Sure, you want your computer to do word processing, run accounts software and surf the web at speed. But what you really want is to play video games. There’s a school of thought which says that in that case you need to buy a Nintendo Switch, or Xbox One or Playstation 4.
But many games thrive with controls like a keyboard or mouse. Be warned, though, a gaming laptop is not cheap. To make the most of your fragging, driving, shooting and other skills, you need advanced graphics, plenty of RAM, and a fast, responsive processor so your beloved hero or heroine doesn’t end up dead because your PC couldn’t keep up with the gamer you’re playing against. Speed and the avoidance of the dreaded latency are essential for gaming.
Note that many, though not all, gaming machines tend to be big, heavy and gaudy. There are slimmer, lighter games laptops but the category thrives on hefty machines with rear ventilation grilles, strips of lights adorning the edges and multi-coloured backlit keys as if to shout about their powerful, heavy-duty capabilities.
MSI Stealth Thin GS65: £1,929.51, Currys
This is a slick, slim gaming machine that looks good with few of the bright red lights and oversized grilles that trick out some laptops, almost as though they should always be surrounded in a fog of dry ice. I say few, but the design does include a backlit keyboard with a range of colour choices to brighten things up, and you can even set it up so the lights change according to the gameplay demanded.
It’s very fast, thanks to an impressive processor, decent graphics card and a big dollop of RAM. The Full HD display looks great in a very narrow frame: bright, rich and detailed. Battery life is okay, but the harder you push it, the shorter, and hotter, it will run. The fans on board don’t stop the base getting hot, so this is not a laptop for your lap. It’s well-priced for its components.
Alienware17 R5: £2,599, Amazon
Alienware and its unmissable, backlit alien logo indicate a machine that is configured for gaming first. Lighting isn’t limited to the logo, though, as there are edge lights and more which can be coloured as you choose. Big displays are very useful for gaming, whether it makes it easier to aim your sniper’s shot or where to build your next fort.
So, the 17.3in screen here is ideal, and it looks tremendous. This laptop has Tobii eye-tracking, meaning that for compatible titles you can move the game’s camera with your eyes. As you’d expect for this price, this is a very fast, responsive and effective gaming machine that’s fun to look at and enjoyable to use.
Acer Predator 15 G9 593: £1615.73, Amazon
There are grilles on the back of the Predator which make it look every inch a gaming machine, and adjustable fan speeds help keep the machine cool, so it won’t get overheated even if you do. The direction arrow keys and W, A, S and D letters you’ll most likely use to control a game are picked out in unmissable red, which is a nice touch.
The 15.6in display is bright and sharp, and when you’re playing games there’s a solid audio performance, too, thanks to big speakers and a built-in subwoofer.
Razer Blade: £2,149.99, Amazon
The Razer Blade has a big screen which is squeezed into a small case, making it impressively compact. Battery life is not as strong as some rivals, and it heats up noticeably when the processor is under a heavy load from a demanding, fast-moving game. The display is bright and detailed with smoothly rendered animations, however fast the game gets.
But what makes this laptop so appealing is the slim design, oh, and the neat Razer logo on the lid. Overall, it looks great and is a fast, capable powerhouse.
Alienware 13: From £1,168.99, Dell
Although this laptop is lower-priced than many here, it still has significant grunt, enough to ensure you can play at speed. The Alienware keyboard is designed to be responsive, too, with decent travel and resilience. It has manual overrides for controlling performance and prioritising data speeds for gaming over more mundane activities.
As with several gaming machines here, you can customise the lights on keys and trackpad, for instance to create special effects. There’s sound customisation software as well. Like many gaming laptops, it can get quite hot in use. The Alienware 13 has another thing up its sleeve: it has an OLED display, which is needle-sharp and high-contrast.
Gigabyte AERO 15W-CF2: £1,679.98, Amazon
Gigabyte’s aim is to make a gaming laptop look like a slim, sophisticated Ultrabook. It’s light and compact, despite squeezing in a 15.6in display. This has meant that the webcam position has slid down to the bottom of the screen which isn’t ideal, but that’s the price of putting such a big screen into a smaller laptop – it’s the size you’d associate with a 14in display.
The thin bezels do make the display look good. It’s also a screen capable of a fast refresh rate, making it especially responsive. Handy if you’re playing first-person shooters, for instance. It’s also impressive that the keyboard includes a number pad, but this does make it feel a bit cramped in use.
Acer Predator Helios 300: £1,399.99, Currys
This is a full-on traditional-looking, bulky gaming laptop, tricked out with light effects. There’s a deliberately angled shape to the sides and a beefy grille at the back designed to at least look like it’s keeping itself cool. It’s very good value, and you can save even more if you choose the model with a slightly less powerful processor and graphics card.
It has neat extras like a function key that can turn off the touchpad so you don’t accidentally brush it mid-game when you’re using an external mouse, for instance. The traditional gaming direction keys, W, A, S and D are highlighted to make them easier to find. Sometimes cooling can be a problem with this laptop (and if the laptop overheats it can cause momentary screen issues) but generally this is a decent performer for the price.
Razer Blade Pro: £1,839.99, Razer
Slim and light, this is nonetheless designed to offer almost the same heavy-duty power as a desktop set-up. It’s differently designed from pretty much every other laptop, thanks to the glass-topped trackpad which sits alongside, rather than beneath, the keyboard. The keys themselves move beautifully under your touch and make a click that is crisp and satisfying.
The 17.3in display is sharp and attractive, though for a (substantial) extra fee you can upgrade to a 4K screen instead. Battery life is not as strong as many here but otherwise performance is excellent, though the 4K variant has a slower frame rate than is desirable. But in terms of power, this is a decent desktop alternative.
Acer Predator Triton 700: £2,499.99, Currys
This is a plenty powerful gaming machine, but it’s much slimmer than you might expect. Sturdily built, it has a lot going for it, though it’s certainly not cheap. There’s one curiosity to the design: the trackpad sits above, not below, the keyboard, that is, it’s next to the laptop hinge. This takes some getting used to, to say the very least.
Many gamers tend to favour an external mouse, which obviously you can place where you want, and that’s what I would recommend here. Not least because if there’s a lot of processing going on, the trackpad can warm up rather a lot (though for mundane uses like sending emails, you’re fine). The display has a fast refresh rate, making games look smooth and inviting.
Dell XPS 15: From £1,699, Dell
Narrow bezels round the display combine for a small laptop with a big screen. The webcam is on the base of the display, near the hinge. Dell also says it’s the slimmest laptop for its size – it’s a long way from the oversized style of many gaming machines. This laptop is also a strong performer that is fast and responsive and this is a 2-in-1 machine, so the screen can fold right round on itself.
Note that if you are doing something demanding power-wise and you’ve plugged in to the wall, the built-in fans are quite loud.
Verdict: Best gaming laptops
The MSI Stealth Thin GS65 is the best gaming laptop here thanks to striking looks and strong performance, the Alienware17 R5 is also excellent, and the smaller Alienware 13 is particularly good value as an entry level choice.
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