Best laptop buyer's guide

Need a new laptop but haven't quite kept up with all the latest product releases? Well, we've got you covered - this guide profiles our top 10 picks on the market today in a variety of categories, from basic home use to work on the go to pro-level gaming.

For Fall 2020, the laptop market is more dynamic than ever, with new models coming out at an incredible pace. And the main driver here is that Intel and AMD are vying for dominance in the laptop processor market like never before, which means consumers win with every new CPU released. And that's why you need this guide - so you don't get stuck with last year's also-ran!!! There truly is a great laptop for everyone on this list, but that doesn't mean everyone needs the same thing. That's why we have budget choices for families and students, ultra-light choices for serious travelers, 2-in-1 choices for those who need tablet functionality, and of course, gaming laptops.

Now, let's make something very clear: we've drawn a firm line on minimum specs to make sure our readers enjoy their new laptops for years to come. In short, while there are plenty of Windows laptops being peddled by the biggest manufacturers with 4GB of RAM or a mechanical hard drive, they're complete junk, period. Don't touch them. You will have a bad user experience, and we don't want that to happen! The one exception we make in terms of the RAM limit is for Chromebooks, which work fine on 4GB given their simpler operating system.

As noted, Intel and AMD are now competing hard for the attention of laptop buyers, and we've incorporated the best from both companies in our selections. Notably, Intel has had to work overtime to keep up with a resurgent AMD, releasing multiple laptop CPU lines in quick succession. So you have both Core-10xxx chips and Core-10xxGx chips being sold simultaneously. That's confusing, but our guide picks the best laptops at each pricepoint, so you don't have to worry about exactly which generation of CPU they are using.

As always, to help support continued development of this guide, please use the links we provide!

Laptops - Fall 2020

Home/Small Office

  • The Basic Home Laptop:

    HP Chromebook X360

    Chromebooks have taken on a huge new life as so many people find themselves (and their kids) at home, and they are truly the perfect tool for at-home learning. The one concern we have is that they've become so popular that they often sell for more than much more powerful Windows-based PCs. So you have to shop carefully and cautiously so you don't get trapped in the frenzy, because there's a lot of junk out there! One Chromebook that is definitely not junk is the HP x360, which is far and away the best Chromebook you can buy for a reasonable price. It has a feature that is simply critical from our point of view: a touchscreen. We simply can't believe so many Chromebooks are sold without one given the OS they are running comes from a smartphone! Also onboard are an Intel Celeron N4000 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 32GB solid-state drive.

    The Guru's Tip:

    You also get full 360-degree flip functionality with this Chromebook, another reason it is head-and-shoulders above all the similarly-priced competition!

  • The Budget Laptop:

    Lenovo IdeaPad 3 14"

    Powering this great family PC is the AMD Ryzen 5 3500U quad-core processor with boost to 3.7GHz, which is more than powerful enough for any typical home computing task. Most importantly, unlike any other laptop under $500, it comes equipped with both a full 8GB of RAM (which we now consider the minimum for modern PCs), along with a 256GB solid-state drive (an SSD is another absolute requirement). It also features a big, high-resolution 14" 1920 x 1080 display, and yet still comes in at a back-friendly 3.3 pounds. Wow, this is a serious winner!

    The Guru's Tip:

    If you buy an alternative sub-$500 laptop equipped with a "big" 1TB hard drive and 4GB of RAM, prepare to be sorely disappointed in the fact that it performs like it's already 10 years old! We're shocked that Microsoft even allows its Windows 10 operating system to be marketed on laptops with 4GB of RAM, because it really can't run with so little RAM.

  • The Budget Ultra-Mobile Laptop:

    Acer Swift 3 SF314-42-R9YN

    Acer is among the first manufacturers out the door with a laptop sporting AMD's new Ryzen 7 4700U, an eight-core wonder that boosts up to 4.1GHz. It truly brings new levels of performance to the mid-range laptop market. Also on board are 8GB of RAM, a 512GB NVMe solid-state drive, and a 14" 1080p screen. It even packs in next-gen 802.11ax (WiFi 6) wireless networking, plus the latest Bluetooth, and the all-important HD webcam. Other nice features include a backlit keyboard and a USB Type-C port for both charging and video connections.

    The Guru's Tip:

    At just 0.63" thin and 2.65 pounds, this laptop is incredibly portable, and yet still offers up to 11.5 hours of battery life.

  • The Multimedia Laptop:

    Dell Inspiron 14 5400 2in1

    If you want the ultimate multimedia laptop, you want the Dell Inspiron 14 5400 2-in-1. It weighs in at just 3.5lb, and comes equipped with Intel's Core i5-1035G1, a quad-core processor that boosts up to 3.6GHz. Also onboard are a huge 12GB of RAM, a quick 256 GB solid-state drive, and a 14" 1920 x 1080 IPS touchscreen display, which you can flip into tablet mode!

    The Guru's Tip:

    2-in-1 touchscreen laptops are particularly good for interacting with video content, including Zoom video conferencing!

  • The Mainstream Ultralight:

    Asus ZenBook UX333FAC-XS77

    If you simply want the lightest, most powerful laptop you can buy for under $1000, you want the Zenbook from Asus, which is the gold standard for well-designed, well-priced ultra-lights. Coming in at an astounding 2.6lb and 0.6" thick, it still manages to pack in a powerful Intel Core i7-10510U quad-core processor with Turbo Boost to 4.9GHz, a 13.3" 1920x1080 screen, 16GB of DDR4 memory, and a big 512GB PCIe-based solid-state drive.

    The Guru's Tip:

    This model also has the unique Asus "Numberpad", which displays on the touchpad to extend your productivity potential!

  • The Extreme Ultra-Light:

    LG Gram 14Z90N (2020)

    If the Asus Zenbook is the gold standard for ultra-lights, the LG Gram is the gold standard for super-ultra lights, and it's what we personally use here at TBG for our business travel! While the rest of the PC industry plods on with 2.5-3lb. laptops, LG has been blazing a trail with its Gram line of sub-1kg laptops. The latest LG Gram 14 offers a 14" 1080p screen plus Intel's Core i7-1065G7 quad-core CPU with Turbo up to 3.9GHz, which is faster than "non-G" Intel CPUs despite a lower clockspeed - yes, we know that's confusing, that's why we're telling you about it! Also on board are 16GB of RAM, a 512GB NVMe solid-state drive, and an absolutely-massive 72Wh battery that provides up to 18.5 hours of battery life. All this and the Gram is just 2.2 pounds, which is mind-blowing given its awesome specs. Don't think it's worth paying more to drop nearly a pound in weight versus competing touchscreen laptops? You'll think again once you tote this featherweight laptop on your shoulder during a day of traveling!

    The Guru's Tip:

    A few other notable features that make the Gram the perfect travel companion: a backlit keyboard, a microSD card memory slot, a full-size HDMI port, two full-size USB 3.0 Type-A ports plus a USB Type-C port. And that Type-C port even has Thunderbolt 3 enabled for truly next-gen connectivity options!

  • The Ultimate Productivity Machine:

    MSI Creator 15 A10SEV-001 4K

    OK, let's say you want it all: a device that looks as good as it works. Then step right up to the Creator from MSI. It comes completely loaded, and there's simply nothing that can compare in terms of value and functionality. You get a 15.6" 3840x2160 (4K) screen, the incredible Intel Core i7-10875H eight-core, 16-thread processor that boosts all the way up to 5.1GHz, along with a full 32GB RAM and a 1TB PCIe solid-state drive. This is a serious productivity powerhouse!

    The Guru's Tip:

    Also on board: cutting-edge features like Thunderbolt 3 (2 ports), WiFi 6, and a GeForce RTX 2060 video card that gives a massive boost to various content creator applications!

Gaming

  • The Midrange Gaming Laptop:

    Acer Predator Helios 300 PH315-53-72XD

    Offering up amazing specs for the price, the latest Predator from Acer offers up an Intel Core i7-10750H 6-Core CPU with boost to 5GHz, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 6GB GPU, an impressive 16GB of RAM, a 512GB PCIe-based solid-state drive, and a big 15.6" 1920 x 1080 IPS display with an ultra-fast 144Hz Refresh Rate.

    The Guru's Tip:

    This model's 512GB SSD will be great if you just run a few games, but if you really want to load up on the latest titles, you'll need more space. Luckily, this system has two M.2 slots for SSDs, and if you you want to upgrade, we recommend you pick up an XPG SX8200 Pro 1TB, which will allow you to store a nearly unlimited number of games and boot them instantly!

  • The Premium Gaming Laptop:

    ASUS ROG Strix G15

    Just a year ago, it would have been a dream to find a gaming laptop with these specs under $1,500, now it's a reality. The Strix by Asus features Intel's awesome Core i7-10750H 6-Core processor, which boosts up to 5GHz. You also get Nvidia's excellent GeForce RTX 2070 8GB video card, 16GB of RAM, a big 1TB PCIe-based solid-state drive, and an awesome 15.6" 1080p screen with an ultra-fast refresh rate of 240Hz!

    The Guru's Tip:

    To keep your online gaming smooth, this laptop has 802.11ax (WiFi 6) wireless networking built in.

  • The Ultimate Gaming Laptop:

    ASUS ROG Zephyrus Duo

    Absolute insanity, that's what this laptop is! Asus unleashes a beast with the ROG Zephyrus Duo, which packs in a Core i9-10980HK 8-core CPU with Turbo to 5.3GHz (seriously?!?), an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super 8GB, 32GB of RAM, and a 2TB solid-state RAID drive. For the display, you get a big 15.6" 4K display plus a secondary 3840x1100 display below it for the ultimate in multi-tasking, gaming streaming, and content creation!

    The Guru's Tip:

    All this and the laptop is just 5.5 pounds, which just a few years ago would have qualified it as a lightweight!

  1. The Basic Home Laptop HP Chromebook X360 ($380.00)
  2. The Budget Laptop Lenovo IdeaPad 3 14" ($450.00)
  3. The Budget Ultra-Mobile Laptop Acer Swift 3 SF314-42-R9YN ($673.00)
  4. The Multimedia Laptop Dell Inspiron 14 5400 2in1 ($725.00)
  5. The Mainstream Ultralight Asus ZenBook UX333FAC-XS77 ($999.00)
  6. The Extreme Ultra-Light LG Gram 14Z90N (2020) ($1350.00)
  7. The Ultimate Productivity Machine MSI Creator 15 A10SEV-001 4K ($1999.00)
  8. The Midrange Gaming Laptop Acer Predator Helios 300 PH315-53-72XD ($1183.00)
  9. The Premium Gaming Laptop ASUS ROG Strix G15 ($1500.00)
  10. The Ultimate Gaming Laptop ASUS ROG Zephyrus Duo ($3500.00)