Update 16/3/21: All the 11th Gen. Intel Evo laptops are now in, but Apple's 13-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air (See best student laptops) M1 models are still the laptops to beat in 2021.
With a pulse of Ultrabook launches late in 2020 and a steady stream continuing through the start of 2021, there’s been a bunch of laptops released recently that’ll give you a good reason to upgrade. T3's Aussie review team has managed to get its hands on almost everything worth considering – so this guide is all you’ll need to find the best laptop for any budget. It's regularly updated and expertly curated, so it'll lead you right to the best laptops for working, gaming, designing, studying and anything else.
It was a tough decision to put the 13-inch MacBook Pro (M1, 2020) ahead of the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 – since they both deserve to be in top spot for their own reasons. The assumption here is that most won't need the Mac to have full gaming capabilities, and the majority won't use graphically intensive applications over and above what the MacBook Pro can handle on a regular basis. In this case, the huge battery life bonus on the 13-inch MacBook Pro (M1, 2020) range is the key reason for Apple's position here. If, however, you're happy to halve the battery life relative to the MacBook Pro for a 40% GPU performance boost and Windows based OS – then the G14 is the way to go.
If you’re specifically looking for something that can play the latest games, then you might want to check our best gaming laptop guide, and if you're a student who’s a little tight on cash then we also have a best laptops for students list.
It's fair to say that the best laptop might be different for everyone, so we've covered a wide a selection of system types, prices and designs here – no matter what your needs, you should find something that fits. If you’re after a specific type of laptop, however, you may want to dip into the following guides:
- Best lightweight laptops
- Best student laptops
- Best gaming laptops
- Best 2-in-1 laptops
- Best ultraportable laptops
The best laptops you can buy today
In addition to having more CPU power than its predecessor, the new MacBook Pro 13 also gains a transformative GPU upgrade, more than doubles its battery life, and lands at a significantly better RRP. Without any real downsides, this might just be the biggest generational laptop update we’ve seen… Apple or otherwise.
Apple seems to be passing on a lot of the savings from its new in-house chips directly to consumers, since the MacBook Pro 13 with the M1 CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD starts at just $1,999. If you up the RAM on his model to 16GB then you’ll have the most powerful Pro 13 for $2,299, a privilege that would have once cost at least $2,999.
The useful Touchbar, slightly brighter 500-nit 13.3-inch HDR display, improved speakers and the more refined keyboard distinguish the 13-inch MacBook Pro from the similarly specced MacBook Air. These things combine to create more than enough value to justify the price difference.
The MacBook Pro 13 performed 65 percent better than the i5 2020 MacBook Pro 13 and was just 23 percent behind the most powerful Intel-Core-i9 MacBook Pro 16 of 2020 across compatible CPU benchmarks. This is rather remarkable for something that’s architecturally closer to a smartphone chip than a proper x86 PC processor, outperforming the best low-powered silicon processor we know of: Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8xc Gen 2 on Samsung’s Galaxy Book S, by more than 270 percent. The M1 chip is also 40 percent ahead of Intel’s current Core i7-1165G7, which only just arrived on Dell’s new XPS 13s and Asus’s UX435 ranges.
Graphically the jump is perhaps even bigger since the MacBook Pro 13 (M1, 2020) should be able to play any modern game at near-1080p if you're willing to dial down the quality settings a little.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro (M1, 2020) has a 17 percent bigger battery than the MacBook Air, but it has a brighter screen and active cooling so it doesn't last quite as long in 1080p movie playback. 18 hours and 46 minutes is still about double any other current 'long-lasting' professional ultrabook. It's not unreasonable to expect two or even three work days use from this machine, which is pretty revolutionary for those spending a lot of time on the go.
The Zephyrus G14 is one of the first gaming ultrabooks to get a second-generation AMD mobile processor – the Ryzen 9 4900HS – and it’s a big win for both AMD and Asus. This CPU is powerful enough to keep up with laptops running a 9th generation Intel Core i9, while managing to cost thousands less.
Despite this surprising power and price, you won’t have to skimp on the graphical capabilities, since the device offers 16GB of RAM and an Nvidia RTX 2060 GPU, which means it’s capable of solid 1080p gaming and heavy graphical workloads.
The Zephyrus G14 can be configured with a high refresh rate, 120Hz, 1080p screen, although we’d recommend opting for the 60Hz QHD 1440p display if you’re mainly using it for work – since this will make reading detailed documents easier.
Despite being supremely powerful, the Ryzen 9 is also efficient, offering eight hours and 24 minutes of 1080p movie playback, which can be stretched to over 12 hours by manually swapping the display to 60Hz and turning the discrete GPU off in power settings.
There's no webcam, the chassis is lightweight plastic and the keyboard will be a little mushy for those used to mechanical keys, but these elements allow it to be just 1.8cm thick and 1.6kg, so they’re actually a pretty good trade-off.
Other than that, we can't fault it.
Dell’s XPS range has long been one of the best available professional Ultrabooks, but the late 2020 XPS 13 (9310) has upped the ante with a new processor and a considerable price cut that puts it, once again, at the top of the game. It's not quite enough to out-value the game-changing Asus ROG Zephyrus G14, but it isn't too far off it.
The XPS 13 (9310) are running Intel's latest 11th generation processors and include new integrated graphics chips that massively increase the gaming cpapbilities of this device. On demanding tasks the Intel Iris Xe Graphics on the XPS 13 (9310) doubled the performance of the Intel Iris Plus Graphics that we saw on the previous generation.
This is enough of a performance bump to put light 1080p gaming within reach, offering playable frame rates of around 30fps on current titles like The Division 2, Metro: Exodus and Sid Meier's: Civilization VI when running Low graphical settings at 1080p resolutions. The same settings get closer to 60fps averages on Total War Saga: Troy and F1 2020 and you’ll get much faster frame rates on less demanding titles like Fortnite or Rocket League.
The 16 x 10, 13.4-inch display can be configured with either a 500 nit Full HD+ or a 4K HDR screen with a DCI P3 colour gamut. While the 4K model has touchscreen capabilities you can opt for a non-touch variation of the 1080p screen, but all three offer Dolby Vision for HDR media playback.
The late 2020 XPS 13 (9310) comes with either an Intel Core i5-1135G7 or a Core i7-1165G7 CPU locally and each starts with respective RRPs of $2,399 and $2,899 for the non-touch FullHD models. If you want the touch panel it’ll cost an extra $100 while the 4K screen will add $500 to the bill. While the i5 variant comes with 8GB of RAM, the i7 model comes with either 16GB or 32GB and can expand the included PCIe SSD storage from 512 GB to 1TB, as long as you’ve already forked out for the upgraded 4K display.
In addition to a processor bump, the new XPS 13 also sees an improvement in processor efficiency that generates a 20 percent increase in 1080p movie playback lifespan. The new seven hour total achieved by the 48Wh battery isn’t quite what you need for a 24 hours of unplugged productivity, but it is more than enough to get you through the brunt of a daily workload before needing a recharge.
Dell’s still using fibreglass for the palm rest surround to insulate your hands from the internals and it’s available in either black or white colouring with a honed silver or frost coloured metal chassis to match. It's a worthy consideration since the late 2020 XPS 13 runs hot, with CPU cores frequently spiking to 100 degrees.
Considering that it’s also got a decent set of speakers, a comfortable keyboard, a responsive trackpad and sufficient webcam capabilities, the late 2020 XPS 13 ticks every box it needs to, to be a great ultrabook.
The Asus ZenBook Flip 13’s 1080p screen is a 13.3-inch OLED panel with Full DCI-P3 colour compatibility, which is a pretty standout bonus in an otherwise tight race … Especially when it’ll cost you nothing extra.
The standard online price for the ZenBook Flip 13 with a Core i7, 16GB of RAM and 512GB PCIe SSD is $2,299 in Australia, but we’ve seen it on sale for as little as $2,077 — which is on par with the best price for an i7 Evo we’ve seen. It also comes in an i5, 8GB, 512GB variation (still with the OLED panel) for $1,699 full-price or $1,598 on sale.
The keyboard is a little elongated, but this doesn’t seem to affect the overall typing experience too much. The backlit trackpad has developed into something that is now super easy to turn on and off, allowing it to double as an awesomely convenient number pad. Anyone who does long stints in Excel sheets will love this space saving keyboard extension.
We’re guessing Asus did some component binning as this more affordable laptop takes a little bit of a hit in general performance benchmarks, but it’s less than 10 percent off Evo averages generally. The gaming performance wasn’t perfect in real world GPU testing, but the ZenBook Flip 13 did achieve parity in synthetic GPU testing, so we suspect these gaming performance issues can be solved by tweaking some power settings and updates to software.
Storage was also the slowest of the pack, but it’s still a 2,000MB/s PCIe storage device, so it won’t feel sluggish by any means... especially if you're updating from something that's a couple of years old. Battery life was solid, getting more than 10 hours in both PCMark 10 and 1080p movie playback benchmarks.
On balance we reckon this one's the best value Ultrabook with an Intel processor this year, even if some of Dell's cheaper XPS 13 models are likely to be more broadly appealing.
MSI has been making some good laptops of late, and the Prestige 14 Evo isn’t about to break that streak. Coming in at just 1.29kg the Prestige 14 EVO is on the lighter side of 13-inch laptops available in 2021.
At first glance it might feel like it’s made out of cheaper materials but the sandblasted aluminium provides a sturdy shell that prevents any flex and helps keep it under 1.6cm thick.
There’s really only two configurations available locally, and they're both exclusive to JB Hi-Fi. The first features an i7-1165G7 with Iris Xe GPU, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB PCIe SSD and costs $2,398 and the second is basically the same, but has an Intel Core i5-1135G7 and goes for $1,998. While the former is only available in 'Carbon Grey', the latter come in either 'Pure White' or 'Rose Pink'.
This unit is one of the few to feature a 4th generation PCIe SSD, which means you can expect ridiculously fast read speeds of 4,910MB/s, which is a noteworthy jump from the last generation of PCIe SSDs – even if we could only get this one to 2,508MB/s when writing.
Performance is on par with what you’ll see from the rest of the units here. This means it’s powerful enough to accommodate the workflows of most business users, with only designers and other creative pros needing a little more under the hood. You also get the Iris Xe GPU gaming capabilities of the other Intel Evo laptops here, which means you’ll get playable frame rates for Low 1080p settings on many modern games. Based on testing of other 11th Gen devices you should get a very similar GPU benefit form the less expensive Core i5 models.
Apart from the 4th-gen PCIe SSD the main drawcard of the MSI prestige is the price which is on the more affordable end without sacrificing on components. If you need a high-res screen you’ll have to look elsewhere, but everything else on this unit is top notch.
Whether it is the limited set of custom-built applications, the almost useably-janky interface, or the fact that it prioritises apps and second display functionality over being a usable trackpad – the ScreenPad touchscreen trackpad on the Zenbook 14 UX435 has a lot of major pitfalls. Thankfully it has a function button that'll turn the screen pad back into a permanent trackpad, so it's not a deal breaker.
Apart from this (and the odd petty keyboard-layout gripe) the new ZenBook 14 UX435 is actually a pretty amazing unit. The range features one of Intel’s new 11th Gen processors and the Intel Iris Xe GPU accompanies this processor. The UX435 also has a discrete Nvidia GeForce MX450 GPU and offers eight or 16GB of RAM. This means it was able to get 50fps+ frames per second on games like The Division 2 and Sid Meier's: Civilization VI on ‘Low’ 1080p settings and can even run playable frame rates with Ultra 1080p settings on F1 and anything else that’s a little more lightweight.
The UX435 is a solid work machine too, capable of chewing through everything but the most demanding technical software. It even managed to outperform Dell’s XPS 13 in a handful of work benchmarks, which leads us to suspect that even the Core i5-1135G7 variation will be enough for most people’s workflows.
Unfortunately, Asus hasn’t done a lot of efficiency optimisation on the UX435, which lasts only three hours and 31 minutes in PCMark 10’s Home Office battery benchmark. There’s also a bit of a hit in display quality for office work. 1080p is more than enough for a 14-inch screen, but when the competition is offering 4K HDR screens, this 300nit FullHD display looks a little dull.
With an RRP of $2,399 the Swift 5 from Acer is the equal best value Windows device here alongside the MSI Prestige 14 Evo and the Asus ZenBook Flip 13, but we’ve seen it on Acer’s online store for as little as $2,047. If you can get it at this price then the Swift 5 offers unbeatable value, but even at it’s RRP this is a solid offering.
Not only is this device one of the thinnest of the roundup at 1.5cm thick, it was also the lightest (per square inch) weighing in at just over a kilogram. While it does feel a little less premium using lightweight metals on the keyboard surround and top shell, Acer has actually done a great job maintaining continuity through to the plastic undercarriage, which means it doesn’t detract at all from the overall experience.
The keyboard has a slightly smaller footprint than some here and the keys aren’t overly deep and will be a little loud for some, but they’re comfortable enough to type on for long periods of time. The trackpad is also soft and responsive enough to not be an issue, and there’s more connectivity options here for those keen to have HDMI and USB Type-A connectivity.
The Swift 5 even performed consistently above average in our tests and, similar to others here, netted playable framerate averages around 35fps for The Division 2 and Metro: Exodus.
Battery life was decent lasting 8 hours and 54 minutes in 1080p movie playback and while the 14-inch IPS touchscreen wasn’t standout, it had nice enough colour reproduction and functionality to be appropriate as a premium display.
What's perhaps the key bonus feature on this one, though, is the included 1TB PCIe SSD. This is a generous storage capacity on a modern Ultrabook and it comes at no extra cost.
While some of the XPS 13 2-in-1s offered by Dell are overpriced, there seems to be a rolling deal on the most popular i7, 16GB, 512GB SSD, FullHD+ model, which lands at a more competitive $2,399.
At this price, this 13.4-inch FullHD+ convertible laptop offers a solid pedigree that’s expressed in sophisticated materials like an insulating carbon fibre keyboard surround, minimal exposed air vents and delicately weighted, fully-rotatable hinges. The keyboard isn’t particularly deep, but it has a signature clicky feel and sound that is appreciated by many and makes for a nice overall typing experience.
While some performance benchmarks pegged this unit around the middle of the pack, others suggest that the XPS 13 2-in-1 was tuned to go as fast as it could, showing up to 30 percent improvements over Evo averages on media encoding and CPU rendering tasks. Some of these performance gains continued into graphical capabilities scoring a 41fps average in the Division 2 on 1080p low, but it does come at a cost of battery life. Lasting only five hours and 48 minutes in 1080p movie playback, it was one of the most fleeting here. The Evo spec means you should be able to get a full work day’s battery life if you dial down performance, but we suspect this will temper any performance benefits.
The screen is vibrant and the slightly taller 16 by 10 proportion is a nice touch. If you do want 4K+ resolution then expect to add $1,300 to the overall price tag. FullHD+ was enough to comfortably work on and looks good during playback, so there’s no real need for the upgrade.
It’s easy to see Toshiba’s legacy in everything from the lightweight metal chassis design to the thin bezel implementation on the Dynabook Portégé X30W-J, but some elements like the trackpad look and feel a little dated in a lineup of 2021 Evo laptops. So Sharp still has some honing to do on its adopted protégé.
Dynabook is claiming its Portégé X30W-J is the lightest 13.3-inch Evo device around, and so far we haven’t seen anything to contradict that, however the slightly larger 14-inch Acer Swift 5 has a better kg-per-inch weight to screen-size ratio. Unfortunately, the Portégé X30W-J’s lightweight materials combined with the mushier than usual keyboard make this device feel a little less premium than its competitors here, but it’s not bad enough to be a deal breaker.
The Portégé X30W-J is one of the few here to feature Windows 10 Pro, and the model we tested came with an Intel Core i5-1135G7 CPU. With a starting price of around $2,148 when paired with 8GB RAM and 256GB of storage, we’d opt to double the memory and storage offerings for $150 extra or go for the i7, 16GB, 512GB variation for $2,347.
In most tests the i5 Dynabook Portégé X30W-J performed around 10 percent behind the i7 Evo average, but this should still be more than enough for most workflows at roughly the same performance of a 10th Gen i7.
With similar relative GPU performance you can still expect to play most games on low 1080p graphical settings, and you’ll get eight hours and 26 minutes out of the battery in 1080p movie playback.
Razer is finally branching out into the ‘strictly business’ space with the new Book 13 line by ditching the discrete GPU and slashing the price. It’s a solid move, but with Apple and Dell both offering price cuts on their Ultrabook offerings this year, the Book 13’s starting price of $2,199 isn’t as competitive as we’d hoped.
For that starting price you’ll get a non-touch 13.4-inch 16-by-10 display at FullHD+ 60Hz, an Intel Core i5-1135G7 CPU, 16GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, which is a couple of hundred dollars less than Dell’s XPS 13, but a few hundred more than a similarly specced MacBook Air. If you want the more powerful Intel Core i7-1165G7 under the hood and touchscreen capabilities you're looking at $2,999, while the top of the line UHD+ display will cost you $3,799. The two more expensive models aren’t as competitively priced as the i5 unit, but they’re not excessive either.
While it might rely on an integrated GPU, the Razer Book 13 managed to snag one of Intel’s Iris Xe processors on both the i5 and i7 units. This means it's capable of getting playable (30fps+) averages on The Division 2, Total War Saga: Troy, F1 2020, and Sid Meier’s Civilization VI when running at FullHD+ resolutions on low graphical settings. This powerful integrated GPU will boost productivity for anyone occasionally doing graphically intensive work and while you could argue it’s not quite a gaming GPU, it’s enough for those who want to occasionally play less demanding titles.
The keyboard is a little more compact than we’d like and while the keys had a good level of resistance, they are slightly too small and skew to the right. That said, it’s not bad enough to be a dealbreaker and the trackpad is responsive and a nice size.
Razer has been working with Intel to get Evo (Project Athena V2) certification, which means the Book 13 will wake instantly from sleep and should get 10 hours of battery under particular conditions. In our testing we got seven hours and 40 minutes in PCMark 10’s Work battery benchmark and nine hours and 41 minutes in 1080p movie playback, which is pretty good if you compare it to devices from last year.
It’s been almost two years since this device was launched, but the main differences (at least on paper) between the specifications of the (5th Gen) Surface Pro, the Surface Pro 6, and the Surface Pro 7, is the CPU so we’re expecting an update soon. Still this device has come down in price and maintains a unique enough proposition to keep it here for now. The Surface Pro 7 is available in four, eight and 16GB RAM configurations and identical 128GB to 1TB storage options to its predecessors.
The Surface Pro also uses an identical 12.3-inch, 3 x 2 PixelSense display at the same 2,736 x 1,824 resolution as its two forebears, and even fits into an indistinguishable 29 x 20 x 0.9cm chassis that weighs nearly the same at 790g.
The Surface Pro 7 is still using one of Intel’s 10th Gen processors, but regardless of whether you get the Core i3-1005G1, the Core i5-1035G4 or the Core i7-1065G7, you’ll still have access to the new faster Wi-Fi 6 networking specification.
Microsoft has also included a USB 3.1 Type-C interface, alongside its existing USB 3.1 Type-A port so it’s as current as it needs to be in many ways.
The Core i7 Surface Pro 7 was around 30 percent better than the Surface Pro 6 and 87.6 percnt faster than the Surface Pro (5) in CPU tests and outperformed almost every quad-core mobile CPU we've tested.
The Intel Iris Plus Graphics won’t be capable of anything more than browser based/ indie games and light graphical workloads, but it roughly doubles the graphical performance of its predecessor.
The 46Wh battery gets close to six hours in PCMark 8 Battery Life benchmarks, equating to more than a working day’s battery life. All up pretty impressive for something that doubles as a tablet.
As our most-used work applications continue to be integrated into web browsers and files become increasingly stored in the cloud, many will be able to get away with working on a less powerful device these days.
The most affordable Surface Go 2 you can grab locally starts at AU$598 and comes with an Intel Pentium processor, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of onboard storage, which is an offering that seriously competes with some of the best Chromebooks available.
The next tier up doubles the RAM and storage allocations for a total of AU$879 and we'd recommend this as the minimum for anyone intending to use unlocked Windows 10 Home (a free upgrade from Windows 10 S).
The last variation comes with an 8th generation Intel Core m3 processor, a CPU that was once used to power the Surface Pro lineup.
Backing this up is the same 8/128GB RAM storage combo from the more powerful Wi-Fi offering, but the most important distinction here is that the Core m3 model comes with 4G LTE connectivity so you can access the internet from anywhere through a mobile data plan.
This more powerful configuration lands at a more expensive AU$1,199, which is on par with the entry level Surface Pro 7s, but when you have to fork out a few hundred dollars more for comparable constantly-connected professional 2-in-1s like the Galaxy Book S, it is a actually a really competitive offering.
Microsoft claim a 64 percent performance bump over the previous iteration and the Surface Go 2 has a bigger 10.5-inch 1,920 x 1,280 display that is really vibrant for a budget screen.
With a peak brightness of 280 nits, it’s not really in the league of the 600 nit HDR Apple iPad Pro, but it’s more than enough to give media and documents the colour and clarity they deserve, even in direct sunlight.
The 26.8Wh battery lasts five hours and five minutes in PCMark 8 Home battery and around eight hours in 1080p media playback, so you should be able to get a full day's work out of it.
A great option for anyone that doesn't need a lot of power.
While there will be a couple of different variations of the Spectre X360 this year, the model we’re testing is only available at Harvey Norman, and for an RRP of $2,999. This might seem steep for a 13.3 inch laptop with just a 60Hz Full HD panel, but this screen is actually an OLED display which makes it stand out in media playback and general colour reproduction in side-by-side comparisons.
The Spectre x360 13t-aw2007tu also features an Intel Core i7-1165G7 CPU, 16GB of RAM and an integrated Intel Iris Xe GPU, which rounds out a nicely balanced spec sheet for a premium work productivity laptop.
The 11th Gen processors offer predictable ten-percent-ish improvements over last year's laptops, but the Spectre x360 13t-aw2007tu we tested generally netted below average performance results against this year’s cohort of Ultrabooks. Generally the x360 was behind by less than 15 percent, but that margin did dip to over 20-percent in some CPU tests like 4K media encoding. Graphically it was even worse with benchmark tests being between 10 and 55 percent behind the pack averages, making many of them unplayable. We’re hoping that this model is abnormal in its performance, but since there’s nothing obviously wrong with it we have to assume that you could be forking out $3K for this unit.
Keyboard and trackpad are nice enough to avoid being called out and the B&O speakers, fingerprint reader, relatively broad interface options and unique design give it all the trimmings of a good professional laptop. Unfortunately price and performance just aren’t overly competitive this year.
How to choose the right laptop for you
We all have different requirements from our work laptop, and for many all that's critical is something to run your Chrome browser tabs and the Microsoft Office suite. If that's you, then you can get away with an 11th generation Intel Core i5, or can even go for something even lighter like a Chromebook. With most workflows operating in the cloud these days there's no need for most people to fork out for powerful Ultrabooks anymore.
If you do need to edit the odd photo in Photoshop, or you want to be able to take a look at your GoPro footage and do a bit of light editing for social media, then you'll want something with a little more power. Apple's M1, AMD's Ryzen 9 and Intel's Core i7-1165G7 processors will be more than enough to get you through just about every task you should expect to encounter, with a little left in the tank to future-proof it for the next few years.
11th Gen Intel i7 units, while the least powerful of these options, have been updated to be required to meet a set of minimum specifications to get Evo certification. To make the cut an Intel Evo Laptop needs to offer stable performance throughout its battery life, wake from sleep in less than a second, maintain over nine hours battery life on real-world use benchmarks, and offer four hours of battery life from a 30 minute fast-charge. These devices are also generally very portable at 1.5cm thick and a little over a kilogram for your average 13-incher.
If you are a visual creative you might opt for one of the 15-inch devices here, which will be a little heavier and thicker, but not by much. What is also neat about these bigger units is that most vendors include discrete GPUs with the bigger screen models, which will allow you to do some more heavy graphical lifting if you do any software development or visual effects work. These GPUs are even often capable of respectable FullHD gaming, which means you can get one device that'll do everything you need it to.
For anyone who wants something really lightweight there's even a number of impressively powerful tablets here that stand up to (or even outpace) some of the Ultrabook laptops. It's also worth noting that the premium price you once paid for these ultra-versatile devices isn't even that dramatic these days.