The starting prices of the best MacBooks are not exactly cheap, but one is paying for the premium experience of a top laptop brand. The devices are elegant and solidly designed. Still, what if you don’t want to use MacOS? What if the Mac doesn’t support your favorite software?
Dell XPS 13
Dell’s latest XPS 13 model is based on 10th- and 11th-generation Core i5 and i7 processors. Apple’s MacBook Pro 13, meanwhile, features Apple’s new in-house M1 processor on the lower price tiers and up to a 10th-generation Intel Core i7 processor on the higher price tiers. The MacBook Air now includes the M1 chip as well with no Intel-based configurations.
Design-wise, the latest XPS 13 measures 0.58 inches thick and weighs around 2.64 pounds. The 13-inch MacBook Pro is slightly thicker and heavier at 0.61 inches and 3.1 pounds while the MacBook Air is 0.63 inches thick and weighs 2.8 pounds. These are all just numbers, however, as you won’t notice any important differences when toting them from place to place.
Under the hood, the Dell XPS 13 offers up to 32GB of system memory and up to 2TB of storage. The 13-inch MacBook Pro offers the same amount of system memory but up to 4TB of storage, depending on the CPU. The MacBook Air can be configured up to 16GB of memory and 2TB of storage.
Of the three, the Dell XPS 13 provides more connectivity with two Thunderbolt 3 ports, a MicroSD card slot, and a 3.5mm audio jack. It even ships with a USB-C to USB-A adapter so you can connect an external keyboard or mouse. Some configurations include touch-based screens with a UHD+ resolution as well.
If you want an alternative to Apple’s larger 16-inch MacBook Pro, Dell’s XPS 15 is a good match. Starting at $1,149, it features 10th-generation Intel core i5 and i7 processors, up to a GeForce GTX 1650 Ti discrete graphics chip, up to 32GB of system memory, and up to a 1TB on PCIe-based SSD. Apple’s 16-inch MacBook Pro starts at $2,399.
Surface Laptop 3
The 13.5-inch Surface Laptop 3 is Microsoft’s answer to the MacBook Air. Microsoft’s super-slim notebook measures 0.57 inches versus the MacBook Air’s 0.63 inches. In contrast, the MacBook Air weighs in at 2.8 pounds while the Surface ranks at either 2.79 or 2.84 pounds, depending on the configuration.
10th-generation Core i5 and i7 processors power the Surface Laptop 3. On the other hand, the latest MacBook Air forgoes Intel altogether in favor of Apple’s new in-house M1 chip. That means better support for apps initially designed for iOS and iPadOS, but you’ll need an integrated emulator (Rosetta 2) in order to run traditional desktop software.
Microsoft also offers a 15-inch version of the Surface Laptop 3. It’s based on AMD’s Ryzen 3000 mobile processors and “Vega” graphics and supports a higher resolution at 2496 x 1664. It holds up to 16GB of memory and up to 1TB of removable storage.
Best MacBook Pro 16 alternative
Dell XPS 17 9700
If one is not a fan of OLED screens for photo editing — they’re not optimized for Adobe RGB and aren’t great at tonal range in the shadows — then what one needs is a laptop with a good IPS display. The Dell XPS 17 9700 with the 4K screen option delivers that, and it’s not as reflective as the OLED screens. Dell’s PremierColor software isn’t perfect, but it gives you more control over screen settings than most, and it’s got two Thunderbolt 3 controllers to make your external drives happy. It’s heavier than the MacBook, but not much bigger, especially given its larger 17-inch screen. And while its battery life isn’t amazing, its performance can definitely keep up.
The Razer Blade Pro 17 is a strong runner-up here if one is willing to trade higher performance and a similar design for a bigger, heavier model.