Top 13 best gaming laptops
Best power laptops. Best gaming laptops. We review the best gaming laptops you can buy in the UK in 2016/2017, and offer some general gaming laptops buying advice. The best laptops for games. Best laptops reviews. Also see Best laptops 2016/2017.
Also see: Best Black Friday Laptop Deals
Update November 2016: Laptops with Nvidia GTX 1080, 1070 and 1060 graphics chips are now appearing, such as the Asus G752VM. Unlike the GTX 980M in the older G752 these new chips are not cut-down versions: they’re the same as their desktop counterparts. We’ll be reviewing more over the coming months, and given that you can’t upgrade a laptop’s graphics card, it’s worth spending extra to get one of these rather than the equivalent previous-gen model. However, if you have a budget of under £900, you’ll still find decent options in the list below.
When it comes to high-end Windows gaming, it’s a doddle to find a powerful PC that will play the most arduous of action titles, all day long and at the highest detail on high-resolution displays.Today’s challenge is now to squeeze that kind of performance into something quiet and portable, a gaming laptop that can be toted as easily as any other modern laptop.
We’ve come close with workstation-class gaming behemoths, but they weighed well in excess of 3kg, required a mains brick that brought that mass closer to 5kg, and sounded (and felt) like a salon hair dryer once the on-board cooling kicked in. Thankfully we’re getting there. Some of the machines below fit the behemoth description while others are really quite portable.
Best laptops for games: Components
If you’re looking for a laptop that can take on modern games, the graphics processor is the most influential component, the part that controls whether your game runs at 5 or 50 frames per second. This means a capable main system processor, enough system RAM to keep applications stored in memory, sizeable and fast drives to store games and other files, a great screen to view the action on – and a good chassis to bear all these components.But it does need back up.
Currently Intel and Nvidia are in the ascendent for both listed processor duties, with AMD’s mobile CPUs and graphics processors lagging behind in performance and efficiency.
From Intel, the sixth-generation Core series processors (codename: Skylake) are well suited to the CPU task, being even more power efficient while getting the same amount of work done. The very latest laptops have seventh-generation Intel chips, codenamed Kaby Lake.
Nvidia, as we said above, has launched its mobile versions of the GTX 1060, 1070 and 1080, but even GTX 1060 laptops are expensive. However, you’re stuck with the graphics chip you buy, and it’s always a good idea to get one from latest generation. But if you can’t afford £1,500, there are still good deals to be had, so read our reviews to find out if gaming performance is up to the level you require.
Laptop screens have also improved, with screen resolutions now settling at full-HD, 1920 x 1080 pixels, and using better technology than the basic TN type found on cheap portables. Look out for IPS panels which offer wide and consistent viewing from all angles, better contrast ratio and wider colour gamuts. Don’t be misled by boasts about screen brightness – contrast ratio, especially at lower brightness settings, is far more important than dazzling your eyes with 300cd/m2 figures.
It’s also easier to find screens now with more practical anti-glare finishes, reversing the trend of high-gloss reflective panels that were once unavoidable from most brands. And you can usually ignore the trend for greater-than-HD resolution, since graphics processors struggle with UHD (4K) screens. For most gamers, 1920 x 1080 is a happy compromise between glorious on-screen detail and playable framerates.
For storage, a solid-state drive will greatly improve the user experience when it comes to booting a PC, launching programs and opening and saving files. It won’t make your games run faster, although it may reduce any short pauses between levels. Nevertheless an SSD is always recommended, with the option of a second, traditional capacious hard disk inside to keep your games stored.
Some gamers like to use headphones or headsets, especially in multi-player settings, but if you don’t anticipate spending your time donning ear defenders you should still find that modern gaming laptops run quieter today. Which means you may get to appreciate the built-in stereo speakers.
Some sport brand badges to suggest bespoke audio systems – we’ve seen B&O, Dynaudio, Harman, Klipsch and Onkyo put their names to tinny laptop speakers recently – although in our experience, to date these are more window dressing, with some of the best sounding laptops bearing no fancy badges.
Battery life is perhaps less a concern for a desktop-replacement type of gaming laptop, although that’s more a historical resignation caused by the long-standing difficulty in combining fast graphics with svelte and mains-dodging laptops.
As we discovered with one model in the following group at least, you can have a powerful gaming machine and stunning battery life, even if the unplugged runtime will dwindle more rapidly once low-power integrated graphics have switched over to hungrier gaming graphics. See how to buy a budget laptop.
Best laptops for games: best gaming laptops
1. Asus RoG G752VM
The Asus ROG G752VM is a terrific gaming laptop for those who want top performance in a form designed to handle that power with ease. It doesn’t get overly hot or loud, even under a good amount of pressure, making us confident that even the step-up model with the Nvidia GTX 1070 GPU will also be a joy to use. As the prices of top-end style laptops like the MacBook Pro and HP Spectre 13 increase, the Asus ROG G752VM starts to look like an even better buy than last year’s models. And, as hoped, the latest 10-series Nvidia graphics cards blow away what came before. Despite being two rungs lower, gaming performance is not all that far off the former top dog GTX 980M, and similar to that of the desktop-grade GTX 970. In other words, it’s perfect for 1080p gaming. There are just a few issues. A textured glass (rather than plastic) trackpad would have been appreciated and we’d like to see Asus put a little more work into the sound quality of the speakers, rather than just trying to make them as loud as possible.
2. Alienware 17
The Alienware 17 is one of the best gaming laptops money can buy. At this stage we just need to check out the relevant competition, the Asus G752, the Acer G9-791 and so on, to find out which will become our go-to recommendation for 2016 gamers with big budgets. Great performance is really a given with an Alienware box, but what really impresses is its smart use of large, quiet, low-rpm fans. It can work hard without showing it is doing so on the outside. The lingering concern is one around price, another Alienware staple. While the Alienware 17’s base specs appear at first competitive, by leaving out the expensive but likely popular 16GB RAM and SSD upgrades, most people’s desired configs are still going to end up rather pricey.
3. Asus RoG G752
The Asus RoG G752 is one of the few laptops that, even in 2016, can justify being almost 5cm thick and a monstrous 4kg. This almighty body lets it fit in everything that makes a gaming laptop great, from quiet-running fans to the fast mobile GPU money can buy right now. It’s the sort of laptop to buy if you want to play any game at max settings, and are willing to pay for the privilege. Other than the practical issues that come with a laptop of this size, the only things to worry about are the predictably poor battery life and that the design is pretty loud even by gaming laptop standards.
4. Schenker XMG U506
Slipping a performance desktop PC processor into a laptop may seem lunacy but Schenker gets away with it, aided by the 14nm Skylake architecture. How much it actually helps gaming is moot, since we’ve seen Nvidia GTX 970M run as fast or faster in laptops with mobile-class chips. Besides benchmark-busing results, Skylake also means state-of-the-art connectivity like Thunderbolt 3. As a workstation – gaming or CAD – the chassis and top components make a powerhouse with real performance to spare.
5. Asus RoG GL552VW-DM201TThe Asus RoG GL552 is a more affordable, lower-spec take on the RoG G752, which is one of the best gaming laptops money can buy right now. Any resemblance is mostly visual, though. Superficial parts of the build are worse, the screen is nowhere near as good and the trackpad is typical slightly annoying Windows laptop fodder. It’s definitely not the perfect laptop. However, in terms of providing a solid gaming experience for your cash, it’s a decent buy. The GTX 960M GPU hits the sweet spot, where it cam handle demanding games at reasonable settings without costing as much as a second-hand car. One you’d actually want to drive, anyway. Screen quality is a sticking point at this price. Apparently £900 isn’t enough to have an IPS screen, even though previous GL552 models (and current ones in other countries) use such a panel. So if you see a different version of the GL552 with an IPS screen, it’s likely to be a better buy than this exact one.
6. Dell Inspiron 15 7559
Lumpy but suggesting longevity, the Inspiron 15 7000 Series ought to survive as desktop replacement at home or the office. Powerful discrete graphics will please gamers and professionals, although the reflective screen and a trying trackpad knock points off usability. If you can live with these foibles, it’s good value.
7. Gigabyte P57x V6-CF2
The Gigabyte P57x V6-CF2 is an eye-opening demo of what Nvidia’s new GPUs are capable of. If you have some money to spend, laptop gaming has never been so good.
However, the Gigabyte P57x V6-CF2 has a few issues that make us hungry to see what other laptop-makers will come up with. The one serious issue is that it gets hot, and not just in areas you won’t notice. That the keyboard gets hot after a relatively short stint under pressure is a sign of flawed laptop design.
8. HP Pavilion Gaming 15
The HP Pavilion Gaming is a classic HP laptop given a gamer’s refresh. A little bit of green trim here, a dedicated Nvidia graphics card there and you have a gaming laptop that’s both capable and practical. Highlights include a good keyboard and performance that can handle all current games at reasonable settings. However, you do need to pick your spec carefully. HP has devised these systems to look good on paper to an extent. The lower-end version uses slow storage that impacts day-to-day performance and the extra cost of the Intel Core i7 CPU would be better spent on an alternative with a step-up GTX960M CPU instead. That all models use single-channel RAM in a laptop that isn’t really upgradeable is disappointing too. The sweet-spot model with a 128GB SSD and Intel Core i5 processor is a decent buy, though.
9. Dell XPS 15 9550
The Dell XPS 15 is a great all-rounder laptop. Come to it expecting superlatives, especially the version tested, and you may come away disappointed. However, it is very versatile indeed. It offers a powerful CPU, a competent discrete graphics card, a screen happy with the outdoors and a frame that’s light and slim given the rest of the spec. It can do everything pretty well, without the power compromises of an ultra-skinny laptop, or the portability ones of a workstation. Some will be disappointed with the stamina, but it’s actually rather respectable given the processor. It’s a laptop that’s good at just about everything, bar lasting absolutely ages between charges.
10. MSI GL62-6QC 065UK
Not everyone’s going to love the SteelSeries keyboard, but its mechanical key-inspired feel is something different, and its display colour saturation is impressive at the price, even if the screen won’t blow you away in other respects. The MSI GL62 looks like a pretty plain entry-level gaming laptop at first, but it has a few neat tricks up its sleeve. It does rather highlight the problem with today’s affordable gaming laptops, though. Its GPU will still leave you scrabbling around at low graphics settings to get satisfying frame rates in recent games and the lack of SSD storage means the system doesn’t feel as speedy day-to-day as laptops with much less powerful CPUs. This isn’t a laptop for hardcore gamers or performance snobs, but it is a solid machine with the right level of future-proofing and a display that makes a punchy first impression.
11. Alienware 13
The Alienware 13 is a compact yet very powerful laptop, suited to playing all modern Windows games. It’s chunky thick but relatively light in weight, and has been well designed and equipped to be a premium yet still portable powerhouse.
12. HP Omen 15-5001na
The shiny touchscreen is a pointless ostentation raising price and weight besides sapping power, and network connectivity is limited. Otherwise the HP Omen 15 is a nicely built, stylish and speedy gaming laptop.
13. Gigabyte P35 v5
As Intel’s CPUs let even gaming beasts like the Gigabyte P35X v5 creep into battery life territory that almost makes them viable as roving productivity machines, every big of extra portability becomes more valuable. Sure enough, this is one of the most portable machines to feature a GTX 980M graphics card. The problem is that if being able to lug the Gigabyte P35X V5 around conveniently isn’t a major concern, this wouldn’t be our top pick. Performance is great, the screen is fine and there are plenty of connections. But fairly noisy fans and better touchpad/keyboard combos available from Alienware and Asus make it drop down our most-wanted list a little way. Still, if portability and sober looks appeal, it deserves a place on your shortlist.