How to Choose a Gaming Laptop
The top performers in our review are the Gigabyte P35x v3, the Gold Award winner; the ASUS ROG G751JY, the Silver Award winner; and the Velocity Micro Raptor MX70, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a system to meet your needs, along with details on how we arrived at the ranking of our 10 systems.
Traditionally, PC gaming has been synonymous with bulky tower-style cases and high-end hardware; however, gaming laptops flip this convention around. If you don't need a laptop optimized specifically for gaming, other options are available. On one end of the spectrum, standard gaming PCs have the extra space needed for upgrades, and on the other end ultrabooks feature premium processors and storage options in sleek cases designed for working professionals. Elsewhere, Chromebooks and standard laptops can provide functional web browsing and office work abilities in budget-friendly packages.
With dedicated graphics cards and excellent processors, the best gaming laptops offer superb performance in a portable form factor. While they're generally less modifiable than gaming desktops, laptops have upsides in other areas. If you are at a LAN party or have a gaming area with limited space, gaming laptops can be a flexible alternative for PC gaming.
Gaming laptops are commonly available through two major sources. For mainstream buyers, popular PC manufacturers like Acer and HP have gaming-orientated laptop models that have components like dedicated graphics cards and fast processors. Elsewhere, enthusiast manufacturers have more premium offerings for their laptops, including customizable case finishes and deluxe keyboards. Each purchasing approach varies in the detail customization available for your gaming laptop, but both stress high-performance components that excel for gaming.
Gaming Laptops: How We Tested, What We Found
For our evaluations, we selected base configurations for gaming laptops from top manufacturers at a price point of around $3,500 to ensure consistent comparisons. We also ran laptops through a suite of tests to establish the performance ceiling and build quality of each model.
To measure gaming and graphics performance, we used the synthetic benchmark application 3DMark and the game "BioShock Infinite." In-game tests were done at a resolution of 1920 x 1080 and comparable high graphics settings. Also, while games are generally more dependent on a graphics card than processor for performance, processing speed is still important for tasks like file compression or video editing. Using synthetic benchmark Geekbench 3, we evaluated the nongaming abilities of each laptop.
Because gaming laptops have demanding performance requirements, portability is generally less of a concern compared to popular laptop subtypes such as ultrabooks and Chromebooks. Still, a well-designed gaming laptop has reliable build quality. Our primary tests included nit measurements to establish the screen quality and battery stress testing.
Our research found several key points worth considering before you purchase a gaming laptop. Because these laptops use high-end parts, battery life will generally be low compared to most laptops or ultrabooks. In addition, popular gaming laptops rely on NVIDIA's GeForce 900 series of mobile graphics processors. Generally, laptops with the 970M or 980M graphics processors provided exceptional levels of gaming performance compared to similar graphics cards.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. Our testing used both manufacturer-provided review units and data from our colleagues at Laptop Mag. The manufacturers had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
What Else Is Important in Selecting a Gaming Laptop?
Along with a gaming laptop's graphics performance, several other factors are important to consider before you make your purchase. You can find even more information, by reading our articles on gaming laptops.
Picking the Right Laptop for Your Budget
As with any computer purchase, gaming laptops come in a variety of price tiers. Top gaming laptops can handle Ultra HD (3840 x 2160) gaming without issue, but they also frequently come with a premium price tag. By comparison, cheaper mainstream gaming laptops have components optimized for 1080p gaming, which is comparable to current-generation video game consoles.
With their performance-friendly specifications, good gaming laptops can also double as multitasking computers for processor-intensive applications. The amount of money you invest into a gaming laptop ultimately depends on the level of performance you need from the computer.
Size Considerations Before Your Purchase
Laptops are generally designed for mobility, but there are some unique criteria for gaming laptops. Because gaming laptops need components like fast processors and dedicated graphics cards, they often carry additional bulk. With the exception of optimized ultraportable gaming laptops, many models have an average thickness of around an inch. In addition, they generally weigh around 7 to 10 pounds.
Building a Multitasker with Processor Selection
Gaming laptops feature components tailored for fast graphics performance, but this speed can also be harnessed for other uses. Processors are a significant contributor to professional tasks like video or photo editing. If you want your computer to double as a potential desktop replacement, focus on gaming laptops that offer processor upgrade flexibility.
Gaming Laptops: Our Verdict and Recommendations
All three of our top gaming laptops offer effective gaming performance in portable packages. While it lacks the visual design flair frequently used on most current gaming laptops, the Gigabyte P35x v3, our Gold Award winner, has an excellent graphics card and processor options in a compact package. Elsewhere, the Silver Award winner, the ASUS ROG G751JY, uses its sizable frame to fit in high-performance components that offer desktop-caliber performance. Finally, the Velocity Micro Raptor MX70 wins our Bronze Award because it pairs a stellar base configuration and build quality with flexible upgrade options.
We also recommend the Maingear Pulse and MSI Ghost GS60. Both laptops combine excellent gaming-focused specifications with lightweight dimensions that don't sacrifice portability for performance.