The Best Laptops of CES 2021

CES 2021 may have been an entirely virtual show, but that didn’t stop the announcements from coming thick and fast. It was dominated by PC news, and manufacturers announced quite a few new laptops across many categories. The major impetus for all these new machines was three things: silicon, silicon, and more silicon.

One or more of three new component-platform launches drove all this innovation: Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 30-Series GPUs, Intel’s “Tiger Lake” Core H-Series and vPro processors, and AMD’s Ryzen 5000 “Cezanne” CPUs are all coming to laptops. In sync with all that action, PC makers updated their most popular lines, overhauled others, and developed entirely new paradigms of product building off these offerings. Here’s a look at some of our favorites from the show, from gaming laptops to Chromebooks.

Acer Chromebook Spin 514

Spiffy, well-built Chromebooks are nothing new. Neither are AMD-silicon-based Chromebooks, which have appeared in laptops for a couple of years now, but mostly bargain-minded models. Bringing the two together, though, is an intriguing combo. To wit: the Acer Chromebook Spin 514, which takes an all-aluminum design and combines it with a special new class of Ryzen CPU.

Acer Chromebook Spin 514AMD announced a series of mobile Ryzen chips, the 3000 C-Series, that were designed for Chromebook deployment. They aren’t on the same architectural generation as the latest Ryzen 5000 mobile CPUs announced at CES, but employ the Zen architecture and feature on-chip Radeon Graphics.

Coming in Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 7 flavors on this MIL-STD-durable Chromebook, the Spin brings the battle to the Intel- and MediaTek-based machines that dominate the Chromebook space. Plus, the Spin 514 comes in a business-focused version, the Chromebook Enterprise Spin 514, that will feature the Chrome Enterprise Upgrade, enabling the manageability and business aspects of Chrome OS for large-company IT and professional users.

Check out our demo with Acer of the Chromebook Spin 514our demo with Acer of the Chromebook Spin 514.

Acer Predator Triton 300 SE

The Triton 300 SE is a “special edition” update to the Triton 300, which fits between Acer’s budget-friendly Helios 300 and the more powerful Triton 500 in its gaming lineup. The standout draw, other than an appealing look, is that this is a 14-inch laptop—a rarity among gaming machines.

The internals see an overhaul, as well, offering GeForce RTX 30-Series (“Ampere”) GPUs and Intel “Tiger Lake” H-Series processors. These parts are paired with a 144Hz refresh rate display, letting you see the higher frame rates enabled by the new GPU. This all comes at a reasonable $1,399 price point.

Acer Predator Triton 300 SEour first look at the Predator Triton 300 SE.

Asus ROG Flow X13 (and XG Mobile eGPU)

The Flow X13 is a 13-inch convertible (2-in-1) gaming laptop that measures just 0.62 inch thick and weighs 2.9 pounds. That’s almost unheard of in this category, but it only packs a GeForce GTX 1650 GPU as a consequence of its size. This is an entry-level GPU, one you may find in some general-use laptops that want to offer some 3D-graphics acceleration capability.

You may wonder why, then, it makes a good gaming laptop. The answer lies in its partner product, the also newly announced XG Mobile, a portable external graphics amplifier that can hold a more powerful GPU. When connected, the external GPU (eGPU) will power the laptop with its graphics instead, boosting gaming capability significantly.

Asus ROG Flow X13preview of the Asus ROG Flow X13 and XG Mobile, as well as the video tour above.

Asus ZenBook Duo 14 (2021)

The ZenBook Duo 14 is a two-screen laptop—a cool concept from the jump—that remains impressively portable at just 0.66 by 12.7 by 8.7 inches (HWD) and 3.53 pounds in spite of the double displays. This is not a wholly new product, but a refinement of a previous model that’s smaller and has brighter screens, faster performance, and more advanced software than before. 

The 2021 edition can be equipped with either an Intel Core i5-1135G7 or a Core i7-1165G7 processor, up to 32GB of memory, and up to 1TB of SSD storage. The base model starts at $999.99, which is a pretty compelling entry point for such an advanced design. (There are some compromises associated with such a build, though, including a cramped keyboard and a narrow touchpad.)

Asus ZenBook Duo 14 (2021)Asus ZenBook Duo 14 (2021) and our video impressions above.

HP Elite Folio

Leather-bound laptops aren’t entirely new; HP pioneered that concept a few years back in the HP Spectre Folio. (And laptops with wood? That was 2020.) But leather-bound 2-in-1s with a screen that pulls toward you? Okay, now we’re in uncharted, leathery territory.

HP Elite Folioour demo, with HP, of the Elite Folio.

Lenovo ThinkBook Plus Gen 2

The ThinkBook Plus as a concept isn’t new at CES 2021; the original actually debuted at CES 2020. But the idea certainly stands alone: a small-business-oriented laptop that has a monochrome, power-sipping E Ink screen on the outside of the lid, back-to-back with the ordinary LCD panel.

Why It’s Cool…

The big idea here is that the outer screen, like an oversize Kindle, can be used for quick-check or deep-immersion tasks: looking at email, peeping at the weather forecast, reading longform text. The big improvement in 2021, though, is that Lenovo has upped the E Ink screen’s size from 10.8 inches to 12 inches. This outer panel also features a higher native resolution of 2,560 by 1,600, the same resolution as the 13.3-inch inner (color) LCD.

Lenovo ThinkBook Plus Gen 2our first look at the Lenovo ThinkBook Plus Gen 2.

Lenovo ThinkPad X12 Detachable

A cutting-edge Windows tablet for the corporate jet-setter, the ThinkPad X12 Detachable bears a resemblance to the long-running, if niche-focused, ThinkPad X1 Tablet that Lenovo discontinued a while back. As a corporate-focused, manageable detachable 2-in-1, the ThinkPad X12 fills that same need, providing a keyboard base that is peerless to type on for what it is, along with a business-rugged design and support for vPro features if you need them.

Lenovo ThinkPad X12 DetachableMicrosoft Surface Pro 7, for one.) As for the 0.35-inch-thick screen half, it features a bright 3:2 panel and in the sample we test-drove, came with an 11th Generation Core i5 and 16GB of RAM. No slouch there.

Check out our hands-on preview with an early sample of the ThinkPad X12 Detachablehands-on preview with an early sample of the ThinkPad X12 Detachable.

MSI Stealth 15M

The GeForce RTX 30-Series GPUs introduced at CES 2021 are going to bring new levels of raw frame-pushing power to gaming laptops, and when paired with the newest Intel and AMD power CPUs, they’ll be a force multiplier. Take, for example, the Stealth 15M from longtime gaming-laptop specialists MSI. This is an MSI sideline from its usual beefy gaming-laptop beasts, an ultraportable gaming model.

At comfortably under 4 pounds (3.75 pounds, to be exact), the 15-inch-screened Stealth 15M starts at $1,399 and brings on some major muscle for a trim machine. We outlined the Acer Predator Triton 300 SE above, but note that that machine is a 14-incher. This one is has an expansive screen and lots of connectivity in the right places.

Why It’s Cool…

For starters, a big screen, a light carry weight, and lots of power. (Not to mention, a 0.63-inch thickness measure.) The Stealth 15M features a Core i7-11375H processor, part of the “Tiger Lake” Core H-series just announced during CES 2021. (The previous-gen Stealth used an Intel U-series chip.) It also includes an RTX 3060 GPU (here, the Max-Q flavor), 16GB of memory, and a 512GB SSD. Some SKUs will use PCI Express 4.0 SSDs. That is a healthy loadout for machine of this weight class. You also get a choice of white or black models, with the latter in an aluminum body.

MSI Stealth 15Mour first look at MSI’s Ampere GeForce laptops, including the Stealth 15M.


January 14, 2021
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