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(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 wide differences in keyboards, battery life, displays and design. If you’re looking for a powerful laptop that easily fits in your bag and doesn’t break your back, you want 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. However, just as many folks 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 announced its 11th Gen Core “Tiger Lake” processors with Iris Xe graphics and Thunderbolt 4, with laptops shipping in time for the holiday season. And its likely that an AMD Ryzen refresh won’t be far behind, bringing USB 4 to laptops. That’s in addition to the possibility of Apple’s first Arm-powered MacBook coming this fall.

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.
  • 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 2020

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

1. HP Spectre x360 (13-inch)

Best Ultrabook Overall

CPU: Intel Core i7-1065G7 | GPU: Intel Iris Plus (integrated) | Display: 13.3-inch, 1920 x 1080, touchscreen | Weight: 2.7 pounds / 1.2 kg

  • Great battery life
  • Snappy keyboard
  • Winning design
  • Has USB Type-A and Type-C ports
  • Speakers could be louder for this price
  • Competitors have brighter screens

While there are thinner ultrabooks out there, it’s easy to recommend the HP Spectre x360 as the top laptop. Our review configuration , with its Intel Core i7-1065G7 and a 1920 x 1080 touch screen is powerful enough for most people. If you want stronger productivity performance, you may want to consider an ultrabook with one of Intel’s Comet Lake CPUs rather than this Ice Lake option.

One of the Spectre’s biggest draws is its selection of ports, a feature you don’t see on all of the best ultrabooks. For what is still a thin machine, you get two Thunderbolt 3 ports (over USB Type-C), USB Type-A 3.1 Gen 1, a micro SD card reader and a headphone jack. Several laptop manufacturers have given up on Type-A to chase thinness, but the USB Type-A port on the Spectre has a drop-jaw design to make it fit.

The ultrabook also has a snappy keyboard and strong battery life. It lasted 13 hours and 19 seconds on our test, so it should easily last you all day.

Dell XPS 13 (9300) (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

2. Dell XPS 13 (9300)

Best Ultrabook Clamshell

CPU: Intel Core i7-1065G7 | GPU: Intel Iris Plus (integrated) | Display: 13.3-inch, 1920 x 1080, touchscreen | Weight: 2.8 pounds / 1.2 kg

  • Long battery life
  • Excellent keyboard
  • 16:10 display gives more vertical screen space
  • Tiny bottom bezel
  • No USB Type-A ports
  • Tinny audio

Long considered one of the best ultrabooks around, the Dell XPS 13 is easily recommendable, especially if you want something that’s very thin and light.

If you want stronger performance, an alternate model with a Comet Lake processor may be for you. But this design, which we reviewed with an Intel Core i7-1065G7 “Ice Lake” processor is far more sleek.

The move to a 16:10 display gives more vertical space on the screen, which is great for productivity. Instead of a 1920 x 1080 display on the XPS 13’s base panel, you get 1920 x 1200, which goes up to 3840 x 2400 (rather than 3840 x 2160) on the 4K screen.

The XPS 13 also fared extremely well on our battery test, lasting over 13 hours on a model with a 1920 x 1200 display. The 4K display lasted a respectable 8 hours and 14 minutes on a charge.

Apple MacBook Pro (16-inch) (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

3. MacBook Pro (16-inch)

The Best Mac

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CPU: Intel Core i9-9980HK | GPU: AMD Radeon Pro 5500M | Display: 16-inch, 3072 x 1920, True Tone | Weight: 4.3 pounds / 2 kg

Magic Keyboard is great
Best audio we’ve heard from a laptop
Long battery life
Strong performance
Pros need more ports and SD card slot
32-bit apps and games don’t work in macOS Catalina

The Mac option on our list is the most powerful premium laptop Apple has ever made: the 16-inch MacBook Pro. It has Apple’s latest “Magic Keyboard,” (the nice one), and has a discrete AMD Radeon Pro 5500M for graphics work.

It offers long battery life, and if you care about audio, we’ve never heard better sound from a laptop than on this one.

The 16-inch screen fits in a 15-inch chassis, so you’re not losing any portability by going with the bigger size.

But it’s not cheap, so if you need to spend less, consider the 13-inch model. We reviewed the 13-inch MacBook Pro with 10th Gen Intel processors and the Magic Keyboard and found it to be a solid refresh without the discrete graphics.

For those interested in the upcoming Apple Silicon, the company’s custom designs based on Arm, you won’t have to wait long. Apple said the first devices with those chips will be released later this year, as well as more computers with Intel processors.

MSI GE66 Raider (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

4. MSI GE66 Raider

The Best Overall Gaming Laptop

CPU: Intel Core i9-10980HK | GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super Max-Q | Display: 15.6 inches, 1920 x 1080, 300 Hz | Weight: 5.3 pounds (2.4 kg)

  • Great gaming performance
  • 300 Hz display
  • Well-executed RGB light bar
  • High-end build
  • Cramped keyboard
  • Tinny audio

The MSI GE66 Raider is a gaming laptop, and it’s saying it loud with a massive RGB light bar. It’s new look is aggressive, but it’s not just talk, with options going up to an Intel Core i9-10980HK and Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super Max-Q.

For those looking for esports-level performance in games like League of Legends or Overwatch, there’s an option for a 300 Hz display.

And while it’s not the slimmest laptop around (or even MSI’s thinnest), it does feel remarkably portable considering the power inside, and  we can’t help but appreciate high-end build quality.

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

5. Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (Gen 8)

The Best Ultrabook for Work

CPU: Intel Core i7-10610U | GPU: Intel UHD Graphics | Display: 14-inch, 3840 x 2160 touchscreen | Weight: 2.4 pounds / 1.1 kg

  • Slim, lightweight design
  • Excellent keyboard
  • Vibrant 4K display
  • Great port selection
  • Dull, blurry webcam
  • Annoying power button placement
  • VoIP controls only work with two apps

Lenovo’s ThinkPads have always been favorites, and the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (Gen 8) continues that trend with a slim design, excellent keyboard and an excellent selection of ports to keep you connected to all of your peripherals.

If you get the 1080p option, you can count on all-day battery life (the 4K model we tested didn’t fare as well, but that’s often the tradeoff for higher resolution among ultrabooks).

Of course, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon also attracts one other audience: fans of the TrackPoint nub in the center of the keyboard.

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