The Best Gaming Laptops 2018
With the complete rollout of 8th-gen Core processors for laptops, including the more powerful Coffee Lake H-series parts, we’ve seen a lot of new and refreshed laptops hit the market for both productivity and gaming.
These are our recommendations for the best gaming laptops you can buy right now, covering not just the most powerful and most expensive models on the market, but also practical options that provide great value for money, possess a thinner profile or how about a great ultrabook that doubles as a decent gaming machine.
Best Portable Gaming Laptop
This is our personal favorite category of gaming laptops: portable designs with tons of power. We’ve already reviewed a handful of these devices over the last few years, but a few stand out that come loaded with the latest Core i7-8750H from Intel. The best of the bunch so far is the MSI GS65 Stealth Thin.
We were fans of MSI’s previous thin gaming laptop in the GS63, but the GS65 is an improvement in every way. It has slimmer bezels surrounding a faster 144Hz 1080p display, and that helps shrink the entire footprint of the laptop. It’s still very thin and light for this class of device, and the new design with gold highlights looks better than ever. It’s MSI’s most refined laptop build yet.
As for gaming performance, the GS65 comes with two GPU options, a GTX 1060 or GTX 1070 Max-Q. Either option is a sound choice at their respective price points, though the GTX 1070 Max-Q model is better suited to gaming on the 1080p high-refresh display, and gives you more power in the same form factor. Other features like 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD are standard for this laptop and its competitors.
We opted for the GS65 over competing laptops from Gigabyte and Asus for a couple of reasons. The GS65 is quieter than the similar Gigabyte Aero 15X during gaming, and the build quality is superior, with both laptops coming in around the same price. It was a tough choice between the GS65 and Asus ROG Zephyrus M GM501; the Zephyrus is more powerful with a full GTX 1070 inside rather than the Max-Q variant, but it’s also louder, hotter, and more expensive as a result. The GS65 has a larger battery and lasts longer, too, and that’s important for a portable gaming laptop.
Either the GS65 or the Zephyrus would be our pick depending on what you were after, but if we had to choose just one, the more well-rounded GS65 gets our vote in this category.
Best Budget Gaming Laptop
If you have about $1,000 to spend, there is one clear standout option: the Acer Predator Helios 300. Often available for a touch over $1,000 through Amazon, the Helios 300 provides the best set of hardware you can get at that price point, combining the Intel Core i7-7700HQ with a GTX 1060 6GB. It makes a great system for 1080p gaming without breaking the bank.
Most other laptops available for around $1,000 opt for the GTX 1060 3GB instead, which does pack lower performance than the full 6GB variant in the Helios. You’re also still getting 16GB of RAM and an SSD boot drive, which are very important to deliver a good gaming experience. Sure, it doesn’t pack the latest i7-8750H but you won’t find that CPU in any well-priced budget laptops just yet.
The only way you’ll find a cheaper laptop with the GTX 1060 6GB inside is if you opt for the i5-7300HQ instead of the i7-7700HQ in something like the Dell Inspiron 7577. But the extra CPU power of the Core i7 and more SSD storage space makes the Helios 300 a no brainer for just $100 more.
The only major downside to the Helios 300 is its mediocre display that can’t reproduce the full sRGB spectrum, which is something we criticized in our review of the laptop. But I’d take that downside knowing that inside the laptop is the best hardware available at that price point.
Best Bang for Buck Gaming Laptop
The Helios 300 is a great budget buy, but if you want the best value/bang for your buck, you should look instead at the Asus GL502VS. Starting at $1,480 but more typically configured at $1,0, the GL502VS is a more expensive but it packs faster hardware and more features.
The key improvement here is a fully fledged GeForce GTX 1070. It’s not a Max-Q variant and it’s much faster than the GTX 1060 6GB in our budget pick. Typical performance gains are in the 35 to 45% range, though it’s not usual to see an increase that exceeds 50 percent in heavily GPU limited games. Those performance gains are in line with the price increase over our budget GTX 1060 laptop pick, if slightly lower in the worst case.
You also get a far superior 1080p 120Hz G-Sync display in the GL502VS to complement the faster GPU, while the same Core i7-7700HQ, 16GB of RAM and 256GB SSD is found inside. This laptop’s higher refresh rate display makes a huge difference for gaming and the GTX 1070 can take full advantage of it.
When weighing everything up, the GL502VS delivers an excellent price to performance ratio. The Acer Predator 17 was also considered as it too features similar hardware and a similar price, however it’s much larger and significantly heavier than the GL502VS for only a small price saving.
Best Extreme Gaming Laptop
Let’s say you happen to have a lot of money lying around and you just want the best mobile gaming experience money can offer. Well, for about $4,000 we recommend the Gigabyte Aorus X9 DT. It’s not meant to be a value-conscious option, but it packs pretty much everything you’d want.
The processor inside is the fastest mobile chip Intel currently offers, the Core i9-8950HK. The GPU is a full Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 with 8GB of GDDR5X, plus you 32GB of RAM and a variety of SSD options that start at 1TB of NVMe storage. Seriously, if money is no object you can get two 2TB Samsung 960 Pros in this thing for a mere $6,500.
We don’t really recommend spending that much on this laptop, but that’s because the base model already offers such a complete package. On top of the above mentioned specs, you get a 17.3-inch 1080p display with a 144Hz refresh rate and G-Sync and X-Rite Pantone certification, plus a mechanical keyboard with per-key RGB backlighting, and plenty of overclocking headroom.
There are many options at the very top-end of gaming laptops, but we chose the Aorus X9 DT for a couple of good reasons: it’s significantly slimmer and lighter than other Core i9 laptops with the GTX 1080 inside, and not that much more expensive in the process. The X9 isn’t exactly thin or light itself, but competitors like the MSI GT75 and Asus ROG G703 are seriously massive.
We also feel that more expensive gaming laptops with SLI GTX 1080s or GTX 1070s are not worth it. There are a lot of modern games that don’t properly support SLI and a laptop with GTX 1080s in SLI can cost over $1,400 extra than the Aorus X9 DT — an additional expense that we wouldn’t recommend even if you can afford it.
Best Ultrabook for Gaming
Not everyone who wants to play games on the go is after a gaming laptop. How about those who want high levels of portability, and productivity-oriented features you get with an ultrabook, but also want to do some gaming on the side. The best ultrabook you can get right now that doubles up as a capable gaming machine is the Microsoft Surface Book 2.
The 15-inch variant of the Surface Book 2 is available with a discrete GTX 1060 6GB inside. Most ultrabooks top out around a GTX 1050 or 1050 Ti with their discrete GPUs, but the Surface Book 2 pushes all the way up to a GTX 1060 6GB, which we know is very capable for gaming. On top of that you get a Core i7-8650U quad-core CPU, 16GB of RAM, at least 256GB of SSD space and a high-resolution 3240 x 2160 display.
And let’s not forget all the features the Surface Book 2 provides that gaming laptops don’t. The screen detaches from the base and can be used as a large tablet on the go. The display is a touchscreen and supports active stylus input. And the whole package is compact and light considering what you get.
The Surface Book 2 with the GTX 1060 inside does start at $2,400, so those that want a portable laptop primarily for gaming are better off with the MSI GS65 we listed earlier. But as far as ultrabooks go, you won’t find a more powerful option for gaming than the Surface Book 2. And just quietly, the 13-inch model of this laptop still comes with a GTX 1050, which is much faster than what you’d typically find in that form factor and is well worth a look if you don’t want to lug around something as large as the 15-inch model.