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PC gaming is said by many to be the best way to play video games. In a lot of ways, that’s true — high-end gaming computers pack more graphical and processing power than any home console does, and they offer a level of freedom in terms of customization and game choice that you’re just not going to find anywhere else. But when it comes down to it, starting your foray into PC gaming can be extremely complicated, especially when you’re new to all of this.
Unlike consoles that you can just pick up and play, gaming computers require an intense amount of research into each and every component. GPUs, CPUs, monitors, keyboards — it’s a lot to take in, and it’ll normally cost you a lot of money.
While desktops may deliver the best performance, laptops fit into the modern lifestyle more effortlessly. A laptop allows you to take everything you want with you, and you can find a laptop that fits nearly any and every type of gamer. Whether you’re looking for a powerhouse that can run VR, 4K resolution, and eye-popping graphics, or hoping to just balance cost with power, there’s a gaming laptop for you.
Gaming laptops still take a bit of careful spec scrutinization before you buy one, but they are way simpler than their desktop counterparts. But, even with that extra simplicity, it can still be a head-scratcher of a choice if you don’t know what to look for in the first place. We’re going to help you with that part.
What to consider when looking for a gaming laptop
As with any computer — gaming or otherwise — there are a lot of components that make up any given device. You shouldn’t have to figure all that out for yourself, though. Here’s what you’ll want to take into account when shopping for a gaming laptop:
CPU: Also called a processor, your CPU is basically your computer’s brain, and will dictate how speedy your laptop can process inputs, store data, and execute on outputs correctly. Your processor is in constant communication with the other parts of your computer, so it’s important that the device’s central nervous system is a good one.
GPU: The GPU (or graphics card) does what it sounds like it does: It ensures that your games can run at their intended graphical quality. The better the GPU, the better your laptop can render details like textures, anti-aliasing, ray tracing, and more (you can always change these settings within your games to better suit your graphics card, but the better the GPU, the closer you can get to those higher-end settings).
System Memory (or RAM): Your RAM, like your CPU, is also extremely important in determining overall performance. RAM provides short-term memory storage for applications so that they can access data quickly, storing information that your computer is actively using. For budget gaming laptops, you shouldn’t settle for anything less than 8GB of RAM.
Storage: When it comes to storage, you’ll normally find yourself deciding between a hard drive (HDD) and a solid-state drive (SSD). HDDs can have a higher storage capacity than SSDs, but at the cost of lower performance. The good news is that some gaming laptops come with a dual-storage approach, opting for an HDD as the main storage method, with a smaller SSD built in that you can dedicate to your more performance-demanding games.
Display: That nice GPU you bought will be wasted if you don’t have a nice display to marvel at its brilliance on. You’ll mainly want to look for three things here: resolution, refresh rate, and size. For our money, we say go for a 1080p resolution with a 60Hz refresh rate (which means you can run up to 60 frames per second on your screen). The size, however, is up to your preference — gaming laptops usually come in at 15.6-inch and 17.3-inch displays.
Keyboard: The keyboard is another vital part of your overall experience with a gaming laptop. Comfort is definitely a factor, but you’ll also want to decide whether you want full-range RGB backlight settings (totally fine to skip out on the fancy stuff here), and if you like the layout of the keys themselves. For example, if you find that you desperately need a number pad on your keyboard, you’ll want to double-check to make sure that it’s there — not all gaming laptops have one (not all 15.6-inch options at least, almost all 17.3-inch laptops will have one).
Which parts are the most important?
If all those bulleted points gave you a headache and you want an even more simplified explanation, you’ll want to put most of your focus on the computer’s GPU and CPU, or the processor and graphics card, respectively. They’ll be the two things that end up making or breaking your overall experience with your gaming laptop, as they work in tandem with each other to provide a speedy and smooth performance. If you skimp too much on them, you’ll most likely get choppy gameplay and plenty of frustration in return, so make them your main investment.
So, what’s the best gaming laptop?
Whether you’re a budget-focused gamer who just requires the bare minimum, or you’re someone who wants to run your games in 4K with an uncapped frame rate, these laptops will serve you well as your shiny new PC gamer badge. Below are our picks for the best gaming laptops (and the models we get most excited about when we happen across a sale.)