Gaming laptops have come a long way in recent years. Notebooks that once required a massive jet engine or two to be able to cope with the heat output of mobile graphics chips have slimmed down considerably to offer desktop-class graphics in an actually portable form factor.
This is thanks in large part to Nvidia's Pascal GPUs. The 10-series of graphics cards are more powerful and efficient than ever. With higher clockspeeds and lower TDPs than previous generations, it's now possible to pack GTX 1060 and 1070 GPUs into notebooks that measure around or sometimes less than an inch thick. Even better, those 10-series cards aren't tuned-down mobile variants but rather every bit as powerful as their desktop counterparts. However, if you're looking for truly slim gaming notebooks, Nvidia's new Max-Q design philosophy does sacrifice a bit of performance to get power draw even lower—those laptops should start showing up this summer.
Just as impressive, laptop screens are getting closer and closer in feature set to their desktop counterparts. Features such as high refresh rates, 1440p or 4K resolutions, and G-Sync technology are no longer limited to the tabletop form factor. And perhaps best of all, a modest combination of these features and performance can be had at non-insane price points.
In testing for this guide, we called in a literal stack of gaming laptops from various hardware manufacturers. We limited our overall choice to laptops featuring a GTX 1070 GPU, as systems with that spec have the best balance of performance, features, and price for most gamers. We're also testing lower-priced GTX 1060 systems and high-end GTX 1080+ ones, but we're not done yet. Look for updates to this guide in the coming months with those picks.
What makes one laptop more attractive than another in the eyes of a gamer? Is it light weight, for portability in between LAN parties? How about high-end hardware to facilitate the fastest frame rates? Surely connectivity matters. External displays, gaming peripherals and direct-attached storage can make you forget you’re even using a notebook. Or maybe value is what matters most. For a low-enough price, we’re all willing to compromise on graphics quality, right? Right?
Of course not, which is why the best builders cram in as much processing muscle as possible, even when money is tight. And at the top of the range, desktop-class components in mobile enclosures set new performance records with every generation.
Most of the laptops we tested for the overall best category offer similar internals: an Intel Core i7-7700HQ processor, Nvidia GTX 1070 GPU, 16GB DDR4 RAM, and a 1080p G-Sync screen. The main difference between models usually comes down to storage options, weight and dimensions, screen features, and of course, price. The similarity in components resulted in relatively similar benchmark scores, with the difference between lowest and highest scores not varying considerably.
We run the following tests to measure performance and productivity on gaming laptops:
- Cinebench 15
- Tech ARP x264 HD
- CrystalDiskMark64 4K Read and Write
- 3DMark Fire Strike
- PCMark 8 Creative
For gaming, we use the built-in benchmarks on Rise of the Tomb Raider, Far Cry Primal, and The Division. Tests are performed at 1080p using the highest available graphics preset, with V-sync and G-Sync disabled. All tests are run multiple times to ensure that thermal throttling doesn't occur. In the event that scores drop on subsequent tests, the lower (throttled) scores are used.
HP's gaming division Omen has a nice offering in the laptop space, focusing on top-tier graphics while cutting corners elsewhere to keep prices down. It's the most competitive with the GL502VS when it comes to price, actually coming in $100 cheaper when on sale for a similarly-spec'd system. It's also available with a 4K screen upgrade, if that's something you care about, but we recommend staying away from attempting 4K on a laptop, as running that high of a resolution in games requires much more graphical horsepower than the GTX 1070 can offer. We still like the GL502VS more than the Omen 17, as it comes in a 15-inch form factor and was the only laptop we tested to offer a 120Hz screen.
True to the company's namesake, the Alienware 15 (also available in 13 and 17-inch form factors) is the most gaming-focused in design of all the laptops we tested, with aggressive styling, bright LEDs along the panel, and a backlight behind the touchpad that gives it an eerie alien-like glow. It's also one of the bulkiest, especially for a 15-inch, weighing 7.8 lbs. It's an overall solid machine, held back by price—no doubt a premium you're paying for the Alienware name and styling—costing almost $300 more for a system spec'd similarly to the GL502VS.
I want to love the X5 v6, I really do. Gigabyte's gaming division Aorus has been ahead of the curve when it comes to thin-and-light portable powerhouses, and the X5 v6 laptop nearly delivers on that promise. At a glance, it has everything I want—It's an extremely powerful laptop in one of the smallest frames I've seen, and will probably continue to hold that title until the next-generation Max-Q laptops hit the streets later this year. Of course, its space-saving engineering comes with a price premium—at $2,249 (on sale), it's the most expensive GTX 1070 laptop we tested. Even so, the price might be worth it, as it ships with a gorgeous 3K (2880 x 1620) resolution screen—better than 1080p but not so demanding as 4K—and the form factor is really spectacular.
My main issue is the keyboard. I went through multiple test units of the X5 v6, and each time had an issue with the keyboard (which has full RGB backlight control, by the way). The first time, several keys suffered from an annoying double-tap problem, while the second unit's keyboard felt spongy in construction, and often wouldn't register keypresses. (And before you ask, yes, I was fully up-to-date with proper drivers.) A cursory search finds that I'm with issues. YMMV, but QC seems to be an issue here.
Acer's Predator 17 laptop is more in competition with the larger I mentioned above, and at $1,899 it offers a compelling case. It's a solidly built laptop if you don't mind the heft (9.4 lbs) and the aggressive Predator styling, but it's not without problems. I experienced the same issue on two review units where the screen would flicker at lower brightness settings. This was mostly forgotten once I left the brightness near max, but distractingly annoying for times when I didn't want as much glow in a dark room or wanted to save on battery life. Like the Aorus's keyboard, I don't know how widespread the issue is, but it's something to keep in mind, especially since Acer has had QC issues with its displays in the past.
MSI's GT62VR comes from the school of bulkier laptop designs, though it's a clear improvement over MSI's older GT6 series from several generations back. It matches up well with the GL502VS in most areas, including the option for a 120Hz 1080p IPS panel. The catch is the panel isn't G-Sync enabled, but there are 1080p75 G-Sync and 4Kp60 alternatives—again, I'd steer clear of 4K. The RBG backlighting, aggressive red accents, and MSI's Dragon Army logo on the cover make this an obvious gaming notebook, which may not fit in so well in business meetings. Tipping the scales at 6.5 pounds, it's not the heaviest of the group, but but at 1.57 inches (39.8mm) it is one of the thickest. If you don't mind a bit of extra thickness or the gaming aesthetics, MSI offers a good alternative to Asus. The is an even larger notebook with otherwise similar specs and design language.
There's a lot of gaming laptops out there, and we certainly didn't get the chance to test them all. We're currently testing lower-priced GTX 1060 laptops, and plan to update this guide soon with a favorite sub-$1500 machine. The next step after that will be evaluating high-end machines that pull out all the stops. If you have a specific laptop you think we should evaluate, be sure to let us know in the comments.
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