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

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

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Adam Patrick Murray

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The gaming laptop landscape is experiencing an earthquake-like shift. With the near-simultaneous launches of AMD’s Ryzen 4000 and Intel’s Comet Lake-H mobile CPUs, we have a real fight for the first time ever, focusing on Ryzen 4000’s cores vs. Comet Lake-H’s clock speeds. We have to say, Ryzen 4000 is looking awfully good—check out our new top budget 15-inch laptop, the Acer Nitro 5, below. Meanwhile, Nvidia has unveiled a new generation of mobile graphics technologies. Check out our top picks immediately below, and keep reading to catch up on the latest news and reviews. 

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.) 

Latest gaming laptop news

Laptop news and reviews are heating up, because of new AMD and Intel mobile CPUs coming soon. Here’s the latest. 

  • We take a close look at Nvidia's Dynamic Boost technology, which aims to leverage the "unused" thermal capacity in a laptop. But is it just a "me-too" technology to keep up with Intel and AMD's similar offerings? Read all about it.
  • If you were around in the 90s you might remember the Gateway PC brand, which fell on hard times. Now owned by Acer, Gateway has returned as a Walmart exclusive, and we review one of its debut units, the poetically named GWTN156-3BK. It delivers decent gaming chops for $999 at Walmart, but it’s loud. Read our full review.
acer nitro 5 an515 44 r99q main Ben Patterson/IDG

The Acer Nitro 5 is both cheap and good, a budget gaming laptop we’re happy to recommend.

  • Bargain alert! Acer’s Nitro 5 budget gaming laptop is surprisingly good for the price ($670 at Best Buy). Don’t expect the latest parts, but do expect great bang for buck. That’s why it’s our new top pick for best budget 15-inch gaming laptop (replacing itself in a prior generation, actually.) Read our full review.
  • How does a laptop keep cool under pressure? Our own Gordon Mah Ung quizzes Dell thermals expert Travis North on everything from heat pipes to vapor chambers.  

Latest laptop reviews

Catch up on the latest models we’ve tested here, including: 

acer predator triton 500 2020 3 Brad Chacos/IDG

The Acer Predator Triton 500 packs a lot of power into a surprisingly slim chassis. 

  • Okay, not everyone could afford the Acer Predator Triton 500 we just tested ($2,800 on B&H Photo), with its 6-core, 12-thread Core i7-10750H and GeForce RTX 2080 Super, all squeezed into a sublime 4.6-pound aluminum chassis with a lightning-fast 300Hz G-Sync display. But looking’s free, and this is one gorgeous machine. Read our full review.
  • We just reviewed two gaming laptops that sport 300Hz screens. That ultra-high refresh rate makes looking at your screen all day a delicious experience. Read our reviews of the MSI GS66 Stealth ($2,999 on Amazon) and the Acer Predator Triton 500 ($2,800 on B&H Photo).
  • Are two screens better than one? The Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo ($3,699 on Asus.com) may be the first dual-screen laptop that gets things right. Read our full review.

Best 15-inch gaming laptop

The Acer Predator Triton 500 model we tested features a 15.6-inch, 1920x1080, 144Hz panel, an 8th-gen Core i7-8750H with 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD, and a GeForce RTX 2060. It’s easily enough firepower to match laptops based on the slightly lower-cost GeForce GTX 1660 Ti, but it has the option to run DirectX Ray Tracing games, too.

If we were to ding the Triton 500, it would be for the SSD replacement. Let’s just say, adding more storage to the Triton 500 won’t be a five-minute affair. Read our full review of the Acer Predator Triton 500.

Best budget gaming laptop

The Acer Nitro 5 surpases what we expect of rock-bottom budget laptops. Its display is a bit dim, and its GTX 1650 graphics is only going to feel slower as time goes by. However its performance is solid overall, and its battery life is a nearly unheard-of (for gaming laptops) five hours. If you’re looking for solid budget value, or if you plan to buy cheap and upgrade more often (a reasonable plan in the ever-advancing world of gaming), this is a respectable entry-level machine. Read our full review.

[$830 as tested via Bestbuy.com]

Runner Up

The Pavilion Gaming Laptop punches well above its weight in the entry-level range. It’s every bit as sturdy and refined as its high-end counterparts, and it even has surprisingly respectable battery life. The Pavilion Haming Laptop has sacrificed a few things to hit that budget level, namely a dismal display and no mouse buttons. Still, with models starting as cheap as $800 on HP.com, you can configure this overall solid machine to fit your budget. 

[MSRP $1,600 on HP.com]

Best 17-inch gaming laptop

If you’re squinting at this story from your tiny 13-inch laptop screen, you may be like the many people who started working from home and realized that portability means nothing if you’re going blind using a small display.

Gigabyte’s Aero 17 has the answer, by offering superb performance and a gorgeous, 17.3-inch UHD 4K HDR 400 panel to boot. The laptop also features Intel’s 10th-gen, 8-core, Core i7-10875H Comet Lake H CPU and Nvidia’s stellar GeForce RTX 2070 Super Max-Q GPU. Read our full review.

[$2,800 MSRP as reviewed; available from Gigabyte]

Best budget 17-inch gaming laptop

HP’s Omen 17 gaming laptops have a reputation with us that can be summarized in four words: solid performance. Shockingly affordable.

That’s particularly true for the Omen 17. Is it a looker? Debatable. Is it the best gaming laptop? Definitely not. But HP always manages to cram more hardware than you’d expect under the hood, then sell the Omen 17 way below market rate.

I’m not sure how HP pulls off this bit of wizardry, but it’s made the Omen 17 a hit. And the trend continues, as the 2019 model we’re testing (poetically monikered the 17-cb0040nr) packs in some of the latest and greatest CPUs and GPUs for hundreds of dollars less than the competition. Read our full review.

[MSRP $1,680 (but the selling price is usually less) on Amazon.com]

Best portable gaming laptop

The ROG Zephyrus G14 debuts with AMD’s stellar Ryzen 9 4900HS CPU, and we can safely say: Just give Asus your money. This laptop packs a stupid amount of performance into a stupidly small and stupidly light (3.5-pound) frame. You’re talking about a weight class that typically gives you lower-power CPUs and GPUs. Yet the G14 can hang in CPU performance with laptops that weight 10 pounds. 

Obviously the star of the show is the Ryzen 9 4900HS CPU, which we review in detail separately. But the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 as a whole package is nearly as impressive. Read our full review

Best price-is-no-object gaming laptop

Alienware’s Area-51m flagship gaming laptop is big, thick, and fast, a return to form that should reassure people who got worried when the company unveiled the thin-and-light Alienware m15 last year. The new Area-51m very well might be the first gaming laptop to bring the Holy Grail of features to consumers: Upgradable graphics and an upgradable CPU. Read our full review of Alienware’s Area-51m.    

Runner-up

The Alienware 17 R5 packs Intel’s debut high-performance Core i9 laptop chip, which 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. 

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

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