Almost all gaming laptops have a backlit keyboard in order to allow users to game in low-light conditions. Entry-level gaming PCs tend to offer variable intensity red or white backlighting while more expensive computers are generally equipped with RGB keyboards. An RGB keyboard gives greater control over the color of its keys (which can usually be adjusted via an application). For example, the Asus ROG Zephyrus allows users to assign different colors to different keyboard zones whereas some MSI computers and the Gigabyte Aorus X7 allow users to set a different color for each individual key.
You'll see both ordinary hard drives and swifter (but lesser-capacity) solid-state drives (SSDs) in under-$1,000 laptops. The occasional 15.6-inch-screen model might offer a small-capacity SSD boot drive alongside a secondary-storage platter hard drive, though this is more common with 17-inch laptops. Opt for this dual-drive approach if you can find it and afford it. The smaller SSD would be home to the operating system and a few favorite games, and the larger, more economical hard drive would host the rest of your games and other programs that don't need quick loading times. (It's indeed possible to split your Steam game library across drives.)
For many years, the term “gaming laptop” referred to a highly powerful, exceedingly expensive, very large, and extravagant looking computer that usually had very limited battery autonomy. It was more or less equivalent to a high-end desktop computer that had the advantage of being portable (and which was generally used to showcase its manufacturer’s most advanced hardware).
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.
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.
The Precision Touchpad was responsive and worked well for standard gestures in our tests, but the G7, like its predecessors, lacks an easy way to disable the trackpad. Every other gaming laptop we’ve tested—except for the Dell G5 and Dell G3—has this feature because pressing the trackpad with your palm while gaming can cause accidental clicks and in-game deaths. We spent hours playing games on the G7 and found that the trackpad’s palm rejection was superb and didn’t cause any accidental clicks. (My hands run cold and rarely sweat, though, so your mileage may vary.) It’s possible (but inconvenient) to disable the trackpad by going into the Device Manager, selecting Human Interface Devices, right-clicking HID-compliant touch pad, and selecting Disable. (Dell, please add an easily accessible toggle to the next iteration.)
Because they usually require dual GPUs for the smoothest gameplay at native resolution, 4K gaming laptops are still the exception, and still expensive. And keep this in mind: Only the most powerful graphics cards can render complex game animations at playable frame rates across the full screen at 4K, so a 1080p screen may actually be a better use of your money if all you do is play games.
The choice of CPU is also important. All the laptops on this list come equipped with quad-core Intel Core i5 or i7 processors with ‘HQ’ or ‘HK’ at the end of their model names, but you’ll find some cheaper models on the market that only have a ‘U’ suffix. This denotes a much lower-power, dual-core processor that can prove to be a huge bottleneck in games if you have a high-end graphics card.
Planning on spending hours upon hours handing out beatdowns in Fortnite or Call of Duty? Check out the Dell G3 15 Gaming laptop, which lasted an impressive 6 hours and 37 minutes on our battery test. Gamers also get a system capable of kicking out some solid frame rates and good sound, thanks to a GTX 1050 Ti GPU and some powerful speakers. And at 5.2 pounds and 0.9 inches thick, this is one of the thinnest entry-level gaming laptops available.