We’ve reviewed a ton of laptops and played around with even more. While we have an entire guide dedicated to laptops, we know some people just want to game, and so no matter your budget, we’ve curated some of the best gaming laptops currently on the market. Many of them are great for other tasks besides gaming, too, like photo and video editing, and even streaming. Yet ultimately these laptops are intended for gaming, and making sure you can game whether you have a budget of $4,000 or a more realistic budget of $1,000.
What is the buying forecast?: A ton of new gaming laptops were announced at CES back in January 2021. The likes of Asus, MSI, Razer, and other major brands have a wonderful mix of simple refreshes, all-out updates, and completely new designs featuring Nvidia’s RTX 30-series GPUs or AMD’s new Ryzen 5000-series mobile CPUs. Intel also released an 11th-gen Intel Core i7 H35-series Special Edition mobile processor, and some of the new gaming laptops are configured with it.
Lenovo and Asus have gone all out as far as making AMD-based laptop configurations, while others have stuck with Intel’s 10th-gen processors, since the most of the 11th-gens available at the moment are geared toward work productivity laptops. Don’t expect to see more 11th-gen (or maybe 12th-gen—who knows!) gaming-focused mobile CPUs from Intel until after it releases its 11th-gen desktop processors.
But these new gaming laptops are still rolling out. Acer’s refreshed Predator Triton 300 SE won’t hit the North American market until next month, for instance, while Razer’s new Blade models are currently available. We recently reviewed MSI’s GP66 Leopard and Asus’ super unique ROG Flow X13, and will be getting our hands on more models as they launch.
We’re also still waiting on AMD’s RDNA2-powered mobile graphics cards to make an appearance, which is supposed to happen sometime in the first half of this year. It could be June before we see any gaming laptops with AMD’s newest GPUs.
The ongoing chip shortage will make things a little interesting, too. Manufacturers and retailers might be anxious to get rid of older models, so expect to see some deals—unless demand remains high, in which case the discounts may not be as steep as you’d hope.
You have a decent amount of cash to throw around for a faster processor and graphics card, as well as more storage space. But anything in the high-end range is a little too bananas based on price alone. If you like to play more demanding games and need to get some video editing done, these have the features you’re looking for, plus the speed, for a more reasonable price.
Our Pick: MSI GS66 Stealth ($2,250)
Compared to the high-end gaming laptops below, there isn’t much difference between the MSI GS66 Stealth aside from the price. While there are plenty of configurations available depending on your budget, the one we love has an Intel Core i7-10875H, RTX 2070 Super, 32GB RAM, 1TB PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD, and a 15.6-inch 300 Hz display. This laptop is a mash-up of the Blade and Strix below, but for hundreds of dollars less. Not to mention its aesthetics are just as pleasing as Razer’s.
But for $2,250, you have to be giving up something, right? The hardware specs are top-notch, so why is the Stealth in this category other than the price? Well, the GS66 definitely gets loud like the Strix when under load, but it doesn’t stay as cool. Its display tops out at 317 nits, same as the Strix, but it’s a full pound lighter with similar dimensions. And that’s pretty much it. You’re not giving up much with the Stealth at this price. This laptop has the most reasonable value when taking pricing, features, and specs into consideration, which is why it’s the one we’d recommend for most people.
Also Consider: Acer Predator Triton 500 ($2,200)
The model we tested has slightly higher specs than the one we recommend here, but this one is more in line with the price range most people can afford. This model comes with an Intel Core i7-10750H, RTX 2070 Super, 16GB RAM, 1TB PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD, and a 15.6-inch 300 Hz display. These specs are the general “sweet spot” as far as value goes.
For $50 less, the main difference between this and the GS66 Stealth is just 16GB of RAM. Between this Predator Triton model and the one we reviewed, the only difference is that our review model had an RTX 2080 Super, which adds another $300 to the overall price. Everything else is the same: lightweight for a gaming laptop, and despite the loud fans, everything stays nice and cool. The 300 Hz display is great for first-person shooters. The battery life is short, but if you’re primarily going to game on this, it should stay plugged in at all times anyway.
You’ll pay whatever it costs to get the best of the best. You have to have everything. Per-key RGB lighting. 300 Hz refresh rate. Blazing fast CPU and GPU. Lots of RAM, storage, and ports. But above all, it has to look sleek, modern, and maybe a little aggressive, depending on your personal taste.
Our Pick: Razer Blade 15 Advanced ($3,000)
Or as we like to call it, the MacBook Pro of gaming laptops. Its understated, minimalist design is a force to be reckoned with, and its specs are second to none: RTX 2080 Super Max-Q, Intel Core i7-10875H (8-cores/16-threads, 2.3 GHz base/5.1 GHz boost), 1TB M.2 NVMe SSD, 16GB DDR4-2933 MHz RAM, a 15.6-inch 300 Hz display, and to top it all off, per-key RGB. There isn’t much this laptop doesn’t have or can’t do. Along with amazing gaming performance, there are plenty of connectivity options to set up a quick stream or download photos and video directly from your camera. Lots of laptops forgo SD card readers these days, but this one does not!
For a fully-loaded laptop, its dimensions are pretty svelte. It weighs 4.73 pounds, its dimensions are just 0.70 inches by 9.25 inches by 13.98 inches, and yet there’s more than enough room for a well-spaced keyboard, a massive touchpad, and speakers that run along the outside of the keyboard. It costs as much as a down payment on a car, but you get so much for the price.
Also Consider: Asus ROG Strix Scar G15 ($2,800)
It’s just as powerful and tricked out as the Razer Blade 15 Advanced, but will save you a little bit of cash. At 5.67 pounds, it’s not the lightest laptop around, but it packs a full RTX 2070 Super graphics card, Intel Core i9-10980HK, 32GB DDR4-3200 MHz RAM, 2TB PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD, a 15.6-inch 300 Hz display, and per-key RGB. It also has an Ethernet port and the number pad is integrated with the touchpad.
I know, you’d think the ROG Strix Scar and Blade 15 would be flipped based on the price versus the specs. But the Scar doesn’t have nearly the same number and variety of ports as the Blade, and the Blade has a better aesthetic. For a $200 difference, each of these laptops targets two different kinds of users. The Blade is more obviously designed as a multi-use laptop, while the Scar is very much designed with only gaming in mind.
Price is the most important consideration when it comes to buying a gaming laptop. You want to pay as little as possible without sacrificing everything, but performance is a close second to price. These laptops are a nice balance between those two requirements, but forgo some of the fancier features.
Our Pick: Acer Nitro 5 ($1,028)
Acer’s Nitro 5 is a well-rounded gaming machine for just over a grand. Intel Core i7-9750H? Check. RTX 2060? Check. And 512GB SSD with 16GB RAM? Check, check. It gets excellent 1080p performance and features a 144 Hz IPS display, and it lasts six hours on a charge, which is a couple hours longer than the average gaming laptop.
The Nitro 5 comes in a lot of different configurations, the cheapest being an $800 model with an AMD Ryzen 5 3550H and GTX 1650. But the performance jump you get for $350 more is significant. Also, all the configurations that come with a 10th-gen processor only have either a GTX 1650 or GTX 1650 Ti (same for the current-gen AMD models), whereas more of the 9th-gen models come with an RTX 2060. But the ladder isn’t a disappointing concession at all! For a budget gaming laptop, the Nitro 5 packs a punch and will net you near or over 60 fps on most games.
Also Consider: Adata XPG Xenia ($1,250)
It’s slightly more expensive than the Nitro 5, but one look at the spec list and you’ll see why: Intel Core i7-9750H, GTX 1660 Ti, 32GB RAM, and a 1TB M.2 PCIe 3.0 NVMe SSD. Yeah, the graphics card is technically a step down from the Nitro 5, but it gets equivalent performance thanks to double the amount of RAM, and it’s faster in some productivity tasks like 3D rendering and transcoding. It has the same six-hour battery life as the Nitro 5, too. The Adata also has a mechanical keyboard, which is a joy to type on.
The only reason it gets the lower spot is because this is the first gaming laptop in Adata’s XPG’s line, and there isn’t any indication at the moment when or if the company will release a new model this year. But rest assured this one is a fantastic deal for the price. It originally retailed for more than $1,700, but I think the company had the right idea lowering the price. It’s technically on sale, but I have a feeling it will stay at that price point permanently.
2/19/2021: Swapped the Gateway for Adata’s XPG Xenia as runner-up for the best budget gaming laptop.