Over the past few years, manufacturers like Apple, Acer, Lenovo, HP, Asus, Dell and Razer — pretty much everyone who makes laptops — have significantly broadened their 14-inch laptop choices and directed their marketing efforts away from 15-inch versions. And I’m partial to 14-inch models over 15 or 13 inches, at least when you subtract weight from the equation. They just seem to offer the best balance of price, performance and size out of the group. And that’s why you’ll find many of CNET’s picks for the best 15-inch gaming laptop are… 14 inches.
These are the laptops, from budget to premium, we consider to be the best gaming laptops based on:
- Performance and battery life for a given set of specs and intended use, where the configuration specs include the amount of SSD storage and memory, main processor (CPU) and graphics processor (GPU) and operating system (Mac OS or Windows)
- Features for a given weight class, such as the combination of laptop screen size, type (touchscreen or not) and resolution (4K, QHD or FHD), ports (such as an HDMI port, Ethernet port and the type and number of USB connections), webcam and fingerprint reader
- Design, both aesthetic and functional, including keyboard layout and feel (lots of people want a backlit keyboard and a numeric keypad on their laptops), build quality, upgradeability and reparability and so on
Specs, price and availability are often in flux, especially these days due to chip shortages and shipping problems, so if you decide to postpone your purchase, here are some. If you do opt to go ahead, . So we’ve limited our choices to powerful laptop models that are still current and that we’ve tested (or tested fundamentally similar older models with refreshed configurations). We update this list periodically with new products and information. You can find more detailed advice following our recommendations for specific models.
The newest version of our perennial pick for best budget laptop remains a good option for the money. It’s hard to find an inexpensive model that’s also thin and light, much less one that has decent performance and battery life. The Aspire 5 line starts at $450, but that model has only 4GB RAM — way too little to run Windows comfortably. The slightly higher-end models hit all the necessary targets and more, with a solid assortment of ports (including USB-C, HDMI and Ethernet as well as USB-A) and easily upgradable hard drive storage and memory. It’s got a budget build, but you can’t expect everything for so little money.
Read our Acer Aspire 5 (2019) review.
If you needed any convincing that 15-inch (and 17-inch) laptops are a dying breed, take Apple’s killing them off as a confirmational nail in their coffin. If your major concerns are weight and price and you don’t need much power, then the smaller MacBook Air rules.
But I disagree with my colleague Dan Ackerman that the Air is the best choice for most people: I think the MacBook Pro 14 is. It costs a lot more, but it’s significantly better in every way and I think it will meet most people’s needs for a lot longer. (I agree that the MacBook Pro 13 M1 gives you very little over the Air for the extra cost and weight, though.) On the flip side, the 14-inch can be configured closely to the weightier and more expensive MacBook Pro 16, with the exception of the bigger screen and option for a higher-performing GPU.
Read Apple MacBook Pro 14-inch review.
The 14-inch returnee to Razer’s Blade line of laptops is a much better dual-purpose laptop than the 15-inch model that was my previous choice. It can be configured to be almost as powerful as the 15-inch, but weighs half a pound less and you don’t really miss the screen real estate that much. If you lean more towards gaming than work or love a high-contrast screen, the 15-inch does offer faster gaming displays or a 4K OLED option. We tested the RTX 3080 model, but the significantly cheaper $2,200 RTX 3070 version is probably a fine choice as well.
The highlights of this thin and light 15-inch Windows two-in-one are its excellent battery life, high-contrast OLED screen and the plethora of cross-device features it serves up for owners of Samsung’s Galaxy phones and accessories. It’s specifically designed for people who want a laptop experience similar to that of their phones, with similar responsiveness.
Read our Samsung Galaxy Book Pro 360 review.
Available in both 14- and 15-inch versions, this refreshed and rebranded Yoga C940 remains one of our favorite two-in-ones. It now incorporates up to a quad-core Intel Core i7-1185G7 processor and up to Nvidia GTX 1650 Ti Max-Q discrete graphics. Plus, you gain the design flexibility of a convertible — kiosk mode (also called “stand mode”) and tent mode (my personal favorite), which are the best ways to use a laptop with a touchscreen that hangs around the house.
Read our Lenovo Yoga 9i review.
Dell’s G series comprises some of the best mainstream gaming laptops you can find, with strong performance, a variety of component options and a more travel- and user-friendly design than most. Plus, battery life is a lot better than a typical gaming laptop’s, and a solid-performance base configuration starts at less than $1,000.
Read our Dell G5 15 (2020) review.
Chromebooks are typically not associated with gaming. However, with cloud gaming services such as Stadia, GeForce Now and Xbox Game Pass able to run on Chromebooks alongside Android and Linux games, you have a lot of options now. The Asus Chromebook Flip CM5 is ready for them, making it one of the best Chromebook options for gaming.
The configuration we tested was available from Costco for $600. A $500 configuration of the Asus Chromebook Flip CM5 is sometimes available from Amazon, but it drops to a slightly slower Ryzen 3 processor, 4GB of memory and 64GB of slower eMMC flash memory for storage. That configuration would be fine for general use, but spending the extra $100 (if you can) gets you a much better Chromebook.
The two-in-one design means you can use the HP Chromebook x360 as a tablet (though it’s a bit heavy to use as a handheld device), and 14 inches is much less awkward to use that way than a 15-inch model. You can also tent it, connect an external keyboard and mouse and use it as a small all-in-one computer.
The Core i3 processor and 8GB of memory keep this HP Chromebook running smoothly even with a couple dozen tabs open and streaming video in the background. And this Chromebook laptop has a long battery life, lasting 10 hours, 40 minutes in CNET’s tests.
The Duo’s tilt-up second screen can act as an ancillary display, an extension of the primary display (for viewing those long web pages) or a separate control center from which you can run Asus’ custom utilities or as control surfaces for select creative applications. Plus, Asus excels at squeezing every bit of performance out of its high-end laptops, and the 14-inch delivers great battery life, as well.
It comes in two models, the Pro Duo 15 OLED, an update to the model we last reviewed in 2019, which now has up to an Intel Core i9-10980HK, Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 discrete graphics and up to 32GB of memory. The 2021 14-inch Duo 14 has either 11th-gen Core i5 or i7 low-power processors, optional Nvidia MX450 discrete graphics and up to 32GB of memory — a lot less powerful than the 15-inch, but lighter and cheaper.
Read our Asus ZenBook Duo 14 review.
What size screen do I need? Do I need a 4K screen?
One of the reasons I like 14-inch more than 15-inch displays is because they strike a much better balance among price, size and performance while sacrificing only about 0.6 inches (15.2mm) horizontally and 0.8 inches (20mm) vertically of screen real estate (although you lose more like 2 inches (50mm) horizontally if the comparison is between a 16:9 aspect ratio screen and 3:2).
Resolution, the number of vertical x horizontal pixels that comprise the image, is inextricable from screen size when you’re choosing a screen. What you really want to optimize is pixel density, the number of pixels per inch the screen can display, or its reciprocal, pixel pitch. Those determine how sharp the screen looks (though there are some other factors), as well as how big elements of the interface, such as icons and text, can appear.
You can easily calculate the pixel density of any screen at DPI Calculator. But my rule of thumb for laptop screens in the 14- and 15-inch size class: FHD is fine, QHD is better and 4K is usually overkill.
Read more about screen size and pixel density.
Can I get a Chromebook instead of a Windows laptop?
A lot can be done entirely on the web these days, though you can use Chromebooks offline in some cases. Take stock of everything you do on a daily basis, and you may find there’s nothing you can’t accomplish with Chrome at its most basic level.
That said, a Windows laptop or MacBook can run the Chrome browser as well as other software supported by those operating systems. Even if you don’t immediately need a particular piece of software, it’s nice to have the option. Plus, if you’re shopping for a Chromebook for remote learning with Google Classroom, a Mac or Windows PC will work as well.
Chromebooks are not natively compatible with Windows or Mac software, though current models can run Android apps and there are also web apps that are available through Google’s Chrome Web Store. You can’t install the full Office software on a Chromebook, but Microsoft makes both web-based and Android versions available in the Chrome and Google Play stores, respectively. But generally speaking, if you need or want a specific Windows or Mac application — and there’s no suitable web or Android app substitute and you don’t want to use VMware — don’t get a Chromebook.
Also, if you need advanced photo- and video-editing capabilities, you’ll want a Windows, Mac or Linux laptop. Basic photo and video editing is fine, but Chromebooks typically don’t offer the graphics performance you need for demanding tasks or, again, the option to install Windows or Mac software and games.
Laptop vs. Chromebook: How to choose what’s right for you.