The Best Laptop for 2021: Top 10 Laptops, Reviewed

We’ve tested and reviewed well over 400 laptops over the years, searching for the best of the best. But to earn the crown for “best laptop” in 2021, it needs to have it all: Gorgeous design, killer performance, a productive keyboard, long-lasting battery life, and much more.

Each of the laptops below has been vetted thoroughly, whether they’re an affordable Chromebook or a decked-out gaming laptop. Our pick for the best overall laptop, the Dell XPS 13, is the option we’d recommend to the most amount of people, but something from the list below should suit your needs.

If you’re hoping to find a discount on a new laptop, you can also take a look at our list of the best laptop deals right now.

Top 10 laptops at a glance:

Dell XPS 13

Dell XPS 13 9310 Featured Image
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: It’s the best overall laptop you can buy in 2021.

Who it’s for: Almost everyone, unless you have a specific need such as gaming or video editing.

Why we picked the Dell XPS 13:

No laptop in the past few years has been more influential than the XPS 13. It started the race to thinner bezels back in 2015, which has now spread to every gadget that has a screen.

In its newest iteration, which was updated in 2020, Dell’s taken things even further. The latest XPS 13 made the screen larger using a 16:10 aspect ratio, all while shrinking the bottom bezel. The result is a larger screen without needing a larger overall laptop, another trend that many other laptops have come to copy.

That update of the Dell XPS 13 also received a larger keyboard and touchpad, making use of every possible surface of the device. Of course, it’s just as powerful and long-lasting as before, not sacrificing function over form. The upcoming 2021 update even provides an option for an OLED 4K screen.

It all adds up to what is undoubtedly the best laptop you can buy. We recently reviewed very competitive rivals like the HP Spectre x360 14 and Razer Book 13, but still found the XPS 13 to be the best option.

Read our in-depth Dell XPS 13 9310 review

Apple MacBook Air M1

Macbook Air
Riley Young/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: It’s the best laptop for college students and the best MacBook for 2021.

Who it’s for: College students and Apple fans.

Why we picked the MacBook Air:

It might not look any different, but the most recent MacBook Air is a huge departure from the Macs of recent years. Like the latest MacBook Pro and Mac mini, the MacBook Air now runs on Apple’s own silicon, the M1 chip. Despite not increasing the price of the laptop, this M1 chip brings a few major advantages to the MacBook Air, making it the perfect laptop for college students.

The two big improvements the M1 brings are in battery life and performance. The old MacBook Air was hamstrung by a slow, dual-core processor. Not only is the new MacBook Air now completely fanless — it doesn’t have to sacrifice speed to keep the temperatures down.

The battery life, though, is really what makes this the ultimate student laptop. You’ll enjoy all-day battery life (or multiple days if your use is sparing) — perfect for classrooms, coffee shops, libraries, and other locations where an outlet is hard to find.

Indeed, $999 isn’t cheap, but the $100 discount for students makes the MacBook Air a perfect gift for a student going off to college.

Read our in-depth MacBook Air M1 review

Acer Swift 3

Why you should buy this: It’s the best budget laptop you can buy right now.

Who it’s for: Anyone who cares more about performance and functionality than style.

Why we picked the Acer Swift 3:

Usually, when you spend around $650 for a budget laptop in 2021, one of the first things you give up is performance. That’s not the case with the AMD version of the Acer Swift 3, which equips a Ryzen 7 4700U CPU. That’s an eight-core processor that churns through demanding tasks and laughs at mere productivity work. You can do real video editing work on this laptop, and that’s amazing for the price.

You also get 8GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD, which is also great value. We’re not that excited about the display, but something had to give. The Acer Swift 3‘s build quality, though, is fine, even if this isn’t the prettiest laptop around.

You can expect the Acer Swift 3 to get updated with the latest Ryzen 5000 processors soon, which should deliver even more performance.

Read our in-depth Acer Swift 3 review

Google Pixelbook Go

Google Pixelbook Go screen

Why you should buy this: It’s the best Chromebook you can buy.

Who it’s for: Students, people who need only basic functionality, anyone who wants a cheap laptop to use as a second PC.

Why we picked the Google Pixelbook Go:

Chromebooks are best-known as cheap alternatives to Windows PCs, and there are plenty of good options for under $500. The Pixelbook Go, though, makes a serious case for a Chromebook with a bit more finesse. It’s beautifully designed, rigidly built, and a joy to use.

Thanks to its ultra-light 2.3-pound weight and fantastic battery life, it’s a great option for students and people taking their work on the go. With a starting price of $649, the Google Pixelbook Go is a significant price cut from the $999 original Pixelbook, while maintaining many of its best aspects.

You do, of course, face the usual limitations with Chrome OS. It’s designed around Google’s Chrome web browser, meaning you can’t download your normal Windows applications. It’s wonderfully simple and intuitive to use, however, and with the inclusion of the Google Play Store, you can fill some of the gaps in software with Android apps.

The newer Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2 and Asus Chromebook Flip C436 both give the Pixelbook Go a run for its money, but in terms of battery life and portability, it’s still undefeated.

Read our in-depth Google Pixelbook Go review

Microsoft Surface Pro 7

Microsoft Surface Pro 7 front

Why you should buy this: It’s the best 2-in-1 laptop you can buy.

Who it’s for: Anyone who needs versatility on top of performance.

Why we picked the Surface Pro 7:

The Surface Pro line has earned its dedicated following over the years with its excellent detachable keyboard and full Windows 10 performance, earning its place as the best 2-in-1 laptop. It’s the familiar PC experience you’re used to, with the added interest of 2-in-1 capability, Surface Pen stylus compatibility, and a tablet mode. It’s a supremely well-built device, complete with a beautiful, high-resolution display and rock-solid kickstand.

The latest model, the Surface Pro 7, doesn’t make any substantial changes to the formula, but it does offer a couple of key upgrades. You get a USB-C port rather than a mini-DisplayPort, as well as upgrade performance with 10th-generation Ice Lake processors from Intel. That means snappier performance and improved integrated graphics.

Do we wish the Microsoft Surface Pro 7 had the slimmer chassis and smaller bezels of the newer Surface Pro X? Of course. But the Surface Pro 7 is cheaper, faster, and more universal in terms of app support.

Two business-oriented 2-in-1s have come to challenge the Surface Pro 7 recently — the Surface Pro 7+ and the ThinkPad X12 Convertible. They are better options for those who need some extra performance and security.

Read our in-depth Surface Pro 7 review

HP Elite Dragonfly Gen 2

Why you should buy this: It’s the best business laptop you can buy in 2021.

Who it’s for: Business pros who want a laptop that won’t embarrass them.

Why we picked the HP Elite Dragonfly:

Business laptops have a certain stigma around them. It’s often assumed that they need to be clunky, ugly, and full of bloatware. Not so.

The Elite Dragonfly has everything your IT department will need (and you’ll appreciate), without getting in the way of a supremely beautiful and modern laptop. The ideal person for the Dragonfly is someone who takes their work on the go with them, whether that’s in long flights or subways. That’s where the Dragonfly really comes alive as a highly portable laptop that might actually fit on your pull-down tray.

On top of all that, the HP Elite Dragonfly is one of the first 5G-enabled laptops, which could come in handy as the faster connectivity standard rolls out. And, HP announced two new models of the laptop at CES 2021, the Elite Dragonfly G2 and Max, the upgrade to Tiger Lake CPUs and add in a number of features that make the laptops even better for remote workers. Stay tuned for reviews of these new models, and they’ll likely take this spot once we’ve had a chance to check them out.

Read our in-depth HP Elite Dragonfly review

Lenovo Chromebook Flex 5

lenovo chromebook flex 5

Why you should buy this: It’s the best laptop you can buy under $500.

Who’s it for: Students, those with basic computing needs

Why we picked the Lenovo Chromebook Flex 5:

Many people don’t use their laptop for more than web browsing, social media, watching videos, and online apps for work. A cheap Chromebook fits the bill. Not all Chromebooks under $500 are made equal, though. The Lenovo Chromebook Flex 5 outdoes many of its competitors with its fast Intel Core i3 processor, solid 1080p screen, and impressive battery life. It also comes in fairly portable package with an aesthetic that doesn’t offend.

It’s not a perfect laptop — the touchpad could be better, as could the speakers. But if your computing needs are fairly basic, don’t spend more than you need to on your next laptop. The Lenovo Chromebook Flex 5 will surprise you by just how much laptop $410 can buy you.

If you need a Windows laptop under $500, the 2020 Acer Aspire 5 is a solid option — just stay away from the 2021 model.

Razer Blade 15

Why you should buy this: It’s the best gaming laptop you can buy in 2021.

Who it’s for: People who want a fantastic laptop that can also game.

Why we picked the Razer Blade 15:

From the exterior, you might not even know the Razer Blade is a gaming laptop. It’s as light and thin as a MacBook Pro, with thin bezels, a world-class keyboard and touchpad, as well as a bright, vivid, 15-inch display. Even if it weren’t a gaming laptop, the Razer Blade would probably still be a contender for one of the best 15-inch laptops. The fact that it can play games at respectable frame rates makes it a bit of a miracle.

Now with new RTX 30-series graphics, maxing out at the RTX 3080, the Razer Blade is a killer gaming machine. But the most exciting new configuration comes with a 1440p resolution screen and a 240Hz refresh rate. That represents the crossing of a new threshold for gaming laptops and is sure to make the Razer Blade 15 an even more impressive package.

Don’t misunderstand me: The Razer Blade isn’t the most powerful gaming laptop in the world. The system tends to get a bit warm and it’s quite expensive. If you’re looking for something more affordable, check out the AMD-powered Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 to save a few hundred bucks. Or better yet — wait for the rumored 14-inch model that could finally bring AMD Ryzen 5000 processors to Razer for the first time.

Read our in-depth Razer Blade 15 review

Dell XPS 17

Why you should buy this: It’s the best laptop for video editing you can buy.

Who it’s for: Video editors who want powerful components and a big, beautiful display.

Why we picked the Dell XPS 17:

When you’re editing video, you want plenty of space to view both the results and your favorite application’s interface. But, if you’re using a laptop rather than a desktop PC, then you want to be able to do your editing on the go. That’s where larger laptops come in — they’re both powerful and, thanks to today’s thin-bezel movement, highly portable.

The biggest and most powerful of the bunch for video editing is the Dell XPS 17. Despite having a 17-inch screen, the overall size of the laptop is not much bigger than your average 15-inch laptop. That’s thanks to the tiny bezels, of course. It even comes with four powerful Thunderbolt 3 ports and a full-size SD card slot for convenient transfers directly from your camera.

But the performance is what really counts for video-editing laptops. Between the eight-core, Core i9 processor and an Nvidia RTX 2060, the Dell XPS 17 is the most powerful editing laptop I’ve ever tested, blowing through video exports in Adobe Premiere like nobody’s business. The gorgeous 4K display is the final piece of the puzzle, which is bright, beautiful, and has nearly perfect color reproduction. You can trust your color edits with this one.

Read our in-depth Dell XPS 17 review

Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch

MacOS Catalina Hands-on | Macbook Pro

Why you should buy this: It’s the best laptop for photo editing you can buy.

Who it’s for: Photo editors who want a display that will give them real-world results.

Why we picked the Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch:

Apple’s MacBook line has been a favorite as one of the best laptops for photo editing for quite some time. The company has built up such a huge following by ensuring that the best software runs on MacOS, and by offering some of the best and most accurate displays you can buy. This is key if your creative work includes precise color grading.

The MacBook Pro maintains that focus on creative professionals, especially if you opt for the 16-inch model. It offers a ton of power in a very thin and light form factor, up to 10th-gen Intel Core i9 CPUs, 64GB of RAM, and 8TBs of fast storage. And, its display is great for editing photos thanks to a 16:10 aspect ratio providing more vertical space and wide color gamut (100% of sRGB and 91% of AdobeRBG) with the most accurate colors you can get.

The highly anticipated M-series update to the 16-inch MacBook Pro is likely coming later in 2021, though, so holding off until then might be a good idea. If you’re willing to go with a smaller screen size, the MacBook Pro 13-inch M1 is also a fantastic choice thanks to how powerful that M1 chip is.

Read our in-depth Apple MacBook Pro 16 review

How we test

You’ve read our laptop reviews. You’ve read our conclusions. And now you’re wondering how we came to them.

Good question. Reviews often lack context, which is evident in the wildly different scores some laptops receive from different publications. Conflicting opinions can actually make buying a laptop more difficult if the review’s criteria aren’t made clear.

Allow us to lift the veil. Here we’ll explain the benchmarks we use for objective testing and the perspective from which we approach subjective topics. We don’t expect everyone to agree with our opinions, but we hope that sharing our process will leave you better equipped to decide what laptop best fits your needs.

Research and buying tips

What’s the best laptop brand?

Picking just one laptop brand as the best is a bit of a challenge lately. There are so many great laptops available today, and they come from several manufacturers. Hold our feet to the fire, though, and we’ll have to pick Dell as the overall best. Dell seems invested in applying the latest materials to improve the performance of its laptops, and it’s constantly coming up with new innovative designs.

HP is no slouch either. It, too, utilizes some unique materials and makes some customer-friendly design decisions, such as resisting the thin-and-light trend to pack in more battery capacity.

In terms of customer service and reliability, Apple carries the torch for its convenience. Its issues with its recent keyboards have been fixed, making MacBooks highly durable. Its customer service is top-notch. Though if you’re looking for 5G laptops specifically, only a few models already exist.

What’s a 2-in-1 laptop?

A 2-in-1 laptop is one that isn’t limited to the traditional clamshell configuration. Instead, a 2-in-1 can convert from a clamshell into some form of tablet PC that allows for natural inking and media consumption.

The concept isn’t brand-new — Microsoft sold a “Tablet PC” version of Windows as far back as 2001 that supported pen input, but it never caught on. As electronics have gotten more powerful and fit into smaller chassis, and capacitive touch and active pen technology has improved, the modern 2-in-1 has emerged. Microsoft kicked off the form factor with its Surface line in 2012, and most manufacturers followed with their versions.

Today, you can pick from among a variety of different kinds of 2-in-1s. The most popular types are the tablet with a detachable keyboard, epitomized by the Microsoft Surface Pro 7, and the 360-degree convertible where the display flips around to turn into a (usually larger) slate.

The main advantage of the tablet 2-in-1 is portability — tablets are extremely thin, light, and easy to carry around — while they also work the best for drawing and taking notes on the pen-enabled display. The 360-degree convertible 2-in-1, on the other hand, isn’t quite as handy as a tablet but it tends to work better in clamshell laptop mode — especially when using it on the lap, where it’s more stable than most detachable tablets.

What processor should I buy?

The most popular CPUs for laptops today are Intel’s eighth-generation Whiskey Lake processors that include low-power Y-series and fast and efficient U-series. For most productivity Windows 10 users, we recommend a minimum of the Core i5-8265U, which is a highly capable processor that can handle most productivity tasks without slowing down. It’s also efficient, meaning you’ll enjoy great battery life. If you skip back to older generations of Intel processors, you’ll find slower clock speeds and fewer cores at your disposal, meaning you may run into bottlenecks while multitasking or running multi-threaded applications.

Chromebook running on Google’s more efficient Chrome OS can utilize slower processors and still perform well, such as an Intel Core i3 or even a Pentium processor. Not many Chromebooks bother with the fastest Core i7 CPU.

If you’re looking for a gaming or content creation laptop, we recommend either last year’s eighth-generation or the most current ninth-gen, ultra-power H-series CPUs. You’ll find these in laptops ranging from the MacBook Pro 15 to the Razer Blade.

How much RAM do I need?

The sweet spot for memory for both laptops and desktops is 8GB. You can check out our story “How much RAM do I need” for the details. But generally speaking, 8GB will suffice whether you’re running Windows, MacOS, or even the more lightweight Chrome OS. And, it will provide plenty of headroom for multitasking and more demanding applications. If you’re doing high-end photo or video editing, then we recommend 16GB (or more).

Should I buy a laptop or a tablet?

As we mentioned above, you can get a tablet that can morph into a laptop just by attaching a keyboard. And so if you really want the power of Windows 10 in a form factor that’s easier to carry around, then you can select a tablet 2-in-1. We don’t recommend these devices as tablets in themselves, as the Windows 10 tablet mode is still fairly limited. If you want the utmost in simplicity and an even smaller device, then a pure tablet like the iPad can be great for web browsing, triaging email, consuming media, and other tasks that don’t require the full power of a “real” PC.

So, where doesn’t a tablet work? If you’re a hardcore gamer, need a laptop that can churn through video and huge photos, or do a lot of multitasking. Tablets are very thin and tend to use slower CPUs and integrated graphics that won’t accelerate creative applications or power modern games. Meanwhile, the software on these devices isn’t as full-featured as a desktop operating system like Windows 10 or MacOS.

Should my laptop have USB-C?

The short answer is: Yes, you should try to pick up a laptop with at least one USB-C port. This is the latest in connectivity that ensures that you can connect to legacy devices (via adapters) while being covered for future devices as well. USB-C can provide for data transfer, power, and display connections, and USB-C hubs can greatly extend how many peripherals you can easily connect to your laptop.

The good thing is that laptops, even budget models, increasingly include USB-C. The longer answer is that not only do you want USB-C, but you want ports that support the even more powerful Thunderbolt 3 standard. Thunderbolt 3 provides up to 40 gigabits per second (Gb/s) over a single connection, and it can support multiple 4K displays and external GPU enclosures that can greatly improve graphics performance. Lately, even laptops under $1,000 sport Thunderbolt 3 ports.

Editors’ Choice

Repost: Original Source and Author Link


The Best Gaming Desktops in 2021: Top Gaming PCs, Reviewed

Any old desktop PC can play some games. But if you’re buying something specifically for PC gaming, you’ll need a bit more performance — and a bit more style. That’s why we picked the HP Omen 30L as the best gaming PC you can buy in 2021. It’s not just a powerful gaming PC, but it also offers a fantastic blend of performance, sleek design, and value.

We’ve also included excellent options for different scenarios and budgets, so no matter your gaming PC tastes, there’s something for everyone.

The best gaming desktops at a glance

HP Omen 30L

Why you should buy this: It’s the best overall gaming desktop you can buy.

Who it’s for:  PC gamers who want a lot of bang for their buck.

Why we picked the HP Omen 30L:

HP updated its gaming desktop portfolio with the Omen 30L (and 25L), which now replaces our former favorite, the HP Omen Obelisk. The name points to the number of liters this PC can actually hold, which translates to a chassis measuring 16.61 by 17.05 by x 6.50 inches.

The desktop comes in a few different starting points, with the cheapest one priced at $1,449. The first one, like all the others, runs on an Intel processor and lets you pick between the Core i7-10700K or a 10-core powerhouse, the Core i9-10850K. Both of these CPUs come with a liquid cooling system and can be overclocked up to 5.1 and 5.2 GHz respectively. The default discrete GPU is the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti, although customers have additional options ranging from the RTX 2080 Ti to RTX 3060 Ti. This PC supports up to 64GB of RAM and up to three storage devices: One SSD (512GB to 2TB) and two HDDs (1TB and 2TB).

The next starting point kicks things up a notch. It begins with the Core i7-11700K with the option to upgrade to the Core i9-11900K. This model only comes with one GPU, Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 3060 Ti. It supports up to 64GB of RAM, while the storage choices are identical to the lower price point. There are two additional pre-built configurations: one that runs on a Core i9-10850K processor and a discrete Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 graphics card, and one that offers a Core i7-10700K CPU combined with an RTX 2080 Super GPU. Current availability is limited, so it’s worth checking which configurations are currently in stock.

Customers who simply want to buy the HP Omen 30L outright without configuring can get a solid build for $1,699. It’s packed with Intel’s Core i7-11700K CPU, a GeForce RTX 3060 Ti GPU, 8GB of RAM (supports 64GB), and a 512GB M.2 SSD. Other notable features include Wi-Fi 5 (2×2), Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity, and a 600-watt power supply.

Dell G5 Gaming

Dell G5 with glass panel

Why you should buy this: It’s the best budget gaming desktop you can buy.

Who it’s for: PC gamers who want a decent build without having to break the bank.

Why we picked the Dell G5 Gaming:

Dell serves up two gaming brands: The “value” G Series and its premium Alienware portfolio. The company refreshed its G5 Series desktop in 2020, bringing 10th-generation Intel CPUs to its budget-minded PCs.

This highly-affordable base configuration includes Intel’s Core i3-10100 four-core chip paired with the AMD Radeon RX 5300. They’re backed by 8GB of RAM and 1TB on a 7,200RPM hard drive. Move up to the next starting point for $100 more, and the base specs upgrade to Intel’s Core i5-10400F six-core chip and Nvidia’s GTX 1650 Super.

Depending on the starting point — of the eight options in all — this G5 desktop can be configured with up to Intel’s Core i9-10900KF processor, up to 64GB of RAM, and up to Nvidia’s RTX 3070 or AMD’s Radeon RX 5700 XT. Storage options include single and dual configurations with up to a 1TB NVMe SSD and up to a 2TB hard drive.

Rounding out the Dell G5 Gaming is an attractive case with an exterior illuminated strip, internal lighting, and a clear door.

Origin PC Neuron

origin neuron 2019
Riley Young/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: It’s the best boutique gaming desktop you can buy.

Who it’s for: Gamers who want the best of the best and aren’t afraid to break the bank.

Why we picked the Origin Neuron:

While shoppers can customize most gaming PCs when buying directly from OEMs, there are several “boutiques” that manufacture nothing but desktops and laptops. Origin PC entered the scene in 2009 and was recently acquired by Corsair, another well-known PC gaming brand. That means if you’re looking for a desktop sitting on the bleeding-edge of gaming power, Origin PC’s Neuron is a great buy.

Customers have only two starting points — $2,688 for Intel Core users and $2,551 for AMD Ryzen. This might seem less impressive compared to the multiple starting points with multiple options seen on competitor websites, but that makes the customizing process easy for even those who aren’t quite sure what hardware they want or need. Start by clicking Intel Core or AMD Ryzen listed under CPU, and configure the machine from there. Depending on your choices, you can knock a few hundred dollars off the starting price, but this comes at the cost of performance.

Customers keen on Intel processors will find seven options ranging from the Core i5-11400 six-core chip to the monster Core i9-11900K eight-core CPU. The AMD configuration offers four options ranging from the Ryzen 5 5600X six-core chip to the insanely expensive Ryzen 9 5950X 16-core chip. Meanwhile, GPU options start with Nvidia’s RTX 3060 Ti up to the 10GB version of RTX 3080. There are also two AMD cards to choose from: the AMD Radeon RX 6800 and the RX 6800 XT.

With those hardware specs out on the table, the Origin PC Neuron can get plenty expensive — insanely so — as customers climb the component ladder. But that’s the beauty of boutiques: To go beyond what any standard OEM will sell.

Lenovo Legion Tower 5i

Lenovo Legion Tower 5i

Why you should buy this: This is a solid alternative to the HP Omen 30L.

Who it’s for: Gamers who want good performance in games without breaking the bank.

Why we picked the Lenovo Legion Tower 5i:

If you’re looking for a well-rounded PC and you’re not dead-set on having all the latest specs, Lenovo offers a variety of balanced desktops at a reasonable price. Available in seven configurations with different starting price points, these PCs may not pack all the latest components, but they can still handle many games on high settings.

The cheapest starting point is just $999 and offers a budget PC for the nondemanding gamer. Equipped with a Core i5-10400F 6-core processor and an AMD Radeon RX 5500 discrete graphics card, this is a decent machine for both work and games, although some AAA titles are not likely to play smoothly. This variant also offers 8 GB of DDR4 2933MHz RAM, a 512GB PCIe SSD + 1 TB HDD combo, and a modest 400W power supply.

Spending $250 more lets you upgrade to a better CPU with the Core i7-10700 8-core processor. The graphics card also receives a welcome upgrade, getting you Nvidia’s GTX 1660 Super. The RAM remains the same, but the low price comes at the cost of the SSD which is downgraded to 256GB. Spending a total of $1,299 nets you the same CPU and GPU with a bigger SSD.

Most of the components only get better at higher price points, although the CPU stays the same. The best Lenovo Legion Tower 5i comes with a Core i7-10700 processor, 16GB of RAM, and Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 2070 Super. This setup also gives you an impressive 1TB PCIe SSD combined with 2TB of 7200 RPM storage, all of which is powered by a 650W power supply.

While Lenovo doesn’t let you customize beyond choosing the prebuilt set you want to buy, this is a good option for customers who don’t want to play around with settings. If you simply want a reliable PC that’s a solid alternative to the Omen 30L and remains affordable, this one is worth checking out.

CyberPowerPC Gamer Dragon

CyberPowerPC Gamer Dragon

Why should you buy this: It’s a great gaming desktop under $1,000.

Who’s it for: Gamers who want a great PC for e-sports and AAA gaming at 1080p.

Why we picked the CyberpowerPC Gamer Dragon:

Not every gamer wants to break the bank when purchasing a new PC. Shoppers can find decent configurations for around $1,000, including this one from CyberPowerPC. The company, based in California, is another boutique PC builder founded in 1998 and targets the more affordable mainstream while still offering capable components in attractive chassis.

For just-shy of $1,000, the base configuration uses AMD’s Ryzen 5 3600 six-core CPU stuffed into an Asus Prime B550-Plus ATX motherboard. They’re encased in a solid black tower complemented by tempered glass on the front and side, and LED-lit fans brighten up your desktop.

This affordable virtual reality (VR)-ready machine includes Nvidia’s GT 1030 2GB GDDR5 card that’s somewhat outdated but more than capable of great frame rates at 1080p — it’s also easily replaceable later. It’s backed by 8GB of RAM clocked at 3,000MHz, and a 500GB PCIe NVMe solid-state drive (SSD) paired with a Seagate 2TB hard drive.

Customers can reconfigure the CyberPowerPC Gamer Dragon before taking the financial plunge. It supports AMD processors up to the Ryzen 9 5950X, up to 64GB of RAM, up to AMD’s Radeon RX 6900 XT, or up to the VR-ready GeForce RTX 3090 24GB. 16GB of RAM would be worth the affordable upgrade, though that raises the budget further past the $1,000 mark.

Falcon Northwest Talon

Falcon NW Talon

Why you should buy this: It’s a great boutique desktop alternative to the Origin Neuron.

Who it’s for: Gamers who want a high-end PC and are prepared to pay for it.

Why we picked the Falcon Northwest Talon:

At a time when most of the new graphics cards and processors are in high demand, getting your hands on your dream rig is more difficult than ever. You’re not only faced with higher prices but also with supply shortages. Buying a customizable prebuilt desktop, such as the Falcon Northwest Talon, is a great workaround that lets you have your cake and eat it too — as long as you’re willing to pay for it.

Falcon’s 20th anniversary Talon stands out at first glance thanks to the elegant chassis that can be customized nearly as much as the components inside of it can. You can go with a basic case, pay extra for a paint job, or even have artwork added to it. This is only the start of the journey — the real challenge lies in picking the hardware.

The company lets you choose between four starting points, with the cheapest one priced at $3,525. There are two options for AMD fans and two for those who prefer Intel Core. From there, the options are plenty, and the main deciding factor will be the depth of your wallet.

The cheapest AMD desktop comes with an AMD Ryzen 7 5800X 8-core processor (upgradeable all the way to the Ryzen 9 5950X). This is combined with Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 3070 Founders Edition graphics card, which you can replace with one of 12 other options, ranging from the cheaper RTX 3060 Ti to the monstrous RTX 3090. Falcon’s Intel Core desktop has an initial price of $3,700 and it comes with the Core i7-11700K 8-core processor, which can be upgraded to a Core i9-11900K. The GPU choices remain the same as in the AMD set.

For customers who are looking for the best the market has to offer, Falcon prepared two higher price points — one for AMD and one for Intel. Those desktops can be decked out with the strongest components available, such as the AMD Threadripper 3990X 64-core CPU or the cheaper Core i9-10980XE 18-core Intel equivalent.

Whether you’re looking for something more tame but still powerful or you want the PC equivalent of a spaceship, Falcon Northwest Talon has it all for those who are willing to customize it.

Intel NUC 9

Intel Ghost Canyon
Matthew Smith / Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: It’s the best compact gaming desktop you can buy.

Who it’s for: Gamers who need loads of performance in a miniature PC.

Why we picked the Intel NUC 9:

If a miniature, palm-sized PC is what you want, Intel has your back. The company’s miniature NUC 9 PCs, formerly known as Ghost Canyon, arrived at the beginning of 2020, packing 9th-gen CPUs. There are five in all: Three Extreme kits and two Pro kits, the latter more suited for businesses.

The Extreme kits include the Core i5-9300H, the i7-9750H, or the i9-9980HK processor. There are no other components installed outside the motherboard, meaning owners must purchase the memory, storage, and software separately. The graphics component is integrated into the processor.

Don’t expect this tiny PC to play modern AAA games or offer more than playable frame rates in esports games, but it’s more than capable of handling indie games and older games if you’re willing to play with the settings.

The whole PC measures just 9.37 by 8.5 by 3.77 inches. It supports up to 64GB of RAM (2 times at 2,666MHz) and up to three M.2 SSDs. Four USB-A ports are on the back, along with two Thunderbolt 3 ports (USB-C). Two more USB-A ports and an SD card slot are on the front. Three additional USB headers reside on the motherboard.

Other notable features include Wi-Fi 6 connectivity, Gigabit Ethernet, audio input and output, and enough room to add a discrete graphics card. The Intel NUC 9 is easily a solid choice for customers that need performance but don’t have the physical space for the traditional desktop.

How we test

You’ve read our reviews. You’ve read our conclusions. Now you’re wondering how we came to them. Reviews often lack context. We’ll give out a score and analyze the finer points of desktop performance, but how do we reach those conclusions? How do we test these machines?

Allow us to lift the veil. Here, we’ll explain the benchmarks we use for objective testing and the perspective from which we approach subjective topics. We don’t expect everyone to agree with our opinions, but we hope that sharing our process will leave you better equipped to decide what desktop best fits your needs.

Research and buying tips

PC versus laptop for gaming

While you can play on the go with a gaming laptop outfitted with a discrete graphics card, a gaming desktop will deliver more flexibility, power, and performance for serious gamers. With more space inside a desktop tower, thermal management is generally better, which leads to stronger graphics and processing performance without the fear of throttling.

Another benefit of going with a desktop is that there is more space to perform upgrades in the future, so you can add more memory or storage, swap out your graphics card, and upgrade your motherboard and processor down the road. When shopping for a gaming desktop, you should look for key features like upgradability, expandability, and support for the latest protocols, like Thunderbolt 3, which could help extend the life of your investment.

What’s the best gaming PC for beginners?

Even if you’re not an enthusiast gamer, there are plenty of affordable gaming PC options for beginners. Desktops that aren’t marketed to gamers could easily be used for casual gaming. At the very least, you’ll want a desktop with discrete graphics support. Even though you can save a bit of money today with Nvidia’s GTX 1050 graphics or a more basic AMD Radeon card, stepping up to a midrange GTX 1650 or 1660 graphics card will help keep you on the playing field for at least another year. Newer cards, such as RTX 3080, are all huge upgrades but are also difficult to come by.

Gamers will also want to have enough RAM — we suggest at least 16GB of memory — and fast storage. Moreover, taking the dual-drive route means you don’t need to invest in an expensive SSD with large storage. This allows you to pair a more modest capacity SSD with a larger hard drive to store all the large media libraries for your game.

Preconfigured options from reputable brands — like HP, Dell, and Lenovo — are great places to start. If you want something more flashy, go with dedicated gaming brands like those from Acer, Asus, Alienware, and MSI, most of which come with more aggressive styling.

What company makes the best gaming PC?

At the high end of the spectrum, many of the top gaming PCs today come with an overclockable Intel Core i9-11900K processor (or an AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3960X) coupled with Nvidia’s RTX 3080 or RTX 3090 graphics. If you’re looking to push performance, you’ll want to explore models with multi-GPU support, like the Digital Storm Aventum X, which can be configured with up to four graphics cards, or the Origin PC Millennium.

Given that not many titles today support multiple graphics cards, all this power would be wasted unless you’re using the same rig for creative work during the day. Most gamers will likely want to stick with a single high-end graphics card, like Nvidia’s RTX 3080 or AMD’s new 7nm Radeon RX 5000 graphics, which will be powerful enough to last for a few years.

Gamers have plenty of options to choose from, and if prebuilt systems are a bit too simple for your style, you can step up to a boutique PC from Origin PC, Digital Storm, CyberPower PC, Falcon NW, and more. These brands will let you choose from a wide selection of components to give you the best performance possible for your budget.

Is PC gaming dying?

Absolutely not. With sales of general-purpose desktops stagnating in recent years, manufacturers like HP and Lenovo are investing more resources into their gaming brands to fuel growth.

With new hardware features supported on gaming PCs — from VR and augmented reality to real-time ray tracing — developers will have plenty of new technologies to leverage in order to tell visually engaging stories through their games. According to market research from Newzoo, $1 of every $4 spent on games was done on a PC.

Can gaming PCs be used for work?

Most definitely. Manufacturers like HP recognize that gamers don’t just play games — office workers want to stay entertained during their downtime, too. All that’s needed to play games is a capable processor, a strong enough discrete graphics card, and enough memory to keep the entire system running smoothly.

If you’re looking to save money by using one desktop for gaming and for your productivity tasks, you’ll want to choose a PC or one of the best laptops with more understated aesthetics that will blend in better with your office decor. Once you have the right PC selected, just pick out a few games and have fun.

Editors’ Choice

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PCWorld’s December Digital Magazine: Google’s latest hardware reviewed

Stay on top of the latest tech with PCWorld’s Digital Magazine. Available as single copies or as a monthly subscription, it highlights the best content from—the most important news, the key product reviews, and the most useful features and how-to stories—in a curated Digital Magazine for Android and iOS, as well for the desktop and other tablet readers.

In the December issue

The December issue has reviews of the new Google Pixel 4 XL and Pixelbook Go. We have details on AMD’s 32-core Threadripper 3970X and 16-core Ryzen 9 3950X. Plus, we review the HP Omen 17 and the new Brave 1.0 browser.

Other highlights include:

  • News: Microsoft’s 10 biggest Ignite reveals include the new Edge, and more ways to tie Office to the web
  • GPUs: Nvidia reveals faster GeForce GTX 1660 Super, GTX 1650 Super GPUs boosted by GDDR6 memory
  • Hands-on with Microsoft’s Project xCloud: Putting cellular cloud gaming to the test
  • Lenovo IdeaPad S340-15IWL review: Peppy quad-core performance, but a cheap display
  • Tall phones trend: If 2020 will be the year of the tall phone, I want no part of it
  • HDMI vs. DisplayPort: Which display interface reigns supreme?
  • Here’s How: How to use Windows’ Your Phone app to connect your phone to your PC

Video highlights

Watch: Google Nest Wifi is the second generation of the Google hub, now rebranded with Nest and incorporating the Nest smart home hub. The satellites now have Google Assistant built-in, too. Mike Simon goes hands-on at Google’s hardware event in New York.

How to subscribe and start reading

Subscribers can visit this page to learn how to access PCWorld on any device and start reading the current issue right away. 

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Tech News

PCWorld’s April Digital Magazine: Samsung Galaxy S10+ reviewed

Stay on top of the latest tech with PCWorld’s Digital Magazine. Available as single copies or as a monthly subscription, it highlights the best content from—the most important news, the key product reviews, and the most useful features and how-to stories—in a curated Digital Magazine for Android and iOS, as well for the desktop and other tablet readers.

In the April issue

In April we review Samsung’s awesome new Galaxy S10+. Find out why it’s still a force to be reckoned with. There are tons of VPNs available for Android; we have our top 5 picks. Plus, we have 7 tweaks and changes to Android Q that will make your phone better than it is now.

Other highlights include:

  • News: 5 MWC Android announcements you might have missed but really need to know
  • EVGA GeForce GTX 1660 Ti XC Ultra review: Laser-focused on all-around great performance
  • Lenovo IdeaPad 730S review: A slick laptop with no gimmicks
  • HP Spectre x360 15 (2019) review: A prettier, more powerful convertible than the last
  • Wireless PowerShare: How to use it on the Galaxy S10 to charge your Galaxy Buds or another phone
  • Here’s How: Send anonymous emails

Video highlights

Watch: Lenovo’s ThinkVision M14 is a thin, light, USB-C-powered portable monitor that pairs perfectly with the company’s iconic matte black ThinkPads. The 14-inch, 1920×1080-resolution panel shines bright at a solid 300 nits, but it weighs only 1.3 pounds and measures only 4.6mm thick, so it won’t take up a lot of space in your travel bag.

How to subscribe and start reading

Subscribers can visit this page to learn how to access PCWorld on any device and start reading the current issue right away. 

Subscribers: Update your PCWorld app to the latest version today!

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Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.

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PCWorld’s August Digital Magazine: Dell XPS 15 9500 reviewed

Stay on top of the latest tech with PCWorld’s Digital Magazine. Available as single copies or as a monthly subscription, it highlights the best content from—the most important news, the key product reviews, and the most useful features and how-to stories—in a curated Digital Magazine for Android and iOS, as well for the desktop and other tablet readers.

In the August issue

This month we review Dell’s XPS 15 9500, the laptop Apple should have made. We pick the best PC Games of 2020 (so far). Plus, find out why Xbox Game Pass for PC is the best deal in PC gaming.

Other highlights include:

  • News: Arm Macs and AMD rising: How Intel’s endless 10nm struggles cost it so much
  • Lenovo Yoga C640 review: The battery life blows us away
  • HP Chromebook x360 12b review: It’s affordable and good
  • Samsung SSD 870 QVO review: Stupendous 8TB capacity in a SATA SSD
  • Best Galaxy S20, S20+ and S20 Ultra cases: Top picks in every style
  • Android tips: 11 quick ways to clear space on an overstuffed Android phone, plus how to share large video files from your device
  • Here’s How: How to fix audio problems on your Windows PC

Video highlights

Watch: The Acer Aspire 5 has been a bestseller on Amazon for months. Here’s why: It has a nice, big 15.6-inch display, a slim chassis, and solid performance from its Ryzen 3 CPU on day-to-day computing.

Read your issues on PC or Mac

You can now read any issues as part of your subscription through a browser on Mac or PC. Simply go to this link. Click on the icon in the upper right (a box with an arrow in it). Existing app users should click on ‘Already have an account?’ below the sign up form and then log in there with your PCWorld digital magazine app credentials. From there you will have access to all issues that are part of your subscription. 

How to subscribe and start reading

Subscribers can visit this page to learn how to access PCWorld on any device and start reading the current issue right away. 

Subscribers: Update your PCWorld app to the latest version today!

Not a subscriber? With the PCWorld’s subscription, you get access to the digital magazine on as many devices as you’d like. Subscribe today!

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