Powerful hardware isn’t the only consideration. A gaming laptop’s processor and graphics card produce a lot of heat, and if the laptop doesn’t have an effective cooling system, it can overheat. The laptop also needs a good keyboard and solid build quality. Even though Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1070 can run games on high settings at 4K resolution, we still recommend 1080p displays because 4K screens are currently too expensive for most of our readers.
Matthew Buzzi is a Hardware Analyst at PCMag, focusing on laptops and desktops with a specialty in gaming systems and games. Matthew earned a degree in Mass Communications/Journalism and interned for a college semester at Kotaku, writing about gaming before turning it into part of his career. He spends entirely too much time on Twitter (find him @M... See Full Bio
In an effort to produce sleeker, more portable gaming laptops, Nvidia launched an initiative in 2017 named Max-Q, a term borrowed from the aeronautics industry. In that scenario, it describes the maximum amount of aerodynamic stress an aircraft can sustain. Here, it refers to a combination of hardware and software modifications that allow higher-end graphics cards to fit into thinner chassis than traditionally possible. By limiting the power ceiling of cards like the GTX 1080 and GTX 1070, less heat is produced, meaning less room is needed for cooling and heat dissipation.
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Processors are the next biggest difference. You'll likely get a capable Core i5 instead of a faster Core i7. Still, some of the benefits of an i7 machine aren't a major factor for gaming, but instead benefit video editing and other creative uses, so an i5 will do the job. The newest generation of these chips are fast and efficient at a base level, and won't be too much of a bottleneck for gaming. On the AMD side of the fence, in the rare gaming laptops you'll find based wholly on AMD core technology, gamers will see mostly graphics solutions based on the now-aging Radeon RX 560, RX 570, and RX 580 paired with one of several AMD FX or Ryzen CPUs. Outside of the graphics card and processor, the other components should actually be closer to more expensive machines than you'd expect.
And for those who have heard about Nvidia’s headline-grabbing “Turing” RTX graphics cards, the bad news is that the company hasn’t yet released any mobile versions of cards like the RTX 2080 and RTX 2070. For now you’ll have to stick with 10-series graphics options, though we do expect to see 20-series laptops in (hopefully early) 2019. In the meantime, if you’re looking for a deal on a current-generation gaming laptop, keep an eye on our Best Tech Deals page. As new Nvidia laptops get closer to reality, the prices of existing models are sure to fall.
Some manufacturers have opted for an intermediate and less expensive solution; that is to say, a hybrid hard drive (SSHD) which incorporates a very small SSD (8 GB) in order to optimize the storage system’s performance. However, the performance of this type of drive remains slightly inferior to that of a fully fledged SSD. Intel’s Optane technology is used on some of these hybrid systems, and it works quite well…
More important to look for is a suitable resolution range, measured in dots per inch (dpi), that allows for fine-grained (low dpi) and wide-sweep (high dpi) tracking. Just as crucial is a button or toggle that lets you adjust the setting easily on the fly—as opposed to only in software. Mouse resolution is mostly a marketing numbers game; you would use extreme dpi settings in the five-figure range only if you have one or more very high-pixel-count displays, such as 4K monitors, to mouse across. So don't put a whole lot of stock, say, in a 10,000dpi maximum setting versus a 12,000dpi one. Either will serve you well under most real-world circumstances.
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Along with our quarterly laptop guide, near the end of every year we also like to take a look at the state of the gaming laptop market. With a much more cyclical upgrade cycle, gaming laptops tend to evolve in lockstep with the major components inside them. For the gaming laptop market, this includes not only more powerful CPUs, but also more unique (for a laptop) components like discrete video cards, mechanical keyboards, and perhaps an IPS panel or high-refresh TN display. All of which come together to make a breed of laptop that is very different from the kinds of machines that define the mainstream and professional markets.
The Dell Inspiron I3567-5664BLK-PUS 15.6-inch laptop has received positive reviews for its decent specs for the price, coming with an Intel i5-7200U and 8GB of RAM, affording you decent multitasking capabilities and a machine powerful enough to run some demanding programs reasonably well. Users liked the backlit keyboard and the 2TB of storage space. The construction is said to be solid, too, which impressed many users. However, some pointed out that screen quality is subpar, offering limited viewing angles, and furthermore, it is only 720p.
Performance is excellent; the quad-core Intel Core i7-7700HQ is a great chip not only for gaming, but for video editing as well, while the GTX 1060 graphics hardware is more than good enough for the latest games at High settings in Full HD. Round that off with a bit of old-school design charm and an excellent keyboard, and you have a very attractive machine.
The Asus TUF Gaming FX504GM has Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 graphics and a high-refresh-rate 120 Hz display, and in our tests it kept its WASD keys cool enough. But we found that it suffered from a rattly trackpad, a poor three-hour battery life, and terrible speakers, and it’s much harder to upgrade than the Dell G7—you have to remove 11 screws and take off the whole underside of the chassis, as opposed to the G7’s single screw and convenient panel. The FX504GM also has poor build quality; the chassis felt hollow to us, and the keyboard deck and lid flexed easily under pressure. We also experienced some unexpectedly low performance across multiple games and benchmarks. We’ve reached out to Asus to investigate that issue, but for now, we can’t recommend the FX504GM.
Updated Nov. 25 at 5:45 a.m. ET: You can snag some inexpensive gaming laptops for great prices through Cyber Monday. The Lenovo Legion Y530 is on sale for $100 off from Best Buy, while the 15.6-inch Dell G3 can be had for $649 from Walmart — a savings of $350. The Dell G5 is also on sale for $899 from Walmart ($400 off!) A sale at eBay knocks the MSI GL63 down to $969, for a savings of $229. Check out our Cyber Monday hub for more fantastic deals. 
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