The definitive breakdown of all the best laptops from the biggest brands

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Choosing a new laptop and buying a car are similar experiences: two of the most important decisions you'll make in your lifetime. Laptops might cost a bit less – though they’re not cheap by any stretch of the imagination – but your job and other life essentials (like Netflix) are vastly improved by the purchase of a slick, reliable laptop.

The point is that laptops are not a one-size-fits-all device. It’s not a choice that can be made based on simply price or looks. It's what's on the inside that counts.

Beginners need something user-friendly and straightforward. Frequent travellers need something light with a long battery life. Designers and gamers need top-notch 4K graphics and quick central processors. And everybody needs something that's not just going to break after a year.

What are the best laptop brands?

Apple reigns supreme as the most popular laptop manufacturer and its flagship models – such as the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air – regularly top lists of the very best laptops that money can buy. But despite what Apple diehards might think, it’s far from the only option out there.

The Microsoft Surface has been seriously impressing since its launch in 2012, peaking with the Microsoft Surface 4. HP offers a range of laptops that span price options and capabilities, from the budget Chromebook to the more premium Spectre and workhorse Zbook. Dell is another trusty and versatile manufacturer, with a laptop range including 2-in-1 models and dedicated gaming options.

Huawei and Lenovo are also worth your attention though they haven't made the cut right here.

What are the best gaming laptops?

If you’re a hardcore gamer, you need a laptop that’s built for gaming. Manufacturers such as Asus, Gigabyte, Razer, and Acer produce laptops that are dedicated to gaming and handling the latest software.

Household name brands such as HP and Dell also have machines built for top-flight gaming, such as the HP Omen and Dell Alienware ranges. Gaming laptops combine powerful CPU, GPU, and RAM specs for smooth, uninterrupted gameplay.

What are the laptop features you need to know about?

Not every laptop will suit everyone’s needs. But there are important inner components that every laptop has and it’s important to know what they are:

CPU — This is the central processing unit, sometimes called – quite simply – the processor. This is like the brain of the laptop. It controls and communicates with all of your laptop’s functions – including how fast it operates. The power and smarts of your CPU will depend on the kinds of tasks you perform on your laptop. If it’s general web-surfing, emails, and essay-writing, you won’t need an all-singing, all-dancing CPU. But if you’re a serious gamer, video editor, or graphic designer – or do anything that means installing and running big-time software – look for a machine with a solid, up-to-the-minute CPU processor to keep things ticking over quickly and smoothly.

GPU — The graphics processing unit, otherwise known as the graphics card. This is responsible for your laptop’s visuals. Once again, the GPU will depend on your laptop activity. You might not need eye-popping graphics for answering emails or writing coursework, but for design work or – perhaps most importantly – rendering visuals in the latest games, choose a machine with the latest, supremely powerful GPU.

RAM — This stands for random-access memory. It gives your computer short-term memory for running various applications at the same time and using them as and when you need to access. (How many apps are open in your dock right now? That’s all thanks to your RAM.) This basically controls the speed and dexterity of your laptop. We recommend 8GB of RAM as a good starting point if you’re a multi-tasker or use the laptop for heavy-duty gaming or creative work.

Storage — You’ll notice that laptops usually come with one of two types of storage space – hard-disc drive (HDD) or a solid-state drive (SSD) storage. HDD is essentially a hunk of metal inside the machine that holds onto all your info. SSD stores the info on little flash-memory chips. A HDD typically holds far more than SSD (HDD usually starts at 500GB – far higher than the standard SSD capacity of 128-256GB) but HDD is much slower than SSD. In modern laptops, you’ll most commonly find HDD in budget models. Premium and higher-ticket laptops usually come with SSD as standard. You can try a dual-storage option that combines high-level storage and high-quality performance. There are also cloud and external storage options, depending on your storage needs.

Display — First impressions count, and the first thing that catches your eye on any computer is its display. If you’re a gamer or designer – and especially if you’re looking for a laptop with a powerful GPU – a stunning, high-resolution display is absolutely essential. We recommend a 1080p resolution as a base level. Some laptops also have touchscreen capabilities – doubling up as a laptop-tablet combo – though Apple is yet to take the plunge with touchscreen laptops. This is also one area where size really does matter. Laptops built for gaming and creative work tend to have displays of 15-inches (or, at least, have the option of a 15-inch display or bigger) but more portable laptops may be 13 or even 11 inches.

Other features to look out for are size and weight – gaming laptops aren't always the most portable, for instance, so not best suited for on-the-go working. Also, research battery life and ports, depending on how many add-ons and tech devices you use in collaboration with your laptop.

How much should a laptop cost?

As with anything in life, you get what you pay for. Just as there's a laptop specification to suit everyone, there's a price point too. The laptops included in this list range from £1,150 to £2,900. Remember that a laptop is an investment in not just your work but your lifestyle too – it's worth spending a little extra to get a laptop that will perform harder, faster, and better.

What is the best laptop for you?

It's overwhelming but this is the kind of stuff we enjoy researching. We've put together a definitive guide of the best laptops on the market right now. We compare top brands that you probably have in mind like Apple and Dell, as well as other players you may not have considered otherwise. You're in good hands.

These are the best laptops in 2021.

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