We've refreshed this roundup with several new picks, including the Razer Blade 15 Advanced and the Dell XPS 15 7590. Stay tuned for more additions.
Buying a gaming machine is no longer as challenging as a game of Tetris. Thanks to smaller chips and lighter hardware, now you can purchase a gaming powerhouse in laptop form without having the piece together the hardware yourself. Gaming laptops have made PC gaming so much more accessible, and you can easily find machines with high-resolution displays and the latest graphics cards without breaking the bank.
As you start your shopping journey, you’ll soon learn that not all gaming laptops offer the same perks. Some are more powerful than others, and though most can handle your favorite first-person shooter with ease, not all of them are so efficient with battery life. The same goes for budget gaming laptops, which may offer the performance you need but skimp on things like the display and keyboard comfort.
We’ve tested the latest high-performance and budget gaming laptops to figure out what’s worth the money. We evaluated everything from graphics capabilities to battery life, to whether the computer can moonlight as a productivity machine. Whether you’re looking to spend as little as $800 or as much as $2500, there’s something out that’s perfectly capable of playing all the latest titles and then some.
Our best overall is the HP Omen X 2S(available at HP Store). The X 2S is a powerful machine that’s gorgeous, fun to use, and built specifically with gamers and streamers in mind. But if having a second screen isn’t important, or if you have specific preferences related to keyboard placement and the like, we’ve reviewed plenty of other great laptops; you’ll find one that’s perfect for you on this list.
These are the best gaming laptops we tested ranked, in order:
HP Omen X 2S (Intel Core i7-9750H, Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080)
HP’s Omen X 2S is a joy. Not only is it one of the best-looking laptops we’ve seen recently, but it’s also an innovative machine whose bells and whistles are intuitive and fun to use. Equipped with an Intel i7-9750H processor and a NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 graphics card, it’s powerful enough to run most games on high or ultra settings. Because it’s got a second screen built into the base—with touchscreen functionality—the keyboard placement is a little different than you’re probably used to. The keys run along the bottom edge of the machine, with the trackpad located in the bottom right. The X 2S comes with a sturdy but comfortable wrist rest, therefore, and it’ll take a second to get used to typing. But the trackpad positioning was an immediate adjustment for me, as natural as using a traditional PC mouse—assuming you’re right-handed.
Depending on your budget and the options you go with, this might run you north of $2,000 but the second screen’s a fantastic addition to the standard HP Omen, and it feels like the sort of hardware that’ll last a decade or more with regular use. The touchscreen acts as a second monitor where you can operate streaming software like Twitch, monitor your social-media notifications, or maybe consult a walkthrough guide while you’re playing. The Omen Command Center app also makes it simple to toggle between the laptop’s three modes: Comfort, Default, and Performance.
Its most serious drawback is battery life. In Performance mode, you could be seeing an hour of charge or less while unplugged, so don’t expect to get a lot of on-the-go use out of it.
The Zephyrus G14 exudes class. The first thing you notice is the color scheme—white, silver, and a hint of black—which calls to mind a two-tone paint job on a sports car. This sets it apart from the rainbow-colored lighting typical of out-of-the-box gaming laptops; you wouldn’t think twice about taking this to a quiet coffee shop to get a little work done. There is an all-black option available, though I can’t imagine choosing that version.
The keyboard feels especially durable, the touchpad’s sensitive and precise, and it’s got a stunning display. With its 14-inch high-def screen, games look great even on lower graphics settings. Text documents and web pages are smooth and crisp in a way you typically only see on Macbooks and tablets. And you’ll be amazed by how lightweight this thing is despite its formidable power; the G14 achieves a shocking balance between convenience and performance.
Most impressive of all is the battery life, which exceeded four hours running in Turbo mode without any power-saving measures active. This may well be the ideal solution for someone who really wants to game anytime, anywhere.
I'm Florence Ion, a contributor here at Reviewed. Over a decade ago, I started my career interning for a PC magazine and benchmarking powerful machines. But gone are the days I used to put together my gaming rig. I've since switched over to laptops because they're more portable and they save me a ton of room in my tiny office. And gaming laptops, in particular, offer everything I need to run my business and engage in a bit of playtime when I'm not feeling particularly motivated.
I’m Alex Kane, a freelance contributor for Reviewed. Since early 2016, I’ve been writing about video games and culture for places like Polygon, Rolling Stone, and Variety. I’m also the author of Boss Fight Books’ Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. I come to gaming laptops looking for things like comfort, ease of use, and longevity. Whether I’m playing Fallout 4, Halo, or MTG Arena, I just want a machine that gets out of my way and makes gaming as joyous and headache-free as possible. But having enough power to run the latest blockbusters is equally important when you’re making this kind of investment.
To help determine a gaming laptop’s ability as a portable powerhouse, we first attempt to push each machine’s processor to its brink. These tests help us determine the responsiveness of the laptop and whether it’ll be able to handle streaming or running Google Chrome in the background with simultaneous gameplay. We then run a series of tests on the graphics card to figure out how fast graphics and images rendered on a particular machine, and whether your gameplay will run smoothly.
Since gaming laptops are smaller and thinner than full gaming rigs, we tested the heat output and fan noise of each machine during sustained gameplay. If you plan to use a gaming laptop for double-duty, you might find the sound of whirring fan blades to be a bit distracting.
Once that’s established, we run a battery test overnight. We unplug the laptop and set the display brightness to 200 nits and then we cycle through popular websites like Discord and Twitch until the battery dies. This is how we figure out how much action we can get on a single charge. The idea is to emulate daily tasks. Even if you’re buying this laptop solely to play Overwatch, you’ll also likely use it for web browsing.
Lastly, we consider the overall build quality like how sturdy the hinges feel and if there’s any flex to the display. We also take into account how light the machine is—under five pounds is ideal—and how many ports it offers.
What You Should Know About Gaming Laptops
Under the Hood
When you start your search for gaming laptops, you’ll notice that there isn’t much variety when it comes to the internal hardware. The most popular graphics cards these days are made by Nvidia. Companies like AMD also manufacture high-performing graphics cards, but most of the laptops we tested have Nvidia hardware powering their insides.
The latest Nvidia graphics cards are the 10-series, 16-series, and 20-series. The 10-series includes 1060, 1070, and 1080 cards. These tend to be more budget-friendly and they’re capable of handling the latest games at high frame rates as well as virtual reality experiences (provided you have enough RAM). Like the other cards mentioned here, they’re also compatible with Nvidia proprietary G Sync, which helps manage smooth frame rates of up to 240Hz.
The 16-series includes the 1660 Ti and 1650 and are both based on newer architecture than the 10-series. They perform well at 1080p and 1440p resolutions and offer better memory bandwidth so that graphics continually render smoothly at high frame-rates. The only caveat of the 16-series is that they tend to ship with less virtual memory, which can become a future-proofing issue down the line.
The 20-series include the RTX 2060, 2070, and 2080, and they’re considered some of the best cards in their class. The RTX in their name stands for ray tracing, which helps generate interactive images that react to lighting, shadows, and reflections, contributing to more immersive gameplay. Games like Metro Exodus support this rendering technology. The 20-series are also able to facilitate gaming on a 4K monitor, which you might consider if you’re springing for our best all-around gaming laptop picks.
The processor inside your gaming laptop won’t directly affect your gaming prowess, though this part of the configuration matters for day-to-day tasks and simultaneous streaming. Most of what you’ll find on our list come with Intel Core i7 chips, either last generation’s 8750H variant or the ninth-generation 9750H. There isn’t a significant difference in performance between the two, and you can save some money by foregoing the upgrade.
If you’re looking at budget gaming machines, you’re likely to run into Intel’s Core i5 processors. They’re capable chips, but you will see a performance difference as you push the machine to its capacity.
The standard screen size for gaming laptops is 15.6-inches with 1080p resolution. It’s enough screen for partaking in action without carting around a laptop that’s breaking your back. There are 17-inch gaming laptops available, too, but if portability matters to you, you might want to avoid that much screen.
Refresh rates make the most significance on gaming laptops. You may have noticed that a majority of our picks include a 144Hz refresh rate, with machines like the MSI GS65 Stealth with RTX 2060 graphics clocking in at 240Hz. The higher frame rate effectively smooths out gameplay and leads to less stuttering issues than on a standard monitor with a 60Hz refresh rate.
It used to be impossible to find a competent gaming machine under a grand, but not anymore. Now you can find plenty of options starting with decent processors and enough graphics power to fuel your third playthrough of The Witcher 3.
Anything over a grand belongs in the mid-range category, though that label doesn’t necessarily refer to a laptop’s specifications. You’ll be able to find machines with current generation hardware, decent battery life, lots of memory, and plenty of storage space. Some last-generation gaming laptops may also appear at this price point.
Laptops that cost well over a grand are considered top performers because they’re equipped with top-tier specs. Machines in this category also tend to offer better display options, and in some instances, allow you to upgrade components down the line.
Other Gaming Laptops We Tested
Razer Blade 15 Advanced (RZ09-03305E53-R3U1)
The Razer Blade 15 Advanced's performance is about as powerful as you can get from a gaming laptop. Inside the sleek aluminum exterior, there's an Intel Core i7-10875H, an Nvidia RTX 2080 SUPER, 16GB RAM and an entire terrabyte of SSD storage. Although you may feel your wallet hemorrhage from its $3,300 price tag, you'll feel like an e-sports champion with the Blade Advanced's impeccable power, springy keyboard, and bright, color-accurate 4K OLED Touch screen display. Arguably, its biggest flaw is its trackpad, which is large and smooth but sometimes struggles with palm rejection. When you use the laptop, you may even forget this is a gaming laptop—it stays cool and silent playing Portal 2 and while browsing the web. The only time the fans really had to kick was when playing Shadow of the Tomb Raider at max settings, and the heat was worth the 83 frames per second I experienced during playtime. This may not be the best value around, but it is the best experience around if you can pay for it.
Gorgeous 4K Touch screen
Supreme build quality
Razer software is hard to navigate
Hard to tell how the GPU will stack up with the next generation due this year
With its elegant black-and-white color scheme, the Lenovo Legion Y545 is a gorgeous piece of hardware. It’s got a comfortable keyboard, the trackpad feels fantastic, and it delivers strong, reliable performance for something under a grand. It comes with the same 16 gigabytes of RAM and Intel Core i7-series processor you find in most of the laptops that cost twice as much. Another standout feature that may be a make-a-break proposition is the power supply, which plugs into the back center of the base, as opposed to the side. I found this to be more comfortable and convenient than most laptops, but for most users, it will probably take some getting used to.
As for frame rates, the Legion Y545 stayed locked at a steady 60 frames per second the entire time I was playing Rise of the Tomb Raider—on low as well as high graphics settings—so hardcore enthusiasts who favor higher numbers over consistency may not be fully satisfied there. That said, for a budget machine, the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 4GB graphics card doesn’t disappoint. And at two and a half hours, battery life is fairly unremarkable, but this laptop’s a lot of fun to use. It’s the bang-for-buck choice for players on a budget.
The MSI GS65 Stealth scored highly in our processor and graphic card stress tests. It comes equipped with one of the latest RTX 2060 chips, features a matte, edge-to-edge 15.6-inch Full HD display with a 240Hz refresh rate, and it also has a cool, customizable rainbow keyboard.
The GS65 Stealth performed better than the Alienware M15 in our benchmark tests, including Geekbench, 3DMark, Metro 2033, and Rise of the Tomb Raider. However, it lagged behind the Alienware M15 about an hour and eighteen minutes in our battery benchmarks, managing a little less than three hours of constant activity. It’s a relatively minor difference overall, but it’s something to consider if you’re often on the road rather than tethered to a power cable.
With its muted color scheme and business-casual design, the Dell XPS 15 (7590) may not look like much at first glance. However, when it comes to power, this thing is a real beast. Under the hood, our review unit had an i9-9980HK processor and 32GB of RAM. This machine blazed right through our graphics test, which checks for consistent and stable performance under heavy loads. While it might be better suited for things like video or photo editing, it’s as powerful as a gaming laptop.
Dell fixed the awkward webcam placement, which I was thrilled about. In previous models, the webcam sat at the bottom bezel of the display. The webcam now sits at the top bezel, which offers a much more flattering angle. You no longer have to worry about coworkers looking up your nose during Zoom meetings.
My only nitpick is that it’s a little heavy for an ultrabook. Generally speaking, the gold standard for ultrabooks is anything under three pounds and the XPS 15 is a little over four. While it’s not as heavy as a gaming laptop, which can tip the scales at six pounds, I wouldn’t say the XPS 15 is the most portable machine around. If it's power you're after, you can't get much better than the XPS 15.
Florence Ion is a freelance journalist and prolific podcaster. She's written for Ars Technica, PC World, Android Central, The Verge, and Engadget. Her reviews and how-tos can usually be found on Lifehacker, Tom's Guide, and Reviewed. She can also be heard weekly on All About Android on the TWiT network and Material on Relay FM.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.