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26th of September 2018

Gadgets



Gaming on a laptop has never been better. These are your best options

Desktop gaming will always be the pinnacle of the PC gaming experience, but gaming laptops have come a long way in the last couple of years. Some even rival their desktop counterparts in power, design, and affordability. Whether you’re looking for a serious gaming laptop or just a notebook that happens to have a discrete GPU, there are more options than ever out there.

Scroll down and join the growing ranks of laptop gaming adherents.

At a glance Best gaming laptops Category Our rating Razer Blade Best gaming laptop overall 4.5 out of 5 Predator Helios 500 Best 17-inch gaming laptop 4.0 out of 5 Alienware 17 R5 Best laptop for 4K gaming 4.0 out of 5 Dell G3 Gaming Laptop Best cheap gaming laptop 3.5 out of 5 Dell XPS 15 Best stealth gaming laptop 4.5 out of 5 Razer Blade The best gaming laptop

Razer Blade (2018) car wallpaper

Why should you buy this: You want a gaming powerhouse with MacBook style.

The best portable gaming laptop Razer Blade (2018) The Razer Blade provides a perfect balance of portability and power. It’s the ultimate ultra-light gaming laptop.

Who’s it for: Gamers who need something small and light that can still pack a punch.

How much will it cost: $1,900+

Why we picked the Razer Blade:

The Razer Blade offers serious gaming performance in a slim package. The newest version packs an 8th-gen Intel Core i7-8750H CPU in with either an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 Max-Q or GTX 1070 Max-Q for graphics. You can still get the older, 14-inch model, but we recommend springing for the 2018 version. It managed more than 80 frames per second in Battlefield 1 on Ultra in our testing and not far off 60 in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided with everything maxed out.

The system bolsters its slim design with an attractive, matte black, unibody aluminum exterior. The result is a system that looks a lot like the black MacBooks of yore (that’s a compliment). With its slick design and impressive, Chroma-lit keyboard and touchpad, it stands out in the crowd. Even more impressive is the 144Hz 1080p display, which should ensure that framerates stay high.

Though it has many strengths, the Blade does fall victim to the limitations of its own footprint. Historically, they’ve run hotter and louder than competitors with a thicker chassis, and it’s not as powerful as a GTX 1080 GPU you find in some other laptops. The price is also high, starting at $1,900 for a model with a 256GB SSD and the 1080p display. If sleek, portable, and powerful is what you’re looking for in a gaming laptop though, the Razer Blade is the only laptop for you.

Our full Razer Blade (2018) review

Predator Helios 500 The best 17-inch gaming laptop acer helios predator 500 hands on review hero

Why should you buy this: If you want fantastic 1080p gaming performance and don’t mind a big laptop.

The best 17-inch gaming laptop Acer Predator Helios 500 The Predator Helios 500 is the perfect balance of gaming performance and value.

Who’s it for: Gamers who don’t mind spending a little extra to snag the best performance on the market.

How much will it cost: $2,000+

Why we picked the Predator Helios 500:

The Predator Helios 500 might have a daunting starting price, but don’t worry: This is an incredibly capable gaming laptop for the money. What you get in this 17-inch laptop is a 1080p 144Hz display, an 8th-gen Intel Core i9-8950HK, GTX 1070, and 16GB of RAM.

In terms of actual performance, we found that the Helios 500 has more power than you’d probably ever need, so long as you’re aren’t planning on plugging it into a higher-resolution monitor. Acer’s thermal performance is fantastic, meaning it produced framerates as high as some laptops with a GTX 1080. Good enough, in fact, to fully enjoy that 144Hz in games like Fortnite or Battlefield 1.

But don’t kid yourself: This 17-incher is chunky. It’s thick, heavy, and not exactly the most modern-looking laptop. But hey — if you’re buying a 17-inch gaming laptop, that’s what you should expect.

Read our full review of the Predator Helios 500

Alienware 17 R5 The best laptop for high resolution gaming Alienware 17 R5 review Jayce Wagner/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this: You want to play the latest games at the highest settings and resolutions.

The best laptop for 4K gaming Alienware 17 R5 The Alienware 17 R5 is easily one of the most powerful laptops on the market today.

Why should you buy this: If you want high resolution gaming and are willing to pay for it.

Who’s it for: Gamers who are determined to play their games in 1440p or 4K. 

How much will it cost: $1,600+

Why we picked the Alienware 17 R5:

The Alienware 17 doesn’t have a 4K panel, but if you plan on plugging this into one, this is the gaming laptop you want. Alongside the six-core Intel Core i9 processor, the Alienware 17 also has an Nvidia GTX 1080 graphics card, and 32GB of RAM. It’s the most powerful laptop we’ve tested to date. 

With a GTX 1080 graphics card and that monster of a processor, which is unlocked and overclock-ready, the Alienware 17 R5 made short work of just about everything we threw at it. That’s because of the incredible amount of power Alienware has crammed into this laptop. Between the Core i9 and GTX 1080, you can run just about anything at just about any resolution. The display itself tops out at 1440p, but it has a refresh rate of 120Hz, so your gameplay is just impossibly smooth. Plus, with hardware like this, we had no trouble hitting at least 120 FPS in most games. 

The design is definitely one you’ve seen before if you’ve ever laid your eyes on an Alienware laptop, but the build quality is as excellent as ever too. If absolute power is what you’re most concerned about, look no further.

Read our full Alienware 17 R5 review

Dell G3 Gaming Laptop The best budget gaming laptop Dell G3 Gaming Laptop Review | Fortnite close up Nate Barrett/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this: It’s the best gaming machine you can buy for less than $1,000.

The best cheap gaming laptop Dell G3 Gaming Laptop Fast and affordable, the Dell G3 Gaming Laptop is a solid do-it-all PC.

Who’s it for: Students, gamers, anyone who wants a gaming laptop but doesn’t want to break the bank.

How much will it cost: Starts at $750

Why we picked the Dell G3 Gaming Laptop:

This budget-friendly laptop may not seem like a gaming powerhouse, but as one of the cheapest systems with a dedicated GPU, it can’t be ignored. It’s more modest than the other systems here, coming standard with an Intel Core i5-8300H and 8GB of RAM. The real star of the show is its graphics card, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti graphics card. During our tests it nearly kept up with more expensive and laptops like the Razer Blade. It doesn’t look quite as sharp, but it has more than enough horsepower to run the latest games at high detail settings.

Our review unit handled games like Battlefield 1, Fortnite, and Civilization VI at around 60 frames per second — and that’s with settings maxed. It has a harder time with gaming in higher resolutions, but there are configuration options for the GTX 1060, which would fare better.

The G3 does look like a budget system, though it’s not as bad as you might expect. It’s a bit heavy, clad in plastic and numerous shades of blue. The screen’s bezel are thick, the touchpad feels cheap, and the display is pretty dull. But if you can look past some of those compromises, you’ll find a very capable gaming laptop that delivers impressive framerates — and for most people, that’s what matters.

Our full Dell G3 Gaming Laptop review

Dell XPS 15 The best stealth gaming laptop Dell XPS 15 9570 open angle Dan Baker/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this: It’s a gaming laptop you can bring to work.

The best stealth gaming laptop Dell XPS 15 9570 Stylish and slick, the Dell XPS 15 is a surprisingly robust gaming platform.

Who’s it for: Anyone who wants to be able to game on the go without carrying around a black-and-red behemoth.

How much will it cost: $1,500+

Why we picked the Dell XPS 15:

The Dell XPS 15 might not seem like a gaming laptop, and to be fair, it really isn’t one. But that’s the key of the category of “stealth gaming laptop,” which is becoming more and more a serious alternative to a conventional gaming laptop.

The XPS 15 has received the 8th-gen treatment, so it now comes standard with a quad-core Core i5-8300H — or can be purchased with the six-core Core i7-8750H. Along with the processor bump, the 2018 model also comes with a GTX 1050 Ti for graphics. That’s a whole lot of gaming and processing power for a laptop that looks as appropriate for a coffee shop as a MacBook Pro or Surface Book 2. In our testing, we found it to be a rather capable gaming PC, handling many modern games with settings maxed at respectable framerates. And despite carrying more gaming hardware than an average work laptop, you’d never know it given how thin and slick the XPS 15 is.

While the XPS 15 starts at $1,000, that configuration doesn’t include the discrete GPU. But even for $1,500, the XPS 15 presents a compelling case for those who want a do-it-all laptop that can game on the side.

Our full Dell XPS 15 review

How we test

When we test a laptop, particularly a gaming laptop, we leave no spec un-tested. Starting from look-and-feel and running all the way through individual hardware tests, laptops that enter our lab don’t leave until they’re put through their paces in every conceivable way.

On top of formal testing, we spend a lot of time with the laptops that come through out offices. We’ll use them for everyday work and web browsing, in hopes of catching any elusive issues that evaded our earlier testing. For more information on how we test laptops, you can read a full run-down over here.

What to expect out of a gaming laptop

Gaming laptops have come a long way in the last couple years. While some are still the big LED-clad behemoths we’ve come to know and love, it’s become easier and easier for manufacturers to cram some serious performance into small packages. Just look at the Razer Blade. It’s no bigger than other non-gaming laptops, but it’s able to deliver some seriously impressive performance.

That said, can you expect desktop-level performance out of a notebook? Well, almost. The best gaming laptops on the market come close, but there are a few areas that desktops still have an edge.

First up, desktop gaming rigs are bigger, so they’re more spacious inside. That extra space is important for heat diffusion. Even the most high-efficiency gaming laptop will still have some issues when it comes to heat accumulation. Inside a laptop’s chassis, everything is crammed together so tight there isn’t much manufacturers can do to reduce heat, other than just pump it out as fast as possible.

Similarly, gaming desktops will almost always have better processors because they don’t need to worry about battery life or the aforementioned heat issue. They can suck down as much power as they need to run those 4.0GHz octa-core processors without batting an eye. In the process, they’ll generate a massive amount of heat which is easily dispersed with air cooling.

So, when it comes to performance, a great gaming laptop will come close to a desktop gaming experience in all but those areas. It will run hotter and slower. The desktop is faster, but if you only want a laptop, you can make it work.

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