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
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.
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.
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.
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
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'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.
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.
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
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
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.
|*Up to||CPU||GPU||RAM||Storage||Display (inches)|
|HP Spectre x360 14||Core 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 M1||8-core GPU on SOC||16GB LPDDR4X-4266*||2TB*||13, 1600p|
|Microsoft Surface Laptop 4||Ryzen 7 4980U* or Core i7-1185G||Radeon or Iris Xe (integrated)||32GB LPDDR4x*||1TB*||15 touch, 1664p|
|MSI GE66 Raider||Core i9-10980HK||RTX 2080 Super Max-Q||32GB DDR4-3200*||1TB||15.6, 1080p|
|Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (Gen 9)||Core i7-1165G7*||Iris Xe (integrated)||32GB LPDDR4x-4266*||1TB||14 touch, 1920p|
|Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano||Core i7-1160G7*||Iris Xe (integrated)||16GB LPDDR4x-4266*||1TB||13 touch,1350p|
|Asus ZenBook Duo UX481||Core i7-10510U*||MX250||16GB DDR3*||1TB||14, 1080p|
|Dell XPS 17||Core i9-11900H*||RTX 3060*||32GB DDR4*||4TB*||17 touch, 2200p|
|Microsoft Surface Pro 8||Core i7-1185G7*||Iris Xe (integrated)||32GB LPDDR4x||1TB||13,1920p, 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.