The Best Gaming Laptop – Forbes
This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a buyer’s guide to the best technology. When readers choose to buy The Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, it may earn affiliate commissions that support its work.
After 20 hours of new research and testing—plus 150 hours over the past few years—we found that the Acer Predator 17 G9-793-79V5 is the best gaming laptop for most people because it has the best performance for the price without any major flaws. The Predator 17 stays cool, has a comfortable, responsive keyboard, and sports a great 17-inch 1080p IPS screen with G-sync. Its fans are loud, and that keyboard is ugly and looks cobbled together, but these flaws are worth the trade-off for excellent performance at a low price (for a gaming laptop, anyway). If you’re looking for a less expensive alternative, head over to our budget gaming laptop guide.
Why you should trust us
I’ve tested, lived with, and reviewed hundreds of laptops in my career, and I’ve spent hands-on time with countless other models while covering the CES trade show, attending events, and visiting stores. I’ve reviewed most gaming laptops released in the past five years, and I’ve spent thousands of hours gaming on laptops since high school.
Who is this for
Gaming laptops are a tough sell. To provide the power to play games at decent settings, they sacrifice portability, battery life, and value compared to non-gaming laptops. At the same time, a $2,000 gaming laptop is less powerful and less upgradeable than a $1,200 desktop gaming PC. And a $1,000 ultrabook will handle non-gaming tasks just as well at a third the weight and with four times the battery life, much better build quality, and a better keyboard and trackpad.
A gaming laptop makes sense only if you’re a serious gamer but still want to travel with your machine. Gaming laptops tend to be popular with students, deployed soldiers, and road warriors—people for whom a gaming desktop isn’t feasible.
What makes a good gaming laptop
The attributes that impact a gaming laptop’s performance are, in order: graphics card (GPU), processor (CPU), the chassis’s heat management, memory (RAM), and storage. Other important features include noise management, keyboard, display, and (to a lesser extent) the speakers and trackpad.
Our ideal gaming laptop has an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 graphics card or better, an Intel Core i7-6700HQ or i7-7700HQ processor or faster, at least 16 GB of RAM, and at least a 256 GB SSD and 1 TB hard drive. We would prefer that it cost less than $2,000, but we’re less strict about price in gaming laptops provided the machine is worth the cost.
Powerful hardware isn’t the only consideration. A gaming laptop’s processor and graphics card produce a lot of heat, and if the laptop doesn’t have an effective cooling system, it can overheat. The laptop also needs a good keyboard and solid build quality. Even though Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1070 can run games on high settings at 4K resolution, we still recommend 1080p displays because 4K screens are currently too expensive for most of our readers.
Some features that are must-haves in non-gaming laptops aren’t quite as important here. Poor speakers can be bypassed with a good pair of headphones, and most people use a mouse instead of the trackpad while gaming. Battery life and portability have never been the strong suits of gaming laptops, which spend most of their lives plugged in and stationary.
How we picked and tested
After picking our hardware criteria (see above), we scoured the websites of major gaming-laptop manufacturers like Alienware, MSI, Asus, Razer, Samsung, Acer, HP, and Lenovo, and we browsed boutiques like Xotic PC, iBuyPower, Clevo, iBuypower, Origin PC, Digital Storm, and others. Then we put together a list of the laptops that fit our requirements and have positive reviews from trusted sources like CNET, AnandTech, Engadget, Laptop Mag, PCMag, and Notebookcheck, and eliminated those that didn’t.
We tested the laptops using BioShock Infinite’s benchmarking mode and by playing half an hour of The Witcher 3 on ultra with VSync off. We measured the laptops’ internal temperature using HWMonitor and measured the surface temperature at various points on the keyboard and underside using an IR thermometer. We tested each laptop’s screen using some of the Lagom LCD monitor test pages, and used each for several workdays to get a feel for its keyboard, trackpad, screen, and speakers.
Our pick: Acer Predator 17
Of the gaming laptops we researched and tested in 2017, the Acer Predator 17 G9-793-79V5 has the most powerful specs for the price, without any dealbreaking flaws. The Predator 17 keeps its WASD keys, underside, and components cool, and it has a comfortable, responsive keyboard and a great 17-inch 1080p IPS display with G-sync. Its biggest flaws are loud, distracting fans and an ugly, haphazard-looking keyboard. Most important, the Predator 17 will be able to play most modern games on ultra settings—it offers great performance for the price. (If you want to know how it will handle a specific game, take a look at Notebookcheck’s benchmarks database.)
As an added bonus, the Predator 17 has hella ports: Ethernet, HDMI 2.0, DisplayPort 1.2, Thunderbolt 3, four USB 3.0, an SD card slot, jacks for headphones and a microphone, and a Kensington lock slot. And like most gaming laptops, this model is easy to upgrade: Two small screws and a panel stand between you and installing two more sticks of RAM. Our pick doesn’t have any open drive slots, but you can access the included hard drive and solid-state drives if you need to replace them.
What to look forward to
Gaming laptops is a tricky category. Components—graphics cards, processors, solid-state drives, wireless cards, and the like—are refreshed at various points throughout the year. Some gaming-laptop makers release only one new line per year, while others update their offerings and prices year-round to reflect new components and tiny design tweaks.
Such high product churn means there isn’t really a best time of the year to buy a gaming laptop, but here are some things that might be worth looking forward to: Intel’s first eighth-generation Core processor and quad-core ultrabook chips, Nvidia’s Max-Q approach to designing thinner and quieter laptops, MSI’s new gaming laptops, Lenovo’s Legion Y920 laptop, Acer’s Predator Triton 700 laptop, and Samsung’s Notebook Odyssey laptop.
Also, this year marks the first time that a number of 15-inch gaming laptops are available with powerful GTX 1070 graphics cards. Two-thirds of our survey respondents told us they would prefer a 15-inch gaming laptop, so we’ll be looking into 15-inch options for our next round of testing.
This guide may have been updated. To see the current recommendations or availability updates, please go here.
Note from The Wirecutter: When readers choose to buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn affiliate commissions that support our work.