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There's more to a gaming laptop than raw speed. You can pack it with the best graphics processor (GPU), gazillion-core processor,  tons of fast SSD for storing games, a rock-solid hard drive and the fastest, most colorful display around -- and it can still fall short. Those powerful components may overheat at inopportune moments or you may simply experience some instability. Maybe you don't want to always use an external keyboard, but the built-in version feels like there are mashed potatoes under your WASD keys. 

But you don't have to spend thousands to get all the power you need -- not all games are bottlenecked by dual cores or a last-generation GTX.

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The compromise you make in almost any gaming laptop, no matter how fast or slow, 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 fight with frustration.

But components do matter. The fastest GPUs currently available are the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 series, followed by the RTX 2080 Max-Q; the Max-Q versions run at slower frequencies than their full-size siblings, in order to keep the heat and noise down and to fit into thinner designs. RTX models also accelerate ray-traced rendering and intelligent upscaling 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. 

ReadThe best gaming laptop performers of 2020

We're still waiting for the mobile and Max-Q versions of the updated desktop GPUs, the 2060, 2070 and 2080 Super, as well as of AMDs competitors, the RX 5700 and RX 5700 XT.

Read More: Best Laptop Backpacks for Travel in 2020

On the CPU side, more cores definitely help. The head of the mobile CPU pack are currently the eight-core Intel Core i9-9980HK and i9-9980H; we're still waiting to see what AMD has up its sleeve for third-generation Ryzen mobile CPUs.

Now playing: Watch this: Top 5 laptops with the best battery life (2019 edition)

And then there are the screens.  On the horizon we've got displays with 300Hz refresh rates to look forward to, with Asus and Acer having announced them at IFA this year. 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 with good gaming graphics power and solid battery life are the foundation for an overall good performance. And the price makes this a great bargain.  Read Dell G5 15 5590 review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Whether you prefer the sleek look of the Mercury White model or the powerful black slab version with an OLED 4K display and up to an 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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Acer crams top components -- like Nividia's RTX 2080 Max-Q graphics 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.

Best for in-game multitasking

HP Omen X 2S

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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 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 super powerful, with an Intel Core i9-9900K and the Nvidia RTX 2080 GPU for top gaming performance.
Read Origin PC Eon17-X review.

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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.