A gamer knows that there's more to a gaming laptop besides raw speed. You can pack it with the best graphics card processor (GPU), tons of fast SSD storage to hold your games, a gazillion-core processor, a rock-solid hard drive for secondary storage and the fastest, most colorful display around — and it can still fall short. Those powerful components may overheat at the worst moments of hardcore gaming or you might just experience some instability. Or perhaps you don't want to always use an external keyboard, but the built-in version feels like mashed potatoes under your WASD keys.
And not all games are bottlenecked by dual cores or a last-generation GTX, so it's not a given that you'll need to bust your budget, either.
For more like this
Subscribe to the CNET Now newsletter for our editors' picks for the most important stories of the day.
With almost any gaming laptop, no matter how fast or slow, the compromise you make is battery life, which can last as little as two hours. You also can't play most complex games — GPU- or CPU-intensive ones — on battery power. The processors tend to get throttled back and screens dim, so a laptop that feels nimble when connected turns lead-footed on battery, turning your gaming experience into a battle of frustration.
Read: The best gaming laptop performers of 2020
But components do matter. The fastest GPU currently available in a laptop is the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080, followed by the RTX 2080 Max-Q; the Max-Q versions run at slower frequencies than their full-size siblings — to keep the noise and heat down and to fit into thinner designs. RTX models also accelerate ray-traced rendering and provide intelligent upscaling (DLSS) where it's explicitly supported. If your favorite games don't use it, the lower-end GTX 1660Ti incorporates the latest generation of Nvidia's technology (Turing), without the extra cost burden of the RT cores, though it's not up to the equal of the last-generation GTX 1080.
Nvidia recently announced a new generation of its Max-Q technology along with mobile versions of its latest "Super" versions of the GPUs, which we haven't yet gotten a chance to test. AMD has released its next-generation laptop GPUs, the Radeon RX 5700M, 5600M and 5500M, but we've yet to test any in a Windows system (a custom version of the 5500M is in the latest MacBook Pro 16). Laptops incorporating the new Nvidia and AMD parts are expected to begin shipping within the next couple of months — provided no supply issues arise due to coronavirus-related complications.
On the CPU side, more cores may help, though at the moment most games still don't make use of more than four. That's partly Intel's rationalization for its continued reliance on its old 14nm architecture for the 10th-gen high-performance (H series) processors; it lets the company boost single-core clock frequencies, compared with gains it would make by moving to a smaller process technology like Ice Lake, which is designed to support more cores on less power draw.
AMD, on the other hand, started shipping its own H processors of the Ryzen 4000 series, including a new mobile Core i9 competitor, the 8-core/16-thread Ryzen 9 4900HS. We tested it in the new Asus ROG Zephyrus 14 and it flies on both multi- and single-core.
Now playing: Watch this: The best laptops from CES 2020 19:03
And then there are the screens. Asus and Acer announced laptops with a 300 Hz refresh rate at IFA 2019, but they've yet to materialize. For many a gamer, they're not worth the wait: 240Hz max should be fine for those few times you can get frame rates above 240fps. Even 144Hz will do for many people, but artifacts like tearing, caused by the screen refresh rate becoming out of sync with the frame rate, depend on your games as much as your laptop brand and hardware.
Read: Best 2-in-1 PCs in 2020 for when you need a laptop and tablet in one
We're starting to see OLED screens become available for those looking to build a gorgeous gaming rig; OLED has great color and contrast with fast response times, but they're currently limited to 4K/60Hz on laptops, as is the forthcoming 14-inch 1440p display Asus will be offering for the G14.
Still with us? Great. If you're a gaming beast who wants to do a deep dive into what's out there right now and figure out which is the best gaming laptop for your desired gaming experience, check out our recommendations below.
Best gaming value under $1,000
Dell G5 15
Sarah Tew/CNET ED I T O R S ’ C H O I C E Nov 2019
There's no such thing as a budget gaming laptop. But solid gaming graphics power and strong battery life are the foundation for a good gaming laptop. And the price makes this a great bargain. Read Dell G5 15 5590 review.
$919 at Dell
Best 17-inch gaming value
Acer Nitro 5
An Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 means it only delivers decent 1080p performance on high, but if you're a gamer looking for a big screen on a budget, this one will serve you well given its sub-$900 price. Read our Acer Nitro 5 (17.3-inch) review.
$865 at Amazon
Best gaming laptop for general use
Asus ROG Zephryus G14
The Zephyrus G14 is a little smaller than usual for a gaming notebook at 14 inches, but you probably won't notice much of a difference between it and a 15-inch model — especially since it packs quite a bit in for the money. Its AMD Ryzen 9 4900HS CPU blows away current Intel competitors for processor performance, and it's capable of business-laptop battery life of up to 10 hours when you're not gaming. Gaming performance is solid for an RTX 2060 Max-Q, and it's matched well with the 120Hz 1080p display. In June, Asus is slated to ship a model with a 1440/60p screen if you've a yen for higher resolution. Read our Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 review.
$1,915 at eBay
Best for in-game multitasking
HP Omen X 2S
For that gamer looking for something a little extra from their display, a small second screen small second screen on this gaming laptop is great for monitoring other activities, like chats or walkthroughs, while you've got a little lull in your play. And it's no slouch in the performance department, either, especially in HP's Dynamic Power mode. Read our HP Omen X 2S review.
$1,899 at Amazon
Best gaming laptop for impressing at work
Razer Blade 15 Advanced
Whether you prefer the sleek look of the Mercury White model or the powerful black slab version with an Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, an OLED 4K display and up to an RTX 2080 GPU, Razer's understated style won't leave bored coworkers wondering what games are monopolizing your screen during meetings. They may wonder if you're overpaid, though, since this laptop is not cheap. Read our Razer Blade 15 Advanced review.
$2,179 at Amazon
Fastest 15-inch gaming laptop
Acer Predator Triton 500
Acer crams top components — like Nividia's RTX 2080 Max-Q graphics card and 144Hz full-HD display with 3-millisecond response time — into this relatively compact 15-inch laptop, and that makes it the fastest we've tested in its size. This laptop offers a FAST gaming experience. Read our Acer Predator Triton 500 review.
$3,800 at HSN
Best gaming laptop for customizers
Origin PC Eon17-X
You can add some custom graphics to make the generic chassis a little more stylish, but it's the wealth of component choices that makes this best gaming laptop an appealing buy for a gaming beast — though not a cheap one. Additionally, because the Eon17-X is basically a desktop in a laptop's body, it's REALLY heavy compared to the others on this list. That said, it's also a super powerful gaming laptop, with a ninth gen Intel Core i9-9900K and the Nvidia RTX 2080 GPU for top gaming performance. Read Origin PC Eon17-X review.
See at Origin PC
Best gaming laptop for speed freaks
If gaming performance is your obsession, this is the fastest gaming system we've tested to date. Alienware's just-short-of-mammoth 17-inch laptop uses overclockable desktop processors and supports GPU upgrades down the road. Read our Alienware Area-51m review.
Best for gaming with an external keyboard
Acer Predator Triton 900
The 17-inch Triton 900 is fast — it's one of the top-five fastest laptops we've tested recently — but that's not its superpower. It has a rotating display that you can flip over to leave the built-in keyboard behind it, which means it doesn't get in the way when you've got an external keyboard attached. So if you desperately need your lucky backlit keyboard, this is the best gaming laptop for you. Read our Acer Predator Triton 900 review.
$4,634 at Amazon $6,356 at eBay $4,552 at Walmart
The best new gaming laptops, ranked
See all photos
Now playing: Watch this: 5 PC games that'll make you a better racer 26:13
More for gamers
- Best graphic card for gamers and creatives in 2020
- Best laptop deals 2020: Windows and Chromebooks for under $500
- Best 15-inch laptops for 2020
- Best wireless mouse for 2020
- Best TVs for gaming with low input lag
- Razer Blade Pro vs. Origin PC Evo16-S
- Best laptop backpacks for travel in 2020
- Best gaming PC for 2020
- Lenovo IdeaPad 730S: Thinner, lighter MacBook Air alternative drops to $490
- Best board games in 2020: Lord of the Rings, Mansions of Madness and more
- Best drone for 2020
- The best VR games for escaping to other worlds
Comments Computers Gaming Acer Asus Dell HP Intel Razer Notification on Notification off Laptops