The best laptops for gaming and schoolwork

There's never been a better time to be a PC gamer, especially if you’re always on the go. Gaming notebooks are lighter, more powerful and cheaper than ever before. They're particularly useful for students because their beefy hardware could be helpful for rendering video and doing any other schoolwork that would make super-thin ultraportables sweat. You can find some general advice on choosing gaming laptops in our guide. But if you want to narrow down the field to a few great options, you’ve come to the right place.

Are gaming laptops good for school?

As we’ve mentioned, gaming laptops are especially helpful if you're doing any demanding work. Their big promise is powerful graphics performance, which isn't just limited to games. Video editing and 3D rendering programs can also tap into their GPUs to handle demanding tasks. While you can find decent GPUs on some productivity laptops, like Dell's XPS 15, you can sometimes find better deals on gaming laptops. My general advice for any new workhorse machine: Get at least 16GB of RAM and the largest solid state drive you can find (ideally 1TB or more). Those components are both typically hard to upgrade down the line, so it’s worth investing what you can up front.

The one big downside to choosing a gaming notebook is portability. For the most part, we'd recommend 15-inch models to get the best balance of size and price. Those typically weigh in around 4.5 pounds, which is significantly more than a three-pound ultraportables. Today's gaming notebooks are still far lighter than older models, though, so at least you won't be lugging around a 10-pound brick. And if you’re looking for something lighter, there are plenty of 14-inch options these days. And if you're not into LED lights and other gamer-centric bling, keep an eye out for more understated models (or make sure you know how to turn those lights off).

Best midrange for most people: ASUS Zephyrus G14

ASUS Zephyrus G14
Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

The Zephyrus G14 is a bit more expensive than when it launched a few years ago, but it remains a fantastic 14-inch gaming laptop. This year, it’s toting AMD’s Ryzen 9 6900HS CPU and Radeon 6700S GPU. That’s enough power to play just about any modern game in 1,440p, and they should perform smoothly on the 120Hz or 144Hz QHD screens. Unlike the first G14 model, there’s also a built-in webcam with Windows Hello login support. What’s most impressive is that the G14 is still pretty portable for a gaming laptop, weighing in between 3.6 and 3.8 pounds.

Buy Zephyrus G14 at Amazon - $2,100

Best high-end option: Razer Blade 15

Razer Blade 15
Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

For years, Razer has built a reputation for making gaming laptops that look as good as MacBooks. And that's still true. Razer's Blade 15 features a sleek and sturdy metal case, an understated design (unless you really kick up those RGB keyboard lights), and just about all the power you'd want in a portable gaming powerhouse. If money is no object, you can equip the Blade 15 with Intel's latest 12th-gen processors, NVIDIA's powerful RTX 3080 Ti and your choice of 144Hz 4k, 240Hz QHD or 360Hz HD screens..

While you'll pay a bit more for the Blade 15 compared to some other models, you've still got a few different price points to work with. The entry-level model starts at $1,799 with an RTX 3060 GPU and 144Hz 1080p display. That's certainly enough power for most games and creative apps. If you're looking for something a bit smaller, Razer's new AMD-powered Blade 14 looks compelling as well.

Buy Razer Blade 15 at Amazon - $3,000

A thin 14-inch option: Alienware X14

Alienware X14
Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

If you’re looking for a thin and light computer that can still handle some gaming and demanding schoolwork, Alienware’s X14 is one of the best choices around. It measures at just 0.57 inches thick, which means it can fit into all sorts of slim bags, and weighs a bit more than four pounds. Its gorgeous 1080p screen supports Dolby Vision and NVIDIA G-SYNC, so it’ll look great both for movie-watching and gameplay. And, well, it just looks really cool – it’s the most portable variation of Alienware’s sci-fi aesthetic.

Buy Alienware X14 at Dell - $1,470

Best budget option: Dell G5 15

Dell G5 15 gaming laptop
Engadget

While Alienware has established itself as a solid premium brand, Dell's cheaper G-series notebooks are worth a look for anyone on a budget. In particular, the G5 15 continues the trend of delivering very capable hardware – including Intel’s latest 12th-gen CPUs, AMD’s Ryzen 6000 chips and NVIDIA’s RTX 30-series GPUs – for under $1,000. Sure, the case is mostly plastic, and the screen doesn't offer all of the latest niceties, but for the price it's hard to find anything more powerful.

Buy G5 15 at Dell - $920

Best no-limit gaming laptop: ASUS Zephyrus Duo 16

ASUS Zephyrus Duo 16
ASUS

Taking the idea of a gaming laptop to the absolute extreme, ASUS's latest Zephyrus Duo 16 combines AMD's latest Ryzen mobile processors with all of NVIDIA's great RTX 30-series hardware. And, true to its name, it has two screens: a gorgeous 16-inch main display (with optional Mini-LED backlighting), and a very wide 14-inch secondary panel right below. That opens up a near desktop-level of multitasking, since you can have windows spread across both screens. It could help you to browse the web while keeping an eye on Twitter at the same time. (Or maybe following an online lecture while fitting in a Halo Infinite match on your main screen. We won’t tell.)

Buy Zephyrus Duo 16 at Amazon - $4,200

Dell XPS 13 Plus tries to evolve the laptop with questionable features

Laptops have become the go-to computing solutions of people, be it for personal use or for work. They have reached a point where they can match desktop computers in all but the most specialized cases, though the ability to expand their power through things like external graphics docks evens out the score as well. Laptop design, in general, has remained the same in the past few decades, at least as far as the placement of components goes. Some have, of course, become thinner and lighter have almost all but banished bezels, but the placement of screens, keys, and trackpads are more or less standard by now (even if keyboard layouts aren’t). Dell, however, is trying to mix things up a bit to make the laptop look more futuristic and less busy, but it raises some important questions about the usability and ergonomics of such a new design.

Designer: Dell

Laptop Ergonomics

One can argue that laptops have never been the most ergonomic computing devices in the first place. Their overall design was meant to make a computer more portable, going as far as being able to use it on your lap. The strain it puts on your legs and neck, and the angle of your arms and wrist have made laptops have made the earliest laptops the anti-thesis of ergonomics.

Things have improved over the decades, but more thanks to accessories and peripherals rather than the actual design of laptops themselves. The position and angle of the screen, keys, and touchpad still don’t lend themselves well to good posture, and manufacturers haven’t exactly been too keen on changing a working formula. Instead, the likes of Dell, ASUS, and Lenovo have tried to reinvent the laptop with features that drastically change how you use it.

ASUS, for example, has been putting a second screen right above the keyboard, which ends up pushing the keyboard further down. This means that the traditional trackpad is given the boot, though technically, it has been relocated to the right side as a configurable second screen. Lenovo takes that to the extreme by actually putting a tablet-sized display to the right of the keyboard, though the trackpad is still there, now off to the left instead of dead center.

Dell XPS 13 Plus

Compared to those two, Dell’s big changes to the laptop design almost look modest, though they carry their own head-scratching moments. In a nutshell, the new Dell XPS 13 Plus embraces minimalism to its fullest, giving the area opposite the display a completely flat look. That means no bumps and almost no gaps save for what’s necessary for the keycaps. Even then, the gaps are minimal, thanks to what Dell calls a “zero-lattice” keyboard.

There’s also a touch-sensitive area above the keyboard that serves as the function keys. We’ve seen a similar technology with the MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar, which was equally controversial. The difference is that Dell’s version is clearly minimalist and blends cleanly into the background, without any visual separation between that area and the rest of the laptop.

The biggest change, however, is the invisible trackpad. It’s still there and occupies the same area as a regular trackpad, perhaps even bigger, but there’s no clear way for you to actually see where it is. You’re given haptic feedback, so you’re not completely clueless, but it remains to be seen (or felt) how effective that will be in practice.

Eye Candy, Touch-Deprived

Dell definitely accomplished what it set out to do with the Dell XPS 13 Plus. The laptop is truly beautiful and clean; a minimalist dream’s come true. As an added bonus, the PC maker took steps to reduce the carbon footprint of the laptop, both during its production as well as its packaging. It definitely checks most of the boxes of product design and sustainability. It does, however, leave some questions hanging when it comes to other aspects that would affect how people use the product.

The MacBook Pro Touch Bar wasn’t exactly that popular, and the XPS 13 Plus’ version actually misses out on some of the flexibility and benefits of a screen-based solution in favor of a minimalist design. The lack of physical keys could make it harder to hit them by muscle memory, so you’ll always end up looking down. The same could almost be said of the zero-lattice keys, whose larger sizes could be negated by the very same thing that makes them special. Our fingers almost instinctively know the keys to hit, partly because of how they feel with those bumps and gaps in between keys.

The biggest question mark, however, is the invisible trackpad. It might take a lot of trial and error for people to get used to where the active area is or how far it extends. There is no argument that it definitely looks elegant in its cleanliness, and we give Dell the benefit of the doubt that it did due diligence in R&D, but we’ll have to wait and see for real-world feedback on whether this beautiful but unusual $1,299 laptop is worth those changes.

The post Dell XPS 13 Plus tries to evolve the laptop with questionable features first appeared on Yanko Design.

How to recycle your used and unwanted gadgets

You're probably used to sorting your garbage into bins: green for paper or blue for plastic and glass. But when it comes to electronics, we're still used to selling those off or tossing them into the trash heap. Unfortunately, our gadget addiction has real consequences for the planet, making it imperative that we dispose of everything responsibly.

Sure, you can try parting with your stuff for cash, but it's a pain, and it can be tough, if not impossible, to find someone who wants a busted Xbox or 20-year-old CRT. Few places have curbside pickup — in fact, some localities make it illegal to leave electronics for the garbage collectors — so you're going to have to find a reputable center to take it. We've gathered some of the resources to help you dispense of your broken and unwanted computers, televisions and any other gadget flotsam that's been taking up space in your closet.

National chains

Scrap metal, iron and computer dump for recycling or safe disposal. Ulsan, South Korea.

There is no national electronics recycling law at this time, so you won't find any federal programs to assist you with getting rid of old devices. The USPS does run a program for federal agencies and their employees, but it's not available to the general public. Instead, the rest of us have to rely on nationwide retailers to toss out our old stuff.

Best Buy

Best Buy has more than 1,000 locations in the United States, so it's likely you have one nearby where you can drop stuff off. You just need to take it to the customer service counter. They'll issue you a receipt too, but keep in mind that you can't claim the drop-off as a deduction on your taxes because Best Buy isn't a charity.

You can even recycle televisions and monitors, though you'll be charged a fee of $30 per item to cover the higher costs of transporting and disassembling them. (Consumers in California are not charged the $30 fee, while locations in Connecticut and Pennsylvania will not accept televisions at all.) If you're turning in a printer, you’ll get up to a $50 voucher toward the purchase of a new Epson EcoTank printer.

Also be aware that Best Buy limits you to three items per household per day, including up to two televisions.

Staples

Recycling your stuff at Staples is similar to Best Buy — just bring your products to the customer-service counter. But it’s more limited in that you can only bring in seven items a day, and the store won’t accept televisions at all. Staples Rewards members also receive a small credit of $2 for every used ink cartridge they turn in, up to 20 a month.

Office Depot

Office Depot has more than 1,300 locations, but unlike Staples and Best Buy, it won't recycle your old gadgets for free. If you're only getting rid of a few phones or batteries, those can be turned in at no charge. For everything else, you must purchase a Tech Recycling Box, which costs $5, $10 or $15 depending on the size. Once you have the box, you can fill it with as many items as you want, provided they all fit inside, including smaller televisions. So it's a great deal if you have a lot of stuff you want to dispose of. These can be turned in either in person or by mail.

Home Depot and Lowes

You can dispose of old rechargeable batteries, old phones and CFL bulbs in the dropoff boxes at any of 2,300 Home Depot or 2,200 Lowe’s locations. The bins are usually located in the front of the store, and Home Depot has an 11-pound limit on individual items.

Manufacturers

Stack of old, broken and obsolete laptop computer

If you can't make it to a retail location, especially when you need to get rid of only one or two items, many companies offer recycling programs for their own products. They'll even pay for shipping. Some run their own programs while others use outside organizations. We've outlined policies from a handful of manufacturers below.

Amazon

While Amazon would love to direct you to its trade-in program, you're probably reading this post because there's stuff you can't sell, and for those items Amazon offers mail-in recycling. You can send in your busted Kindles, Fire TVs and even Dash Buttons, as well as select peripherals like keyboards and mice. You'll just need to fill out some forms online and generate a shipping label, which you can slap on any box. Drop it off at a UPS location, and you're good to go; Amazon will cover all the costs.

Apple

Apple's
Apple

If your iPhone or MacBook is still in good shape, you should consider selling it, but if it's old or beat up you can still score a gift card by turning it into Apple's recycling program. For iPhones, iPad and Apple Watches you'll be asked to fill out a form attesting to the product's condition and given a trade-in quote, with a working iPhone 5 going for $35 and an iPhone 7 Plus scoring you $315. For Macs, you'll be asked to provide a serial number as well. Though Apple won't give you cash for anything it deems old or unacceptable, you can still mail it in or bring it to any Apple Store so it can be responsibly disposed of.

Dell

Dell offers drop-off recycling via a partnership with Goodwill. Not every location participates, but there are more than 2,600 that do. And, because it's a charity, you may even be able to deduct it as a donation on your taxes. Dell also has a mail-back program on its site where you can generate a shipping label and drop the package off at a FedEx location instead.

Epson

You can ship old products back to Epson by simply creating a shipping label on its site and dropping it off at a FedEx location. Or just drop it off at a Best Buy location for a $30 or $50 voucher toward a new Epson printer.

HP

If you can, HP recommends taking its products to the nearest Best Buy. But if that's not feasible, the company participates in a program that will even buy back some items. You'll be asked to fill out a form with the make, model and condition, and the recycler will email you a prepaid shipping label to mail the package within 30 days. If you're doing a buyback you'll receive a paper check in the mail. Because this isn't an in-house program with HP, you can also send in items from other companies — check the drop-down list for firms like Canon and Toshiba as well as more obscure and out-of-business manufacturers.

Other manufacturers

Many other companies use outside recyclers to dispose of their products, and you'll often see the same names popping up again and again across different manufacturers. This should simplify things in some cases — you should be able to send in products from multiple sources in one package. You just need to fill in the make and model to generate a prepaid shipping label. However, different states have different rules on what you can return, so the drop-downs for selecting your product may vary by area.

Two major recycling companies you'll notice a lot are RLGA, which covers Acer, Canon, Google, Intel, Lenovo, Microsoft and Motorola, and MRM, which recycles products for Alcatel, BlackBerry, Barnes & Noble (nook), TCL and Toshiba.

Phones

Electronics Recycling

Cell phones are the easiest gadget to recycle — if you haven't already decided to sell yours off on eBay or via sites like Decluttr and ecoATM. But, if you can't or won't make some cash off of it, you can send it to:

Call2Recycle, which has drop-off centers all over the country in many chain stores, including Lowes and Home Depot. It will also accept rechargeable batteries.

Cell Phones for Soldiers accepts phones in any condition and sells them to refurbishers or recyclers. The proceeds go toward purchasing phone cards for troops so they can call their friends and family back home. To be clear, the phones are not given directly to the soldiers.

The four major US carriers — Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint — all offer free recycling. You can trade in your old device in-store or send it in for a credit toward a new phone, or let them straight up recycle it. AT&T also participates in Cell Phones for Soldiers.

If you do decide to try your luck with ecoATM to see if your old phone is still worth a few bucks and it turns out it's worth nothing, you can at least rest easy knowing that the company will also recycle your phone responsibly.

States

computer parts for electronic recycling

There may not be a national law dictating that you must recycle your electronics, but at least 26 states have passed rules that vary widely on what they demand of manufacturers and consumers. Almost all states that do collect products for recycling provide this service free, with the bill footed by the companies in some way. Most provide some local programs to help you get rid of your stuff, regardless of whether recycling your gadgets is required or optional.

States where you can no longer dispose of electronics in the regular trash and must recycle them include: California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia.

The following states have laws requiring manufacturers to pay for recycling, but you, the consumer, are not actually required to recycle your electronics: Hawaii, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Washington.

The following states have some special circumstances worth noting:

Connecticut: Does not allow recycling centers to charge you a fee for turning in electronics, so many organizations and retailers that would usually charge for recycling televisions and monitors do not accept them. Because you cannot dispose of them curbside, you can take them to a municipal transfer station for free.

New York: If you live in a New York City apartment building with 10 or more units, contact your landlord about getting an ecycleNYC drop-off box installed in your building. It’s super convenient and free.

Pennsylvania: Does not allow retailers to charge you a fee to recycle, so places like Best Buy and Staples will not accept televisions or monitors. Many recycling centers have also closed as a result of underfunding. Some nonprofit recyclers may still accept the items, and you should check to see if your local government is hosting any drop-off events. Lancaster and Dauphin Counties also still run civic recycling programs.

Virginia: This state does not have a dedicated statewide recycling program, but some localities run their own programs including Fairfax, Loudoun and Rockbridge counties, and cities like Arlington. Check each municipality’s site for details.

Dell envisions a sustainable laptop, allowing you to replace parts, creating a design you could grow old with




Dell is checking all the right boxes for a laptop that is not only environment-friendly but also potentially immortal.

Laptops revolutionized the computing industry by making personal computing more portable, but it also came at the expense of some flexibility and sustainability. Unlike towering desktops, not everything inside a laptop can be easily upgraded, much less replaced when broken. Many laptops makers probably prefer that status quo, but Dell is boldly pushing an idea that could mean it will eventually sell fewer laptops.

Designer: Dell

Today, you can upgrade or replace a laptop’s memory and storage, but that’s pretty much it. You can’t upgrade the processor, add a graphics unit, or even easily replace the keyboard after years of wear and tear. That’s not even considering the materials and processes used in manufacturing these devices, which involve a lot of plastics and a lot of components that eventually end up being a lot of waste.

Dell’s Concept Luna laptop throws all of that out the window, envisioning a portable computer that would appeal to almost everyone, from the expert PC modder to the environment-conscious consumer. The company is trying to apply multiple strategies across the pipeline to not only reduce the laptop’s carbon footprint but, ultimately, also make it as long-lasting as any desktop that can get repaired or upgraded bit by bit.

The ideas that Dell has are quite interesting. In addition to using more recyclable materials, like flax fiber instead of plastic laminate, the company is also looking into shrinking the size or number of components like the motherboard to reduce the amount of energy used to manufacture them. Smarter placement of those components can also lead to better passive heat dissipation, removing the need for plastic fans inside.

Then there’s also the element of repairability, which is made easier by having only four screws to access internal components and using no adhesives. Components can be removed easily and replaced, or perhaps even upgraded with a newer part. All in all, the Concept Luna represents the holy grail of sustainable computers and is probably years away from becoming a reality.

Dell admits that the concept only touches on what is possible, not what is feasible or, more importantly, profitable. A sustainable laptop would ultimately mean people will buy fewer new laptops if they could just upgrade or replace parts of the laptop they already own. Of course, Dell could build a business around selling parts or services, but that might still be less profitable than the status quo that isn’t doing our environment any favors.

The post Dell envisions a sustainable laptop, allowing you to replace parts, creating a design you could grow old with first appeared on Yanko Design.

The best laptops and tablets to give as gifts

If you’re thinking of getting a laptop or tablet as a gift, you’ve got a wealth of options. Thanks to the latest round of hardware from Intel, Apple, AMD and NVIDIA, all of our portable devices have gotten steadily faster and more efficient. Even the cheapest iPad can be a decent productivity machine, while gaming laptops now have almost all of the power of their desktop siblings. And with the arrival of Windows 11, it's a perfect time to give someone a nifty PC upgrade, especially since very old computers won’t be able to step up.

Dell XPS 13

Dell XPS 13 for the Engadget 2021 Holiday Gift Guide.
Dell

Not to sound like a broken record, but the XPS 13 is still the best Windows ultraportable you can buy. The design hasn't changed much, but that's not a huge problem: It's still incredibly light and features extraordinarily thin screen bezels. And now you can also take advantage of Intel's latest 11th-generation processors. The XPS 13 can also be configured with an OLED screen, an ideal gift for someone who could use a bright and color accurate display. And if you’ve got someone in mind who could use even more power, the new XPS 15 has the same sleek design, but it has more room for a bigger display and better hardware.

Buy XPS 13 at Dell starting at $950

Apple MacBook Air

Apple MacBook Air for the Engadget 2021 Holiday Gift Guide.
Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Apple's MacBook Air hasn't been upgraded since last year's miraculous model — which gave it the winning combination of Apple's M1 processor, a fan-less design, and incredible battery life — but it's still one of the best laptops on the market. It's powerful enough to handle most productivity tasks and a few games, and whoever’s lucky enough to get it won’t have to worry about any fans spinning up, since it’s completely passively cooled. You can also find the M1-equipped MacBook Air on sale occasionally, making it one of the smarter gift purchases this season.

Buy MacBook Air M1 at Amazon - $999

Apple iPad

Apple iPad for the Engadget 2021 Holiday Gift Guide.
Apple

Kudos to Apple for continually improving its entry-level iPad. Once again, it's one of the best tablet gift options on the market. It's faster than ever, thanks to Apple's A13 Bionic processor, and it includes more storage. The $329 model now comes with 64GB, or you could bump up to 256GB for $479. That's more than enough space to save every episode of Bluey and several seasons of Sesame Street to survive long car trips. Sure, the design hasn't changed much since last year, but that doesn't matter much — it’s still a more than capable tablet.

Buy iPad at Amazon - $329

Amazon Fire HD 10

Amazon Fire HD 10 for the Engadget 2021 Holiday Gift Guide.
Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Amazon's Fire tablets are basically just video-first Android slates, but they also prove you don’t have to pay a ton to buy a useful tablet for someone. This year, the Fire HD 10 is a bit faster, has 50 percent more memory and features a slightly brighter screen. And, as a bonus, there's a Bluetooth keyboard accessory that can turn it into a cheap productivity tablet. But its core selling point is the same as always: it can tackle most tablet tasks easily, and it won’t cost too much. (There are also kid-centric Fire tablets worth considering, which come with a more durable case and two years worth of free replacements.)

Buy Fire HD 10 at Amazon - $150

Razer Blade 15

Razer Blade 15 for the Engadget 2021 Holiday Gift Guide.
Razer

You can take all of the praise we've given Razer's Blade 15 over the years and apply it to the latest model. Razer's flagship gaming notebook still has a sleek unibody aluminum case, and it packs in the latest CPUs and GPUs, including NVIDIA's top-end RTX 3080. And thanks to improved screen choices, you can also gift models with fast 1,440p displays, which are sharper than 1080p screens, and easier to run natively than 4K displays. If portability is a greater concern, take a look at the new Razer Blade 14, a sub-four-pound notebook sporting AMD's latest processors.

Buy Blade 15 at Razer - $1,700

ASUS Zephyrus G15

ASUS Zephyrus G15 for the Engadget 2021 Holiday Gift Guide.
Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

If the gamer in your life wants something more flashy and a bit lighter than the Razer Blade, consider the Zephyrus G15. With the combined power of AMD's latest processors and NVIDIA's latest graphics cards, it'll handle practically any game thrown at it. And if you're on a budget, you can find lower-end models cheaper than the equivalent Razer's. Mostly, though, we love this laptop because it has pretty much everything we'd want in a mobile gaming rig — that includes an excellent keyboard, a speedy 165Hz 1440p screen and excellent battery life. The only downside is that there's no webcam, but any aspiring streamer would rather have a separate external camera anyway.

Buy Zephyrus G15 at Best Buy - $1,550

Acer Chromebook 512

Laptops for the Engadget 2021 Holiday Gift Guide.
Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

The best Chromebooks are cheap, sturdy and powerful enough to handle basic school and office work. Acer's Chromebook 512 is one of the best current options, especially if you're looking for something for a child. It has a spill resistant keyboard, a sturdy impact-resistant case, and anchored keys that are harder for kids to pull off. Its Intel Celeron N4000 chip isn't the fastest, but it's enough to work on Google Docs, Sheets and Presentations without breaking too much of a sweat.

Buy Acer Chromebook 512 at Amazon - $200

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 for the Engadget 2021 Holiday Gift Guide.
Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Sometimes it seems like there are just too many PC ultraportables to choose from, but Microsoft's Surface Laptop line are always a solid option. They feature some of the best keyboards on the market, excellent displays and support for all of Microsoft's notebook accessories, like the Surface Stylus. But mostly, we appreciate them for their design simplicity. They're sturdy, attractive and built for productivity. The latest 15-inch model also packs in speedy AMD processors that are powerful enough to play a few rounds of Overwatch.

Buy Surface Laptop 4 at Microsoft starting at $799

The best laptops and tablets to give as gifts

If you’re thinking of getting a laptop or tablet as a gift, you’ve got a wealth of options. Thanks to the latest round of hardware from Intel, Apple, AMD and NVIDIA, all of our portable devices have gotten steadily faster and more efficient. Even the cheapest iPad can be a decent productivity machine, while gaming laptops now have almost all of the power of their desktop siblings. And with the arrival of Windows 11, it's a perfect time to give someone a nifty PC upgrade, especially since very old computers won’t be able to step up.

Dell XPS 13

Dell XPS 13 for the Engadget 2021 Holiday Gift Guide.
Dell

Not to sound like a broken record, but the XPS 13 is still the best Windows ultraportable you can buy. The design hasn't changed much, but that's not a huge problem: It's still incredibly light and features extraordinarily thin screen bezels. And now you can also take advantage of Intel's latest 11th-generation processors. The XPS 13 can also be configured with an OLED screen, an ideal gift for someone who could use a bright and color accurate display. And if you’ve got someone in mind who could use even more power, the new XPS 15 has the same sleek design, but it has more room for a bigger display and better hardware.

Buy XPS 13 at Dell starting at $950

Apple MacBook Air

Apple MacBook Air for the Engadget 2021 Holiday Gift Guide.
Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Apple's MacBook Air hasn't been upgraded since last year's miraculous model — which gave it the winning combination of Apple's M1 processor, a fan-less design, and incredible battery life — but it's still one of the best laptops on the market. It's powerful enough to handle most productivity tasks and a few games, and whoever’s lucky enough to get it won’t have to worry about any fans spinning up, since it’s completely passively cooled. You can also find the M1-equipped MacBook Air on sale occasionally, making it one of the smarter gift purchases this season.

Buy MacBook Air M1 at Amazon - $999

Apple iPad

Apple iPad for the Engadget 2021 Holiday Gift Guide.
Apple

Kudos to Apple for continually improving its entry-level iPad. Once again, it's one of the best tablet gift options on the market. It's faster than ever, thanks to Apple's A13 Bionic processor, and it includes more storage. The $329 model now comes with 64GB, or you could bump up to 256GB for $479. That's more than enough space to save every episode of Bluey and several seasons of Sesame Street to survive long car trips. Sure, the design hasn't changed much since last year, but that doesn't matter much — it’s still a more than capable tablet.

Buy iPad at Amazon - $329

Amazon Fire HD 10

Amazon Fire HD 10 for the Engadget 2021 Holiday Gift Guide.
Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Amazon's Fire tablets are basically just video-first Android slates, but they also prove you don’t have to pay a ton to buy a useful tablet for someone. This year, the Fire HD 10 is a bit faster, has 50 percent more memory and features a slightly brighter screen. And, as a bonus, there's a Bluetooth keyboard accessory that can turn it into a cheap productivity tablet. But its core selling point is the same as always: it can tackle most tablet tasks easily, and it won’t cost too much. (There are also kid-centric Fire tablets worth considering, which come with a more durable case and two years worth of free replacements.)

Buy Fire HD 10 at Amazon - $150

Razer Blade 15

Razer Blade 15 for the Engadget 2021 Holiday Gift Guide.
Razer

You can take all of the praise we've given Razer's Blade 15 over the years and apply it to the latest model. Razer's flagship gaming notebook still has a sleek unibody aluminum case, and it packs in the latest CPUs and GPUs, including NVIDIA's top-end RTX 3080. And thanks to improved screen choices, you can also gift models with fast 1,440p displays, which are sharper than 1080p screens, and easier to run natively than 4K displays. If portability is a greater concern, take a look at the new Razer Blade 14, a sub-four-pound notebook sporting AMD's latest processors.

Buy Blade 15 at Razer - $1,700

ASUS Zephyrus G15

ASUS Zephyrus G15 for the Engadget 2021 Holiday Gift Guide.
Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

If the gamer in your life wants something more flashy and a bit lighter than the Razer Blade, consider the Zephyrus G15. With the combined power of AMD's latest processors and NVIDIA's latest graphics cards, it'll handle practically any game thrown at it. And if you're on a budget, you can find lower-end models cheaper than the equivalent Razer's. Mostly, though, we love this laptop because it has pretty much everything we'd want in a mobile gaming rig — that includes an excellent keyboard, a speedy 165Hz 1440p screen and excellent battery life. The only downside is that there's no webcam, but any aspiring streamer would rather have a separate external camera anyway.

Buy Zephyrus G15 at Best Buy - $1,550

Acer Chromebook 512

Laptops for the Engadget 2021 Holiday Gift Guide.
Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

The best Chromebooks are cheap, sturdy and powerful enough to handle basic school and office work. Acer's Chromebook 512 is one of the best current options, especially if you're looking for something for a child. It has a spill resistant keyboard, a sturdy impact-resistant case, and anchored keys that are harder for kids to pull off. Its Intel Celeron N4000 chip isn't the fastest, but it's enough to work on Google Docs, Sheets and Presentations without breaking too much of a sweat.

Buy Acer Chromebook 512 at Amazon - $200

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4

Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 for the Engadget 2021 Holiday Gift Guide.
Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Sometimes it seems like there are just too many PC ultraportables to choose from, but Microsoft's Surface Laptop line are always a solid option. They feature some of the best keyboards on the market, excellent displays and support for all of Microsoft's notebook accessories, like the Surface Stylus. But mostly, we appreciate them for their design simplicity. They're sturdy, attractive and built for productivity. The latest 15-inch model also packs in speedy AMD processors that are powerful enough to play a few rounds of Overwatch.

Buy Surface Laptop 4 at Microsoft starting at $799

The best gaming laptops you can buy, plus how to pick one

For a few years now, gaming laptops have been some of the most intriguing PCs around. They’ve gotten thinner and lighter, naturally — but they’ve also become vastly more powerful and efficient, making them suitable for both work and play. They’ve adopted some bold innovations, like rotating hinges and near desktop-like customizability. Gaming laptops are where PC makers can get adventurous.

If you’re a professional in the market for a beefy new computer, and you like to play a few rounds of Apex Legends on occasion, it may make more sense to go for a gaming notebook instead of a MacBook Pro-like workstation. You’ll still get plenty of power for video encoding and 3D rendering, plus you may end up paying less than you would for some comparable workstations.

ASUS ROG G14
Devindra Hardawar/Engadget


What's your budget? 

Your laptop buying journey starts and ends with the amount of money you're willing to spend. No surprise there. The good news: There are plenty of options for gamers of every budget. In particular, we're seeing some great choices under $1,000, like Dell's G15, which currently starts at $930. PCs in this price range will definitely feel a bit lower quality than pricier models, and they'll likely skimp on RAM, storage and overall power. But they should be able to handle most games in 1080p at 60 frames per second, which is the bare minimum you'd want from any system.

Stepping up to mid-range options beyond $1,000 is where things get interesting. At that point, you'll start finding PCs like the ASUS Zephyrus ROG G14, one of our favorite gaming notebooks of the last few years. In general, you can look forward to far better build quality than budget laptops (metal cases!), improved graphics power and enough RAM and storage space to handle the most demanding games. These are the notebooks we'd recommend for most people, as they'll keep you gaming and working for years before you need to worry about an upgrade.

If you're willing to spend around $1,800 or more, you can start considering more premium options like Razer's Blade. Expect impeccably polished cases, the fastest hardware on the market, and ridiculously thin designs. The sky's the limit here: Alienware's uber customizable Area 51m is an enormous beast that can cost up to $4,700. Few people need a machine that pricey, but if you're a gamer with extra cash to burn, it may be worth taking a close look at some of these pricier systems.

Origin Evo16


What kind of CPU and GPU do you want?

The answer to this question used to be relatively simple: Just get an Intel chip with an NVIDIA GPU. But over the last two years, AMD came out swinging with its Ryzen 4000 and 5000-series notebook processors, which are better suited for juggling multiple tasks at once (like streaming to Twitch while blasting fools in Fortnite). In general, you’ll still be safe getting one of Intel’s latest 10th or 11th-gen H-series chips. But it’s nice to have decent AMD alternatives available for budget and mid-range laptops, especially when they’re often cheaper than comparable Intel models.

When it comes to video cards, though, AMD is still catching up. Its new Radeon RX 6000M GPU has been a fantastic performer in notebooks like ASUS’s ROG Strix G15, but it still lags behind NVIDIA when it comes to newer features like ray tracing. I’ll admit, it’s nice to see a Radeon-powered notebook that can approach the general gaming performance of NVIDIA’s RTX 3070 and 3080 GPU.

If you want to future-proof your purchase, or you’re just eager to see how ray tracing could make your games look better, you’re probably better off with an NVIDIA video card. They’re in far more systems, and it’s clear that NVIDIA has had more time to optimize its ray tracing technology. RTX GPUs also feature the company’s DLSS feature, which uses AI to upscale games to higher resolutions. That’ll let you play a game like Destiny 2 in 4K with faster frame rates. That’s useful if you’re trying to take advantage of a high refresh rate monitor.

NVIDIA’s RTX 3050 is a decent entry point, but we think you’d be better off with at least an RTX 3060 for solid 1080p and 1440p performance. The RTX 3070, meanwhile, is the best balance of price and performance. It’ll be able to run many games in 4K with the help of DLSS, and it can even tackle demanding titles like Control. NVIDIA’s RTX 3080 is the king of the hill; you’ll pay a premium for any machine that includes it.

It’s worth noting that NVIDIA’s mobile GPUs aren’t directly comparable to its more powerful desktop hardware. PC makers can also tweak a GPU’s voltage to make it perform better in a thinner case. Basically, don’t be surprised if you see notebooks that perform very differently, even if they’re all equipped with the same RTX model.

Razer Blade 15


What kind of screen do you want?

Screen size is a good place to start when judging gaming notebooks. In general, 15-inch laptops will be the best balance of immersion and portability, while larger 17-inch models are heftier, but naturally give you more screen real estate. There are some 13-inch gaming notebooks, like the Razer Blade Stealth, but paradoxically you'll often end up paying more for those than slightly larger 15-inch options. We’re also seeing more 14-inch options, like the Zephyrus G14 and Blade 14, which are generally more powerful than 13-inch laptops while still being relatively portable.

But these days, there are plenty more features to consider than screen size alone. Consider refresh rates: Most monitors refresh their screens vertically 60 times per second, or 60Hz. That's a standard in use since black and white NTSC TVs. But over the past few years, displays have evolved considerably. Now, 120Hz 1080p screens are the bare minimum you'd want in any gaming notebook — and there are faster 144Hz, 240Hz and even 360Hz panels. All of those ever-increasing numbers are in the service of one thing: making everything on your display look as smooth as possible.

For games, higher refresh rates also help eliminate screen tearing and other artifacts that could get in the way of your frag fest. And for everything else, it just leads to a better viewing experience. Even scrolling a web page on a 120Hz or faster monitor is starkly different from a 60Hz screen. Instead of seeing a jittery wall of text and pictures, everything moves seamlessly together, as if you're unwinding a glossy paper magazine. Going beyond 120Hz makes gameplay look even more responsive, which to some players gives them a slight advantage.

Gigabyte Aero 15
Steve Dent/Engadget

Not to make things more complicated, but you should also keep an eye out for NVIDIA's G-SYNC and AMD's FreeSync. They're both adaptive sync technologies that can match your screen's refresh rate with the framerate of your game. That also helps to reduce screen tearing and make gameplay smoother. Consider them nice bonuses on top of a high refresh rate monitor; they're not necessary, but they can still offer a slight visual improvement.

One more thing: Most of these suggestions are related to LCD screens, not OLEDs. While OLED makes a phenomenal choice for TVs, it's a bit more complicated when it comes to gaming laptops. They're limited to 60Hz, so you won't get the smoother performance you'd find on a high refresh rate screen. And they're typically 4K panels; you'll need a ton of GPU power to run games natively at that resolution. OLED laptops still look incredible, with the best black levels and contrast on the market, but we think most shoppers would be better off with an LCD gaming laptop.

ASUS ROG G14
Devindra Hardawar/Engadget


A few other takeaways:

  • Get at least 16GB of RAM. And if you're planning to do a ton of multitasking while streaming, 32GB is worth considering.

  • Storage is still a huge concern. These days, I'd recommend aiming for a 1TB M.2 SSD, which should be enough space to juggle a few large titles like Destiny 2. Some laptops also have room for standard SATA drives, which are far cheaper than M.2's and can hold more data.

  • Normally we'd recommend getting your hands on a system before you buy, but that's tough as we're in the midst of a pandemic. I'd recommend snagging your preferred system from a retailer with a simple return policy, like Amazon or Best Buy. If you don't like it, you can always ship it back easily.

  • Don't forget about accessories! You'll need a good mouse, keyboard and headphones.


Engadget picks

ASUS ROG G14
Devindra Hardawar/Engadget


The best gaming laptop for most people: ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14

Starting price:$1,599 (Current model with RTX 2060)

Recommended spec price (Ryzen 9, RTX 3060): $1,799

If you can't tell by now, we really like the Zephyrus G14. It's compact, at just 3.5 pounds, and features AMD's new Ryzen 5000-series chips paired together with NVIDIA's latest graphics. It's a shockingly compact machine, and while its 14-inch screen is a bit smaller than our other recommendations, it looks great and features a fast 144Hz refresh rate. We also like its retro-future design (some configurations have tiny LEDs on its rear panel for extra flair). While the G14 has jumped in price since last year, it’s still one of the best gaming notebooks around. The only downside: It doesn't have a webcam, which can be inconvenient in the era of never-ending Zoom calls. Still, it's not that tough to attach an external camera. (If you want something bigger, consider the Zephyrus G15.) 

Buy ASUS Zephyrus G14 at Amazon - $1,599


Dell G15 gaming laptop
Dell

The best budget option: Dell G15

Starting price:$1,029

We've been fans of Dell's G5 line ever since it first appeared a few years ago. Now dubbed the G15, it starts at just over $1,000 and features all of the latest hardware, like Intel's 11th-generation CPUs and NVIDIA's RTX 30-series cards. (You can also find AMD's Ryzen chips in some models.) It's a bit heavy, weighing over five pounds, but it's a solid notebook otherwise. And you can even bring it into mid-range gaming territory if you spec up to the RTX 3060.

Buy G15 at Dell starting at $1,029


Razer Blade 15
Devindra hardawar/Engadget


The best premium gaming laptop: Razer Blade 15

Starting price:$1,700

Recommended model (QHD, RTX 3070): $2,200

Razer continues to do a stellar job of delivering the latest hardware in a sleek package that would make Mac users jealous. The Blade 15 has just about everything you'd want, including NVIDIA's fastest mobile GPU, the RTX 3080, as well as Intel's 11th-gen octa-core CPUs and speedy quad-HD screens. You can easily save some cash by going for a cheaper notebook, but they won't feel nearly as polished as the Blade.

Buy Blade 15 at Razer starting at $1,700


Promotional image of Acer's Predator Triton 500 SE
Acer


A solid all-around option: Acer Predator Triton 500 SE

Starting price:$1,749

While we've seen some wilder concepts from Acer, like its 360-degree hinge-equipped Triton 900, the Triton 500 is a more affordable bread and butter option that doesn't break the bank. This year, it’s bumped up to a 16-inch display, giving you more of an immersive gaming experience. It’s relatively thin, weighs just over five pounds , and it can be equipped with Intel's 11th-gen CPUs and NVIDIA's RTX 30-series GPUs. Acer's build quality is as sturdy as ever, and it has most of the standard features you’d need in a gaming notebook.

Buy Acer Triton 500 SE at Best Buy - $1,749


Razer unveils its latest Blade 17 laptop with 11th-gen Core i9 CPUs
Razer


The best way to go big: Razer Blade 17

Starting price:$2,399

Take everything we loved about the Razer Blade 15, scale it up to a larger 17-inch screen, and you’re pretty much in gamer paradise. If you can live with its six-pound weight, the Blade 17 will deliver the most desktop-like gaming experience that you can find in a notebook. It’s relatively slim, and it’s perfect for binging Netflix in bed. The Blade 17 is also a smart choice if you’re editing media, as its larger screen space makes it perfect for diving into larger timelines. It’s not for everyone, but sometimes you just want to go big or go home, right?

Buy Blade 17 at Razer starting at $2,399

The best laptops

Whether it’s in anticipation of back to school season or you just need a new machine for work, a new laptop may be near the top of your shopping list right now. Given we’re still dealing with the global chip supply shortage, you might find yourself concerned about rising prices or what might be in stock. The good news is, companies are still making a ton of new laptops, and there are plenty of models for you to choose from.

What to expect

You probably have an idea of your budget here, but just so you know, most laptops with top-of-the-line specs can cost you around $1,800 to $2,000 these days. That doesn’t mean you won’t find a good system for under $1,000 — a grand is the base price for a lot of premium ultraportables in the 13-inch category, with chips like Intel’s Core i3 or i5 series. And if that’s too expensive, you’ll still have respectable options in the $600 to $800 range, but they might come with older, slower processors and dimmer screens. I’ve included our favorite budget-friendly model in this roundup but we have a list of more-affordable laptops that you can check out as well.

After working out how much money you want to spend, the laptop’s operating system is usually the first thing you have to narrow down. As always, the decision is slightly easier for people who prefer MacBooks. Now that Apple has brought its M1 chip to its whole lineup — your only real considerations are budget, screen size and how much power you need.

Over on Team Windows, however, the shift to ARM-based chips hasn’t been as smooth. Though Apple has been able to bring huge increases in battery life while maintaining (and in some cases improving) performance with its own silicon, PC makers have been limited by Windows’ shortcomings. Microsoft released Windows 11 last year, and it’s supposed to run better on ARM-powered machines. Since the first of these laptops, like Lenovo’s ThinkPad X13s or 10w tablet, haven’t been available for review yet, we can’t tell how well the system runs. Of course, you can upgrade to Windows 11 on existing ARM-based PCs, but for now, it’s still safer to stick with an Intel or AMD processor.

Dell XPS 13
Devindra Hardawar / Engadget

Let’s not forget there’s a third and fairly popular laptop operating system: Chrome. If you do most of your work in a browser (lots of online research, emails and Google Drive), then a Chromebook might be a suitable, and often more affordable option.

As for other things to look out for, it’s worth pointing out that a couple of laptops coming out this year are doing away with headphone jacks. Though this doesn’t seem to be a prevalent trend yet, it’s a good reminder to check that a machine has all the connectors you need. Most laptops in 2022 offer WiFi 6 or 6E and Bluetooth 5.0 or later, which should mean faster and more stable connections if you have compatible routers and devices. While 5G coverage is more widespread this year, whether you need support for that depends on how much you travel.

Where you plan on taking your laptop also helps in deciding what size to get. Many companies launched new 14-inch machines in the last year, straddling the line between ultraportable and bulkier 15-inch offerings. For most people, a 14-inch screen is a great middle ground. But if you’re worried about weight, a 12- or 13-inch model will be better. Those that want more powerful processors and larger displays will prefer 15- or 16-inch versions.

Engadget picks

Best overall: MacBook Air M1

Apple MacBook Air M1
Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

As a Windows user, I find myself reluctant to name a MacBook the best overall laptop. But I can’t deny that Apple’s transition to its own Silicon has made its machines better. The MacBook Air M1 even outperformed many PCs while maintaining a fanless design. Though the current model is two years old at this point, it’s still one of the best laptops around. You’ll get blazing fast performance, a great keyboard and excellent battery life, along with a nice Retina display.

Our main gripes with it are the low-res 720p webcam and the fact that it only has two USB-C ports. But if you’re already living a largely wireless life, that shouldn’t bother you too much. Plus, thanks to its ARM architecture, the M1 MacBook Air can also run iPhone and iPad apps.

If you can wait a little longer, the MacBook Air is overdue an update and Apple’s new model is likely to deliver even better performance. But if you need a new machine right now and want a bit more power than the M1 Air has to offer, then consider the 14-inch MacBook Pro with an M1 Pro chip. It’s more expensive, but will smoothly handle more intensive tasks like video editing and also packs an onboard SD card reader. The M1 Pro still lags more-powerful NVIDIA and AMD systems, though, so if you need something for 3D rendering, you may need to turn to a Windows machine.

Buy MacBook Air M1 at Amazon - $999

Best Windows: Dell XPS 13 Plus

Dell XPS 13 Plus
Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

The best PC has long been Dell’s well-rounded XPS 13 series and I still recommend it to anyone that doesn’t want a Mac. Yes, the new XPS 13 Plus lacks a headphone jack, and we haven’t got one in to test yet. But the XPS 13 is a well-rounded machine and still one of the best-looking PCs out there.

Like its predecessors, the XPS 13 Plus offers a lovely OLED screen with impressively thin bezels and packs a roomy, comfortable keyboard. It also features a new minimalist design that looks more modern. I’m not sure about the row of capacitive keys at the top in lieu of traditional function keys, but I’m confident that the laptop’s 12th-gen Intel Core processors will provide a healthy performance boost from the last model.

If you’re not sure about the changes Dell has made to the XPS 13, or if you definitely need a headphone jack, the older generations are still solid options. There’s also the Samsung Galaxy Book 2 Pro series, which feature beautiful OLED screens and sharper webcams in thin and light frames. I also like Microsoft’s Surface Laptops, and the most recent edition offers great performance and battery life, albeit in an outdated design.

Buy XPs 13 Plus at Dell - $1,299

Best for gaming: Razer Blade 15 Advanced

For its 2022 refresh, Razer has added updated components along with a few design tweaks like larger key caps to the Blade 15.
Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Gamers should look for machines with responsive screens and ample ports for their favorite accessories that can best help them defeat their virtual enemies. My colleague Devindra Hardawar goes into more detail about what to consider in his guide to buying a gaming laptop, which you should read to learn about different CPUs and GPUs, minimum specs and more. Our favorite gaming laptop is the Razer Blade 15 Advanced, which has an Intel Core i7 processor, and an NVIDIA RTX 3070 graphics for $2,500.

It’s the most expensive item on this list, but you also get a 15-inch quad HD screen that refreshes at 240Hz. Different configurations are available, depending on your preference, including a Full HD 360Hz and a 4K 144Hz version. The Blade series is also one of the most polished gaming laptops around.

Those looking for something cheaper and more portable should consider the ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14, which was our favorite model last year. The main reason it got bumped down a notch is because the 2022 refresh is almost $600 more expensive. It’s still a solid gaming laptop though, with an excellent display, roomy trackpad and plenty of ports in spite of its thin profile.

Buy Blade 15 Advanced at Razer - $2,500

Best Chromebook: Lenovo Flex 5 Chromebook

laptop
Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

Our favorite Chromebook is Lenovo’s Flex 5 Chromebook, which Engadget’s resident Chrome OS aficionado Nathan Ingraham described as “a tremendous value.” This laptop nails the basics, with a 13-inch Full HD touchscreen, a fantastic keyboard and a 10th-generation Intel Core i3 processor. The 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage may sound meager, but in our testing the Flex 5 held up in spite of this constraint. It’s also nice to see one USB-A and two USB-C ports, eight-hour battery life and a 360-degree hinge that makes it easy to use the Flex 5 as a tablet. That’s a bonus, especially now that Chrome OS supports Android apps.

Though the Flex 5 is almost two years old by now, it’s a solid deal at around $400. In fact, you can sometimes find it on sale for as little as $300, making it a great option for someone looking for a basic browser-based machine on a tight budget.

Buy Flex 5 Chromebook at Amazon - $430

Best budget: HP Pavilion Aero 13

HP Pavilion Aero
Daniel Cooper / Engadget

If you’re looking for something under $800, your best bet is the HP Pavilion Aero 13. For around $750, you’ll get a Full HD screen with a 16:10 aspect ratio and surprisingly thin bezels, as well as a comfortable keyboard and spacious trackpad. Importantly, the Aero 13 provides relatively powerful components compared to others in this price range, with an AMD Ryzen 5000 series processor and Radeon graphics. Plus, it has a generous array of ports and enough juice to last you the entire work day and then some.

Buy Pavilion Aero 13 at HP starting at $739

Best convertible: Microsoft Surface Pro 8

The Microsoft Surface Pro 8, photographed on a roof deck with the keyboard folio attached.
Dana Wollman/Engadget

For those who need their laptops to occasionally double as tablets, the Surface Pro series is a no-brainer. Compared to notebooks with rotating hinges, tablets with kickstands are often much slimmer and lighter. The Surface Pro 8 is the most recent model and it features Microsoft’s sleek new design with a thinner profile and minimal bezels. The Pro 8 also has a 120Hz display that makes scrolling long documents or spreadsheets feel much faster, and you can drop the refresh rate down to 60Hz if you want to conserve battery life.

We also like Microsoft’s Type Covers for its Surface Pros, though it’s worth noting that they’ll cost you an additional $100 to $180. Those who want to doodle or sketch on the display may appreciate the Surface Slim Pen 2’s haptic feedback.

Unless you’re bent on sticking to Apple’s ecosystem, in which case an iPad Pro would suit you best, the Surface Pro 8 is arguably the best convertible laptop around.

Buy Surface Pro 8 at Amazon - $1,600

The best laptops for gaming and schoolwork

There's never been a better time to be a PC gamer, especially if you’re always on the go. Gaming notebooks are lighter, more powerful and cheaper than ever before. They're particularly useful for students because their beefy hardware could be helpful for rendering video and doing any other schoolwork that would make super-thin ultraportables sweat. You can find some general advice on choosing gaming laptops in our guide. But if you want to narrow down the field to a few great options, you’ve come to the right place.

Are gaming laptops good for school?

As we’ve mentioned, gaming laptops are especially helpful if you're doing any demanding work. Their big promise is powerful graphics performance, which isn't just limited to games. Video editing and 3D rendering programs can also tap into their GPUs to handle demanding tasks. While you can find decent GPUs on some productivity laptops, like Dell's XPS 15, you can sometimes find better deals on gaming laptops. My general advice for any new workhorse machine: Get at least 16GB of RAM and the largest solid state drive you can find (ideally 1TB or more). Those components are both typically hard to upgrade down the line, so it’s worth investing what you can up front.

The one big downside to choosing a gaming notebook is portability. For the most part, we'd recommend 15-inch models to get the best balance of size and price. Those typically weigh in around 4.5 pounds, which is significantly more than a three-pound ultraportables. Today's gaming notebooks are still far lighter than older models, though, so at least you won't be lugging around a 10-pound brick. And if you’re looking for something lighter, there are plenty of 14-inch options these days. And if you're not into LED lights and other gamer-centric bling, keep an eye out for more understated models (or make sure you know how to turn those lights off).

Best midrange for most people: ASUS Zephyrus G14

ASUS Zephyrus G14
Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

The Zephyrus G14 is a bit more expensive than when it launched a few years ago, but it remains a fantastic 14-inch gaming laptop. This year, it’s toting AMD’s Ryzen 9 6900HS CPU and Radeon 6700S GPU. That’s enough power to play just about any modern game in 1,440p, and they should perform smoothly on the 120Hz or 144Hz QHD screens. Unlike the first G14 model, there’s also a built-in webcam with Windows Hello login support. What’s most impressive is that the G14 is still pretty portable for a gaming laptop, weighing in between 3.6 and 3.8 pounds.

Buy Zephyrus G14 at Amazon - $2,100

Best high-end option: Razer Blade 15

Razer Blade 15
Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

For years, Razer has built a reputation for making gaming laptops that look as good as MacBooks. And that's still true. Razer's Blade 15 features a sleek and sturdy metal case, an understated design (unless you really kick up those RGB keyboard lights), and just about all the power you'd want in a portable gaming powerhouse. If money is no object, you can equip the Blade 15 with Intel's latest 12th-gen processors, NVIDIA's powerful RTX 3080 Ti and your choice of 144Hz 4k, 240Hz QHD or 360Hz HD screens..

While you'll pay a bit more for the Blade 15 compared to some other models, you've still got a few different price points to work with. The entry-level model starts at $1,799 with an RTX 3060 GPU and 144Hz 1080p display. That's certainly enough power for most games and creative apps. If you're looking for something a bit smaller, Razer's new AMD-powered Blade 14 looks compelling as well.

Buy Razer Blade 15 at Amazon - $3,000

A thin 14-inch option: Alienware X14

Alienware X14
Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

If you’re looking for a thin and light computer that can still handle some gaming and demanding schoolwork, Alienware’s X14 is one of the best choices around. It measures at just 0.57 inches thick, which means it can fit into all sorts of slim bags, and weighs a bit more than four pounds. Its gorgeous 1080p screen supports Dolby Vision and NVIDIA G-SYNC, so it’ll look great both for movie-watching and gameplay. And, well, it just looks really cool – it’s the most portable variation of Alienware’s sci-fi aesthetic.

Buy Alienware X14 at Dell - $1,470

Best budget option: Dell G5 15

Dell G5 15 gaming laptop
Engadget

While Alienware has established itself as a solid premium brand, Dell's cheaper G-series notebooks are worth a look for anyone on a budget. In particular, the G5 15 continues the trend of delivering very capable hardware – including Intel’s latest 12th-gen CPUs, AMD’s Ryzen 6000 chips and NVIDIA’s RTX 30-series GPUs – for under $1,000. Sure, the case is mostly plastic, and the screen doesn't offer all of the latest niceties, but for the price it's hard to find anything more powerful.

Buy G5 15 at Dell - $920

Best no-limit gaming laptop: ASUS Zephyrus Duo 16

ASUS Zephyrus Duo 16
ASUS

Taking the idea of a gaming laptop to the absolute extreme, ASUS's latest Zephyrus Duo 16 combines AMD's latest Ryzen mobile processors with all of NVIDIA's great RTX 30-series hardware. And, true to its name, it has two screens: a gorgeous 16-inch main display (with optional Mini-LED backlighting), and a very wide 14-inch secondary panel right below. That opens up a near desktop-level of multitasking, since you can have windows spread across both screens. It could help you to browse the web while keeping an eye on Twitter at the same time. (Or maybe following an online lecture while fitting in a Halo Infinite match on your main screen. We won’t tell.)

Buy Zephyrus Duo 16 at Amazon - $4,200

The best laptops for college students

Whether you’re heading to a physical campus, taking classes online or a mix of both, a laptop is sure to be the control center for your studies. Getting a new machine can better help you stay on top of your schedule and handle your furious multitasking with dozens of tabs devoted to research while you write your essays. Given we’re still dealing with ongoing inflation and the global chip supply shortage, you might be concerned about rising prices or what might be in stock. The good news is, companies are still making a ton of new laptops, and there are plenty of models for you to consider. We compiled this guide to help you make the right choice, alongside a list of this year’s best laptops.

What to expect

Since the introduction of Apple’s M1-powered MacBooks and Windows 11 last year, not much has changed significantly. Apple unveiled its new M2 system-on-chip (SoC), alongside two laptops that are equipped with it, including a redesigned MacBook Air. Meanwhile, new PCs keep getting announced, with models this year typically powered by 12th-gen Intel processors or the latest AMD Ryzen chips.

Though the shift to ARM-based systems has been successful for Apple, the PC industry is still struggling to keep up, and Windows on ARM is still tough to recommend. Snapdragon laptops may look and feel sleek, offer excellent battery life and built-in cellular radios, but they’re typically quite expensive, especially considering their limited app compatibility.

Speaking of, most laptops with top-of-the-line specs can cost you around $1,800 to $2,000 these days. For most students, though, a midrange machine might be enough. Depending on your field of study, you could get by with an Intel Core i3 processor or equivalent, with at least 6GB of RAM. If you need to run specialized software for design or programming, consider upgrading to a beefier system with more memory. On the other hand, if you do most of your coursework online or in a browser, getting a Chromebook could save you a lot of money.

You’ll also want to pay attention to a device’s weight. There are a lot of premium ultraportables in the 13-inch category, with chips like Intel’s Core i3 or i5, that cost around $1,000. And if that’s too expensive, you’ll still have respectable options in the $600 to $800 range, but they might be heavier and use older, slower processors. I’ve included our favorite budget-friendly model in this roundup but we also have a complete guide to more-affordable laptops that you can check out as well.

With some laptop makers deciding to get rid of headphone jacks this year, it’s important to check specs lists when you’re shopping for newer machines. If you don’t have wireless headphones or use equipment that plugs into the 3.5mm jack, you’ll want to steer clear of devices like Dell’s new XPS 13 Plus.

Finally, while most laptops in 2022 offer WiFi 6 or 6E and Bluetooth 5.0 or later, the compatible routers or other devices that would enable those faster connections aren’t very prevalent yet. Chances are, your campus WiFi might still be stuck on an older setup, so it’s not crucial that you get a system with the latest standards yet. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to get a laptop that’s future-proof, but just know that of all the things to look out for, WiFi 6E shouldn’t be a dealbreaker in your decision-making process.

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Best Apple: MacBook Air

Apple MacBook Air M1/M2
Apple

It's hard to beat Apple's MacBook Air if you want a powerful machine for college that won't weigh you down. You actually have two good options this year — the new M2-powered MacBook Air and the MacBook Air M1. The M2 laptop earned a score of 96 from us for its impressive performance, gorgeous 13.6-inch Liquid Retina display and its refined design that's even thinner than the M1 machine that came before it. Our biggest gripe with this laptop is its price — the M2 notebook will set you back $200 more than the M1, so you're looking at spending at least $1,199 if you want the latest and greatest from Apple.

However, even though it’s older, the M1 MacBook Air is a solid machine, outperforming many PCs while maintaining a fanless design. You’ll still get a great keyboard and excellent battery life, along with a nice Retina display. Of course, it uses a 720p webcam, while the new model has a sharper 1080p setup housed in a notch. The latter also has thinner display bezels that make it look more modern, as well as a MagSafe port that lets you keep charging while still having access to the device’s two USB-C ports. But if you’re already living a largely wireless life and don’t mind a not-so-great camera, you might find the M1 MacBook Air is a better deal.

Buy MacBook Air M2 at Amazon - $1,199Buy MacBook Air M1 at Amazon - $999

Best Windows: Dell XPS 13 Plus

Dell XPS 13 Plus
Engadget

The best PC has long been Dell’s well-rounded XPS 13 series and I still recommend it to anyone that doesn’t want a Mac. Yes, the new XPS 13 Plus lacks a headphone jack, and we haven’t got one in to test yet. But the XPS 13 is a well-rounded machine and reliable workhorse that will get you through classes and late-night writing sessions without breaking a sweat.

Like its predecessors, the XPS 13 Plus offers a lovely OLED screen with impressively thin bezels and packs a roomy, comfortable keyboard. It also features a new minimalist design that looks more modern. I’m not sure about the row of capacitive keys at the top in lieu of traditional function keys, but from our time with an early sample, they at least worked.

If you don’t like the changes Dell has made to the XPS 13, or if you definitely need a headphone jack, the older generations are still solid options. There’s also the Samsung Galaxy Book 2 Pro series, which feature beautiful OLED screens and sharper webcams in thin and light frames. I also like Microsoft’s Surface Laptops, and the most recent edition offers great performance and battery life, albeit in an outdated design.

Buy XPs 13 Plus at Dell - $1,275

Best for gaming: Razer Blade 15

Razer Blade 15
Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

Just because your laptop might primarily be for school or work doesn’t mean you can’t use it for fun. Those looking to game on their machines should prioritize responsive screens and ample ports for their favorite accessories that can best help them defeat their virtual enemies. If you’re considering a gaming-first machine that you can use for school, check out our guide to buying a gaming laptop. It covers details about different CPUs and GPUs, minimum specs and more. Our favorite gaming laptop is the Razer Blade 15, which has an Intel Core i7 processor, and an NVIDIA RTX 3070 graphics for $2,500.

It’s the most expensive item on this list, but you also get a 15-inch quad HD screen that refreshes at 240Hz. Different configurations are available, depending on your preference, including a Full HD 360Hz and a 4K 144Hz version. The Blade series is also one of the most polished gaming laptops around.

Those looking for something cheaper and more portable should consider the ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14, which was our favorite model last year. The main reason it got bumped down a notch is because the 2022 refresh is almost $600 more expensive. It’s still a solid gaming laptop though, with an excellent display, roomy trackpad and plenty of ports in spite of its thin profile.

Buy Blade 15 at Razer - $2,500

Best Chromebook: Lenovo Flex 5 Chromebook

Lenovo Flex 5 Chromebook
Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

If you can do most of your schoolwork through web-based apps, a Chromebook is worth considering. Sure they don’t generally look fancy, nor have high-end specs. But they’re often more affordable and have longer battery life. Our favorite Chromebook is Lenovo’s Flex 5 Chromebook, which Engadget’s resident Chrome OS aficionado Nathan Ingraham described as “a tremendous value.”

This laptop nails the basics, with a 13-inch Full HD touchscreen, a fantastic keyboard and a 10th-generation Intel Core i3 processor. The 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage may sound meager, but in our testing the Flex 5 held up in spite of this constraint. It’s also nice to see one USB-A and two USB-C ports, eight-hour battery life and a 360-degree hinge that makes it easy to use the Flex 5 as a tablet. That’s a bonus, especially now that Chrome OS supports Android apps.

Though the Flex 5 is almost two years old by now, it’s a solid device for around $400. In fact, you can sometimes find it on sale for as little as $300, making it a great option for someone looking for a basic browser-based machine on a tight budget.

Buy Flex 5 Chromebook at Amazon - $430

Best budget: HP Pavilion Aero 13

HP Pavilion Aero
Daniel Cooper / Engadget

If you’re looking for something under $800, your best bet is the HP Pavilion Aero 13. For $750, you’ll get a Full HD screen with a 16:10 aspect ratio and surprisingly thin bezels, as well as a comfortable keyboard and spacious trackpad. Importantly, the Aero 13 provides relatively powerful components compared to others in this price range, with an AMD Ryzen 5000 series processor and Radeon graphics. Plus, it has a generous array of ports and enough juice to last you the entire work day and then some.

Buy Pavilion Aero 13 at HP - $799

Best Convertible: Microsoft Surface Pro 8

Microsoft Surface Pro 8
Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

For those who need their laptops to occasionally double as tablets, the Surface Pro series is a no-brainer. Compared to notebooks with rotating hinges, tablets with kickstands are often much slimmer and lighter. The Surface Pro 8 is the most recent model and it features Microsoft’s sleek new design with a thinner profile and minimal bezels. The Pro 8 also has a 120Hz display that makes scrolling long documents or spreadsheets feel much faster, and you can drop the refresh rate down to 60Hz if you want to conserve battery life.

We also like Microsoft’s Type Covers, though it’s worth noting that they’ll cost you an additional $100 to $180. Those who want to doodle or sketch on the display may appreciate the Surface Slim Pen 2’s haptic feedback.

Unless you’re bent on sticking to Apple’s ecosystem, in which case an iPad Pro would suit you best, the Surface Pro 8 is arguably the best convertible laptop around.

Buy Surface Pro 8 at Amazon - $1,099