Reviews

The Best Gaming Laptops

The Best Gaming Laptops

By Deborah Atanda

January 22, 2021

A new generation of gaming was introduced in late 2020, when Sony and Microsoft released the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S/X, respectively. But console gaming isn’t for everyone, especially for those who want something portable. There’s the option of the Nintendo Switch, which can be used as a handheld device, but it’s not even as powerful as last-generation’s PlayStation 4 and Xbox One S/X. While gaming consoles such as the PlayStation, Xbox, and Switch all have their benefits, especially with console exclusive titles, some gamers just prefer gaming on a PC.

Now, if you’re interested in PC gaming but want something portable, then your only viable option is a gaming laptop. If you haven’t been paying attention to gaming laptops over the last few years, you might be surprised to hear some of the specs on certain models. And yes, high-end gaming laptops are capable of running modern games such as Cyberpunk 2077.

As you can imagine, a powerful gaming laptop will cost noticeably more than a gaming console. But keep in mind, you’re also getting a built-in display (often with high refresh rates) and the added benefit that the laptop can be used for many other things besides gaming.

6 Gaming Laptops to Consider

Choosing the right gaming laptop largely depends on the type of games you want to play. If you’re aiming to enjoy AAA experiences and want to check out the latest and greatest from all the major publishers and developers, you’re like going to need a top-tier laptop. Prefer indie games that aren’t so demanding when it comes to hardware? You can save a bit of money on a laptop with lower specs.

You’ll also want to decide how big of a display you want, since a larger display takes away from a laptop’s portability. If you’re planning to carry around the laptop on a regular basis, you may want to consider a smaller unit that’s more portable. But if your plan is to have your gaming laptop mostly on your desk but want the ability to take it on the go when necessary, a larger display will give you a more immersive experience.

Below, you’ll find our recommendations for the best gaming laptops, starting with top-tier options with all the bells and whistles, and ending with more portable, lower-spec choices if you’re on a budget.

1. Editor's Pick: ASUS ROG Strix 17

ProsCons
  • Top-tier specs
  • Extremely fast display with 3ms response time
  • Will play everything you can throw at it (at least for the next few years)
  • No built-in webcam
  • Not the best speakers and touchpad performance
  • You’ll want a proper headset and mouse

Key Specs

CPU:Intel i9-10980HK
GPU: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 SUPER
RAM: 32GB DDR4-3200
Hard Drive:2TB (1+1) PCIe x4 NVMe SSD (Raid 0)
OS: Windows 10 Pro
Display: 17.3” 300Hz IPS Full HD

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ASUS is one of the most popular and well-known brands when it comes to the PC gaming world. In fact, ROG is short for ‘Republic of Gamers’ which is the brand’s way of focusing on the best hardware for PC gaming. Sporting a large 17.3-inch display, this laptop is filled to the brim with high-end components, including an Intel i9-10980HK processor, 32GB of DDR4-3200 RAM, and a NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 SUPER GPU.

If none of those specifications mean anything to you, don’t worry. It simply means this laptop will comfortably play any game that’s currently available, and will even do the heavy lifting necessary to enjoy VR experiences. You won’t have to worry about load times either, thanks to the NVMe M.2 SSD hard drives. If you’re into fast-action games like first-person shooters or racing games, the 1920x1080 IPS display has an extremely fast 300Hz refresh rate and 3ms response time. You might not even get to take advantage of the 300Hz refresh rate, but it’s nice to know the panel is that quick.

You’ll get your standard USB Type-A and Type-C ports, as well as an HDMI output if you want to hook the laptop to an external display. Choose between the built-in Ethernet port or Intel Wi-Fi 6 with Gig+ for online connection. It’s worth mentioning if you’re planning to stream on Twitch or hop on a Zoom meeting, this laptop doesn’t have a built-in webcam. We also recommend getting a proper gaming headset and mouse, since the built-in speakers and touchpad will really take away from your gaming experience.

2. Best for 4K Gaming: Razer Blade 15

ProsCons
  • 4K OLED HDR Display
  • Touchscreen
  • Extremely thin and lightweight for a gaming laptop
  • 4K comes at a price premium
  • You’ll probably want a cooling pad

Key Specs

CPU: Intel i7-10875H
GPU: Up to NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 SUPER MQ
RAM: 16GB DDR4-2933
Hard Drive: Up to 1TB NVMe
OS: Windows 10
Display: 15.6” 4K OLED

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If you care more about resolution than insanely fast refresh rates, you probably want a 4K gaming laptop. Razer, yet another popular brand in the PC gaming industry, offers this 15.6-inch 4K OLED laptop with a touchscreen. It’s also available with a 300Hz FHD (1920x1080) display, but we’ll be focusing on the 4K variant here.

Powered by an i7-10875H processor paired with 16GB of RAM, this setup may not have as much raw power as other recommendations, but it’ll meet the requirements of nearly every current game out there. The RTX 2080 Super makes 4K HDR gaming a possibility and you can choose up to a 1TB NVMe for storage.

What makes this laptop stand out is its construction, with a precision-crafted aluminum chassis measuring just 0.7-inches thin. It weighs under 2.3 kgs, which means carrying it around won’t be a chore. The thin design comes at a cost however, as this laptop is known to get pretty warm. Get yourself a laptop cooling pad to keep temperatures under control during long gaming sessions.

This is our top choice if you want to enjoy 4K gaming, especially for gamers who prefer story-driven single player experiences over online, competitive multiplayer.

3. Solid Mid-Range Option: Lenovo Legion 5

ProsCons
  • 144Hz screen
  • Built-in webcam with privacy cover
  • Decent speakers for a gaming laptop
  • Fans can get noisy
  • Average battery life
  • 512GB storage isn’t that much these days

Key Specs

CPU: AMD Ryzen 7 4800H
GPU: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1660Ti
RAM: 16GB DDR4-3200
Hard Drive: 512GB M.2 NVMe
OS: Windows 10 Home
Display: 15.6” 144Hz IPS Full HD

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We understand that not everyone needs a premium gaming laptop, and if your goal is to enjoy most games and don’t care about the best graphics settings from AAA titles, consider the Lenovo Legion 5. It has a fairly standard 15.6-inch display with 1920x1080 resolution and a 144Hz refresh rate, but it’s powered by a GeForce GTX 1660Ti GPU. Obviously, it’s not as powerful as the 20-series GPUs, but it will deliver solid performance for most games.

Instead of an Intel processor, Lenovo opts for an AMD Ryzen 7 4800H and pairs it with 16GB of DDR-3200 RAM. Storage is handled with a 512MB M.2 NVMe, which will be plenty fast to cut away load times. We do wish it had more storage, considering some games are over 100GB, so it’s something to consider. If you have monthly bandwidth caps from your ISP, it may be frustrating to have to uninstall games to make room for new ones, forcing you to re-download older games at a later time.

Since it is a mid-range option, the battery life is average for a gaming laptop. Depending on what you’re playing, it might even be considered poor. Fortunately, it is equipped with what Lenovo calls ‘Rapid Charge Pro’ that brings battery life from zero percent to 50 percent in under 30 minutes. You’ll likely want to leave this one plugged in for serious gaming sessions.

4. I Only Want to Play Hades: Acer Nitro

ProsCons
  • Good performance for the price
  • Expandable RAM and storage
  • Solid construction for its price
  • Low RAM and storage out of the box
  • Mediocre battery life
  • Speakers aren’t very loud

Key Specs

CPU:Intel I5-9300H
GPU: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650
RAM: 8GB DDR4-2666
Hard Drive: 256GB NVMe SSD
OS: Windows 10
Display: 15.6” IPS Full HD

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If you ask us, the idea of a ‘budget gaming laptop’ is a bit of an oxymoron. What you’re willing to spend ultimately limits the games you are able to play, but we understand not everyone cares for AAA games on max settings. If you’re a big fan of indie games, or really want to check out last year’s critically acclaimed Hades, here’s an affordable option for you. It’s an older model that is still being sold and it has plenty of limitations, especially when compared to our other recommendations, but you’re spending considerably less.

For starters, it’s powered by an Intel i5-9300H processor along with 8GB of DDR4-2666 RAM. The amount of RAM is one of its biggest limitations, especially considering some high-end smartphones and tablets come with 8GB. Then again, those devices likely cost more than this laptop. You are able to expand up to 32GB of RAM, but that’ll cost extra. In addition, you’re only getting 256GB of storage, but an additional M.2 slot is available, so you can easily and affordably expand that too. It’s likely that you’ll be sticking to indie games with this type of setup, and the good news there is that those games tend to be small in file size anyways.

This laptop has your standard 15.6-inch Full HD IPS display and built-in Wi-Fi 6 and Ethernet port. But, as you can imagine for its price, it doesn’t have a high refresh rate but that won’t matter as much on the games you’ll be able to play on this laptop.

Keep in mind that you still will be able to experience some AAA titles, just double check the minimum system requirements for the games you’re interested in before adding this to your cart.

5. Obligatory Alienware Recommendation: Alienware m15

ProsCons
  • Alienware design and construction
  • Extremely fast display
  • Lightweight and thin for its specs
  • SSD instead of NVMe
  • Premium price
  • Doesn’t even have a 2080

Key Specs

CPU: Intel i7-10750H
GPU: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 2070 SUPER
RAM: 16GB DDR4-2666
Hard Drive: 1TB SSD
OS: Windows 10 Home
Display: 15.6” 300Hz IPS Full HD

See Price

Memes aside, we’d be amiss if we had a list of best gaming laptops without a recommendation from Alienware. Now owned by Dell, Alienware made its reputation for offering high-end gaming rigs at a premium price. Sure, when it comes to desktops you can likely build a comparable system for less than what Alienware charges, but you can’t exactly build your own laptop. Think of it as the Apple of gaming laptops—you’re paying a premium for a well-designed system that uses high-end materials, such as magnesium alloy, copper, and steel.

Sporting a 15.6-inch 300Hz full HD display, this laptop is powered by an i7-10750H with 16GB of DDR4-2666 RAM. It’s the thinnest laptop in the company’s history, measuring under 20.5mm and weighing around 2.1 kgs. This laptop will likely play anything you can throw at it (yes, including Crysis) and should do so for years to come.

Again, we have to mention that you likely won’t take full advantage of the 300Hz refresh rate while gaming unless you’re hitting 300 FPS, but hey, bragging rights.

How To Choose The Best Gaming Laptop?

By now, you’ve probably noticed that gaming laptops have a lot of specifications to consider. We outline the main specs you need to pay attention to, which is the processor, GPU, amount of RAM, storage, operating system, and display. These are the general specs that will match the requirements specified for games, so it gives you an easy comparison to see whether or not you can play the game you are interested in.

In the most basic sense, choosing the best gaming laptop comes down to your budget, and the games you wish to play. Take a look at the minimum and recommended requirements for those titles and make sure the laptop you’re considering meets or exceeds those requirements.

What About Refresh Rates?

When it comes to explaining refresh rates on displays, we can get really technically and bore you half to death. Instead, we’ll explain it in as few words as possible. Essentially, the refresh rate is the number of times a display updates with new images each second. Generally, the higher the refresh rate, the smoother your viewing experience is. When it comes to gaming however, this is limited by the frames per second (FPS) your computer is able to churn out. For example, if you’re running 60 FPS in a particular game and you have a 144Hz monitor, you’re fine because the monitor is capable of refreshing quicker than the frames that are occurring. But if your FPS exceeds your monitor’s refresh rate, that means the display isn’t able to show all those frames. In other words, refresh rate effectively sets a cap on FPS. This typically results in screen tearing and there is technology that helps prevent that, which forces your GPU to synchronize with your display’s refresh rate.

This is one of the reasons why we stress that just because a display has a refresh rate of 300Hz, you won’t fully benefit from it, especially when it comes to gaming. In fact, some games won’t even support 300 FPS since it could cause issues with the game itself. It’s something to keep in mind when shopping for a gaming laptop—don’t completely buy into the hype unless you know you can take advantage of it. Generally, 144Hz is sufficient for gaming.

What Accessories Do I Need?

Gaming laptops have their limitations, especially when it comes to their touchpads. Simply put, most games won’t have a very satisfying experience if you’re stuck using the touchpad. We highly recommend purchasing a separate gaming mouse.

If you’re planning to game online with friends, a gaming headset with a quality microphone is another accessory you’ll want to pick up. This is particularly true since some gaming laptops don’t have the best speakers. If you’re playing first-person shooters, for example, you’ll want to be able to distinguish exactly which direction the action is coming from, and a gaming headset will offer you better surround sound audio than the built-in speakers on a laptop.

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