Laptops with Nvidia GTX 1080, 1070 and 1060 graphics chips are now available to buy, such as the Asus G752VM. Unlike the GTX 980M in the older version of the G752, these new chips are not cut-down versions for laptops: they’re the same as their desktop counterparts. We’ll be reviewing more over the coming months (including superb-value models with the brand new GTX 1050 and 1050Ti), 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.
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.
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. But it does need back up. 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.
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
- Reviewed on: 18 November 16
- RRP: £1599
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
- Reviewed on: 22 January 16
- RRP: From £1350, US$1,349
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. MSI GL62-6QC 065UK
- Reviewed on: 12 May 16
- RRP: £599.99
The MSI GL62 looks like a pretty plain entry-level gaming laptop at first, but it has a few neat tricks up its sleeve. 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.
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. Plus, it’s much more affordable than the latest gaming laptops with the fastest graphics cards.
4. Asus RoG GL552VW-DM201T
- Reviewed on: 15 June 16
- RRP: £899, US$1099
The 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.
5. Dell Inspiron 15 7559
- Reviewed on: 30 November 15
- RRP: £999
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.
6. Gigabyte P57x V6-CF2
- Reviewed on: 13 September 16
- RRP: £1889
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.
7. Dell XPS 15 9560
- Reviewed on: 1 March 17
- RRP: From £1349, From US$999
The Dell XPS 15 is an amazingly flexible laptop, despite looking like an ordinary high-end one on the surface. It’s very powerful but has unusually good battery life for its class. It has a 15in screen but is smaller than almost all other 15in laptops with one. And is its 4K version the XPS 15 has the colour performance for pro design work. It’s also good-looking, and while not ultra-portable is not that heavy given the components inside. It makes the new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar seem a bit frivolous in comparison, not to mention extremely expensive.
8. Razer Blade Stealth
- Reviewed on: 29 December 16
- RRP: From £999, From US$999
The Razer Blade Stealth is an accomplished little laptop that can sidle up to the flashiest ultraportable laptops without seeming like the weird gamer kid in the corner. It’s slim, it’s moody, and you can tweak its personality with the multi-colour keyboard backlight: pink on black is a strong look. Its 4K screen is stunning if you don’t mind ultra-energetic Adobe RGB-style colours and while battery stamina isn’t amazing, it roughly matches the new MacBook with OLED touch panel. It’s a shame the cost of making this a home gaming laptop with the Core attachment is quite so high, but the Razer Blade Stealth convinces as a pure and simple ultra-light style laptop too. Black is back for everyone tired of brushed aluminium and “rose gold”. We’d recommend buying the cheaper version than we’re actually reviewing unless you absolutely need loads of ultra-fast storage and a 4K display. While the Quad-HD version loses the immense colour saturation, it’ll still look sharp across 12.5 inches and at £999 is a solid deal.