Buying a gaming machine is no longer as challenging as a game of Tetris. Thanks to smaller chips and lighter hardware, now you can buy 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.
You don't have to go shopping in the dark. We’ve tested the latest high-performance and budget gaming laptops to figure out what's worth the money. We tested 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.
Of the 13 gaming laptops we tested, the best overall is the Alienware M15(available at Amazon). We found that this machine ticked all the boxes: it had the best battery life of the high-end graphics cards we tested, was one of the lightest gaming laptops we've carried to and fro, and was the most consistent in our benchmarks.
These are the best gaming laptops we tested ranked, in order:
For the title of the best all-around gaming laptop, we considered benchmark results and overall gaming performance, in addition to how long the machine lasts out in the wild on a single charge. We found the Alienware M15 to fit all the criteria.
The Alienware M15 unit we tested has an Nvidia GTX 2070 graphics card, coupled with last year's Intel Core i7-8750H processor and 16GB of RAM. At under five pounds, the M15 can be used on the road or docked at your desk. It offers a ton of ports, including an HDMI port, a mini-display port, a Thunderbolt port for external hard drives, and what Alienware refers to as a Graphics Amplifier Port. The latter is part of the new trend in gaming laptops that enables you to tether an external enclosure with additional graphics hardware. We did not test that particular feature, but its mere existence helps future-proof the package a bit.
The M15's 15.6-inch full HD display with 144Hz refresh rate and an anti-glare screen is truly a delight. It's enjoyable for both long bouts of travel in your favorite RPG or for binge-watching the content that's collecting dust on your streaming shelf. The M15's keyboard is also the most comfortable of the bunch, though it doesn't offer any fancy backlighting. The relative ease of tapping around the keyboard makes it feel like less of a machine meant for gaming and more like a laptop meant for getting things done. The battery life for this laptop is also impeccable—compared to the status quo—and managed up to four hours of continuous web browsing and playtime.
The Alienware M15 isn't priced too high, either. It starts at $2000 for the configuration mentioned here. Or you can spend $500 more to grab the version with the latest Intel Core i7-9750H processor, which will help future-proof the laptop even further down the line.
Just because you're buying a gaming laptop on a strict budget doesn't mean you have to skimp on the features. The Acer Nitro 7 is an excellent example of how to save money and equip yourself with the kind of hardware that will play your favorite games and help you get things done.
The Nitro 7 has the latest Intel Core i7-9750H processor along with an Nvidia GTX 1650 graphics card and 16GB of RAM. Like its pricier competition, it also offers a 15.6-inch Full HD display with 144Hz refresh rate, which means games are as smooth as they are on our high-end pick. While it wasn't a significant performer in our benchmarks, it was still pretty capable of maintaining high frame rates in games like Metro 2033 and Rise of the Tomb Raider. It boasts impeccable battery life, too, with up to four hours of continuous use before it requires a charge.
Perhaps the only caveat of the Nitro 7 is the same issue that plagues other gaming laptops. The lack of physical buttons on the trackpad makes it hard to play some games without an additional mouse.
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.
For me, a good gaming laptop shouldn't weigh a ton, has to have a decent screen, and can handle playing my favorite games. I'm continually replaying The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim, and though I'm not so good with games like Overwatch, I enjoy the storytelling of games like Rise of the Tomb Raider. Since the gaming laptop is my primary computer, I tend to use it docked and tethered to a power supply. But I understand the need for gaming on the go, and I made sure to test each laptop's battery both for productivity and for mobile gameplay.
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
How Do I Pick a Price Point?
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. If you want to spend a hundred dollars more, you can nab our best budget pick, the Acer Nitro 7.
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 in 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.
What Kind of Processor and Graphics Card Do I Need?
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, like the 9300H featured in our best budget pick. They're capable chips, but you will see a performance difference as you push the machine to its capacity.
Does Display Size Matter?
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.
This convertible is massively powerful. From the grey exterior to the carbon fiber interior, it may not look like a traditional gaming computer, but thanks to its 8th-gen Intel CPU and Radeon graphics, it sure as hell performs like one. You can play games like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt on high or ultra settings with stable frame rates. If it's seamless gameplay you're looking for, look no further.
As for the 4K touchscreen display, it's one of the best we've ever seen. Colors are vibrant and shadows never seem to lose detail. When we watched the first episode of The Handmaid's Tale, those crimson-red cloaks really leaped off of the screen. As the camera panned over the handmaidens—who were standing stock-still in perfect circles in the rain—I couldn't help but admire how weirdly beautiful that bleak world was.
There were, however, a few trade-offs. Battery life is less-than-stellar, so you'll probably want to keep the power adapter with you (otherwise you'll need to go outlet-hunting). The bottom also runs hot, and to compensate, its cooling system can get really loud. Plus, the stylus isn't included and the webcam looks straight up your nose. Drawbacks aside, it's a very snappy laptop. So, whether you're a hardcore gamer or a photo/video editor, this is a great choice.
The MSI GS65 Stealth is one of the best deals in portable gaming. It scored highly in our processor and graphic card stress tests, making it our runner-up choice for the best gaming laptop. 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 18 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.
The Acer Predator Triton 500 has all the bells and whistles of some of the best gaming laptops available, including an Intel Core i7-8750H, 16GB of RAM and an Nvidia RTX 2060 graphics card. It also sports a 15.6-inch display with a 144Hz refresh rate, though it's not compatible with Nvidia’s G Sync, which helps prevent tearing and stuttering on displays with higher refresh rates. This won't matter too much if you're playing solely with the laptop open, though it also means you won't be able to take advantage of some external displays.
Of the laptops with RTX graphics cards, the Predator 500 lasted the longest in our productivity battery test. It managed up to nearly five and a half hours of screen time before ultimately petering out. If the battery is your primary concern in purchasing your next gaming laptop, the Acer Predator Triton 500 is a supreme choice.
HP Omen 15 (NVidia GTX 1070, Intel i7-8750H, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD, 2TB HDD)
The best thing about the HP Omen is its display. With its vibrant colors and thin bezels, you're getting a lot of bang for your buck. In fact, I'd say it's one of the best displays I've ever seen on a mid-range gaming laptop. When I watched the trailer for Detective Pikachu (don't judge me), Pikachu's yellow fur really popped against the dark backgrounds.
The edgy design is cool, too. With its jet black shell and crimson red accents, you've got just the right amount of flair. I wouldn't say it's a full-on departure from the traditional gaming aesthetic, but it's definitely got a more subtle design. As far as gaming laptops go, this design is clean and sophisticated and not as flashy.
As with most gaming laptops, the Omen is heavy and not very portable. You can bring it to a friend's dorm, sure, but lugging it from class-to-class might be a problem. It's the kind of laptop that'll probably stay parked on your desk. Another drawback is the placement of the speakers, which are underneath the machine. It's not a deal-breaker, per se, but the audio is a little muffled.
Note: We reviewed the high-end model. The base configuration costs a little over a grand and is available on Amazon.
College kids and entry-level gamers alike might find the Dell G5 with a Core i5-9300H and Nvidia GTX 1650 suits their needs for both work and play. The Dell G5 is a nice machine for resting on your desk or joining you in class. It's comfortable to type on, can manage a little over five hours of battery life for productivity tasks, and offers a whopping 1TB of hard drive space for your data and games, in addition to a 256GB SSD for keeping Windows 10 operating smoothly.
This laptop packs a lot of graphics power, that's for sure. For just under a grand, you're getting a powerful GPU plus a classy design that strays from the typical gaming aesthetic. The "New" models even offer Intel's quad-core 8th-gen processors. So, not only is it light on the wallet, it's powerful enough to run games like Overwatch on medium to high settings. But while there's a lot we love about this laptop, we had a few gripes.
The display isn't very bright or colorful and viewing angles are poor. This isn't too surprising because it's a budget gaming laptop, so sacrifices need to be made to keep the cost down. In addition to the disappointing screen, the laptop is bulky and awkward to handle—you're not going to enjoy lugging it around. Nitpicks aside, we feel the Inspiron 15 is still a killer choice, as it's a great laptop for work and play and you can't beat the awesome price.
From stable frame rates to minor fan noise, the Nitro has a lot to offer. In addition to powerful internals, the starting price on the base model is super reasonable (it's a little over $900). For a mid-range gaming laptop that offers high processing power, that's not too shabby. Plus, with its burgundy accents and jet black shell, the design is really sophisticated. While it has a lot to offer, there are a few drawbacks.
The display appears dull and washed-out and battery life is subpar. And, if you're a particularly oily human being, the lid is one hell of a fingerprint magnet. It's not anything a microfiber cloth can't fix, though. The Nitro is great for casual gaming and day-to-day tasks. It can play most AAA titles at 1080p and fan noise is hardly audible. But if you're looking for a better graphics card and a bigger battery, we'd recommend the Dell 15 7000 Gaming.
Between the Intel Core i7-7700HQ processor and the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 graphics card, the Scar is powerful enough to run virtual reality experiences and editing software. It's a gaming notebook, but who said you had to use it specifically for games? When it comes down to it, the guts really do matter, especially if you consider yourself a power user.
When we played Overwatch on high settings, it hovered around 60 frames-per-second, occasionally dropping to 40 or 50 frames-per-second (depending on activity). You'll probably get the best performance out of AAA titles like League of Legends or Battlegrounds on medium settings, as they're not as visually demanding as other games. While we love the performance and wide selection of ports, battery life leaves little to be desired and fan noise is a problem.
With great power comes... disappointing battery life. When we ran our WiFi browsing test, which cycles through popular websites like Facebook and Amazon, it died in about two hours. You'll definitely want to keep the power brick handy, as it's not designed for long term off-the-charger use. The fans are pretty loud under demanding loads, too.
With its unique tapered design and black plastic hood, the Lenovo Legion makes a strong first impression. The muted color scheme is a nice change of pace, especially if you're not into that gaudy gaming aesthetic. While it's obviously a gaming laptop, given its red-backlit keyboard and angular trackpad, the tamed-down aesthetic is a welcome departure from the usual script.
It's a good option for the gaming enthusiast on a tight budget. In addition to the reasonable starting price, the Legion also packs a good amount of graphics power as well. You'll get consistent performance out of the base model, so long as you don't push it beyond its capabilities. While the Legion, with its subdued look and affordability, has a lot going for it, some compromises had to be made.
The Nvidia GPU is a big power-suck, so you'll want to keep your eyes peeled for an outlet. The battery life is disappointing but, depending on your needs, it may or may not be a top priority. The angular trackpad is also awkward to use, as the odd shape makes it nearly impossible to work with. That said, you can always hook up to an external mouse and use that instead.
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.