performance under the hood, we think you'll struggle to find a better lightweight laptop than this.

The Dell XPS 13 has a simple but elegant design. It's outer shell is crafted from a single sheet of aluminum which solidifies what the fantastic build quality already told us - this is a well-built, premium machine. You can continue that premium feel with a few optional extras too, including upgrading to a gorgeous 4K screen.

Our only real complaint is the lack of ports, but that's to be expected on a laptop as compact and light as the Dell XPS 13. The price can also get a little bit lofty, especially if you go for the top-end models, but the base models are reasonably costed if you're looking for a solid mid-range laptop.

5. Surface Laptop 3: Best MacBook alternative

Surface Laptop 3

(Image credit: Microsoft)

The Surface Laptop 3 is the best MacBook out there that, er, isn't a MacBook

Specifications
CPU: 10th Gen Intel Core i5 or i7
Memory: 8GB to 32GB DDR4
Storage: 256GB to 1TB SSD
Display: 13.5-inch touchscreen (2256 x 1504)
Graphics: AMD Radeon Vega 9/Vega 11
Dimensions: 12.1” x 8.8” x .57”
Reasons to buy
+Stunning to look at+Beast under the hood+Cheaper than competition
Reasons to avoid
-Battery life is so/so

Apple better watch its back, because Microsoft is coming for them with the Surface Laptop 3 which is, for our money, the best alternative to a MacBook Pro on the market... it might even be better. There, we said it. Our ranking system doesn't allow for tiebreakers, so assume these two are equally matched. The immovable object and the unstoppable force, if you will.

The Surface Laptop 3 really is an absolute wonder of a machine. It's beautiful to look at, for one thing. The sleek design and dark aluminum shell mean that this is a laptop you'd be proud to pull out, whether you're in a board meeting or a trendy coffee shop. And while it certainly looks the part, it's not all style and no substance. There is some serious hardware in this thing and it's all configurable to your needs and price range.

Speaking of price range, that might be the Surface Laptop 3's ultimate party piece, because it's a heck of a lot cheaper than comparable models of MacBook Pro. If you want Apple style, build quality and power, but don't want the cost and can stand to lose the badge value, then look no further than the Surface laptop 3.

6. Lenovo Yoga C940: Best 2-in-1 laptop

Lenovo Yoga C940

(Image credit: Lenovo)

A powerful laptop and tablet - the best of both worlds

Specifications
CPU: 10th Gen Intel Core i5 or i7
Memory: 8GB to 16GB DDR4
Storage: 256GB to 1TB SSD
Display: 14-inch touchscreen, FHD or 4k
Graphics: Intel Iris Plus
Dimensions: 12.6” x 8.5” x 0.63”
Reasons to buy
+Exceptional design+Great performance+Excellent keyboard
Reasons to avoid
-A bit heavier than we'd like

The Lenovo Yoga C940 is the latest iteration of the high-end 2-in-1 laptop from the company that pioneered the concept. This time around though, the innovations comes in performance while the excellent 2-in-1 design remains largely untouched, letting you swap between laptop and tablet modes quickly and easily.

Like many laptops these days, the Lenovo Yoga C940 goes for a minimalist look with a sleek metal body and minimal branding. This results in a stylish, but professional look and feel to the laptop, which means it suites both work and home use.

The hardware configurations on offer are almost as versatile as the hybrid laptop is itself. You can get a base model with an i5 processor, 256GB of storage and a FHD screen, or you can splash the cash to get a 4K screen, a beastly i7 processor and a chunky 1TB SSD for storing all your photos and games on.

There are a few downsides to consider though. At 2.98 lbs, it’s one of the heavier 2-in-1 laptops out there and battery life as good as it was in previous models. Still though, we’re huge fans of the Lenovo Yoga C940 and we think it’s easily one of the best hybrid laptops out there.

7. HP Spectre x360: A superb hybrid laptop

HP Spectre x360 13t

(Image credit: HP)

A hybrid powerhouse that's light enough to travel

Specifications
CPU: 8th Gen Intel Core i5 up to 10th Gen i7
Memory: 8GB to 16GB DDR4
Storage: 256GB/512GB SSD
Display: 13.3-inch touchscreen, FHD or 4k
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620, Intel Iris Plus or NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650
Dimensions: 12.04" x 7.66" x 0.67"
Reasons to buy
+Light and portable+Excellent performance
Reasons to avoid
-Can run hot-Battery life isn't great

Hot on the heels of the Lenovo Yoga comes another fantastic 2-in-1 laptop, the HP Spectre x360. Again, this was basically a tie between these two so it will largely come down to personal preference if you need to choose between them. We loved the HP Spectre x360 for its gorgeous display, excellent touchscreen and powerful performance.

It’s light too – lighter than the Yoga if that’s your primary concern. That light weight combined with its slender frame means that the HP Spectre x360 is an excellent laptop for people on the go. If you travel a lot between several workplaces or just like to visit coffee shops to write, the HP Spectre x360 is an excellent choice.

Despite its diminutive stature, the HP Spectre x360 has excellent performance too. The downside is that it can run a little hot. The battery life is a little average too, but we think these are reasonable sacrifices to make for a laptop that’s this small and this powerful.

8. Dell XPS 15 2-in-1: A second superb laptop from Dell

Dell XPS 15

(Image credit: Dell)

A fantastic 2-in-1 laptop with powerful specs and a dazzling screen

Specifications
CPU: 8th Gen Intel Core i5 or i7
Memory: 8GB to 16GB DDR4
Storage: 128/256GB SSD
Display: 15.6-inch touchscreen, FHD or 4k
Graphics: Radeon™ RX Vega M GL
Dimensions: 13.9" x 9.2" x 0.63"
Reasons to buy
+Flexible and versatile+Excellent 4K screen
Reasons to avoid
-Can get loud and hot-Not cheap

If you’re in the market for a hybrid, 2-in-1 laptop but want something a little bigger than the others that we mentioned above, then the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 might be the laptop for you. With a 15.6-inch screen that’s available in either FHD or 4K resolutions, this heavyweight hybrid is the ideal laptop for watching movies or playing games on.

This chunky size and heavier weight does hamper portability though, so the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 isn’t as suited to moving around town with – this is more of a stay-at-home laptop that can do on-the-go working in a pinch. The sub-eight hour battery life reinforces this point too.

Sadly, there are a few other things that hold the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 back from greatness. For one thing, it runs loud and hot if you’re doing anything intensive like playing games, which isn’t ideal for a laptop – you don’t want to fry your legs every time you play Fortnite. It’s also not cheap, especially when you look at what similarly specced laptops from other manufacturers cost.

9. Asus Zenbook 14 - Best for comfort

Asus Zenbook 14 laptop

(Image credit: Asus)

Specifications
CPU: 8th Gen Intel Core i5 or i7
Memory: 8GB to 16GB DDR4
Storage: 256GB, 512GB or 1TB SSD
Display: 14-inch touchscreen, FHD
Graphics: Nvidia GeForce MX150
Dimensions: 13.56" x 7.83" x 0.63"
Reasons to buy
+Ergonomic design+Excellent screen ratio+Great value for money
Reasons to avoid
- Screenpad is a gimmick 

In a world of identical looking laptops that all pack the same set of features and specs, the  Asus Zenbook 14 tries something different with its innovative Screenpad, a trackpad that doubles up as a touchscreen with dedicated apps. Sadly, it’s a bit of a gimmick, but the Asus Zenbook 14 itself is a fantastic laptop, so we’ll forgive this indulgence on its part.

For the asking price of $1,199 you get a chunky i7 processor, 16 GB of RAM and an SSD for storage, so the Asus Zenbook 14 is pretty well equipped to handle just about any task. At the same time, there are some extra touches like the ergonomically designed keyboard to improve comfort when using it for long stretches, which makes it an ideal work laptop.

The tiny screen bezels are another excellent feature, meaning you don’t have ugly borders around your FHD screen when you’re watching movies or playing games. Overall, we’re very impressed with the Asus Zenbook 14, even if its headline feature is a bit of a gimmick.

10. Huawei MateBook 13: A great budget laptop

Huawei MateBook 13

(Image credit: Huawei)

Relatively cheap next to other powerful laptops

Specifications
CPU: 8th Gen Intel Core i5 or i7
Memory: 8GB to 16GB DDR4
Storage: 128/256GB SSD
Display: 15.6-inch touchscreen, FHD or 4k
Graphics: Radeon™ RX Vega M GL
Dimensions: 13.9" x 9.2" x 0.63"
Reasons to buy
+Fingerprint sensor+Precise touchscreen
Reasons to avoid
-Small storage options-Needs importing

At first glance the Huawei MateBook 13 seems like a bit of a jack of all trades, master of none in the laptop world. It has a good tech specs, but not exactly class-leading. The design is simple and stylish but doesn’t do much to stand out in a crowd and the QHD screen is quite middle of the road – better than FHD, but it doesn’t have the clarity of a true 4K screen.

And yet despite that, we found a lot to like about the Huawei MateBook 13. It has some nifty features that you just don’t see on many laptops, like a fingerprint sensor for quick and easy unlocking. The 13-inch screen, while not true 4K, is excellent too (and honestly, at 13-inch screen size 4K is rather decadent, since you’ll struggle to notice much improvement over QHD or even FHD).

The lack of thunderbolt USB slots is a shame though, as this makes transferring files to and from your Huawei MateBook 13 a tedious process. We also think that it’s a little bit too expensive for what it offers, and due to Huawei's current tussle with the US government, you'll need to import one. But those drawbacks aside, the Huawei MateBook 13 is a still a great laptop.

Ian Stokes

Ian Stokes is the Tech Editor here at Top Ten Reviews. He has extensive experience in tech and games journalism, with work published on IGN, Kotaku UK, Waypoint, GamesRadar, Trusted Reviews, and many more. You'll find him covering everything from smartphones and home computers to 3D printers and headphones. He's also our resident cocktail expert.