Best laptop for 2021: Dell, HP, Microsoft, Apple, Acer, Lenovo and more

If, like many of us, you’re working from home or doing remote learning, this list can help you find the perfect new laptop to meet your needs. Whether you’re looking for a laptop for work, school, gaming or entertainment, you’ll find our top picks from the best laptop brands on the market: Apple, Dell, HP, Microsoft, Lenovo, Acer, Asus and more. 

We review a lot of laptops, so obviously not all of them are on this list. You can also read our recommendations for the best gaming laptops15-inch laptopstwo-in-one and Chromebooks, as well as the best laptop for college students, the best laptop for creatives and the best MacBook Pro alternatives for the Windows set. Plus, if you just want pure power or a long battery life, our rankings of performance and battery life are for you. Need to stay as low as possible on the price of a new laptop computer? Check out our picks for budget laptops and budget gaming laptops or see all of CNET’s laptop reviews. This list was originally published last year and updated periodically.

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The Dell XPS 13 is a perennial favorite for its size, weight and performance and just overall good looks. In 2020, Dell made the laptop even smaller, while making the laptop screen larger and increasing performance for both CPU and graphics-intensive tasks. It’s not a huge leap, but this Dell XPS is still the best in the category. And for those who want the latest and greatest Intel processors, the Dell XPS 13, as well as the company’s XPS 13 2-in-1 (also a great pick), are available with the chip-maker’s 11th-gen Core processors. 

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The Asus ZenBook 13 is a stylish but not showy 13.3-inch ultraportable with the perfect footprint for squeezing onto a tiny table. You’ll get 12-plus hours of battery life depending on your configuration — it’s available with 10th- or 11th-gen Intel processors — and plenty of performance to make quick work of daily office or school tasks. Plus, like many of Asus’ laptops, the ZenBook adds a few gadgety extras to hopefully make your life easier while you’re out and about.

Read our Asus ZenBook 13 review.

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The HP Envy x360 13 is a great pick for an older high school or college student or anyone looking for a small, stylish two-in-one to travel with. This HP laptop is light at just less than 3 pounds (1.3 kg) and battery life is long despite the size. It’s also available with a choice of AMD Ryzen 5-4500U or Intel 11th-gen Core processors. Essentially, you’re getting a speedy little two-in-one that’s ready for working from home or remote learning but is also ready for your backpack. 

Read our HP Envy x360 13 (2020) review.

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The combination of the larger MacBook Pro’s hardware and MacOS extracts the maximum performance from the components while delivering class-leading battery life in a way the Windows operating system never seems to do, and the high-resolution display screen remains terrific. Plus, this powerful laptop model’s keyboard uses scissor-style switches under the keycaps, rather than the much-derided butterfly-style switch. You pay for it, though — base price for the 16-inch model of this premium laptop is $2,399. 

Read our Apple MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2019) review.

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Although it’s not the Surface Laptop, the Surface Pro continues to hit all the right notes if you’re looking for a do-it-all Windows tablet that doubles as a Windows laptop. This powerful Surface laptop features the 10th gen Intel processor, fast Wi-Fi 6 wireless and long-lasting battery life. This Surface laptop is also the first to feature an honest-to-goodness USB-C port.

Read our Microsoft Surface Pro 7 review.

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This is our go-to recommendation for those in search of a MacOS laptop for everyday basic use. The MacBook Air was updated in the first half of 2020 with new Intel processors and, most importantly, a new keyboard. However, in November, Apple announced its new homegrown M1 processors would be replacing Intel’s CPUs in the Air. Using Apple’s M1, the company promises an operating system with better performance and longer battery life — up to 18 hours. The Intel-based models will still be around, though, and regardless of which chip is running the Air, you’re getting a great little Mac laptop starting at $999. 

Read more about the new M1-based MacBook Air.

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A remarkable deal for simple tasks like email, word processing and much more, thanks to the new AMD Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 7 processors. This budget laptop has a backlit keyboard, a fingerprint reader and a USB Type-C port, too. The Acer Swift 3 is also an incredibly lightweight laptop — less than 3 pounds — for a machine that can be found for less than $700.  

In addition to this Acer Swift, we’re also fans of the Acer Aspire 5, which has a larger 15.6-inch display. The Acer Aspire 5 is available in a variety of configurations starting as low as $400, but can go up to $830 if you want entry-level discrete graphics for basic gaming and content creation.  

Read our Acer Swift 3 (14-inch, 2020) review.

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This is essentially a Chrome version of the first Microsoft Surface Go. Like the Go, the Chromebook Duet is a 10-inch tablet with a detachable keyboard and touch screen. Unlike Microsoft, though, Lenovo includes the keyboard. This Chrome OS laptop also costs much less than the Go (including the new Go 2), with laptop deals starting at $279 for a 64GB version or $299 for one with 128GB of storage. It’s essentially a smaller, albeit less powerful, Pixel Slate that makes more sense for more people with a price that’s more in line with what people expect a Chromebook to cost.    

The Chromebook Duet does have a small screen, however, so if you’re regularly using it at a desk, we recommend attaching an external monitor to its USB-C port. You’ll probably want to connect a wireless keyboard and mouse, too. Or, if you want a more traditional laptop experience rather than tablet mode, the Lenovo Chromebook Flex 5 is worth searching out. 

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Dell’s G-series gaming laptops are cheaper than those from its Alienware division, but still capable of playing the latest AAA titles. There are three separate models — the G3, G5 and G7 — available in 15- and 17-inch sizes. The midrange G5 15 hits the mark with an excellent price-to-performance ratio, build quality and design. The newest versions start at $900, including a special-edition model with AMD’s impressive Ryzen 5 4600H processor.

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There are simply no other 17-inch laptops that are this light and also have long battery life. The Gram 17 lasted 13 hours on our streaming video test, beating last year’s model by 47 minutes on the same test. Processor performance is stepped up some from the 2019 version, too, thanks to the addition of a 10th-gen Intel Core i7 processor. This is partnered with more powerful Intel Iris Plus integrated graphics as well, giving you a little extra speed for photo and video editing and casual gaming.

Read our LG Gram 17 (2020) review.

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While Asus and Lenovo have turned out great business laptops this year, this Latitude is our top pick at the moment. Co-engineered with Intel, the 9510 puts a 15-inch display in a 14-inch body but gets more than 20 hours of battery life and has a powerful Core i7 processor with vPro for security and remote management. It’s available with 4G or 5G mobile connectivity and uses AI to learn how you work to give you the best performance regardless of if you’re on battery or plugged in. Plus, it’s available as either a traditional clamshell laptop or a two-in-one. 

Read our Dell Latitude 9510 review.

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Though HP and Dell have excellent premium two-in-one convertible laptops, they have small 13.3- and 13.4-inch displays. If you want a bit more room for your work or entertainment, the 14-inch C940 is a great choice. One of Intel’s Project Athena laptops, the C940 is tuned to be more responsive and for longer battery life. Everything about it is fast. Plus, it’s one of the few that come with a pen, which stores and charges in the body. The C940’s replacement, the Yoga 9i, is now available and not too much has changed aside from its 11th-gen Intel processor. 

Read our Lenovo Yoga C940 (14-inch) review.

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Regularly available for less than $700, this thin, 3-pound convertible is a solid choice for anyone who needs a laptop for office or schoolwork. The all-metal chassis gives it a premium look and feel, and it has a comfortable keyboard and a responsive, smooth precision touchpad. Though it’s light on extra features compared to its premium linemate, the Yoga 9i, it does have one of Lenovo’s sliding shutters for its webcam that gives you privacy when you want it. And it has a long battery life to boot.

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Yes, the best gaming laptop at the moment is the same as our top pick for a MacBook Pro alternative. There is one small exception, though: While we recommend getting this Blade Pro laptop with its 4K-resolution display option for creators, gamers will want to get the display with a 300MHz refresh rate that Razer offers for this model.  

Read our Razer Blade Pro 17 (early 2020) review.

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