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Some of the more important factors to take into consideration when you are looking for the right gaming laptop include the graphics card (GPU), processor (CPU), memory (RAM) and storage. There are other features that you will need to consider as well, including the keyboard, speakers, trackpad and display.
We started our research by choosing a graphics card for our ideal gaming laptop. When it comes to Watch Dogs for example, it is quite interesting how laptops with different graphics cards run this game. The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M is able to run this game at 1080p on ultra settings at 46 frames per second, resulting in very smooth overall gameplay.
The 970M is able to run Watch Dogs at 35 frames per second, which is close to our minimum playable threshold of 30 fps, but it’s not low enough to be significant. The 960M (the graphics card we think is best for gaming on a budget), is able to run the game at a max of 15 frames per second on ultra. This means that you will see a lot of stuttering and choppy combat that will negative affect your gaming experience. If you lower the settings to high, the 960M is able to run the game at 29 frames per second.
The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970M is the second fastest laptop graphics card available on the market right now. You will find that only the GTX 980M is superior to this video card. As of now the 970M is only available in laptops that are priced $1,800 and under, making it an excellent overall choice. In order to purchase a laptop that uses the GTX 980M, you will most likely need to spend $2,000 or more.
Over the year the high-end video cards that NVIDIA has made have held up very well, so the GTX 980M is definitely one of the better decisions you can make. While you will find that this graphics card costs a lot more than the GTX 970M, it will almost certainly last much longer. The only possible way to outperform the GTX 980M in a laptop right now is to use numerous graphical issues, or to use a desktop-class GTX 980 mobile card.
After selecting a graphics card, we found a processor that wouldn’t cause too much of a bottleneck effect for each computer. The Intel Core i7-6700HQ is by far the slowest CPU in this year’s gaming laptops, but it should give the average gamer enough speed when it is coupled with the GTX 970M or GTX 980M.
A majority of modern gaming laptops come with 16 GB of RAM, although 8 GB of RAM will be perfectly suitable for most games today. Those who buy 32 GB of RAM or more will be essentially wasting their money. You shouldn’t play any games that require more than 16 GB of RAM in order to play them perfectly.
There are a number of different storage options that vary depending on the manufacturer and configuration of the computer. Ideally, gaming laptops would have at least a 256 GB solid-state drive and 1 TB of hard drive storage. The SSD is needed for your operating system, programs and a decent collection of games. A decent-sized hard drive is very important when it comes to getting extra games, movies and other types of media.
Our ideal gaming laptop costs less than $1,800 and comes with an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970M GPU or better, an Intel Core i7-6700HQ processor or faster, 8 GB of RAM, and at least 256 GB SSD and 1TB hard drive. When it comes to our recommendation for an upgrade, we chose the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M, the same CPU or faster and 16 GB of RAM. We would prefer if the laptop cost less than $2,500, but we aren’t as concerned with the price as long as the specs are solid.
While powerful hardware is important for any gaming laptop, it’s certainly not the only factor. The processor and graphics card of a laptop produce quite a bit of heat, so each one therefore needs an effective cooling system. If the CPU or GPU inside your computer overheats, it can negatively affect the performance of the laptop as a whole. Overheating can also significantly lessen the lifespan of your gaming laptop. A couple other things that all good gaming laptops need is a quality keyboard and a 1080p display.
While it’s true that a good trackpad, long-lasting battery, quality speakers and G-Sync are all nice features, they are not absolute requirements. G-Sync can help prevent tearing and stuttering, but it is not worth the extra money. Bad speakers can be overlooked with a really nice pair of headphones. A majority of gamers use a gaming mouse instead of a trackpad for gaming. Some may even purchase a standalone gaming keyboard to use alongside their laptop. Battery life as well as portability have never really been two things that are associated with gaming laptops, though their specs do vary from model to model.
While the following features are not important, they can be nice for some people to have. A Blu-Ray drive can be good for those who like to watch movies, provided you are not paying a lot extra for the laptop. Touch screen and 3D models are not something most gamers will find essential. It is true that these features can certainly be nice to have with the gaming laptop you buy, but they are not necessary a requirement.
1. ASUS ROG G752VT-DH72 Review
The ASUS ROG G752VT-DH72 offers a nice combination of a reasonable price, excellent performance and great build quality. This particular gaming laptop is certainly one of the quietest and has a very effective cooling system. The comfortable, responsive keyboard along with the great track-pad makes this laptop a wonderful overall deal. There is also a 17” 1080p IPS display with G-Sync that you will display the graphics of any modern game with vibrant color. One of the best things about this laptop is that you will have no problem at all playing it on the highest possible settings.
The ROG G752 meet most of our hardware requirements except one. The configuration of this laptop comes with an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970M graphics card with 3 GB of dedicated memory, a Skylake Intel Core i7-6700HQ quad-core processor and 16 GB of RAM with two additional memory slots. This means that you will easily be able to add more memory if you are so inclined. There is also a 1 TB hard drive as well as a 128 GB PCIe solid-state drive. The version of this laptop that comes with a 256 GB SSD costs roughly $250 more, and there are less necessary upgrades.
ASUS is known for making some of the best laptops that are able to stay cool, even when they are put under massive workloads during gaming, graphic design, video editing, music production or photo editing; this is primarily because of the amazing vents at the back of the computers. The fans on the G752 were among the quietest and most effective we have seen. After half an hour of playing Borderlands 2 at 1080p on ultra settings, the graphics card didn’t go any higher with 64 degrees Celsius or 147 degrees Fahrenheit, and the CPU hit a max temperature of 88 degrees Celsius or 190 degrees Fahrenheit. In the tests we did, the WASD keys on the keyboard, which are the most commonly used for gamers, felt warm but not exactly hot. When we put the G752 to the test, the warmest spot that we found was the area between the keyboard and screen, which reached 41 degrees Celsius or 105 degrees Fahrenheit. This part of the laptop felt warm to the touch, but it still stayed a lot cooler than the WASD keys on the Alienware 17 as well as the MSI GE72 Apache.
The fans in the G752 stayed quiet throughout our testing, and they were definitely the quietest of all five laptops that we tested; it was never necessary to turn up the speakers because the fans were too loud, as is what happens with so many other laptops. The MSI GT72 Dominator was our runner up, and while the fans are almost as effective, they are a little louder and sometimes it’s necessary to turn the volume up to hear in-game dialogue. A pair of rubber plugs was added to the back vents for this generation’s ASUS in order to prevent dust from getting inside the actual system. If you want you will of course be able to cut the ties and take the plugs out permanently.
The keys on this laptop feel very responsible, and they have some very nice-looking red backlighting. This gaming laptop has six macro keys, including one recording key and five programmable ones—located in the upper left part of the keyboard. The G751, which was last year’s model, had even fewer macro keys with a placement that made it very easy to accidentally press and launch the recording software. These macro keys are a little more difficult to reach, but no more accidentally presses when you are using it.
The trackpad on the G752 is not really used for gaming, but it works well for all standard Windows gestures with physical left and right click buttons. We tested two individual units and both of them had problems with the left button not registering each click. We took at some of the reviews, and this didn’t seem to be an issue that a lot of people are complaining about. ASUS told us that the manufacturer defects would be covered by the one-year warranty that comes with the laptop. The software that ASUS offers can automatically disable the trackpad when a mouse is plugged in, which is a great feature for gamers who might accidentally trigger the touchpad with their palms while playing otherwise.
The ASUS ROG G752 has a beautiful, vibrant 1920 x 1080 IPS panel that has no problem at all displays deep blacks and bright colors. There are certain gamers who prefer TN screen because of how quickly they respond, but IPS screen are usually brighter and more color accurate. You will find that these screens also don’t wash out or invert colors when they are viewed from an angle. If you are a serious gamer, you will definitely want a monitor that has a reputation for its super fast response times. The ASUS IPS panel is definitely a good choice for casual gamers though.
The screen on the ROG G752 comes with G-Sync, which is definitely a great feature to take into consideration. Although Gamespot has given their own explanation as to exactly what G-Sync is and how it works, this is the short version: If you have an NVIDIA graphics card, G-Sync will synchronize the GPU’s output with the monitor’s refresh rate to prevent stuttering and tearing. This feature added around $200 to the overall price of laptops that had it. The tests that Notebookcheck performed revealed that this feature really isn’t worth the extra two hundred bucks.
There are a variety of ports on the ROG G752, so you should have no problem getting your needs met. There is a port for Ethernet, HDMI 2.0, (allowing for 4K video output); Mini DisplayPort 1.2, Thunderbolt 3, USB 3.0 (4 ports), an SD-card slot, jacks for headphones, a microphone and line out. The ASUS ROG G752, similar to most other gaming laptops, will be easy for you to upgrade if you need to. There is just one small screw as well as panel that needs to be removed so you can upgrade your RAM. Remove another four screws and a small metal panel to gain access to the PCIe M.2 slot for additional solid-state storage. Overall, this is the best gaming laptop under $2000 for the money.
2. MSI GT72 Dominator G-831 Review
This gaming laptop is a good alternative to our top pick, though we don’t like it more than the ASUS because the keyboard as well as the graphics card for the MSI run a little louder than we’d like. Still, this is one of the best gaming laptops around $1500. Similar to the ASUS ROG G752VT-DH72, the G-831 has a 128 GB solid-state drive. The MSI on the other hand has a slower SATA drive as opposed to a PCIe drive. The keyboard for the MSI has a shallower key travel, though it is multicolored with completely customizable backlighting as well as remappable keys.
The MSI GT72 Dominator G-831 has an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970M graphics card with 3 GB of VRAM, Intel Core i7-6700HQ quad-core processor and 16 GB of RAM. Both the ASUS and MSI have 128 GB SSDs, which is definitely smaller than we like to see. The drive in the MSI is slower, but not so much that it’s easy to notice. The MSI GT72 has a 17-inch matte IPS display with a 1920 x 1080 resolution and G-Sync, as well as a dual-band 802.11 ac Wi-Fi card with Bluetooth 4.0. These specs of both these gaming laptops are essentially the same.
Because of the vented underside that the MSI GT72 has, it runs a lot cooler than most other gaming laptops that we have tested this year. The GT72 gets a little warmer than the ASUS laptop in some places, especially the WASD keys, which were 38 degrees Celsius or 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The keys on the ASUS ROG G752 were only 30 degrees Celsius or 87 degrees Fahrenheit in the very same test. The graphics card in the MSI laptop reached 80 degrees Celsius or 176 degrees Fahrenheit during the BioShock Infinite benchmark. This temperature was within normal range, offset by the fact that the MSI laptop’s chassis kept its CPU the coolest in the same test. You can always buy an aftermarket laptop cooler, but you probably won’t need one.
The fans in the MSI are noticeably louder than the ASUS, but they are still quieter than all the other gaming laptops that we subjected to our tests this year. When the fans were turned up all the way, which happens automatically when playing a demanding game or when you manually press the fan button, they can get loud enough to make hearing in-game dialogue difficult. The screen on this laptop has amazing 1920 x 1080 resolution with bright colors and deep blacks as well as some very impressive viewing angles. The 17” matte display with G-Sync is reminiscent of the ASUS ROG G752, though the MSI has a slight bluish tint and it is less accurate with regards to its colors.
The keys on the MSI GT72 don’t travel as deeply are not quite as smooth or comfortable as those on the ASUS, making them not the greatest for those who tend to game for long periods of time. The keyboard has three zones of backlighting that are all customizable. Each of these zones have very distinct color settings. The keyboard on the ASUS only glows red or not at all, so there aren’t very many options. While these may not be extremely important features for most gamers, they are to some. There are five dedicated function keys just to the left of the keyboard. The power button is on the very top, followed by a button that toggles between integrated and NVIDIA graphics cards, a switch for the fans for maximum speed, one that launches the XSplit Gamecaster software and a button that switches between various backlighting profiles for the SteelSeries keyboard. The MSI does not have any dedicated macro keys, but you can remap any key on the keyboard with the SteelSeries Engine software.
The trackpad on the MSI doesn’t offer the ability for two-finger scrolling or other gestures by default. If you want to enable these features, you will have to go into Mouse Properties, select the device, click the Settings button, go into the Scrolling tab, choose Two-Fingered Scrolling and check the boxes that will allow for vertical and horizontal scrolling. The trackpad does not have a physical lip around the edge, making it easy to accidentally go off and onto the palm rest if you are not paying attention. These are fairly minor concerns, and the trackpad as well as the dedicated left and right click buttons are otherwise problem-free. The speakers that you will get with the MSi are definitely not incredible, but they are a lot better than the ones on the ASUS ROG G752. You will find that the MSI’s speakers aren’t anything special by any means, but they can still definitely get the job done.
The MSI GT72 comes in at exactly 8.4 pounds, weighing almost half a pound less than the ASUS ROG G752, though it isn’t any easier to haul around with you. The MSI is 16.9” wide, 11.6” deep and 1.9” thick. This gaming laptop is both wider and thicker than the ASUS, though it’s not as deep. You will find that the GT72 has a total of six USB 3.0 ports, a Thunderbolt-3-over-USB-C port, a Mini DisplayPort, an HDMI 1.4 port, an Ethernet port and an SD slot. There are also ports for headphones, a microphone, audio in and audio out. If you purchase this gaming laptop you will receive a two-year manufacturer’s warranty with it. Although the bottom cover is slightly more difficult to take off, the MSI is almost as easy to upgrade as the ASUS. There is room for up to 64 GB of RAM, although you shouldn’t need more than the 16 GB it comes with, and open M.2 SATA slot for an additional SSD.
3. Alienware AW17R3 Review
Alienware has decided to upgrade the formula it uses for its gaming laptops for 2016, introducing Intel’s 6th generation Core i7 CPU as well as Nvidia’s 980M graphics card to its 17” gaming laptop. You will still get the same old cosmic laptop case with lots of customizable lights as well as an extremely comfortable keyboard. Throw in a 17.3” screen that completely changes the game for gaming machines and you have an excellent overall combination of specs. There are indeed other laptops that have powerful GPUs in them, but the Alienware 17 functions on a whole new level when hooked up to the optional graphics amp.
A lot of gamers will notice that many modern gaming laptops have been made with increasingly showy designs lately, but you can expect the same old design from Alienware that you have been used to for the past three years now. The chassis of this laptop is very sleek and clearly inspired by spaceships. There is absolutely no doubt that the Alienware case can still stand out in a crowd without any problem whatsoever. You most likely won’t be able to tell the difference between the 2016 and 2015 model. The smooth black deck contrasts nicely with the gray exterior panels, and there are additional lights mounted underneath the keyboard as well as behind the Alienware logo under the display. Everything looks and feels very solid, which is of course common with Alienware products. The 17 weighs a total of 8.33 pounds, providing it with a nice weighty feel that isn’t too overbearing.
The Alienware 17 measures 16.93” by 11.49” by 1.35” and weights a total of 8.3 pounds. This gaming laptop is thinner than a lot of the other high-end gaming laptops that you will find on the market. Some of the models that this particular laptop is smaller than includes the OriginPC Eon 17-SLX, MSI GT72 Dominator Pro and the Acer Predator 17. Alienware definitely has a history of producing amazing quality displays, and the 17.3” UHD screen on the 17 is far superior to anything else in its class right now. This display is very high-quality, bright and offers vibrant colors for those who love gaming. No matter what game you play, this display was made to impress, and that is exactly what it does.
The display for this gaming laptop has a brightness of 318.6 nuts, beating out the screens from Origin’s Eon17-SLX as well as MSI’s GT72 Dominator Pro Dragon Edition and the Acer Predator. The 17 is also far better than any other gaming laptop in its class in terms of color range, offering an sRGB range of 173.5 percent. The Origin Eon17-SLX, which comes in at 114 percent. The MSI GT72 Dominator Pro, which comes in at 114 percent, and the Acer Predator 17, which comes in at 116 percent.
Although the Alienware 17 has 8GB of Vram, ITS Nvidia 980M GPU just isn’t as powerful as the non-mobile desktop GPUs that are featured in gaming laptops from Origin and MSI. The Alienware is a much cheaper laptop compared to some of its competition, while still offering solid performances at 1920 by 1080 screen resolution. If you want to really take advantage of the Alienware 17’s 4K display though, you will have to turn the settings down to low. 3DMark’s Fire Strike Ultra graphics test revealed that the Alenware 17 scored 2,270. The Acer Predator 17, which comes with a 980M, scored just above that with 2,312. Origin’s Eon17-SLX features a real 980 GPU. MSI’s GT72 Dominator Dragon Edition scored 2,411, which was faster than Alienware, but not on the same level as Origin’s laptop.
We tested the Alienware 17 playing Metro: Last Light at 1920 x 1080 on ultra settings, and the Alienware 17 managed 37.17 fps, dropping to a horrible 11.92 fps at 3840 by 2160. The Origin’s Eon 17-SLX got a lot higher at 57 fps on ultra at full HD. MSI’s GT72 Dominator reached 49 fps was better than that of the Alienware, but didn’t reach the same level as the Eon. Acer’s Predator 17 reached a total of 38 fps, which is very close to what the Alienware achieved.
Alienware’s Graphics Amplifier is essentially its answer to systems like the Origin PC Eon 17-SLX as well as the MSI GT72 Dominator Dragon Edition, which has a desktop-level Nvidia 980 in it. Instead of stuffing their laptop with power-hungry graphics cards, this company provides you with a box that you can put any GPU you want in, and connect to the laptop with a special port on the back. While you might not get the same level of graphics performance sometimes, you will definitely notice the difference when connected to the amp. Running 3DMark Fire Strike Ultra, our Graphics Amp coupled with the Nvidia 980Ti GPU sent the Alienware 17 soaring to a score of 3,865. That is a total of fifteen percent higher than Origin’s Eon17-SLX, which scored 3,350. It was also a whole sixty percent higher than MSI’s GT72 Dominator Dragon Edition, which scored a total of 2,411.
The higher graphics rating applied to Metro:Last Light as well, with the Alienware 17 coupled with the graphics amp went up to 62 fps at 1920 x 1080 set on ultra. The Eon17-SLX went up to 57 frames per second, which was slightly less. It did not go up to 60 fps though, and the GT72 Dragon came in at only 49 fps. While this didn’t make for a huge difference in scored, every bit definitely counts when you are trying to push your pixels to the max. One of the best things about getting a graphics amp is that you can upgrade your graphics when a new series of GPUs becomes available.
There are a lot of people who say that a graphics amp really does make all the difference, and there are many companies that are currently planning their own amps. Some of these companies include ASUS, MSI and Acer. Alienware is the only company that is currently offering this option though. Considering everything that was said in our review of the Alienware 17’s configuration, doing things like browsing the web and looking at spreadsheets as well as word documents is extremely easy. The Alienware 17 scored a total of 13,906 on Geekbench 3, which tests overall system performance. Although that may not be quite as good as the 13,524 score that the Origin Eon17-SLX received, it is still fairly impressive. The Acer Predator 17 scored a little bit lower at 13,524.
With regards to storage speed, the Alienware 17’s 512GB SSD came back with a transfer rate of 508.96 MBps. The Alienware 17 keyboard offers a travel of 2.6 mm and an actuation weight of 65 grams. This keyboard on this laptop is definitely comfortable, making for a great overall typing experience. Alienware switched over to a chiclet-style design, making for a very noticeable difference. There is a very comfortable and roomy 3.8×2.8” touchpad that lights up with a number of different colors when you touch it. This touchpad has a very smooth touch surface that always responded quickly to everything I did, whether it was just a normal tap or a two finger gesture. Another thing I really liked about the trackpad was the mouse buttons below, which featured separate keys for left and right click.
One of the things about the Alienware 17 that seems to be lacking is with the audio. The Klipsch speakers don’t sound as crisp as manybe they should, which left certain games like Rise of the Tomb Raider feeling a bit underwhelming. When I listened to Deadmau5’s “The Veldt,” the bass was lacking somewhat, and it didn’t have the kind of impact I was expecting. The MSI GT72 Dominator Pro as well as Origin’s Eon17-SLX both have far more impressive audio equipment that this one does unfortunately.
The Alienware 17 has a somewhat difficult time minimizing the amount of heat it generates inside. When playing Rise of the Tomb Raider for only 15 minutes, a number of areas on the notebook went over 110 degrees, which is much more than we feel comfortable with. The space between the G and H keys registered 11 degrees, the Alien head power button registered 120 degrees, and the back right vent registered 124 degrees. While I wasn’t hugely bothered by the temperature of the keyboard, I would suggest that those who buy this computer do not do too much serious gaming with it resting on their lap.
Alienware definitely fully utilizes the 17’s chassis room by introducing three USB 3.0 ports, HDMI 2.0, SD card reader, Ethernet, discrete headphone and mic jacks and a USB-C port with Thunderbolt 3. This means that you will be able to send video to numerous 4K displays without having to use more than one port. You can also transfer data to and from an external storage device at a maximum speed of 40 Gbps.
You will find that the two megapixel camera comes with dual mics that will allow you to chat with friends without having to use your headset, and it is capable of taking fairly decent quality photos. We took a picture with this laptop’s camera in our testing lab, and its webcam was able to take a fairly impressive picture with accurate colors and less noise than you might expect. While the Alienware 17 is a fairly big and bulky laptop, the R3 will provide you with enough battery life—about 6 hours and 7 minutes according to the battery test we ran, which consisted of browsing the web continuously over Wi-Fi at 100 nuts of brightness.
The Alienware 17 may have once been viewed as an unparalleled gaming machine, but these days there are a number of other gaming laptops that have surpassed it. This doesn’t mean that Alienware has a problem keeping up with the competition though, because that simply is not true. The fact is that there are many things about the Alienware 17 that make it an excellent choice for all sorts of games. The HUD screen is one of the very best in its class, and it is certainly an important feature ofr gaming.
Overall, you will find that the Alienware 17 has equal, if not better overall performance than many of our other top picks, which is really saying something. This gaming laptop has an amazing display, powerful GPU and CPU, and a number of other features that make it worth looking into for those who want a machine that will allow them to play modern games smoothly and without any significant problem at all.