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So you're ready to take your gaming to the next level. Your quest probably begins with a better gaming rig, but let's say you don't have a single spot where you like to game. You're a gamer on the go, so to speak. That means you need a laptop, and there are some good ones out there for gamers.

Now, there's more to a gaming laptop than raw speed. You can pack a gaming laptop with the best graphics card, the fastest, most colorful display around, a gazillion-core processor, tons of fast solid-state drive storage to hold your games, and a rock-solid hard drive for secondary storage -- and it can still fall short. Those powerful components may overheat at the worst moments or you might experience some instability that impacts your gaming performance. Or maybe you don't want to always use an external mechanical keyboard, but the built-in backlit keyboard feels like mashed potatoes under your WASD keys

The good news is that 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 to pay for a new laptop. Budget gaming can be difficult if you're not shopping carefully, though, and we all know that there's really no such thing as a "cheap gaming laptop."

With almost all the modern gaming laptops, no matter how fast or slow, the compromise you make is battery life, which can last as little as two hours if you're using your gaming rig nonstop. 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 during hardcore gaming sessions, so a laptop that feels nimble when connected is lead-footed on battery power, throttling your rig's gaming performance and turning your experience into a battle of frustration.

Read moreThe best cheap gaming laptop under $1,000

But components do matter. The fastest graphics card currently available in a laptop is the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 with the usual Max-Q variants. The Max-Q versions run at slower frequencies than their full-size siblings -- this is to keep the noise and heat down and to help them fit into thinner designs. RTX models also accelerate ray-traced rendering and provide intelligent upscaling (also known as DLSS) where it's explicitly supported. If your favorite games don't use it, the lower-end Nvidia GTX 1660 Ti incorporates Turing, the latest generation of Nvidia's technology, without the extra cost burden of the RT cores. 

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The Asus ROG Flow X13 with its optional sidekick the Mobile XG offers a blended solution for gamers: The small, lightweight laptop has a powerful AMD Ryzen 5900HS CPU and an Nvidia GTX 1650 GPU for lightweight gaming, while the external dock incorporates an RTX 3080 mobile GPU and extra connections.

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The problem with the Max-Q, though, is that you have to reboot to switch between a dedicated GPU mode and the original Optimus mode, which only uses the GPU for accelerating, not actually drawing the screen. That means you can't take advantage of the Max-Q's ultrafast refresh rates with Optimus. So why not leave it on the GPU mode all the time? Because you'll frequently get poorer CPU performance and even lesser graphics performance in games that balance CPU and GPU usage rather than going all-out on the GPU. 

Nvidia launched the new generation of its Max-Q architecture, which supports Advanced Optimus, last year. It's smarter, with the integrated and discrete graphics sharing (rather than switching) the pipeline to the display, so no reboot necessary. But Advanced Optimus needs a major change to system design, so laptops supporting Advanced Optimus still aren't exactly plentiful.

AMD's latest laptop GPUs, the Radeon RX 5700M, 5600M and 5500M, don't quite reach the level of the fastest Nvidia RTX models, but can hold their own against the entry-level mobile RTX 2060 and 2070. The 2020 Dell G5 15 SE incorporates the Radeon RX 5600M. AMD recently released its new RX 6800-series generation of desktop GPUs, and once they went their way down to mobile they should be able to compete with the RTX 3070 and higher. 

Read more: Best cheap gaming keyboards to rev up your work-from-home experience

More cores may help when choosing a CPU, though at the moment most games still don't use more than four. That's partly Intel's rationalization for its continued reliance on its old 14-nanometer 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 such as Ice Lake, which is designed to support more cores on less power draw. The next generation -- Tiger Lake 10nm H series -- were announced at CES 2021 so look forward to Xe discrete graphics (beyond the low-end Xe Max).

AMD H-series processors of the Ryzen 5000 series, including a new mobile Core i9 competitor, the eight-core/16-thread Ryzen 9 5900HS. We tested it in the new Asus ROG Flow X13 and it flies on both multi- and single-core. I'm also looking forward to the update to the company's dual-screen ROG Zephyrus Duo.

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And then there are the screens. Everyone bumped their flagship 1080p configurations to 360Hz, but for many a gamer, they're not essential: 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 2021 for when you need a laptop and tablet in one  

We're also seeing a lot more 120Hz 4K screens in the flagship models, in both 17- and 15-inch sizes. We've tested the 17-inch in the Razer Blade Pro 17 and the 15-inch in the Asus StudioBook One laptop, and they're very, very nice. While OLED screens seemed like the best thing ever for building a gorgeous gaming rig -- OLED has great color and contrast with fast response times -- and the 4K IPS models top out at 120Hz now.

But the most exciting advancement are the 1440p displays everyone announced at CES 2021, which combine the higher resolution -- certainly enough on a laptop screen -- with gaming friendly 120Hz refresh rates.

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. We update this list periodically.

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If you're going for the best, go big. Yes, there are faster 17-inchers, but I draw the line at dual humongous power bricks. (Doesn't matter to you? Check out the Gigabyte Aorus 17X, Alienware Area-51m and other mammoth systems.) The Blade Pro is fast and provides powerful gaming performance with an Intel Core i7-10875H Processor and NVIDIA GeForce RTX 20 Series super graphics, but doesn't sacrifice its svelte figure.

While we recommend getting this Blade Pro laptop with its 4K-resolution display option for creators, gamers will want to get the display with a 300Hz refresh rate that Razer offers for this model.

Read our Razer Blade Pro 17 (early 2020) review.

 

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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 Dell G5 15 a great bargain. It comes in two flavors, a standard Intel-based model and the AMD Ryzen-based Special Edition.

Read our Dell G5 15 (2020) review.

 

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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 for a budget laptop price, this one will serve you well given its sub-$900 price.

Read our Acer Nitro 5 (17.3-inch) review.

 

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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.

 

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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, 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.

 

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Asus pairs an ultraportable 13-inch two-in-one with a relatively powerful AMD CPU with an external GPU dock equipped with a top-of-the-line Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 mobile processor and the result is an incredibly flexible system for both work and play that outperforms many bigger, clunkier gaming laptops. Because it's a two-in-one you can comfortably use an external gaming keyboard without the built-in keyboard getting in the way.

It doesn't seem to have shipped yet, however, so keep an eye out.

Read Asus ROG Flow X13 with XG Mobile 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 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. It's been updated for 2021 with more powerful gaming performance components -- up to an Intel Core i9-10900K and Nvidia RTX 3080 GPU.

Read Origin PC Eon17-X review.

 

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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.

 

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