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How to shop for the best gaming laptop, according to experts

Experts explain how gaming laptops stand out with powerful performance and fast response times.
Experts told us that gamers looking for a new gaming laptop should consider gaming habits, budget and everyday utility when shopping.
Experts told us that gamers looking for a new gaming laptop should consider gaming habits, budget and everyday utility when shopping.

When people think of PC gaming, they often conjure up images of massive whirring desktop computers attached to arrays of monitors and clicky, glowing gaming mice. While some desktop gaming stations fit that description, many gamers prefer a more subtle gaming laptop instead.

Wondering what makes a gaming laptop different from a regular one? We consulted with experts within the tech industry to help break down the key components of a gaming laptop, and what to look for when shopping for your own.

SKIP AHEAD Best gaming laptops | How to shop for a gaming laptop

What is a gaming laptop?

Our experts agreed that the main difference between gaming laptops and the everyday variety is powerful internal components. “Gaming laptops offer a more powerful processor, dedicated graphics card and higher screen refresh rate,” said Cliff Yeh, an associate product marketing manager at MSI. “A lot of these options are what gamers like to look for when purchasing a gaming laptop since they inherently affect game and player performance.”

The CPU, GPU and screen were cited by experts as the three most important elements to a great gaming laptop. To run the latest games, all three need to be above-average, for different reasons. A CPU with a high clock speed (above 3Ghz) and at least eight CPU cores is important not only for everyday browsing, but for keeping games running smoothly. The GPU affects graphics — having one with a high clock speed (above 1500MHz) and at least 8GB of video RAM will allow you to run games with high graphical settings, increasing detail and fidelity. To keep up with the CPU and GPU, the screen needs to be fast, with a higher than normal refresh rate.

Best gaming laptops

When picking out your next gaming laptop, our experts all recommended to start with your budget rather than a wish-list of features. From there, you should be looking at which gaming laptops give you the best internal components for your money.

To pick the best gaming laptops, we relied on expert guidance and personal experience to select the best options available.

Best all-around gaming laptop: Asus

Asus ROG Zephyrus G14

CPU: AMD Ryzen 9 6900HS

GPU: AMD Radeon RX 6700S

Screen: 120Hz, 1440p

Storage: 1TB SSD

Model: GA402RJ-G14.R96700

The ROG Zephyrus G14 is one of the best all-around gaming laptops. Especially with this recommended configuration, the Zephyrus balances performance, portability, storage and battery life very well. It leverages a powerful AMD CPU, GPU and display to play most games easily and with high fidelity. Outside of gaming, the 1TB of storage, comfortable keyboard and built-in webcam make this laptop well-suited for any kind of everyday work.

There are more expensive versions of the Zephrus G14, but we think this model offers the best value for most people.

Best premium gaming laptop: Razer

Razer Blade 15

CPU: Intel i7-12800H

GPU: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3070 Ti

Screen: 240Hz, 1440p

Storage: 1TB SSD

Model: ‎RZ09-0421NED3-R3U1

Gamers looking for a top-of-the-line, premium machine should consider the Razer Blade 15. The Blade series is known for its premium design and components, and this 2022 model is no different. It features many high-end parts, such as the 12th generation Intel i7 CPU and blazingly fast 240Hz refresh rate 1440p screen. Perhaps the most premium element of the Razer Blade 15 is its design — it features an all metal chassis reminiscent of a sleek Macbook Pro. But, unlike a Macbook, the Razer Blade 15 is an incredible gaming machine that can tackle any game with ease.

Best budget gaming laptop: Acer

Acer Nitro 5

CPU: Intel Core i5-12500H

GPU: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060

Screen: 144Hz, 1080p

Storage: 512GB SSD

Model: AN515-58-527S

Great gaming performance doesn’t have to come with premium pricing. The Acer Nitro series of gaming laptops marries good performance with affordable price tags. While the design isn’t as premium or durable as something like the Razer Blade 15, the Nitro 5 costs half as much, and still runs the latest games, albeit with less impressive graphics. The Intel CPU and NVIDIA GPU are reliable performers, and the rest of the components run with little issue. This laptop is a good value, especially if you are shopping for younger gamers who don’t need a premium laptop design.

Best big gaming laptop: Alienware

Alienware m17 R5

CPU: AMD Ryzen 9 6900HX

GPU: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3070 Ti

Screen: 360Hz, 1080p

Storage: 1TB SSD

Model: AWM17R5-A355BLK-PUS

The m17 R5 has one of the fastest screens out there at a 360Hz refresh rate, which is great for action-heavy games like Apex Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. This zippy screen is paired with a very powerful AMD CPU and NVIDIA GPU to deliver desktop-like performance in a laptop-shaped package. It isn’t very portable, with a bulky build that weighs a whopping seven and a half pounds. But all that chassis space does feature tons of connectivity and cooling components, leaning into that desktop-replacement style. For gamers who mostly play in the same space, the m17 R5 is definitely worth a look.

How to shop for a gaming laptop

Gaming laptops are inherently techy products. Our experts broke down what specs to look for and how to simplify the process by prioritizing your needs over flashy specs.

Know your gaming habits

Casual gamers enjoying smaller games like Stray and Tunic don’t have the same needs as gamers competing in fast-paced titles like Apex Legends and Overwatch 2. Think about what games you play regularly. “A lot of today’s games will play great on an $800 computer, while other games require more horsepower and a more powerful laptop,” said Lisa Emard, the director of media relations at Acer.

Budget for performance first

It can be easy to get distracted comparing the aesthetics of different laptops. Regardless of your budget, our experts say to place gaming performance first and foremost. “Focus on the components (CPU, GPU) that will enable games to play well,” said Yeh.

Don’t neglect everyday utility

Unless you plan on having two laptops, your gaming laptop will be for video games and everyday tasks. Our experts recommend paying attention to how big or small a laptop is as well as how much internal storage space it offers.

Small 14-inch laptops are well-suited to travel, business and school, and can easily be hooked up to an external monitor when necessary. Large 17-inch laptops aren’t very portable, but offer a large, immersive screen. Unlike other specs, screen size really comes down to what’s best for your everyday use.

For storage, we recommend a laptop with at least 512GB of storage space. Games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Red Dead Redemption II take up over 150GB of storage each. Add on everyday apps and documents, and 512GB is actually less than you might think.

Meet our experts

At NBC Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure that all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and with no undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.

Lisa Emard is the director of media relations at Acer.

Cliff Yeh is the associate product marketing manager at MSI.

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