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This story is part of Holiday Gift Guide 2021, our list of ideas, by topic, by recipient and by price, to help you discover the perfect gift.

With so many people working from home or remote learning, this is a good year to give the incredibly thoughtful gift of upgrading a loved one's slow or clunky old system. Our picks for the best laptops and desktops to buy for the holidays include brands like Apple, Dell, Lenovo, HP, Acer and more.

Giving someone a computer gift can be challenging unless you know how they're most likely to use it. For example, a student who is using their device for word processing or streaming has way different needs and expectations than a PC gamer. Our recommendations take many different computer uses into account, and is designed to help make your decision easier.

We'll be back regularly with updated recommendations for this gift guide, so check back. If you can't wait, you can see all of CNET's laptop reviews and pick your own.

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This is a 10-inch tablet running Chrome OS that's bundled with a detachable keyboard and touchpad starting at less than $300. It's a little small, but that makes it a great gift option for young kids.

Read review.

 

Dell G5 15

Great gaming under $1,000

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Dell's G-series gaming laptops are cheaper than those from its Alienware division, but still capable of playing the latest AAA titles. There are three separate models that could make the perfect gift for the gamer in your life -- the G3, G5 and G7 -- available in 15- and 17-inch sizes. The midrange G5 15 hits the mark with an excellent price-to-performance ratio, build quality and design. The newest versions start at $910, including a special-edition model with AMD's impressive Ryzen 5 4600H processor.

Read our Dell G5 15 (2020) review.

 

HP Envy 17

A bigger screen that won't break the bank

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For someone on your shopping list who's feeling cramped working or schooling on a small laptop, the HP Envy 17 is a premium-feeling 17-inch laptop that's faster than a bargain model but not insanely expensive, either.

Read our HP Envy 17 (2020) review.

 

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HP's small two-in-one brings all the convenience of the convertible design without sacrificing usability. For your favorite workaholic, it has an instant mic mute button, which joins other privacy and security features like an IR camera, a fingerprint reader and a switch to disable its webcam. Plus, it's available with 4G LTE wireless to let them work anywhere.

Read our HP Spectre x360 13 (late 2019) review.

 

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This is our go-to recommendation for those in search of a MacOS laptop for everyday basic use. Apple dropped the entry price back down to $1,000, making its most affordable laptop a lot less painful on your wallet -- for Apple. But it remains one of the best laptops available for battery life, performance and design. Keep in mind that Apple just released versions of the Air which incorporate its own M1 processor rather than Intel chips. We found their performance pretty impressive, but there are still software issues, so tread carefully before buying.

Read our Apple MacBook Air 2020 review.

 


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Regularly available for less than $750, this thin, three-pound convertible is a solid choice for a gift recipient who needs a laptop for office or a student who needs one for schoolwork. The all-metal chassis gives it a premium look and feel, and it has a comfortable keyboard and responsive, smooth precision touchpad. Plus, it has a long battery life to boot.

Read our Lenovo Yoga C740 (14-inch) review.

 

Dan Ackerman/CNET

With an improved webcam over previous models, this veteran favorite desktop becomes better suited to our new remote realities of 2020. And you know there's probably at least one Mac-lover on your gift list who's in need of an upgrade.

Read our Apple iMac (27-inch, 2020) review.

 

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If you're searching for a great PC gift for someone who needs (or wants) a desktop capable of a little bit of everything, the Envy 32 sports a smart, compact design with all its space devoted to a big, bright 4K screen and delivers better-than-average power for photo or video editing, a speaker system decent enough for basic audio editing and entertainment.

Read our HP Envy 32 All-in-One review.

 

MSI MEG Trident X

A small gaming desktop that doesn't lack for power

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One of my favorite desktops, the Trident X is fast, fits on an overcrowded desk and has pretty lights with fans that are seen but not heard. Even the base configuration has sufficient power to spiral downward in Flight Simulator at 1440p and play the much slower-moving Deliver Us the Moon in 4K HDR. It's not a cheap gift, but neither is it overly expensive for the power it offers; the Corsair One models that I love are even pricier, unless you opt for a lesser configuration. 

The Trident 3 is a similar design that comes in a budget-friendlier sub-$1,000 configuration that's more suited to 1080p gaming, but would still be a great option for a newbie.

Read our MSI MEG Trident X review.