And Then There’s The Battery Life
Gaming laptops are not renowned for their battery life, which, because of their demanding components, is rather short.
Less powerful components might give you longer battery life, but your gaming performance might suffer if you choose a laptop with underpowered components.
Conversely, that laptop might have a less powerful battery in it, offsetting the reason you chose a weaker gaming laptop. Gaming laptop batteries are replaceable but not upgradeable.
Though batteries are getting better in gaming laptops, don’t expect any gaming laptop to give you anything more than a couple of hours during intense gaming sessions. For that reason, if you can, game with your laptop plugged into a power source.
However, if you want to get a long-running gaming laptop, it’s best to take the product description with a pinch of salt and, instead, look at what owners or reviewers have to say of the models you’re looking at.
What Makes A Creator Laptop Different From A Gaming Laptop
The rise of social media and user-created content platforms has brought up a whole new category of PC users Content Creators. They are the contributors to the endless amount of online media, be it text, image, audio or video that aims to engage, educate and entertain the mass online audience.
Just like professional photographers and moviemakers, content creators heavily depends on their computer to produce multimedia contents with ease. The PC industry took notice of this rising trend and started releasing hardware and software made especially for content creators. Intel also highlighted the importance of this user category during their keynote presentation at Computex 2018.
In this article, we shall have a look at how creator laptops differ from a standard gaming laptop and why it is a better choice for content creators despite the spec sheet may look similar.
Put The Gpu First: Graphics Are Key
The main attribute that makes or breaks a gaming laptop is its graphics processing unit . We don’t consider a laptop to be a gaming laptop unless it has a discrete graphics chip from Nvidia or AMD. A quick crash course for the uninitiated: In general, the higher the number in a GPU series, the more powerful it is. For example, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 will produce higher frame rates and higher-quality graphics than an RTX 3070, and so on down the stack.
Nvidia is the dominant player in the field right now, currently producing discrete mobile GPUs based its “Ampere” microarchitecture. Ampere GPUs sell under the GeForce RTX 30-Series name and launched on laptops in early 2021. This platform supplanted the previous “Turing” generation, though you will still find these 20-Series GPUs at online retailers in some laptops that released last year. Unlike prior generations, the top-end Turing and Ampere GPUs available on laptops carry an “RTX” designation rather than “GTX,” a nod to the ray-tracing technology that the platform offers for enhanced in-game visuals .
These remain relevant for the time being despite the new GPUs, especially in the lowest-end gaminglaptops, though the RTX 3050 and RTX 3050 Ti will begin to replace them in many cases. You will also see, for example, the GTX 1650 Ti utilized in small gaming laptops like the Razer Blade Stealth 13, and in non-gaming laptops that can benefit from some graphics oomph, like the Dell XPS 15.
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Use Task Manager To Close Programs You Are Not Using
Through the Windows task manager, you can view all the programs that are currently running and close the ones you are not using at the moment. This reduces the load on your CPU hence less overheating and fan noise.
On Windows, use the Ctrl+Shift+Esc keyboard shortcut to access the Task Manager. Next, Right-click on the programs you want to close and on the pop-up menu that appears select Disable.
How We Test Gaming Laptops
Testing a gaming laptop isnt as easy as you might think. But, then again, neither is narrowing down your options and choosing the best one for you, which is why we take our job seriously. Even if that means gaming for hours on end hey, someones gotta make the sacrifice, right?
In all seriousness, we put every gaming laptop we test through its paces to make sure it delivers as promised and is worth your hard-earned case. That means that on top of playing the latest and hottest games on it, noting things like gaming and thermal performance, we also run synthetic benchmarks like PCMark 10, 3DMark and Geekbench 5 as well as battery tests.
Because a gaming laptop is only as good as its peripherals, we take a look at how smooth and fast the display is, how comfortable and responsive its keyboard is, whether or not there are enough ports on hand, and how good its overall design is. We also test its webcam, in case users want to utilize it for game streaming.
We then take everything weve learned about the gaming laptop and compare it to its price whether or not its performance and features are worth that price tag, and whether or not it offers the best value to customers.
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Place Your Laptop On A Cooling Pad When Gaming
Laptop cooling pads can help reduce your gaming laptops internal temperatures by a few degrees and prevent overheating. They consist of a flat top surface with fans underneath it.
When you place your laptop on a cooling pad the fans at the bottom blow air on your computers bottom panel where the air intake vents are located. This allows your laptop to take in air more freely, thus allowing the fans to spin slower with less noise.
A Great Thin And Light Gaming Laptop
The Blade 15 isnt as powerful as its 17-inch sibling, but it may be a more pragmatic purchase for many people. If youre looking for a balanced combination of performance and portability, the Blade 15 may hit that sweet spot. It still packs the top chips on the market and comes with a 240Hz QHD display, but at just 4.39 pounds and 0.62 inches thick, its comparable in size to a number of 15-inch productivity machines like the Dell XPS 15.
In addition to its reliable gaming performance, the Blade 15 works well as a productivity machine. Were big fans of its keyboard, which is quite comfortable to use and has per-key RGB lighting, and the touchpad, which is roomy with a satisfying click. Our primary complaint is that this Blade got quite hot during our game testing.
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How Loud Are Gaming Laptops
The loudest component in gaming laptops is the fan. How loud a gaming laptop gets will depend on the design and size of its fans as well as how fast they spin.
On idle, the noise level of gaming laptops ranges between 30-35 decibels and on load it ranges between 40-45 dB. With the fans spinning at maximum speed the noise level can reach 50-55 dB or higher. Noise levels that are 50 dB and beyond are considered too loud.
To put it into perspective, the noise level of a refrigerator is about 50 dB while that of a vacuum cleaner is around 70 dB. You can check out some common environmental noise levels here for comparison.
Why You Should Trust Us
Ive spent thousands of hours gaming on laptops since high school, and Ive personally tested and reviewed hundreds of laptops, including most budget and high-end gaming models released in the past six years. Ive also written or edited most of Wirecutters gaming guides, including our reviews of laptops, keyboards, mice, controllers, and headsets.
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What To Look For In A Cheap Gaming Laptop
Invest in the GPU, CPU, display or storage? The trick is knowing exactly what you want to get out of it.
HP’s solid Pavilion Gaming 15 starts under $800.
High-end gaming laptops like the Alienware m17 R4 and Razer Blade 17 are fun to test because of their amazing performance and ground-breaking designs and features. But when it comes down to it, they’re completely impractical for my laptop needs, and I’m not about to spend upward of $4,000 when I can get all the graphics performance I need in a laptop for less than $1,000.
Going with a more entry-level gaming laptop does mean you won’t get the best of the best, and I don’t mean just in components. On the flip side, you can get reliable gaming performance for less than a grand if you choose your configuration carefully and improve your experience with an external display, keyboard, mouse and headphones or speakers when you don’t need to be mobile.
To help you make the right choices before you buy, CNET editors Dan Ackerman, Lori Grunin and I have listed below what’s most important to consider in the category. Keep in mind, though, that the current chip shortage means some models are in short supply and is driving up prices, too. Also, if you’d rather just start shopping, here’s our list of the best cheap gaming laptops under $1,000.
Acer’s Nitro 5 continues to be one of the best values in gaming laptops.
Laptops For The Average Gamer
Upgrading from extreme solitaire to The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt at playable fps will require the right tool for the job . Here you’ll be looking at these gaming laptop specs:
- A discrete GPU with 4-8GB VRAM
- An Intel i5/i7 or Ryzen 5/7 series CPU
- 8-12GB of RAM
- Larger SSDs of around 256GB to 512GB, and HDDs of 1TB or more
The MSRPs of laptops in this range may fall between $700 and $1,200, as they encompass a larger part of the bell curve. Price drops of 30% or more can net several steps of upgrades over our budget-friendly picks.
Total War and Civilization fans may want a more powerful CPU instead, so it’s better to look for a machine that has something like a Ryzen 7 4800H processor and a GTX 1650 4GB GPU. This is an example of a Ryzen CPU so good that it may be worth paying list price, as even its lower tier made waves when it was released.
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More Than Just Dancing Lights
A gaming laptop is like an enchanted sword. It can do all the usual sword thingschop, slice, cleavebut an enchanted sword can do a lot more, like talk or glow or deal extra damage to orcs. When it comes to raw power, a gaming laptop is almost always going to have the upper hand over a regular laptop. The key distinction is easy to spot: Gaming laptops all have discrete graphics cards. This is the enchantment that gives your gaming laptop its extra oomph.
All laptops have graphics chipsets, usually just built into the processor, so they can handle light gaming . But a discrete, or separate, graphics card is a unit solely dedicated to rendering the visuals in your games. It’s an essential component in any gaming laptop, and it’s usually why they tend to be a bit pricey. Enchantments don’t come cheap, after all.
Whats The Best Graphics Card For Laptop Gaming
The graphics card or chip is the most important component in a gaming laptop, helping to drive higher resolutions, higher frame rates and higher detail settings than any mainstream laptop can manage.
If youre playing esports games, you can get great frame rates with an Nvidia GTX 1650 or 1650 Ti. If you want to push high refresh rate displays to their fullest or take advantage of higher detail settings in AAA games, a more capable GPU like the RTX 2070 or 2080 Max-Q are worth considering. For the ultimate gaming performance, you need Nvidia’s latest-generation RTX 3000 series GPUs: the 3060, 3060 Ti, 3070, and 3080. Their Max-Q and Max-P options offer excellent performance with a reduced demand on your battery.
Although less common, more and more gaming laptops now offer AMD graphics as an alternative. They offer comparable performance to the last-generation Nvidia graphics chips, and are competitive at mid-range, but don’t consider them for top-of-the-line gaming laptops. They just don’t compete.
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Difference In The Type Of Graphics Card
The graphics card, also known as a video card or GPU , is the piece of hardware responsible for rendering the videos and images you see on the screen. It receives instructions from the processor and converts it into visual information.
There is a big difference between graphics cards found in normal laptops and those found in gaming laptops. Normal laptops have an integrated graphics card while gaming laptops have a dedicated GPU.
An integrated graphics card is usually embedded on the same chip as the CPU and uses the same RAM as the CPU. Having both pieces of hardware on the same chip usually results in manufacturers having to prioritize more on processing power than graphical power.
This causes an integrated graphics card to be limited in terms of both the power and amount of memory allocated to it. Integrated graphics cards are good for watching videos, PowerPoint presentations, and viewing photo albums.
However, they struggle when it comes to running modern graphically-heavy game titles, 3D rendering, and heavy photo or video editing. The following video explains what you might experience if you play games with an only integrated graphics card.
A dedicated graphics card, on the other hand, exists separate from the CPU and has its own memory known as VRAM as well as its own processor known as the GPU . VRAM is much faster than the main memory and is used exclusively by the GPU.
Laptops For Gaming Enthusiasts
Here, you’ll drop a pretty penny â probably your ugly pennies, too. Expect to see:
- More 6GB+ GPUs
- Intel i7/i9 or Ryzen 7/9 series CPUs
- 16GB+ RAM
- Even 1TB SSDs
With such a high potential price ceiling, it’s easy to throw money at the gaming problem. Just beware of massively overpriced systems with fancy marketing. Parting with thousands, even as little as $1,000 in some cases, nets up to essentially a mobile desktop. Sights like the Dell Alienware AREA-51M R2 gaming laptop, sporting the latest-generation overclockable CPU, RTX 2080 Super 8GB GPU, and upwards of 64GB RAM, offer just shy of glorious views from the highest mountaintops, but can reach prices as high as $3,800, if not more.
Rather save some of your firstborn’s college fund? ASUS offers their ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14 Ryzen 9-4900HS gaming laptop with RTX 2060 Max-Q 6GB GPU for around $1,350. It grants an entry level to the RTX experience, with enough respectable performance and power efficiency to earn LaptopMag’s label of “the longest-lasting gaming laptop ever.”
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External Keyboards And Mice
Casual gamers may not need the accuracy and speeds you can get with an external keyboard and mouse, both of which have options for setting up macros â those are useful for more intensive gamers. A little investment here could also save you some wrist pain in the future. It may not help with pain associated with table-flipping or getting called an “uncouth wilted cabbage barnacle,” though.
Budget Pick: Flaws But Not Dealbreakers
Its easy and not too expensive to add more storage, but the Nitro 5s 256 GB of SSD space will fill up quickly with games. In addition, compared with our GTX 1660 Tiequipped top picks, the Nitro 5 and its GTX 1650 graphics processor will be unable to play equally demanding games for quite as many years, and it doesnt support VR. Even so, the Nitro 5 offers unbeatable gaming performance for the price.
The Nitro 5 comes with so much bloatware, and we recommend removing it all. If you opt to use the Windows Refresh tool rather than removing each program individually, search for your model number on Acers website to reinstall the NitroSense software for controlling fan speed and any drivers that you may need.
Like many cheap gaming laptops, the Nitro 5 suffers from mediocre build quality. Its lid flexes, so we dont recommend stacking things on it or putting too much pressure against it in a bag. That said, the Nitro 5s plastic chassis is good enough, especially considering its price.
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A Good Webcam Really Is Worth It At Least During A Pandemic
In closing, I just wanted to quickly highlight something else I learned while using the XPS 15 OLED for half a year: the value of a good webcam.
In our review of the XPS 15 OLED we criticized its 720p webcam for capturing video that looks grainy, washed-out, and generally unattractive. Even so, there was a time when Id have told you that webcam quality shouldnt be a significant factor when considering which laptop to buy, because honestly, who expects to look good on a laptop webcam anyway?
But after six months of using the XPS 15s webcam for nearly every video call Ive had and Ive had a lot, thanks to working remotely during a pandemic I have to say how demoralizing it feels to see a blurry, unattractive vision of yourself every time you hop on a call. I doubt looking bad on video calls has had any major impact on my career or personal life, but it sure has made me feel a bit worse overall. Its gotten so bad that I regularly hit the turn off camera button in Google Meet during business meetings, and Im starting to think about buying a USB-C webcam and just using that instead.
So if youre on the fence about a laptop like this and feel like maybe the lack of a good webcam wont be an issue, I recommend you think twice and consider bookmarking our list of the best webcams on the market, just in case you are tempted by the appeal of an XPS 15 OLED but dont want to look sickly on your Zoom calls.