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Best gaming laptop 2021: Top rigs

Gaming laptops have come a long way from their origins, where the very idea of a portable gaming computer was belied by 10-pound behemoths whose battery life could be measured in minutes, not hours. In 2021, you can game just fine on a notebook that’s specced out with the right components, without needing strength training to carry one around. You can even play for a few hours without the system needing to be plugged in. 

While the ultimate gaming performance still requires a desktop rig that can handle the largest graphics cards and house the beefiest power supplies without concern for system weight and battery, the six laptops on this list can deliver plenty of punch while retaining some degree of portability. The latest mobile processors from Intel and AMD continue to improve performance and efficiency as the newest mobile graphics cards from AMD and Nvidia push up games’ frames per second in a limited footprint. 

These are housed in some stylish bodies that stand out from other notebooks and feature little touches for gamers such as customized keyboards and advanced technologies to keep systems cool as their internal parts run hot during a long gaming session. The best aren’t cheap, either: If you’re watching your spending, but still want a capable gaming portable, check out our list of the best budget gaming laptops.


Configured to the i9s

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Specs: Display: 17.3 inches (1920 x 1080 pixel resolution) | CPU: Intel Core i9-11900H | RAM: 32GB | Storage: 1TB | Graphics Card: Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 | Weight: 5.4lbs | Battery Life: 11 hours


The Stealth GS76 is the only laptop on this list that includes the new Core i9-11900H octa-core processor as standard rather a Core i7. That, along with 32GB of RAM, provides an extra boost in performance to go along with the GeForce RTX 3070 graphics card. Of course, you have to pay more than $3,000 for the privilege.

You get an ample 17.3 inches of screen to game on, but the GS76 manages to be over a pound lighter than the similarly sized Alienware m17 R4 listed below. MSI also claims a surprisingly high 11 hours of battery life, though you’ll no doubt get much less than that playing games instead of doing general computing tasks.

Pros:

  • Latest Intel Core i9 processor
  • 32GB of RAM
  • Relatively lightweight for 17-inch laptop

Cons:


Midrange marvel

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Specs: Display: 15.6 inches (1920 x 1080 pixel resolution) | CPU: AMD Ryzen 9 5900HX | RAM: 16GB | Storage: 512GB | Graphics CardAMD Radeon RX 6800M | Weight: 5.3lbs | Battery Life: 11 hours


The ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition comes with the same top-tier Ryzen 9 processor as the Razer Blade 14 listed below, but for several hundred dollars less. While many laptops jumping on the Ryzen bandwagon continue to pair it with an Nvidia GPU, Asus has chosen this notebook to be the first to use the new Radeon RX 6800M graphics, based on its RDNA 2 technology.

Battery life is impressive at over 11 hours; also impressive is the 300Hz refresh rate for the display, though the brightness and resolution can’t match that of the less expensive Lenovo Legion 5 Pro listed below. Asus has puzzlingly not included a front-facing camera on this laptop, a rare misstep with an otherwise top-quality rig.

Pros:

  • Ryzen 9 processor
  • Latest Radeon mobile graphics
  • Solid battery life

Cons:


The screen’s the thing

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Specs: Display: 16 inches (2560 x 1600 pixel resolution) | CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 5600H | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 256GB | Graphics CardNvidia GeForce RTX 3050 | Weight: 5.4lbs | Battery Life: 5 hours


Just because we made a separate list of budget laptops doesn’t mean all gamers can afford $2,000 or more on the priciest gaming rigs. For those with a spending limit closer to $1,000, the Legion 5 Pro provides a lot of value, including a truly impressive display. Not only is the 16-inch screen slightly larger than the typical 15.6-inch one, but its 2,560×1,600 (WQXGA) resolution is also higher than the base 1080p on other laptops in this list. At 500 nits, it’s impressively bright as well.

The base model comes with a capable Ryzen 5 5600H processor and GeForce RTX 3050 GPU, but the price point reveals itself in the 8 gigs of RAM and 256GB solid-state drive. Even the $1,500 configuration stays with 8GB of memory, though it does double the storage and upgrade the processor to a Ryzen 7 5800H.and graphics card to the GeForce RTX 3060.

Pros:

  • Bright WQXGA 16-inch display
  • Solid battery life

Cons:

  • 8GB of RAM
  • Base model only comes with 256GB of storage


Strong desktop replacement choice

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Specs: Display: 17.3 inches (1920 x 1080 pixel resolution) | CPU:  Intel Core i7-10870H | RAM: 16GB | Storage: 256GB | Graphics CardNvidia GeForce RTX 3060 | Weight: 6.6lbs | Battery Life: 2-3 hours


A long-time leader in the gaming laptop space, Alienware hasn’t slowed down since Dell purchased the brand a few years back. Its roomy 17.3-inch m17 R4 features a stylish magnesium alloy chassis with innovative in-house cooling technology and even an optional mechanical keyboard developed in partnership with Cherry. While it uses a previous generation Intel Core i7 processor and the base model includes just 256GB of storage, you can easily customize storage, double the RAM and upgrade to a GeForce RTX 3070 — for a pretty penny, of course.

There are some downsides to the m17 R4, however, including its weight, which is more than a pound heavier than MSI’s similarly sized Stealth GS76. Its claimed battery life isn’t listed, but reviewers have found it be awful — barely over two hours. The m17 R4 therefore shines as a plugged-in desktop replacement that requires a strong back to move around. 

Pros:

  • 17.3-inch screen
  • Optional Cherry MX mechanical keyboard

Cons:


Perfect balance of power and portability

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Amazon

Specs: Display: 14 inches (2560 x 1440 pixel resolution) | CPU: AMD Ryzen 9 5900HX | RAM: 16GB | Storage: 1TB | Graphics CardNvidia GeForce RTX 3070 | Weight: 3.9lbs | Battery Life: 10 hours


Razer started out as a purveyor of PC peripherals before making the move into offering actual gaming PCs, and that experience has helped it become one of the innovators in the space. The Blade 14 is its latest laptop, bridging the gap between the company’s 13-inch and 15-inch systems, and is the first 14-inch notebook that is using the powerful Ryzen 9 5900HX processor. At just under four pounds and with solid battery life, the Blade 14 can be a constant travel companion whether you’re gaming or not.

Part of the Razer aesthetic is a stylish, but tasteful, backlit keyboard that allows you to tweak the RGB color behind each key. With this middle configuration, you also get a bright QHD (2,560×1,440) display, though its small size doesn’t equate with a small price tag. That’ makes the subpar webcam a bit of a bummer, though unlike the ROG Strix G15, it at least has a webcam.

Pros:

  • Decent battery life
  • Under four pounds

Cons:


Tiny dynamo

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Specs: Display: 13.4 inches (1920 x 1200 pixel resolution)  | CPU:  AMD Ryzen 9 5900HS | RAM: 16GB | Storage: 1TB | Graphics Card Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti | Weight: 2.9lbs | Battery Life: 7 hours


Pint-sized gaming laptops like the ROG Flow X13 are typically limited by the need to use smaller graphics cards to fit within the tight dimensions of a 13,3-inch chassis. While Asus managed to squeeze a Ti edition of the GeForce RTX 3050 into the Flow X13, it gives gamers the (pricey) option of using the XG Mobile external GPU. The 2.2-pound accessory — which costs as much as the laptop itself — combines a GeForce RTX 3800 mobile graphics card with a docking station that provides additional USB ports, a SD card slot, and other connections.     

Even if you don’t want the XG Mobile accessory, the Flow X13 is quite well specced for the price, featuring a new Ryzen 9 5900HS eight-core processor and a full terabyte of solid-state storage. Unusual for a gaming laptop, the Flow X13 not only has a touchscreen display, but with a 360-degree hinge, it’s also a 2-in-1 system. It still manages to weigh under 3 pounds, though its claimed battery life might not last as long as you might expect for a thin-and-light system.   

Pros:

  • 2-in-1 design with touchscreen
  • Good specs for the price
  • Optional XG Mobile external GPU

Cons:

  • Uninspiring battery life for the size

How did we choose these gaming laptops?

If a laptop has powerful enough hardware — especially a discrete graphics card — it can handle PC gaming to some degree. In other words, you don’t have to have something with gaming in its name to game on your laptop. However, manufacturers specifically make gaming laptops for a reason, so we are only including those models in our list.   

Because we’ve already compiled a separate list of the best budget gaming laptops, we choose to look at systems above $1,000 for this list. They all are equipped with some of the latest hardware available, along with gamer-centric features like special keyboards, lighting schemes and cooling solutions, not to mention more eye-catching chassis design.

Which gaming laptop is right for you?

When it comes to gaming laptops, generally the more you pay, the better performance you should expect. This comes in the form of better specs: a faster processor and graphics card, more RAM, a screen with a faster refresh rate, and so on. Your budget will factor into this balancing act — a higher one will allow you to make fewer compromises as you spec out your rig.

There are other factors beyond what’s inside your laptop, however. Selecting a screen size is a critical decision as it will impact the portability of your system. While most gaming laptops include a 15.6-inch display, many gamers prefer a bigger screen, such as 16 inches or 17.3 inches. The expansion in screen real estate increases the notebook’s dimensions and weight and can also impact battery life. Quality gaming laptops can now come in smaller sizes, too, even with displays as small as 13.3 inches; portability will improve, but larger components will need to be eschewed and, of course, you’ll need to game on a tinier platform. 

Two other important considerations are weight and battery life, neither of which is a gaming laptop’s specialty. If you’re planning to take the laptop with you on the go often, a lighter system might be of greater importance to you, though you may sacrifice performance (and screen size) in the process. You also shouldn’t expect miracles when it comes to battery life, as more powerful components being pushed to the max by games will chew through a charge. If staying unplugged as long as possible is crucial, serious consideration should be given to the MSI Stealth GS76 and Razer Blade 14 superior battery numbers.

Which other gaming laptops are also worth considering?

PC gaming isn’t a cheap endeavor, but if you are a little light in the wallet, check out our list of best budget gaming laptops for alternatives around $1,000 or less. You’ll have to deal with some compromises in game play (reduced frame rates and refresh rates), but today’s cheap gaming notebooks are far more competent than their anemic predecessors.

If you want to spend a little less, or you want higher tier components for a bit cheaper, you could consider a slightly older laptop that’s been discontinued but still available online. The previous generation CPU and GPU might be a touch slower than the top brand-new hardware, but they’re often still better than newer midrange components, which is something to mull over if you find them in a system that’s similarly priced.


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