The 10 Best Gaming Laptops of 2016Datapro Infotech
Gaming laptops let you take the action with you. Here are the most important features to consider when buying a mobile gaming rig, along with 10 winning systems.
Purists will argue that you need a PC to truly play games, especially if you’re a fan of pushing the levels of graphics quality beyond the capabilities of a mobile phone or a mere gaming console. In this regard gaming desktop is still the king, particularly when it comes to having the kind of components and horsepower needed to smoothly run 4K gaming and to support virtual reality (VR) setups, such as the Oculus Rift, but sometimes you want something to tote around the house or over to your friend’s place. If that’s what you need, we’re here to help you choose which gaming laptop to buy for playing on the go.
Gaming systems have higher-end components than run-of-the-mill consumer laptops, so their prices will be consequently higher. Entry-level gaming laptops start at $750 and can go up to about $1,250. For that, you get a system that can play games smoothly at Medium-quality settings at 1,366-by-768 resolution, or at a higher resolution with a commensurate drop in quality. Midrange systems give you a 1080p resolution screen, smoother gameplay at Ultra-quality settings at 1080p resolution, and range in price from around $1,250 to $2,500. High-end systems have guaranteed smooth gameplay at 1080p resolution at Ultra-quality settings, add speedy components like 512GB PCIe solid-state drives (SSDs), and are priced above $2,500. High-end systems also add niceties like dual graphics processors, 3K to 4K screens, and ultra-efficient cooling fans as optional extras.
The main attribute that makes or breaks a gaming laptop is its graphics processing unit (GPU). There are two dominant players for enthusiast-level GPUs: AMD and its Radeon graphics cards and Nvidia with its GeForce GPUs. In general, the higher the model number, the faster the graphics performance. That means you’ll find AMD Radeon R9 series or Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 series graphics in high-end gaming laptops. For medium to high-end GPUs, the higher the model number, the higher the 3D performance. So an Nvidia GeForce GTX 980M generally produces higher frame rates and higher-quality graphics than an Nvidia GeForce GTX 960M. A single high-end discrete GPU will let you play the latest AAA gaming titles at Ultra-quality settings on a 1080p HD screen and with all the bells and whistles turned on. Adding a second GPU will let you run the latest games on 4K and 5K displays, or let you hook up multiple monitors to your laptop. Nvdia’s G-Sync and AMD’s FreeSync technology will help increase quality and smooth frame rates in your games, so look for those if you’re a stickler for perfectly rendered animation.
The processor is the heart of a PC, and in most gaming laptops you’ll find a quad-core CPU with a sixth-generation Intel Core i5 or Intel Core i7 CPU based on the Skylake chipset. These two processor model lines prevail over all others in the gaming laptop arena. Theoretically, you may find a gaming laptop with an Intel Core i3 or one of AMD’s CPUs installed, but those are rare: Systems with Intel Core i3 and comparable entry-level AMD processors are certainly capable of playing many games, but why limit yourself from square one? If you have to make the choice between a high-end CPU and a high-end GPU, go for the graphics. For example, we recommended getting a sixth-generation Intel Core i5 over an Intel Core i7 CPU if the money saved could then go toward an Nvidia GeForce GTX 980M GPU instead of a Nvidia GeForce 940M. Spending the money on the GPU makes more sense than spending it on the CPU. Look for Core i5 processors in midrange systems, with Core i7 U and HQ processors in higher-end gaming laptops.
In terms of display size , a 15-inch screen is the sweet spot for a gaming laptop. You can buy larger 17-inch displays, but this can jack the weight up on a laptop way beyond 5 pounds. We’ve seen 12-pound “portables” in the gaming sector that will definitely weigh down your backpack. We recommend at least a full HD (1,920-by-1,080-resolution) screen. Larger displays are capable of giving you higher-than-1080p HD (1,920-by-1,080) resolutions, but choose wisely, as QHD+ (3,200-by-1,800) resolution will boost the final cost twice: first for the panel, and second for the higher-quality graphics card to drive it. Because they usually require dual GPUs for smooth gameplay at native resolution, 4K (3,840-by-2,160-resolution) gaming laptops are currently rare and expensive.
You should definitely consider a system with a solid-state drive (SSD), since prices have fallen considerably over the past few years. It speeds up boot time, wake-from-sleep time, and the time it takes to launch a game and load a new level. Go ahead and get a gaming laptop with an SSD, but make sure you configure correctly. A small (128GB) SSD with a large (500GB to 1TB) spinning hard drive is a good start for gamers who also download the occasional video from the Internet. Bigger SSDs are available (512GB or more), but choosing one will increase the purchase price of your gaming rig exponentially.
Before we forget, let’s talk memory. Even at the entry-level, look for a gaming laptop with at least 8GB of memory. That will give you some breathing room when switching back and forth between your gameplay window and your messaging app, but we’d save game tip research for when you’re not playing, as each successive browser window you open eats into your memory allotment. For a high-end system we recommend 16GB as a comfortable amount, so you can have more than one gaming session, your messaging app, several websites, webcam program, and your video streaming program open simultaneously. A midrange gaming laptop should be able to function fine with 8GB of memory, but be aware that many new laptops are non-upgradable. You may be stuck with the amount of memory you order.
Given that high-end components tend to drain battery life, don’t expect these gaming rigs to stray too far from a wall socket very often. Ports like USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 are forward looking technology that will be beneficial to have down the road, but look for at least two USB 3.0 ports, so you can plug in an external mouse and a hard drive for your saved media files. An HDMI port or a mini-DisplayPort will be helpful if you want to play games on an external display, but aren’t absolutely necessary if your laptop’s screen is large enough. Last but not least, if you’re a professional gamer looking to buy a gaming laptop that can keep you competitive, be prepared to brownbag your lunches for a while. That kind of high-end performance can only come from top-of-the-line components, especially in a portable package, and they don’t come cheap.
Below is our selection of the best gaming laptops, which range from the luxury to the more moderate purchase that you can still use to compete on the gaming grid. For more gaming goodness, our roundup of winning gaming desktops is worth a look. Be sure to also check out our overall top laptop picks, as well as our favorites for business and users on a budget.
FEATURED IN THIS ROUNDUP
The MSI GT72 Dominator Pro G-1438 gaming laptop improves 3D-animation speed and quality with the combo of a fifth-generation Intel Core i7 CPU and Nvidia GeForce GTX 980M graphics with G-Sync. With smooth 3D rendering, it eliminates the glitchy artifacts that could take you out of the game. Read the full review ››
The Lenovo IdeaPad Y700-17 is an excellent entry-level gaming laptop with a big screen and fast hardware. It can play demanding games smoothly at moderate to high settings, and you get plenty of storage, good port options, and a killer sound system in the bargain. Read the full review ››
The MSI GE62 Apache is a serious gaming laptop for less than $1,500, and it comes with some premium components that help boost its performance.