The sound is just as important as the visuals when it comes to gaming. Yes, you probably have a headset that you'll use most of the time. But sometimes you just want to let your laptop's speakers work. The MSI-exclusive, Nahimic audio software is one of our favorites since it offers some of the best surround sound in both headphones and speakers. It also provides several handy presets, Bass Boost and Voice Clarification software. Alienware's Dell Audio software is a close second, while Dolby Home Theater v4, available in Lenovo notebooks, rounds out our top three.
A few less common items are worth looking for if you're a serious mouse tweaker. The software might control "lift distance," or how far you can raise a mouse off the pad or desk before it stops tracking. A slider or, better, a wizard-style setup function will dictate this in the utility, if present. Another feature is surface calibration, in which the mouse software runs a routine that optimizes the mouse and its sensor for the texture and traits of your mousing surface. On the even more esoteric side: support for angle snapping (a movement-compensation feature that helps you move the mouse in straight lines) and for designating different resolutions for the X and Y axes (say, for faster tracking only sideways, to traverse a vast landscape in an RTS world).
The graphics card is the heart of your gaming experience and is one of the first and foremost things that you need to check out. If you intend to play high-end games at maximum resolution, then choosing a gaming laptop with a powerful graphics card is a necessity. If you don’t need top-of-the-line performance, an entry-level GPU will do the trick. It all comes down to personal preference and the type of games that you would be playing on your laptop. High-end games such as The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Watch Dogs 2, Mass Effect: Andromeda, Assassin's Creed: Origins, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and Battlefield 1 require an advanced and powerful graphics card to play them at maxed-out settings. It helps the laptop handle the intense frame-rate and rendering that such advanced games require. Game makers are constantly coming up with games that are better than the ones that came earlier. With the level of video games’ graphics constantly on the rise, it is essential to get a laptop with a good graphics card to make your games run seamlessly.
These budget systems typically won't include a lot of gamer bling like customizable RGBs and multi-zone keyboard lighting. Many will cut necessary cost corners by using a plastic chassis instead of aluminum, and you won't see sexy thin bezels like those on the MateBook Pro or Dell XPS 13. You'll also get, at minimum, 3 USB ports, an HDMI output and standard headphone jacks.
Its 15.6-inch 1920x1080 full-HD display has a 160-degree viewing angle, which is a little less than some of its competitors, but nothing to scoff at. Compared to the rest of our picks, the FX502 and the Predator (more on it in a minute) are the only two devices to feature an i7 and a GTX 1060 in one package, so they're the best for 60fps 1080p gaming with details maxed.
Cheaper gaming systems today are equipped with lower-tier cards like the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050, GTX 1050 Ti, or GTX 1060, but these modern budget cards are surprisingly effective. You'll be able to play smoothly in HD, just not at the very highest settings in newer games. These may be budget systems, but this generation of entry-level graphics chips is fairly capable, so don't be too worried that you won't be able to play most games moderately well. Virtual-reality gaming may be a stretch in this price range, but the GTX 1060 is the least expensive VR-capable card, so some laptops at the higher end of this price range will (just) get you in the door.
At the mid-range we see laptops with either the NVIDIA GTX 1060, or for a bit more money, a GTX 1070, both of which are a powerful gaming GPU in a mobile form factor. ASUS offers the Republic of Gamers branding Strix lineup, and the GL504 model is their 15.6-inch range. Featuring the GTX 1060 in the GL504GM, and GTX 1070 in the GL504GS models, there's a wide range of performance here depending on budget. ASUS offers either the Intel Core i5-8300H quad-core, or the Core i7-8750H hex-core CPU, and up to 32 GB of DDR4 RAM support. There's a full range of SSD choices, and you can of course also fit it with a HDD for extra space.
Best Portability (13 - 14 inches): If you're constantly on the move, you'll want to consider 13 or 14-inch laptops like the Razer Blade. Notebooks in this size range typically weigh under 5 pounds and tend to have longer battery lives with an average endurance of 7 hours and 38 minutes. However, 13 and 14-inch gaming laptops usually don't come with the most powerful CPU or GPU, because they just don't have enough space to dissipate all that heat.
Ross Rubin of Fast Company featured insights from Andrew Coonrad regarding the mechanical gaming keyboard market in his feature article, “The Mechanical Keyboards Of Yesteryear Are Back - And Better Than Ever.” Ross shared, “while dozens of small keyboard makers make only mechanical keyboards aimed largely at the video game market, Logitech is a keyboard giant that caters to a market beyond purists.
As an added bonus, the Predator 17 has hella ports: Ethernet, HDMI 2.0, DisplayPort 1.2, Thunderbolt 3, four USB 3.0, an SD card slot, jacks for headphones and a microphone, and a Kensington lock slot. And like most gaming laptops, this model is easy to upgrade: Two small screws and a panel stand between you and installing two more sticks of RAM. Our pick doesn’t have any open drive slots, but you can access the included hard drive and solid-state drives if you need to replace them.
It is powered by an AMD Ryzen 5 quad-core processor clocked at 2.0 GHz and is paired with a 8GB of RAM. Storage department is handled by a massive 1TB of HDD which offers ample space to store all your games and other data. It doesn’t have a backlit enabled keyboard, but it does come with dedicated number pad and generously-spaced keys for comfortable typing experience.
OLED: Described as the future of display, an OLED (organic light-emitting diode) panel is comprised of a film of organic compounds that produce light when an electric current is introduced. The technology allows for thinner, more power-efficient panels that deliver incredibly rich color and contrast. The Alienware 13 R3 OLED is currently the only laptop to feature this technology.
The Lenovo Legion Y530 lasted 5 hours, 4 minutes in our Web-browsing battery test—about half an hour short of the Dell G7, Dell G5, and HP Pavilion 15t, but longer than any other contenders. That isn’t long enough for the Y530 to survive a full day of work or classes, but gaming laptops aren’t known for their battery life, and the Y530 is still one of the most portable options.
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.
Alienware is taking up to $760 Off Select Gaming Laptops and Desktops. Excellently priced but with a limited number of units available for a limited time. Free Shipping. Many of these PCs won Editor's choice or are recommended from various publications like PCMag and Computer Shopper. Some desktops feature the new GeForce RTX graphics cards. Some best bets:
German brand Roccat is well versed when it comes to crafting satisfying gaming peripherals, be it keyboards, headsets or this rather good (and not too expensive) mouse. The Kone Aimo is quite bulky and a little plasticky, but we can’t fault the comfort levels during lengthy online sessions. And if you like LEDs, Roccat hasn’t disappointed there either. You can make the Kone glow all kinds of funky hues from every crack and pore.
True, it’s not the most powerful gaming laptop on this list, but it definitely presents the best value for your money – it comes with a great CPU and a powerful GPU that is more than capable of fully utilizing that 1080p 144 Hz display. Furthermore, while some may find its 256 GB of storage limiting, as mentioned before, it can easily be expanded. All of this makes for a very reliable and versatile laptop that will be a good match for most people’s needs.
The TUF comes in four different configurations that are similar to the Acer Nitro 5, but has a better keyboard that's cushy for long gaming sessions and Asus says is extra durable, lasting for up to 20 million key presses. However, we found the cheapest configuration's display disappointing with poor off-angle performance and at $699 with a GTX 1050, it was pricier than the Acer, too. Bumping up to its $899 configuration gets you a better display, a 1050Ti, dual storage drives and a six-core Intel Core i7-8750H.
The HP Omen 15t Gaming is the most expensive option we tested, around $200 more than the G7 to meet our recommended specs. Its WASD keys reached 109.5 °F after just 30 minutes of Overwatch on high settings, and its underside got hottest (122 °F) exactly where my right thigh touched the laptop (though we don’t recommend anyone use any of these models on their lap). Its display also had a noticeable screen-door effect, a slightly visible grid that we didn’t see on any of the other laptops, and the Omen had roughly an hour less battery life compared with the Dell G7 and G5.
At 6.3 pounds, the G7 is the heaviest budget gaming laptop we tested this year, but several others came close, weighing between 5 and 6 pounds. The G7 measures 15.3 inches wide, 10.8 inches deep, and 1 inch thick; its deep fans can make it difficult to fit into some backpacks, but the size and weight are unfortunately necessary trade-offs for a laptop that can both play games well and keep cool. The G7 isn’t unreasonably large for a 15-inch gaming laptop—most of the other contenders have similar dimensions.
The laptop comes with a long list of ports and also has a good heat exhaust system, making it a perfect choice for gamers and all other hardcore users. As far as the graphics on the laptop are concerned, it comes with the Intel UHD 620 integrated graphics. All in all, the laptop offers an excellent set of specifications for a little above $500, but considering the design and performance of this laptop, we think it’s worth it.
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…
Mice that are specially designed for RTS games and MMOs, on the other hand, look quite different. The most extreme come outfitted with an array of 10 or more programmable buttons. Usually set just under the tip of the thumb, these buttons can serve as simple shortcut triggers, or be programmed to execute longer macro commands. (For more on these mice, see our specialized guide to the best mice for MMO games.)
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.
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