Fortunately for Apple users, Apple has made some much needed changes to MacBook Pro in the latest generations. That means no more awful keyboard, annoying Touch Bar or overreliance on Thunderbolt/USB-C connections. The latest models of the 14-inch MacBook Pro and the 16-inch MacBook Pro come with M1 series processors, a top-notch design and displays with mini-LED backlighting. But the fact remains that there’s a far bigger variety of designs, feature sets and display choices for Windows laptops and Chromebooks, and Windows remains the preferred platform for playing games locally. Cloud gaming lets Macs circumvent the gaming problem to a certain extent, but not completely; only a fraction of the universe of games is playable via the cloud.
An entry-level MacBook can stretch the limits of your budget, and those who’ve set aside a nice chunk of cash might want something a little more customizable. No one can deny that one appealing thing about Windows laptops is the variety. Even when trying to imitate the offerings of a MacBook (or an iPad or iPad Pro) there are all sizes of far less expensive Chromebooks, as well as 14- and 15-inch laptops that are slightly smaller and lighter than the 16-inch MacBook Pro, but not quite as small as the 13-inch MacBook Air, across the price spectrum. You can also get more variety, with alternatives like 2-in-1s. Plus, we’re seeing lots of experimentation with multiscreen designs.
This list is periodically updated with new models we’ve tested and reviewed. It’s a great place to start to get an idea of what’s available. If you need advice on whether a particular type of laptop or two-in-one is right for you, jump to our laptop FAQ at the bottom of the list.
So when you want to go Windows, here are our recommendations for laptops to fill that MacBook-size void in your life.
For a lot less than an entry-level MacBook Pro 13, The HP Envy x360 13 makes a great pick for an older high school or college student — or anyone looking for a small, stylish and easy-to-travel-with two-in-one. It’s light at just less than 3 pounds (1.3 kg) and battery life is long despite the size. It’s also available with a choice of AMD Ryzen 5 4500U or Intel 11th-gen Core processors.
A slightly updated and renamed version of the Yoga C940, the Yoga 9i is just a little bigger than a 13-inch MacBook Pro, fast, attractive and feature-packed. Plus it gives you something you can’t get in a MacBook: the 360-degree screen that lets you use it like a tablet or prop it up in a tent or kiosk configuration.
If, like me, you’re not a fan of OLED screens for photo editing — they’re not optimized for Adobe RGB and aren’t great at tonal range in the shadows — then what you need is a laptop with a good IPS display. The Dell XPS 17 9720 with the 4K screen option delivers that, and it’s not as reflective as the OLED screens I’ve seen. Dell’s PremierColor software isn’t perfect, but it gives you more control over screen settings than most I’ve seen, and it has two Thunderbolt 3 controllers to make your external drives happy. It’s heavier than the MacBook, but not much bigger, especially given its larger 17-inch screen. And while its battery life isn’t terrific, its performance can certainly keep up.
And a great lower-cost alternative is the Dell Inspiron 16 Plus, which doesn’t head to the front of the line primarily because of its lower build quality, and I’m assuming that if you’re looking for a MacBook Pro equivalent you want the metal chassis, better screen and higher-end components. But if you also want to save as much as $1,000, it’s worth considering.
Cheaper than even the MacBook Air, with roughly the same footprint but lighter. The 13-inch Flex 5 has the flexibility of a two-in-one if everything you do is cloud-based. Its sleek look and feel at a Chrome OS price make it a cost-effective alternative.
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If you’re drawn to a MacBook Pro for its featureless-slab aesthetic, Razer’s your Windows go-to. If you want one that roughly matches the 14-inch Pro for design, size and weight, the Blade 14 is your option; its little brother, the Razer Book 13 makes a great alternative to the 13-inch MacBook Pro when you want something a bit smaller and less expensive.
A smaller version than the 15-inch staple, the 14-inch Razer Blade delivers a lot of gaming power for its size without feeling small — an important consideration for a gaming laptop, and one that Apple doesn’t need to worry about — but has decent battery life, a nice size for travel and a subtle design (for a gaming laptop) that’s buttoned-up enough for sitting in a meeting with the top brass or clients.
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Dell’s XPS 13 is a 13.3-inch laptop that’s so trimmed up that the body is basically the size of an older 11.6-inch laptop. Being part of the company’s XPS line means both its chassis and components are top-notch for its class, so you’re getting great battery life and performance, too. Power delivery is via USB-C and it comes with a microSD reader and headphone jack. It comes in both a standard clamshell as well as the two-in-one, but I prefer the two-in-one because you can fold it up into a tablet if you have to work in a cramped space.
What’s better than the Touch Bar? An entire half-screen second display, that’s what. 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, 15-inch and the 2021 14-inch Duo 14 that we reviewed. The Duo 14 has either 11th-gen Core i5 or i7 processors, optional Nvidia MX450 discrete graphics and up to 32GB of memory.
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Commonly asked questions
Which is faster, a MacBook or a Windows laptop?
That’s an almost impossible question to answer.
For one thing, it’s a moving target. We’re starting to see Windows models featuring Intel’s new 12th-gen CPUs, which has the same hybrid core architecture as Apple’s M1 chips, as well as new mobile GPUs. We haven’t yet had a chance to test out many of these next-gen models, but it’s safe to assume that Apple’s M1 processors will be facing some stiff competition.
And thus far, Apple hasn’t even launched an M1 MacBook with a discrete GPU, though its integrated graphics seem to scale up to compete with current low-end Nvidia and AMD graphics up to about the RTX 3070 and Radeon RX 6800M, and definitely improves on previous Intel-based Macs though neither is really surprising. But it means that at the high end we’re still in sort of a MacBook holding pattern when it comes to comparisons with heavier Windows options.
Plus, differences in operating systems complicate things. Mac OS has long been more efficient than Windows and that’s only improved now that Apple owns its entire food chain. But it doesn’t need to worry about compatibility with partner systems and myriad different components. Then toss in difficulties getting repeatable, comparable, representative and broad-based benchmark results for cross-platform comparisons… well, I don’t feel like going down that rabbit hole right now.
Is a MacBook Pro better for content creation than a Windows laptop?
Once again, a difficult question to answer because there’s no sweeping generalizations you can make. If you’re basing the concern on Windows’ old reputation for being inferior for graphics work, it was accurate at the time but is no longer true.
Screens on Windows laptops have come a long way, and convertibles (aka two-in-ones) mean you can paint or sketch directly on the laptop screen. With a MacBook you’d need to buy an iPad as well.
Some graphics applications are only available on one platform or the other, so figuring out which ones you need and which you can switch away from is the first thing to decide before you choose between Windows and MacOS. Also consider that MacOS no longer supports 32-bit applications, so if you’ve got an old favorite that hasn’t been updated — this happens most with small utilities — but still exists on Windows, that’s something to think about.
Some applications may also be better optimized for one platform than the other, or rely on a specific GPU from AMD or Nvidia for their best acceleration. Since you can’t really use an Nvidia card with a Mac and none of the M1 MacBooks incorporate any discrete graphics, Windows is probably a better bet, especially for programs that rely on Nvidia’s CUDA programming interface. Think about any accessories you need, as well — the drivers and utilities you need to use them may not be available or be stripped down on one or the other.
MacBooks may run faster than equivalently configured Windows laptops simply because MacOS is a lot more tightly integrated with the hardware than Windows can ever be on its side of the fence. Microsoft simply has to support a much wider variety of hardware than Apple will ever need to, and that adds performance overhead; this can be especially important for activities sensitive to latency, like audio recording. Windows’ flexibility is both its strength and its weakness.
The review process for laptops, desktops, tablets and other computer-like devices consists of two parts: performance testing under controlled conditions in the CNET Labs and extensive hands-on use by our expert reviewers. This includes evaluating a device’s aesthetics, ergonomics and features. A final review verdict is a combination of both those objective and subjective judgments.
The list of benchmarking software we use changes over time as the devices we test evolve. The most important core tests we’re currently running on every compatible computer include: Primate Labs Geekbench 5, Cinebench R23, PCMark 10 and 3DMark Fire Strike Ultra.
A more detailed description of each benchmark and how we use it can be found in our How We Test Computers page.