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The best Ultrabooks in 2021: thin and light laptops that also pack serious punch

Included in this guide:

Best Ultrabook
(Image credit: Microsoft)

The best Ultrabooks represent the ideal no-compromise laptop for most people: thin and light, with great battery life, yet still fast and responsive. The Ultrabook label was introduced to distinguish the very best Intel-powered Windows laptops, those designed to compete with the power and portability of the best MacBooks like the MacBook Air.

So whether you want to do intensive photo or video editing on the go, or simply have a do-it-all laptop for work and play, the best Ultrabooks can take pretty much anything you can throw at them.

However, because they are high-end, zero-compromise laptops, Ultrabooks aren’t cheap. If you’re on a budget, and can live without the familiarity of the Windows operating system and some outright speed, check out the best Chromebooks. These offer similar – and sometimes better – portability and battery life to most Ultrabooks, but can be a fraction of the price. Plus, we’ve also got a guide to the best budget laptops – Windows laptops that are likely to be bigger or slower than an Ultrabook, but again, will cost a lot less.

These days, the term ‘Ultrabook’ isn’t used all that often, so you’re unlikely to see many laptops specifically labelled as one. The laptops on this list may lack specific Ultrabook branding, but they all conform to the Ultrabook ethos of being super-thin and light, while offering slick, speedy performance and all while sipping battery power.

The best Ultrabooks in 2021

(Image credit: LG)

1: LG Gram 14" 2021 (14Z90P)

Ultra-thin, ultra-light, and ultra-efficient: this is the ultimate Ultrabook!

Specifications
Processor: 11th-gen Intel Core i7-1165G7 (8 cores, 4.7GHz boost)
RAM: 16GB
Storage: 512GB SSD
Screen: 14-inch IPS LCD, 1920x1080
Dimensions: 313 x 215 x 17 mm
Weight: 999g
Battery life: Up to 25.5 hours (72Wh battery)
Reasons to buy
+Extremely light and slim+IPS screen+Great battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Not as fast as some Ultrabooks-Screen res not the best

LG makes the Gram in three screen sizes: 14-inch, 15-inch, and 17-inch. All have their pros and cons for portability vs. viewing ease, but the svelte 14-inch model makes most sense as a go-anywhere Ultrabook. You get a Full HD 1920x1080 resolution; not the highest, but you do get a terrific 99% DCI-P3 color space coverage, and the Full HD res is still enough to produce a crisp viewing experience.

The Gram range as a whole is all about portability. The 14-inch version is only 1kg - compare this to the equally small Lenovo 14-inch ThinkPad X1 Carbon that weighs around 1120g and the Gram is noticeably lighter in the hand. The slim design still has room for a versatile selection of two USB-A ports, two USB-C/Thunderbolt 4 ports and an HDMI port, plus a microSD slot.

The Intel Core i7-1165G7 quad core processor isn't the most powerful you'll find in an Ultrabook today, but it is especially power efficient, enabling a tremendous battery life of up to 25.5 hours per charge.

2. Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 9

The best Ultrabook for photographers

Specifications
Processor: Up to 11th-gen Intel Core i7-1185G7 (quad-core, 4.8 GHz Boost)
RAM: Up to 32GB
Storage: Up to 2TB SSD
Screen: Up to 14-inch IPS LCD, 3840 x 2400
Dimensions: 315 x 222 x 15mm
Weight: 1.13kg+
Battery life: Up to 16 hours
Reasons to buy
+Light and compact +Good battery life+Good screen options
Reasons to avoid
-Non-user-upgradable RAM

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon has long been one of the best Ultrabooks out there, thanks to its compelling blend of high performance and sleek, lightweight design.

The current, 9th gen, X1 Carbon can be specced with several 14-inch screen options. All have at least a resolution of 1920 x 1200 and a respectable 400-nit max brightness, plus 100% sRGB color coverage. The range-topping display is an ultra high res 3840 x 2400 panel with a 500-nit brightness and a hugely impressive 100% DCI-P3 color space coverage.

Elsewhere, bang-up-to-date 11th-gen Intel Core processors provide ample computing power, and though RAM appears to top out at 16GB, you can customise some X1 Carbon configs to pack 32GB. However, it's a pity the RAM comes soldered to the motherboard, so cant be swapped out for higher capacity modules at a later date. This also means you'd be unwise to settle for a base 8GB X1 Carbon, as this is a bit restrictive to qualify as an Ultrabook.

(Image credit: Microsoft)

3. Microsoft Surface Book 3 (15-inch)

An Ultrabook and tablet in one

Specifications
Processor: Intel Core i7-1065G7 (4 cores, 3.9GHz base frequency)
RAM: 16GB
Storage: Up to 1TB SSD
Screen: 15-inch, 3240x2160, touchscreen
Dimensions: 343 x 251 x 15-23mm
Weight: 1.9kg
Battery life: Up to 17.5 hours
Reasons to buy
+Tablet and laptop in one+Stunning design+High-end screen
Reasons to avoid
-Spec getting a little dated-Bit bulkier than some Ultrabooks

The Microsoft Surface Book 3 isn't your average Ultrabook: it's screen can be detached in an instant from the rest of the laptop, courtesy of an electro-magnetic latch that securely connects it without a wiggle or a wobble in sight. With the screen detached, it becomes a fully-functional Windows tablet, making this the ultimate Ultrabook for go-anywhere versatility.

With Intel Core i7 quad-core processing power, 16GB RAM and 1TB of SSD storage, performance is ample, though not class-leading. The Surface Book 3 does have an SD card reader in the keyboard section though, and it supports pen input, whether you’re using it as a tablet or laptop - great news if you also want to dabble in some graphic design.

With Nvidia GTX 1660 Ti graphics, the 15-inch Surface Book 3 can also handle advanced 3D gaming, video edits, and even take After Effects renders in its stride; and thanks to a stunningly sharp, vibrant, 15-inch 3240 x 2160 PixelSense display with a 1600:1 contrast ratio.

The overall experience is rounded off with great battery life of up to 17.5 hours.

(Image credit: Dell)

4. Dell XPS 15

The best Ultrabook when performance matters more than outright battery life

Specifications
Processor: Up to 11th-gen Intel Core i9-11990H (8 cores, 4.9GHz boost)
RAM: 8-64GB
Storage: 512GB-2TB SSD
Screen: Up to 15.6-inch IPS LCD, 3840x2400, touchscreen
Dimensions: 345 x 233 x 18mm
Weight: 1.81-2.01kg
Battery life: Not stated
Reasons to buy
+Decent display+Fast performance+Good selection of ports, with SD slot
Reasons to avoid
-Very expensive-Battery life not the best

The Dell XPS 15 range can be confusing: there are lots of different spec configurations to choose from, and pricing can frequently fluctuate. We reckon the best config for photographers looking for a top Ultrabook is one which includes Dell’s best 4K+ (3840 x 2400) 16:10 screen, which boasts 500-nit brightness and touch sensitivity. The only issue with that is few XPS 15 configs come with this display, and they're inevitably at the pricier end of the range.

The extra cash does also buy you plenty of performance courtesy of a 11th-gen, 8-core Intel Core i9 processor, and you can choose from 16GB right up to a whopping 64GB of RAM, though we'd only recommend the latter if you'll be editing high res video as well as images. 16GB or 32GB should be ample amounts of RAM for image editing.

The selection of ports is also pretty good, with Thunderbolt 4, USB-C 3.2 Gen 2, plus adapters for USB-A and HDMI. There's even a built-in full-size SD slot; something that’s sadly becoming a rarity in Ultrabooks.

5. Razer Blade 15

The best Ultrabook to go for if you work hard and play hard

Specifications
Processor: Up to Intel Core i7-11800H (8 cores, 2.3GHz base frequency)
RAM: Up to 32GBGB
Storage: Up to 1TB SSD
Screen: Up to 15.6-inch OLED, 4K 3840x2160, touchscreen
Dimensions: 355 x 235 x 18mm
Weight: 2.1kg
Battery life: Up to 6 hours
Reasons to buy
+Healthy performance+Quality display and well made
Reasons to avoid
-Quite heavy-Battery life not great

Razer’s brand focus is on the gaming market, and the Blade 15 4K is primarily a gaming laptop, not an Ultrabook. But unlike most gaming laptops, the Blade 15 is slim and fairly light, and its talents don't stop with gaming.

Its 15.6-inch 4K screen, which in the range-topping Blade 15 Advanced model is now an OLED panel, is capable of stunning color vibrancy and contrast, making it ideal for photo or video editing. It's even touch-sensitive, with a super-fast 300Hz refresh rate for ultra-smooth gaming, if that's your thing.

All Blade 15 configurations come equipped with the latest blazing-fast GeForce RTX 30-series graphics cards. That’s great for gaming at 4K resolution, where it’ll give a noticeable performance boost, but apps like Photoshop won’t really use the extra oomph. Solid build quality with excellent heat ventilation, as well as the three conventional USB ports are easily-overlooked plus points, while premium models sport Thunderbolt 4 ports and a UHS-III SD card reader.

(Image credit: HP)

6. HP Spectre x360 13 Convertible

A super-thin and light Ultrabook that thinks its a tablet

Specifications
Processor: Up to 11th gen Intel Core i7-1165G7 (quad-core, 4.7GHz Boost)
RAM: 16GB
Storage: 256GB-1TB SSD
Screen: 13.3-inch OLED, 3840x2160, touchscreen
Dimensions: 307 x 195 x 17mm
Weight: 1.27kg
Battery life: Up to 12 hours
Reasons to buy
+Nifty tablet conversion+4K AMOLED screen+Very light
Reasons to avoid
-Limited port selection-13.3-inch screen can feel cramped

The x360 moniker in the HP Spectre name refers to the touchscreen’s ability to flip round through 360 degrees so the laptop can convert to a tablet. Windows 10 automatically detects the screen’s position and adapts the interface to be more touch-friendly. While not a feature typical of an Ultrabook, it is useful if you regularly use your laptop on the go and can't always find a surface to rest it on.

HP has moved to an AMOLED screen for its flagship 2021 Spectre x360 13-aw2054na model. It still boasts a 4K (3840 x 2160) resolution, but you now get 100% DCI-P3 color space coverage and an impressive 400 nits peak brightness. The addition of a Corning Gorilla Glass anti-scratch coating further helps the x360's practicality in tablet mode.

Two Thunderbolt 4/USB 4 Type-C ports, one USB Type-A port, a Micro SD slot and a headphone jack make up the physical connectivity. There's also plenty of image editing power thanks to a quad-core 11th-gen Intel Core i7 processor and 16GB of RAM.

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Ben Andrews

Ben is the Imaging Labs manager, responsible for all the testing on Digital Camera World and across the entire photography portfolio at Future. Whether he's in the lab testing the sharpness of new lenses, the resolution of the latest image sensors, the zoom range of monster bridge cameras or even the latest camera phones, Ben is our go-to guy for technical insight. He's also the team's man-at-arms when it comes to camera bags, filters, memory cards, and all manner of camera accessories – his lab is a bit like the Batcave of photography! With years of experience trialling and testing kit, he's a human encyclopedia of benchmarks when it comes to recommending the best buys.