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.)

Updated June 28, 2018 with some recent reviews: the MSI GS65 Stealth Thin 8RE, which is our new top pick for the best 15-inch gaming laptop; the Origin EON17-X, our new pick for the best price-is-no-object mega-gaming beast; and Alienware's 17 R5, a very close runner-up to the Origin, and the first laptop we've tested that rocks Intel's Core i9 laptop CPU. 

Latest gaming laptop news

Summer has unleashed a flood of gaming laptop news. Working backward...

  • Lenovo announced new Legion laptops (and desktops) at E3. The Legion Y730 offers a bit of overclocking, and the Legion Y530 and Legion Y7000 pack affordable fun into low-key designs. 
  • At Computex, we saw MSI run the gamut from the affordable MSI GF63 to the superslim Prestige PS42.  We also benchmarked Acer's Predator Helios 500 laptop with a Ryzen mobile processor. 
  • In late May, Acer announced its summer lineup of products, which included an overclockable version of the Predator Helios 500 plus a special, gold-tipped edition of its lower-cost sibling, the Predator Helios 300.
  • Not to be outdone, HP announced a new version of its Omen 15 laptop that's slimmer yet faster, thanks to its six-core Coffee Lake H CPU and a choice of discrete GPUs.
  • Dell unveiled its new G series gaming laptops, with accessible price points and a long list of options in G3, G5, and G7 product tiers. We just got G3 and G7 models in for review and will keep you posted about the results. 

Best 17-inch gaming laptop

The arrival of Nvidia’s Pascal-based mobile GPUs transformed high-end gaming laptops. These days, getting desktop-equivalent performance is just the natural course of things, and you no longer have to pay through the nose for it, either.

Our current pick for best gaming laptop is the Alienware 17 (available at Dell.com)—with a GTX 1080 mobile GPU and a 17.3-inch 2560x1440, 120Hz G-Sync panel, it starts at $2,500. For that chunk of cash, you’ll get smooth, high-frame-rate gaming at a previously unprecedented level. Our review unit posted frame rates over 150fps with everything maxed out in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, and over 100fps in Rise of the Tomb Raider.

No, it’s not as portable as other gaming laptops sporting Nvidia’s new Max-Q mobile GPUs, but Alienware gives you full 1080 performance at all times, with a better and more consistent frame rate than those lighter notebooks. 

The Alienware 17 has a couple of other drawbacks besides size: Its fans are loud, and its battery life is average. But these things shouldn’t dissuade people in the market for a true desktop replacement.

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.

Best budget gaming laptop

Not long ago, playing a game at higher resolutions and higher graphics settings on a laptop meant shelling out big bucks.

That’s changed in the last year. For less than $1,000, you can get a gaming laptop that will play at 1080p—like Dell’s gaming version of the Inspiron 15 7000 (available at Dell.com) at, which offers a quad-core i5-7300HQ, 8GB RAM, and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti in its $850 base configuration.

It’s a lot of muscle for the price. This system can handle today’s games on High at 1080p (in Rise of the Tomb Raider, this Inspiron ran at over 50fps), and it can definitely play popular titles like League of Legends, Dota 2, Rocket League, CSGO, Team Fortress 2, and Overwatch

Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming Alaina Yee/IDG

There’s one catch, however. The launch version of the Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming had a terrible TN panel with extremely bad viewing angles and washed-out colors—our review is based on this version. Some of these still are available for purchase (through Dell’s outlet site, for instance), but the version we recommend is the current model that features an IPS display.

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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