Wirecutter has spent more than 200 hours over the past five years researching and testing dozens of gaming laptops, and our PC team has more than 37 years of combined experience covering laptops. I’ve personally tested, lived with, and reviewed hundreds of laptops, and I’ve spent hands-on time with countless other models while covering the CES trade show, attending events, and visiting stores. I’ve reviewed most gaming laptops—both budget and high-end—released in the past six years, and I’ve spent thousands of hours gaming on laptops since high school.
The processor is the heart of a PC, and in many current gaming laptops you'll find a quad-core 7th Generation Intel Core i5 or Core i7 CPU based on the Kaby Lake chipset. Intel's new 8th-generation "Coffee Lake" CPUs launched a few months back in laptops, however, so you can expect them to become the norm going forward. Many of the Coffee Lake chips you'll see in gaming laptops include two more cores (six, instead of four), bringing more overall speed and much-improved performance on multithreaded tasks, but the upside for gaming is relatively minimal.
That said, notebooks aren't upgradable, apart from their primary system memory (RAM, not to be confused with the graphics memory) and in some cases, the storage. You're going to be stuck with the screen, the graphics chip, and the processor you buy now, so evaluate these parts wisely. If you can stretch your budget a bit to get the next-tier-higher component, it can pay dividends in terms of usable life.
If you're shopping for a gaming system on a limited budget (in this case, between roughly $800 and $1,200), you're going to need to make some sacrifices. Maximizing power while staying within a limited price range is the goal, but you'll have to accept that some of the components won't be comparable with the more expensive laptops you'll see while browsing. That said, $1,200 is a reasonable ceiling for what some buyers are ready to spend on a gaming laptop, and you can still get a solid system for that much or less.
Whether you’re getting a gaming laptop for the first time or replacing an older model that doesn’t play games as well anymore, you should take a look at what games you can and can’t play (and on which settings) using Notebookcheck’s useful “Computer Games on Laptop Graphic Cards” chart. Our pick has VR-ready Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 Max-Q graphics, and our budget pick has a GTX 1050 Ti GPU.
With the specially designed island-style keyboard, equipped with red-backlit scissor-switch key, the ASUS FX502 offers the user a big 1.6 mm travel distance. The larger the distance, the better keystroke tactical feedback. Even more, for user suitability the WASD keys are also highlighted. Not only that this keyboard is a good choice for gamers, it also offers easy usage for college students and coding computer programmers.
The dedicated MX150 is Nvidias latest generation budget mobile GPU with improved performance over the previous generation 940MX. Multitasking will also not be much of problem, as the RAM will allow you to run quite a few applications and browser windows at once, though an upgrade to 16GB of RAM is also possible. It comes with a somewhat small SSD, affording you only 256GB of storage, but you can always add an additional SSD or HDD if needed.
The storage and memory in the Y530 are upgradable, but it’s a pain in the butt to do so. In contrast to the Dell G7’s and G5’s convenient access panel held in by a single screw, the Y530’s design requires you to remove 11 screws and the entire bottom of the chassis to get inside. And although it’s possible to wedge a small flathead screwdriver into the seam, spudgers will likely make the job easier and reduce the risk of your gouging the laptop. Once inside, you can replace the M.2 PCIe drive or the 2.5-inch hard drive, or add another stick of RAM. The memory is hidden beneath a tiny metal house; our recommended config comes with one 8 GB DIMM and one open slot.
Also look at the key layout. Models with an isolated cluster of arrow keys or well-defined WASD keys get bonus points, in our book. Also, because most budget gaming laptops are 15.6-inch models, check for a dedicated number pad to the right of the main key area, if you prefer to have one—or not, for that matter. Some machines of this screen size will have one, some won't. (A 17-inch laptop almost invariably will, however.)
This big, loud, no-holds-barred system delivers a much different value proposition than most gaming laptops do. If you’re doing heavy-duty work that can take advantage of the desktop Core i7-8700K’s abundant threads and high clock rate, no other laptop we’ve tested is even in the same ballpark as Origin’s beast. If you want a best-in-class gaming experience that pushes frame rates as high as possible in a self-contained, portable (enough) form factor, the EON17-X can’t be beat. Jump on this notebook if you’re looking for a true high-end desktop replacement rather than a powerful laptop that lets you game on the road.
The keyboard is said to have quite a bit of flex, taking away from the VivoBook F510UA-AH51’s premium feel. ASUS have fitted the laptop with a 1920 X 1080 IPS NanoEdge display, which has an awesome 80 percent screen-to-body ratio. ASUS have cut some corners with the storage, opting for a slow 1TB 5400RPM HDD as opposed to an SSD. This is going to make applications and boot times rather slow and tedious sadly, but the other hardware does compensate for this.
Powered by a Skylake Intel Core i5-6200U processor with Hyper-Threading and 8GB of RAM, the HP 15-ay011nr will cope with everyday tasks and casual gaming with ease. The new Skylake series features the newer and more powerful Intel HD Graphics 520 chipset that will offer users similar performance to the GeForce 820M from NVIDIA. This means users will be able to run some newer gaming titles with acceptable frame rates on lower settings while older and classic titles will run on higher settings. The GPU relies on shared memory and while the 8GB of RAM is adequate, we recommend upgrading to 12GB or 16GB of RAM to maximize the performance.
That said, there are still some basic conclusions to be drawn about graphics performance. In general, the higher the model number within a product line, the higher the 3D performance. So an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 generally produces higher frame rates and higher-quality graphics than an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 or GTX 1070. A single high-end discrete GPU will let you play the latest AAA gaming titles on a 1080p screen with all the bells and whistles turned on, and be fine for entry-level VR play. Adding a second GPU (a rare and expensive option) will let you run the latest games more comfortably on 4K and 5K displays, or let you hook up multiple monitors to your laptop.
In case you are wondering why this list is being made, well that’s because the market is saturated right now, and every other company is releasing a gaming peripheral including keyboards, headsets, and mice. While it may seem like a walk in the park for hardcore consumers, for people who don’t have a lot of knowledge about these gaming peripherals, things can somewhat difficult.