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Playing your favorite games at maximum settings doesn’t mean you have to buy a desktop PC: a modern gaming laptop has all the necessary power. Here’s everything you need to know before you buy the right one for you, along with our list of the best of them.
Purists claim that you need a desktop PC to be a true gamer. In this regard, the desktop is still king when it comes to 4K gaming or Virtual Reality (VR). But if you want or need a device that you can take with you, the only solution is a gaming laptop.
Unfortunately, gaming laptops have a reputation for being bulky, noisy, with terrible battery life, and expensive. And while this is true for most of them, they have advanced a lot in recent years.
The days when huge desktop gaming PCs reigned supreme are now a thing of the past. More and more gaming laptops have components that can compete with desktop counterparts. And there are also many gaming laptops with really impressive displays: with 4K resolution, contrast similar to OLED panels, 1ms response times, and 300Hz refresh rate!
What’s more, choosing the best gaming laptop used to be a question of compromise: you had to choose between a compact and lightweight device with an anemic performance or a powerful one that could hardly be called “portable”. Today, however, you can buy a gaming laptop that is thin and light and can run all modern AAA titles.
Sure, there are still things to consider before buying one, but check out our choices below and we’re sure you’ll find one that suits your needs.
Your next gaming laptop
Choosing the best gaming laptop is a holistic choice; it’s not enough to pick the best graphics card you can afford depending on your budget. Instead, you also need to consider the processor, RAM, SSD, connections, display and even build quality.
However, the opposite is also true. Raw power doesn’t always denote a better gaming laptop. You can buy a gaming laptop equipped with the best graphics card, the most powerful processor, and the fastest display around and that device can turn out to be a dud. These high-end components may overheat or may be incompatible with each other.
Plus, with almost all modern gaming laptops, the compromise you have to make is battery life. In addition, you can’t play most AAA titles without plugging them into a wall socket. The CPUs and GPUs are choked and the luminous screens fade to save energy.
Fortunately for you, we distilled the essence of all these choices below.
Quick tips for buying a gaming laptop
- Focus on the graphics card: most games depend on the GPU, a component that you cannot upgrade. Investing in a powerful graphics card means that you can game comfortably for many years to come.
- Some parts can be updated later: While the CPU and GPU are soldered on the motherboard, most laptops allow you to replace or upgrade the RAM and internal storage. Thus, you can buy a cheaper gaming laptop now and add more RAM or a bigger hard disk/SSD along the way.
- Battery life is almost always poor: very few gaming laptops get 8 hours or more of battery life, and you’ll still need to plug them into a wall socket for the best performance.
How to choose the best gaming laptop
Power or portability? You will need to consider the type of games and where you intend to game (after all you want a laptop to carry around) before deciding which is the best gaming laptop for you. If you plan to play mainly AAA titles sitting comfortably on your home desk, but having the opportunity to move occasionally (maybe at a friends’ house), then a big and powerful gaming laptop is your best choice. But if you plan to carry it around with you (maybe back and forth to work) then a thinner and lighter device will be better suited.
The real drawback is that most gaming laptops are as portable as the nearest electrical outlet!
Just gaming, or also work? One advantage of gaming laptops is that they have enough power for professional tasks, such as video editing and rendering. And since they are expensive, it is worth getting a device that can do both.
How much should you spend?
You can find solid gaming laptops for less than $1,000. Gaming laptops sport higher-end components than “normal” laptops, so their price is higher: cheap gaming laptops start at around $800 and can go up to around $1,200. These are machines capable of running AAA titles at Full HD resolution (1080p) and 60 FPS on “High” settings.
However, most gaming laptops are priced between $1,300 and $2,000. These mid-range devices offer smoother gameplay at “Ultra” settings and a better quality 1080p screen (possibly with a high refresh rate).
Last but not least, premium ones typically cost more than 2,000 dollars. High-end devices ensure smooth 1080p gameplay with settings at maximum and produce many more than 60 FPS. A high-end model is also capable of powering a VR headset and allows you to game at QHD or 4K resolutions (via an external monitor).
The graphics card is the most important thing
The main attribute of a gaming laptop is its graphics card (GPU).
Nvidia dominates the field right now and most gaming laptops use its technology, but AMD is seeing an increase in adoption.
As a rule of thumb, the higher the model number within a product line, the better its 3D performance. Thus an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 generally produces higher frame rates and higher-quality graphics than a GeForce RTX 2060 or 2070. A high-end RTX GPU will run the latest AAA titles at 1080p, with all the bells and whistles turned on, and can also power a VR headset.
In the past, the raw power of an RTX GPU seemed wasted on 1080p gaming, but several new technologies can now take advantage of its extra potential. A trend among mid to high-end machines is a high-refresh-rate display (144Hz is the most common one, but there are models with 240Hz and even 300Hz), which allows for higher frame rates and thus smoother gameplay — they are also ideal for competitive gamers playing fast-paced titles like Overwatch and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
And then we have Nvidia’s G-Sync and AMD’s FreeSync technologies. They help improve the gaming experience and smooth out frame rates by allowing the laptop’s display to update the on-screen image at a variable speed that depends on the GPU (rather than at the panel’s fixed speed). These two technologies, known collectively as “adaptive sync”, are becoming increasingly common.
What about Max-Q graphics cards?
In an effort to produce thinner and lighter gaming laptops, Nvidia launched an initiative called Max-Q Design in 2017. Via a combination of hardware and software modifications, Nvidia’s high-end graphics cards can now fit into thinner chassis than traditional ones. By limiting the power ceiling of its GeForce RTX graphics cards, they produce less heat, which means that less space is needed for cooling and heat dissipation.
Max-Q devices are therefore thinner and easier to carry around while maintaining their high-end performance.
There are, of course, compromises. Max-Q graphics cards are less powerful than standard versions. The difference is not always so evident as to become a problem, but it is measurable. In addition, these laptops tend to be a tad more expensive. If you value portability, a Max-Q graphics card is the most consistent way to create a relatively thin and light but still powerful gaming laptop.
How to choose the right CPU
The processor is the heart of every PC. As a rule of thumb, more cores and higher clock speeds lead to better performance, especially on multithreaded tasks such as video editing. In comparison, games do not receive the same boost from multiple threads.
Theoretically, you can find gaming laptops with an Intel Core i3 processor – or a comparable AMD one – but they are uncommon: these devices are certainly capable of running most modern games without problems, but why limit yourself? That said, if you have to choose between a high-end CPU or GPU, go for the GPU. For example, it is better to choose a model with a Core i5 instead of a Core i7 if it’s paired with an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 instead of an RTX 2060.
Intel or AMD?
Just two years ago, the answer to this question would have been Intel. But AMD has made a welcome return with its new Ryzen CPUs. Thanks to the new Zen architecture, Ryzen chips are super-efficient without sacrificing too much power.
Most gaming laptops have screens that range from 15 to 17 inches and are often heavier than regular laptops. While a 15-inch model will be more portable, a 17-inch model can house more power and boast a larger display.
Larger displays are also capable of delivering resolutions above 1080p, but be careful: a screen with a QHD or 4K resolution will double the cost of the gaming laptop both due to the added cost of the panel and that of the high-end graphics card needed to exploit its full potential. As mentioned before, our advice is to opt for a high refresh rate Full HD screen with “adaptive sync” if you want a smoother viewing experience — or save money with a [email protected] display if you intend to connect the laptop to an external monitor.
You need enough RAM (but not too much)
A gaming laptop needs at least 8GB of RAM. We recommend 16GB. Be careful though, since there are many laptops that are not upgradable. If you can add more RAM, 8GB is a good start. If not, choose a gaming laptop with at least 16GB.
Last but not least, the laptop’s keyboard can elevate or ruin your experience. If you intend to use it to play games – rather than connecting an external gaming keyboard – it is especially important that it is comfortable and precise.
These are the best gaming laptops you can buy today
Asus ROG Zephyrus G14: best gaming laptop for most people
The ROG Zephyrus G14 (Check on Amazon) is an excellent gaming laptop from Asus, powered by AMD’s new Ryzen CPUs and Nvidia’s latest RTX GPUs.
The Zephyrus G14 is a bit smaller than usual (14” chassis), but you probably won’t notice much difference between it and a 15-inch model.
In fact, one of the hardest aspects of creating a gaming laptop is to build a machine that packs enough power to run the latest AAA titles, in a body thin and light enough to be easily transportable. But the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 succeeds. It manages to achieve this balance by using the new AMD Ryzen 4000 processors, which provide the necessary power without discharging the battery in a snap. Add to this Nvidia’s latest GeForce RTX graphics cards and a beautiful 1080p Anime Matrix LED panel with a refresh rate of 120Hz — there is also a version boasting a [email protected] panel – and you get a portable gaming machine that weighs just 3.5 lbs.
It’s not the most performing gaming laptop out there, but it offers the best performance/price ratio for most users: for instance, it can run Metro Exodus in the highest settings and with Ray Tracing turned on at an average of 40 FPS.
However, its ace in the hole is its battery life. Its autonomy, when not gaming, sits around 10 hours, so it’s also an excellent workhorse. The comfortable, clicky keyboard and excellent audio – Dolby Atmos-enabled four-speaker system – are just the icing on the cake. It’s not cheap, but costing (Check on Amazon), the ROG Zephyrus G14 is quite affordable despite its top-of-the-range specs.
Sadly, it does not have a built-in webcam nor a Thunderbolt 3 port and its fans can get quite noisy under load, but other than that this is the best gaming laptop for most people.
It’s hard to choose a gaming laptop that suits everybody, but the Zephyrus G14 should be at the top of everyone’s list.
Razer Blade 15 (2021): the best
Razer managed to improve yet again one of our favorite gaming laptops: the Razer Blade 15 (Check on Amazon). It uses the same gorgeous aluminum chassis as its predecessor, only this time around it houses one of Nvidia’s latest and greatest graphics cards, namely the RTX 30 series — equipped with Ray Tracing and Artificial Intelligence (DLSS) – as well as a 10th gen Intel CPU.
It is expensive – like all Razer Blades – but also just as powerful and more than capable of running any game. Despite its cutting-edge performance, it is also one of the most beautiful, compact, and lightweight laptops around – measuring 0.68×13.98×9.25in and weighing just 4.63 lbs – and can last for more than 6 hours. Thus, it’s also great for creative professionals, especially with that sleek, classy design and trackpad that is among the best we’ve ever tried on a laptop.
We also love the number of configurations we can choose from: Razer’s basic model sports a GTX 1660 Ti and a [email protected] screen, while the Razer Blade 15 Advanced Edition (Check on Amazon) boasts an RTX 3080 and a 4K OLED panel. And if you want a bigger screen, there’s the Razer Blade Pro 17 (Check on Amazon) which has a 17” display.
Whichever configuration you choose though, we think that the Razer Blade 15 (Check on Amazon) is the best gaming laptop on the market right now.
MSI GS66 Stealth: a valid alternative
Its design takes the middle road between the more industrial-looking Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 (Check on Amazon) and the more gaming-looking Razer Blade 15. Personally, I find the Stealth much more elegant than the Blade. The other differentiating factor between the two is the keyboard, where the MSI device offers a much more tactile feedback than the Razer, but not at the level of the Asus.
From its stellar graphics power, cutting-edge overall performance, extremely fast transfer speeds to its amazing battery life, there’s plenty to brag about.
The MSI GS66 Stealth takes the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Max-Q 3.0 version GPU and combines it with a 1080p resolution screen boasting a 300Hz refresh rate that will allow you to get the most out of it. Add an 11th Gen Intel Core i9 processor, 32 Gb of RAM, and a 1TB SSD drive, and you have everything you need in order to game on the go.
It also comes with the Nvidia Resizable Bar, an advanced PCI Express feature that allows the CPU to access simultaneously the GPU’s entire frame buffer. According to Nvidia, this means an increase in performance ranging from 5% to 10% in modern AAA games, taking Stealth’s already impressive performance to the next level.
Sadly, in order to cram the RTX 3080 into a chassis that is just 0.7 inches thick, MSI had to compromise with its power needs. Thus it uses a 95W GPU, which means this graphics card has the performance of the more modest Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 (desktop version). That being said, for a gaming laptop, it’s still incredibly powerful.
It can also get a bit loud, but thankfully the advanced features of Nvidia Max-Q 3.0 include Whisper Mode 2.0 which will adjust performance on the fly for when you want to game without disturbing those around you.
Be that as it may, what sets the Stealth apart from the competition is its autonomy. This laptop boasts a huge 99.9 watt-hour battery — the largest unit allowed by the TSA on board an airplane — which lasted for more than 6 hours in our battery endurance test.
It’s not a cheap laptop (Check on Amazon), obviously, but its design and performance are truly amazing.
Acer Nitro 5 (2021): the cheapest
The latest version of the Acer Nitro 5 is the cheapest gaming laptop you can buy right now. Despite costing so little, it offers a solid 1080p gaming experience and we recommend it wholeheartedly.
A rarity in the scene of gaming laptops, the Acer Nitro 5 offers good performance at a reasonable price: for example, the model with an Intel Core i5-10300H CPU and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Ti GPU, can handle most modern games at medium to high settings and with frame rates close to the magic number of 60 FPS, and costs just (Check on Amazon).
In addition, this processor can easily handle almost all tasks, while the battery can last for up to 8 hours, which means that this is a truly portable device.
There is also a solid selection of ports, a built-in webcam, and a backlit keyboard.
Its 8GB of RAM is the bare minimum (we would have preferred 16GB) but they will not slowdown most games or apps. The only thing we did not like, is the dull display.
Sure, the Acer Nitro 5 (Check on Amazon) cannot compete in raw power with the other gaming laptops on this list, but if you are on a tight budget, it is a great choice.
Acer Predator Triton 500: best gaming laptop for eSport
If you want a gaming laptop capable of Ray Tracing but you can’t spend much, then the Acer Predator Triton 500 (Check on Amazon) is a great place to start.
This is a premium gaming laptop, with great performance and a particularly impressive display, definitely one of the best you can buy today. This latest version stands out for its 15.6-inch 1080p screen with a 300Hz refresh rate that lets you play the best eSports games at the highest possible frame rate, thus granting you a competitive edge.
It also boasts a response time of just 3 ms — the screen on the Razer Blade 15 Advanced (Check on Amazon) is slightly faster but will cost you almost $1,000 more and for just one millisecond of extra reaction time, it’s not worth it.
The Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super Max-Q GPU can handle all modern titles at high graphics settings, while the 10th generation Intel Core i7 processor will easily perform all your day-to-day tasks.
The truth is you don’t even need cutting-edge graphics for eSports games; of course, you could pay a lot more to get a few extra frames per second, but the difference in your gameplay would be really minimal.
It’s also slim and relatively lightweight, it boasts a sleek modern design with a simple finish, enjoys excellent sound, a comfortable, responsive keyboard, and many ports for connecting peripherals and external monitors, all features that make it a true workhorse.
While its performance comes at the cost of battery life and heat generation, the Acer Predator Triton 500 (Check on Amazon) is a great purchase for anyone who wants solid performance and a great display, wrapped in a nice portable design.
Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 (GX550): best dual-screen gaming laptop
The ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 (Check on Amazon) is the rare specimen of a gaming laptop that does something completely new. Its price is out of this world, but we applaud Asus for offering us a sneak peek at the possible future of gaming laptops.
Asus took everything they learned from previous models and with the ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 took the first step towards creating the perfect gaming laptop. In addition to the dual-display – it sports an 11-inch secondary screen that you can use to keep an eye on system or game statistics, Discord chat, watch YouTube videos while playing games, or to do anything else you can imagine – you also get an overclockable eight-core Intel Core i9 processor, an Nvidia RTX GPU and a pair of incredibly fast SSDs. This is a device clearly designed for gaming but due to its slim and elegant bezels, it is also a laptop suitable for content creators.
A 4K display might seem overkill, but you can opt for a Full HD panel with a 300Hz refresh rate, ideal for eSports games.
But the bells and whistles do not end there. The Zephyrus Duo 15 uses a revolutionary AAS+ (Active Aerodynamic System) cooling system that has been modified to allow the secondary display to rise up, thereby increasing the airflow by about 30%.
It’s expensive (Check on Amazon), but if it weren’t for the embarrassing input devices and the lack of a webcam, this would be the perfect gaming laptop.
Asus TUF Gaming A15: best cheap gaming laptop
The Asus TUF A15 (Check on Amazon) is a fantastic gaming laptop, both incredibly versatile and affordable, and boasting an almost unprecedented autonomy at this price range and level of performance.
It sports an AMD Ryzen 4000 CPU, an Nvidia GeForce RTX GPU (or a GTX 1660 Ti if you want to save some money), and a 15.6-inch 1080p 144Hz screen.
Looking at it, there is no doubt that this is a gaming laptop: the industrial design and backlit keyboard make it impossible to mistake it for something else.
It also uses Asus HyperCool technology for effective cooling, even though the downside is that the fan can get quite loud when you push the device to its limits.
The only real disadvantage is its price, especially when there are a lot of sub-$1,000 gaming laptops out there. However, its gaming performance, CPU power, and impressive battery life make it an excellent machine for both work and gaming.
The Asus TUF Gaming A15 (Check on Amazon) is a solid gaming laptop and a steal if you can find it on offer. Even at its current price though, it is better than most of its mid-range competitors.
Dell G3 15: a valid alternative
Dell’s budget gaming laptop is back and is better than ever. The most significant improvement over the previous model is a thinner and more elegant design. Its looks also don’t shout “gaming” for those of you who want to use it as your daily driver.
The G3 15 (Check on Amazon) delivers solid performance; it sports a 9th generation Intel Core i7 CPU and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti GPU, and all this for just $1,000.
Sure, it doesn’t boast the most powerful graphics card, but it’s affordable and will still provide decent frame rates in 1080p resolution.
Combine all these goodies with a long battery life (approximately 6 hours for non-gaming applications), lots of connectivity ports (including an SD reader), an HD webcam with a built-in mic and stereo speakers, and a relatively comfortable design and you have a gaming laptop that can double as a productivity machine.
Unfortunately, the affordable price of the G3 comes at the cost of a relatively bland 15.6-inch display and just 8 GB of RAM — but Dell had to cut some corners somewhere. That being said, the Dell G3 15 (Check on Amazon) is definitely one of the best gaming laptops you can get at this price range.
HP Omen 15: best mid-range gaming laptop
Premium quality and a smart pairing of Intel, AMD, and Nvidia components make the HP Omen 15 (Check on Amazon) a terrific 1080p gaming laptop.
Omen’s mantra is that “less is more”, especially when the alternatives are so much more expensive. In an industry where it seems like there exist only fantastic high-end gaming laptops, that cost an arm and a leg, or budget devices with a mediocre performance that cannot satisfy gamers, HP managed to produce a relatively inexpensive gaming laptop with few compromises.
HP products are more often associated with office work than gaming, but the sub-brand Omen produces undoubtedly some of the best gaming laptops on the market, with a bold design and powerful components under the hood.
This is a mid-range gaming laptop, ideal for both gaming and work. Its Nvidia GPU can run AAA titles with ease, while the beautiful [email protected] display and superior audio quality further elevate the gaming experience.
In addition to the raw power, the Omen 15 is also equipped with one of the best cooling solutions and a good RGB (per key) backlit keyboard.
If you are not put off by its subpar battery life, then the HP Omen 15 (Check on Amazon) is a solid choice.
Acer Predator Helios 300 (2020): best bang for your buck
The 2020 edition of the Acer Predator Helios 300 (Check on Amazon) is more convincing than ever!
One of the advantages of gaming on the go in the modern era is that the powerful components needed to do so, are now much cheaper, and this means more models at affordable prices are able to run almost any title of the Steam library (and others).
We enjoyed the Helios 300 models during the reign of the Nvidia GeForce GTX 10 GPUs and the current iteration that uses the new RTX graphics cards managed to surprise us with its raw performance compared to the other 1,500 dollars gaming laptops.
The new and improved Helios 300 also offers a 240Hz IPS panel. The only real drawback is its small SSD, but the Helios has two expansion slots for another SSD and/or an HDD, which make up for it.
We also like the new overclocking button (offering more power in exchange for extra fan noise) and the wide range of RGB lighting customization options.
The Acer Predator Helios 300 (Check on Amazon) is a gaming laptop definitely worth considering.
Razer Blade Stealth 13 (2020): best gaming Ultrabook
Small yet powerful, the Razer Blade Stealth 13 (Check on Amazon) is the ultimate gaming Ultrabook; it can deliver excellent performance for e-Sport gaming enthusiasts in an extremely compact and lightweight chassis.
Unlike most gaming laptops, this Razer offering is incredibly thin (just 15.2mm thick), thinner than a MacBook Pro, and weighs just over 3 lb. While this fact forces it to sacrifice some raw power (it is equipped with a fairly modest Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Ti GPU) it still offers solid gaming performance for everyone that wants to game on the go.
The Razer Stealth can run most AAA titles at native resolution (Full HD) and comes with a 120 Hz screen perfect for competitive gaming as it reduces input lag compared to a more traditional 60Hz panel. If instead, you prefer a more immersive image, there is the option of a [email protected] OLED display which we don’t recommend since the GPU will not be able to handle it.
This gaming laptop also comes with four stereo speakers that can provide 7.1 surround sound using THX Spatial Audio!
The 2020 model has been updated with the new high-end Intel Tiger Lake processors. In addition to the new chips, the Stealth also comes with a backlit keyboard, a quality webcam, and a Thunderbolt 4 port. Battery life is also quite good – over 10 hours of autonomy.
Most other gaming laptops offer more graphics power but no one can match its combination of performance and portability.
All in all, the Stealth (Check on Amazon) is a solid gaming platform that can double as a productivity machine. You can use it in a meeting room or classroom, and no one will ever think that it’s a gaming laptop.
MSI GE66 Raider: best all-round gaming laptop
MSI did it once again. The 15.6″ GE66 Raider (Check on Amazon) is a superb gaming laptop that crams a lot of power in a compact chassis adorned with RGB lights. Its price is also quite competitive.
This is a phenomenal laptop. While maintaining a price below the psychological barrier of $2,000, it contains enough graphics power to take full advantage of its 240Hz Full HD display, for an ultra-smooth gaming experience.
And for those looking to get the best performance at the eSports level (League of Legends, Overwatch) there is the option for a 300Hz panel. Regardless of the type of game you want to play, the GE66 Raider can run it in the highest settings.
Just a few years ago, all this power would have required a massive device. However, the Raider weighs just 5.2 lbs and measures less than an inch in thickness. Its other dimensions are also similar to an ultrabook (14.1×10.5 in). Even so, MSI managed to equip it with a 99.9WHr battery!
All in all, the MSI GE66 Raider (Check on Amazon) is a stunning gaming laptop with an aggressive look, sporting a huge RGB light bar and boasting the excellent SteelSeries keyboard (also equipped with RGB lights).