The best gaming laptops don't come cheap. That's the somewhat depressing truth of a hardware market in the grips of a silicon shortage. But the positive side of it is that there is almost no compromise when it comes to modern gaming laptops. Whether you're after many-core CPUs, graphics cards that can ray trace like there's no tomorrow, or glorious screens with super-high refresh rates the top notebooks of today can offer it all.
And, unlike their desktop cousins, gaming laptop CPUs and GPUs are all pretty well stocked during this era of global shortages for pretty much everything. Honestly, these laptops might be the only way to get an Nvidia GeForce RTX 30-series GPU or even the new AMD Ryzen 5000-series processor.
Though they might not quite offer the same raw performance power as one of the best desktop gaming PC, what gaming notebooks do offer are slimmer, quieter, and in some cases, better gaming experiences, especially for the gamer on the go. Brands like Razer, MSI, and Dell offer tons of different configs with high refresh rate displays to ray-tracing powered GPUs
We've tested each of the gaming laptops in this guide, putting them through rigourous gaming and synthetic benchmark tests, as well as casting our expert eyes over their screens. And we've used them like any gamer would, too, just to get a feel for how they are to live with, day-to-day.
As well as the GPU shortage, prices are so high because there are no upgrading key performance components like the CPU or GPU down the road. It puts folks in a tough spot because you either need to blow your entire budget to future-proof your laptop. Though if you're looking to save a buck, we did find a couple of great mid-range gaming laptops that won't hurt your wallet.
If you are looking for a bargain on gaming laptops, though, we make it a point to check out the best cheap gaming laptop deals on the internet. And hey, just because you went with a budget or entry-level gaming laptop doesn't mean you can't enjoy some of the best laptop games you can play with no problem on lower-spec machines.
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Best gaming laptops
The latest spin of the Razer Blade 15 yet again improves on one of our favorite gaming laptops. It has the same gorgeous CNC-milled aluminum chassis as its predecessor, only this time it can house one of the latest graphics chips from Nvidia—namely the RTX 30-series—and an Intel 10th Gen CPU.
We've recently checked out the Razer Blade 15 Advanced Edition, with its 300 Hz screen, octa-core processor, and RTX 2080 Super Max-Q graphics silicon. And we fell in love all over again. These latest models up the graphics processing even further, with support for up to an RTX 3080 Max-Q, which is incredible in this small a chassis.
One of the best things about the Blade 15 is the number of configurations Razer offers for it. From the GTX 1660 Ti Base Edition, all the way up to the RTX 3080 Advanced with OLED 4K panel, there's something for almost everyone. It's one of the most beautiful gaming laptops around, and still pretty powerful.
Whatever config you pick, we think the Razer Blade 15 is the overall best gaming laptop on the market right now.
Read the full Razer Blade 15 Advanced Edition (2020) review.
Not everyone needs the thinnest or the most powerful gaming laptop. Sometimes just lightweight and speedy are fine. Striking a healthy balance between portability, performance, and price is the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14. The original machine was an impressive RTX 2060 Max-Q notebook whose incredible AMD CPU performance managed to impress our dedicated team of hardware testers at the top-secret PC Gamer lab.
The G14 is still a great laptop; especially now, we're getting the RTX 3060 update in that smart chassis. The Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 is a reliable 14-inch system with high-end graphics that rivals even some gaming desktops despite being loud.
Read the full Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 review.
I am mighty tempted to push the Razer Blade 14 further up the list here, simply because the 14-inch form factor has absolutely won me over. The Asus G14 above re-introduced the criminally under-used laptop size, but Razer has perfected it. Feeling noticeably smaller than the 15-inch Blade and closer to the ultrabook Stealth 13, the Blade 14 mixes a matte black MacBook Pro-style with genuine PC gaming pedigree.
The Razer style is classic, and it feels great to hold too. And, with the outstanding AMD Ryzen 9 5900HX finally finding its way into a Blade notebook, you're getting genuine processing power you can sling into a messenger bag.
Add in some Nvidia RTX 30-series graphics power, and you've got a great mix of form and function that I kind of think makes it the most desirable laptop I've maybe ever tested.
My only issue is that the RTX 3080 would be too limited by the diminutive 14-inch chassis and run a little loud. So I would then recommend the lower-spec GPU options, though if you're spending $1,800 on a notebook feels like a lot for 1080p gaming. But you're not buying the Blade 14 specifically for outright performance and anything else; this is about having all the power you need in a form factor that works for practical mobility.
Read the full Razer Blade 14 review.
Let’s face it, trying to find a decent gaming laptop on a budget can be a chore. You have to make compromises in areas like performance, design, and even battery life. Thankfully, the Dell G3 15 offers decent 1080p gaming for prices that usually dip around the AU$1,500 mark, and the battery is actually good.
The most significant improvement from its previous model is a slimmer, sleeker design. Along with thinner bezels around a 144 Hz display, the sleeker design gives it a more high-end vibe. It’s a welcome toned-down look, in case you’re hoping for a gaming laptop that doesn’t shout ‘gamer’ as soon as you pull it out of your bag. The display itself seems the only downside, not having as rich a colour range as the other gaming laptops on this list.
The MSI GS66 is one hell of a machine: It's sleek, slick, and powerful. But it's not Nvidia Ampere's power without compromise, however. MSI has had to be a little parsimonious about its power demands to pack something as performant as an RTX 3080 into an 18mm thin chassis.
The top GPU is the 95W version, which means it only just outperforms a fully unleashed RTX 3070, the sort you'll find in the Gigabyte Aorus 15G XC. But it is still an astonishingly powerful slice of mobile graphics silicon.
It can get a little loud if left to its own devices, but thankfully you have the benefits of all the Nvidia MaxQ 3.0 features at your disposal. That includes Whisper Mode 2.0, which will bring gaming down to barely audible levels, you know when you want to be stealthy.
The GS66 also comes with an outstanding 240Hz 1440p panel, which perfectly matches the powerful GPU when it comes to games. Sure, you have to make some compromises on raw frame rates in comparison with the sort of RTX 3080 you might find in a hulking workstation, but the MSI GS66 Stealth is a genuinely slimline gaming laptop.
Read our full MSI GS66 Stealth review.
There's absolutely no question you can buy a much more sensible gaming laptop than this, but there is something about the excesses of the ROG Strix Scar 17 G733 that make it incredibly appealing. It feels like everything about it has been turned up to 11, from the overclocked CPU—which is as beastly as it gets—to the gorgeously speedy 360 Hz screen; Asus has pushed that little bit harder than most to top our gaming laptop benchmarks.
And top the benchmarks of the best gaming laptops it does, thanks in the main to the GeForce RTX 3080 that can be found beating away at its heart. This is the 115W version of Nvidia's top Ampere GPU, which means it's capable of hitting the kind of figures thinner machines can only dream of. You can draw on Nvidia's excellent DLSS, where implemented, to help hit ridiculous framerates too.
The 17-inch chassis means the components have a bit more room to breathe compared to the competition too, and coupled with the excellent cooling system; you're looking at a cool and quiet slice of gaming perfection. This extra space has allowed Asus to squeeze an optomechanical keyboard onto the Scar 17, which is a delight for gaming and more serious pursuits.
Read the full Asus ROG Strix Scar 17 G733 review.
We loved Acer's Predator Helios 300 during the GTX 10-series era, and the current generation Helios still manages to punch above its weight class compared to other similarly priced laptops. It may not be the best gaming laptop, but it's one of the best value machines around. The 2020 model Helios is back with an RTX 2070 Max-Q GPU and a sleeker form factor without raising the price significantly.
The new and improved Helios 300 has a 240 Hz IPS screen and smaller bezels, putting it more in line with sleek thin-and-lights than its more bulky brethren of the previous generation. The only real drawback is the diminutive SSD, although the laptop has slots for 2x SSDs and an HDD which makes upgrading your storage as easy as getting a screwdriver.
Read our full Acer Predator Helios 300 review.
Gaming laptop Q&A
Q. What's the most important gaming laptop component?
A. When it comes to gaming, the obvious answer is the graphics card, but that's where things have gotten a little more complicated recently. With GPU performance now so dependent on cooling you have to pay attention to what wattage a graphics card is limited to and what chassis it's squeezed into.
As we said at the top, an RTX 3080 confined in an 18mm chassis will perform markedly slower than one in a far chunkier case with room for higher performance cooling.
Q. Should I worry about what the CPU is?
A. That really depends on what you want to do with you laptop. An eight-core, 16-thread AMD Ryzen chip will allow you to do a whole load of productivity goodness on the road, but honestly will have little benefit in gaming. That's one of the reasons Intel has launched its Tiger Lake H35 chips; they're quad-core, eight-thread CPUs, but they're clocked high to deliver high-end gaming performance when paired with something like the RTX 3070.
Q. What about the screen size?
A. This will arguably have the most immediate impact on your choice of build. Picking the size of your screen basically dictates the size of your laptop. A 13-inch machine will be a thin-and-light ultrabook, while a 17-inch panel almost guarantees workstation stuff. At 15-inches you're looking at the most common size of gaming laptop screen.
Q. Are high refresh rate panels worth it?
A. We love high refresh rate screens here, and while you cannot guarantee your RTX 3060 is going to deliver 300 fps in the latest games, you'll still see a benefit in general looks and feel running a 300Hz display.
Q. Should I get a 4K screen?
A. Nah. 4K gaming laptops are overkill; fine for video editing on the go if you're dealing with 4K content, but for games it's irrelevant. The standard 1080p resolution means that the generally slower mobile GPUs are all but guaranteed high frame rates, while companies are slowly drip-feeding 1440p panels into their laptop ranges.
A 1440p screen offers the perfect compromise between high resolution and decent gaming performance, while a 4K notebook will overstress your GPU and tax your eyeballs as you squint at your 15-inch display.
Q. Where are the AMD graphics cards?
A. Your guess is as good as ours. There are a few gaming laptop SKUs that offered the RX 5000-series cards, but they were thin on the ground. But AMD has promised there will be RX 6000, Big Navi mobile GPUs on their way to gaming laptops in the first half of this year.