If we go back a couple of decades, desktops were the pinnacle of computing technology. Nowadays unless you’ve got a purpose-built desktop with crazy components in it a laptop will more than suffice and save you on space, power bills, and they give you access to making any surface your new work surface.
A huge hurdle with replacing your desktop pc with a laptop is that the portability and space-saving that you gain comes at a price. That price can range anywhere from a lower CPU clock to an inability to use proper peripherals.
Another major bump in mobility heaven is the lack of any ability to upgrade or adapt the components of your laptop. In a desktop PC, everything from the case fan to the graphics card and processor can be removed and replaced with a newer, more updated version to keep you up to date. Desktops are also more versatile in that you can plug in any type of screen/monitor that suits your needs at that moment, would you like to have 2 separate mice, 1 for gaming and the other for browsing? You can do all of that with a desktop and largely lose that capability when you move over to a laptop.
Fear not though because it isn’t all downsides. You can definitely make the switch and reap the benefits of the smaller footprint of your laptop. It can be really difficult and frankly exhausting wading through the countless number of different laptops and notebooks out there so we’ve done the leg work for you.
We’ve put together a list of the 5 best desktop replacement laptops currently on the market and why we think that your next laptop is somewhere on this list. Each one stands out for a different reason and we think we’ve got all bases covered. If however, you don’t find your workhorse in this paddock, we’ve also gone through all of the things you need to consider when making the switch to arm you with the knowledge needed to make the right call.
In picking out these five desktop replacement laptops, we aimed to provide you with picks that maximize performance in the budget category they slot into. This will hopefully remove any worry of switching to a more portable device over the raw power of a larger PC.
Best Desktop Replacement Laptop in 2021
4.1GHz 8th Gen i7-8750H
GTX 1070 with 8GB of VRAM
17.3” QHD IPS display
16GB of RAM with a dual storage system for fast boot times
Battery life could be better
Like most of the laptops on this list, the Alienware 17 R5 is an extremely powerful gaming machine that can easily handle the workload of most desktops out there.
This laptop comes with a 6-core, 12-thread 8th generation CPU. This processor has a base clock of 2.2GHz and a boost clock of 4.1GHz meaning that it is more than fast enough for standard usage and excels at CPU-intensive workloads. Dell’s passthrough cooling system keeps all the components cool enough that they can definitely hit their boost clocks.
With an Nvidia GTX 1070 with 8GB of VRAM built-in, this laptop is more than ready for gaming, it is actually VR capable. With the amount of included I/O VR gaming is definitely a possibility. The 8GB of VRAM is also plenty to drive the 17.3” 1440p screen.
The huge screen also has an IPS panel meaning that the color reproduction and viewing angles will look great. In general, this is a really nice-looking screen and is bright enough to use without the curtains drawn.
The Alienware 17 R5 comes with 16GB of RAM and a dual storage system. 16GB of RAM is really all you could need for standard usage. The dual-storage system consists of a 256GB NVMe SSD and a 1TB HDD. The larger capacity drive is much slower but this shouldn’t impact standard usage as it is the mass storage drive.
With all the high-powered components this laptop has it doesn’t last very long on battery alone but if you’re coming directly from a desktop keeping it plugged into a wall socket shouldn’t be a problem.
High powered 10th Gen i7-10750H
RTX capability with an RTX 2060
High refresh rate gaming monitor
Increased 512GB SSD boot drive
RGB lighting isn't perfect for all
This laptop has been designed with the competitive gamer in mind. With its high refresh monitor and high powered GPU you’ll have a hard time missing out on chicken dinners.
The GE75 Raider is powered by a 10th generation i7-10750H which is a much more powerful CPU than the last laptop. With a base clock of 2.6GHz and a boost clock of 5GHz there isn’t much that this CPU will struggle with. It is still a 6 core, 12 thread CPU so multitasking performance is equivalent to the last laptop.
The GPU is more of a sideways move as opposed to a direct upgrade. The RTX 2060 is a budget-friendly RTX capable graphics card and can easily power the FHD screen. It comes with 6GB of VRAM but includes the new Tensor cores that are much more efficient so performance doesn’t take a hit.
The 17.3” FHD monitor is the biggest selling point for the competitive gamers out there. Even though it won’t win any awards for resolution, with an FHD resolution, it has a refresh rate of 144Hz making it perfect for competitive gaming. It is a VA panel meaning it won’t have the best color accuracy but again that refresh rate is what you’re aiming for gaming.
Similar to the last laptop this one comes with 16GB of RAM but it bumps up the storage options with a 512GB boot drive.
With its elevated base and RGB keyboard, this laptop really presents itself as a gaming device.
High 240Hz screeen
High powered Ryzen 9 CPU
Ultra Slim form factor
Only a single SSD
This is the most powerful laptop on our list and is designed to take on anything a desktop could without compromising the benefits of a laptop. This laptop has a Ryzen 9 4900HS CPU inside it. Ryzen has recently overtaken Intel for the most viable CPU in general usage. You still get a bit of extra gaming performance from intel but for everything else Ryzen is where you want to go.
This CPU has 8 cores and 16 threads meaning it excels in multi-tasking but it also has a base clock of 3.0GHz and a boost clock of 4.3GHz. This means that without boosting you’ll have a faster CPU than any other one on our list. We already know about the RTX 2060 but this laptop comes with the Max-Q variant meaning that it is more efficient and can produce a few extra FPS in-game. This is going to be completely necessary to power the FHD 240Hz monitor!
With such a high refresh rate you’ll be able to see the enemy in-game before they even spawn in. Outside of gaming you still get a massive boost to smoothness. This 15.6” monitor is also a VA panel so that it can achieve those high refresh rates.
You also get 16GB of RAM with this one but ROG has replaced the split storage system with a single 1TB NVMe SSD.
This is considered an Ultra Slim laptop and doesn’t have a huge amount of frills that could make it stand out. Thankfully this makes it perfect for all users and you will easily be able to replace any desktop with this beast.
16 Core Processing system, 8 for computing and 8 for GPU
Slim and sleek Apple design in chassis and in MacOS
Beautiful Retina and True Tone display
If you’re coming from a Windows desktop MacOS can take some time to get used to
We couldn’t have a desktop replacement without including an Apple MacBook. Most of us are fairly familiar with MacBooks but this is the new Pro with Apple’s M1 chip.
This chip was designed by apple specifically for MacOS and the performance boost is huge. The M1 chip splits its 16 cores between processing and graphics processing. This means you get optimal performance for both graphics intensive processes and standard computing. You still get a Retina rated display and this one in particular has a resolution of 2560 x 1600 meaning it’s even higher than the QHD display we had further up the list. At only 13.3” the pixel density of this MacBook is massive. Apple’s Retina and True Tone technologies make this the best looking screen on the list for standard usage.
With only 8GB of RAM you may be worried that you’ll take a performance hit but thankfully MacOS has been designed to work with less memory meaning this amount is ample. The 256GB SSD that comes with the MacBook Pro is also limited but you can easily upgrade this to a 1TB NVMe SSD by yourself.
Portable yet powerful design
Battery efficient Max-Q 6GB GTX 1060
High refresh rate IPS panel
You can’t easily upgrade memory or storage in a Razer laptop
The Razer Blade laptops are usually considered the Apple Macs of the Microsoft world. With its sleek design and massive portability this is a great option for the desktop user tired of their desk.
This laptop has the same processor as the Alienware one higher up the list. And we already have an idea of its capabilities, where this one diverges is in the GPU. The Razer Blade 15 comes with a 1060 Max-Q variant meaning it isn’t as powerful as the 1070 but it is hugely more power-efficient and battery friendly.
Where this laptop shines (apart from the design) is the display. This laptop comes equipped with a 144Hz FHD display making it perfect for gaming, but it is also the only high refresh rate IPS display on the list. You still get all the benefits of high refresh rates and of an IPS panel.
With 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD, this one sits in the middle in terms of capacity.
Things To Consider
As we said there are a bunch of things you need to consider before making the switch from desktop to a laptop, the major reasons are that laptops have to lower the power consumption of desktop equivalent components. If you had full powered desktop components inside a high end laptop you’d need a car battery to keep it powered for longer than 20 minutes and a charging brick the size of a cinder block.
The components we need to take into consideration are the CPU, the GPU, the screen, the memory and storage, and extra features like the cooling system, keyboard, build materials, etc.
The CPU is essentially the brain of your PC, it is the thing that controls all actions and is responsible for carrying out your every command. How powerful your CPU determines how smoothly the computer runs as a whole. As we said above, laptop components are usually underclocked and underpowered to reduce their overall power consumption. The obvious downside to this is that this also reduces performance.
Thankfully with CPUs it is normally only the base performance that is reduced and with adequate equipment it is definitely possible for you to gain almost desktop levels of performance without having to overclock it.
There are 2 measures for how ‘powerful’ a CPU is, the clock speed and the core count. The clock speed is a metric measure of how fast the processor is. It does this by measuring how many cycles/calculations it can do in a second, this is why it is measured as a frequency in Hz. There are 2 different clock speeds that a CPU is advertised with, its base clock and its boost clock.
The base clock is essentially the lowest possible speed of the processor regardless of power draw or temperature. The boost clock is the speed that the CPU is capped at across all cores. The boost clock is hugely dependent on the temperature and power draw, if you have adequate cooling and enough of a charge the laptop can tell the CPU that it’s safe to ramp up. Increasing the speed also increases the thermal output so a CPU cannot sustain its boost clock without amazing cooling.
The core count is exactly how it sounds, it is a count of how many cores your processor has. A CPU core is basically a mini processor that comes together with other mini processors to make a whole CPU. The more cores you have the more programs and applications the computer can allocate to them, increasing efficiency and performance. The issue with more cores is that the more cores you have the higher your thermal output, meaning the better your cooling needs to be.
Finding the best laptop CPU is as much about finding a good balance as it is finding the most powerful, balls to the wall processor you can possibly find.
The GPU or Graphics Processing Unit is a normally forgotten part of a good laptop. Your GPU controls what is shown on your screen, if it’s on the screen it has been processed by the GPU. Most CPUs and motherboards have a version of integrated graphics that they use to simply show things on screen but they normally aren’t powerful enough to run any type of games or graphics intensive software like Premiere Pro or Blender.
Desktops that have been purpose built for graphics heavy software or gaming will always have a dedicated GPU that can be removed and upgraded as you need to. These are vital for smooth production in Blender, for speedy renders in Sony Vegas, and decent playable frame rates in games.
Similar to CPUs the mobile/laptop version of a GPU is often underclocked and undervolted to increase efficiency. The newer generations of GPUs have been able to retain a large portion of their performance whilst still being relatively power efficient. Again, it’s important to find the right balance between power and performance with mobile graphics cards.
They are also measured by their clock speeds and core counts, but GPUs have the unique problem of having thousands of cores and cores of different types. To make it simple we’re going to set a recommendation based on the VRAM which is the cacheable memory of a graphics card and impacts resolution production. We’d say 3GB of VRAM should be a minimum to get a reasonable amount of performance out of a laptop, in previous generations this would not have been enough but newer graphics cards can do a lot with less.
If you’re not planning on running any visual software then a graphics processor isn’t going to be that useful to you but as we said to achieve the same versatility as a desktop it’s worth having a GPU anyway as it will boost visual performance all around especially if you like watching high res content.
The monitor of your laptop is a fairly obvious one, the biggest difference between a laptop and a desktop is that you can’t change your monitor, you’ll most likely always be able to power an external display with your laptop but the screen it comes equipped with is the one you’re going to use while you’re on the move so it’s very important to make sure you have a good monitor.
We judge our screen by 3 different metrics, its resolution, its panel type, and its size. If we were solely looking at gaming laptops then the refresh rate would be important but we’re looking at all rounders, so we’ll just say that the higher the refresh rate the better.
The resolution is how sharp the image is overall, the panel type determines the color accuracy and viewing angles, and the size is subjective to you, if you want a bigger screen then a 17.3” laptop is going to be your best bet but if you’re looking for portability then a 15.6” or 13” one would be best. All of these metrics are subjective to you but with most the higher the number, the better it is.
With panel types however there are 2 main types that we’ve looked at, VA and IPS. VA can be run at higher refresh rates easily and offers decent color accuracy. IPS panels are brighter and have way better color accuracy, so it’s completely up to you which is better.
Memory and Storage
The memory is the amount of RAM your system has and acts as the short term memory of the laptop. The more you have the more things you can have going on concurrently. There is no hard limit on how much you should have but the standard user will never need more than 16GB and even enthusiast level build will have a max of 32GB.
The storage is the total long term memory of your laptop and determines how many things you can save onto the laptop directly or how many programs you can have installed at the same time. The more you can have the better but a laptop is limited by the amount of space the chassis has, newer storage modules have been able to shrink down to 40mm NVME chips and you’ll usually have a free slot for expansion later on down the line.
The memory and storage are usually the only upgradeable parts of a laptop.
These aren’t necessarily vital features but features that improve the quality of the laptop nonetheless. Things like a gaming based cooling system or a large I/O can make a big difference to the versatility of the laptop.
In our opinion, the best desktop replacement laptop money can buy is the Dell Alienware 17 R5. While you might look at it and think it’s only for gamers, that’s not the case and will perform other tasks fantastically well. With its fantastic amount of RAM, dual storage, and more, we’re sure you’ll be more than happy ditching that bulky desktop PC and move to this more portable device for your computing needs.