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 02/14/2019: We have all the gaming laptop news from CES in January, plus a new pick for best overall: The unbelievably thin and light (for a gaming laptop), RTX-fortified MSI GS75 Stealth (available from MSI). Read our review.
Latest gaming laptop news
We came to CES, we saw some awesome PC hardware, and Brad Chacos gave us the highlights, including these insane gaming laptops:
- “GeForce RTX is too hot, and too power-hungry for laptops, they said. Well ‘they’ were wrong. Nvidia proved all the naysayers to be, well, nay, by not just introducing GeForce RTX GPUs in laptops, but by introducing 40 different designs that have its newest mobile GPU. While there are still questions about how well mobile RTX performs, you can’t dispute that 40 wins is quite an accomplishment. We literally saw dozens of laptops running the new GPU, and running hybrid ray tracing at that.”
- “When Acer first revealed the Predator Triton 900 concept in 2018, the crazy, swivel-display gaming laptop was hidden under glass—because that’s how you show off hardware that’s so audacious, it may never reach the production line. But at CES 2019, the Predator Triton 900 suddenly became very, very real with a projected release date of March this year. Sure, it’ll cost you $3,999, but that’s the buy-in if you want to play in laptop crazytown.”
- “We’ve come a long way, baby. Just two years ago, a 17-inch gaming laptop almost needed a wheelbarrow to move around. But MSI’s GS75 Stealth will shock you at just how little it weighs: five pounds. That’s basically not much heavier than most 15-inch laptops. Thanks to narrow bezels, the GS75 Stealth has a footprint not much bigger than most 15-inch gaming laptops, too. And the GS75 Stealth doesn’t compromise on the specs: With its 17.3-inch, 144Hz FHD screen, 8th gen Core i7, and GeForce RTX 2070 Max-Q GPU, you can have your gaming and take it with you, too. Eight hours of battery life likely won’t set any records, but for a gaming laptop it’s pretty good.”
- ”Not everyone is comfortable taking a small, dainty gaming laptop to the café—even if your plan is to sip a chai latte while reading French poetry. Sometimes you gotta go big, and nothing says big like Alienware’s new Area-51m, a truly in-your-face gaming laptop if there ever was one. It’s got a newly revealed Alienware design language, but you might be more impressed by the parts inside it: A socketed and upgradeable desktop Core i9-9900K and a GeForce RTX 2080. But the real reason we’re so jazzed by the Area-51m is what Alienware is prepping to deliver to enthusiasts: upgradeable graphics.”
Best 17-inch gaming laptop
The MSI GS75 Stealth challenges that old PC laptop proverb that says you can have high performance, and you can have a 17-inch screen, and you can have light weight—but you can only pick two. Sure, at five pounds GS75 is hardly “light.” But along with its 17.3-inch display it packs an 8th-generation 6-core CPU and Nvidia’s brand-spanking new GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q graphics inside.
The MSI GS75 is one of the first laptops to debut with Nvidia’s RTX graphics for laptops, announced in January at CES. As you’ll see in our benchmarks, the MSI GS75 is a (relatively) lightweight laptop with a heavweight wallop. The initial signs seem to point toward a lighter, faster future for mobile PC gaming. Read our review.
[$2,999 MSRP as reviewed; available from MSI]
Best 15-inch gaming laptop
Razer isn’t exaggerating when it calls its Blade 15 the “world’s smallest 15-inch gaming laptop.” It’s nearly as small as the popular workhorse Dell XPS 15, yet it offers blistering gaming performance.
The Razer Blade 15 that we reviewed features a 15.6-inch, 1920x1080 IPS 144Hz factory-calibrated screen, an 8th-gen 6-core Intel Core i7-8750H, 16GB of DDR4/2677 in dual-channel mode, Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1070 Max-Q (optional GTX 1060 Max-Q), and a 512GB Samsung M.2 PCIe SSD.
While it’s impressive to get a six-core 8th gen Core i7-8750H and GeForce GTX 1070 Max-Q performance into a compact chassis, note that it’s densely packed and feels heavy for its size. If you can deal with the additional weight, the payoff may well be worth it. Read our review.
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
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.
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.
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.