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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 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.

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.

ReadThe 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. 

We're still waiting for the mobile and Max-Q versions of the updated desktop GPUs, the 2060, 2070 and 2080 Super. AMD has released its next-generation laptop GPUs, the Radeon RX 5700M, 5600M and 5500M, but we've yet to test them in a Windows system (a custom version of the 5500M is in the latest MacBook Pro 16).

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 why so many game laptop manufacturers are pivoting their marketing of the high-powered models to creative uses. The head of the mobile CPU pack are currently the eight-core, ninth generation Intel Core i9-9980HK and i9-9980H, since we're waiting on the 10th-generation versions of Intel's mobile processors. AMD recently announced its Ryzen 4000 series of mobile CPUs, which we're also waiting to see in laptops.

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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. They're not worth the wait for most of us: 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 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; OLED has great color and contrast with fast response times, but they're currently limited to 4K/60Hz on laptops. 

Still with us? Great. If you want 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 buyer's guide below.

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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.

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As long as you're willing to put up with the loud, whiny fans, Acer's midrange Predator delivers excellent 1080p performance when you hit Turbo, especially for its sub-$1,200 price (which includes a 144Hz screen but less-than-optimal 256GB SSD). However, you can easily get to the SSD and memory slots to upgrade if you don't want to lay out the money up front for a better configuration. Read our Acer Predator Helios 300 (2020) review.

Read more: Razer Blade Pro vs. Origin PC Evo16-S

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Whether you prefer the sleek look of the Mercury White model or the powerful black slab version with an Intel Core i7 processor, 16 GB of RAM, an OLED 4K display and up to an RTX 2080 GPU, Razer's understated style won't leave bored co-workers 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.

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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.

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A big screen in a smaller frame plus class-leading gaming performance make this thin Asus one of our top picks. Read our Asus ROG Zephyrus GX701 review.

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An Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 means it only delivers decent 1080p performance on high, but if you're 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.

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For those 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.

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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 -- 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.

Best gaming laptop for speed freaks

Alienware Area-51m

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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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Originally published last year and updated as we review new products.

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