The Best Laptops for 2021

You can’t just pull one out of your pocket to pass the time in the elevator, photograph a beautiful sunset, or pay for a cup of coffee. A laptop won’t change the way you live in the same way that a smartphone can.

And, like touchpads and full-size keyboards, those basic old-school features that you won’t find on any mobile device tend to improve with almost every generation. If you look in the right places, you can find amazing battery life and breathtaking screens. The graphics processing power required to play games in full HD is affordable. Laptops, on the other hand, have honed their own skills in the years since smartphones took over all of these jobs.

Amazon, Newegg, and even your local electronics superstore have a bewildering selection of products. However, with great features comes great fragmentation.

cheap laptops


gaming laptops, 2-in-1 laptops, Chromebooks, and ultraportables.. We review hundreds of laptops each year at PC Labs, so we’ve seen pretty much every variation of laptop available.

(Photo: Zlata Ivleva)

The features and laptop class that are best for you are determined by your budget and how you intend to use your laptop. Let’s go over how to make a wise decision. However, purchasing one solely based on specifications and speed feeds can be frustrating. When shopping, it is preferable to take a methodical approach.

Calculate Your Budget: What Do I Need to Spend?

You might be content with a low-cost laptop. Do you have no interest in cutting-edge design or powerful components? Prime Day and Black Friday, as well as actual holidays like Presidents’ Day, bring frequent sales, further discounting some of these models. Today’s market is flooded with low-cost, full-featured models that retail for less than $500. The majority of them will be fine with word processing and e-mail checking, but they will struggle with other tasks like keeping multiple web browser tabs open at the same time.

Increasing your budget to around $1,000 will give you access to nearly all of the modern laptop’s cutting-edge features. At this price, you might be able to get a laptop with a stunning 4K display or a massive terabyte of solid-state storage, but not both. These features include a slim, sturdy aluminum chassis, brilliant touch-enabled 4K displays, powerful processors and graphics chips, and long-lasting batteries. The main drawback in this price range is that you’ll have to prioritize which features are most important to you.

If you have $2,000 or more in your piggybank, you can choose almost any feature combination you want. Hardware that generates a lot of heat generates a lot of heat, and the cooling mechanisms that these components require take up a lot of space. Even the most powerful laptop available must, however, follow the laws of physics. Hardcore gamers looking for a 17-inch display and a blazing-fast graphics processor that necessitates large cooling pipes and fans won’t find it in a thin, light laptop.

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All other things being equal, IT-manageable, security-conscious business laptops—models primarily made by Dell, HP, and Lenovo—have their own pricing dynamic, and they tend to cost a little more. This is due to their premium warranty or support plans, enterprise-specific silicon focused on manageability or security, fingerprint or face-recognition login features, and other features. rugged build quality.

Which Operating System to Get in My Laptop?

Most laptops you’ll find in stores or online (unless the seller is named “Apple”) will run Windows 10, but Microsoft’s most well-known product isn’t necessarily the best operating system for everyone. In recent years, thanks to the ascension of Google’s Chrome OS Non-Windows laptops reach a tipping point around $1,000; after that, your only option is a Windows 10 machine. With the rise of budget laptops, there is now a Windows alternative at every price point. MacBook; below it, it’s a Chromebook.

If you still want key creature comforts, midrange Chromebooks with full-HD (1080p) displays and comfortable keyboards are just as easy to come by these days as bargain-basement Chromebooks. Chrome OS laptops are now the most popular alternatives to low-cost Windows 10 laptops. Because cloud services like Google Drive can handle most of your storage and processing needs, the only features you’ll really need from your laptop with a Chromebook are a decent screen and a comfortable keyboard. For someone who only needs a laptop to watch movies, create text documents, send emails, and play with basic spreadsheets, a Chromebook could be a good, cost-effective option.

You won’t find a “cheap” MacBook anywhere in the Apple lineup, but you will find solid industrial design, consistently excellent battery life, and a slew of built-in apps for managing your multimedia collection and syncing with your iCloud account and other Apple devices. If you’re okay with running your day-to-day computing life on macOS, an Apple MacBook might be the way to go for people with similar needs but a larger budget.

Content creators will benefit from higher-end MacBook Pros, which include the option of a Touch Bar. 16-inch Retina displayand for Intel’s Core i9 processors. One of the most significant disadvantages of Mac laptops is the complete lack of touch-screen support, which is available on a variety of Chrome OS and Windows 10 machines.

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A Windows computer also has the most form-factor options. A few Chromebooks have detachable or foldable keyboards that allow you to use them as tablets, but Windows has a much larger selection of these physical designs. A Windows-based machine gives you access to the most software, including most AAA games; on macOS, the subset of popular, first-rank game titles is much smaller, and games on Chrome OS are limited to what you can play in a browser or download as an Android app or from the Chrome Web Store.

The majority of the rest of your purchasing decisions, which we’ll go over later, are therefore only relevant to Windows machines. In fact, because of the large number of Windows 10 devices available, Microsoft’s operating system gives you the most options when it comes to selecting a laptop. (However, we’ll make a note if a feature is also available on Macs or Chromebooks.)

What’s an Ideal Size and Weight?

In general, these are the maximum dimensions and weight that a laptop can have before we consider it an item of value. Most people looking for a general-purpose laptop should look for one that is half an inch thick and weighs less than three pounds. ultraportable, and for the majority of users, portability is the key to getting the most out of their devices.

The latter has a 360-degree rotating screen that can be used as a makeshift tablet or propped up like a tent to watch movies. In most cases, aiming for that weight and thickness means limiting the screen size to 13 or 14 inches, though a few models with 15-inch or larger screens now qualify as ultraportables. Models in either the traditional “clamshell” laptop shape or a 2-in-1 convertible design are available in most of these screen sizes.

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Some of these aren’t laptops in the traditional sense, but rather Smaller displays, such as 10 or 11 inches, are available on some Windows and Chrome OS laptops. tablets with detachable keyboardsAvoid these designs unless you’re looking for a part-time tablet or the lightest laptop possible. .. They’re lighter than most 13-inch ultraportables, weighing in at under 2 pounds, but they’re not as good as the Apple iPad as tablets, and their detachable keyboards mean they’re not very good as laptops, either—typing on most of them is subpar.

On the other end of the scale are the 17-inch behemothsMost gamers should stick with a 15-inch laptop otherwise. .. A 17-inch monitor is an option if you plan to keep your gaming rig parked on your desk and rarely move it. Hardcore gamers will gravitate toward them, but you can occasionally find a 17-inch productivity machine or workstation if you need a larger screen for other reasons. At the expense of size and weight, a 17-inch laptop can closely mimic the experience of a desktop. Some of these creations weigh more than 8 pounds and are over an inch thick.

What Kind of Laptop Screen Do I Need?

The main specification that defines a laptop screen is its native resolution, which is expressed in horizontal by vertical pixels. Display density is sometimes measured in pixels per inch (ppi), but the main specification that defines a laptop screen is its native resolution, which is expressed in horizontal by vertical pixels. Crisper text, sharper onscreen images, and, in many cases, better-looking colors are all possible as a result of this. Over the last decade, laptop screens have become denser, cramming more pixels into the same space.

The image quality of IPS screens varies, but they are best known for maintaining high image quality when viewed from an oblique, or off-side, angle. They’re also known as “1080p” displays because they have a resolution of 1,920 by 1,080 pixels (or, in some cases, 1,920 by 1,200 pixels) and use LCD panels with in-plane switching (IPS) technology. If not viewed straight-on, the other major screen type in modern laptops (and the kind commonly found in gaming-oriented models) tends to shift colors or look faded. If you frequently share the contents of your screen with others, such as when giving impromptu presentations, this is important. Most laptops with screens that cost $500 or more have at least “full HD” resolutions.

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If image quality isn’t important to you, a lower-resolution display may be an acceptable trade-off in your quest to save money. Low-cost Windows and Chrome OS laptops typically have lower-resolution thin-film transistor (TFT) displays (1,280 by 720 pixels and 1,366 by 768 pixels are common numbers), which means text won’t be as crisp and colors won’t be as vibrant as you’ve come to expect from your smartphone or television.

You can go higher than full HD for the crispest text and brightest colors. The majority of these screens use the same IPS technology as full HD panels, but a few do not. Many high-end laptops now come with 4K native resolution displays as standard or optional extras (generally 3,840 by 2,160 pixels). OLED technologyThe inky blacks and luxurious colors of OLED screens command a premium, making them ideal for movie buffs. , which is similar to what you’ll find in modern smartphones.

People who plan to use their laptops in brightly lit rooms or outdoors should ensure that the screen has a maximum brightness level of at least 500 nits, regardless of whether it is OLED, IPS, or TFT.

Should I Get a Touch Screen?

You’ll need a touch-screen device to take advantage of the touch-screen support in Windows 10 and Chrome OS. touch-enabled laptop, as well as a digital stylus for writing or drawing on it. Some Windows 10 laptops are available in both touch and non-touch versions, so read the specifications carefully before purchasing. Touch support is common on glossy screens, but it is not common on matte screens designed to filter out glare from ambient lighting.

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Hardcore gamers or esports hounds looking for silky-smooth visuals will want to maximize the number of frames per second that their screen can display, which they can do by choosing a screen with a refresh rate of 120Hz or higher. Because many gaming laptops have matte displays, touch support is much more difficult to come by. However, many gaming laptops above the budget level have high-refresh-rate screens.

However, before you spend a lot of money on a high-refresh screen, make sure the graphics chip, or GPU, is powerful enough to run the games you play at a high enough frame rate to make a difference. Standard laptop screens have 60Hz refresh rates, and if you’re going to be playing games at 60 frames per second or less, a high-refresh screen won’t help you much.

Which Laptop CPU Do I Need?

Most $1,000 ultraportables use Intel’s Core i5 or Core i7 Modern software is written to use as many CPU cores as possible in order to run faster on multithreaded processors. All of these provide ample processing power for everyday tasks, but keep in mind that higher CPU model numbers typically indicate more processor cores, higher maximum clock speeds, and, in some cases, multithreading. Multithreading allows each CPU core to run two sets of software instructions at the same time, rather than just one. CPUs, or AMD’s Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 7 CPUs, which are less common.

High-end products, on the other hand, are at the opposite end of the spectrum. Budget laptops, on the other hand, are more likely to use AMD’s A-series or Ryzen 3 processors, or Intel’s Celeron, Core i3, or Pentium silicon. There are usually only two or four individual cores in these. powerhouse laptops have Intel’s Core i9 or workstation-class Xeon CPUs, with as many as eight cores.  

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Intel laptop CPUs in the latest mainstream, lightweight laptops use 15 watts or less of power, compared to 45 watts or more for their desktop counterparts. A laptop’s CPU, regardless of type, is typically designed to use less power and produce less heat than its desktop counterpart.

These require more cooling hardware and use more energy, but provide performance comparable to a desktop PC. Gaming laptops usually have more powerful CPUs, which are usually denoted by an “H” in the model name. H-series CPUs are available from both AMD and Intel.

When it comes to laptop processors, getting into the weeds can be a bit overwhelming, but for a good overview that won’t overwhelm you, check out our guide to choosing a laptop CPU that fits what you do.

Do I Need Dedicated Graphics?

For most everyday laptop use, a graphics processor built into the CPU (also known as an “integrated graphics processor,” or IGP) is sufficient. The CPU’s processor cores, memory, or both are shared by an IGP. Increasing the amount of system memory will not improve graphics performance because the amount of memory available to the integrated graphics chip is usually fixed. If you see a reference to Intel’s HD Graphics, UHD Graphics, or Iris as the graphics solution on an Intel-CPU laptop (or Radeon Graphics on an AMD-based laptop), you’re looking at an IGP.

When it comes to playing 3D games, even a low-cost gaming GPU will provide a significant advantage over an integrated graphics processor. A discrete GPU with its own dedicated computing resources will appeal to the majority of gamers. (Note that some laptops will include low-end dedicated graphics solutions, such as the GeForce MX series, which are a step up from IGPs but are not intended for serious gaming.) Hardcore gamers should look for Nvidia’s latest GeForce RTX GPUs on the high end.

We put a laptop through its paces with a variety of demanding gaming and industry-standard benchmarks to get a sense of its graphics performance. The amount of GPU you need in a gaming laptop is largely determined by the frame rate you want to run at the laptop’s native screen resolution and the games you play. Our reviews come in handy in this situation. Take a look at our collection of favorite late-model gaming machines and best budget gaming laptops for much more.

How Much Storage and Memory Do I Need?

They’re also impervious to jolts and bumps that could cause the heads of a spinning platter to crash. Solid-state drives (SSDs) are used instead of a spinning platter (as in a traditional hard drive) to store data in most laptops above entry-level. SSDs are the best and most common drive configuration because information stored in cells is much faster to access.

If you’re looking to save money or simply need the most amount of local storage possible, that’s a fine option, but you should try to stick with an SSD-only setup whenever possible. Some laptops, particularly those with larger chassis designed for gaming, include both types of drives: a small SSD for the operating system, essential apps, and a few games, and a larger spinning drive for the majority of your game files or other space-consuming media.

However, either of these is far superior to a third type, which is a not-quite-SSD: the much slower eMMC, a type of flash storage drive commonly found in low-cost computers. SSDs that use the PCI Express NVMe standard, rather than the older, slightly slower SATA interface, are preferred. (In any case, PCI Express SSDs are gradually taking over the field.) (EMMC is likely used if your budget laptop has 32GB, 64GB, or possibly 128GB of local storage.) It’s important to remember that not all laptop SSDs are created equal. Unless you need the most capacity for the least money, they’re all better than a traditional spinning hard drive.

Laptops with 1TB or even larger SSDs are available at the high end, and these will sound fantastic. Most laptop buyers should consider 256GB of storage space as a minimum. However, the highest capacities can cause a laptop’s price to skyrocket—a 4TB SSD can add thousands of dollars to a high-end laptop’s overall price. With room left over, this will accommodate the significant requirements of operating system updates and large apps like Microsoft Office. Getting a 512GB SSD and adding an external drive if you need more space is more cost-effective. People with large collections of videos, photos, or music (as well as all but the most casual PC gamers) should look for a drive with at least 512GB of storage.

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Heavy multitaskers, PC gamers, and people who surf the web with a lot of tabs open should aim for that number. While the SSD on a laptop stores your data, the system memory (or RAM) on the laptop works with the CPU to run apps and determines its multitasking capability. Basic productivity apps will work fine with 8GB of RAM, but you’ll want to set up a midrange laptop with 16GB of RAM to ensure that tomorrow’s more advanced apps will have enough memory. Modern web browsers are memory hogs when it comes to loading multimedia-rich websites and web apps.

Chromebooks are the same way—while Chrome OS is designed to use less computing resources than Windows, if you’re prone to memory-intensive tasks like browsing with dozens of tabs open at once, 4GB may be insufficient. A budget Windows 10 system with only 4GB of memory, on the other hand, will be sluggish when multitasking and is generally indicative of a bare-bones configuration. Most people who aren’t professional or prosumer content creators won’t see much of a benefit from memory sizes greater than 16GB.

What Kind of Connectivity Do I Need?

You’ll use the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections that almost every laptop has in this case. You may never need to plug in anything other than the power cord if you plan to use your laptop’s touchpad, touch screen, and keyboard as your primary means of control.

802.11ax (also known as “Wi-Fi Plus”) is the most recent Wi-Fi standard.Wi-Fi 6However, for mainstream and budget systems, the older 802.11ac will suffice. If at all possible, avoid the older 802.11b/g/n standards, which are still available on some budget machines, as they can result in slower throughput and less reliable connections. ”), and is a good feature to look for in a premium machine in the future to ensure the fastest Wi-Fi connectivity.

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Others come with neither, requiring you to add wired Ethernet via a dongle if you want it. It will give you more precise control over whether your internet connection prioritizes wired or wireless gaming traffic. A dedicated Ethernet jack is also useful for business users and gamers. Most gaming machines will have one, and some gamers insist that for competitive online gaming, wired Ethernet is still the only way to go. Some laptops have Ethernet as a full-size or fold-out jack, while others may include an adapter that routes Ethernet through a USB port in the box. A machine with a Killer Networks setup may be preferable for serious gamers.

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You’ll want to pay attention to the type and quantity of USB ports if you have an external storage device like a thumb drive. In terms of other physical connections, you’ll want to carefully examine the edges of a laptop and keep track of how many there are. Look for laptops with both USB Type-A and Type-C ports. Type-C portsThe Type-A connector has been around for decades, whereas the Type-C connector is smaller, oval-shaped, and sometimes doubles as a receptacle for the laptop’s charging cable. ..

Some ultra-thin designs, on the other hand, only have Type-C ports, requiring dongles to connect any Type-A peripherals you may already have. Budget laptops may only have Type-A ports, which is a disadvantage in a world where Type-C is becoming increasingly common.

To use these, you’ll need a special cable, which may or may not be included in the box. To save space, video outputs on laptops are sometimes implemented as micro HDMI or mini DisplayPort connectors. If video output is important to you, look for a dedicated port such as an HDMI connector, particularly if you plan to connect your laptop to a TV, desktop monitor, or a lecture hall A/V system.

Make sure the notch type corresponds to the type of cable you plan to use to tether the machine to a stationary object. A security notch for fastening a physical locking cable is also very useful if you plan to use your laptop in a public, unsecured location. The Kensington-cable style and the Noble-lock style are the two types. A built-in SD or microSD card reader will make image uploading much easier for photographers.

How Much Battery Life Is Enough?

There are a few exceptions, and even powerful laptops have learned to detect when their full power isn’t needed and reduce the consumption of various components. When you’re playing demanding games that put a strain on the GPU, gaming laptops tend to run out of juice even faster than usual. There are some exceptions: a laptop with a 4K display and a powerful CPU will probably only last 8 hours or so before the battery dies, and most gaming laptops will die much sooner. Even when used for demanding but common activities like streaming internet video, many laptops can last an entire day without a power outlet.

We assess the situation. PC Labs’ battery testing comes in handy here. battery lifeby continuously playing a locally stored video file with no wireless connections active and a screen brightness of 50%. An excellent score on our test indicates that the laptop is capable of adapting its power consumption to the task at hand, and you can use the results to compare the capabilities of different machines.

However, because battery life is entirely dependent on how you use your laptop, measuring it is notoriously difficult. As a result, you’ll want to consider battery life in relative terms rather than absolute terms. Your usage profile is unlikely to match ours—or anyone else’s—exactly.

Should I Consider a Refurbished Laptop?

A small discount on a thoroughly tested MacBook Pro that Apple sells with the same warranty as a new one could be worthwhile, whereas a laptop refurbished by a third party you’ve never heard of could be risky. For refurbishing previously used laptops, each manufacturer and reseller has their own set of guidelines. Any refurbished machine should be purchased directly from the manufacturer’s online store rather than from a reseller, especially one that sells refurbs from “marketplace” sellers or third parties on its platform.

You might be pleasantly surprised, but a refurbished-laptop deal that appears too good to be true usually is. We’re wary of machines graded this way, and if you’re going to take a chance, make sure there’s a no-questions-asked return policy. The grade is usually determined by the reseller, so it can differ from seller to seller. (It’s a good idea to find out who did the refurbishing—the manufacturer or the reseller.) However, there isn’t a universal grading system for refurbished computers. Some of these resellers or their third-party vendors will assign a grade to their refurbished inventory. We’ve seen refurbished laptops sold with grades ranging from A to B+, B to C, and so on, to reflect the machine’s relative wear and tear.

If you’re in the market for a new laptop for yourself and your children, you might want to consider tuning up your current PC and buying a new one for yourself. What is almost universally true is that with a little tech know-how, you can make good use of your old laptops.

Should I Get a Longer Laptop Warranty?

Most laptop manufacturers provide a one-year parts and labor warranty. (Many Mastercard accounts, for example, include a one-year extension of the standard warranty period.) Fortunately, your credit card company will most likely cover such mishaps for a limited time after you purchase a new product, and it may also extend the manufacturer’s warranty. Accidents resulting from spilling a drink on the keyboard or dropping the system on the sidewalk are not covered by these standard plans. For more information, consult your account benefits guide.

Extended warranties and coverage for accidental damage are available from Apple, Dell, HP, and Lenovo. These options will set you back between $100 and $300. If your credit card company does not provide coverage, some laptop manufacturers will gladly sell you an extended warranty. If a warranty costs more than 15% of the laptop’s purchase price, we recommend investing the money in backup drives or services that reduce downtime.

There are times when the logic board or display—two of the most expensive parts of a laptop—fail, and while such a disaster is rare, it can cost you half of the laptop’s value in repair costs. You can’t put a price on peace of mind, of course.

Where to Go From Here?

It takes a lot of patience to shop for a laptop. Our top picks are updated on a regular basis, and our current favorites are listed below. Because of the ultra-competitive nature of the market, even if you have specific requirements, you can almost certainly find a handful of excellent models to meet them, as well as a handful of perfectly serviceable but uninspiring models. We hope that now that you know what to look for, separating the good from the bad will be much easier.