The 6 Best Streaming Boxes and Sticks for Holiday 2021

Apple TV 4K against blue backgroundApple

Streaming devices are a simple way to step up your entertainment game regardless if you have a smart TV or not. Content recommendations, well-designed remotes, and much more make these gadgets an excellent addition to any living room—so let’s look at the ones you should have your eyes on.

What to Look for in a Streaming Device

The best streaming sticks and boxes all offer the same basic features. Still, though, there are a few things to take into consideration before making a purchase:

  • Operating System (OS): This is the main difference between various streaming devices. While a lot of streaming operating systems hit the same beats, there’s still room for preference. They can vary significantly in design, features, and even what apps they support (although the major ones will be present regardless of what device you choose).
  • Specs: Being able to support 4K, various HDR modes, and surround sound are all important factors of at-home entertainment these days. Still, these features can increase the price significantly, so it’s not uncommon for manufacturers to create multiple versions of the same streaming device with different specs. Most commonly, there will be a 1080p and 4K edition to give you multiple price points to pick from. These different versions usually differ on what resolutions they support, but we’ll be sure to provide you with a breakdown of each device’s situation in this regard.
  • Extra Features: Voice controls, game streaming, and extra ports like USB and Ethernet are all useful features that not every streaming device offers. These are nice bonuses you might not use all the time but are appreciated nonetheless.

Best for Apple Users: Apple TV 4K

Apple TV 4KApple


  • 4K, HDR support
  • Surround sound
  • Compatibility with other Apple devices
  • Sleek remote


  • Limited ports (only HDMI and Ethernet)
  • Expensive

Apple’s streaming player is excellent for a lot of reasons, but one of the biggest draws are the tie-ins with the rest of Apple’s ecosystem. The TV uses Siri for its voice assistant, and you can use the Apple TV app to control things from your phone or tablet and control HomeKit enabled smart home devices from the TV. As far as performance goes, you can expect 4K with HDR (namely, Dolby Vision and HDR10) and Dolby Atmos digital surround sound for a fully immersive experience.

For Apple fans, it’s the obvious choice, but if you’re on a tighter budget, there’s also the 1080p edition available. It’s around $40 cheaper, lowers the resolution, and has less powerful hardware inside. You can also choose between 32 or 64GB of internal storage for either edition, with the latter option being more expensive.

Best for Apple Users

Apple TV 4K

Siri-compatibility and excellent specs all around make this the ideal choice if you’re invested in Apple’s ecosystem.


$179.00 Save 6%

Best for Google Users: Chromecast with Google TV

Chromecast with Google TV device and remote control on wooden surfaceJustin Duino


  • 4K, HDR support
  • Surround sound
  • Great recommendations
  • Google Assistant


  • No extra ports

Chromecasts have far outgrown their once simple purpose of simply casting things from your phone to your TV. The latest model is a feature-rich streaming stick that easily rivals the rest on this list. This Chromecast runs Google TV (formerly Android TV), which has all the best services, uses Google Assistant for voice controls and smart home functionality, and lets Google do what it does best—analyze your preferences and recommend content you’ll probably like. The content recommendations on the home screen draw from all your favorite services and make picking what to watch next a little bit easier.

It also supports 4K and HDR (Dolby Vision, HDR10, and HDR10+) as well as Dolby Atmos surround sound, so you’re well-covered when it comes to performance. And if you’re interested in game streaming, then Google Stadia works on this Chromecast as well.

The Chromecast with Google TV is available in three colors: Snow, Sunrise, and Sky.

Best for Google Users

Chromecast with Google TV

Touting impressive performance and great content recommendations, the latest Chromecast is an easy choice for Google fans.

Best for Alexa Users: Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4KAmazon


  • 4K, HDR support
  • Surround sound
  • Works with other Alexa devices


  • No extra ports

If your home is already kitted out with loads of Alexa-enabled devices, then the Fire TV is the right choice for you. It offers the typical stuff—4K output (along with Dolby Vision or HDR10+ for HDR support), Dolby Atmos surround sound, all the streaming services your heart desires, and some solid content recommendations. But on top of that, it uses Amazon Alexa, which means you can control the stick using other Alexa devices in your home or vice versa. It’s an excellent way to watch your favorite media (especially Amazon Prime Video naturally), and the smart home tie-ins are a nice bonus if you’ve heavily invested in that ecosystem.

There’s also the Fire TV Stick Max that supports Wi-Fi 6 (albeit for a slightly higher price), and the Fire TV Lite that only supports 1080p (for anyone watching their budget).

Best for Alexa Users

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K

The Fire TV Stick predictably plays well with Alexa on top of being a solid streaming device.


$49.99 Save 30%

Best for Simplicity: Roku Ultra

Roku UltraRoku


  • 4K, HDR support
  • Surround sound
  • Plenty of ports
  • Simple OS


  • Limited voice assistant functionality

While in-depth voice assistant support and algorithmic recommendations are great, sometimes what’s simplest is best—something that Roku has always been great at. Roku TV is an incredibly simple OS that allows you to quickly jump into streaming services without much fuss. On top of that, the Ultra supports 4K (with Dolby Vision and HDR10+), Dolby Atmos, and the remote has shortcut buttons you can assign to your favorite apps. There’s also a USB port on the box itself if you want to display video from other devices and an aux port on the remote for private listening. Chances are it has the streaming app you want, whether that’s Netflix or HBO Max.

It’s a fantastic streaming box, but if you don’t already have a soundbar, you might want to consider the Roku Streambar Pro instead. It features the same stuff seen in the Ultra, but all built into a solid soundbar. And what’s not to love about getting an audio upgrade and a great streaming device all in one? Or if you prefer, you can plug a decent set of headphones into the remote control thanks to the included headphone jack.

Best for Simplicity

Roku Ultra

The many ports and performance of the Ultra makes it enticing enough, but Roku’s simple approach to UI design makes it especially great if you’re looking for something straightforward.


$99.99 Save 7%

Best Budget: Roku Express 4K+

Roku Express 4K+Roku


  • 4K + basic HDR support
  • Affordable
  • Simple OS


  • Limited voice controls
  • No extra ports
  • No Dolby Vision

The Express 4K+ still features Roku TV, so its UI is easy to navigate, but it also delivers 4K (with HDR10+) support for a lower price than most. This small box still has all the performance you need out of a streaming device nowadays but manages to avoid breaking the $50 price point. If you’re okay with (or even prefer) Roku’s more straightforward approach to streaming devices, it’s an excellent choice if you’re on a budget, even among the various Roku streaming sticks.

Best Budget

Roku Express 4K+

A stripped-down streaming device that still brings solid performance and a great UI.


$39.99 Save 28%

Best for Versatility: NVIDIA Shield



  • 4K, HDR support
  • Surround sound
  • Game streaming through GeForce NOW
  • 3GB internal storage


  • Expensive
  • Limited storage for a Plex server

The other streaming devices mentioned so far have been almost exclusively focused on streaming services as their primary function, and it makes sense why: that’s what most people use them for. However, if you want a box with more functionality, the Shield is precisely that. It still supports 4K along with Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos surround sound for when you are watching stuff, but there’s a lot more going on here.

It runs AndroidTV, so you can use Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa on it, stream games with it via GeForce NOW, and even have it function as a small (yet proper) Plex server with 3GB of internal storage. On the outside of the box, it features two USB ports for other devices to connect with and a gigabit Ethernet port. The Shield is more expensive than most streaming devices because of all this, but for what you’re getting here, that price is justified.

There is a cheaper version of the Shield, though, that drops the internal storage for a MicroSD card slot, loses the USB ports, and features a slimmer body. If having internal storage out of the box isn’t important to you, it’s a good alternative.

Best for Versatility

Nvidia Shield

There’s a lot packed into the Shield, making it the perfect choice if you’re looking for a gadget that’s more than just a streaming stick.



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How to Add (or Remove) a Digital Signature in Microsoft Office Files

Office documents are sometimes used as legal documents and often require a signature. Or, sometimes, you may want to add an invisible signature to protect the integrity of the document. You can do either in certain Office apps.

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10 Basic Linux Commands for Beginners

Just getting started on Linux? Making yourself comfortable with the command line is essential. If you’re already familiar with command line utilities, you’ll find that Linux and Mac share much in common, but Windows commands have fewer similarities. Let’s take a look.

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How to Add Snapchat Video Filters to Microsoft Teams

Snapchat video filters offer a fun and creative way to present yourself by using your webcam to superimpose lenses on your face. You can integrate these filters with Microsoft Teams in your next meeting. Here’s how.

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Google TV Just Got More Personal and Easier to Use

Google TV ProfilesGoogle

Today Google announced several exciting new changes to help make Google TV more personal and easier to use for everyone in the house. From personal profiles built around the TV content you watch the most to at-a-glance cards in Ambient mode with game scores, news, music, and more.

The idea here is that anyone in your home can set up their version of Google TV to deliver a more personalized experience that’s easy to use, familiar, and tailored around what they want to see.

Google TV Profiles

With personal profiles, similar to Netflix, you’ll see a list of profiles to choose from when you open up Google TV. That way, when you fire up Google TV with your profile, you’ll see specific TV and movie recommendations or the popular “continue watching” for select shows you’ve watched instead of anyone in the home.

Recommendations, watchlists, and the Google Assistant are all built around you and your profile. The company confirmed that each device could have up to 12 profiles, and yes, that includes kids’ profiles that an adult can manage.

Plus, the next feature we’ll explain will really make profiles come in handy.

Glanceable Cards in Ambient Mode

Google TV at-a-glance personalized cardsGoogle

Soon, Google TV will have new glanceable cards in ambient mode when you’re not watching a TV show or movie. These at-a-glance cards will be full of helpful information aside from just show recommendations. Now, you’ll get the latest game scores from your favorite team or sport, weather, news tailored around what you’re interested in and much more. And of course, this will all be unique based on the currently active profile.

Users can scroll through the cards and select on-screen shortcuts to jump to their own Google account photos, podcasts or continue playing music right where they left off on another device. So when you’re done watching another episode of your favorite show and the TV is sitting idle, it’ll jump to Ambient mode and start showing personalized content just for you.

Improved Live TV Tabs

And finally, in its continued efforts to take on the likes of Roku or Amazin Fire TV, Google just made it easier to stream live TV from some of the top providers. Google’s Live and For You tabs on Google TV will now show a broader list of shows you can instantly tune in and watch.

The Live TV tab now integrates deeper with YouTube TV, Sling TV, and Philo, making it easier to find and access live TV with fewer clicks.

In closing, Google confirmed that profiles and the improved ambient mode cards would first be available on the Chromecast and Google TV sets from Sony and TCL “soon,” and likely sometime next month. Profiles are available worldwide on any Google TV, while ambient mode cards come to the U.S. first. Additionally, some of these new features and their availability may vary by the device manufacturer. That said, we’re hopeful any Google TV device will get the complete list of changes.

Source: Google Blog

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How to 3D-print your own sex toy

Billie Ruben wrote up a guide on how to 3D-print sex toys the right way. Just rolling one off the printer and into a human body being absolutely out of the question due to the materials and the layer lines being perfect food and habitats for germs. — Read the rest

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How to Create and Customize a New Google Calendar

Google Calendar is a terrific tool for your events, appointments, reminders, and birthdays. But you don’t have to just settle for the built-in calendars or those you can subscribe to; you can create your own.

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The electric Ford Mustang Mach-E GT finally lives up to its famous name

An orange Ford Mustang Mach-E GT

Enlarge / Cyber Orange Metallic paint is one of the colors exclusive to the Mustang Mach-E GT. You’ll also notice new styling at the front. (credit: Jonathan Gitlin)

Ford provided flights to San Francisco and a night in a hotel so we could drive the Mustang Mach-E GT and Mustang Mach-E GT Performance Edition. Ars does not accept paid editorial content.

SAUSALITO, Calif.—In the grand scheme of things, the names that automakers give their cars aren’t really important. And yet, almost two years after it was first revealed, some people are still upset that Ford decided to call its new electric crossover the Mustang Mach-E. It probably didn’t help that Ford focused its attention on the longer-range Mach-E at first rather than a car that would live up to the image of the Mustang as the people’s sports car.

I’m not entirely unsympathetic to that argument. When we tested a Mach-E in February, I found it a competent electric vehicle, but it wasn’t much fun. Using the Mustang name to take advantage of brand recognition is all well and good, but only if it doesn’t dilute that name past any point of meaning. A Mustang is a wild horse, after all.

Well, Ford has rectified that with the arrival of the $59,900 Mustang Mach-E GT. The concept is similar to the first Mustang GT back in 1965. More power, better tires, and seats that hold you in place, plus some styling tweaks—just don’t crash it leaving Cars and Coffee.

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The 7 Best Laptops for Holiday 2021

best laptops including asus rog zephyrus g14, lenovo flex 5, and apple macbook airASUS/Lenovo/Apple

A laptop makes it easy to lounge on your couch while paying bills, work remotely in a coffee shop, or binge your favorite TV show under your warm comforter. Ultimately, laptops are extremely versatile, useful, and make a great addition to your day-to-day life.

When it comes to starting a search for a new laptop, it’s intimidating, to say the least. Laptops range wildly in price, from a few hundred dollars to over two thousand dollars. Then, laptops boast their specs in numbers and acronyms that are impossible to translate for some, making it difficult to really see the difference between an affordable model and an expensive model.

If you want a clearer understanding of how to read laptop specs, we’ve got you covered. Or, if you just want to hop right to it and see which laptops are the best of the best right now, keep reading!

What to Look for in a Laptop

Buying a new laptop is no small investment. And with so many different options out there, it’s hard to know which one suits your needs the most. Here’s everything you should consider when choosing your laptop:

  • Use Case: What will you be using the laptop for? To scroll social media or take online classes? To stream your latest gaming achievements on Twitch? To edit photos and videos? Having an idea of what you’ll use the laptop for is critical to choosing the right one. If you’ll only be using it for simple tasks (writing an email, scrolling Twitter, online shopping), you won’t need to worry about having powerful high-end specs; likewise, if you’ll regularly be performing more intensive processes with it (streaming, gaming, editing, etc.), you will need a laptop with specs that can keep up with you.
  • Operating System: There’s no right answer when picking between operating systems; it all comes down to personal preference. But you do need to be aware of your options. All of the laptops on this list come with either macOS or Windows 10 OS, but there are also options out there for Linux and Chrome OS.
  • Specs: Every laptop you can buy will have the same basic structure, comprised of a CPU, storage, RAM, an integrated or dedicated GPU, ports, and more. That said, not all laptops are created equally. Using storage as an easy example, some laptops come with a 256GB model, a 512GB model, or even models with 1 TB of storage or higher. Consider your needs, and keep in mind that the better the specs are, the more you’re going to pay for your laptop.
  • Screen Size: Consider how large you want your laptop screen to be. A larger 17-inch screen is great for clearly viewing media and getting work done efficiently, but the laptop won’t be as portable as one with a smaller screen. Smaller screens around 13- or 14-inches work well for those who travel a lot with their laptop, but you’ll be working in a much smaller area. Then, there are 15.6-inch screens, which are kind of that happy medium between a small, portable laptop and a large screen to work on.
  • Unique Features: Although most laptops are all built the same in terms of working parts, there are a few special features that not all laptops have. Some laptops have touchscreen capability that allows you to use a stylus or your finger to navigate the screen instead of your trackpad or a mouse. Then, there are also laptops that come with 2-in-1 functionality, meaning that you can use the device normally as a laptop or flip the keyboard backward to use the device as a tablet. Some even have detachable keyboards, but we focused on more stable options for this guide.
  • Price & Longevity: You’ll also need to factor in your budget. There are more affordable laptops out there, but they usually mean skimping on specs like extra storage or RAM. Likewise, with inexpensive options, you might end up needing to upgrade components like storage down the line or having to buy an entirely new laptop in a few years. If you spend a bit more upfront, you’ll likely be investing in a laptop that will hold up longer before it needs replacing; plus, you’ll also likely be getting beefier specs like a more impressive CPU, more storage, and sometimes even a dedicated GPU.

Best Overall: HP Envy X360

HP - ENVY x360 2-in-1 15.6 Touch-Screen LaptopHP


  • 2-in-1 capability
  • Decent battery life
  • FHD edge-to-edge touchscreen


  • Could have more RAM
  • 15.6-inch display may be too big for some

HP’s Envy X360 is a great mid-range pick that’ll be perfect for most people, whether you need a laptop for school, work, or just for fun. It’s a 2-in-1 laptop, meaning that it can go from being a regular laptop to a tablet, depending on what you need. Also, it has a 15.6-inch touchscreen with 1920 x 1080 resolution; additionally, its edge-to-edge display maximizes the viewing area and looks clean.

There’s a 512GB SSD for storage, 8GB of RAM for multitasking, and an AMD Ryzen 7 CPU. There’s not a dedicated GPU, but Radeon graphics are integrated with the CPU. The battery can last up to 13 hours in between charges and takes less than an hour to go from 0% to 50% battery life.

Best Overall

HP Envy X360

For most people, HP’s Envy X360 is an awesome choice with good specs and handy 2-in-1 functionality.

Best Budget: Lenovo Ideapad 3

Lenovo - Ideapad 3 15 15.6 Touch-Screen LaptopLenovo


  • Super affordable
  • Surprisingly has 8GB of memory


  • Meh overall specs
  • Poor battery life

For a simple budget laptop capable of running basic programs that won’t cost you a lot, Lenovo’s Ideapad 3 is perfect. Though you won’t be able to play intensive games or do anything that’s super demanding on its processor, the Ideapad 3 is perfect for browsing the web and running programs like Microsoft Office for school or work. You can even comfortably stream Netflix or other video content on the 15.6-inch LED touchscreen, though beware that it only has a 1366 x 768 resolution, so you won’t be able to enjoy much HD content.

Inside, the specs are similarly basic. There’s only 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, and a 10th-gen Intel Core i3 CPU with two cores and integrated graphics. With a thin, light design that makes it easy to carry around, the Ideapad 3 is a great choice for college students on a budget. It only has a 7.5-hour battery life, but this is plenty of juice for a day of classes. And you get a full numpad attached to the comfortable keyboard, which can be rare on laptops.

Best Budget

Lenovo Ideapad 3

The Lenovo Ideapad 3 will save you money and still deliver a decent laptop that’s capable of running basic programs.

Best Premium: Dell XPS 15

Dell - XPS 15 - 15.6 OLED Touch-Screen LaptopDell


  • Speedy 16GB RAM and 1TB SSD
  • Impressive screen resolution
  • Dedicated NVIDIA graphics card


  • Pricey
  • 15.6-inch screen may be too big for some

Dell’s XPS 15 laptop is a powerful machine that, although expensive, will last you for years to come and run games and other demanding programs with ease. With a 15.6-inch OLED touchscreen that has 3456 x 2160 resolution, video content and games will look crisp and colorful as well.

Looking inside the XPS 15, there’s a 1TB SSD for plenty of storage, 16GB of RAM for great multitasking, and an 11th-gen Intel Core i7 CPU with 8 cores. There’s even a dedicated NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3050 Ti GPU with 4GB of GDDR6 to help games run even smoother. These specs make it easy to do pretty much anything on this laptop, from running intensive design programs to surfing the web to playing a graphically demanding game. If you need something a little smaller, consider the Dell XPS 13, which enjoys many of the same features in a more compact package.

Best Premium

Dell XPS 15

If you have the money to splurge on a laptop that’ll last you for years, go for the Dell XPS 15.

Best for Apple Fans: 2020 Apple MacBook Air

2020 Apple MacBook Air Laptop Apple M1 ChipApple


  • Fairly affordable for a MacBook
  • Has Apple’s M1 chip
  • Long battery life


  • Wish it had more RAM for the price
  • Only has two USB-C ports

The latest MacBook Air is the perfect choice for fans of Apple’s signature sleek design and intuitive operating system. For a laptop from Apple, it’s relatively affordable and has a thin, light design that makes it easy to cart around with you.

In terms of specs, there are 8GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD, and Apple’s custom M1 chip. This M1 chip is specifically designed for Mac devices and integrates the CPU, GPU, Neural Engine, I/O, and more on the company’s M1 chip. Then, the MacBook Air has a 13.3-inch Retina display with 2560 x 1600 resolution that shows vivid colors and sharp blacks.

Despite these powerful specs, it has a long battery life that can last you up to 18 hours. And if you want to save a little bit of money, there’s a MacBook Air model with just 256GB of storage.

Best for Apple Fans

2020 Apple MacBook Air

The MacBook Air has impressive specs and a fanless design to make this a powerful, yet quiet laptop for Apple fans.


$1249.00 Save 12%

Most Powerful Mac: Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch

Apple - MacBook Pro - 16 Display with Touch BarApple


  • Plenty of RAM and storage
  • Dedicated graphics memory
  • Sleek design


  • Super expensive
  • 16-inch display could be too big for some (and too heavy)

The 16-inch MacBook Pro from Apple costs quite a bit, but you get a pretty powerful machine in exchange. While you’ll, of course, get the sleek, modern design and impressive build quality Apple always delivers, the specs are pretty impressive too.

Inside, you’ll find a 1TB SSD and a whopping 16GB of RAM, which is honestly expected at this high price point. There’s not a proprietary Apple M1 chip inside, but instead a 9th-gen Intel Core i9 CPU and an AMD Radeon Pro 5500M GPU. In between charges, all these impressive specs working together can last up to 11 hours. You’ll charge using the USB-C ports, which is pretty handy.

With a 16-inch display and Apple’s signature aluminum casing, as well as top-notch specs inside, this laptop is pretty heavy. If you’re looking for a laptop to bring with you traveling or to work or school, you might consider getting a lighter laptop. If you’re in love with Apple’s laptops, check out the MacBook Air and you’ll still get a sleek laptop that’s slightly less powerful, but a lot lighter.

Most Powerful Mac

Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch

If you want a MacBook that can handle more powerful software, has dedicated gaming memory, and plenty of storage space, go for the 16-inch MacBook Pro.

Affordable 2-in-1: Lenovo Flex 5

Lenovo Flex 5 14 2-in-1 Laptop, 14.0 FHD touch displayLenovo


  • Affordable
  • 2-in-1 capability
  • Plenty of memory


  • Low storage
  • Smaller screen size

If you love the idea of having 2-in-1 capability in a laptop, but you don’t want to pay a hefty price for it, Lenovo’s Flex 5 is a fantastic option. Because it can function as a tablet as well, it has touchscreen capability and narrow bezels, which makes the 14-inch screen not feel as small. Flip around of course and you’ll get to the keyboard and touchpad for a classic Laptop feel. Plus, the Flex 5 has 1920 x 1080 resolution, which is hard to find in an affordable laptop.

Looking at what’s inside, there are 16GB of DDR4 RAM (which is impressive for this price point!), a 256GB SSD, an AMD Ryzen 5 4500U CPU with integrated Radeon Graphics, and it runs Windows 10 OS. On a single charge, the Flex 5 can last about 10 hours and is able to quick-charge up to 80% in just one hour. It’s also thin and super light, making it easy to cart around the house or to your local coffee shop.

Affordable 2-in-1

Lenovo Flex 5

Lenovo’s Flex 5 laptop gives you handy 2-in-1 functionality at an affordable price with some pretty good specs.



Best for Gaming: ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14

ASUS - ROG Zephyrus 14 Gaming LaptopASUS


  • Dedicated (and impressive) GPU
  • Easily portable 14-inch screen
  • Plenty of RAM and storage


  • Pretty expensive
  • Not the most attractive laptop

The ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14 costs a bit more than your average laptop, but that’s due to better specs inside that’ll make games look and feel great. It has a 14-inch screen with an sRGB display, 1920 x 1080 resolution, and a 144Hz refresh rate. All of this together makes for some vivid, clear colors.

Your favorite games will run smoothly, too, with a dedicated NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 GPU that has 6GB of GDDR6 RAM. Overall, the laptop has 16GB DDR4 RAM, a 1TB SSD, and an AMD Ryzen 9 CPU to keep everything running as quickly as possible. Plus, it’s thin and light, making it easy to game on the go.

If you’re looking for a gaming laptop that’s a bit larger, go for the Alienware M17 R4. It has a larger 17.3-inch screen, a dedicated NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 GPU, and a max 360Hz refresh rate.

Best for Gaming

ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14

If you need a gaming machine that’s powerful and portable, try out the ROG Zephyrus G14 from ASUS.

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