John is PCMag's executive editor for hardware. A veteran of the popular tech site and magazine Computer Shopper from 1993 to 2017, he has covered just about every kind of computer gear—from the 386SX to 18-core processors—in his long tenure as an editor, a writer, and an advice columnist. He served as Computer Shopper’s editor in chief from 2008 to... See Full Bio
Storage: Hard drive or SSD? Why not both? Some budget gaming laptops will come with only a hard drive (usually 1TB), but the majority of gaming notebooks also include a small SSD to serve as a boot drive. It’s not uncommon to see a 128GB SSD and 1TB HDD working in tandem. If you can get a larger SSD you may see decreased loading times, but that will also cost you quite a bit more money. Make sure you get a faster, 7,200-rpm HDD as opposed to a 5,400-rpm HDD.
Resolution: The minimum resolution for any gaming laptop is 1920 x 1080 — anything less and you're asking for muddy graphics. Laptops with QHD (2560 x 1440) or 4K (3840 x 2160) panels are becoming increasingly popular, praised for their striking details and color. There are some gamers that swear by 1366 x 768 because of the increased frame rates, but I implore you to love yourself more and aim a bit higher.
The Nitro 5 isn't as polished as Dell's offerings and Acer doesn't currently offer it with a GTX 1060 GPU. But it starts as low as $650 with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 or $730 with 1050Ti graphics. That's some beefy performance for not much money (as gaming laptops go, anyway) and while there are a few cut corners, you still come out ahead overall.
Unfortunately, like a lot of gaming mouse out there, the Pro is a great starter pick, but doesn't have any overt strengths. It won't let you down, but it isn't specialized for a particular genre of game, nor is it particularly reliable-feeling or weighty and durable. Even still, if you just want something simple to get started, this is a good choice.
All right, let's talk about higher-end affordable gaming laptops: Spending a little extra will give you two things: First, your gaming laptop will perform much better for high-end games on max settings. Second, your laptop will be much more future-proof so that you can enjoy games a few years down the line. In short, if you have a little extra budget, it's definitely a smart choice to get one of the higher-spec gaming laptops reviewed below. Let's talk details!
VR and the Highest Settings: A GTX 1070 will let you play through just about anything on high settings, while the GTX 1080 is the most powerful card out there for laptops right now and will allow for smoother VR and special effects. These are the cards that will let you start pumping up effects like Nvidia Gameworks. Laptops in this range can start in the high $1,000 dollar range, and, depending on what other specs you need, go over $3,000.
Dell recently phased out its entry-level gaming-laptop series in favor of something more exciting and powerful. Meet the G7 15. Visually, the G7 15 is cut from a different cloth than either the Inspiron or the Alienware brands, giving the laptop an identity of its own. And it offers solid overall performance for all your multitasking needs. But more importantly, thanks to its Max-Q GTX 1060, you can expect good frame rates on AAA titles on medium to high settings.