Best gaming laptops: Know what to look for and which models rate highest

We'll help you pick out the perfect gaming laptop.

Alienware 17 R4
IDG / Adam Patrick Murray

Picking a gaming laptop is a lot more fun today than it was five years ago, when a “real” gaming laptop meant 12 pounds of back-breaking hardware to haul around.

With major advances in laptop CPUs and graphics technologies, you can now get great gaming performance in sizes from slender to huge, and prices from budget to sky-high. That's where this handy-dandy buyer’s guide come in. We’ll name the best gaming laptops currently available, and we’ll highlight what to look for when buying a gaming laptop. (Check back often, as we’ll update this list as new products arrive.)

Update 9/14/2018: We review Dell’s G7 15, which stuff six cores of CPU power into a budget gaming laptop. It's our new runner-up for Best 15-inch gaming laptop, because it's about $600 less than the leader MSI GS65 Stealth Thin 8RE. See below for more details. 

Latest gaming laptop news

  • We interviewed AMD about the future of Raven Ridge (aka Ryzen 3 2200G and Ryzen 5 2400G), the APU that delivers surprising performance given its integrated graphics—yes, even in games. The next step: Bring its power consumption down while keeping the performance up.
  • We got our hands on the Asus ROG Zephyrus S GX531, a surprisingly slender gaming laptop that's the shape of things to come. This is a good trend for gamers tired of lugging around the bulkier laptops still predominant. 

Best 17-inch gaming laptop

The Alienware 17 R5 is the latest in a long line of well-regarded laptops from this Dell subsidiary, but this one raises the bar. Actually, it throws the bar high up in the air, leaps after it, catches it mid-somersault, and lands cleanly while onlookers stare, agog.

The key difference: an upgrade to Intel’s 8th-gen mobile processors, which pack more CPU cores than previous generations did. Even better, the one in our review unit is Intel’s high-performance Core i9 -8950HK, which turns this already beastly gaming laptop into an utter monster.

The Alienware 17 R5 is available in a variety of configurations, from a $1,560 model with a 6-core Core i7-8750H, an overclocked GeForce GTX 1060, and a 60Hz 1080p display, all the way up to the price-is-no-object-I-want-performance version we tested ($3,810 from Dell). Optional features could push that total even higher, but there’s already plenty to love. This is 10 pounds of gaming-laptop-slash-desktop-replacement-extraordinaire. Read our review.

[$3,810 MSRP as reviewed]

Best 15-inch gaming laptop

Just a few years ago, if you said you wanted 1080p Very High or Ultra gaming performance in a laptop, you’d be lifting eight pounds of laptop. If you wanted a six-core CPU too, that’d be 12 pounds of laptop with a desktop chip inside. And decent battery life? Fuhgetaboutit.

That you can get the same or better performance with the four-pound MSI GS65 Stealth Thin 8RE ($1,799 at Amazon) is a testament to just how far we’ve gone—and also proof of just how awesome this laptop is.On the outside, it’s sedate black aluminum with bronze edges. On the inside are state-of-the-art, gaming-grade components with enough performance to basically put anything made before it to shame.

The GS65 is basically a complete rework of the ground-breaking GS63VR gaming laptop that made its debut in 2016. The most important upgrade is what’s inside: Intel 6-core Core i7-8750H and 16GB of DDR4/2400 in dual-channel mode; the full-fat Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 6GBl and a 256GB Samsung PM981 NVMe SSD. 

The six-core CPU inside is the real news. You’ve probably seen people dismiss it as “more of the same from Intel,” but those folks are wrong. This latest iteration is a screaming-fast CPU unlike any that we’ve ever seen in a laptop before.

Runner-up

The Dell G7 15 is a mid-size gaming laptop with middle-of-the-road GTX 1060 Max-Q graphics, middling battery life, and—you guessed it—a mid-range price tag. But this system boasts a stellar feature that sets it apart from the crowd: a six-core, benchmark-crushing Core i7 processor that’ll thrill content creators. Indeed, the G7 15’s overall performance is only a step or two behind that of our current top pick among 15-inch gaming laptops, the thinner and lighter MSI GS65 Stealth Thin 8RE—and it costs about $600 less. Despite a dim screen and an occasionally too-hot chassis, this is still a worthy contender.

Best budget gaming laptop

The Dell G3 15 gaming laptop delivers solid performance in a package that’s a little less than an inch thick. The Model 3579 we tested is very affordable, too. 

The G3 15 has its downsides, including a Full-HD display that isn’t as bright as we’d like, frame rates that struggle to reach 60 fps on top-tier games, and a weight exceeding five pounds (although it’s not as massive as some gaming laptops). But when we compared it to the Acer Nitro 5, another budget gaming laptop we like, with an even lower price point, there was no contest. The G3 15 posted stronger benchmarks and battery life. In particular, its GTX 1050 Ti graphics showed the limitations of the Nitro 5's mere GTX 1050. Nothing wrong with the Nitro 5, but if you can afford the G3 15 we tested, it's the better choice. Read our full review.

[$850 as reviewed(Model 3579)]

Best portable gaming laptop

Nvidia’s Pascal GPUs haven’t just put the traditional beefy gaming laptops on par with desktop machines. They’ve also made it so the term “portable gaming laptop” is no longer an oxymoron. Put a GeForce GTX 1060 into a laptop and you have a capable machine that can survive away from a wall socket—and won’t break your back while carrying it, either.

Now, at five pounds, the Alienware 13 (available at Dell.comis a little heavy for its size—but it’s worth toting around those extra ounces. The model we reviewed packs a gorgeous OLED 2560x1440 display, a quad-core i7 processor, and a VR-capable Nvidia GTX 1060 for flawless 1080p gaming. (Yes, you can play at 2560x1440, too, if you crank down some of the settings... or buy an Alienware Amplifier and pop in a beefier video card.) 

Its extra weight comes from its incredibly sturdy and solid chassis, built to withstand hot climates and gamers who react physically to the highs and lows of gameplay. For some, that’ll be a drawback. But it’s hard to hold the Alienware 13’s design against it, especially after experiencing the pure luxury of its OLED screen: Gaming on it makes the best LCD panels seem pixelated and washed out.

While performance is a hair under rival machines like the MSI GS63VR, the difference is almost negligble—just one or two frames less per second in our Tomb Raider and Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor benchmarks. If you can splurge on this version of the Alienware 13, we say do it. From its slick design to its performance, battery life, and OLED display, it’s exceptional in every metric we usually examine.

Runner-up

Not all gaming laptops are about insane frame rates and high-end features. There are folks who want a really great gaming experience on the go.

For that, we turn to Gigabyte’s Aero 15 (available at Amazon) , which is not much larger than a Dell XPS 15, and only a bit heavier than MSI’s GS63VR. But the Gigabyte Aero 15 offers better battery life by several hours, and DIY upgrades are easier to perform. Its keyboard also features per-key RGB lighting that gets quite bright. (Read our full review.)

What keeps it out of the top position are a handful of small quibbles: Its maximum screen brightness falls on the lower end of average, and during our review, its keyboard had trouble recognizing certain key combinations. (Firmware updates did help some, but users continue to report problems.) Its off-center trackpad position also takes time to get used to.

Overall, however, the Gigabyte Aero 15 can play the newest games at 1920x1080 with settings at or near Ultra on a 15.6-inch screen. And it won’t break your back while you’re out and about.

Best price-is-no-object gaming laptop

Spoiler alert: We’ve never tested a gaming laptop as all-around powerful as the Origin PC EON17-X.

This big, badass notebook ($3,712 from Origin) pushes the pedal to the metal with the most potent hardware available, and then Origin PC cranks things to 11 by overclocking both the full-fat GeForce GTX 1080 and the Core i7-8700K processor. Yes, this laptop rocks a desktop processor, and not just any desktop processor—it’s the fastest one currently available. With 6 cores and 12 threads, the EON17-X demolishes CPU benchmarks. It blazes through triple-A games. Hell, it might be able to literally crush its slim, trim Nvidia Max-Q competition.

This big, loud, no-holds-barred system delivers a much different value proposition than most gaming laptops do. If you’re doing heavy-duty work that can take advantage of the desktop Core i7-8700K’s abundant threads and high clock rate, no other laptop we’ve tested is even in the same ballpark as Origin’s beast. If you want a best-in-class gaming experience that pushes frame rates as high as possible in a self-contained, portable (enough) form factor, the EON17-X can’t be beat. Jump on this notebook if you’re looking for a true high-end desktop replacement rather than a powerful laptop that lets you game on the road.

Bottom line: The Origin EON17-X fills a very particular niche very well indeed, and we stand in awe of its brute force. You pay for its power, but Origin PC’s sublime out-of-box experience helps the laptop feel even more luxurious. Just don’t forget your charger and gaming headset at home. Performance this ferocious requires some trade-offs.

Runner-up

The Alienware 17 R5 packs Intel’s debut high-performance Core i9 laptop chip. Friends, the Core i9-8950HK inside turns this already beastly gaming laptop into an utter monster. The version we tested ($3,810 from Dell) pumps out more performance than we’ve ever seen in a gaming laptop with all-mobile parts. It offers over 55 percent more multi-thread performance than its already-potent direct predecessor. CPU benchmarks this fast were practically unthinkable mere months ago. 

Alienware uses the extra headroom to push the GTX 1080 harder than before, too. And remember: The Alienware Command Center lets you overclock the CPU and GPU for even more potential performance.

The old Alienware 17 kicked ass. The new Alienware 17 R5 blows us away. It’s not for everyone, though. All those cores and threads aren’t fully utilized in most games, so if you plan to use your laptop mostly for play, you’d be better off saving your cash and going with a more affordable option, such as Intel’s new Core i7-8750H. 

Being runner-up isn't so bad when you consider the top dog: Origin’s EON17-X, which packs a powerful Core i7-8700K desktop processor. It outguns the Alienware 17 R5 in raw firepower, though it has a somewhat coarser design that’s almost half an inch thicker and half as long-lasting.

Read on for guidance on how to pick the right gaming laptop for your needs.

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