Building a desktop PC has never been easier. Buying a gaming laptops, on the other hand, has never been harder. Mobile gaming GPUs are now capable of playing demanding games on high settings. There are a mind-boggling number of gaming notebook options aimed at PC enthusiasts. Efficient thin-and-light enclosures. Spacious laptops with enough cooling muscle to accommodate desktop-class hardware.So how do you pick? We tested a whole bunch to find the best.
For years, gamers on the go accepted one simple truth: notebooks couldn’t hold a candle to desktops when it came to performance. And while you still have to make certain compromises, purpose-built laptops now drive AAA games at their lushest settings. Asus’ $2200 RoG G751JY-DH71 (£1,949) embodies the company’s enthusiast-oriented approach with a combination of killer specs, a surprisingly sturdy chassis, and a price tag you’d probably expect to be higher after using it.
I'm a fan of balance, and Asus demonstrates wisdom in its component selection. The G751JY’s Core i7-4710HQ is actually on the light side of our round-up—most of the competition uses a -4720HQ or something even faster. But in the world of gaming, graphics performance is usually your bottleneck.
CPU: Core i7-4710HQ (2.5GHz Base)
GPU: GeForce GTX 980M 4GB
RAM: 24GB DDR3L-1600
Display: 17.3” IPS LCD (1920x1080)
Storage: 256GB PCIe SSD, 1TB 7200RPM HDD
Optical Drive: Blu-ray writer
Networking: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth v4.0, GbE
Battery: Eight-cell, 6000mAh
Connectivity: mic in, headphone out, 1 x VGA out, 4 x USB 3.0 ports, 1 x HDMI, 1 x mini-DP port, SD card reader
OS: Windows 8.1
Weight: 9lb, 2oz; 4.15kg (not including power adapter)
The quad-core 4710HQ stretches up to 3.5GHz in lightly threaded workloads, making it an ideal complement to Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 980M. And while other vendors are touting the 8GB version of this flagship graphics processor, Asus saves some cash by using 4GB of GDDR5 memory. Again, that’s ample for driving a 1920x1080 display (or even a QHD screen, if you choose to dock at home).
The pièce de résistance, though, is Samsung’s 256GB XP941, a PCI Express-based drive known for exceptional storage performance. Asus backs the SSD up with a 1TB mechanical disk, which works well for storing music and movies. Curiously, the company splurges on 24GB of DDRL-1600 system memory when even 16GB would have been plenty. Asus also offers a G751JY-DH72X with an even faster CPU, more memory, and a larger SSD for $500 more, but those upgrades won’t do much for gaming performance.
All of the G751JY-DH71’s hardware serves to drive the latest games on a 17.3” display at up to 1920x1080. It’s an IPS panel, so you get consistent color reproduction at different viewing angles. And the response issues commonly associated with IPS technology are addressed in part by a 75Hz refresh rate. Asus Splendid Technology software gives you some control over color temperature and brightness, should you wish to alter the default configuration.
I personally detest trackpads, but of the notebooks I tested, Asus’ implementation is the most tolerable, offering plenty of surface area and oversized right- and left-click buttons. Still, gamers will want to use their own mice for play time. The G751JY-DH71’s keyboard is laid out well, with a bit of space between keys to minimize typing mistakes. I only wish the trackpad didn’t sit so far left; with fingers on the W, A, S, and D keys, your palm rests on the pad’s top corner.
Using the fastest mobile graphics processor currently available, it’s no wonder that Asus’ G751JY-DH71 is the fastest single-GPU notebook I tested. When you’re away from the wall, Nvidia’s Battery Boost technology artificially limits performance to avoid depleting your power source. Plugged in, though, you’ll enjoy smooth frame rates at 1920x1080 using the most taxing detail settings. And while Nvidia recently locked mobile GPU overclocking out of its drivers, Asus appears to benefit from firmware-based optimization. The G751JY-DH71 outperforms other GeForce GTX 980M-equipped notebooks in all of our benchmarks, despite a slightly slower CPU.
Asus’ chassis design is simultaneously attractive and functional. Soft-touch material and brushed aluminum contrast nicely. The two surfaces effectively resist finger oils, so the G751JY-DH71 never stops looking good. Beyond aesthetics, an exceptional cooling system that vents out the back ensures you hardly hear this laptop, even when CPU and GPU utilization are pegged at 100%. With a lab full of gaming notebooks running full tilt, the G751JY-DH71’s lack of noise turns out to be its most noticeable (and pleasant) differentiator. It’s hard to imagine such a large desktop replacement resting on anyone’s lap for long. If that’s where you want to use it, though, frag away.
Lackluster audio seems to be this notebook’s biggest let-down. Bass-heavy music distorts and vibrates inside the chassis, while higher frequencies come out muddled. Circumvent the issue with a headset or external speakers; the G751JY-DH71 includes outputs for both.
Finally, the battery. Like any other gaming notebook, this is one you’ll mainly want to use plugged in. Seventy-nine minutes of battery life in a 3D workload might not sound like much, but it’s a class-leading result amongst the gaming notebooks I tested. That theme pervades my evaluation, earning Asus’ desktop replacement the top recommendation. At each turn, the Asus RoG G751JY-DH71 is a little bit faster, lasts a little bit longer, and is put together a little bit better than the competition.
The 17.3” form factor isn’t for everyone. Fortunately, the fastest components also fit into desktop replacements with 15.6” screens. Origin PC’s $2104 New EON15-S, based on Clevo’s P650SG, stands out mostly for its balance of high-end hardware. Intel’s Core i7-4720HQ, Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 980M 4GB, and Samsung’s XP941 SSD come together in a way that won’t force you to accept ugly performance compromises.
Moreover, because Origin PC offers some customization of this system, you can dial back under $2000 by choosing smaller storage devices, a different network adapter, and forgoing the company’s signature wooden crate armor without affecting your experience.
CPU: Core i7-4720HQ (2.6GHz Base)
GPU: GeForce GTX 980M 4GB
RAM: 8GB DDR3L-1600
Display: 15.6” (1920x1080)
Storage: 256GB PCIe SSD, 1TB Hybrid HDD
Optical Drive: None
Networking: 802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth v4.0, GbE
Battery: Four-cell, 60Wh
Connectivity: mic in, headphone out, 3 x USB 3.0 ports, 1 x eSATA/USB 3.0 combo port, 1 x HDMI, 1 x mini-DP port, 6-in-1 card reader
OS: Windows 8.1
Weight: 6lb; 2.72kg (not including power adapter)
There’s even room to upgrade down the road. The review sample has two of its four memory slots occupied with 4GB SO-DIMMs. Adding a couple of 8GB modules takes total memory to 24GB. Spare M.2 and 2.5” bays accommodate as much storage as you need, too.
Presumably in an attempt to maximize battery life, Origin PC shipped the New EON15-S with brightness turned all the way down, doing the AU Optronics panel no favors. Manually adjust this setting in Windows to a more useable level. Even with the brightness tuned, you really need to look at the screen head-on to enjoy it. Other viewing angles simply serve to expose the most apparent weakness of TN technology. Expect to make frequent tilt adjustments as you shift in your seat.
Origin PC does its best to make Clevo’s platform its own with logos on the top cover and panel bezel. Brushed aluminum adorns most surfaces with black plastic everywhere else. Fingerprints stand out on the metal and oils are difficult to remove. It does take quite a bit of force to flex the compact chassis, though the slim display bends fairly easily. The keyboard is spaced nicely and easy to type on. Synaptics’ trackpad is situated to the left, so your palm overlaps it during gaming sessions. Of course you’ll be using a mouse; I’d just prefer to have my hand on a single, uniform surface.
It should be apparent by now that I like the New EON15-S for what’s inside more than anything else. Origin PC’s notebook blows through my benchmark suite at the most demanding detail settings and its native panel resolution. Unplugging from the wall drops you to Nvidia Battery Boost’s default 30 FPS, which cruises along smoothly. Just be sure to use the shipping graphics drivers. Upgrading to Nvidia’s recent 347.52 Game Ready build slaughtered performance on battery power. I recorded a run time of 65 minutes looping Unigine’s Valley demo, which isn’t bad for a six-pound system sporting the latest in graphics technology and a beefy quad-core CPU.
The New EON15-S is an entry point of sorts for enthusiasts looking to replicate a desktop gaming experience. You’ll find plenty of cheaper alternatives that dial back on host processing, graphics, or storage hardware. But they force you to give up eye candy for smooth frame rates. Given the muscle packed into this 15.6” form factor, Origin PC delivers plenty of bang for your buck.
Note To UK Readers: Origin PC is based in the U.S., but does ship internationally. Expect to pay more for freight and taxes.
Most high-performance gaming notebooks are big and heavy. Their roomy shells accommodate the fastest components, along with the cooling apparatus needed to maintain healthy temperatures. MSI goes a different direction with its $1900 GS60 Ghost Pro-064 (£1246), cramming a Core i7-4710HQ, GeForce GTX 970M, and 128GB SSD into a chassis measuring less than an inch thick. At under two kilograms, you can even carry it around pinched between your thumb and index finger.
There’s no such thing as a free lunch, though. Without a large enclosure to help dissipate thermal energy, MSI relies on small fans spinning quickly to exhaust heat. As a result, under load, the GS60 Ghost Pro-064 gets distractingly loud. And then there’s the issue of surface temperature. Plugged into the wall, Intel’s Core i7 and Nvidia’s GeForce run at full speed, getting the laptop hot enough that you won’t want it on your lap. This issue isn’t as pronounced under battery power, since those same components aren’t forced to work as hard.
CPU: Core i7-4720HQ (2.6GHz Base)
GPU: GeForce GTX 970M 6GBRAM: 16GB DDR3L-1600
Display: 15.6”LCD (1920x1080)
Storage: 128GB SSD, 1TB 7200RPM HDD
Optical Drive: None
Networking: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth v4.0, GbE
Battery: Six-cell, 52Wh
Connectivity: mic in, headphone out, 3 x USB 3.0 ports, 1 x HDMI, 1 x mini-DP port, SD card reader
OS: Windows 8.1
Weight: 4lb, 6oz; 1.99kg (not including power adapter)
But don’t expect lengthy gaming sessions on the road, either. A six-cell, 52Wh battery yielded less than 40 minutes in the Unigine Valley loop test—a compromise I believe enthusiasts are willing to accept in the thin-and-light category. Your reward is stellar performance from AC power. Demanding first-person shooters like Metro Last Light average more than 50 FPS at 1920x1080 under their top quality presets.
All of those graphical details are reproduced excellently on a 15.6” Samsung PLS panel that offers consistent color at wide viewing angles. Its matte finish filters out reflections well, too. The display’s lid is ultra-thin, but still feels sturdy thanks to a brushed aluminum top cover. You’ll find the same material surrounding a SteelSeries keyboard down below. Fingerprints transfer easily to both surfaces, unfortunately.
MSI’s use of metal throughout the chassis means you have to press hard on keys to see any flex. In fact, I'm particularly impressed by the GS60’s build quality. The only place I see room for improvement is where the display and bezel meet—that cover material is thin and prone to bubbling. Sound emanating from the downward-firing speakers leaves much to be desired, but I don’t expect compact notebooks to fill a room. Rely on a good gaming headset to bridge the gap.
Although I benchmarked a version of the GS60 Ghost Pro-064 with Intel’s Core i7-4720HQ, this particular SKU only appears for sale in the U.S. with a -4710HQ. MSI should straighten that discrepancy out to avoid customer confusion. Aside from a couple of minor quibbles, though, the GS60 Ghost Pro-064 is my personal favorite. Small sacrifices in absolute performance are countered with functional nods to mobility. The result is a notebook that strikes an impressive profile and still throws down enthusiast-class benchmark numbers.
To narrow the field of gaming laptops, I needed to divide gaming laptops into three categories. Desktop replacements like the Asus RoG G751JY-DH71 are technically mobile systems (in that they have batteries), but most DTRs are really designed for use plugged into a wall where their high-end components can shine. These machines tend to be bulky, heavy, and consequently awkward to lug around. But they’re typically fast. And expensive. Nevertheless, desktop replacements are popular for a reason: they can play your favorite games at high resolutions and maxed out detail settings, while still being more portable than a true desktop.
Thin-and-light notebooks are less common in gaming circles, since svelte little shells aren’t exactly ideal for housing power-hungry processors. They do exist, though. Laptops sporting attractive dimensions and competent internals are marvels of mechanical engineering, so expect to pay a premium. If you prioritize true mobility, you’ll find the extra investment worthwhile, even if it means taking a performance hit compared to behemoth DTRs.
Of course, I can’t ignore that variable obliquely referred to as value. Gaming-oriented hardware is often expensive, and it’s easy to fall in lust with the best of the best. Is it possible to play first-person shooters at their most taxing settings for cheap? Let’s be honest: not really, no. But can you still get an enjoyable experience without breaking the bank? Absolutely. The real challenge this category presents is defining its price ceiling. As you’ll see, I think the best gaming notebook has to deliver performance without hitting an astronomical price.
I ran each gaming laptop through a barrage of tests to gauge performance in GPU and CPU demanding game benchmarks. Check out the charts below for their scores.
Testing gaming laptops
Reaching my decision wasn’t easy. It involved weeks of benchmarking, hands-on feedback from several enthusiasts, and a fair bit of digging around under the hood of each system.
I began my quest by reaching out to the biggest hardware players in this space, offering each a chance to submit models for consideration. I didn't test every gaming laptop configuration on the market—there are hundreds of them—but the best representatives from laptop makers that I know make great gaming systems.
Each sample was loaded with a gaming benchmark suite, including Unigine Valley, 3DMark, Metro Last Light, Tomb Raider, GRID 2, and Thief. After extensive testing, both plugged in to the wall and on battery power, I took each notebook apart to inspect its innards. A handful of non-technical users were invited into our lab to go hands-on and convey their impressions of the keyboards, trackpads, and displays. Finally, I compared the prices of these systems to determine their comparative value.
All of the notebooks submitted for today’s round-up were tested thoroughly to best guide my recommendations. And although you’d think the opposite to be true, poring over the raw data made some of these decisions more difficult.
For example, Gigabyte sent over the $2500 P37X-CF2, which you can configure and order through XoticPC. It straddles a few different segments. At less than an inch thick and weighing 6.38 pounds, you could almost call this a thin-and-light. However, a 17.3” display and flagship-class specs qualify it as a desktop replacement as well. You get the best of both worlds—brilliant, right?
Asus has the more solidly-built DTR priced similarly though, while MSI’s GS60 is even more compact for $500 less. There’s no doubt that Gigabyte has an exceptional product on its hands, so perhaps I need another recommendation to properly recognize models in between conventional categories.
Falcon Northwest submitted another gem in its TLX, the most stunning-looking notebook I've seen. Based on a 15.6” platform, my sample came with a potent Core i7-4910MQ host processor, GeForce GTX 980M 8GB, 8GB of DDR3L-1600, a 1TB Samsung 840 EVO SSD, and an Intel wireless networking adapter. But killer specs aren’t even this system’s differentiating feature. Rather, each TLX comes standard with the automotive finish of your choice. As you might expect, bespoke hardware is expensive—this red-candy-over-a-coarse-silver base-colored sample landed just under $4000. That kind of configuration appeals to a specific niche with the means to splurge. If you count yourself lucky enough to consider a TLX, this one-of-a-kind notebook ships with a custom Falcon-branded backpack, an eight-ounce bag of ground coffee, a Falcon mug, a t-shirt, and a mouse pad.
Larger still, MSI’s GT80 Titan SLI-001 broke all of our performance records. Why, then, is it not the desktop replacement champion? I’m a staunch believer in buying the right amount of hardware to get a job done. Asus’ G751JY is well-equipped at $2500. The GT80 Titan SLI is overkill for an additional $800. That premium buys you a Core i7-4720HQ CPU, two GeForce GTX 980Ms (each with 8GB of GDDR5) in SLI, 16GB of system memory, two 128GB SSDs in RAID 0, a 1TB hard drive, and a gorgeous 18.4” PLS panel with a native resolution of 1920x1080. Yes, it nearly averages 100 FPS in Metro Last Light’s built-in benchmark at Very High detail. It exceeds 200 FPS in Tomb Raider’s own test at the Ultra preset. But then, on battery power, it can’t even sustain 30 FPS in certain titles. I agree with MSI that gamers aren’t going to use a notebook like this away from a wall socket. In that case, though, why not just build a small mini-ITX-based machine with desktop-class components for less money?
Indeed, Digital Storm seems to have taken some inspiration from the desktop. Its Harker (Model S:9772) employs a Core i7-4790K “Devil’s Canyon” processor mated to Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 980M with 8GB of GDDR5. You also get 16GB of memory, a 250GB Samsung 850 EVO SSD, a 750GB hard drive, and a 17.3” display. That’s a lot of great hardware for just north of $2500. The Harker is heavy though, nearing nine pounds without its AC adapter. And although it’s covered in a fingerprint-resistant soft-touch material, the Clevo chassis design looks dated. The TN-based Chi Mei FHD panel isn’t my favorite, either.
And then there’s the MSI GE62 Apache-002. This one bears mention because its predecessor was our former budget gaming recommendation. Priced at $1300 with a Core i7-4720HQ and GeForce GTX 965, I was sure MSI’s updated model would secure the same title. In 2015, though, it’s difficult to bless a storage subsystem lacking a solid-state component. The GE62’s responsiveness suffers due to its reliance on a 1TB mechanical disk. We aren’t fans of the textured track pad either. Following the grain, vertical movement is easy. Navigating side to side is far courser. And any non-linear gestures just feel weird. The deal-breaker was when adhesive holding the bottom bezel to the display panel started separating on its own. We’re all about value, but won’t allow lapses in quality.
The Asus RoG G751JY-DH71 is the best gaming laptop you can buy today. It's the best laptop I've tested, and it's received universally positive reviews elsewhere. Likewise, we're confident the other two laptops listed in this guide are great mobile gaming rigs.
Of course, I'm only scratching the surface of this year’s newest gaming systems. Alienware is gearing up to send a system in, and I'm working on getting some Lenovo hardware as well. If you’d like to see us review a specific model or add a category, leave a comment or shoot us an email with what you'd like to see. As promised, we'll be checking out budget laptops to find the best cheap portable gaming notebook around. Look for more standalone laptop reviews, and updates to this guide, in the next few months.
A note on affiliates: some of our stories, like this one, include affiliate links to stores like Amazon. These online stores share a small amount of revenue with us if you buy something through one of these links, which helps support our work evaluating PC components.