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Best Gaming Laptops of 2021

Best Gaming Laptops
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The best gaming laptops come in all shapes and sizes, for different needs and budgets. Because while a tricked out $5,000-plus model with the highest-end graphics and best display might give you the best gaming laptop experience, most of us can't afford a rig like that. And even if we could, it wouldn't be the best gaming laptop for those who travel frequently with their PC.

Thankfully, there are  more gaming laptop options now than ever, from budget-friendly to VR-ready. Some come with full-size Nvidia GeForce GTX or RTX graphics cards, while others go for the more efficient Max-Q designs that enable thinner chassis and (sometimes) quieter fans. It has become more difficult to distinguish Max-Q laptops from non-Max-Q, so check out our story on how to tell if an RTX 30-series laptop uses a Max-Q GPU (in addition, Nvidia is telling laptop vendors to start listing more detailed specifications.)

While many of the best gaming laptops come with a 1080p display and high refresh rates, some include 4K screens, so you can pick between fidelity and resolution.

One of the newest innovations we've seen is AMD SmartShift, which shares power between the CPU and the GPU based on need. We saw this in the Dell G5 15 SE, but no other laptops with that technology have released yet. More recently, Nvidia launched its RTX 30-series GPUs for gaming laptops, and Intel is pushing its Tiger Lake H35 part for ultraportable gaming rigs. We've started testing these laptops, and expect to see more soon.

To help you find the best gaming laptop today, we've compiled a list of the best models we've tested and reviewed recently. For much more on how to narrow down your list of best gaming laptop considerations, check out our best gaming laptop buyer’s guide. But here are a few quick tips to get you started down the road to the right portable gaming rig for you.

While many gamers may go to desktops to get the most performance for their money, try lugging a tower, monitor and keyboard around in your backpack. When you need a powerful rig you can take with you, there's no substitute for a gaming laptop.

Quick Gaming Laptop Shopping Tips

  • Focus on the GPU: Most games are dependent on the GPU, and those aren’t upgradeable. If you splurge on a powerful GPU now, you’ll be gaming comfortably for a few years.
  • You can upgrade some parts later: While CPUs and GPUs are almost always soldered down, most gaming laptops let you replace the RAM and storage, so you can buy cheaper now and add more memory and a bigger hard drive or SSD down the road.
  • Battery life will probably be bad: Very few gaming notebooks get 8 hours or more on a charge, and you need the power supply to get the best gaming performance anyway. However, we've seen some strong times from AMD's Ryzen processors, and Nvidia suggests its improved Optimus technology may help turn the tide.

Best gaming laptops at a glance:

  1. MSI GE66 Raider
  2. Asus ROG Zephyrus G14
  3. Razer Blade 15 Advance Model
  4.  Alienware m17 R4
  5. Acer Nitro 5
  6. Alienware Area-51m
  7. Asus ROG Strix Scar 17 G732
  8. Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15

Best Gaming Laptops You Can Buy Today

MSI GE66 Raider (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

1. MSI GE66 Raider

The Best Overall Gaming Laptop

CPU: Intel Core i9-10980HK | GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super Max-Q | Display: 15.6 inches, 1920 x 1080, 300 Hz | Weight: 5.3 pounds (2.4 kg)

Great gaming performance
300 Hz display
Well-executed RGB light bar
High-end build
Cramped keyboard
Tinny audio

The MSI GE66 Raider is a gaming laptop, and it’s saying it loud with a massive RGB light bar. It’s new look is aggressive, but it’s not just talk, with options going up to an Intel Core i9-10980HK and Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super Max-Q.

For those looking for esports-level performance in games like League of Legends or Overwatch, there’s an option for a 300 Hz display.

And while it’s not the slimmest laptop around (or even MSI’s thinnest), it does feel remarkably portable considering the power inside, and  we can’t help but appreciate high-end build quality. 

Read: MSI GE66 Raider review 

Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

2. Asus ROG Zephyrus G14

Best Thin and Light Gaming Laptop

CPU: AMD Ryzen 4900HS | GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 Max-Q | Display: 14-inch, 1920 x 1080 120Hz | Weight: 3.5 pounds (1.6 kg)

Good looks
AMD Ryzen 4900HS offers strong performance
Stellar battery life
Comfortable keyboard
Fan sometime whirs when idle
No webcam
No Thunderbolt 3

For those looking for something slim and attractive, our pick is the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14. As far as gaming laptops go, the Zephyrus is unassuming in either white or gray with minimalist stylings. But with the AMD Ryzen 4900HS and Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 Max-Q in our review unit, you get strong productivity and gaming performance. It’s not the best performer on the market in terms of graphics, but it’s the best value for most people. 

The battery life is also surprisingly long for a gaming notebook and the keyboard is clicky and comfortable. The fan, however, sometimes goes off even when just sitting on the desktop, and this system doesn’t come equipped with a built-in webcam.

Read: Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 review 

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

3. Razer Blade 15 Advanced Model

Best Thin and Light Gaming Laptop (Alternate Pick)

CPU: Intel Core i7-10875H | GPU: Nvidia RTX 2080 Super Max-Q | Display: 15.6 inch, 1920 x 1080, 300Hz | Weight: 4.7 pounds (2.1 kg)

Thin and light
Stunning design
Great selection of ports
300 Hz Display 
Uncomfortable keyboard

If you want higher specs and are willing to pay more for a thin and light gaming laptop, the Razer Blade 15 Advanced Model is a strong choice. It has a sleek design that’s easy to take with you anywhere, and has a nice selection of ports if you also want to plug in a bunch of peripherals.

While the Zephyrus stops at an RTX 2060, the Blade goes up to an Nvidia RTX 2080 Super Max-Q. It also has options for a faster 300 Hz display, which is great for esports.

Instead of a Ryzen chip, Razer has opted for Intel’s 10th Gen H-series processors to power the Blade 15. It’s not as power efficient, but offers strong performance.

Read: Razer Blade 15 Advanced Model review

Alienware m17 R4 (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

4. Alienware m17 R4

Best 17-inch Gaming Laptop

CPU: Intel Core i9-10980HK | GPU: Nvidia Geforce RTX 3080 (165W TGP) | Display: 17.3-inch 1920 x 1080 360Hz | Weight: 6.6 pounds / 3 kg

Unrivaled performance
Snappy keyboard
Attractive design
Noisy fan

A 17-inch gaming notebook gets into the desktop replacement category, and that's exactly what the  Alienware m17 R4 is. At its top-end configurations, like how we reviewed it, it can get very pricey, but you also get the top-end Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Laptop GPU with 165W TGP. There are options for 4K or our 1920 x 1080 360Hz option for esports aficionados.

Other RTX laptops we've tested to date haven't touched the m17 on performance, which eschews Max-Q technologies in favor of the most powerful part you can pack in a notebook.

It also has a nice, snappy RGB keyboard and the design, at 0.87 inches, is still fairly stealthy for a notebook packing this much performance.

Read: Alienware m17 R4 review 

Acer Nitro 5 AMD 2020 (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

5. Acer Nitro 5

The Best Budget Gaming Laptop

CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 4600U | GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 | Display: 15.6-inch, 1920 x 1080 | Weight: 5.3 pounds / 2.4 kg

Great value
Comfortable keyboard
Good webcam 
Dim display

The Acer Nitro 5 is the best gaming laptop for those on a tight budget. For the price, you’ll get a great value on entry level performance. While you’ll sacrifice a bright display, the  keyboard is comfortable and you even get a decent webcam.

Our review unit had an AMD Ryzen 5 4600U paired with an Nvidia GeForce 1650. We’ve seen a few Ryzen-based gaming laptops get better than expected battery life, and the Nitro 5 lasted over 11 hours.

If you’re handy, there’s plenty of room for upgrading (and you’ll want to consider it down the line with just 256GB of storage in our review unit), but for $700, you’re getting a lot for the money.

Read: Acer Nitro 5 (AMD) review 

If money isn't much of an object and you want desktop-class performance that you can update down the road, the Alienware Area-51m is the best gaming laptop for you. (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

6. Alienware Area-51m

The Best Splurge Gaming Laptop

CPU: Up to Intel Core i9-9900K | GPU: Up to Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 | Display: Up to 1920 x 1080, 144 Hz with G-Sync | Weight: 8.5 pounds / 3.9 kg

Strong gaming and productivity performance
Beautiful new design
Upgradeable CPU and GPU
Extremely pricey
No 4K options

The Alienware Area-51m, with its desktop-class Core i9-9900K and Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080, is the best gaming laptop for those with a big gaming budget. It offers laptop performance so strong that it will appeal to power users more used to desktops. That's assuming you can afford it without taking out a second mortgage.

It’s awesome that you can upgrade nearly all aspects of the Area-51m, and I hope more desktop replacements go this route. But Alienware still has to release details about how new GPUs will be sold or if and when that replacement program will come to fruition. Then of course there’s the question of how future graphics modules will be priced compared to their standard desktop-card counterparts.

The process to make major upgrades yourself requires some tools and patience, but the ability to replace the CPU, GPU, RAM and storage is truly impressive.

You can also see our complete teardown of the machine.

Read: Alienware Area-51m review

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

7. Asus ROG Strix Scar 17 G732

The Best Esports Gaming Laptop

CPU: Intel Core i9-10980HK | GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super | Display: 17.3-inch, 1920 x 1080, 300 Hz | Weight: 6.3 pounds / 2.9 kg

High refresh rate display
Strong gaming perfomance
Underside stays cool
No webcam

To play esports titles like the pros, you need a laptop with the fastest screen you can get. The Asus ROG Strix Scar 17 ($2,199.99 to start, $3,299.99 as tested) is a bit pricey because it pairs a 300 Hz display with the top-end parts needed to play games at frame rates that can take advantage of it. But in our testing, that meant smooth animations so you never miss a frame.

Sure, it’s a bit thicker than some competitors like the Alienware m17 R3, but it also managed to outperform them.

If you’re using this laptop to stream your games, though, you’ll most certainly want to also buy a webcam, because the Strix doesn’t have one built in.

Read: Asus ROG Strix Scar 17 G732 review

Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 GX550 (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

8. Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15

The Best Dual-Screen Gaming Laptop

CPU: Intel Core i9-10980HK | GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 2080 Super Max-Q | Display: 15.6-inch IPS 60Hz 3840 x 2160 primary, 3840 x 1100 ScreenPad Plus secondary display | Weight: 5.3 pounds (2.4 kg)

Attractive sci-fi style
Nice 4K display
Second screen lifts up for improved cooling and viewing angles
Awkwardly displaced input devices
No webcam
Only one Thunderbolt 3/USB-C port

It’s admittedly expensive with a starting price of $2,999 (and $3,699 as tested), but Asus’ dual-screen ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 gaming laptop adds a handy, eye-catching second screen while improving cooling and keeping fan noise down in the process. If it weren’t for the awkward input devices and the lack of a webcam, this would be a near-perfect portable gamer.

There are single-screen laptops that will deliver similar performance for less, with better input devices as well. But if you like the idea of a portable with a second screen for Discord chats and YouTube hints as you make your way through the latest AAA title, the Zephyrus Duo 15 is easily the best option we’ve seen yet. Rather than just slapping on another screen, Asus used the space available below its ScreenPad to improve cooling considerably, for more reliable frame rates and quieter operation.

Read: Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 GX550 review 

Best Gaming Laptops Compared

MSI GE66 RaiderUp to Intel Core i9-10980HKUp to Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super Max-QUp to 32GBUp to 1TB PCIe NVMe SSDUp to 15.6 inches, 1920 x 1080, 300 Hz5.3 pounds / 2.4 kg
Asus ROG Zephyrus G14Up to AMD Ryzen 9 4900HSUp to Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 Max-QUp to 16GBUp to 1TB NVMe SSD14-inch, 1920 x 1080, 120 Hz3.5 pounds / 1.6 kg
Razer Blade 15 Advanced ModelUp to Intel Core i7-10875HUp to Nvidia RTX 2080 Super Max-Q16GBUp to 1TB NVMe SSD15.6-inch, Up to 1920 x 1080 300 Hz or 4K OLED 60 Hz4.7 pounds / 2.1 kg
Alienware m17 R3Intel Core i9-10980HKNvidia Geforce RTX 2080 Super32GB DDR42x 1TB PCIe M.2 SSD (connected over RAID0)17.3 inch 3840 x 2160 60 Hz HDR4006.6 pounds / 3 kg
Acer Nitro 5AMD Ryzen 5 4600UNvidia GeForce GTX 16508GBUp to 256GB PCIe NVMe SSD15.6-inch, 1920 x 10805.3 pounds / 2.4 kg
Alienware Area 51-mUp to Intel Core i9-9900KUp to Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080Up to 64GBUp to 2TB (RAID0) + 1TB SSHD17.3-inch, 1920 x 1080, 144 Hz8.5 pounds / 3.9 kg
Asus ROG Strix 17 G732Up to Intel Core i9-10980HKUp to Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 SuperUp to 32GBUp to 2TB PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD in RAID017.3-inch, 1920 x 1080, 300 Hz6.3 pounds / 2.9 kg
Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15Intel Core i9-10980HKNvidia GeForce GTX 2080 Super Max-Q32GB 3,200 MHz DDR42x 1TB NVMe SSDs (RAID0)15.6-inch IPS 60Hz 3840 x 2160 resolution primary display, 3840 x 1100 ScreenPad Plus secondary display5.3 pounds / 2.4 kg

MORE: How to Buy a Gaming Laptop

MORE: Best Gaming PCs

MORE: Best Ultrabooks and Premium Laptops

  • abryant
    Archived comments are found here:
  • ilikegirls
    Do not buy ASUS! Even if you spend $2,000 on a laptop, you are treated like garbage and they won't fix your issue. I detailed my issues with them on this Reddit Post HERE. TL;DR - Sent laptop for repair twice, but nothing was actually done to fix the issue and they just keep requesting my laptop. Out of the 3 months I've owned this laptop, they have had it for close to 5 weeks
  • drawingpin
    I think the amazon links for the Dell G7 15 are broken. When I click on the $800 link it takes me to a different laptop. When I searched on Amazon for the model it is roughly $1000 more expensive.
  • prisoner37
    no 17 inch? i bought an ASUS ROG many years ago, still use it, though i have to turn the video quality down on newer titles, but i will not use less than a 17 inch display
  • tmryldz
    Where is Origin?
  • alsubs
    This is really a good example of why these Gaming Laptop reviews are somewhat worthless.

    I owned 4 high end MSI gaming laptops over the years (each fully outfitted and costing over 4k). The first one worked great and at the time I thought they had awesome support (which is why I gave them so many chances). The other 3 were disasters and kept shutting off from overheating (no warning or nothing, just bam your laptop shuts off). They worked good for the first year but after that something happens and they just start degrading till they just start shutting down (at least one didn't even make it through the first year).

    Nothing screws up PC components worse than overheating and overheating is always going to be an issue with a geared out desktop replacement or gaming laptop since they use desktop components (otherwise you get the bad laptop performance).

    All MSI support did was tell me to send in the laptop, which I couldn't do most of the time since I needed it for work. However, I did send one in and started to see the same problem after a few months after its return. So either way you lose.

    Of course these will review nice since they're brand new. But the real issue with these gaming laptops is how they handle overheating in the long term. 4k is way too much to spend on something that's only good for a year tops.

    Really, considering how expensive these laptops are and the time they are around, it would be nice if a site like Tom's Hardware did do a year long test or something similar to see how it handled running for hours with the graphics being pushed and the fans going full blast, etc. Exactly the kind of usage you'd see playing games on your over-priced gaming laptop. I bet you'd see the findings of these reviews change big time.

    Anyway, I learned my lesson, I'll never buy MSI again. If you don't want to spend a lot of money for a heavy door stop, I would suggest the same.
  • alsubs
    tmryldz said:
    Where is Origin?
    Really makes you wonder doesn't it?
  • chuck850
    Pricing is misleading. Many links take you to configurations not described in the posting. The MSI GE65 Raider link for Amazon doesn't even take you to a 2070 capable machine...

    In the budget space, the new Walmart EVOO line blows Dell out of the water. I've purchased both the 15' 1660Ti model and the 17" 2060 model and have been very impressed so far with the value out of both of those units (easily surpassing Dell in that space).
  • JimmyT13432
    Thanks for the great review. These laptops seem to be well fit for gamers either entry level and pro. I know from experience that the Alienware M15 is a great option as well. There are so many to choose from and almost everyone catches my attention. I'm looking forward to trying the Alienware Area-51m myself.
  • Ibuilder
    Did an actual gamer write this list? Ive owned two Dell XPS/aliwnwares and their half-life is two years. ROG is dope, so are the MSI ads on the article. I would take my Razer blade stealth or my surface pro against any of these all day.