The best laptops: Premium laptops, budget laptops, 2-in-1s, and more

November 24, 2020 

The best laptops of 2020 are part of a pitched battle between AMD and Intel: Ryzen 4000’s cores vs. Core’s clock speeds.

Most recently, Intel launched its Tiger Lake CPUs for thin-and-light laptops, promising yet again that thanks to flexible clock speeds, and its potent new Iris Xe discrete graphics, it would hammer Ryzen 4000. Or so Intel says. The normally diplomatic company even went so far as to say Ryzen 4000 stinks on battery. Maybe Intel is sore that AMD’s laptop share is increasing.

Check out the latest news and reviews, along with our top picks below. Looking for holiday laptop deals? We have those—and much more, in our Black Friday deal roundups

Best laptops cheat sheet: Our top picks

Latest laptop news and reviews

The laptop innovations keep coming. Here are the latest news and reviews:

  • We review the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 9310 ($1,714 as configured on Dell.com), which is refreshed with Intel's 11th-gen CPUs. Did one of the best laptops out there just get better? It's our top pick now for best convertible. Read our review.
  • The reviews are out on Apple's latest laptops, and you can check our sister site Macworld for their tested of the MacBook Air M1  and the 13-inch MacBook Pro M1. The short answer? MacBooks still haven't caught up to Windows laptops on some key features, and we still think Apple overstepped in claiming the M1 is faster than 98 percent of Windows laptops, but the new M1 SoC is indeed a barn-burner. That makes the MacBook Air M1 our new top pick for best MacBook.
  • Intel just showed off its NUC M15 laptop, putting its tiny Next Unit of Computing into a laptop form factor. It's an interesting peek at what Intel thinks is important, as it hopes other PC vendors will follow its lead. 
    acer nitro 5 an515 44 r99q main Ben Patterson/IDG
    The Acer Nitro 5 is both cheap and good, a budget gaming laptop we’re happy to recommend.
  • If you were around in the 90s you might remember the Gateway PC brand, which fell on hard times. Now owned by Acer, Gateway has returned as a Walmart exclusive, and we review one of its debut units, the poetically named GWTN156-3BK. It delivers decent gaming chops for $999 at Walmart, but it's loud. Read our full review.
  • Bargain alert! Acer’s Nitro 5 budget gaming laptop is surprisingly good for the price. Don’t expect the latest hardware, but do expect great bang for buck—that’s why it’s our new top pick for best budget gaming laptop (replacing itself from a prior generation). Read our full review.

Best thin-and-light laptop

Dell’s XPS 13 7390 proves you can have both performance and light weight in the same laptop. With its 6-core Intel Core i7-10710U CPU, this thin, light machine (available via Dell.com) actually outpaces bigger workhorse models.

Granted, the XPS 13 7390 and its Comet Lake-U CPU are getting a bit old in the tooth. The newer XPS 13 9310 2-in-1, with Intel's 11th-gen Core CPU, suggests that the clamshell XPS 13 with the same chip will likely blow the XPS 13 7390 out of the water. But we've thought long and hard about which XPS 13 is best for you, and the truth is, a lot of people could get good bang for buck on the discounted XPS 13 7390 instead of paying top dollar for the shiniest new thing.

[$1,620 on Dell.com]

Best laptop under $500

If this particular model of the Acer Aspire 5 looks familiar, it’s probably because it’s been sitting atop Amazon’s laptop bestseller list for months. It’s easy to understand why. This AMD Ryzen 3-powered Aspire 5 packs some enticing features for the price, including a Full-HD 15.6-inch display, a slim-and-trim chassis, and solid performance on everyday computing tasks.

That said, a Windows 10 laptop this inexpensive has its compromises. In this case, we’re talking a scant 4GB of RAM and a cramped 128GB solid-state drive, while battery life falls significantly short compared to similar Aspire 5 models that don’t cost much more. Read our full review.

[Currently $410 on Amazon, but prices fluctuate frequently.]

Best 14-inch/15-inch workhorse

The Dell XPS 15 9500, an overdue refresh to the company’s high-end workhorse, arrives just in time for it to be truly considered the “MacBook Pro killer” it’s always aspired to be. Dell gave it a top-to-bottom redesign, including a 16:10 aspect ratio, 15.6-inch panel running 4K+ with HDR400 and Dolby Vision support—and the slenderest of bezels. The result is a stunning all-screen look that is likely to set the style for other laptop makers to emulate. Read our full review.

[$2,254 at Dell.com]

Runner-up

The Lenovo Yoga C940 15 is a workhorse laptop with a few bonus features: a touchscreen that flips around into tablet mode, a built-in stylus for writing or sketching, and—thank heavens—a full-sized USB-A port to complement its two USB-C connections. It even fits in a number pad without cramping its excellent keyboard. While screen backlighting is a bit uneven and audio quality could be better, it’s a solid choice for those who want a luxurious workhorse PC. Read our full review.

[$1,700 at time of review on Bestbuy.com. Other configurations available on Lenovo.com.

Best convertible laptop

Dell’s XPS 13 2-in-1 9310 is mostly an evolutionary update to the XPS 13 7390 2-in-1 we reviewed last year, but with one key change. Thanks to Intel’s 11th gen Core i7-1165G7 chip, gaming is actually conceivable on this sub-three-pound laptop.

Most other things didn’t change, and we have our beefs about the design. But that game-ready performance boost alone makes the XPS 13 2-in-1 special. Read our full review

[$1,714 as tested; available on Dell.com]

Best budget convertible laptop

The Lenovo Yoga C740-15IML (currently $790 on Lenovo.com) is one of the most impressive 2-in-1 laptops we’ve seen in its price range. Weighing in at just three pounds and jammed with nifty features, the slim, sturdily built, Yoga C740 packs in plenty of productivity pep, and it can last the whole day without its AC adapter. A bright, Dolby Vision-enabled display plus Dolby Atmos sound provide plenty of eye and ear candy. A physical camera shutter (which, unfortunately, is a little tough to slide open and closed) and a fingerprint reader help to bolster security.

In a world where high-end laptops no one can afford get all the attention, and budget laptops can be a bucket of compromises, it’s nice to see a mid-priced laptop that has so much going for it. The Lenovo Yoga C740 easily earns our Editor’s Choice award and our top pick for budget convertibles.

[$900 MSRP; $790 as reviewed]

Best 2-in-1 / tablet / hybrid laptop

This category originally started out as the best “Surface” category because, well, for a time, there was nothing like Microsoft’s 2-in-1 / tablet / hybrid device. Competitors picked up the pace, and the Lenovo Miix 520reigned for over a year. No longer.

The Surface Pro 7 represents Microsoft’s return to form, both with an up-to-date 10th-gen “Ice Lake” processor inside, but also a tweaked, modernized design that recognizes that USB-C is the wave of the future. Some legacy ports have disappeared (adios, MiniDisplayPort) but otherwise Microsoft’s tablet retains its traditional light weight and form factor. Sadly, a pen and Signature Type Cover are still extra. Read our full review for more details. 

[$1,499 SRP as reviewed, excluding keyboard and pen; currently $1,199 on Microsoft.comRemove non-product link]

Keep reading for our top picks in gaming laptops and more.

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