We recommend the model with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti graphics processor with 4 GB of dedicated memory, an Intel Core i5-8300H processor, 8 GB of RAM, a 128 GB solid-state drive, and a 1 TB hard drive. This configuration usually costs around $900; if it’s any more expensive when you’re shopping, we recommend saving up for our top pick with more powerful graphics instead.
To muddy the waters, Nvidia in 2017 introduced a technology called Max-Q Design that squeezes a slightly detuned GeForce chip into thinner and lighter notebooks than would normally be possible, at the expense of 10 to 15 percent of the chip's performance. Because Max-Q tends to be implemented in thin, premium machines, it's seldom a factor among the under-$1,000 brigade, but it's good to know what it is, in case you encounter the term when shopping. (A few models just above the one-grand line incorporate the tech.) You may be interested in a Max-Q rig if maximum portability—not a trait usually associated with gaming laptops—matters to you.
If I was buying a gaming laptop I would buy one with a great screen and a fast CPU with an integrated GPU. Then buy one of those separate External Graphics Card Docks. You can put whatever GPU you wanted in there and could readily update your GPU. This would give you a great laptop for everyday use and when you thought you needed to game somewhere you could bring the External Graphics Card Dock.
If you’re using your laptop to play games, you need to keep your laptop plugged in to get the full performance out of your GPU. And if you don’t, you’ll be lucky if your laptop lasts an hour gaming. In our testing experience, most gaming laptops last only a few hours on a charge when performing other tasks, but never as long as ultraportables without discrete GPUs. If you need something to last 8 hours while you work, it won’t be a gaming notebook.
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 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.
The large 5400 RPM mechanical hard drive is slow, but with 1TB of storage space you will be able to save tons of movies, music and files. It comes with two USB 3.1 ports and one USB 2.0 port, and it has a moderate battery life of around 6 hours. The keyboard is not backlit, but most have noted that it is comfortable to use at least. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about the touchpad, with many stating a mouse is a must.
If you're truly serious, and insist on playing all your games at very high detail settings and the highest possible screen resolution (for most laptops, that's 1,920 by 1,080 pixels, assuming you're playing on the laptop's screen and not an external display), you're just going to have to shell out some bucks, especially if you want that laptop to stay game-viable at those settings for more than a couple of years. Future-proofing like that demands top-end graphics silicon: Nvidia's GeForce GTX 1070 or GTX 1080. And that means spending, at current prices, $1,500 or more on your 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.)
High-end systems, meanwhile, should guarantee you smooth gameplay at 1080p with graphics details maxed out, and might let you play at 4K resolution (if the screen supports it). A high-end model should also be able to power a VR headset and support additional external monitors. These machines tend to come with speedy storage components such as 512GB PCI Express solid-state drives, and they are priced above $2,500. Some support 3K to 4K screens, a hard drive to supplement the SSD, and ultra-efficient cooling fans as optional extras. A few elite boutique models will support dual graphics chips. (Such rare-bird machines will be massive and expensive, with minimal battery life.)
For a long time, competitive gamers strongly preferred wired gaming mice to wireless ones to eliminate perceived latency, as well as the possibility of a battery running down in the midst of a heated match. Many serious players still hold that bias, but Razer, Logitech, and others have released higher-end mice of late with low latency ratings that ought to satisfy at least casual gamers.
If you'd rather spend your money on Humble Bundles than hardware, then you don't actually need a hardcore gaming laptop. Along the same lines, if you're looking for a Minecraft box for the kids, you don't need to spend the money attached to the phrase "gaming laptop." A machine with a discrete graphics card, an SSD, and 8GB of RAM should take care of you.
A 15-inch gamer still won't be an ideal daily traveler, but most are a lot more manageable than their larger kin. Also, today's 15-inch gaming rigs are better suited for use in true mobile fashion—that is, off an AC power plug—than those of past years. We've seen a few hit six or more hours of battery life, albeit in everyday productivity use or playing back video; gaming will trim that number considerably. (See our picks for the laptops with the best battery life.)
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.
We checked out all best sales from all the major retailers, including Best Buy, the Microsoft Store, Walmart, and B&H, and have compiled the hottest sales on laptops for you below. Simply read our brief descriptions, and scroll through and then click the “Buy Now” button on the laptop or 2-in-1 you’d like to buy. A new tab will open up and you’ll be sent to your retailer and product page to complete your purchase. We’ll update these deals, and keep you up to speed with all the freshest deals as the annual holiday shopping season progresses.
The G7—along with the Dell G5, Dell G3, and Lenovo Y530—kept its GPU among the coolest, measuring 162 °F (72 °C) during both our Overwatch test and the more demanding Witcher 3 test. Both Asus TUF Gaming laptops kept their CPUs the coolest at around 183 °F (84 °C), but the Dell G7’s was still on the lower end of the models we tested (and within expected range) at 203 °F (95 °C). The trade-off for these cool temperatures, however, is significantly loud fans. We’ll address this topic more in the following section.
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.