The best Max-Q gaming laptop for most users is the Gigabyte Aero 15X. It's light, thin, quiet, and portable, without sacrificing gaming performance—truly bridging the gap between a powerful gaming machine and a portable productivity workhorse. But what exactly does Max-Q mean?
Gaming laptops have slimmed down considerably in recent years. Thanks in large part to Nvidia's GTX 10-series of GPUs, which offer outstanding performance at a significantly lower TDP than previous generations. Nvidia's Max-Q philosophy takes things a step even further. The idea is to hit a balance between performance and portability in order to make powerful gaming notebooks in a truly-portable form factor. And more than just thin-and-light, Max-Q notebooks are also quiet—and hopefully, not too hot.
The result is two GPUs: the GTX 1080 Max-Q, and GTX 1070 Max-Q. Both cards are less powerful than their desktop (aka "non Max-Q") version, but not by much. In our experience, the GTX 1080 Max-Q is about 10 to 15 percent less powerful than a desktop-class GTX 1080, making it 5 to 10 percent more powerful than a desktop GTX 1070. Similarly, GTX 1070 Max-Q performance falls in-between the desktop versions of the GTX 1070 and 1060.
Sounds great, right? A small performance sacrifice in exchange for a laptop that rivals a MacBook Pro for portability. Of course, the main drawback is price. Max-Q is a premium feature and Nvidia is marketing it as such, meaning laptops bearing the specification cost several hundred dollars more than their slightly thicker non Max-Q brethren, often with less-complete feature sets. Most Max-Q laptops lack G-Sync, for example—another of Nvidia's premium features that bears a several hundred dollar markup.
At the end of the day, you have to decide what's most important for you in a gaming laptop: portability, performance, or price? In general, you can only pick two. This guide will be focusing on the first two on that list—valuing portability over all else—with price taking the hit. If you're looking for more affordable, less-portable options, check out our guide to the best gaming laptops for full-size laptop recommendations.
We run the following tests to measure performance and productivity on gaming laptops:
- Cinebench R15
- CrystalDiskMark Q32 Sequential Read and Write
- 3DMark Fire Strike
- PCMark 10 Express
For gaming performance, we run the built-in benchmark tools for Rise of the Tomb Raider, Total War: Warhammer II (Battle), and Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Wildlands. Tests are performed at 1080p using the highest available graphics preset, with V-sync and (if applicable) G-Sync disabled. All tests are run multiple times to ensure that thermal throttling doesn't occur.
To test battery life, we run a Twitch stream at full screen in Chrome, with the laptop set to 40 percent brightness and the Balanced power preset, measuring from the moment the power cable is unplugged (at full charge) to when the laptop auto-shutdowns at 5 percent. All additional programs are closed, but background processes that came pre-installed are otherwise left running.
MSI GS63VR Stealth Pro-078
MSI's Max-Q offering is one of the cheaper options available, retailing at $2,099 (but able to be found for $1,950 on Amazon). Speccing similar to the competition, the base of the system is an Intel Core i7-7700HQ CPU and GTX 1070 Max-Q GPU, though it offers a smaller and slower SSD than the Aero 15X, but also comes with a 1TB HDD for additional storage needs. The GS63VR has the best-feeling keyboard, thanks to MSI's partnership with SteelSeries, and also offers a 120Hz screen that looks great. But with a chassis width of 15 inches, it feels bulky to carry, despite the rest of the system's thin and lightness. It also performed inexplicably poorly—by about 20 fps—in Rise of the Tomb Raider, despite bearing the same GPU as the competition. Other gaming and performance benchmarks performed as expected.
Eurocom's entry in the Max-Q space is a bit of a weird one. Its barebones base spec starts at just $1,599—by far the cheapest of all the Max-Q systems I tested—but that also strips out most components (and the operating system). Once you start customizing the system to reach spec parity with the competition, the price quickly balloons to well above $2,000. The system I tested clocked in at $2,499, making it one of the most expensive.
Price aside, I wasn't terribly impressed with the Q5. It matches the Aero 15X in gaming and performance benchmarks, but also runs significantly hotter and louder than the rest of the systems. It does offer a 120Hz option for the screen, but only on a TN panel that doesn't look good at all. The Q5 is a good option if you value customizability above all, but we still much prefer the Aero 15X.
Max-Q laptops are still relatively new, and only a handful of companies have entered the market so far. We'll be testing more Max-Q systems as they become available, and will update this guide accordingly. This guide currently only accounts for GTX 1070 Max-Q systems, but we'll have an update integrating a handful of high-end GTX 1080 Max-Q systems soon, including the ASUS ROG Zephyrus and the Acer Predator Triton 700.
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