While it is obvious that desktops remain popular for most PC gamers, they do not offer the portability that you get with gaming laptops.
In many cases, gaming laptops also offer flexibility that allows you to utilize your gaming rig for various tasks like word processing, video editing, and photo editing on the go.
Before you rush to your favorite computer store and get the laptop with the best specs, keep in mind that aside from the specifications of the laptop, you should also look into other aspects of the device you are going to purchase.
Now, there are hundreds of gaming laptops out there in the market, and buying one can be a little tricky. However, there is no need to panic. We are here to help.
In this guide, we are going to show you exactly what you should look for in choosing the best gaming laptop for you.
The key features that we shall discuss include the following:
- Graphics Card/GPU
- CPU - Intel or AMD, 6 core or 8 core
- RAM - 8GB or 16GB
- Storage - NVME or HDD
- Display - 15.6" vs 17.3", 120hz/144hz display
- Keyboard - Regular vs RGB, Layout matters
1. Selecting Your Graphics Card
To get things started, the first hardware that you should consider when buying a gaming laptop is the graphics card. Its the graphics card that actually processes all the game graphics, and without a good one, you might not be able to run the game at all.
Popular Graphics cards available in gaming laptop include:
- GTX1650 / 1660Ti
- RTX 2060 / 2080
- RTX 3060 / 3070 / 3080
A more powerful graphics card will let you run the game with higher graphics settings and also be able to run the game at higher resolutions and higher refresh rates.
If your graphics card is not good enough, you would have to compromise on one or more aspects, that is either the graphics settings will have to be kept low, or the game would have to be run at lower resolution or at lower refresh rates.
As we all know, most laptops don't come with an upgradeable graphics card so choosing the right one for you is really important.
Below, we created a list that should help you out in choosing the right graphics card based on your needs.
Entry Level Gaming
If you are an individual who casually plays ESports titles like CS:GO and Dota 2 with a few instances of running modern triple-A titles then you can settle for an entry-level graphics card like Nvidia’s GTX 1650 or 1660 or an RX 5500M from AMD. Having these graphics cards on your laptop would allow you to run low to mid settings on most games with decent FPS.
Laptops with these graphics cards would usually go around $700 to $1000. You can look into Acer Nitro, Asus TUF, and Lenovo’s Ideapad L340 gaming laptops which have variants that house Nvidia’s GTX 1650 paired with a decent processor.
For individuals that prefer their graphics settings set on, it is suggested that you get a laptop that has the latest RTX series cards from Nvidia. To be specific, the RTX 2060 is a decent graphics card that would be enough to run most titles on high settings at 1440P or lower. AMD’s RX 5600M is not as powerful as the RTX 2060, but would still be able to run most titles at high settings.
A good laptop at this price point is the Acer Predator Helios 300. For around $1000, you get a laptop that packs an RTX 2060 paired with an Intel i7-10750H. On the other hand, you can also opt for cheaper options like the Acer Nitro 5 that is also equipped with an RTX 2060 but with an older 9th Gen Intel Core i7.
Top Level Gaming
If you are planning to run the latest triple-A titles on your system on maxed-out settings at the highest resolution possible, then you should get at least an RTX 2070 graphics card. However, laptops that come with these GPUs can easily go over $3000 so keep that in mind.
If you are looking for the bare minimum laptop for top-level gaming, then you should take a look at the ASUS ROG STRIX G15 or MSI GL65. Priced at around $1500, these laptops house an RTX 2070, 16GB of RAM, and an Intel Core i7 processor.
On the other hand, if you want the top tier laptops with maxed out specs, then you should consider getting the Razer Blade Pro or an MSI GT76 Titan. Both laptops are equipped with an RTX 2080 Super which is the best performing GPU available for laptops. Options like the ASUS ROG Zephyrus S and MSI GE75 Raider are also a good buy as they both house an RTX 2080 Super and are a thousand bucks cheaper.
While it is true that the life of a gaming laptop is on the GPU, other components such as CPU and RAM also come into play in enhancing the performance of your system.
If you have lots of money to spend, then you can get a top tier Intel Core i7 or Ryzen 7 series processor on your system which can come in handy if you plan to do some video editing and rendering work on your laptop.
However, most games today benefit from a good GPU rather than a powerful CPU so an Intel Core i5 or Ryzen 5 series is already enough.
Specification-wise a 4core-8thread processor would be able to run most games provided there is a good graphics card like GTX 1650 in the laptop.
If you want a cheap gaming laptop you can go for a processor like Intel i5-9300H which is a 4core/8thread cpu.
If you have a decent budget you can go for a processor like Intel i7-10750H which has 6core/12 threads, or AMD Ryzen 7 4800H which is a 8 core/16thread processor.
When it comes to cpus, amd processors are cheaper than intel ones, and perform better.
For simple day to day tasks like browsing and streaming videos, a laptop with 8GB RAM would work but we recommend 16GB as the base minimum. This will ensure that you don't run out of memory when occasionally doing some memory intensive task.
Most gaming laptops, if not all, support RAM upgrades, so we strongly suggest that you upgrade it to at least 16GB if it does not come with the laptop by default.
Or you could just get a 16GB ram laptop if you don't want to go to the store to upgrade it.
One of the most important parts of your system is storage. We suggest that you look for a gaming laptop that offers both SSD and HDD. For capacity, a 128 GB SSD is enough to serve as your boot drive and match it with at least 1TB HDD for game storage.
Game installations take a lot of space on the disk. If you plan to install multiple games then make sure that you have lots of space as well. Laptops with large ssd storage will be more expensive compared to HDD storage laptops.
SSDs are faster in terms of game loading time, however after that it does not really matter whether its a ssd or hdd.
So if you are low on budget, consider getting a laptop with small 128GB SSD with large 1TB hdd.
And if you have a decent budget then you might go for a 512GB or 1TB SSD directly and use it for installing games. SSDs are more expensive but also many times faster compared to HDDs. If you do not plan to install a lot of games and only play a few selected games that you know will not take a lot of space, then you might just get a laptop with 256GB ssd. But make sure that you know in advance your requirements.
Incase of HDDs, make sure that you are getting hard drives that run at 7200 RPM and avoid slower drives that peak at 5400 RPM. If you want faster boot times, you can opt for a laptop with an M.2 NVME SSD which is the fastest storage available for laptops and desktop PCs.
Like your RAM, hard drives are also upgradable for most gaming laptops so if the 1TB storage capacity is not enough for you, then you can always opt for 2TB hard drives or higher.
We recommend getting a laptop with 512GB SSD with no HDD. Not having HDD will make the laptop lighter and process lesser heat. This will make the laptop more portable as well.
5. Laptop Display
As we all know, laptops come with their own screens so be sure to consider this when getting one. Check out some of the key points that you should look for on a good gaming laptop display.
While laptops are basically portable, most gaming laptops come with 15.6" or 17.3" display screen. In this case, selecting the size of your screen would also determine the size of your gaming laptop.
Opting for a smaller 15 or 14-inch display would give you a lot of portability which may come in handy if you travel often from one place to another. However, if you prefer a more immersive gaming experience, then you should get a gaming laptop with a bigger display.
For the screen resolution, higher doesn’t always mean better. When choosing your display’s resolution, you should take into consideration your graphics card. Running a 4K resolution screen on a GTX 1650 graphics card is not a good idea. This will cause your system’s performance to go down since the GPU simply cannot handle 4K gaming well.
Given this, make sure that your screen resolution matches the optimal resolution that your graphics card can handle.
For resolution we would only recommend the standard Full-HD resolution of 1920x1080 as most graphics cards can handle it well.
For most laptops, the refresh rate of its display would be 60 Hz/75 Hz. However, this is simply not enough for most gamers especially if you are playing online FPS titles or other fast response games. Getting a gaming laptop with a refresh rate of 120Hz / 144Hz or higher is recommended.
This will give you an overall smoother gaming experience.
However keep in mind that higher refresh rate laptops are more expensive and playing games at higher refresh rates also requires more powerful graphics cards as well. If the graphics card is not strong enough you would have to run the game at lower settings and compromise on the in-game visuals.
6. Laptop’s Keyboard
Last on our list is the keyboard. When it comes to this category, the deciding factor all boils down to the preference of the user. However, here are some factors that you should also consider on your laptop’s keyboard.
If you are spending a good amount of money on a laptop, it must have a backlight at least. Most gaming laptops come with backlit keyboards with some even equipped with RGB lighting that you can customize based on your preference.
While you are buying a gaming laptop, it is also nice to have a keyboard that is easy to type on if you ever find the need for basic word processing. What you should look for is a keyboard that is not hard to type on but also not too soft to avoid accidental keypress.
The Razer Blade Pro’s keyboard is one of the best which utilizes their own low-profile mechanical switches with an actuation rating of 65g. On the other hand, Gigabyte’s AORUS 15G’s keyboard is equipped with OMRON’s mechanical keys with an actuation point of 1.6mm which gives you that tactile feel and comfort when typing.
These features would ensure that you perform at your best when playing games. Anti-ghosting and N-key rollover would allow you to press different keys simultaneously and it would all register as input. This is important in games that require you to hit several keys at the same time to perform a specific move or task in-game.
7. Other Factors
Besides all the above mentioned factors, there are a few more hardware aspects of a laptop that you might want to consider. These include the battery rating, weight of the laptop and the output ports.
Make sure that the laptop has an HDMI output port, which most laptops these days have anyways. The HDMI port will allow you to connect to an external monitor or television if you want to play the game on a screen larger than a laptop.
I personally like to play Asphalt 9 Legends on my 32 inch Sony Bravia television. The experience of playing on a larger screen is far superior to any other display.
Besides an HDMI port, you might also want to look for a RJ45 (Ethernet) port on the laptop. When playing multiplayer games online, it is imperative to have a connection that has the fastest possible speed and the lowest possible lag and latency.
The internal network setup or LAN hardware plays an important role, where wifi connections are slightly slower than ethernet connections. If you play fast response fps games that need fast network then consider ethernet connection.
Another aspect is the weight of the laptop. If you plan to carry the laptop around a lot and do other things as well besides gaming, then you might face problems with a heavy weight laptop.
Laptops with high end hardware and larger displays will be heavier as they have more powerful cooling system and more powerful batteries to sustain the hardware. If you want a balance between gaming performance and portability then either go for an expensive gaming laptop that is lightweight, or go for a laptop that has medium level hardware specs and is light weight as a result.
Lets get it straight, playing games is a power consuming operation for a computer and it drains battery very fast. A laptop that lasts over 6 hours under normal usage conditions will not run for over 3-4 hours when playing intensive games.
If you really have a need to play games on the go when ac power is not available to the laptop then you might have to consider a laptop with higher rated battery like 81 W-h. The rating is in watt-hours. However keep in mind that a more powerful battery is bigger and adds to the weight of the laptop making it heavier which might defeat the entire purpose of portability and playing on the go.
A less graphics intensive game like Age of Empires might run for several hours before the battery goes off, whereas games like Call of Duty, GTA or even Tomb Raider have a lot of 3D rendering going on and will make the gpu consume a lot of power, thereby eating up the battery much faster.
This is a tricky situation and you would have let go one of the things. So make your choice wisely.
And if you plan to play only when the laptop is connected to AC power then you are brilliant guy who has nothing to worry about.
Gaming Laptops from Different Brands
As mentioned above, there are hundreds of laptops on the market from various brands. The biggest laptop manufacturers like MSI, ASUS, DELL, and ACER have their own line of gaming laptops which offer unique features to cater to different kinds of gamers.
If you want to know about the gaming laptops that these brands offer, check out the list we've created below:
Acer is known for its budget segment gaming laptops that offer value for money like their Nitro series. Their best-selling Nitro laptop currently is the one with a GTX 1650 and an Intel Core i5 processor. On the other hand, they also offer products like the Predator 21X that features an incredible curved display powered by two GTX 1080 TI on SLI.
Most gamers would probably have an idea if you mentioned the word ROG. Republic of Gamers (ROG) is the gaming line of Asus which has been popular not only amongst laptop enthusiasts but also with desktop builders.
Recently, they introduced their TUF series laptops that are much affordable compared to ROG.
For around $850, you can get an ASUS TUF A15 laptop that features a Ryzen 5 processor paired with Nvidia’s GTX 1650.
Dell’s Alienware laptops are one of the most popular gaming laptops with unique designs that captured the attention of most gamers. Recently, their focus is on thin and light gaming laptops like the Alienware m17. All variants of the m17 are equipped with an Intel Core i7 processor and you can select between GTX 1660 TI or a much powerful RTX 2060 and 2070 for your graphics card. A base variant sporting AMD’s RX5500M GPU is also available.
Gigabyte also offers its own gaming laptops called AORUS. Most of their gaming laptops like the AORUS 7 sports a 144Hz high refresh rate display which you can pair with a GTX1660 or the latest RTX 2000 series graphics card. Gigabyte also offers laptops with mechanical keyboards that feature OMRON switches like the AORUS 17X and AORUS 15G.
Lenovo’s legion lineup was recently redesigned to be more minimalist making their gaming laptops light and thin without lacking in performance. Their latest Legion 5 models house the latest Ryzen 4000 series processors and the new Legion TrueStrike keyboards. Their latest TrueStrike keyboard has a 100% anti-ghosting rating paired with soft-landing switches to boost your gaming experience.
Known for having laptops that are black and red, MSI’s Titan and Stealth lineup are among the most popular gaming laptops today. Their GS65 Stealth model houses a decent GTX 1660 TI, 16 GB of RAM, and a 512 GB NVME SSD. Matched with their famous dragon logo, MSI’s Dragon Center allows users to take control of their system with features like performance profiles, system monitoring, and fan control.
For review of the best MSI gaming laptops check our articles here:Top 8 Best MSI Gaming Laptop in 2021 - RTX 2060/3060, 15.6"/17.3", 120/144 Hz, Intel i7
If you love RGB, then Razer has a lot to offer with its Chroma product line. Known for its simple yet elegant designs, Razer is the first laptop manufacturer that focused on gaming laptops. Their popular Razer Blade 15 base model is equipped with an RTX 2070 paired with an Intel Core i7 and has some fancy features like Chroma RGB and Thunderbolt 3 ports.
In summary, a gaming laptop is a good investment for users who prefer portability. However, they are not good when it comes to upgradability, particularly with CPU and GPU.
With this, opting for mid to top-level gaming laptops would be a better option even if they cost a bit higher.
Mid to top tier gaming components would be better for future-proofing your gaming laptop, making sure that it can still handle new games in the coming years.