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 Spring 2021, 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, 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, AMD has run into serious production shortages because it does not manufacture its own CPUs, while Intel has its own fabrication plants. That means despite its on-paper competitiveness, AMD is way behind in terms of getting its CPUs into laptops.

As always, to help support continued development of this guide, please use the Amazon links we provide, which will auto-convert for readers in Canada, the UK, and parts of the EU, with automatic substitutions made where necessary based on regional variations.

By the way, we've produced a video introducing Intel's new Evo platform, so if you're interested in learning more, definitely check it out!

 

Laptops - Spring 2021

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. Chromebooks are truly the perfect tool for at-home learning. The one concern we have is that they've become so popular that no-name models often sell for more than much more powerful Windows-based PCs. That's why we strongly recommend 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. You even get full 360-degree flip functionality with this Chromebook, another reason it is head-and-shoulders above all the similarly-priced competition!

    The Guru's Tip:

    Fun fact: Chrome OS is now the second most popular operating system in the world, behind Windows 10 and ahead of macOS!

  • The Budget Laptop:

    ASUS F512JA-AS34 VivoBook 15

    Powering this great family PC is the Intel Core i3-1005G1 dual-core processor with boost to 3.4GHz, which is more than powerful enough for any typical home computing task. Most importantly, unlike any other laptop under $400, it comes equipped with both a full 8GB of RAM (which we now consider the minimum for modern PCs), along with a 128GB solid-state drive (an SSD is another absolute requirement). It also features a big, high-resolution 15.6" 1920 x 1080 display, and yet still comes in at a back-friendly 3.75 pounds. Wow, this is a serious winner!

    The Guru's Tip:

    Note that this laptop ships with Windows 10 in "S" mode, which basically means you have to buy all your apps through the Microsoft Store. That restriction can luckily be bypassed in the system setting simply by switching to standard Windows 10 mode.

  • The Perfect Work-from-Home Laptop:

    HP 15-dy2021nr

    If you want the perfect work-from-home laptop at a great price, go with the HP 15. It packs in an Intel Core i5-1135G7 quad-core CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB NVMe solid-state drive (NVMe means fast!), and a 15.6” 1080p screen. And graphics and video conferencing will be super-smooth thanks to the advanced next-gen Intel Xe graphics onboard.

    The Guru's Tip:

    This model comes in at just 3.75lb, a far cry from the heavy bricks of old!

  • The Ultralight Convertible:

    ASUS ZenBook Flip 13

    If you simply want the lightest, most versatile laptop you can buy for under $1000, you want the Zenbook Flip S from Asus. The Zenbook line is the gold standard for well-designed, well-priced ultra-lights. This model packs in a powerful Intel Core i5-1135G7 quad-core processor with Turbo Boost to 4.2GHz and Iris Xe graphics, a 13.3" 1920x1080 OLED touchscreen, 8GB of DDR4 memory, and a 512GB PCIe-based solid-state drive. And it's just 2.87lb despite offering a 360-degree hinge and full table functionality!

    The Guru's Tip:

    This model also has a stylus pen included in the box!

  • The Extreme Ultra-Light:

    LG Gram 14Z90P (2021)

    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" 1920 x 1200 screen for enhanced productivity versus standard 1080p screens, Intel's next-gen Core i5-1135G7 quad-core CPU with Turbo up to 4.2GHz, and Intel's latest Xe graphics chip. Also on board are 8GB of RAM, a 512GB NVMe solid-state drive, and an absolutely-massive 80Wh battery that provides a simply astounding 25.5 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 half pound in weight versus competing 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 dual Thunderbolt 4 Type-C ports for truly next-gen connectivity options!

  • The Ultra-Premium Convertible:

    ASUS ZenBook Flip S Ultra

    Do you want it all? Then go for the Flip S Ultra! It gives you a gorgeous 13.3” 4K OLED touchscreen with 360-degree hinge, an Intel Core i7-1165G7 CPU with built-in Iris Xe graphics, 16GB RAM, a 1TB PCIe solid-state drive, dual Thunderbolt 4 ports, and Windows 10 Pro. Also included is a stylus pen and a numberpad built into the touchpad. And to make sure it stands out in a crowd, Asus has given this model a black finish with red copper diamond-cut edges!

    The Guru's Tip:

    At just 0.55" thin and 2.87 pounds, this laptop is incredibly portable, and yet still offers up to 15 hours of battery life.

Gaming

  • The Budget Gaming Laptop:

    Lenovo Legion 5

    This is the perfect entry point into serious laptop gaming. The Legion 5 features a potent AMD Ryzen 7 4800H 8-core, 16-thread processor, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB solid-state drive, an Nvidia GTX 1660 Ti 6GB video card, and a 15.6" 1920x1080 screen.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Don't be afraid of going with an AMD CPU - the 4800H absolutely decimates anything you would have found from Intel at this pricepoint last year!

  • The Midrange Gaming Laptop:

    Acer Predator Helios 300 PH315-53-71QX @Newegg

    Offering up amazing specs for the price, the Predator Helios 300 line from Acer has defined gaming value for years. This model packs in an Intel Core i7-10750H 6-core, 12-thread CPU, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 8GB Max-Q GPU, an impressive 16GB of RAM, a 512GB PCIe-based solid-state drive, and a 15.6" 1920 x 1080 IPS display with an ultra-fast 240Hz Refresh Rate.

    The Guru's Tip:

    While AMD offers some competitive laptop CPUs, they have sold out worldwide (or were never launched) due to massive production shortages. Luckily, Intel's fabs are still keeping up with demand!

  • The Premium Gaming Laptop:

    MSI GE66 Raider @Newegg

    This system offers up shocking specs for the price, and will put you in gaming nirvana. You get a rip-roaring Intel Core i7-10870H 8-core processor, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 8GB video card, a whopping 32GB of DDR4 RAM, a 1TB PCIe-based solid-state drive, plus a 15.6'' 1080p screen with an awesome 300Hz refresh rate.  

    The Guru's Tip:

    Gaming laptops are starting to become scarce as cryptocurrency miners buy them up to use in lieu of desktop GPUs!

  • The Ultimate Gaming Laptop:

    Gigabyte AERO 15 OLED YC-9US5760SP @Newegg

    Just when you thought a gaming laptop couldn't get any faster, along comes the Gigabyte Aero, featuring Intel's Core i9-10980HK 8-core, 16-thread CPU and the ultra-fast Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 8GB Max-Q video card. You also get a gorgeous 15.6" 4K OLED screen, dual 1TB PCIe-based SSDs in RAID0, and a whopping 64GB of DDR4 RAM.

    The Guru's Tip:

    All this and the laptop weight a mind-blowing 4.4 pounds. A few years ago this would have qualified it as a thin-and-light work laptop!