The G7 is super easy to upgrade—just remove one screw, pop off the bottom panel, and you have access to all the drive and memory slots. Our recommended configuration comes with an M.2 solid-state drive installed, a connector for a 2.5-inch SATA drive, and two RAM slots, both of which are occupied in our recommended config. Inside the laptop, Dell even includes friendly instructions for installing a hard drive and a reminder on top of the battery to remove it before working on any internal components. And the single screw stays attached to the access panel, so you couldn’t lose it if you tried.
Given that high-end components tend to drain battery life, don't plan on taking any of these gaming rigs too far from a wall socket very often. Cutting-edge ports like USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 are beneficial now, and will only be more so down the road, but look for at least two USB 3.0 ports so you can plug in an external mouse and a hard drive for your saved media files. If you mean to attach a VR headset to your GeForce GTX 1060-or-better rig, look for the right loadout of ports to accommodate it; you'll need a well-placed video out and enough USB ports for the hydra-head of cabling. Other video ports, like HDMI or Mini DisplayPort, will be helpful if you want to play games on an external display, but aren't absolutely necessary if your laptop's screen is large enough.
This affordable Omen is only packing a GTX 1050 GPU, but it's fairly loaded otherwise, and is also available in several different configurations too. Its storage in particular is pretty great, with a 256GB PCIe SSE for your OS and a 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive for data and games. It's sporting a sufficient 12GB of RAM, and a very decent Intel Core i7-7700HQ Quad Core Processor. You may or may not be a fan of its "faux carbon fiber" trim, but the red backlight on the keyboard is pretty slick. Also, if you ditch the SSD and can live with 8GB of RAM, it's even cheaper.
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.
As well as nine programmable buttons, the Corsair Dark Core RGB SE serves up an excellent 16,000 DPI sensor. You have full control over the sensitivity and those funky LEDs via Corsair’s excellent PC software. However, the Dark Core’s heavy and rather bulky design won’t suit all tastes, so you might want to try before you buy. Don’t forget, you’ll need to save some cash for that wireless charging mat too if you don’t want to resort to cables when the battery eventually dies.
Nvidia Max-Q Design - Nvidia has teamed with laptop manufacturers to create Max-Q, a new design specification which focuses on efficiency rather than performance. Essentially downclocking Nvidia GPUs can place a powerful 1080 GPU into the 0.5-inch thick Asus ROG Zephyrus. With less power being consumed, the system is producing less heat, which means the fans aren't being used as much. That means you get a system that's cooler and quieter than your typical gaming laptop and nearly as powerful. Max-Q designed GPUs will include the 1060, 1070 and 1080 GPUs.
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050/1050 Ti - A step below the 1060, the GTX 1050 will churn out some solid framerates in mid-range games like Battlefield 1 at very modest settings. The 1050 Ti is slightly more powerful and capable in some cases of supporting Oculus Rift and its various titles. However, serious gamers looking for a high-performance system will probably be disappointed.
That said, there are still some basic conclusions to be drawn about graphics performance. In general, the higher the model number within a product line, the higher the 3D performance. So an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 generally produces higher frame rates and higher-quality graphics than an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 or GTX 1070. A single high-end discrete GPU will let you play the latest AAA gaming titles on a 1080p screen with all the bells and whistles turned on, and be fine for entry-level VR play. Adding a second GPU (a rare and expensive option) will let you run the latest games more comfortably on 4K and 5K displays, or let you hook up multiple monitors to your laptop.
Frame rates aren't going to be fast enough for enjoyable play on high detail settings with newer graphically demanding games. In our tests, however, older games such as Bioshock Infinite were playable on high, as were popular online games such as Overwatch and Fortnite. Below are a couple of our favorites, but if you're a casual gamer keep an eye out for the MX150 elsewhere.
Updated Nov. 25 at 5:45 a.m. ET: You can snag some inexpensive gaming laptops for great prices through Cyber Monday. The Lenovo Legion Y530 is on sale for $100 off from Best Buy, while the 15.6-inch Dell G3 can be had for $649 from Walmart — a savings of $350. The Dell G5 is also on sale for $899 from Walmart ($400 off!) A sale at eBay knocks the MSI GL63 down to $969, for a savings of $229. Check out our Cyber Monday hub for more fantastic deals.