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But we assume you want to do more than harvest potato mines and pea-shooters—you have a Steam account, and you ache to play some of the latest AAA titles: the newest rev of the Battlefield series, the latest Tom Clancy-fest, the newest iteration of Tomb Raider or Far Cry. That's where a dedicated graphics chip comes in. It's the starting point for getting serious about gaming on a notebook.
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At the top of the gaming laptop pantheon are full-size "luggable" desktop replacement laptops. While these are still laptops in the strictest sense, they are essentially made to be portable desktops rather than lap computers or even a machine meant to be used away from mains power for an extended period of time. This allows them to use component choices you couldn't do in proper laptops, improving performance at the cost of weight.
You should definitely consider a system with an SSD, since prices have fallen considerably over the past few years. SSDs speed up boot time, wake-from-sleep time, and the time it takes to launch a game and load a new level. Go ahead and get a gaming laptop with an SSD, but make sure you configure correctly. A small-capacity (128GB to 256GB) SSD with a roomy (1TB or greater) spinning hard drive is a good start if you also download the occasional video from the internet. (Only thicker gaming laptops will tend to support dual-drive arrangements like this.) Higher-capacity SSDs (512GB or more) are available, but choosing one will increase the purchase price of your gaming rig by a bunch. SSDs are very fast, but in terms of capacity, your money goes much further with hard drives.
When buying a gaming notebook, get one that will last you for a few years. If you can afford it, get at least an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 for basic VR support. That choice is more important than RAM and the CPU, though you should pay attention to those as well. Storage is the most likely to be upgradeable, but more is better, as games take up a lot of space. Decide if you prefer high resolutions or faster displays and consider what software will be helpful to you, but realize that you won’t get great battery life. How all of those work together determines just how well a gaming notebook does on the Tom’s Hardware test bench.
As for the screen's native resolution, 1,920 by 1,080 pixels (commonly called 1080p) is now the norm in budget-priced and mainstream gaming machines. The more pixels you need to push, the more graphics power you need, and a savvy maker of gaming laptops won't outfit a laptop with a screen whose native resolution the GPU can't do justice. So the absence of higher-than-HD screens in budget gaming machines is no accident. Not only do such screens cost more and sap more battery life, but the graphics chips found in under-$1,000 gaming rigs wouldn't power gameplay on them very well. (Screens with resolutions higher than 1080p tend to look small and squinty at the 15-inch size, anyway.)
Such high product churn means there isn’t really a best time of the year to buy a gaming laptop, but here are some things that might be worth looking forward to: Intel’s first eighth-generation Core processor and quad-core ultrabook chips, Nvidia’s Max-Q approach to designing thinner and quieter laptops, MSI’s new gaming laptops, Lenovo’s Legion Y920 laptop, Acer’s Predator Triton 700 laptop, and Samsung’s Notebook Odyssey laptop.
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.)
These affordable gaming laptops may not be able to play the most modern games on the highest settings, but that doesn’t detract from the glory of being able to game on the move without coming even close to breaking the bank. Either way relative to the amount of games out there (golden oldies and recent titles included) you’d be surprised how the amount of games you can play stacks up against those that you can’t. These top gaming laptops will cruise through popular games like Minecraft and DOTA 2 without breaking a sweat as well as many newer titles.
The Acer Aspire E 15 E5-575-33BM is currently our top recommended gaming laptop under $500. It features integrated Intel HD Graphics 620 graphics powered by the latest Intel i3 Kaby Lake processor and next generation connectivity such as USB 3.1 Type-C and Bluetooth 4.1. Despite weak gaming performance for most modern games, it holds its own with an unbeatable price to performance ratio compared to its competitors, clocking in at a $100 or more cheaper than many similarly specced laptops such as the Inspiron I3567 and HP Pavilion 17 1BQ14UA below.
It is in the graphics department that this RoG Strix laptop has the upper hand, as it comes with a GPU none other than the GTX 1070, a high-end beast that masters 1080p gaming and can handle 1440p more than competently. Sadly, though, the laptop doesn’t come with a 1440p display, as the 17-inch screen really could have looked really good with such a high resolution. Nonetheless, the 144 Hz refresh rate is still here, so nobody will be left wanting when it comes to performance.
Resolution: Never get anything less than a 1920 x 1080 display. It’s rare to find one with a lesser resolution, but if you do, run. If you have a GTX 1070 or GTX 1080, you may want to consider a 2560 x 1440 display. 4K (3840 x 2160) screens are an option on some gaming laptop, but it’s rare you’ll be able to both get enough graphical fidelity at that resolution while also maintaining a smooth frame rate.
Of the gaming laptops we researched and tested in 2017, the Acer Predator 17 G9-793-79V5 has the most powerful specs for the price, without any dealbreaking flaws. The Predator 17 keeps its WASD keys, underside, and components cool, and it has a comfortable, responsive keyboard and a great 17-inch 1080p IPS display with G-sync. Its biggest flaws are loud, distracting fans and an ugly, haphazard-looking keyboard. Most important, the Predator 17 will be able to play most modern games on ultra settings—it offers great performance for the price. (If you want to know how it will handle a specific game, take a look at Notebookcheck’s benchmarks database.)
For a high-end system, we recommend 16GB, so you can have more than one gaming session, your messaging app, several websites, a webcam program, and your video streaming program open simultaneously. A midrange gaming laptop should function fine with 8GB of memory, but be aware that many new laptops are not upgradable. You may be stuck with the amount of memory you order.
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!
Nowadays, most LCD displays for gaming laptops have a matte finish which makes them less susceptible to reflections. Other factors to consider are a display’s luminosity, color fidelity, and its range of displayed colors. Manufacturers sometimes promote their displays based on these characteristics (however, you should always consult the tests performed by specialized technology reviewers in order to verify the veracity of these claims).
Mice aimed at first-person shooters, for one, tend to feature ratcheting scroll wheels—letting you cycle through your arsenal without selecting the wrong weapon—and on-the-fly resolution switchers. The latter will help you snap-change between the broad tracking you need in a frantic shootout and the tight control for lining up a sniper shot. (Sometimes this feature is dubbed something like "sniper mode," and it may involve a dedicated button for getting granular.)
If the Dell G7 is unavailable, we recommend the very similar Dell G5 15 Gaming instead. It’s nearly identical to the G7, but the model we tested had a worse-looking screen with a greenish color tint, angled vents instead of rounded ones, and a red backlight on the keyboard instead of blue. Although we were able to test only the GTX 1050 Ti model, Dell confirmed to us that the G5 and G7 have identical thermal setups when configured with the same graphics card.
Ever since the 2016 launch of mobile Pascal, gaming notebooks have mostly closed the gap with their equivalent desktop cousins. With Nvidia's previous-generation "Maxwell" architecture, mobile-graphics-chip performance tended to be roughly 70 to 80 percent of what you'd get from the desktop cards they were based on. (See our picks for the top gaming graphics cards for 1080p play.) But the Pascal mobile chips deliver almost equivalent performance to their desktop counterparts of the same name, assuming they are implemented in machines with a complementary CPU, and in designs that do the GPU's thermal needs justice. (Most do.)
Although the E15 comes with a Full-HD IPS display, some have noted that it is fairly dim compared to higher end displays. Regardless, you will get decent viewing angles and the matte finish will prevent any potential glare. It has a solid battery life of around 8 hours and 30 minutes, with Acer even claiming up to 15 hours of battery life, though heavier applications and games will drain its battery life a lot faster. The NVIDIA GeForce MX150 is by no means a beast compared to higher end cards, and most modern AAA titles will struggle somewhat, but lowering the graphics will afford you some playability even on next-gen titles.
And thanks to Nvidia's 1050 Ti GPUs, you can hook up an Oculus Rift and jump into the virtual realm. However, some companies like Dell and Gigabyte are outfitting their rigs with Nvidia GTX 1060 Max-Q GPUs so fans of the HTC Vive can also get in on the fun. Or if you're not ready to make such a big financial or space commitment, you can hook up one of Microsoft's new MR headsets like the Acer Windows Mixed Reality AH101 headset, which has the added bonus of working with either discrete or integrated graphics. Best of all, you can use all that money you just saved to splurge on a top-notching gaming keyboard or mouse.