T3's best laptops of 2021 is an expert, no-nonsense, jargon-free guide to the top options on the market, at a range of price points and different use cases. Looking for the best laptop around? We're here to help.
From the best Windows 10 laptop to top-rated systems running macOS Big Sur and ChromeOS, this guide is a great resource for laptop hunters. We've included budget laptops and premium models, everyday workhorses and pro-level performers. In short, you'll find a top-quality notebook to suit every kind of user. We're serious about laptops: these are the machines we'd buy for ourselves, for our businesses and for our families to use.
The truth is, though, that there's no single laptop that will suit everybody. That's why our list of the best laptops is so wide-ranging: whether you're looking for Apple's most powerful Mac laptops, a budget laptop for the family, a portable performer for work or a versatile 2-in-1 laptop we've covered all the bases here.
We've also created in-depth guides to the best gaming laptops and student laptops, too, two groups that have very specific computing requirements, as well as to the sleekest lightweight laptops, which put portability front and center.
And, the very best Chromebooks have also got their very own guide, too, so if you're a fan of Chrome OS then look no further.
The best laptops you can buy today in 2021
As our MacBook Air (M1, 2020) review explains, Apple's cheapest laptop is the start of a revolution. Think thin and light laptops have to sacrifice power? Not any more. Or that big performance means smaller battery life? Nope. Or that getting all of these things in one machine would be expensive? Wrong again. This is the best of all worlds.
It's all thanks to the M1 processor – the first Apple-made chip for Macs. It's an eight-core chip that's as powerful as what you find in the high-end MacBook Pros or gaming PCs, but uses a fraction of the power. Combined with the fastest storage in the business, this laptop is fast. But it also runs cool enough that it doesn't need any fans at all, so it's silent.
It's even got pretty solid graphics performance, playing games far more smoothly than anything else with an integrated GPU (though, being a Mac, the selection is more limited). And it can give you around 15 hours of battery life in real-world use (for things like light browsing) – a huge leap over previous Macs.
Comfort and usability are top-notch too – the keyboard and trackpad are excellent, it's a great size and weight to be portable, and the all-aluminum build is solid and feels premium. The sharp screen is also a pleasure to use, with a good level of brightness.
It's a shame that it only has two USB-C ports (which also must be used to power it), since that means you'll probably need adapters, but maybe you're all in on wireless and cloud already anyway. There can also be some issues with software compatibility with the new processor, but these tend to only be with really niche stuff, so won't be a worry for the vast majority of people.
The base specs of 256GB storage and 8GB of RAM may also be too little for some people, but you can upgrade and customize when you buy (though you can't add more after purchase, we should note).
As long as you can live without Windows, the MacBook Air is a laptop that balances portability and power without compromises.
There isn't one particular selling point that makes the Asus VivoBook S15 so good: it's all good, from the spacious 15.6-inch display to the Intel Core i5 or i7 processor running inside, to the elegance of the design. If you need something that combines the best of what a laptop can be in 2021 then check out the VivoBook S15.
With Intel's latest 11th-gen processors fitted inside, you're guaranteed zippy performance and excellent responsiveness, though the integrated graphics mean demanding games and video editing are mostly beyond this laptop's reach. For most of us, a laptop that can breeze through everyday tasks and show off streaming video really nicely is all we're going to need.
While the laptop is on the pricey side, you do get a lot for your money, including an excellent collection of ports, a fantastic screen viewing experience, and very respectable battery life too. For many people shopping for a laptop, this is going to be the perfect choice.
Year after year the Dell XPS 13 impresses us, and the latest edition is no different. It's just about the best compact laptop on the market – an impressive feat, considering the competition – and while it costs more than your average portable computer, we'd say that it's definitely worth the extra investment.
As usual with Dell laptops, a variety of configurations are available, and you can really max this out with some serious hardware if you've got the budget to cover it. That includes going all the way to a 4K screen, making videos and spreadsheets alike super-sharp on screen. The latest 10th-gen Intel chips are inside too, with up to 16GB of RAM available.
Dell has been refining the XPS 13 over several years now and it's hard to see what else they can improve on. The build quality is excellent, the display has real punch (and very thin bezels), and the typing and trackpad experience is top-notch too. Definitely one of the best laptops around right now.
We think the M1 MacBook Air is the best laptop for most people, but power users aren’t most people. The M1 MacBook Pro is a more powerful machine in several respects: it has a more powerful 8-core GPU, and it has a fan – so where the MacBook Air has to throttle performance to stay cool under sustained load, the MacBook Pro doesn’t. You won’t notice the difference or hear the fan in everyday computing, but for intensive tasks such as video rendering the Pro is significantly faster than the Air.
There are some obvious trade-offs between this MacBook Pro and the current Intel ones, not least the screen size: 13.3-inch is nice and portable but it obviously lacks the screen area of the 16-inch Intel MacBook Pro. The 16-inch is configurable with more storage and RAM, although memory specs are not directly comparable, and the bigger Pro has more ports; here you’re stuck with two. But the M1 Mac boasts almost double the battery life of its bigger sibling, and that’s a huge difference for pros on the go. This is a Pro laptop that really does last all day on a single charge.
The best laptop for you might not be the one with the biggest screen, or the most powerful innards, or the most number of features – it might be the Lenovo IdeaPad 3. The one key area it does stand out in is value for money, and its the perfect pick if you're looking for a lot of bang for your laptop buck.
Even though the IdeaPad 3 won't cost you much at all, it's still a stylish-looking portable computer, and one that can handle all the everyday tasks very nicely indeed. As long as you're sticking to some light web use and office work, you won't be disappointed with what this laptop has to offer.
A variety of different internal specs are available, which affect the price accordingly, but you'll definitely get a reliable, attractive 14-inch laptop that has a dedicated battery saving mode for those times when you'd rather extend the life of the battery than get the most powerful performance possible.
See how this budget model compares to our best laptop overall in our Asus VivoBook S15 vs Lenovo IdeaPad 3 face-off.
The latest version of the LG Gram 17 is an impressive laptop on many levels, not least with that gorgeous 17-inch, 2560 x 1800 pixel screen. You also get some up-to-date Intel processors, and plenty of RAM and SSD storage space if you're willing to pay for it – it's capable of taking on most tasks with aplomb.
Despite that large screen (well, large for a laptop anyway), this is an incredible light and thin portable computer. It's the sort of laptop that you'll barely notice you've got in your bag, and when you pick it up, it feels as though there are some components missing. Everything from the metal alloy finish to the backlighting on the keys is well judged and well done.
The integrated graphics card is perhaps the only weak spot in what is otherwise a very appealing laptop, even at well over $1,000 – as long as you're not doing any gaming or any heavy video editing, it'll serve you well.
The Razer Blade Stealth 13 is one of very few laptops around at this size that can also handle top-tier games – the frame rates can't match the bigger gaming laptops on the market of course, but you'll still get respectable performance on demanding titles, and all in a laptop that's small and light enough to carry around easily.
This is just as much a laptop for creatives though, with a 100 percent DCI-P3 compatible, 4K touchscreen display that's suitable for image and video editing on the go. While the internal specs inside aren't the latest and greatest on the market at the moment, they're definitely enough to power through just about every task.
It's all wrapped up in a sleek-looking, black chassis with an aluminium finish, and we also like the subtle RGB lighting effect that you can apply to the keys as well. A good number of connection ports and integration with Razer's other hardware products make this absolutely one of the best laptops in the business right now.
There's an awful lot to like about the Lenovo Yoga Slim 7, starting with the very decent battery life, extending through the high levels of performance you can get from this laptop, and extending to the polish of the overall design (grey and orchid are your color choices, with the option of a fabric top too).
Even with such a thin and lightweight design, the Yoga Slim 7 is still able to bring plenty of power to the table. You can spec this laptop up with a choice of high-end AMD or Intel processors, and there's plenty of RAM and internal storage available as well – depending on how much you want to spend of course.
In fact you can get this laptop in a whole host of configurations. If you like the look of the Lenovo Yoga Slim 7, then you can pick and choose how much RAM and internal storage you want, and how powerful you want the processor to be. You can even add in some discrete Nvidia graphics if you want.
If you're looking for a laptop that's able to balance power and portability, it's worth considering the Lenovo Yoga Slim 7 – you can even choose between a 14-inch and 15.6-inch screen, depending on whether you'd prefer a larger screen or a laptop that's easier to carry around.
The Samsung Galaxy Book S is part of a growing trend in laptops towards using more mobile-focused processors similar to those you'd find in tablets and phones. The idea is longer battery life and smaller sizes, but the drawback is you don't get quite the amount of performance – at least not yet.
With that in mind, the Galaxy Book S comes with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx under the hood and 4G LTE connectivity, so you never need to be disconnected from the web (you can also buy this laptop with a more traditional Intel processor inside if you prefer). You're going to be able to get through a day's use with this laptop and then some.
Performance isn't quite top-tier, but it's more than enough for most laptop tasks, and we really like the design and screen of the Samsung Galaxy Book S – it's perfect for packing into a bag, and it gives you a much more pleasant typing experience than you might expect considering its size.
The Acer Swift series has long been a favorite of ours here at T3, and the Acer Swift 3 is yet another example of why that's been the case: it's well priced, it's well built, and it's going to give you everything you need to get through your daily to-do list. In all the categories that count, it scores highly across the board.
We're particularly keen on the bright and sharp 14-inch, 1920 x 1080 screen, which will have no problems handling your movies, documents, websites and image editing programs. The trackpad and typing experience have that premium feel too, so even when you're working on the Acer Swift 3, it feels like a pleasure. You can stack this laptop up with plenty of RAM and a very decent processor too, if you need to.
The battery life and the graphics performance aren't the best of the best, but they're by no means terrible – and overall we think the Acer Swift 3 very much deserves a spot on our list here. With new Acer laptops coming out on a regular basis, have a shop around and see what sort of prices you can get this one for.
The third edition of the Microsoft Surface Book is, of course, the best one yet. And it's pretty much unique among laptops – a proper, full-sized portable computer with a proper keyboard and laptop specs, but at the same time also having a screen that you can completely detach and use as a keyboard.
It's coming at the tablet-laptop hybrid device from the opposite direction to the Surface Pro and the iPad Pro, in other words, and we think this is an approach that a lot of people are going to like. It means you can pack the Surface Book 3 full of power – you can fit an Intel Core i7 processor and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 graphics chipset in this laptop if you need to.
Like all the devices in the Surface range, the build quality and the hardware aesthetics are impressive, and you've also got a choice of 13.5-inch and 15-inch screens – it depends on how much you want to spend and how portable you want your portable computer to be.
Before the M1 Macs came along, the 16-inch MacBook Pro was the best Apple laptop you could buy. It's still a great computer for pro and power users.
As you would expect from a high-end Apple laptop, the MacBook Pro 16-inch is supremely slick and powerful, built with a best-in-class fit and finish, and loaded with a vastly improved keyboard that's leaps and bounds better than previous incarnations.
The fact the system runs the very latest version of macOS, Big Sur, which delivers a plethora of exclusive, quality apps, and that it is supported by Apple's first-rate support network for if anything goes wrong, really does add a layer of sheen that many competing Windows 10 machines do not.
On raw specs alone the MacBook Pro 16-inch is pipped to the post slightly by the Dell XPS 15, which can be outfitted with a 4K OLED screen, 32GB of RAM, 1TB of storage, and a more powerful Nvidia GPU, but it is the overall package and user experience where the MacBook Pro shines.
The M1 Macs may be getting all the attention right now but the 16-inch MacBook Pro remains a powerhouse computer for pro-level apps.
The Asus ROG Zephyrus S GX701 packs in a huge amount of gaming power and yet it comes in a design that manages not to be overwhelmingly huge or overwhelmingly noisy. If you don't think that gaming laptops can give you the same sort of performance as gaming desktops, then the Zephyrus S GX701 is ready to make you a believer.
You can see from the specs list above that this laptop is packed with only the best internal components, including a choice of Intel Core i7 processors and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 graphics card. With all that power packed inside – and some rather smart custom cooling put together by Asus – you can hit the top frame rates in any game you like.
Of course, all of these high-end components push the price of the laptop up quite substantially, but if you want the best hardware in the business – topped off with a gorgeous-looking 17-inch display – then you can't go wrong with the Asus ROG Zephyrus S GX701. Definitely one of the best laptops of 2021.
HP has a long tradition of making laptops you can rely on and the HP Envy 13 is no different. It's one of the best picks you're going to find in the mid-range laptop market, and we're including it here because of its excellent balance between price and performance. This is a laptop that's going to last you.
The 13.3-inch, 1920 x 1080 resolution display leads the way here – bright and sharp and great for streaming video, browsing the web, and working on documents. While creatives might want a bit more in terms of screen real estate, the smaller screen size makes this a very portable laptop, and thanks to the solid build quality you won't feel like you have to be extra careful with it.
With a choice of Intel Core processors inside and some very healthy combinations of RAM and internal storage available too, this is a laptop that's ready to handle all but the most demanding tasks (don't try gaming on it). A special mention for the audio engineered in partnership with Bang and Olufsen, which sounds great.
Buying a laptop with a 2-in-1 form factor means you can turn the screen over and use it as a tablet, and prop it up in tent mode – perfect for enjoying movies on a screen bigger than the one on your mobile phone while you're away from home. The design of the Lenovo Yoga C640 is just part of the appeal though.
The Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM and 512GB of storage are going to be perfect for just about every day-to-day task you'll need your laptop for – though heavy gaming and video editing are out of the equation with the integrated Intel graphics. This is a laptop that will nip along at top speed.
The 13.3-inch display is bright and sharp, but no so big that it's going to be a struggle to lug the laptop around with you. The classic refined Lenovo style is in evidence here as well, and we think this is going to be the best laptop for a lot of people.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro sits between the 16-inch Pro model and the more affordable MacBook Air. It's the sweet spot for a lot of users: plenty of power, and a beautifully well designed and simple to use laptop, but without costing quite as much as the bigger model. It'll come with some demanding laptop uses, depending on exactly what you want to do with the computer and which configuration you opt for.
You can take those configurations all the way up to an Intel Core i7 processor if you need to, with plenty of RAM and storage space to match. As usual with a MacBook Pro, the keyboard and trackpad experience is top-notch. This uses the newest keyboard design, so hopefully, the reliability problems of the older butterfly keyboards are now in the past.
MacBooks are about more than the hardware, of course. macOS continues to get more polished with each passing year, and as you would expect it works seamlessly with any other Apple-made hardware you've got. If you decide to invest in the 13-inch MacBook Pro, then you won't be disappointed.
If you like subtlety and refinement in your gaming laptops, then the Dell G5 15 could be just what you're looking for. It combines plenty of performance (across multiple configurations) with a tidy-looking chassis, a chassis that has one of the coolest lighting effects we've seen set.
The 15.6-inch, 1920 x 1080 pixel display panel can up the refresh rate to an impressive 144Hz, and your games are sure to look fantastic on this screen. Some top-tier graphics and processor components are available too, so you shouldn't be troubled by any lag or stutter no matter what titles you're playing.
Even with some of the best laptop components packed inside, the Dell G5 15 is still relatively compact. Taking into consideration everything Dell has done here on both the inside and the outside of the laptop, it's absolutely worth a pick as one of our best laptops of 2021.
A simply stunning laptop from Asus that we are happy to have in our best laptops of 2021 round-up. If you want the perfect combination of power and style then this might well be it, and as an added bonus you get a trackpad that doubles up as a handy secondary display.
Take a look at the specs and you'll see that this is a laptop that's more than capable of zipping through any task you want to throw at it, even up to some video editing and low-resolution gaming (note the Nvidia GeForce option). Despite all of this raw power, the price isn't over-the-odds.
And then there's the design: this is one of the best-looking laptops we've laid our eyes on, and even the display hinge is a work of art. It'll run everything you need it to run with aplomb, and it will look the part while doing it – what more do you need?
As we note in our full Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 review, "the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 is one of the most complete hybrids ever made, scoring big across the board and leaving no obvious weak point for rivals – and critics – to launch a major counter-attack. A premium all-rounder 2-in-1 that should appeal to creative tech enthusiasts looking to both work and play hard."
A shoo-in on our best laptops 2021 list if ever we saw one, then, and a machine that should be at least considered by anyone who is looking for a premium upgrade right now. Yes, the Surface Book 2 does have a little bit more power-wise, and obviously has the ability to eject its screen, too, but the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 is almost half the price.
An absolute powerhouse of a gaming laptop from Alienware, now owned by Dell, the M15 is well worth a look for anyone who wants to play top-tier games at top-tier frame rates in a portable computer that can still be moved from place to place (albeit with some effort), and still run off a battery (albeit not for very long).
Pick the Alienware M15 as the best laptop of 2021 for you, and you get a choice of 10th-gen Intel Core i7 and i9 processors, up to 32GB of RAM and 4TB of storage, and the option of several fantastic graphics cards – all the way up to the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 for a stupendous level of performance. This'll run games without breaking a sweat and it'll carry on doing it for years to come.
It's all topped off with a bright, sharp 15.6-inch screen with the option of a 4K resolution if you really want to allow your games to shine. As you would expect, the Alienware M15 will have no problem with any other tasks either, from video editing to running dozens of programs at the same time.
We really wish that Google made Pixelbooks more often, because they're always so good. The Google Pixelbook Go is the latest off the production line, and it's available in a variety of configuration options depending on how powerful you need it to be (and how much you want to spend of course).
Chrome OS continues to improve as well. If you've never considered a Chromebook before, think about how much of your computing time you spend on the web – if it's just about all of it, then you don't really need all the bloat and the weight of Windows or macOS, with all that extra software, those constant updates and so on. Remember too that Chromebooks can now run Android apps as an added bonus.
Aside from the software and the specs, the Pixelbook Go really looks the part as well. We especially like the textured underside of the laptop chassis, which keeps it nicely in place whether you're using it on a table or actually on top of your lap.
Another top-notch gaming laptop from Acer, the Predator Helios 300 is big, fast, and stylish: you can absolutely tell that it's a gaming laptop from the first glance, but the design finds a nice balance between boring and over-the-top, and the laptop can fit into just about any setup you've got at home.
The generous 15.6-inch display comes with a 144Hz refresh rate to keep your games looking as smooth as possible, and under the hood, you've got plenty of power to keep those frame rates up. Check the online deals for details of the individual configurations that are available, but some seriously decent components are available.
We also like how many ports you get here, covering multiple USB and video out options, which is one reason to go for a gaming laptop as your best laptop pick rather than one of the ultraportable or super-compact laptops in this list – they tend to cut down on ports in the interest of space.
Another hugely compelling gaming laptop, this time from industry experts Razer. The Blade 15 Advanced comes sporting a 15.6-inch display with options for a 4K resolution and refresh rates up to 300Hz depending on how much you've got to spend and what you think is most important in your next laptop.
Razer is keen to emphasize the compactness and the minimalist style of this laptop, and it certainly catches the eye in an understated, discreet way – it's packed with power, but it doesn't want to brag about it too much in terms of its aesthetics. We love the sharp, simple angles and of course the minimal bezels around the display, which means your games (and everything else) are shown off wonderfully.
As usual, a variety of configurations are available for the laptop, but you can fit this out with some of the best Intel processors and the best Nvidia graphics cards currently on the market, as well as a whole pile of RAM and internal storage. It's pricey as well, but for on-the-go gaming, it's worth it.
If the best laptop for you is going to be something more business-like and professional, then give the Lenovo ThinkPad T490 some consideration. It, of course, boasts one of the most iconic laptop designs of recent times and comes from a manufacturer that puts out hardware that you can rely on.
While the specs aren't exactly cutting edge, they do give you plenty of performance capacity for a very reasonable price, and as long as you're not putting your laptop through anything too demanding then this laptop will serve you just fine – as will the bright and crisp 14-inch display.
These are popular laptops designed for productivity and known for reliability, and you're guaranteed many years of loyal use out of one of these. A variety of spec configurations are available, so make sure you do some research to find the best Lenovo ThinkPad T490 models at the best online prices.
How to choose the best laptop for you
Take your time when choosing the best laptop for your needs – there are a lot of choices out there after all and it pays to do some research. The best laptop for one person isn't necessarily the best laptop for someone else, and a lot of it depends on what you're planning to do with the device, as well as how much you've got to spend.
Faster processors and more RAM are all well and good, and will definitely help your laptop run faster and handle more programs at once. At the same time, you only really need the very top spec if you're planning on doing some gaming or video editing – otherwise you should be able to save yourself some money by going for a lesser spec (albeit one that will still handle day-to-day tasks).
Software is another consideration. Windows is the only choice if you're serious about gaming, while macOS is going to appeal to creative types who spend a lot of time editing images and video (though Windows can handle this with aplomb too). Chrome OS, meanwhile, is a great option if you spend all your computing time on the web – you can probably save yourself some money too.
Think about the other devices you use in your setup and how your new laptop is going to fit in as well: a MacBook Pro is going to work seamlessly with an iPhone, for example, while Windows can connect up to Android handsets very easily through the Your Phone app. If you've got devices like Apple TVs and smart speakers, you need to think about these as well.
One of the key specs you're going to see on every laptop listing is the display size. A bigger screen of course gives you more room for your games, your movies and your spreadsheets (delete as applicable), but remember it also adds to the size of your laptop and usually its price too. If you're on the move a lot, you'll need to find a suitable sweet spot when it comes to the display dimensions.