When it comes to gaming, enthusiasts know that if you want to experience the true quality that a game has to offer, then a PC is the way to go. Desktops will give you that extra oomph, but sometimes portability is a necessary factor for LAN party-goers or traveling pros. For those looking to take their game mobile without sacrificing too many frame rates, we give you some valuable pointers on choosing the best laptop for gaming, and up rounded up our top picks in the category.
First things first. In terms of raw computing power, go for a six- or eight-core Intel Core i7 or high-end AMD A10 CPU if your budget is large, but you can get by with quad-core i5 or AMD A8 if you’re trying to save some money. Strangely enough, if you’ve been a gamer for a long time, one choice may seem incongruous: the Intel Pentium processor. This venerable brand name is now being applied to inexpensive dual- and quad-core processors based on modern Bay Trail and Haswell CPU architectures. Using an AMD A4 or Pentium processor can save you $50 to $150 on your processor, and then you can apply that money to a higher-powered graphics card or more memory. As shown in our testing, spending the money on the GPU makes more sense than spending it on the CPU.
The best gaming laptops tend to be configured specifically for gaming performance. That means single- and dual-GPU setups of the best gaming graphics processor out there (in this case, either an Nvidia GeForce GTX 980M or AMD Radeon HD 8900M). A single high-end discrete GPU will let you play the latest AAA gaming titles at ultra-quality settings on a 1080P HD screen and with all the bells and whistles turned on. Adding a second GPU will let you run the latest games on 4K and 5K displays, or let you hook up multiple monitors to your laptop.
In terms of display size for a gaming laptop, 11-, 14-, 15-, 17-, and 18-inch screens are par for the course. You can buy larger displays, but this will jack the weight up on a laptop way beyond 5 pounds. We’ve seen 12-pound “portables” in the gaming sector that will definitely weigh down your backpack. Larger screens are capable of giving you higher-than-1080p HD (1,920-by-1,080) resolutions, but choose wisely, as QHD+ (3,200-by-1,800) resolution will boost the final cost twice: first for the panel and second for the higher-quality graphics card to drive it.
You should definitely consider a system with a solid-state drive (SSD), since the price has come down dramatically over the past few years. It speeds up boot time, wake-from-sleep time, and the time it takes to launch a game and load a new level. Go ahead and get a gaming laptop with an SSD, but make sure you configure correctly. A small (128GB) SSD with a large (500GB to 1TB) spinning hard drive is a good start for gamers who also download the occasional video from the Internet. Bigger SSDs are available (512GB or more capacity), but choosing one will increase the purchase price of your gaming rig exponentially.
Given that high-end components tend to drain battery life, don’t expect these gaming rigs to stray too far from a wall socket very often. And last but not least, if you’re a pro looking to buy a gaming laptop that can keep you competitive on the game grid, be prepared to brownbag your lunches for a while. That kind of high-end performance can only come from top-of-the-line components, especially in a portable package, and they don’t come cheap.
But maybe you’re not looking to burn up the gaming grid. Maybe you want a laptop that offers smooth game play on the lighter end of the 3D graphics spectrum without sacrificing your rent check. Midrange and entry-level enthusiast GPUs, like the Nvidia GeForce GTX 860M and 950M, are ready to game at lower resolutions and more modest quality settings. You’ll find them on laptops that cost a little less than the higher-end stuff out there and still let you hold your head up when competing in World of Warcraft or Diablo III, or older titles like Team Fortress 2.
Below is our selection of the best gaming laptops this year, which range from the luxury to the more moderate purchase that you can still use to compete on the gaming grid. For more gaming goodness, our roundup of winning gaming desktops is worth a look. Be sure to also check out our overall top laptop picks, as well as our favorites for business and users on a budget.
Acer Aspire V 15 Nitro (VN7-591G-75S2)
The Acer Aspire V 15 Nitro (VN7-591G-75S2) is an entry-level gaming laptop with some real muscle, showing impressive performance and solid battery life without the expense of a premium system.
The latest Alienware 15 is hefty, but it delivers everything you want in a gaming laptop, with excellent performance, long battery life, and all sorts of customizable features.
It may not have absolute top gaming benchmark scores, but the Asus ROG G751JY-DH72X is a competitive high-end gaming laptop that outclasses its rivals on features and price.
The MSI GS60 Ghost Pro 3K delivers a midrange gaming laptop that brings plenty of bang for the buck, and several small touches that will delight gamers.
The MSI GT72 Dominator Pro G-1438 gaming laptop improves 3D-animation speed and quality with the combo of a fifth-generation Intel Core i7 CPU and Nvidia GeForce GTX 980M graphics with G-Sync. With smooth 3D rendering, it eliminates the glitchy artifacts that could take you out of the game.
The Origin EON15-X is a high-end gaming laptop that delivers strong processing power and serious gaming performance.
The newest Razer Blade boasts impressive features and great performance, making it the ultraportable gaming machine to beat.