Desktop gaming will always be the pinnacle of the PC gaming experience, but gaming laptops have come a long way in the last couple of years. Some even rival their desktop counterparts in power, design, and affordability. Whether you’re looking for a serious gaming laptop or just a notebook that happens to have a discrete GPU, there are more options than ever out there.
Scroll down, and join the growing ranks of laptop gaming adherents.
The best gaming laptop
Why should you buy this: You want a gaming powerhouse with MacBook-like sense of style.
Who’s it for: Gamers who need something small and light that can still pack a punch.
Why we picked the Razer Blade:
The Razer Blade offers serious gaming performance in a slim package. The system bolsters its slim design with an attractive, matte black, unibody aluminum exterior. The result is a system that looks a lot like the black MacBooks of yore (that’s a compliment). With its slick design and impressive, Chroma-lit keyboard and touchpad, it stands out in the crowd.
Knowing which to pick up can be difficult, though, as Raze offers a wide assortment of configurations, ranging all the way up to a Studio model with the RTX Quadro 5000. A great high-end option for gamers though is the RTX 2070 Max-Q with the Core i7-9750H, 16GB of RAM, and a 240Hz 1080p screen. There’s even a wild 4K OLED model, even if that’s not the best option for gamers.
Though it has many strengths, the Blade does fall victim to the limitations of its own footprint. Historically, they’ve run hotter and louder than competitors with a thicker chassis, and it’s not as powerful as some laptops with larger frames. The price is also quite high, but if you’re willing to pay it, you get an amazing gaming machine that doubles as a work laptop just as well.
The best 17-inch gaming laptop
Why should you buy this: If you want fantastic 1080p gaming performance and don’t mind a big laptop.
Who’s it for: Gamers who don’t mind a chunkier laptop to snag the best performance on the market.
Why we picked the MSI GS75 Stealth:
A 17-inch gaming laptop you can fit in a bag? Yeah, that’s what the GS75 Stealth promises. It picks up the similar design to the 15-inch GS65, sporting thin bezels, a simple black exterior, and touches of gold throughout. Unlike the Razer Blade, materials and build quality aren’t this laptop’s strengths, though. Instead, the GS75 is all about performance and portability.
It features a 1080p, 144Hz display, a six-core processor, and up to an RTX 2080 graphics card. It’s a common set of specs and features in 2019 gaming laptops, but the GS75 Stealth really does handle the components well. Temperatures, both internal and external, stay cool — and that’s without ever choking performance.
Best G-Sync gaming laptop
Why you should buy this: It’s a powerful gaming laptop with a thin and light design at an affordable price.
Who it’s for: Anyone who wants to look professional without sacrificing raw gaming power.
Why we picked the Acer Predator Triton 500:
G-Sync might kill battery life, but when it comes to smooth gameplay, it’s a must-have for many gamers. The Predator Triton 500 is a fantastic gaming laptop that just happens to include Nvidia’s important display technology.
Starting with a Core i7-9750H and Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 Max-Q GPU and topping out with an RTX 2080 Max-Q upgrade, the Triton 500 can stand toe to toe with many of the other laptops on this list for significantly less cash. A 144Hz screen, comfy keyboard, and plethora of connection options only serve to sweeten the deal. The Triton 500’s design packs it all into a frame only slightly larger than a MacBook Pro 15 or Dell XPS 15.
There are some caveats. The Triton 500 doesn’t look like a standard gaming laptop, but it also lacks the eye-catching build of other thin and light gaming laptops like the Razer Blade 15. Like its aesthetics, the Triton 500’s battery performance is also underwhelming. But if you’re looking for the best gaming bang for your buck with a G-Sync screen, it’s hard to do better than this.
The best budget gaming laptop
Why you should buy this: It’s the best budget gaming machine you can buy.
Who it’s for: Students, gamers, anyone who wants a gaming laptop but doesn’t want to break the bank.
Why we picked the Dell G3 Gaming Laptop:
This budget-friendly laptop may not seem like a gaming powerhouse, but as one of the cheapest systems with a dedicated GPU, it can’t be ignored. It’s more modest than the other systems here, coming standard with an Intel Core i5-8300H and 8GB of RAM. The real star of the show is its graphics card, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti graphics card. During our tests, it nearly kept up with more expensive laptops like the Razer Blade. It doesn’t look quite as sharp, but it has more than enough horsepower to run the latest games at high detail settings.
Our review unit handled games like Battlefield 1, Fortnite, and Civilization VI at around 60 frames per second — and that’s with settings maxed. It has a harder time with gaming in higher resolutions, but there are configuration options for the GTX 1060, which would fare better. A new version is even available, which includes 9th-gen processors and new 16-series Nvidia graphics cards.
The G3 does look like a budget system, though it’s not as bad as you might expect. It’s a bit heavy, clad in plastic and numerous shades of blue. The screen’s bezels are thick, the touchpad feels cheap, and the display is pretty dull. But if you can look past some of those compromises, you’ll find a very capable gaming laptop that delivers impressive framerates — and for most people, that’s what matters.
Most powerful gaming laptop
Why you should buy this: You want to play the latest games on a laptop at the highest settings and resolutions.
Who it’s for: Gamers who don’t mind a heavy laptop.
Why we picked the Alienware Area-51m:
The Alienware Area-51m is unlike any gaming laptop you’ve seen. Not only does it have a bold look with its light grey exterior and sci-fi logos, but it’s also a true desktop replacement. We mean that in terms of the power this thing enjoys, as well as the actual components inside. The Area-51m comes with CPU options up to an actual desktop-class processor, the Core i9-9900K. That’s an eight-core, 16-thread CPU that makes this laptop considerably more powerful than anything else out there.
But the best part? All the components, including the GPU and CPU, can be replaced. In our review, we found that getting access to those parts wasn’t as easy as the marketing may have alluded to. All the same, it’s an insanely powerful laptop that can run nearly everything at high framerates on its 1080p 144Hz screen. Even if you plug it into a 4K monitor, you’ll be impressed by how well games run.
It’s not the gaming laptop you want if you’re taking it on the go, especially given its low battery life and hefty chassis, but if true power is what you want, look no further.
When we test a laptop, particularly a gaming laptop, we leave no spec un-tested. Starting from look-and-feel and running all the way through individual hardware tests, laptops that enter our lab don’t leave until they’re put through their paces in every conceivable way.
On top of formal testing, we spend a lot of time with the laptops that come through our offices. We’ll use them for everyday work and web browsing, in hopes of catching any elusive issues that evaded our earlier testing.
Gaming laptops have come a long way in the last couple years. While some are still the big LED-clad behemoths we’ve come to know and love, it’s become easier and easier for manufacturers to cram some serious performance into small packages. Just look at the Razer Blade. It’s no bigger than other non-gaming laptops, but it’s able to deliver some seriously impressive performance.
That said, can you expect desktop-level performance out of a notebook? Well, almost. The best gaming laptops on the market come close, but there are a few areas that desktops still have an edge.
First up, desktop gaming rigs are bigger, so they’re more spacious inside. That extra space is important for heat diffusion. Even the most high-efficiency gaming laptop will still have some issues when it comes to heat accumulation. Inside a laptop’s chassis, everything is crammed together so tight there isn’t much manufacturers can do to reduce heat, other than just pump it out as fast as possible.
Similarly, gaming desktops will almost always have better processors because they don’t need to worry about battery life or the aforementioned heat issue. They can suck down as much power as they need to run those 4.0GHz octa-core processors without batting an eye. In the process, they’ll generate a massive amount of heat which is easily dispersed with air cooling.
So, when it comes to performance, a great gaming laptop will come close to a desktop gaming experience in all but those areas. It will run hotter and slower. The desktop is faster, but if you only want a laptop, you can make it work.