The best laptop is the glue that binds all of your different projects and gadgets together. Once you've equipped yourself with the right one, you've acquired the speed to power you through all of your assignments, and the battery life to make it through a day of work without worrying about the nearest power outlet.
Finding the right one for you can be tricky, because you've never had more choice when shopping for the best laptops. There are affordable notebooks for basic web surfing, mainstream machines with premium components and attractive designs, and beastly gaming laptops that will let you play the hottest PC games the way they were meant to be played.
- The best college laptops to buy now
- Want more power? Check out the best gaming laptops
- These are the best Windows laptops on the market
What are the best laptops?
Our pick for the best laptop overall is the Dell XPS 13, which packs speedy performance and a gorgeous bezel-less display into an incredibly slim and lightweight design with long battery life. If you can afford the more expensive model with an OLED touchscreen, it's well worth the expense. In fact, it's so good that it won the awards for best laptop display and best laptop overall in our Tom's Guide Awards 2021. If you love the idea of an OLED laptop but want something a bit more affordable, Asus has an OLED-equipped Zenbook 13 that packs great power and amazing battery life, and it's usually a few hundred bucks cheaper than the XPS 13.
If Mac is more your thing, the new MacBook Air with M1 is our recommendation for the best MacBook for most people, as it offer fantastic performance and long battery life.
The Acer Swift 3 is the best laptop for shoppers on a tighter budget. For our full recommendations, check out our picks for the best laptops below.
The best laptops you can buy today
The Dell XPS 13 is one of our favorite laptops thanks to its excellent performance, beautiful display, and svelte design. While the battery life isn't as good as some other laptops of similar price, it's usually more than enough to get you through a day of work without scrambling for a charger.
Plus, in 2021 Dell began offering the XPS 13 with a 3.5K OLED touchscreen option. If you can afford it (it's usually a couple hundred bucks extra, around the same price as the non-OLED 4K screen configuration) it's well worth the investment, as the OLED's deep, inky blacks, vibrant colors, and high contrast ratios really shine when mounted in the XPS 13's thin-bezelled InfinityEdge design. As mentioned earlier, it's so good that it won the awards for best laptop display and best laptop overall in our Tom's Guide Awards 2021.
Read our full Dell XPS 13 OLED review.
Not interested in OLED? Don't miss our Dell XPS 13 (2020, 11th Gen) review.
Apple has revolutionized its laptops, thanks to its own Apple silicon processors, which are replacing the Intel chips it's previously used. This chip delivers faster speeds than the Air's ever seen, and the longest battery life in any MacBook either: it lasted 14 hours and 41 minutes on the Tom's Guide battery test. Not since 2015 has a MacBook come close to that. Not only does the M1 chip make the MacBook Air a multi-tasking fiend, but it also enabled me to play Rise of the Tomb Raider smoothly, and that's even with Rosetta 2 conversion of that Intel app.
Apple's move to ARM-based processors look to reap massive benefits, and that includes the ability to run iOS and iPadOS apps on your Mac. Plus, the MacBook Air's webcam is clearer and more color-accurate than ever, thanks to signal processing. We're also still happy to see the Magic Keyboard, a great upgrade from the Butterfly-style keyboard of the previous MacBooks.
On top of that, you get stronger sound than you'd expect from a laptop this small, which support Dolby Atmos audio, for better-sounding movies and TV. Not only is this the best laptop for many if not most Apple users, it's a laptop that should have the PC world looking over its shoulders. It's so good it won recommendations for best laptop and longest-lasting laptop in our Tom's Guide Awards 2021.
Read our full Apple MacBook Air M1 (late 2020) review.
The Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 is the closest thing the company makes to a flagship Windows laptop. This 2021 addition to the Surface Laptop line packs premium components into a svelte chassis, and it comes with a clean Windows 10 install that's bloatware-free.
If you're looking for a premium Windows laptop to work from anywhere, the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 is the way to go. It has a comfy keyboard with well-sized, satisfying keys and a nice Alcantara deck option that gives your wrists a little more comfort than a typical all-metal laptop. Factor in the respectable 10+ hour battery life and the screen's tall 3:2 display ratio, which can help you read and edit documents more comfortably, and you have a great notebook for getting things done on the go. Plus, it won a recommendation for best-sounding laptop in our Tom's Guide Awards 2021.
Read our full Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 review.
When you want the best bang for your buck, the Acer Swift 3 proves that you can get great performance at a surprisingly low price. Running on the AMD Ryzen 7 4700U CPU, this laptop offers exceptionally long battery life (11:09) in a lightweight design. It's got more ports than some of the laptops listed above it here: a USB Type-C, HDMI, and a USB-A. Plus, you get a fingerprint reader too.
Its keyboard makes for a solid typing experience, with quiet, clicky keys. We just wish its display had more brightness and color, and that its speakers had a little more kick. But if you're looking to get things done on a budget, it's hard to argue with the AMD-based Acer Swift 3, which gives you plenty of reasons to ask about AMD-based versions when you're looking around.
Read our full Acer Swift 3 (AMD) review.
The MacBook Pro with M1 Apple silicon is a fantastic upgrade for anyone who wants more than just the entry-level Air's speed and endurance. Not only does it beat the Air on battery life, with almost 2 hours more battery life, but it's got a fan inside so its octo-core M1 chip can be pushed even further without heat issues. Oh, and you still get the fantastic Magic Keyboard, which enables comfortable and responsive typing, the likes of which MacBooks didn't have during the Butterfly-switch keyboard years.
Plus, its Retina display is both bright and colorful, so any photos or video you edit on the MacBook Pro will look excellent (as will the next Netflix show you binge). We just wish Apple would update its design or give you more Thunderbolt ports (the 4 USB-C port config is currently limited to Intel-based MacBook Pros). Still, it's amazing to see how Apple's own processors have obliterated the performance seen in its old Intel-based MacBooks. It all adds up to why the 13-inch MacBook Pro is one of the best laptops period. In fact, it won the award for longest-lasting laptop in our Tom's Guide Awards 2021.
Read our full MacBook Pro with M1 review.
Like the latest Dell XPS 13, the Dell XPS 15 2020 makes one of the best laptops around even better. That’s largely thanks to an even more immersive 15.6-inch InfinityEdge display, which ditches the bottom bezel for a stunning 92.9% screen to body ratio. The new XPS 15 is also made better by some smart design tweaks, such as bigger keycaps and a responsive touchpad that’s more than 60% larger than that of the previous generation.
Don’t let its slim and stylish design fool you, either -- the Dell XPS 15 2020 is an absolute workhorse. Its 10th Gen Intel Core processors can juggle multiple tasks with ease, and its optional Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Ti GPU gives it some serious muscle for graphics work and gaming. Factor in a pair of impressively loud speakers and solid battery life for a 4K laptop, and the new XPS 15 is one of the best 15-inch laptops you can buy.
Read our full Dell XPS 15 (2020) review.
The Lenovo Yoga 9i entered a crowded field of 2-in-1s and made a splash with a competitive price. Not only does it have latest 11th Gen Core i7 processor, a built-in stylus and long battery life, but its display is plenty colorful and its neat rotating speaker packs a ton of punch.
And, yes, its port selection may be a little thin, and its display could stand to be slightly brighter. But when it's $650 less than a similar Dell XPS 2-in-1 and $430 less than the a HP Spectre x360 with the same parts, the Lenovo Yoga 9i is a serious competitor for your investment. Talk about bang for your buck. Oh, and if you pay $600 more? You can get the Shadow Black edition that ups the style, puts the fingerprint reader in a more convenient location and has a glass palm rest that covers the entire deck.
Read our full Lenovo Yoga 9i review.
When we hear a laptop is incredibly thin and light, it makes us worry about how long it will last on a single charge. That's not the case here, as the 2-pound Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano lasted 12 hours on our battery test, which puts it up there against some of the very best laptops on the market today. And that's quite impressive when you remember that the 2.9-pound XPS 13 is almost a whole pound heavier.
Lenovo didn't sacrifice on performance or usability either. The Nano's Intel 11th Gen Tiger Lake processors provide the speed you need for tons of productivity — and its keyboard provides a snappy and comfortable typing experience that lives up to the ThinkPad brand. You just might need to pack a USB-C hub, though, as it's a little light on ports.
Read our full Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano review.
The Alienware m15 R4 is more than the best gaming laptop on the market, it's what other gaming laptops should aspire to be (for the most part). It's got a ton of power for running all of the games you could want, even in full UHD 4K. Speaking of 4K, its screen is vibrant and gorgeous, so everything you play will look as great as it runs. Its design is also impeccable, with a beautiful white chassis (that's also pretty portable). And when it's time to get productive, it's got an excellent keyboard for a comfortable typing experience.
That's not to say we wish there were some changes. Most notably, its battery life is on the short side (which will leave you hunting for wall outlets). But that's not exactly surprising, as gaming notebooks aren't known for their endurance on their internal power supply. The fan can get pretty loud, and its price is on the high end of the spectrum. But for those who want to game, and do it with speed and style, this is the machine you need to check out.
Read our full Alienware m15 R4 review.
The HP Elite Dragonfly is the rare laptop that comes along and sets a new standard for the entire category. This 2-in-1 laptop's design is one of the most stunning we've ever seen on a laptop, with an incredibly thin edges that measure just 0.6 inches in thickness and a deep blue coat of paint that looks refreshing, mesmerizing and classy all at once. And while the Dragonfly is wonderfully light at 2.5 pounds, it also feels impressively sturdy, has an oleophobic coating to prevent fingerprints and uses recycled ocean-bound plastics to help the environment.
Performance and features-wise, this beauty is a beast. Its stunning 13.3-inch display looks gorgeous for movies and TV shows and crushed our color and brightness tests. Its 8th-gen Intel CPU can handle everyday workloads without issues, and its keyboard is one of the most pleasant we've ever typed on. There's also its incredibly epic battery life of more than 12 hours, which beats favorites such as the MacBook Air and XPS 13. The Dragonfly is on the expensive side with a starting price of $1,629, but those who are willing to pay a premium will be rewarded with one of the best laptops on the market.
Read our full HP Elite Dragonfly review.
The Asus ZenBook Duo 14 is for anyone who wants a second screen but doesn't want an external display. And it pulls off this feat by putting a 12-inch touch screen above the keyboard. This screen is great for your secondary windows, such as Spotify, Slack, Discord and more. It can also be used by creative apps from the likes of Adobe, who put touch controls there. It's so cool it won a recommendation for best laptop breakthrough in our Tom's Guide Awards 2021.
On top of that, its performance is speedy, and competitive with the XPS 13, which it trades rounds with in head-to-head comparison. Plus, its battery life is long — especially when you realize it's got two screens to light up. The big downside, though, is that without a wrist-rest, the ZenBook Duo 14 is a bit ergonomically unfriendly. But if you've got an external wrist rest, you should be good.
Read our full Asus ZenBook Duo 14 review.
This one doesn't really make sense — that's how good of a deal it is. At $279, the Lenovo Chromebook Duet storms into the front of the conversation when it comes to value. Not only is it a tablet Chromebook, but its keyboard comes free — something that we don't expect to see from the iPad or any Surface, even the more-affordable Go. Oh, and it's also a solid tablet too, thanks to strong color output and a sharp resolution that you rarely see at this price point. We like it so much we awarded it best budget laptop in our Tom's Guide Awards 2021.
The Chromebook Duet also sees ChromeOS gain some touchscreen tablet optimizations that it's needed for a while, making it easier to navigate all of your tabs. Oh, and as if that wasn't enough, it's got amazing battery life, lasting 12 hours and 47 minutes, nearly 13 hours, on our web-surfing test. The only knock against it? Its keyboard might take some getting used to for larger handed-folks.
Read our full Lenovo Chromebook Duet review.
The Google Pixelbook Go isn't just more affordable than the original Pixelbook -- it's also better in almost every way. This highly portable Chromebook stands out with a slim, lightweight design that weighs in at just over 2 pounds, as well as a rubberized, easy-to-grip chassis that comes in sleek Just Black and Not Pink variations. The quiet, comfortable keyboard doesn't hurt either.
The Pixelbook Go stands out with its long battery life, as we saw it last well over 11 hours on our test. Couple that with solid performance, a bright and colorful display and a responsive touchscreen, and you've got one of the best Chromebooks yet for those willing to dip into the premium range. Just be aware that the Pixelbook Go is a bit short on ports, and doesn't fold into tablet mode like its bigger Pixelbook brother does.
Read our full Google Pixelbook Go review.
Fast, long-lasting and affordable. Typically, you'll be able to get at least two out of three, but it's rare that you get the trifecta that Acer nailed with the Chromebook Spin 713. And it's all packaged together in a sleek silver laptop that's just three pounds. One of the best laptops for those looking for a low-maintenance alternative to Windows 10 or macOS, the Chromebook Spin 713 is also a convertible with a touch screen display, which you'll want for Chrome OS' support of Android apps via the Google Play store.
We'd rank it higher were its speakers a bit stronger, or its keyboard a little larger. Still, the Chromebook Spin 713 is more than deserving of a spot on this list of the best laptops around. Because this is a great offer at $629 — and it often gets put on sale at lower prices. It's so good it won a recommendation for best Chromebook in our Tom's Guide Awards 2021.
Read our full Acer Chromebook Spin 713 review.
The AMD-equipped Asus Zenbook 13 OLED is an excellent value, offering an eye-catching 1080p OLED display and exceptional battery life in a slim, lightweight package for less than a thousand bucks.
Sure, the speakers aren't amazing, the webcam leaves something to be desired, and there's no headphone jack, but these are stumbling blocks you can work around. If you need a zippy little ultraportable with a great screen that will last you all day long, you can't do better than the OLED-equipped Asus Zenbook 13 at this price.
Read our full Asus Zenbook 13 OLED review.
How to choose the best laptop for you
Performance: If you only need something basic for surfing the web, consider a Chromebook or a cheap Windows laptop with an Intel Core i3 processor and 4GB of RAM. If you plan on getting more intensive work done, consider starting specs such as a Core i5 CPU, 8 to 16GB of RAM and a 256GB to 512GB SSD.
Graphics and gaming: Most mainstream laptops feature integrated graphics, which can handle lightweight titles such as Minecraft and Overwatch but aren't ideal for intensive AAA games or heavy visual work. For that, you'll want a laptop with a discrete graphics card, such as an Nvidia GTX 3000-series on the higher end.
Size: Consider how mobile you want your laptop to be. Machines such as the Dell XPS 13 and HP Elite Dragonfly are feather light with slim designs, while gaming notebooks such as the Alienware m15 R4 have more heft to them (but offer big power in exchange).
Operating system: Laptops typically come in three flavors: Windows 10 (most mainstream PCs), macOS (MacBooks) and Chrome OS (Chromebooks). Windows 10 is the most common operating system, while macOS is more ideal for folks already tied into Apple's ecosystem. Chrome OS is a lightweight operating system built to allow for cheap, fast systems, though it has gotten a bit more robust over the years with support for full Android apps.
Whichever system you decide on, you may also want to pick up the best mouse for your particular work situation.
How we test the best laptops
To find the best laptop, we run every machine through a rigorous suite of benchmarks and real-world tests to gauge how it will perform during everyday use.
We measure the average brightness and color quality of each laptop's display using our in-house light meter and colorimeter. For general performance, we run our machines through tests that include Geekbench 5 (CPU performance), as well as various 3DMark tests to measure graphics capabilities. We also run a file transfer test to measure how fast a machine's hard drive is, and a custom battery test that has the machine browse the internet over Wi-Fi until it runs out of juice.
When testing dedicated gaming laptops, we run benchmarks for popular games such as Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Hitman 2 and Far Cry: New Dawn.