The dust has settled since RTX discrete GPUs for laptops arrived, prices and the market of gaming laptops is in a clearer position so it’s a good time to make some recommendations. There are plenty of models to choose from, from brand new designs to refreshes to highly successful laptops that have improved smaller details and upgraded internals from last year’s releases.
Here are our recommendations for the best gaming laptops you can buy right now, discussing the different options and alternatives. Our categories are a mixture of price points and use cases that cover most of what we believe PC gamers will be interested in getting.
Best Portable Gaming Laptop
Admittedly, our favorite category: portable, slim and light gaming laptops. We think this is what really sells the concept of a gaming laptop. You should be able to take it around with you without needing to lug around 6+ pounds, it should be slim and easy to carry, and have decent enough battery life that it’s genuinely usable off the charger. Of course, it also needs powerful hardware for gaming.
The best option right now is the MSI GS65 Stealth at 15.6-inches in size, or alternatively the GS75 Stealth if you’d rather go with the 17-inch variant. We’ve tested most of the slim and light offerings in this new RTX generation and MSI’s Stealth line is simply the best for a few reasons: it can deliver the full performance of the components inside without throttling, it does so at respectable fan noise levels, and it’s also the lightest of the main portable gaming options.
The Alienware m15, for example, is noticeably heavier and larger while also having cooler problems. The Gigabyte Aero 15 X9 is a decent offering but its loud cooler and inferior design sees it fall behind the MSI option. And the Asus Zephyrus, while good in a number of areas, has an awkward design with its side-positioned trackpad.
The MSI GS65 Stealth packs decent hardware, headlined by a 1080p 144Hz display, Intel Core i7-8750H CPU and 16GB of RAM. The default 256GB SSD option is a tad on the small side but it can be upgraded relatively easily, while battery life is pretty good.
There are a number of GS65 and GS75 variants out there, including older Pascal GTX models and newer Turing RTX models. The best option right now is the RTX 2060 model, it’s normally priced at $2,100 but can occasionally be found closer to $1,900, making it around the same price as the older GTX 1070 Max-Q variant. The RTX 2060 is about 8% faster on average than the GTX 1070 Max-Q, making it the better value choice.
The higher tier options with the RTX 2070 Max-Q and RTX 2080 Max-Q are priced at $2,400 and $2,800 respectively, but performance gains of 15% or less really aren’t enough to justify the price hike. Of course, if you want more power these models are available, but today the RTX 2060 is the sweet spot.
Best Budget Gaming Laptop
It feels like every time we update our gaming laptop recommendations, the Acer Predator Helios 300 always comes out on top in the budget category. This laptop is still priced at around $1,000 for the GTX 1060 6GB model, making it still the best value gaming laptop on the market. So let’s go through why this remains the case…
If you want something with a GTX 1060 6GB inside, around $1,000 is about as low as it gets, but Acer hasn’t compromised much to hit that price point. You’re still getting a full Core i7-8750H processor, unlike a quad-core Core i5 model in some other budget offerings. You’re still getting a 1080p 144Hz display with 16GB of RAM and 256GB of storage.
What you’re not getting with the Helios 300 compared to more expensive models is mostly in the design. This isn’t a massive system but it’s not overly slim, there’s no crazy RGB keyboard effects and no slim bezels, and the battery life is nothing special. But Acer has made those sacrifices to deck this system out with the best hardware and that’s why it remains the best entry-level gaming option.
There are some other models that do get pretty close, the Asus TUF FX504 is one such example. It’s not quite as good as the Acer and ~$100 more expensive right now, but if you’re checking prices in the future and the FX504 ends up in a good spot, it’s one we’d consider. For those after a 17-inch model, the Acer Aspire 17 is one to check out.
… there is one direction we wouldn’t go in, and that’s to buy anything below a GTX 1060 6GB.
However there is one direction we wouldn’t go in, and that’s to buy anything below a GTX 1060 6GB. This GPU is the sweet spot to get the most gaming performance. If you opt for something like the GTX 1050 Ti, you might end up saving $250 or so, but the 1060 is easily more than 50% faster. And as you go lower in price, laptop makers tend to strip back features like storage, RAM and the CPU, so overall you end up with a lower quality product. Save up and drop $1,000 on the Helios 300 and you’ll be much happier with your purchase long term.
Best Bang for Buck Gaming Laptop
While this category is called ‘Best Bang for Buck’ we’ll admit to have focused more on the bang than the buck this time because our budget category offers excellent value already. So this category is for those that want a step up in performance over the GTX 1060 6GB, but still want something that is good value.
When you step up a tier there are several options on the market right now: we have the older GTX 1070 and the newer RTX 2060 and RTX 2070. However when you look at laptop prices in general and compare that to the performance you’re getting, it doesn’t make sense to buy a Turing (RTX) laptop right now.
GTX 1070 laptops at $1,500 are cheaper than RTX 2060 laptops that start around $1,700 for similar configurations, however the GTX 1070 is actually faster, sometimes upwards of 10% so rather than complaining we can use that to our advantage. The RTX 2070 for laptops does pull ~15% ahead of the GTX 1070, but typically costs between 20 and 30 percent more.
With all this considered, right now the GTX 1070 offers the best value for upper mid-range laptop gamers, and the one laptop that stands out for us is the Asus ROG Strix Scar II GL504GS. A bit of a mouthful but you’re getting a really excellent laptop at $1,500 right now: slim bezels around the 15.6-inch 1080p 144Hz display, a full non-Max-Q GTX 1070, a 512GB SSD, 16GB of RAM and of course, the Core i7-8750H.
The chassis is your standard mid-tier body but I think it’s really appropriate for this sort of machine and its cooler allows the GTX 1070 to run at its expected performance level. When we reviewed this laptop it was more expensive which was a major sticking point, but it’s come down significantly since then to become a great value option.
Those that want the next step up in performance will probably have to go for the RTX 2070 models at around $1,800 to $2,000 which isn’t outrageous as these systems are faster, but the GTX 1070 does a lot for less, offering a similar price to performance ratio as GTX 1060 laptops.
Best Extreme Gaming Laptop
We’re not particularly fond of the extreme laptop category, usually populated by one of these enormous, chunky beasts with high-end hardware inside. In some cases we feel you might be better served by a small form factor desktop PC which will be cheaper and faster. But you might have a use case where you really want a top-end gaming laptop, in which case we’ll recommend the Asus ROG G703GX.
This is a big and heavy 17-inch laptop. It’s 51mm thick and 10 lbs heavy but it packs an RTX 2080 GPU (for laptops) inside and thanks to the enormous cooler, throttling isn’t a big deal. Aside from that you’re looking at a Core i7-8750H, 17.3-inch 1080p 144Hz display, 512GB SSD + 1TB SSHD, and 16GB of RAM. At $3,000 this is probably the best value option of the RTX 2080 systems with good enough cooling to actually unleash that GPU.
You could go even bigger and faster than this, but evidently it will cost you. Adding the Core i9-8950HK into the mix, a slightly faster although unlocked version of the 8750H, will cost you a staggering $800 extra. And then you can go up to stuff like desktop CPUs and multi-GPU configurations which aren’t really worth the exorbitant price you’ll be paying.
If you have $5,000 to spend or more, a better option would be grabbing something like the MSI GS65 to use on the go for around $2,000, while dropping $3,000 on a decked out gaming PC to use at your desk. That would be more than enough cash to get a decent RTX 2080 Ti gaming rig, which would be faster than anything currently available in a laptop form factor. So the Asus ROG G703GX is really the top end of what we think is reasonable for a gaming laptop.
Best Ultrabook for Gaming
The Surface Book 2’s feature set includes some of the best hardware you can get in a 13-inch form factor, combined with a screen that detaches from the base for those times you need a portable tablet. There haven’t been many standout convertible laptop releases this year and Microsoft’s Surface is excellent, so we are once again recommending it even though it’s not the most affordable option for everyone.
When you choose the Core i7 model, you get Intel’s top-end Kaby Lake Refresh CPU, the Core i7-8650U, but on top of that you also get a GeForce GTX 1050 discrete GPU, which is much more powerful than the MX150 we typically see in these sort of devices. That extra power does help to drive the gorgeous, high-resolution 3000×2000 13.5-inch LCD, which features a 3:2 aspect ratio that’s awesome for productivity apps.
The list of features doesn’t stop there. The touchscreen display supports the best active stylus in the business, the Surface Pen, which is a $100 optional extra but is definitely worth it for those that like to annotate and draw. The magnesium chassis is one of the best you can get on any laptop, and it now includes USB-C, though there’s no Thunderbolt 3 support. The battery life is also quite good for a laptop that’s so powerful.
Microsoft hasn’t yet updated the Surface Book 2 to use Intel’s newer Whiskey Lake CPUs, but Kaby Lake Refresh is very close in terms of performance, so it’s not a big deal.
Our favorite configuration of the Surface Book 2 would be the 13-inch model at $2,150, which provides the Core i7, GTX 1050, 16GB of RAM and 512GB SSD. It is a very expensive laptop – there are definitely cheaper convertible laptops going around – but you won’t find anything as powerful or well built.
The race really isn’t that close in our opinion: the Surface Book 2 is what you buy when you want the best.
For About Half the Price…
If you want that convertible form-factor and you need a Windows tablet first, full-time laptop second, there’s the original Surface Pro.
Currently on its sixth generation, it’s a proven design that works really well if you see yourself carrying an iPad-like device that runs Windows applications without much fuss. The Surface Pro offers a premium build and design with decent internals that start with a Core i5, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD for $800 (add to that $100 for the necessary Type Cover).
For those that want to buy an ultraportable system for productivity in the popular 13-inch size category, but also want to do some light gaming on the go. What is the absolute fastest system you can get in this sort of form factor?
It might surprise you how few gaming-capable systems there are with 13″ displays. At one point this was sort of an emerging category, but that quickly evaporated in favor of 15″ portable gaming laptops. What we’ve been left with are plenty of systems with no discrete GPU, and a growing number with Nvidia’s okay but not amazing MX150 and MX250 GPU offerings. The MX150 is good for games that aren’t too GPU demanding like Overwatch, Fortnite and CS GO, but what if you want something with a bit more oomph?
There’s only one option: Microsoft’s Surface Book 2 13.5″. As far as we can tell this is the only laptop on the market of this size to pack a proper GTX 1050 in its chassis. The GTX 1050 remains an entry-level discrete GPU, but it’s easily more than 50% faster than an MX150, which opens up more gaming options at medium and low settings.
The privilege of having a GTX 1050 in a (premium built) 13-inch system comes at a price. Kitting out a Surface Book 2 with the required hardware to get this GPU will set you back $1,750, but you’ll probably want more than 8GB of storage and a 256GB SSD, in which case you’re looking at ~$2,000 for 16GB RAM and 512GB SSD. That’s more than most portable 15-inch gaming laptops for less performance.
With that said, the Surface Book 2 does have a lot of advantages, like the detachable tablet section, full stylus support and a high quality 3000×2000 display which you don’t get with most true gaming laptops. So it’s just a balance of what you might want and how much gaming should factor into your buying decision.