Intel’s Arc 7 graphics cards have been a long time coming. In fact, the wait stretched so long that excitement mostly fizzled about Team Blue taking on Nvidia and AMD. Gamers wanted a rescue from pandemic shortages and inflated pricing, and got none.
But better late than never—especially when Intel’s Arc A770 and A750 cards can pull out some impressive performance. Intel’s first generation of discrete GPUs represent huge potential for a healthy competitive environment, with three players in the ring all vying for the title of best in class.
The problem is, Arc is first-gen technology, and it’s got teething pains to get through still. If you happen to play the right kind of games, the Intel Arc A770 (available in $349 16GB and $329 8GB flavors) or $289 Intel Arc A750 might work for you. But if not, you should wait, or pick up a different card all together.
Was your CPU manufactured before 2019? If you own something older than an AMD Ryzen 3000 (2019) or Intel 10th-generation Comet Lake (2020) processor, you’ll likely want a graphics card from a competing vendor.
The reason: Intel’s Arc cards lean heavily on a feature called resizable BAR, which is only available in modern processors. In fact, they only shipped as an out-of-the-box feature for Ryzen 5000 and 12th-generation Intel chips. You must perform a motherboard BIOS update before enabling it for older compatible chips.
Resizable BAR (also affectionately known as ReBAR) lets your CPU access all of your GPU’s memory framebuffer at once, rather than in 256MB chunks. On Nvidia GeForce and AMD Radeon graphics cards, flipping on ReBAR moderately boosts performance. But Arc’s memory controller design relies on ReBAR much more heavily, with more notable impact on frame rates in games and smoothness of gameplay when it’s off or unavailable. In five of our benchmarks, the difference between ReBAR on and off in DirectX 12 performance starts at 14 percent, with as much as a 38 percent gap.
Essentially, if you have an older PC and have been waiting for a more affordable graphics card to extend its life further, Arc isn’t it. You’re better off with an Nvidia or AMD option.
Performance rocks on modern APIs
Intel Arc 7 GPUs really love modernity—not just hardware, but APIs like DirectX12 and Vulkan, too. The top-tier Arc A770 can absolutely smash the competition in optimized games running those modern graphics APIs. In titles like Metro Exodus and Borderlands 3, Arc provides a significant performance uplift compared to the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 and AMD Radeon RX 6600, both at 1080p and 1440p.
It’s not all wins for the Arc cards, however. Driver optimization is still a work in progress, and so AMD and Nvidia take a clear lead in some games, like in Cyberpunk 2077 and F1 2020 at 1080p. But dive into the numbers, and you’ll see it’s not a true loss—gamers still get near 60fps in Cyberpunk 2077 with all the ray-traced bells and whistles turned on. In other games, frame rates are well above that.
But nosedives in DirectX 11 in most cases
Arc shines in modern games with DirectX 12 and Vulkan support, but there’s one problem: A lot of games still use DirectX 11. Think indie games, or even AA projects (titles with tangible investment and resources, but not the huge blockbusters). Many people also have a huge backlog of older games to get through, and those rely on equally older APIs, like DirectX 9.
Take for example Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Using DX12, the game’s recommended API, both the Arc A770 and A750 easily keep pace with the competition. (Though the $350 16GB A770 is where Intel shines—it holds its own against the more expensive RTX 3060, while the A750 cedes some ground to its cheaper RX 6600 rival.)
But flip the switch to DX11, and the A770’s performance plummets. With resizable BAR left on, it runs 49 percent slower. Turn off reBAR, and it plunges down to 55 percent. The other games in our benchmark suite show performance losses between 25 and 50 percent with reBAR on in DX11 mode, and 29 to 51 percent with reBAR off. Ouch.
(The one oddball exception: F1 2020, where A770 gets a boost in performance when switching over to DX11 and turning reBAR off.)
Beats Nvidia’s RTX 30-series cards in ray-tracing
Hang on to your safety bar—this rollercoaster is about to hit another exhilarating loop-de-loop.
Nvidia has long held the crown for ray-tracing performance. It arrived first to the party, and then launched its Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS) tech to further boost performance by rendering frames at a lower resolution and then upscaling them.
But now that Intel has appeared on scene, Nvidia can no longer claim the top spot universally. The A770 beat the RTX 3060 in raw ray tracing performance (without upscaling features like DLSS or Intel’s XeSS active) in three of the four games we tested. The A770 (and A750) trounced AMD’s Radeon RX 6600, too.
The catch: DLSS is far more developed, with more representation in games. In the real world, that means Nvidia can provide higher frame rates. Intel does have an equivalent technology for its cards, XeSS, but game support will take time. DLSS is currently in hundreds of games, while XeSS is only in a handful.
Still, in terms of raw performance, Intel should be able to hang onto this accolade for a bit. Nvidia’s upcoming launch of RTX 40-series of cards will initially focus on high-end, flagship cards—far above the A770 and RTX 3060’s price tier. An RTX 4060 (with presumably better ray-tracing performance) isn’t likely to launch until next year.
High power consumption, especially at idle
In the US, power draw didn’t use to be as much of a conversation. It was more of a thing checked for intellectual curiosity. But now with rising energy costs worldwide, the focus on hardware electricity use is increasing. (For example, our recent review of AMD’s Ryzen 7000 CPUs addresses this same issue.)
Unfortunately Intel Arc 7 cards consume more power than their Nvidia and AMD counterparts, both under load and at idle. In fact, the idle power use is startling—in our measurements of whole system power draw, our Arc machines used nearly double that of rivals. Even under load, you’re looking at about 50 percent more use than the RX 6600. (The A770 at least offers higher performance, though.)
This news isn’t a complete surprise, given that the RTX 3060 and RX 6600 use single 8-pin connectors, while Arc uses 8-pin + 6-pin. But if your electricity rates have gone up, this could be another point of major consideration.
Better looking, lower bandwidth encodes
Right now, Intel is the only company that supports AV1 encoding—a form of encoding that improves the image quality while also reducing bandwidth needed to view the video. That’s a huge boon for streaming and capture uploads, and as our Arc AV1 testing shows, Intel’s results look incredibly promising.
However, don’t run out to grab an Arc 7 card just for this benefit. All Arc cards support this encoding feature, including the Arc A770 and A750’s much-cheaper sibling, the $140 Arc A380. Pick up an Arc 7 card if you want the stellar modern AAA gaming performance and AV1 encode support as well. Otherwise, if your only goal is to supercharge your capture/streaming PC, you can save some cash.
Driver support is a work-in-progress
When Intel’s low-end Arc A380 launched in China earlier this year, driver issues plagued the hardware. The situation has greatly improved since then, but Intel’s newest Arc GPUs still suffer from glitches at launch.
If you buy one of these cards, keep a reserve of patience on hand. During our testing, our benchmark machine locked up several times—nothing recurring or showstopping, just irritating. Windows also required permissions approval for Intel’s Arc Control app upon each reboot.
That said, Intel also fixed a large number of issues just during the review period: games that failed to launch all together, app crashes when using a certain API mode or features like ray-tracing, and game corruption.
Nvidia and AMD have much headway on this front, with AMD in particular having largely turned around public perception of its drivers. Intel still has a bumpy ride ahead, as noted in our full Arc A770 and A750 review—so you have to decide if you’re willing to take that bone-rattling in exchange for an affordable graphics card.
Whether you need a new computer for school or as an inexpensive device for the family to use, Chromebooks are a great option for those looking to save money on a productivity machine. Chromebooks are capable of handling most every productivity task a Windows of MacOS laptop can do, but they are often more affordable and boast really long battery life.
Lenovo Flex 5i, Core i3-1115G4/8GB RAM/128GB SSD/13.3-inch 1080p display, $328.39(24% off at Amazon)
Lenovo IdeaPad 3, Pentium Silver N6000/4GB RAM/128GB SSD/15.6-inch 1080p display, $229.99 (51% off at Target)
HP Chromebook x2, Qualcomm Snapdragon 7c/8GB RAM/128GB SSD/11-inch 1440p display, $479.99 (29% off at HP)
In the budget category, the $119 Asus 14-inch Chromebook is a great value with a 1080p screen, 4GB of RAM, and a decently fast processor. Don’t worry too much about SSD storage space as Chromebooks are so cloud-focused that it shouldn’t be a deciding factor.
In the midrange category, the Flex 5i will offer more performance than the Flip C433, but it won’t be too much and the $80 back in your pocket is hard to pass up. We generally consider a Core m3 to be more powerful than a Celeron N4020, which is more powerful than the MediaTek MT8183, though not by that much. A laptop-class processor like at Core i3 or a Ryzen 3 will top all of those, easily.
If you have a bit more money to spend than the HP Chromebook x2 with its 1440p display comes with the best screen on offer right now, but it’s also the smallest so you will need to decide if quality or size are more important.
What should I look for in a Chromebook?
For a respectable Chromebook, look for the following specs: an Intel Celeron N4000 chip or higher, 8GB of RAM, and a 1080p screen. A Pentium Silver N6000 processor is a step up from that. A Core m3-8100Y should be satisfactory, although the midrange or premium Chromebooks include laptop-class chips like a Core i3 or an AMD Ryzen processor.
More memory, such as 8GB rather than 4GB, will allow for more open browser tabs and a smoother browsing experience. A 1080p screen will offer a more comfortable viewing experience. Hard drive storage really doesn’t matter too much, though you should at least aim for 32GB in order to store apps, screenshots, and the like.
If you’re familiar with our laptops versus Chromebooks explainer, you know that one of the potential gotchas is buying a Chromebook whose support window expires soon. We try to factor that into our picks above, so you won’t get stuck with a Chromebook that will lose support in the near future. But be sure to double check these things before purchase so you don’t end up without support should your Chromebook encounter issues.
Which retailers offer good Chromebook deals?
There are a lot of retailers that offer Chromebook deals, and scouring through all of them would take you a lot of time—that’s why we do it for you here and highlight the best deals we find. However, to save you some time and any potential headaches, you need to be smart about where you look at any given time of the year.
If you’re looking for a new Chromebook during the holidays or around popular sales events such as Black Friday or back-to-school, there are often great deals directly through the retail storefronts of popular computer manufacturers such as HP, Dell, Samsung, and Lenovo.
However, if you are looking in between sales events, it can be a good idea to check out large third-party retailers such as Amazon, Adorama, Walmart, BestBuy, and Target. Oftentimes these websites will offer time-limited Deals of the Day sales in order to get rid of excess stock. On the plus side, you can score still-decent Chromebooks at a steep discount this way.
What is the difference between a regular laptop and a Chromebook?
When people talk about regular laptops they usually mean a PC or Mac. A Chromebook is still a laptop, but it differentiates itself from either of those two by using a unique operating system called Chrome OS, which was created by Google. Think of it like this: All Chromebooks are laptops, but not all laptops are Chromebooks.
Unlike other operating systems such as Windows or macOS, Chrome OS is optimized to run Google apps such as Google Drive, Google Docs, YouTube, and other Google services. Because most Google apps are online, Chromebooks generally require an internet connection to use most of their important features.
Finally, Chromebooks have historically been designed with portability, ease of use, and affordability in mind rather than top performance. They typically forego the faster, high-end hardware that PCs or Macs can use for a more minimalist, lightweight approach to computing.
Microsoft’s Surface series is consistently one of the most efficient and practical machines on the market. For PC users, a Microsoft Surface Pro is a great gift to help them work from anywhere on a convertible device that doubles as a laptop and a tablet. And right now, you can get a refurbished Surface Pro from 2017 for $399.99, guaranteed to arrive by Christmas for 16% off with free shipping.
This laptop has a 12.3″ PixelSense display with 10-point touch support in a thin and light package that makes it one of the most flexible portable machines on the market. Plus, shopping refurbished is a greener option that could save you some cash.
The Surface Pro 5 is powered by a 7th-gen (Kaby Lake) Intel core i5 processor and 8GB of memory. It also offers 256GB of onboard storage, integrated speakers with Dolby audio, and a 5MP front camera for taking video calls on the go. Finally, you’ll receive this Surface Pro with Windows 10 Pro pre-installed, which is specifically designed for business users.
Usually, this Microsoft Surface Pro 5 retails at $479, but you can get it for just $399.99 with free shipping if you order by December 8.
Microsoft Surface Pro 5 (Model 1796) Intel Core i5 8GB 256GB Windows Pro – Silver (Refurbished) – $399.99
One of the most popular uses for VPNs nowadays is to bypass region locks to access streaming content in different countries. However, in 2016 Netflix expanded into 130 new territories and promised to get tough by preventing people from streaming Netflix content over a VPN. Since then it’s been a cat-and-mouse game between Netflix and VPN providers to continually provide U.S. Netflix access to their customers. That’s why choosing the right VPN is essential in order to stream U.S. Netflix when outside the country.
As a rule, regardless of what your home billing address is, you always get access to the Netflix catalog of the country you’re currently in. If you live in Idaho, but you and your laptop are in Japan, you get the catalog available in Japan. Sometimes that can be great and you get to see a movie or TV show that isn’t available at home. Often, however, you just want to keep watching your stuff remotely.
Given Netflix’s restrictions towards VPNs, you need to choose a service that has active compatibility with Netflix. This provides some assurance that the service is committed to adapting its strategies in accordance with Netflix’ moves.
If you’re looking to use your VPN for more than streaming Netflix, be sure to check out our comprehensive roundup of the best VPNs in all categories.
Updated 12/1/2022: Check out our latest review of Windscribe Pro. It just missed out on this list, but it’s still a great service with a ton of useful features and an affordable price, which makes it a good value VPN option.
1. NordVPN – Best overall for Netflix
Enough features to appeal to power users and novices
For our money, the best option for streaming Netflix is NordVPN. This company has been challenging the Netflix VPN ban from the start. It’s also had a goal of making all of its servers work with the streaming service. As of this writing, this is the case. No matter which Netflix catalog you want, NordVPN promises to deliver it.
NordVPN has more than 5,000 servers and offers locations in 60 countries around the world. It also allows you to choose your specific server so that you can switch around if you need to when Netflix’s ban hammer comes down.
In addition to top-notch speeds, and Netflix compatibility, NordVPN offers double-hop connections, and VPN over TOR. NordVPN also uses the WireGuard protocol by default, though it has made some modifications to make WireGuard friendlier and more private for commercial VPN services and thus calls its protocol NordLynx.
NordVPN is inside our top 10 for best speeds overall, and it should have no trouble streaming Netflix anywhere in the world.
If NordVPN isn’t your style, our top VPN overall, ExpressVPN, is also an excellent choice. ExpressVPN offers more than 3,000 servers in 95 countries. It also promises that Netflix will work with every server it has, and ExpressVPN offers good speeds. Express is on the pricier side at nearly $100 per year, compared to $60 for Nord. But the app is easy to use, the speeds are excellent, and it offers some nice extras such as a private DNS service that lets you set up an Apple TV or console for watching U.S. streaming services overseas.
Another good recommendation is ProtonVPN, which is available at a similar price to ExpressVPN. Unlike NordVPN, however, Netflix doesn’t work on every single Netflix server. It works on a lot of the more than 1,500 servers, but not every single one. The one issue with Proton is that it can have trouble from time to time, where a stream will suddenly stop, especially if you’re watching while you work on the same PC.
4. Surfshark – Best for access with multiple devices
Unlimited simultaneous device connections
Works with Netflix in 11 countries
Labels virtual server locations
Built-in ad, tracker, and malware blocking
Exotic business address
No ping or server load indicators
Surfshark is another VPN that hits our top 10 for speeds, and while the speeds aren’t outstanding—just 35 percent of the base speed in our last tests—Surfshark is plenty fast enough for Netflix streaming. This service is compatible with Netflix, it has ad- and malware-blocking features, double-hop connections, and, surprisingly, it offers unlimited simultaneous device connections as opposed to the usual five-device limit with most VPNs. The Surfshark app for Windows is also pretty easy to use.
As we mentioned earlier, Netflix’s big expansion into pretty much every country on earth back in 2016 meant it had to get tough on VPNs. While Netflix produces a lot of its own content that it can make available worldwide, the company also licenses a ton of content from traditional entertainment studios.
These third parties are still working on a system of global territory licensing. Under this system, Netflix gets a package of movies and TV shows from these companies that it can show in the U.S., but that aren’t licensed to be shown by Netflix in, say, Europe. To keep those companies and their other international licensees happy, Netflix must enforce a block on VPNs to prevent people from getting content made available to Netflix subscribers in the UK, but not the U.S.
“We are making progress in licensing content across the world,” Netflix said in a 2016 blog post. “But we have a ways to go before we can offer people the same films and TV series everywhere.”
Netflix isn’t the only company that has to enforce these restrictions. Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and others do it too. However, Netflix along with Hulu are easily the most active and effective at it.
Buying VPN access for Netflix streaming
We’ve already covered this in brief, but let’s quickly deal with what you should be looking for in a Netflix VPN. First, most people should not make speed the top consideration. The minimum recommended bandwidth for a 1080p Netflix stream is 5 megabits per second (Mbps). If you’re streaming in 4K it’s 15Mbps. That’s nothing, and nearly all the top VPNs hit those speeds quite easily in most places.
Instead, the first consideration should be the basic promise of Netflix compatibility from a reputable company. That’s the rub. Any old VPN can promise Netflix compatibility, but if there aren’t a lot of reviews about the service it may not be the real deal. Stick to well-known VPN services if you can.
Next, you need to consider how many servers are available for the service–especially the number in your target country. If you want Netflix Australia and the VPN only has two Australian servers, that could be a problem. Most of the popular VPN services list their server networks online that show you how many servers are in each country.
Finally, make sure the VPN’s desktop app (and don’t forget about mobile) allows you to choose specific servers. Since this is a cat-and-mouse game you need a service with a number of servers in your desired Netflix country. That way if one server has been discovered by Netflix, it’s possible the others are still working. Often, just switching servers is enough to keep watching, and sometimes even simply reconnecting to the same server is enough to fix streaming issues. That’s the one word of warning we’d offer to anyone looking to play the international Netflix game. You will have to get used to occasional interruptions. Sometimes this can mean access to U.S. Netflix from overseas is blocked on a particular VPN entirely, though this often only lasts a day or two. Slightly more frequent interruptions may happen, where the stream will just stop. The fix for this is often just switching servers.
Finally, after all of that, consider speeds. Speeds for countries in North America and Europe are usually solid in the major VPN services. Australia and Asia can vary wildly, however. Any of our recommendations in this article will give you the speeds you need in those areas of the world.
How we tested
We only test on days that the wired internet connection hits 80Mbps or more. During the daily test we measure the speeds of five different locations around the world, running the test three times in each location and taking the average speed of each country for the day, and then we average those speeds again to get an overall daily average. Our countries are typically, but not always, the U.S., UK, Germany, Australia, and Japan.
The daily test is run on three different days at three different times of the day. We then take each daily average, and then average them again to get an overall average. We then determine that overall average as a percentage of the original daily speed.
The reason we don’t bother with printing hard numbers as a rule is that experiences in hard numbers can vary wildly. It all depends on the speed of your internet connection, the time of day, and even device types can have an impact. For that reason we feel that percentages, which can show how much speed you can expect to lose on a given service, is a more useful indicator.
Netflix is an excellent service, and while the company doesn’t like you to use VPNs, we’ve never heard of anyone being penalized because of it. Just choose your preferred VPN service wisely and you’ll be good to go.
What is a VPN?
A VPN (Virtual private network) encrypts your internet traffic and disguises your identity while browsing the internet. When used for streaming Netflix, a VPN will reroute your traffic from your location outside the U.S. to their own server within the country masking your true location and allowing you to bypass Netflix’s region locks.
Additionally, VPNs anonymize your internet traffic and keep your ISP from potentially snooping on your browsing.
Are VPNs legal?
Yes! In most countries, including the United States, using a VPN is legal. Some websites such as Netflix might try to block VPN connections due to their own personal restrictions, but they are still perfectly fine to use. Please note, while using a VPN is legal, some of the activities done while using a VPN might be illegal. Activities such as downloading pirated copyrighted content or accessing dark web markets are both illegal with and without a VPN.
Will a VPN affect my internet speeds?
In short, yes, a VPN can have an effect on your internet speeds. But nowadays it’s the exception rather than the norm.
While connected to a VPN, your traffic is rerouted through the VPN provider’s own servers. Depending on where these servers are located, it can add extra distance for your traffic to travel to and from, slowing your speeds down a bit. Also, VPNs encrypt your data which can lead to slower download and upload speeds due to the time it takes to encrypt and decrypt your data. This can have a more significant impact on speeds and it can affect everything from page load times to video buffering speeds. Thankfully, modern VPN providers have taken advantage of advances in encryption technology and server optimization to drastically reduce these impacts.
Do VPNs track my browsing or store my data?
This is entirely up to the VPN provider you choose to use. There have been instances in the past of VPN providers collecting data on their users. However, these were mainly free VPN services with no explicit “no-logging” policies.
When searching for a VPN, be careful to check the company’s website for a “no-logging” policy, third-party trust verification, and trustworthy user reviews. Thankfully, most of the major paid VPNs have clearly stated “no-logging” policies, so it’s typically best to stick with one of them if you have concerns.
Interested in using your VPN for more than just streaming Netflix, check out some of our other best VPN roundups to learn more:
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