The Best Dell Laptops for 2021
There are a lot of choices when it comes to buying a laptop. You can choose from a lightweight companion or a rugged notebook with tons of features. How do you even begin? It can be easy to narrow down your choices based on what is already known. Sometimes that brand is one you have trusted for a long time.
You probably know something about Dell. This includes your opinion on how reliable its products are and how customer service works. It’s an easy way to narrow down your choices while still finding a great product if you are brand loyal. You can make half the decision by choosing a trusted brand.
Dell may have a model that you are interested in, whether you need a powerful laptop to do the math at work or one that you can use for productivity at home. Dell has solid machines for all market levels.
How to decode Dell’s key laptop brands
You should focus on the six main Dell laptop families that best suit your needs when you look at Dell’s product line. Inspiron and Precision are the most important. You’ll find both clamshell and 2-in-1 convertible entries in all of these families apart from the two gaming-oriented ones.
Inspiron: The Mainstream Option
Dell’s Inspiron brand offers a wide range of laptops for home and school. These include power-users, budget “just enough” models, large displays, ultracompact, and power-users. Inspiron offers many options that will suit both budget and screen size. These machines are mostly Windows-based. If you need something simpler for browsing the internet and simple tasks, Dell’s Chromebooks is a great option. They offer basic functionality in a cost-effective package that is affordable for students and kids.
Dell has broken down its Inspiron line into three levels or gradations: 3000 series, 5000 series, and 7000 series. You will find more premium features and a higher relative price as you move up the stack. The number between the word “Inspiron” and the series number is typically the screen size of the laptop; an Inspiron 13 5000, for example, would be a 13-inch-screened laptop with middle-field characteristics.
XPS: The Power-User Classes
The various guises of the Dell XPS 13 have been our “near-perfect” mainstream and power laptops for some time now. Dell continues to improve this sturdy machine, refresh after refresh. XPS stands for both the laptop and desktop sides of the fence. It is a premium-designed, well-equipped machine that bridges the gap between business and consumers. This is Dell’s power tool line that can be used in any setting, including a coffee shop or conference room.
You won’t find a lot of variety in the XPS laptop line in terms of screen size or stratification, just configurable versions of the 13-inch-screened XPS 13 and 15-inch XPS 15 as both clamshells and swiveling-screen 2-in-1s. Notable developments in the XPS line in the last year or so include the resurrection of the Dell XPS 17, the biggest model, now with the option for GeForce RTX graphics. The late-2020 XPS 13 2-in-1 is also much improved.
Alienware and G Series Full-Spectrum Gaming
If gaming is your thing, Dell’s Alienware brand has you covered. Alienware is a well-respected brand that combines the best components with high-quality construction and design. Alienware’s machines are typically big and powerful with high graphics power and expensive prices. However, the brand has also made moves into smaller machines with the m15 series and m17 series models. That said, the wholly redesigned Alienware Area-51m, now in its second generation, is a futuristic, winning take on the classic gaming bruiser. The company has also tipped an Alienware X-Series slimline family; more on that later in 2021 when we get to test one.
Dell also sells gaming laptops under the G Series brand. It was introduced in 2018. This lower-end, aggressively priced line was previously part of the Inspiron brand. It was split out by Dell and is now its own animal. The G Series is designed for mainstream gamers and budget-constrained gamers. It features a more modest design than the Alienware, as well as component load-outs that can be used with the most recent games.
G Series models are above and below $1,000, while Alienware starts at that level. G Series models are graded like Inspirons into G3, G5, or G7 classes. Higher numbers indicate better-grade features and build. One recent G unit we have tested, the G5 15 SE, now incorporates AMD Ryzen CPUs and AMD Radeon graphics.
Latitude: The Umbrella For Business Machines
There’s also a business. Dell’s Latitude brand is the mainstay for its business laptops, competing with options from Lenovo (the ThinkPad T series) and HP (the various EliteBook lines). With a combination of lightweight, yet powerful laptops and robust systems that can withstand a lot, Latitude has options for both office workers and field workers.
The Latitudes, like the Inspirons, use the same 3000, 5500, and 7000 nomenclature. A 9000 series joined the family in 2020. The screen size is indicated by the second number in the four-digit model number. So a Dell Latitude 7390 is in the second-from-the-top of the four lines, with a 13.3-inch screen; a Latitude 9510 would be a top-grade machine with a 15.6-inch screen.
The Latitude line includes more than just durable units. It also contains a few expensive, ruggedized models that can be used in hostile environments. They can be doused with water, attached to an ATV, exposed, and even blown into the wind. These are branded under the Latitude Rugged Extreme moniker.
For demanding professionals, precision
Mobile workstations are a breed of machines that share some traits with business models, but they stand apart for their Independent Software Vendor (ISV) certifications and, in some cases, specialized CPU and GPU options and support for highly precise ECC (error-correcting) memory. ISV certifications are given to professionals who use demanding business apps in areas like scientific computing, engineering, and architecture. They assure that the workstation can run a particular application. ISVs include companies such as Adobe and Avid, Dassault Systemes, and Siemens.
The Precision line from Dell is the line of mobile workstations. It includes both desktop and laptop models. The 3000, 5500, and 7000 series are used on the laptop side of Precision. The model number indicates the screen size.
Although a workstation may use either business- or consumer-grade Intel CPUs for its processing, the hallmark of a high-end system is the presence of a mobile Intel Xeon processor and a dedicated graphics processor from Nvidia (Quadro), or AMD (Radeon Pro), which are much less common. These are different from their consumer-GPU counterparts (GeForce GTX/RTX or Radeon RX) and are specifically designed for heavy-duty calculations required by ISV-class applications. There are also a few 2-in-1 SKUs from Dell in the Precision line. Convertible workstations are less common than their consumer counterparts.
What Dell Laptop is Best for You?
There are many solid Dell systems available, but you shouldn’t be overwhelmed. We have sorted through all of our reviews to find the top-rated Dell systems in each category. You can find more information (Dell and not Dell) in our top 10 laptops (updated daily), our list of the best Chromebooks and budget laptops, as well as our lists for the best gaming laptops and best Chromebooks.