With the wide variety of laptops available on the market today, choosing the right one to meet your needs can be a confusing process. Laptops range broadly in performance and storage space from basic models for browsing the web and ordinary work tasks to high-performance machines for gaming and video editing.
No one wants to end up with a laptop that’s too slow to meet their needs or overspend for a high-end laptop with features they’ll never use. This guide will help you identify what you need out of a laptop while reviewing some of the top models for work, school, photo and video editing, and hardcore gaming.
– Best Overall: MacBook Air
– Best Cheap: Acer Swift 3
– Best for Gaming: Razer Blade Pro 17
– Best for College: Lenovo Yoga 7i 2-in-1 Laptop
– Best for Video Editing: MacBook Pro
– Best 2-in-1: HP Spectre x360 Convertible 2-in-1 Laptop
How We Picked the Best Laptops
I considered a broad range of criteria when making my selections for the best laptops of 2021, including the all-crucial performance and value. With that in mind, I chose models that accomplish their intended tasks, from simply work functions to gaming settings. I also considered screen size as it related to the laptop’s intended use. While a 13-inch laptop was adequate for general work and school use, video and photo editing demand a larger display.
Battery life is key when it comes to a laptop, so I limited my selections to those that could operate for long periods without access to an electrical outlet. Other factors also played into my decisions including screen brightness (since laptops sometimes operate outside under bright sun) and weight, as laptops are designed to be portable machines.
Best Laptop Overall: MacBook Air
Why It Made The Cut: With its switch to the Apple M1 microchip, the Air is faster than ever and offers tremendous battery life.
– Processor: Apple M1
– Memory: 256 GB
– Display Size: 13 inches
– Weight: 2.8 pounds
– 18-hour battery life
– Easy to transport
– Uses a scissor keyboard
– Expensive, especially if you need more storage
The MacBook Air was already great, but Apple’s decision to move it to the M1 chip makes it hands down the best laptop you can buy. The Air’s latest incarnation, which debuted in 2020, is notable because it presents a departure for the Air, which has used the Intel CPU since it debuted back in 2008. This 2020 model uses Apple’s M1 processor, giving the Air three times the performance of the latest Intel chip.
In short, the M1 is fast and more efficient, which translates into significantly longer battery life. The M1 Air allows you to browse the Web for up to 15 hours or playback video for 18 hours on a single charge, roughly twice what the Mac Air with an Intel chip allows you to do.
The switch to the M1 isn’t the only change for the Air—Apple switched the Air to the more responsive scissor-switch keyboard that the Pro uses. And with its 13-inch display, the Air isn’t as big as other laptops, but it makes up for that in portability. It continues to be one of the lighter models on the market at just 2.8 pounds with a svelte 0.5-inch thick physique.
While the Air may be more expensive than other models, it’s still a great deal at under $1,000. You can also upgrade to 512 gigabytes of storage for $1,249 or bring the Air up to 16 gigabytes of memory and 2 terabytes of storage for $2,049.
Best Cheap Laptop: Acer Swift 3
Why It Made The Cut: Acer’s Swift 3 has comparable performance to other laptops at a significantly lower price making it the best cheap laptop.
– Processor: 2 Ghz AMD Ryzen 7 4700U
– Display Size: 14 inches
– Memory: 8GB
– Weight: 2.7 pounds
– Excellent performance at an affordable price
– Large trackpad
– Lightweight of just 2.7 pounds.
– Tough aluminum construction.
– Resolution and brightness are not as high as other laptops
The first thing you need to know about the Acer Swift 3, aside from the fact that it has a low price tag, is that it runs on AMD’s Ryzen 4700U mobile processor. The second thing you need to know is that AMD chips are faster than their better-known Intel rivals. This translates into a laptop that gives you similar performance to higher-end laptops at a budget price.
In addition to being…well..swift, the Swift 3 also has a few other things going for it. It weighs just 2.7 pounds, which makes it one of the lighter laptops on the market, especially given its 14-inch screen. Its aluminum-magnesium body is stout enough to hold up to the bumps and jolts that invariably happen while transporting a laptop. The Swift 3 is also Wi-Fi 6 capable, which makes it ready for the next generation of WiFi technology.
Though its battery life isn’t as high as other laptops, it’s still a respectable 8 to 10 hours, and it can be charged quickly via its USB-C port.
Although its display isn’t as bright and lacks the resolution that other laptops offer, the Swift 3 offers comparable performance to other laptops at a price that’s very hard to beat.
Best Gaming Laptop: Razer Blade Pro 17
Why It Made The Cut: An eight-core Intel chip coupled with Nvidia’s premier graphics card puts this laptop at the top of all gaming laptops.
– Processor: Intel Core i7-10875H
– Display Size: 17 inches
– Memory: 512 GB
– Weight: 6 pounds
– Lightning-fast processing speed and frame refresh rate
– Large display ideal for gaming
– Customizable RGB keyboard
– Heavy at about 6 pounds
– Very expensive
It’s one of the more expensive laptops you can buy, but for serious gamers who like a computer they can take with them on the road, the Razer Blade Pro 17 is a must-have. This laptop marries Intel’s 10th generation of Core processors (the Core i7 or Core i9, depending on what set-up you choose) with Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 2080 Super graphics card and a 120 Hz Ultra HD display. That translates to a laptop that offers serious performance for gaming.
With all that power under the hood, you might expect the Razer to be a bit bulky. While its 17-inch display (a must for gaming) makes it bigger and heavier than other laptops (it weighs about 6 pounds), the aptly named Razer Blade Pro 17 is just 0.8 inches thick, making it very portable.
In addition to its raw processing power, there are more features to like on this laptop, including a RGB keyboard that allows you to customize the backlighting color of each key. While this may seem a little pointless to the average laptop user, it’s a vital feature for gamers who like to color-code the keyboard controls for specific games.
With its high-performance processors and high-quality screen, this may be the best gaming laptop on the market for those who are willing to pay its high price tag.
Best Laptop for College: Lenovo Yoga 7i 2-in-1 Laptop
Why It Made The Cut: This laptop is affordably priced for college students and is versatile enough to function as a workstation or entertainment center making it our choice for the best laptop for college.
– Processor: Intel Core i5-1135G7 Quad Core Processor
– Display: 15.6 inches
– Memory: 256 GB
– Weight: 4.18 pounds
– Can convert to a tablet
– Long battery life
– Lightweight for easy transport
– Small storage capacity of just 256GB
The Yoga 9i may not have the fast processing speeds and frame recovery rates of more expensive laptops, but its durable construction, responsive keyboard, and ample battery life make it ideal for students who work in various locations around campus.
The line of Yoga laptops gets its name from its ability to fold back on itself, allowing it to stand in an A-shape, fold flat, or rest on its keyboard. This allows it to function as a laptop computer for work, tablet for browsing the Web, or entertainment center for viewing a video. Its 15.6-inch touchscreen with Intel Iris Xe graphics offers excellent resolution for all three activities. Its diverse collection of ports, which include two USB-C Thunderbolt ports, a standard USB port, and an aux port for earbuds, add to its versatility.
In addition to its 2-in-1 functions, the Yoga 7i gets an average of seven hours of use on a single charge, eliminating the need to hunt for an available outlet in the library, or dorm common area. The Yoga 7i also includes useful security features, including a webcam shutter for privacy and a fingerprint reader for security.
Best Laptop for Video Editing: MacBook Pro
Why It Made The Cut: This model is the best laptop for video editing because it has the best processor for handling the intense demands of video and photo editing.
– Processor: Apple M1 Pro
– Display: 16 inches
– Memory: 512 GB
– Weight: 4.7 pounds
– Liquid retina display
– Large display is ideal for working with video
– Surprisingly good sound quality from large speakers
– One of the higher-priced laptops on the market
– Bulkier than other laptops
The Macbook Pro’s huge display coupled with a beast of a processing system that benefits from Apple’s heating-reducing technology makes the 16-inch version of the MacBook Pro ideal for video editing.
With the 16-inch version of the Pro, Mac has remedied the heat sink problems of the 15-inch model by adding a larger fan. While this makes the 16-inch Pro slightly thicker than the 15-inch model, this design is ideal for hefty video editing tasks that would quickly heat up (and slow down) lesser laptops. Plus, the larger body and screen doesn’t make for a much heavier laptop. At just under 5 pounds, the MacBook Pro 16-inch weighs slightly more than the 4-pound 15-inch version.
In addition to managing the Pro’s heat issue, Apple has also fixed the keyboard problems that dogged the previous iteration of the Pro, doing away with the much-maligned butterfly keyboard in favor of the reliable scissor keyboard. Other features that will attract video editors include the large speakers that run alongside the keyboard, giving the 16-inch Pro sound quality that’s similar to a Bluetooth speaker.
While the MacBook Pro comes at a premium price, especially if you upgrade to its higher memory capacity options, its high-performance processor coupled with a large 16-inch screen and exceptional speakers make it the ideal choice for video editing.
Best 2-in-1 Laptop: HP Spectre x360 Convertible 2-in-1 Laptop
Why It Made The Cut: Its quick performance and intuitive design features, such as a 3:2 display, make it well-suited for use as a tablet or laptop.
– Processor: Intel Core i5
– Display: 13.3 inches
– Memory: 256 GB
– Weight: 2.86 pounds
– 4K touchscreen ideal for tablet use
– Weighs less than 3 pounds, making it easy to tote around
– 16:9 aspect ratio
With its well-designed display and surprisingly quick performance, the Spectre x360 is the best 2 in 1 laptop for those looking for the touch screen ability of an iPad with the keyboard functionality of a laptop. The first thing to note about this 2-in-1 laptop is its size — the Spectre is notably smaller than other similarly priced laptops with its 13.3-inch touchscreen, but it overcomes this smaller size by going with a 3840 x 2160 resolution.
The Spectre’s higher price corresponds to its high performance, thanks to its Core i5 processor and 8 GB of memory. While the aspect ratio doesn’t lend itself to watching movies, it does make the Spectre more tablet-like when folding it flat and using its touchscreen for navigating with a finger or a pen. Plus, it’s lightweight for easy transport, and with a battery life of up to 10 hours, it’s an ideal choice for those looking for a true laptop/tablet combo.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Laptop
You should know what you plan on using the laptop for before you start shopping. Someone using a laptop for basic work tasks, online banking, Web browsing, casual gaming, and streaming the occasional video or movie can get by with a smaller 14-inch screen, slower processor, and 256 GB of memory. But those planning to use their laptop for heavy-duty video editing or hardcore gaming should consider laptops with 15- or 16-inch screens that offer advanced graphics cards, faster processors, and 500 GB or even 1 TB of storage.
Laptops are designed to be portable, allowing you to use them in a coffee shop, on a train, or in a library, as well as at home. For that to be possible, they need to operate for an extended period on their battery alone. With today’s efficient processors and powerful batteries, you should look for a laptop that can get between 7 and 18 hours of life on a single battery charge.
Weight and Size
Just as battery life is crucial to a laptop’s portability, so too is its size and weight. While a laptop’s length and width are generally determined by its screen size — a 16-inch laptop is wider and longer than a 13-inch laptop — thickness varies. While most laptops are around 0.7 inches thick, there are models that are under 0.5 inches thick. In terms of weight, laptops can vary dramatically. Most laptops hover around 4 pounds. Larger laptops with faster processors are generally heavier, weighing as much as 6 pounds while the lightest laptops weigh just under 3 pounds.
Q: Should I get a 4K screen on my laptop?
You can get a 4K screen for your laptop, but most of the time it isn’t necessary. Most laptops come with a 1080p screen, which has 1920 x 1080 pixels. In comparison, a 4K screen is 3840 x 2160 pixels. While this difference may seem large, it’s only noticeable on larger displays. A 4K screen on a 13-inch laptop probably isn’t worth it. However, once you get to 16 inches and over, you’ll want to consider a 4K screen, especially if you’re using the laptop for gaming or watching movies (though it certainly isn’t required).
Q: Should I Consider a Refurbished Laptop?
A refurbished laptop can be discounted by as much as 25 percent off its original price, so it certainly makes sense to consider one if you’re on a budget. Refurbished laptops typically come in “like-new” condition since they go through a significant amount of testing and reconditioning and come equipped with the latest operating systems. When purchasing a refurbished laptop, make sure to stick with established manufacturers like Dell and HP who are willing to put their names behind these recycled computers.
Q: How much storage and memory do I need?
For most users, around 250 GB is enough storage. Those who plan on storing entire movies or work with a lot of video files should consider upgrading to 500 GBs or even 1 TB if they are storing large amounts of video. Memory determines how fast your computer can process data, which in turn determines how fast your programs will run. About 4 to 6 GB is enough for basic web browsing and working with word processor documents. Laptops with 8 GB of storage are ideal for casual gaming and video watching. For higher-end multimedia and gaming, consider upgrading to 16 GB.
Q: How much do I need to spend?
How much you need to spend on a laptop is dependent on what you plan to do with it. If you’re using a laptop mainly to browse the Web, work on a word processor such as Google Drive, and maybe some light gaming then you don’t need the large display and lightning-fast processors high-end laptops offer. Plan to spend $600 to $800 on a laptop. For tasks that require a faster processor and more memory, such as editing photos and videos or streaming video, expect to spend $1,000 to $1,500. For serious gaming that requires a fast processor and a display with a high frame rate, you’ll spend $2,500 or more.
Q: Which operating system should I get?
Windows is by far the most commonly used operating system on PCs — you’ll find it on lower-end laptops as well as mid-tier and high-end models. It works with a broad range of software and is more user-friendly than operating systems like Linux. It also happens to be the target of all kinds of different malware, making it less secure than other operating systems. MacOS has exceptional software offerings for creative professionals but a more limited selection of software than Windows. Mac updates its operating systems frequently and doesn’t charge for new versions. It’s also less susceptible to malware. The downside is you’ll have to pay more for MacOS as Apple’s cheapest laptop comes in at $1,000
Q: Which Laptop CPU Do I Need?
The CPU you need depends on what you plan to do with it. If you’re purchasing a Mac, then your choice is already made for you, as Apple began replacing the Intel chips in its computer with its own M1 chip at the end of 2020. For other laptop brands, you have a choice between AMD and Intel chips (with the exception of the Chromebook, which uses ARM chips). Both companies offer chips with similar performance, though AMD tends to have the advantage when it comes to gaming. With both chips essentially on par, you can move beyond the CPU and look at other features, such as screen size, memory, and weight, when making your decision.
Final Thoughts on the Best Laptop
When purchasing a laptop it’s crucial to consider how you plan to use it to ensure you get enough performance out of the laptop without spending more than what you need. With a powerful M1 chip that gives it a fast processing speed and ample battery life, the lightweight MacBook Air is one of the best all-around laptops you can buy. Those in the market for a more affordable laptop that still offers impressive performance should consider the Acer Swift 3.
This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.
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