This price range has some reliable standards. You'll get a 15-inch 1920 x 1080 display (in many cases a crisp IPS one), an Intel Core-5 CPU, a 1TB hard drive, medium- sized SSD, or a hybrid 1TB drive. Graphics card choices will be mostly limited to an Nvidia GTX 1050 or GTX 1050 Ti; the latter represents a 15 to 20 percent performance uplift over Nvidia's entry-level GTX 1050 and AMD's Radeon RX 560. It's worth the extra money if you're willing to spend it. All GTX 1050 Ti cards also includes a satisfactory 4GB of VRAM versus the normal 2GB present in most GTX 1050s.
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Resolution: The minimum resolution for any gaming laptop is 1920 x 1080 — anything less and you're asking for muddy graphics. Laptops with QHD (2560 x 1440) or 4K (3840 x 2160) panels are becoming increasingly popular, praised for their striking details and color. There are some gamers that swear by 1366 x 768 because of the increased frame rates, but I implore you to love yourself more and aim a bit higher.
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.
After 20 hours of new research and testing—plus 150 hours over the past few years—we found that the Acer Predator 17 G9-793-79V5 is the best gaming laptop for most people because it has the best performance for the price without any major flaws. The Predator 17 stays cool, has a comfortable, responsive keyboard, and sports a great 17-inch 1080p IPS screen with G-sync. Its fans are loud, and that keyboard is ugly and looks cobbled together, but these flaws are worth the trade-off for excellent performance at a low price (for a gaming laptop, anyway). If you’re looking for a less expensive alternative, head over to our budget gaming laptop guide.
"No lag...Love it...On the laptops the mouse was smooth and fast....Feel: For a wireless mouse of this price point I would have expected the plastics to be brushed or feel a little more lux than they do, but it has a standard issue mouse feel The optional weight gives it some heft which is nice, and without it it's VERY easy to almost send skittering across your desk."
We recommend the $1,250 model with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 Max-Q graphics processor with 6 GB of dedicated memory, an Intel Core i7-8750H processor, 16 GB of RAM, a 128 GB solid-state drive, and a 1 TB hard drive. The G5 is available in black or red, and has a red-backlit keyboard in place of the G7’s blue-accented design. But because of the screen, we recommend the G5 only if the G7 is unavailable.
Display: We focused on 15-inch models for this guide because they strike a good balance between screen size and relative portability, and they fit our budget. Our cheap gaming laptop pick needs a 1920×1080 screen—no exceptions. Lower resolutions look terrible, and higher resolutions aren’t affordable yet. (And our budget laptops’ GPUs can’t play games well at resolutions above 1080p anyway.) Very few laptops in this price range have high-refresh-rate (120 Hz or 144 Hz) panels, but it’s a nice bonus, especially for first-person games like Overwatch or Doom; the higher the refresh rate, the smoother animations appear, as long as the frame rate is also high. IPS screens tend to provide better viewing angles and color reproduction over TN panels, but they can also be more expensive, so we treat them as a preference but not a requirement.
So far, the best Max-Q machines have been slim and much more travel-friendly than the average gaming laptop, while still allowing for gaming at 60fps or higher on high settings. There are, of course, tradeoffs: The Max-Q-tuned graphics cards are a bit less capable than the standard versions, pushing fewer frames per second while gaming. Also, these laptops tend to be a bit pricier. If you value portability and visual appeal, though, Max-Q is the most consistent method so far for relatively thin and light gaming laptops with top-tier power.
Video memory: Another spec to consider is VRAM—a graphics processor’s dedicated video memory. The GTX 1060 and GTX 1060 Max-Q both come in two versions: one with 3 GB of VRAM, the other with 6 GB. (The GTX 1050 Ti appears to have only one version with 4 GB.) How much VRAM you need depends on the resolution you’re using (1080p in this case), the games you play, and the settings you play them at. Most games don’t need more than 4 GB of VRAM at 1080p, but some games do—and the list has doubtless grown since this 2015 TweakTown article published. Since the lower-VRAM options don’t often cost less, we focused on laptops with 4 GB or 6 GB of VRAM; they’ll play more games at higher settings for longer.
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