Gaming laptops are great for playing games, but there's more to them than that. Their power makes them ideal for heavy-duty computing problems like editing video. Big, bright and colourful screens make them great for watching films, too.
However, unlike traditional laptops where size, weight, heat and noise are key factors when considering what to buy, gaming laptops are all about performance and value for money.
Since they’re laptops, they’re also portable, though only in the loosest sense. Even the most attractive, well-built gaming laptops are usually monsters – chunky, heavy and created with marathon gaming sessions in mind.
We’ve reviewed dozens of great gaming notebooks to help you decide which one’s best for you. They’re expensive, though, so before you decide to part with a sizeable wad of cash it’s worth considering what you’re looking for in a gaming laptop.
Gaming Laptop Buying Guide – What should you look for?Gaming laptops are special because of the performance they manage to pack in a small body. You not only have to consider how they perform now, but ensure they’re future-proofed for at least a couple of years. Unlike desktop PCs you can’t easily or cheaply upgrade the specification of a gaming laptop. Paying for that extra performance now is often sensible in the long term.
A gaming laptop that runs current games using high graphics settings may only run AAA games a year from now at a medium level, and two years from now at low.
As well as testing these gaming powerhouses using a range of games, we also ran some of the toughest benchmarks around to put maximum pressure on the CPU, GPU and storage. This gave us an accurate indication of how different gaming notebooks performed under stress, and meant we could compare them like-for-like.
Screen Quality and AudioFull HD is the minimum you should expect from a gaming laptop these days. In fact you could be gaming in 4K, though few laptops can play games at that resolution reliably.
It’s not just a truckload of pixels that makes a good gaming screen, though. In fact they negatively impact performance so don't get too caught up on pixel-peeping. We test colour accuracy, brightness, contrast ratio and black levels to ensure games and movies are shown in all their glory.
Gaming laptops tend to pack more impressive speakers than you’ll find in most general laptops. Some include tweeters and sub-woofers, but we’d still recommend a good gaming headset to get the most out of your gaming experience.
Heat and NoiseThese gaming machines pack high-end, high-performance components in as small a bundle as possible. While you game the graphics card and CPU get hot, which sets the fans whirring to disperse the heat and leads to noise. There’s not much you can do about it, but some laptops manage their cooling better than others. We keep a close eye on heat and noise when reviewing a gaming laptop to ensure it doesn’t affect the gaming experience too much.
Size, Design and Build QualityConsider how often you’re planning on taking your gaming laptop with you before you decide what type to buy. Big 17-inch screens are great for gaming but seriously impact portability, resulting in bigger and heavier machines than 15-, 14- or 13-inch displays.
Advancements in mobile graphics cards mean that some recent gaming laptops are much slimmer than before, while still packing excellent gaming performance. Still, you should expect your gaming laptop to be chunky and heavy – far more so than ultrabooks.
When you’re spending this much on a laptop you’ll want it to be well made and able to take a bumpy journey in a backpack to a mate’s house. We inspect the build quality to decide whether they will stand the test of time.
If you intend to use your laptop with a separate monitor, or several monitors, then you will want to make sure it the right video outputs for your needs. Most have HDMI, and some even have ancient VGA, but DisplayPort is the most versatile – it lets you daisy-chain multiple monitors together.
Keyboard and TrackpadThe keyboard is one of the most important aspects of a gaming laptop. Quality mechanical keyboards make a huge difference to the gaming experience and can help improve your gaming abilities. We’ve put the keyboards through their paces with a focus on gaming, but also with an eye on using the laptop for more mundane tasks like tweets and emails.
The trackpad is less essential for gamers. You’ll want to pair your laptop with a top-notch gaming mouse to ensure you’re getting the best gaming experience possible, but still we assess the trackpads on these laptops for general use.
Battery LifeIf you’re looking for all-day battery life from your gaming laptop then you’re going to be disappointed. Gaming laptops require oodles of power to run games at high resolutions and top settings, so their batteries drain quickly. If you intend to game on the go, don’t expect much more than an hour or two of battery life. In non-gaming use, a gaming laptop will likely last between three and six hours – a far cry from a Macbook Air. But then you try playing a game on that.
If battery life’s a key concern for you, consider supplementing your gaming laptop with a heavy-duty rechargeable power pack. There are plenty to choose from and they can bolster your laptop’s stamina significantly.
How much should you pay?These high performance PCs aren’t cheap. You’ll need to spend £900/$1000 for a decent specimen that plays the best current games at high settings. Prices only go up from there, reaching dizzying heights of more than £4000/$4000 for a top-spec machine.
You should always check the specs of the machine you’re thinking of buying to make sure it matches the one’s we’ve specified in our review. Manufacturers sometimes make laptops in multiple configurations so make sure the one you think you’re getting is the one you’re getting.
It’s always worth considering whether you’re better off investing in a gaming desktop PC. If you have the space, and portability isn’t a key factor, you’ll save yourself a pile of notes. And even if it is a factor it's easy to put together a small, relatively portable yet powerful PC these days.