Best gaming laptops in 2021
Once the best gaming laptop meant picking a hulking brute of a notebook, one that could barely be described as portable, because only those massively heavy desktop replacement machines could house a worthwhile GPU. That’s no longer the case, because today’s top gaming laptops are able to squeeze desktop-level performance into impressively slight chassis. They’re not as easy to upgrade, but that’s about the only downside to modern laptops.
The newest models pack all the features you’ll find in big desktop gaming rigs too, including powerful multicore CPUs, the latest Nvidia RTX 30-series and AMD Radeon RX 6000-series GPUs, as well as speedy NVMe SSDs, oodles of RAM, and quality, super high-refresh screens. You can even enjoy mechanical keyboards on some models, although we’d still recommend having a proper keyboard and mouse for serious gaming suggestions.
There’s actually some good news for laptops in these silicon-starved times as well, in that they’re often the most immediate way of securing the best gaming hardware—hello GeForce RTX 3080. Stock levels have been pretty healthy too, though we are starting to see supply getting markedly more slight as we near the times when manufacturers like to release newer models.
While high-end gaming laptops can be pricey, there are plenty of more affordable options out there too. If you’re on a tight budget, be sure to check out the best cheap gaming laptop deals. We’ve tested hundreds of gaming laptops over the years and continually update this guide with the latest models. What you’ll find below are the laptops that stand out as offering the best balance of performance, portability, and price. Whatever you’re in the market for, you should find the laptop that’s right for you right here.
Best gaming laptops
Our favorite config:
The latest spin of the Razer Blade 15 once again improves on one of the best gaming laptops ever made. It has the same gorgeous CNC-milled aluminum chassis as its predecessor, only this time it can house one of Nvidia’s latest RTX 30-series GPUs and an Intel 10th Gen CPU.
We’ve played with the Razer Blade 15 Advanced with a 10th Gen Intel chip and RTX 3080 (95W) GPU inside it. And we fell in love all over again. These latest models up the graphics processing even further, with support for up to the 8GB RTX 3080, which is incredible in this small chassis. You will get some throttling because of that slimline design, but you’re still getting outstanding performance from this beautiful machine.
One of the best things about the Blade 15 is the number of configurations Razer offers for it. From the GTX 1660 Ti Base Edition, all the way up to the RTX 3080 Advanced with OLED 4K panel, there’s something for almost everyone. It’s one of the most beautiful gaming laptops around and still powerful.
Whatever config you pick, we think the Razer Blade 15 is the overall best gaming laptop on the market right now, though you will be paying a premium for the now-classic design.
Read our full Razer Blade 15 Advanced Edition (2020) review.
Our favorite config:
Not everyone needs the thinnest or the most powerful gaming laptop. Sometimes just lightweight and speedy are fine. Striking a healthy balance between portability, performance, and price is the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14. The original machine was an impressive RTX 2060 Max-Q notebook whose incredible AMD CPU performance managed to impress our dedicated team of hardware testers at the top-secret PC Gamer lab.
The G14 is still a great laptop; especially now, we’re getting the RTX 3060 update in that smart chassis. The Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 is a reliable 14-inch system with high-end graphics that rivals even some gaming desktops despite being loud.
Read the full Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 review.
Our favorite config:
I am mighty tempted to push the Razer Blade 14 further up the list here, simply because the 14-inch form factor has absolutely won me over. The Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 in the number two slot re-introduced the criminally under-used laptop size, but Razer has perfected it. Feeling noticeably smaller than the 15-inch Blade and closer to the ultrabook Stealth 13, the Blade 14 mixes a matte black MacBook Pro-style with genuine PC gaming pedigree.
The Razer style is classic, and it feels great to hold too. And, with the outstanding AMD Ryzen 9 5900HX finally finding its way into a Blade notebook, you’re getting genuine processing power you can sling into a messenger bag.
Add in some Nvidia RTX 30-series graphics power, and you’ve got a great mix of form and function that makes it the most desirable laptop I’ve maybe ever tested.
My only issue is that the RTX 3080 would be too limited by the diminutive 14-inch chassis and run a little loud. So I would then recommend the lower-spec GPU options, though if you’re spending $1,800 on a notebook, that feels like too high for 1080p gaming. But you’re not buying the Blade 14 specifically for outright performance and anything else; this is about having all the power you need in a form factor that works for practical mobility.
Read the full Razer Blade 14 review.
Our favorite config:
Let’s face it, trying to find a quality gaming laptop on a budget can be a chore. You have to make compromises in areas like performance, design, and even battery life. Thankfully, the Dell G3 15 offers decent 1080p gaming with configurations under $1,000, and the battery life is actually good.
The most significant improvement from its previous model is its slimmer, sleeker design. With thinner bezels around a 144Hz display, the sleeker design gives it a more high-end vibe. It’s a welcome toned-down look, in case you’re hoping for a gaming laptop that doesn’t shout ‘gamer’ as soon as you pull it out of your bag. The display itself seems the only downside, not having as rich a color range as the other gaming laptops on this list.
Our favorite config:
The MSI GS66 is one hell of a machine: It’s sleek, slick, and powerful. But it’s not Nvidia Ampere’s power without compromise, however. MSI has had to be a little parsimonious about its power demands to pack something as performant as an RTX 3080 into an 18mm thin chassis.
The top GPU is the 95W version, which means it only just outperforms a fully unleashed RTX 3070, the sort you’ll find in the Gigabyte Aorus 15G XC. But it is still an astonishingly powerful slice of mobile graphics silicon.
It can get a little loud if left to its own devices, but thankfully you have the benefits of all the Nvidia Max-Q 3.0 features at your disposal. That includes Whisper Mode 2.0, which will bring gaming down to barely audible levels, you know when you want to be stealthy.
The GS66 also comes with an outstanding 240Hz 1440p panel, which perfectly matches the powerful GPU when it comes to games. Sure, you’ll have to make some compromises compared to an RTX 3080 you might find in a hulking workstation, but the MSI GS66 Stealth is a genuinely slimline gaming laptop.
Read our full MSI GS66 Stealth review.
Our favorite config:
There’s absolutely no question you can buy a much more sensible gaming laptop than this, but there is something about the excesses of the ROG Strix Scar 17 that make it incredibly appealing. It feels like everything about it has been turned up to 11, from the overclocked CPU—which is as beastly as it gets—to the gorgeously speedy 360Hz screen; Asus has pushed that little bit harder than most to top our gaming laptop benchmarks.
And top the benchmarks of the best gaming laptops it does, thanks in the main to the GeForce RTX 3080 that can be found beating away at its heart. This is the 115W version of Nvidia’s top Ampere GPU, which means it’s capable of hitting the kind of figures thinner machines can only dream of. You can draw on Nvidia’s excellent DLSS, where implemented, to help hit ridiculous framerates too.
The 17-inch chassis means the components have a bit more room to breathe compared to the competition too, and coupled with the excellent cooling system; you’re looking at a cool and quiet slice of gaming perfection. This extra space has allowed Asus to squeeze an optomechanical keyboard onto the Scar 17, which is a delight for gaming and more serious pursuits.
Read the full Asus ROG Strix Scar 17 G733 review.
We loved Acer’s Predator Helios 300 during the GTX 10-series era, and the current generation Helios still manages to punch above its weight class compared to other $1,500 laptops. It may not be the best gaming laptop, but it’s one of the best value machines around. The 2020 version of the Helios packs an RTX 2070 Max-Q GPU and a sleeker form factor without raising the price significantly.
The new and improved Helios 300 has a 240Hz IPS screen and smaller bezels, putting it more in line with sleek thin-and-lights than its more bulky brethren of the previous generation. The only real drawback is the diminutive SSD, although the laptop has slots for 2x SSDs and an HDD which makes upgrading your storage as easy as getting a screwdriver.
Read our full Acer Predator Helios 300 review.
Gaming laptop FAQ
What’s the most important gaming laptop component?
When it comes to gaming, the obvious answer is the graphics card, but that’s where things have gotten a little more complicated recently. With GPU performance now so dependent on cooling, you have to pay attention to what wattage a graphics card is limited to and what chassis it’s squeezed into.
As we said at the top, an RTX 3080 confined in an 18mm chassis will perform markedly slower than one in a far chunkier case with room for higher performance cooling.
Should I worry about what the CPU in a gaming laptop is?
That really depends on what you want to do with your laptop. An eight-core, 16-thread AMD Ryzen chip will allow you to do a whole load of productivity goodness on the road but honestly will have little benefit in gaming. That’s one of the reasons Intel has launched its Tiger Lake H35 chips; they’re quad-core, eight-thread CPUs, but they’re clocked high to deliver high-end gaming performance when paired with something like the RTX 3070.
What screen size is best for a gaming laptop?
This will arguably have the most immediate impact on your choice of the build. Picking the size of your screen basically dictates the size of your laptop. A 13-inch machine will be a thin-and-light ultrabook, while a 17-inch panel almost guarantees workstation stuff. At 15-inches, you’re looking at the most common size of the gaming laptop screen.
Are high refresh rate panels worth it for laptops?
We love high refresh rate screens here, and while you cannot guarantee your RTX 3060 will deliver 300 fps in the latest games, you’ll still see a benefit in general looks and feel running a 300Hz display.
Should I get a 4K screen in my laptop?
Nah. 4K gaming laptops are overkill; fine for video editing on the go if you’re dealing with 4K content, but it’s not the optimal choice for games. The standard 1080p resolution means that the generally slower mobile GPUs are all but guaranteed high frame rates, while companies are slowly drip-feeding 1440p panels into their laptop ranges.
A 1440p screen offers the perfect compromise between high resolution and decent gaming performance. At the same time, a 4K notebook will overstress your GPU and tax your eyeballs as you squint at your 15-inch display.
Where are the AMD graphics cards?
Your guess is as good as ours. A few gaming laptop SKUs offered the RX 5000-series cards, but they were thin on the ground. But AMD has promised RX 6000, Big Navi mobile GPUs will be on their way to gaming laptops in the first half of this year, but so far, we’ve yet to see them in the labs.
Published at Thu, 04 Nov 2021 16:48:30 +0000