Buying a gaming laptop is a huge decision on the part of any gamer. How you’ll be able to run AAA titles for the next several years depends on it. Spend too little and you’ll feel gimped. Spend too much and you may not have enough for the games you want to play.
When it comes to gaming the number of frames per second you’ll achieve mostly boils down to the processor and graphics card that you go with. For that reason, most should place a priority on the two.
Other considerations like a 120Hz refresh rate, a color-accurate IPS panel, G-Sync, VR readiness, size, and battery life may be more important to some.
While it’d be easy to go out and spend as much as you possibly can on a laptop, you still may not get something that actually fits your needs. For that reason, we created this guide. In it you’ll not only find what to look for, you’ll also get a list of our favorite gaming laptops by budget.
|Category||Model||CPU||CPU Speed||Graphics Card||Storage||Display||Ram||Weight||Battery|
|Budget $500 Gaming Laptop||Acer Aspire E 15 E5-575G-53VG||Intel i5-6200U||Up to 2.8GHz||NVIDIA GeForce 940MX||256GB SSD||15.6-inch 1080p HD Display||8GB DDR4 Memory||5.27 lbs||Up to 12 Hours|
|Under $1,000 Affordable Gaming Laptop||Dell 15.6-Inch Gaming Laptop||Intel i5-6300HQ||Up to 3.2GHz||NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M||256GB SSD||15.6-Inch 1080p IPS||8GB DDR3L||6 lbs||Up to 4.5 Hours|
|Under $1,500 Gaming Laptop||ROG Strix GL502VM||i7-6700HQ||Up to 3.5GHz||NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060||1TB HDD||15-inch G-SYNC panel with wide 160° viewing angles||16GB DDR4 RAM||4.8 lbs||Up to 5 hours|
|VR Ready Gaming Laptop||ASUS ROG G752VS OC Edition||Intel i7-6820HK||Up to 3.6GHz (Higher with Overclock)||NVIDIA GTX 1070 8GB (Overclocked)||256GB NVMe PCIe SSD + 1TB 7200RPM HDD||17.3” FHD 1920x1080 G-SYNC Display with 178-degree viewing angles||Overclocked 32GB DDR4 RAM||9.5 lbs||88WHrs, 8 cell Li-ion Battery Pack|
|Excellent 120Hz G-Sync Gaming Laptop||MSI GS73VR Stealth Pro-025||i7-6700HQ||Up to 3.5 GHz||NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060||256GB M.2 SATA SSD + 1TB HDD||17.3" Full HD Non Reflection 1920x1080 120Hz 5ms Display VR Ready||16GB DDR4||5.35 lbs||Lithium Polymer|
|Slim Gaming Laptop||Razer Blade||Intel Core i7-6700HQ||Up to 3.5GHz||NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060||Up to 1TB PCIe SSD||14.0-in. IGZO QHD+, 3200x1800, capacitive multi-touch / 14.0-in. IPS Full HD Matte, 1920x1080 options||16GB DDR4 2133MHz||4.3 lbs|
|Alienware Gaming Laptop||Alienware 17 R4 Supreme Gaming Machine||Intel Core i7-6820HK||Dynamically Overclocked up to 4.1GHz||GeForce GTX 1070||512GB SSD + 1TB 7200RPM SATA||17.3” 4K (3840 x 2160) IGZO IPS Anti-Glare 300-nits Display||16GB Dual Channel DDR4||9.74 lbs||Battery Lithium Ion (99 Wh)|
|Ultraportable Gaming Laptop||MSI VR Ready GS63VR Stealth Pro-034||i7-6700HQ||Up to 3.5GHz||NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 6G||1TB+256GB||15.6" Full HD Non Reflection 1920x1080||16GB DDR4 2400MHz||3.96 lbs||3 cell (57 Whr)|
Specifications to Consider
Contents at a Glance
- 1 Specifications to Consider
- 2 $500 Budget Gaming Laptop
- 3 $1000 Laptop for Ultra 1080p Gaming
- 4 $1500 Laptop
- 5 VR Ready Laptop
- 6 Summary
Before we dive into the monitors I’d recommend at each price category, here’s a short guide I’ve written with up-to-date information on what to look for in 2017. For lower budgets, some compromise may need to be made in order to find what you’re looking for.
Graphics Card performance
The performance of the graphics card you choose will be the biggest indicator for the longevity of your gaming laptop. For this reason, I highly recommend you go with something that’s up-to-date.
In 2017 this is especially important as laptop graphics cards have nearly eliminated the gap between them and desktop GPU performance. This means there will be more than a small difference between a GTX 960M and a GTX 1060 in a laptop. So going forward you’ll likely want to go with anything that’s Pascal or Polaris based.
If you don’t, you’ll likely regret it.
A lot of gaming laptops this year are advertised as VR ready. First of all, it’s important to emphasize that this isn’t an all-inclusive gaming option. In other words, it’s going to depend on the game you play. The GTX 1060 might be able to play a basic VR boxing game; however, it’ll struggle with more intensive titles.
If you truly want a VR experience that will last more than a couple years, I’d go beyond basic recommended settings.
Size and Weight
The screen size of a laptop not only will affect its overall weight, but its portability as well. Going for the biggest screen size may be ideal if you’re just planning to stay at home, but a smaller more manageable size may get more use for those who travel.
A thick laptop also may be just fine for some.
Overall, go with what works for you here. If you’re a student using this for class, I’d recommend something 15 inches or under.
Processors – Intel vs AMD
Unless you’re going with an APU, I don’t really see a reason to go with an AMD processor here. They’re not as fast or as energy efficient. This might change with Zen-based systems early in 2017; however, right now I’d go with Intel.
Speaking of Intel right now the seventh generation Kaby Lake processors are the most up-to-date option for laptops. Early 2017, we’ll see 7th generation Kaby Lake processors.
As far as APUs are concerned some of the newer Bristol Ridge options look appealing in the sub $500 category. If you’re just looking for good integrated graphics, it’s something to consider.
Intel i5 vs i7 and HQ
You can’t just assume that an i7 is better than an i5 on a laptop. The laptop naming scheme for Intel laptop processors is fairly confusing. An i5 can be a quad core while an i7 may not be. The difference is all in the name.
If you see an “HQ” at the end of the model number, you know it’s a quad-core processor. If you’ve got the choice, going with four cores is certainly the better option.
For what generation of processor, simply look at the first number after the i7 or i5. For example, the i7-6700HQ is a 6th generation Skylake processor with four cores.
IPS vs TN Displays
If you need color accuracy and wider viewing angles, go with an IPS or in-plane switching display for your gaming laptop. IPS monitors also tend to have better contrast and brightness.
G-Sync vs FreeSync
Want to get rid of screen tearing? Go with a NVIDIA G-Sync or AMD FreeSync compatible laptop. FreeSync options are very limited at this point in time.
Is it worth it? That really depends. If tearing is an issue that bothers you, I’d say yes.
I’ve seen a lot of 4k and 1440p gaming laptops as of late. These are great for working and watching movies and not something I would advise you against.
That being said, if you’re playing AAA titles and have a budget under $1500, it’ll likely be in 1080p or less. Keep that in mind before prioritizing resolution over graphical performance.
Used vs New Laptops
Should you purchase a used laptop online or go with a new one? This year, I’d go for new. The Pascal and Polaris GPUs offer too big of a performance difference to ignore. In addition, your new laptop will come with a warranty.
There are always exceptions to this rule. However, for the prices I see on used laptops from the previous generation, it doesn’t seem worth it.
Refresh rate is the amount of times your monitor’s display is updated per second.
If your laptop can’t reach over 60 frames in the games you’re playing, then worrying about whether your monitor supports a 60, 75, 120, or over 140hz refresh rate isn’t that big of a deal. This is the case for gaming in 4k.
If you can run your laptop in the resolution at a high frame rate, you’ll likely notice smoother gameplay up to around 100 frames. This is particularly advantageous in FPS genre games.
It’s likely that this option will set you back at least a couple hundred dollars. So if it comes between this and a better GPU, you’ll have to decide what’s most important.
$500 Budget Gaming Laptop
If you’re purchasing in the $500 budget range, the Acer Aspire E 15 gaming laptop is the one I’ll be recommending for the immediate future. Sure, there is an argument to be made for Bristol Ridge-based gaming laptops. Still, for the performance and specifications of this machine, it’s the best all-around solution out there.
There are a few specifications that give it a clear advantage vs other laptops in this price range. First of all, it comes with a dual-core i5-6200U processor. While it would be nice to have a quad core in this range, it’s still nice that we’re getting an i5 rather than an i3 at this price range.
Another advantage the Acer Aspire E15 has is a dedicated graphics card in the 940MX. I recently benchmarked the performance of this GPU with the i5-6200U in our Acer Aspire E15 review. This machine has no issue with playing games like Diablo 3, DOTA 2, Overwatch, and Hearthstone.
I also like that this model comes with a 256GB solid-state drive rather than a 1TB hard drive. While it is significantly less space, the speed difference between this laptop and other HDD-based laptops is enormous.
For battery life, the Aspire E15 advertises up to 12 hours and certainly gives that while doing casual browsing. Clearly in gaming this is cut down significantly but not as much as gaming laptops with higher TDP GPUs.
$1000 Laptop for Ultra 1080p Gaming
Right now the best you’ll do in the under $1,000 category is a GTX 960M along with a quad core CPU. Coming up soon we’ll all be having a debate between the RX 460M and the GTX 1050Ti.
If you’re in the market right now, I’d suggest you either bump up your price range to about the $1400 space where you can get a dedicated GTX 1060 GPU or simply wait a few weeks for the 1050Ti to start showing up in laptops.
While I’m not recommending it right now, the Dell 15.6″ gaming laptop shown in the table above is similar to what you should be looking for with the 1050Ti or GTX 1050. It’s nice that it comes in at under $800, includes a quad-core i5-6300Hq, a solid dedicated graphics card, and a 256GB solid state drive.
In addition, it also includes a 15.6″ 1080p IPS monitor with brilliant color and accurate color reproduction.
Overall at this price point, you’ll want to get a quad-core CPU, at least 8GB of memory, solid-state drive, and a full-sized keyboard with backlit keys. For graphics card, wait until you can get something Pascal-based. If last years laptops with the GTX 980M come down into the same price range, that might be a decent alternative.
In the $1500 price range, you can get a gaming laptop that easily plays all AAA games in 1080p and even many in 1440p.
As of the date of this article, you’ll want to look for a GTX 1060 here as the GTX 1070 will likely go beyond the budget. If you do go with NVIDIA’s GTX 1060, find one with a display that incorporates G-Sync and, if possible, has a refresh rate of 120Hz.
You’ll also want to double check that the model you’re purchasing has a solid state drive. Some manufacturers skimp here and only go with a mechanical drive. One of the options listed above, the Asus ROG Strix GL502VM comes in as low as $1400 if you’re willing to just have a 1TB hard drive. I’m not sure why Asus doesn’t allow for a 256GB SSD alternative, but if you want to add a solid state drive through them, it’ll cost you another couple hundred dollars. You could also add your own.
For ram, anything 8GB and above will be enough. Getting 16GB of ram at this price range is likely, but ultimately unnecessary.
VR Ready Laptop
Any laptop you come across that has a Pascal-based GPU will say that it’s VR ready. Keep in mind that while this may be the case for some games, a GTX 1060 will struggle in graphically intense VR games.
For increased longevity, I’d recommend something more along the lines of a GTX 1070. This should give you significantly more performance moving forward and be well worth the price if you’re truly planning to game in VR.
At around the $2,000 price range, I’m recommending Asus’ ROG OC edition shown in the table above. Not only does it come with NVIDIA’s GTX 1070 and an Intel i7-6820HK, you can also overclock it for a serious increase in performance.
Other options you’ll want to look for are similar to those listed above. A G-sync IPS monitor, refresh rate above 60Hz, 1440p or 4k, and a solid state drive all are good options in the high-end market.
Truly Pascal GPU performance takes the gaming laptop to another level. GPU overclocking is now something that’s a real option for laptops.
Unless you’re going for a $500 laptop, I would stay clear of anything more than a few months old right now. That’s certainly not a recommendation I would have made in the past, but it’s certainly the one I’d make right now.
You’ll also want to be sure that you go with a quad-core processor rather than a dual-core. This is likely to make a big difference on AAA titles going forward.