Skip to main content

Best Ultrabooks and Premium Laptops 2021

Included in this guide:

HP Spectre x360 13 2019
(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

Whether you’re a student, a professional or just want to stay connected and productive, a laptop is one of the most important tools of the trade. But some are better than others, with excellent displays, keyboards, designs and battery life. If you’re looking for a powerful laptop that easily fits in your bag and doesn’t break your back, you want is often called an ultrabook.

The “ultrabook” moniker was originally coined by Intel in 2012 and used to refer to a set of premium, super-thin laptops that met the chipmaker’s predefined standards. Much of this occurred as the PC world was first catching up to the original MacBook Air. However, just as many people refer to tissues as Kleenexes or web searching as Googling, the term ultrabook commonly refers to any premium ultraportable laptop, whether it carries Intel’s seal of approval or not.

Of course, there's always new tech coming down the pipe. Intel has 45-watt "Tiger Lake H" processors have finally hit, and now our eyes are turning to a rumored successor in in early 2022. AMD's latest are the Ryzen 5000 series laptop CPUs. Of course, there are already rumors in the air about a successor to Apple's M1 processor.

Like many other tech products, however, some laptops are hard to get right now. That doesn't mean you should settle, but when you've done your research, you may have to wait to see if you can find exactly what you want in stock.

The picks on this list should be ready to run Windows 11 in the fall, should you be looking to upgrade from a system with an older, unsupported processor. You can find the system requirements for Windows 11 here.

Quick Ultrabook / Premium Laptop Shopping Tips 

  • Get a good keyboard: Whether you’re using an ultrabook to browse the web, send emails, code, write or do other productivity work, the keyboard is one of your primary ways of interacting. Get something with responsive keys that aren’t mushy. Low-travel is ok if the keys have the right feel to them, but the last thing you want to do is “bottom out” while typing.  
  • Consider what you need in a screen: At a minimum, your laptop should have a 1920 x 1080 screen. Some laptops offer 4K options, though it’s sometimes harder to see the difference at 13-inches or below. While 4K may be more detailed, 1080p screens give you much longer battery life. OLED screens are becoming far more common on laptops, with deep blacks and bright colors, but often at the cost of battery life.
  • Some laptops can be upgraded: While CPUs and GPUs are almost always soldered down, some laptops let you replace the RAM and storage, so you can buy cheaper now and add more memory and a bigger hard drive or SSD down the road. But the thinnest laptops may not have that option. 
  • Battery life is important: Aim for something that lasts for 8 hours or longer on a charge (gaming is an exception). For productivity, many laptops easily surpass this number. But be wary of manufacturer claims, which don’t always use strenuous tests. Some laptops are starting to add fast charging, which is a nice bonus. 

Best Ultrabooks and Premium Laptops 2021

HP Spectre x360 14 (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

1. HP Spectre x360 14

The Best Ultrabook (and 2-in-1) Overall

Specifications
CPU: Intel Core i7-1165G7
GPU: Intel Iris Xe (integrated)
Display: 13.5-inch, 3:2, 3000 x 2000, OLED touchscreen
Weight: 2.95 pounds / 1.34 kg
Reasons to buy
+Sleek, attractive design+Vivid 3:2 display shows more of your work+Clicky, responsive keyboard+Thunderbolt 4 and USB Type-A ports
Reasons to avoid
-OLED model doesn't last all day-Difficult to upgrade SSD

The HP Spectre x360 14 is everything a modern ultrabook should be. This laptop has an attractive design, but isn't about form over function. It has both Thunderbolt 4 over USB Type-C, as well as a microSD card reader, all in a thin chassis.

But what really wows is the display. The 3:2 aspect ratio is tall and shows more of your work or web pages, and is also more natural for tablet mode. The OLED model we reviewed also offered vivid colors, though you would likely get longer battery life with the non-OLED, lower resolution panel.

The other big plus is the Spectre x360's keyboard, which is clicky and comfortable. Sure, it's no desktop mechanical keyboard, but for a laptop, it's very responsive and feels great to use.

Read: HP Spectre x360 14 review

Dell XPS 13 (9310) (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

2. Dell XPS 13 (9310)

The Best Clamshell Ultrabook

Specifications
CPU: Intel Core i7-1165G7
GPU: Intel Iris Xe (integrated)
Display: 13.4-inch, 1920 x 1200, touchscreen
Weight: 2.8 pounds / 1.2 kg
Reasons to buy
+Beautiful look+Bright, tall screen+Solid typing experience
Reasons to avoid
- Minimal port selection

The Dell XPS 13 has long been celebrated for both its form and function. The laptop is tiny, but packs a punch with Intel's Tiger Lake processors and adds some extra screen real estate with a tall, 16:10 display (many laptops have a 16:9 screen).

We also like the XPS 13's keyboard, with a snappy press and slightly larger keycaps than previous designs. The screen is bright, and we shouldn't take its thin bezels for granted, as Dell continues to lead on that front.

Admittedly, the XPS 13 is short on ports, opting for a pair of Thunderbolt 4 ports for booth charging and accessories. Its performance, portability and long battery life are likely to make up for that for those on the go.

Read: Dell XPS 13 (9310) review  

Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1) (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

3. MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1)

The Best Mac

Specifications
CPU: Apple M1
GPU: 8-core GPU on SOC
Display: 13.3-inch, 2560 x 1600, True Tone
Weight: 3.0 pounds / 1.4 kg
Reasons to buy
+M1 is powerful and fast+Runs cool and quiet+Apps just work, even if emulated+Long-lasting battery life+Strong audio
Reasons to avoid
-Limited ports and RAM options-Touch Bar isn't very useful-Poor webcam

While some people may still want the power, large display and port selection of the 16-inch MacBook Pro, Apple has proved with the 13-inch version that its own home-grown M1 chip is capable of the needs of plenty of people. This is Apple's first step in breaking away from Intel, and it is extremely impressive.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro runs cool and quiet, while the chip is faster than its competition in most cases. It's also efficient and ran for more than 16 and a half hours on our battery test.

Many apps run natively on the Arm processor and those that don't use Apple's Rosetta 2 software for emulation. Even then, users will barely know that emulation is being used at all. Everything just works.

The big difference between the Pro and the Air, which also uses M1, is that the Pro has a fan. Those who aren't doing intensive work may be able to save a bit and get a very similar machine by going with the Air, and they will get function keys instead of the MacBook Pro's Touch Bar.

Read: Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1) review 

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

4. Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 (15-inch, AMD)

A Nice 15-inch Option

Specifications
CPU: AMD Ryzen 7 4980U (Microsoft Surface Edition)
GPU: AMD Radeon Vega (integrated)
Display: 15-inch, 2496 x 1664 touchscreen
Weight: 3.4 pounds / 1.54 kg
Reasons to buy
+Comfortable, clicky keyboard+3:2 display+Strong performance from custom AMD silicon+Long battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Sluggish SSD speeds-Meger port selection

The 15-inch version of the Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 with the AMD Ryzen Microsoft Surface Edition is a portable productivity powerhouse with long battery life. If you're looking for a good mid-size screen, it's worth a look.

The custom AMD processor proved powerful in our benchmarks, and was optimized to bring about more than 12 hours of battery life on our test. While it's based on Zen 2 cores, the processor has some tricks from the more recent 5000 series that helped it impress.

This design has been in use in some form for a while now, and the port selection seems meager, but if you like the magnetic Surface Connector, you'll be glad to know it's still here.

Microsoft's 3:2 display is great for work as it shows more of your text, webpage, or vertical space on a spreadsheet. What this laptop lacks (its slow SSD speeds) it absolutely makes up with a display and comfortable keyboard that make it a joy to use.

Read: Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 (15-inch, AMD) review 

MSI GE76 Raider (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

6. MSI GE76 Raider

The Best Overall Gaming Laptop

Specifications
CPU: ntel Core i9-11980HK
GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080
Display: 17.3 inches, 1920 x 1080, 360 Hz
Weight: 6.39 pounds (2.9 kg)
Reasons to buy
+Strong gaming performance+Fast SSD speeds+RGB light bar (that you can turn off)+Bright, fast display+1080p webcam
Reasons to avoid
-Very expensive-Runs a bit warm

The MSI GE76 Raider is our pick for a gaming laptop that can replace your desktop. And yes, it has a massive RGB light bar. It offers seriously strong performance with components ranging up to an Intel Core i9-11980HK and Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080.

The 17.3-inch display is bright and goes up to 360 Hz, for those who want to play esports titles like Dota 2 or League of Legends as smoothly as possible.

But unlike many of the other laptops on this list, the Raider is not thin. In fact, it's quite large, but you need that for all of the power inside (and for the 17.3-inch build quality). If you want something smaller, the GE66 Raider, our former pick for this spot, which we reviewed last year, has also been updated to more recent parts.

Read: MSI GE76 Raider Review 

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (Gen 9) (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

7. Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (Gen 9)

The Best Ultrabook for Work

Specifications
CPU: Intel Core i7-1165G7
GPU: Intel Iris Xe Graphics
Display: 14-inch, 1920 x 1200 touch, 16:10
Weight: 2.49 pounds (1.13 kg)
Reasons to buy
+16:10 display offers vertical real estate+Excellent keyboard+Long battery life+All the ports you need+Great audio
Reasons to avoid
-Difficult to upgrade SSD-RAM not upgradeable

Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Carbon has everything you need for work. The Carbon finally features a 16:10 display, allowing for more vertical space to show your work, whether it be writing emails or working in spreadsheets.

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon continues to use most major ports, including two Thunderbolt 4 ports, two USB Type-A ports and a full-size HDMI port. For businesses with older peripherals, that's a selection that will work with what you have now and allow you to future proof.

But perhaps best for road warriors is battery life. The Carbon endured for 15 hours and 39 minutes on our battery test. It also has the legendary ThinkPad keyboard that Lenovo devotees rave about.

If you're looking to upgrade, know that the RAM has been soldered to make this device thinner. You can change out the SSD, but the bottom casing is on pretty tight.

Read: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (Gen 9) Review 

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

8. Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano

The Best Ultrabook for Work (Alternate Pick)

Specifications
CPU: Intel Core i7-1160G7
GPU: Intel iris Xe
Display: 13-inch, 2160 x 1350
Weight: 1.99 pounds / 907 grams
Reasons to buy
+Lightweight+Best-in-class keyboard+High-res, 16:10 screen+Long battery life 
Reasons to avoid
-No USB Type-A or HDMI ports-Expensive

If you value ultraportability over all else, the ThinkPad X1 Nano takes much of what is great about the X1 Carbon and puts it in a smaller form factor. You get long battery life and an excellent keyboard, as well as a few other pluses. This laptop has a 2160 x 1350 display with a 3:2 aspect ratio, showing more of your work than some other ThinkPads.

The trade-off on this 1.99-pound laptop is that it's lacking in ports, which some professionals may miss. It has two Thunderbolt 4 ports and a 3.5 mm headphone jack, but no USB Type-A or HDMI outputs.

But in terms of other usability, you lose nothing. It's still an excellent ThinkPad experience (including the TrackPoint nub, if that's your thing), but easier to carry around.

Read: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano review 

Asus ZenBook Duo UX481 (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

9. Asus ZenBook Duo 14 UX482

Best Dual Screen Laptop

Specifications
CPU: Intel Core i7-1165G7
GPU: Intel iris Xe
Display: 14-inch 1080p (1920 x 1080) touchscreen, 12.6 inch (1920 x 515) ScreenPad Plus
Weight: 3.5 pounds / 1.6 kg
Reasons to buy
+$999 starting price with an i5+Very good battery life+Loud speakers+Improved hinge mechanism and keyboard layout
Reasons to avoid
-Keyboard/touchpad are awkward-8GB of RAM in lower configurations

Asus has begun to refine the dual screen laptop. Sure, there's a more powerful version, but for a laptop with two screens, this one is fairly light, and ran for over 10 and a half hours on a charge.

Windows 10 doesn't yet natively support dual screen software, Asus's ScreenPad Plus launcher has improved since launch, with easy flicks and drags to move apps around the display. For Adobe apps, there's custom dial-based software.

The keyboard and mouse placement are the big compromises, as there isn't a wrist rest and they can feel cramped. But if you want two-screens, this is as good as it gets for now.

Read:  Asus ZenBook Duo 14 UX482 review

Dell XPS 17 (9710) (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

10. Dell XPS 17 (9710)

The Best Big Screen Laptop

Specifications
CPU: Intel Core i7-11800H
GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060
Display: 17-inch, 3840 x 2400, 16:10 aspect ratio, touch
Weight: 5.34 pounds / 2.42 kg
Reasons to buy
+4K, 16:10 Display+Discrete RTX GPU options+Fast performance+Sleek design
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive-Few ports

The Dell XPS 17 (9710) offers portability and power for those who need the biggest screen they can get on an ultrabook. It goes up to a 3840 x 2400 touchscreen display with a 16:10 aspect ratio, all with minimal bezels to keep your focus on your work.

Dell offers up to an Intel Core i9-11900H, though that's in a limited configuration. We tested with a Core i7-11800H, which was plenty powerful. Dell also goes up to 32GB of RAM, 4TB of storage and either an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 or RTX 3060 GPU. In our benchmarks, the XPS 17 proved itself handily.

You get a similar design to the Dell XPS 13 or XPS 15, with a huge trackpad. Despite the extra size, there are only four Thunderbolt 4 ports, a headphone jack and an SD card reader, so you may need some dongles.

Read: Dell XPS 17 (9710) review

Microsoft Surface Pro 8 (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

11. Microsoft Surface Pro 8

The Best Windows Tablet

Specifications
CPU: Intel Core i7-1185G7
GPU: Intel Iris Xe Graphics
Display: 13-inch, 2880 x 1920, 120 Hz PixelSense Flow touchscreen
Weight: 1.96 pounds (0.89 kg) without keyboard
Reasons to buy
+Windows 11 is more touch-friendly+120 Hz display makes for smoother writing and drawing+Improved cameras+Great audio
Reasons to avoid
-Type cover isn’t included-Rear camera can be fuzzy-Battery life could be longer

With the Surface Pro 8, Microsoft has refined the Surface to a tee. It has a new, rounded design with anodized aluminum and thin bezels that make it feel like a premium product. Its 120 Hz display is also great for those who use a stylus on the display, reducing lag between pen and pixel.

The Surface Pro 8 also has improved cameras and great audio, improving on many aspects of previous Surfaces. Battery life could be a bit longer, but it will still last most of the day.

This tablet also benefits from Windows 11, which is more touch-friendly than Windows 10.

The one issue is that this Surface is expensive, starting at $1,099 before you buy a Type Cover, and we tested it at $1,599 just for the tablet.

Read: Microsoft Surface Pro 8 Review

*Up toCPUGPURAMStorageDisplay (inches)
HP Spectre x360 14Core i7-1165G7*Iris Xe (integrated)16GB LPDDR4-3733*2TB*13.5, 2000p
Dell XPS 13 (9310)Core i7-1165G7*Iris Xe (integrated)16GB LPDDR4x-4276*512GB*13.4 touch, 1200p
MacBook Pro (16-inch)Apple M18-core GPU on SOC16GB LPDDR4X-4266*2TB*13, 1600p
Microsoft Surface Laptop 4Ryzen 7 4980U* or Core i7-1185GRadeon or Iris Xe (integrated)32GB LPDDR4x*1TB*15 touch, 1664p
MSI GE66 RaiderCore i9-10980HKRTX 2080 Super Max-Q32GB DDR4-3200*1TB15.6, 1080p
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (Gen 9)Core i7-1165G7*Iris Xe (integrated)32GB LPDDR4x-4266*1TB14 touch, 1920p
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 NanoCore i7-1160G7*Iris Xe (integrated)16GB LPDDR4x-4266*1TB13 touch,1350p
Asus ZenBook Duo UX481Core i7-10510U*MX25016GB DDR3*1TB 14, 1080p
Dell XPS 17Core i9-11900H*RTX 3060*32GB DDR4*4TB*17 touch, 2200p
Microsoft Surface Pro 8Core i7-1185G7*Iris Xe (integrated)32GB LPDDR4x1TB13,1920p, 120 Hz

Finding Discounts on the Best Ultrabooks

Whether you're shopping for one of the best ultrabooks or a laptop didn't quite make our list, you may find savings by checking out our lists of the latest Dell coupon codes, HP coupon codes, Lenovo coupon codes, Best Buy promo codes or Newegg promo codes.

10. Dell XPS 17 (9710)

The Best Big Screen Laptop

Specifications
CPU: Intel Core i7-11800H
GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060
Display: 17-inch, 3840 x 2400, 16:10 aspect ratio, touch
Weight: 5.34 pounds / 2.42 kg
Reasons to buy
+4K, 16:10 Display+Discrete RTX GPU options+Fast performance+Sleek design
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive-Few ports
Andrew E. Freedman

Andrew E. Freedman is a senior editor at Tom's Hardware focusing on laptops, desktops and gaming. He also keeps up with the latest news. A lover of all things gaming and tech, his previous work has shown up in Tom's Guide, Laptop Mag, Kotaku, PCMag and Complex. among others. Follow him on Twitter: @FreedmanAE

  • mitch074
    ...and not a single Renoir based machine.
    Reply
  • brakteat
    Indeed. Four years ago when I bought my current laptop, I would not consider buying one with a CPU from AMD because Intel had so much better performance per watt. Now the opposite is true.

    This article actually highlights a true embarrassment for Dell, HP and Apple. They have known since long that AMD would offer Zen2-based mobile CPU with an expected much superior performance compared to Intel. Still all three missed the train by launching new high-end models with only Intel CPU.
    Reply
  • mariusmotea
    I avoid HP and HPE hardware as much as possible after very bad experience with lot of them. Only the laser printers and the L3 switches are quality products.
    Reply
  • jpeters44
    Seriously? How can you keep a straight face while recommending the N-th rehashing of the Skylake architecture, still on 14nm, or at best, 10nm? In isolation it's already a tough sell, but facing more power efficient, performant and featured CPU/APUs from AMD then one can only hope this is a Intel sponsored "round-up" since otherwise it would imply a complete loss of credibility from TH.
    I'm typing this from a Dell XPS 15 2019 edition with i7 9750H, while my personal new laptop is a 4800U Asus TUF.

    It's not even funny. The XPS 15 has a fantastic wide gamut screen, and performance is atrocious. Sure the boost is amazing on paper for the few seconds it can run until thermal limits are hit and the machine throttles down. After 1 year, the keyboard actually bent slightly near the trackpad with the heat and the battery inflated. A replacement was needed. It wasn't an isolated case either - a cursory search for such will reveal lots of angry Dell customers. Luckily the company contract covers it.
    Intel just cannot compete, period. The 4800U performance, battery life, expandability, 2x NVME SSDs, 1x SATA SSD or HDD. Sure the screen gamut won't even cover 100% sRGB, but for that you can find better units from Lenovo, and the Asus G14 with the 4900U, just to name a few.
    The offers displayed in the article are great if you can get them at 30-50% of their sale price.
    In technical merit alone, well, it'll clearly take a bit of time for Intel to catch up. Let's hope they do though, lest AMD "pull an Intel", stop innovating and start charging an arm and a leg for Ryzen rehashes for 5 years.
    Reply
  • Deicidium369
    mariusmotea said:
    I avoid HP and HPE hardware as much as possible after very bad experience with lot of them. Only the laser printers and the L3 switches are quality products.
    Good practice - For laptops, for the last 4 or 5 years it's been nothing but Dell.
    Reply
  • Deicidium369
    brakteat said:
    Indeed. Four years ago when I bought my current laptop, I would not consider buying one with a CPU from AMD because Intel had so much better performance per watt. Now the opposite is true.

    This article actually highlights a true embarrassment for Dell, HP and Apple. They have known since long that AMD would offer Zen2-based mobile CPU with an expected much superior performance compared to Intel. Still all three missed the train by launching new high-end models with only Intel CPU.
    AMD is not seen as a premium brand.

    Intel - Premium, Ultrabook, High End
    AMD - Another Marketing Deception - basement level, last years models, bargain bin
    Reply
  • Deicidium369
    mitch074 said:
    ...and not a single Renoir based machine.
    Renoir is not in a single ultrabook or a single premium laptop.
    Reply
  • mitch074
    Deicidium369 said:
    Renoir is not in a single ultrabook or a single premium laptop.
    Which is... Interesting, because that means that current entry level laptops kick the pants off premium laptops when it comes to CPU power and battery efficiency.
    Wonder why such performance isn't found neither on premium laptops nor ultrabooks. Premium means lousy now ?
    Reply
  • jeremyj_83
    Deicidium369 said:
    AMD is not seen as a premium brand.

    Intel - Premium, Ultrabook, High End
    AMD - Another Marketing Deception - basement level, last years models, bargain bin
    That is such utter BS it is sad to see such statements on Tomshardware forums. Those type of false and rabid fanboyism should be saved for places like wfctech.

    It is quite sad that for their consumer products HP, Dell, etc... not putting AMD CPUs in their top of the line designs. However, for us consumers we end up getting superior performance for less cost, see the $649 Acer Swift 3. The biggest issue with that laptop is the screen isn't the best and it could use a better thermal solution, however, you get better CPU & iGPU performance than the i7-1065G7.
    Reply
  • Don Frenser
    jeremyj_83 said:
    That is such utter BS it is sad to see such statements on Tomshardware forums. Those type of false and rabid fanboyism should be saved for places like wfctech.

    It is quite sad that for their consumer products HP, Dell, etc... not putting AMD CPUs in their top of the line designs. However, for us consumers we end up getting superior performance for less cost, see the $649 Acer Swift 3. The biggest issue with that laptop is the screen isn't the best and it could use a better thermal solution, however, you get better CPU & iGPU performance than the i7-1065G7.


    He is not saying he sees it that way. The big spenders in corparation know nothing. They see Intel and they think is it what they want.

    They are just stupid.
    Reply