A gaming laptop doesn’t have to cost the earth. Our Best gaming laptop round-up and buying guide includes great gaming notebooks that start from a little over £700. Perfect for a big Christmas gift to yourself.
There’s more to gaming laptops than raw gaming performance. This might sounds a bit backwards, but hear us out: their power makes them ideal for heavy-duty computing problems like editing video. Big, bright and colourful screens make them great for watching films, too.
However, unlike traditional laptops where size, weight, heat and noise are key factors when considering what to buy, gaming laptops are all about performance and value for money.
Since they’re laptops, they’re also portable, though only in the loosest sense. Even the most attractive, well-built gaming laptops are usually monsters – chunky, heavy and created with marathon, plugged-in, gaming sessions in mind.
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We’ve reviewed dozens of great gaming notebooks to help you decide which one’s best for you. This list has been completely overhauled to include laptops powered by Nvidia’s latest 10-series graphics, as well as some slightly older models with 900-series kit on board that are still available to buy.
Gaming laptops are special because of the performance they manage to pack in a small body. You not only have to consider how they perform now, but ensure they’re future-proofed for at least a couple of years. Unlike desktop PCs you can’t easily or cheaply upgrade the specification of a gaming laptop. Paying for that extra performance now is often sensible in the long term.
Battlefield 1 is one of the most CPU and GPU intensive games you can buy right now
A gaming laptop that runs current games using high graphics settings may only run AAA games a year from now at a medium level, and two years from now at low.
As well as testing these gaming powerhouses using a range of games, we also ran some of the toughest benchmarks around to put maximum pressure on the CPU, GPU and storage. This gave us an accurate indication of how different gaming notebooks performed under stress, and means we can compare them like-for-like.
If you’re considering a gaming laptop that’s not on our list, make sure it comes with a good, discrete graphics card. Some laptops tout good gaming performance using the graphics hardware integrated into the CPU. While these are getting better all the time, you won’t be able to play high-intensity games such as Battlefield or Call of Duty at acceptable frame rates.
Related: Best Graphics Card
Right now, Nvidia graphics cards are found on the overwhelming majority of new gaming laptops. You’ll generally find laptop specific parts on machines launched in 2014 and 2015 (such as 950M, 960M etc), but from this year all Nvidia laptops get full desktop-level GPUs. This is because the company’s Pascal architecture is so efficient it can squeeze into the same space as an old-style laptop GPU without needing extra cooling. Look out for 10-series cards such as the GTX 1060, 1070 and 1080.
Nvidia graphics chips are found in most gaming laptops
The choice of CPU is also important. All the laptops on this list come equipped with quad-core Intel Core i5 or i7 processors with 'HQ' or 'HK' at the end of their model names, but you'll find some cheaper models on the market that only have a 'U' suffix. This denotes a much lower-power, dual-core processor that can prove to be a huge bottleneck in games.
All gaming laptops come with at least 8GB of RAM and, right now, that's a very happy medium between a paltry 4GB and 16GB, which is overkill for many games. Don't confuse RAM for VRAM used by your graphics card: Lower-end models get 2GB, while the more expensive models will get 4GB, 6GB and 8GB of VRAM for better performance.
One final element of buying a gamng laptop that's worth considering is virtual reality. If you're thinking about buying a VR headset, the bare minimum you'll need in terms of graphics is an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 from the latest generation, or a desktop GTX 980 or 970 in higher-end older laptops.
Related: Intel Core i processors explained
Full HD is the minimum you should expect from a gaming laptop these days. In fact, you could be gaming in 4K, though few laptops can play games at that resolution reliably.
It’s not just a truckload of pixels that makes a good gaming screen, though. We test colour accuracy, brightness, contrast ratio and black levels to ensure games and movies are shown in all their glory.
Gaming laptops tend to pack more impressive speakers than you’ll find in most general laptops. Some include tweeters and sub-woofers, but we’d still recommend a good gaming headset to get the most out of your gaming experience.
These gaming machines pack high-end, high-performance components in as small a bundle as possible. While you game the graphics card and CPU get hot, which sets the fans whirring to disperse the heat and leads to, usually, a lot of noise.
The Asus ROG GX700 employs a liquid cooler to keep the noise down, and the price up
There’s not much you can do about it, but some laptops manage their cooling better than others. We keep a close eye on heat and noise when reviewing a gaming laptop to ensure it doesn’t affect the gaming experience too much.
Consider how often you’re planning on taking your gaming laptop with you before you decide what type to buy. Big 17-inch screens are great for gaming but seriously impact portability, resulting in bigger and heavier machines than 15-, 14- or 13-inch displays.
The Dell XPS 15 isn't a gaming laptop, but its dedicated GTX 960M graphics means it can handle games at a decent resolution
Advancements in mobile graphics cards mean that some recent gaming laptops are much slimmer than before, while still packing excellent gaming performance. Still, you should expect your gaming laptop to be chunky and heavy – far more so than ultrabooks.
When you’re spending this much on a laptop you’ll want it to be well made and able to take a bumpy journey in a backpack to a mate’s house. We inspect the build quality to decide whether they will stand the test of time.
If you intend to use your laptop with a separate monitor, or several monitors, then you will want to make sure it the right video outputs for your needs. Most have HDMI, and some even have ancient VGA, but DisplayPort is the most versatile – it lets you daisy-chain multiple monitors together.
Related: Best gaming monitor
The keyboard is one of the most important aspects of a gaming laptop. Quality mechanical keyboards make a huge difference to the gaming experience and can help improve your gaming abilities. We’ve put the keyboards through their paces with a focus on gaming, but also with an eye on using the laptop for more mundane tasks like tweets and emails.
The trackpad is less essential for gamers. You’ll want to pair your laptop with a top-notch gaming mouse to ensure you’re getting the best gaming experience possible, but still we assess the trackpads on these laptops for general use.
Related: Best mechanical keyboards for gamers
If you’re looking for all-day battery life from your gaming laptop then you’re going to be disappointed. Gaming laptops require oodles of power to run games at high resolutions and top settings, so their batteries drain quickly. If you intend to game on the go, don’t expect much more than an hour or two of battery life.
In non-gaming use, a gaming laptop will likely last between three and six hours – a far cry from a Macbook Air. The Gigabyte Aorus X3 Plus comes with class-leading battery life.
If battery life’s a key concern for you, consider supplementing your gaming laptop with a heavy-duty rechargeable power pack. There are plenty to choose from and they can bolster your laptop’s stamina significantly.
These high performance PCs aren’t cheap. You’ll need to spend £900/$1000 for a decent machine that plays the best current games at in Full HD at Medium or High settings. Prices only go up from there, reaching dizzying heights of more than £4000/$4000 for a top-spec machine.
The Asus ROG Strix GL702M starts at £1,200, which gets you a Core i5 processor and GTX 1060M graphics
You should always check the specs of the machine you’re thinking of buying to make sure it matches the one’s we’ve specified in our review. Manufacturers sometimes make laptops in multiple configurations so make sure the one in your basket matches the specs of the laptop you actually want.
It’s always worth considering whether you’re better off investing in a gaming desktop PC. If you have the space, and portability isn’t a key factor, you’ll save yourself a pile of notes. And even if it is a factor it's easy to put together a small, relatively portable yet powerful PC these days.
Now, hit the Next button to find see our reviews of the best gaming laptops.