Here at Ultrabookreview.com, we’ve been reviewing gaming laptops for more than 10 years, from all the major brands. Based on this experience, I, as the Editor-in-Chief of UBR, after consulting with the entire team, will tell you which are our favorite gaming laptops as of 2019, and why.
- 2019 laptops with RTX and GTX Turing graphics cards
- Best ultra-portable gaming laptops
- 17-inch ultraportable gaming laptops
- More portable, less powerful gaming laptops
- I still want to play modern games
- I want a smaller 13 or 14-inch computer
- More powerful, less portable – the best value gaming laptops
It’s not easy picking the right gaming laptop for your needs and within your budget. It sure requires more than just skimming through a list of specs and powerful components. That’s why, since we’ve tested most of these computers, we take many aspects into consideration for our recommendations. The performance, thermals and noise levels while running games and other demanding chores come first, but the overall build, the screen quality, the typing experience, the audio or the potential flaws count as well. On top of all these, pricing plays a final, but important, role in determining a notebook’s overall worth.
Even when accounting for all these aspects, you’ll see that there are actually many good gaming laptops out there, with various form factors, hardware specs, features and price tags, each catering to different needs. As a result, this is not just a basic Top 10 article, but a detailed guide (with a condensed summary for those of you in a hurry). I’d advise you to take your time and go through the entire post, it will help you narrow down your options and make a purchase you won’t regret. And of course, if you have any questions or feedback, don’t hesitate to get in touch in the comments section at the end of the article, we’re around to help out if we can.
Oh, and a shameless plug. If you find this article helpful, please buy from our links and recommend the site to our friends, that helps us continue what we love and do best.
Ok, let’s get this started. We split the article into a few different sections, each with its own subsections, in order to make it easier for you to navigate:
- the top 4 gaming ultra-portables (the condensed version);
- the smaller 13/14-inch gaming ultrabooks or the larger 17-inch gaming ultra-portables;
- more portable, less powerful options – gaming ultrabooks;
- more powerful, less portable options – full-size excellent-value gaming notebooks.
2019 laptops with RTX and GTX Turing graphics cards
Before we proceed to the bulk of this article, I want to quickly touch on the 2019 notebooks based on Nvidia’s GeForce RTX and GTX Turing graphics chips.
Earlier this year most of these were overpriced. In the meantime, though, many have come down in price, and now offer better value than the Pascal (GTX 1000) models of the past.
On top of that, there are actually more games now that can benefit from the competitive advantages of the RTX chips: Ray Tracing and DLSS. Battlefield V, Shadow of Tomb Raider or Metro: Exodus are just some of them, all with significant improvements in graphics details. And even if RTX is of no interest to you, Turing GTX laptops (primarily the GTX 1660Ti models) have pretty much become the sweet spot in terms of performance/buck. They outmatch last year’s GTX 1070 models at a lower price, while benefiting from design updates, improved thermals and new features.
Bottom point, we’ll still include both Turing and Pascal recommendations down below, but as of the second part of 2019 goes, I’m more inclined to opt for one of the new Turing models. However, those of you shopping on a tight budget might still score great deals on some of the 2018 gaming notebooks, while those are still in stock.
Best ultra-portable gaming laptops
This is the condensed version of the article, focusing on the thin-and-light, no-compromise performance notebooks.
The options in here combine compact, thin and premium-made builds, high-quality screens with 240 Hz refresh rates, good-quality RGB keyboards, as well as the latest hardware specs and features. They also do a good job and delivering on the hardware’s performance potential in demanding loads and AAA games. However, these options aren’t cheap, and you should expect them to run hot with games, as there’s simply no other way to put powerful hardware inside small form-factors.
First, the specs and particularities, and then we’ll get in-depth on these picks and explain why they were chosen.
|Razer Blade 15 Advanced – review||Asus ROG Zephyrus S GX502 – review||Gigabyte Aero 15X – review|
|Screen||15.6-inch – FHD 240 Hz matte||15.6-inch – FHD 240 Hz matte with GSync (*)||15.6-inch – FHD 240 Hz matte, UHD 60 Hz 100% aRGB matte, UHD OLED|
|Processor||Core i9-9750H||Core i9-9750H||up to Core i9-9980HK|
|Video||Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 MQ 80W to 2080MQ 90W, with Optimus||Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 80W or 2070 115W, with Optimus(*)||Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 MQ 80W or 2080MQ 80W, with Optimus|
|Memory||up to 32 GB DDR4 (2x DIMMs)||up to 32 GB DDR4 (, 16 GB soldered, 1x DIMMs)||up to 32 GB DDR4 (2x DIMMs)|
|Storage||1x M.2 PCIe||2x M.2 PCIe||2x M.2 PCIe|
|Ports||3x USB-A 3.1, 1x USB-C with Thunderbolt 3, HDMI 2.0, DP 1.4, mic/earphone||2x USB-A 3.1, 1x USB-C gen 2 with DP and charging, HDMI 2.0b, LAN, headphone/mic, Kensington Lock||3x USB-A 3.1, 1x USB-C with Thunderbolt 3, HDMI 2.0, miniDP 1.4, LAN, SD card reader, mic/earphone|
|Battery||80 Wh||76 Wh||94 Wh|
|Size||355 mm or 13.98” (w) x 235 mm or 9.25” (d) x 17.8 mm or .70” (h)||360 mm or 14.17” (w) x 252 mm or 9.92” (d) x 18.9 mm or .74” (h)||356 mm or 14.01” (w) x 250 mm or 9.8” (d) x 18.9 mm or .75” (h)|
|Weight||~2.1 kg (4.65 lbs)||2.05 kg (4.55 lbs)||~2.12 kg (4.7 lbs)|
|Price||updated configurations and prices||updated configurations and prices||updated configurations and prices|
|Particularities||unibody aluminum construction, clean design, Chroma RGB backlit keyboard, biometrics, up-firing speakers||unibody magnesium construction, Aura RGB backlit keyboard, AAS cooling system, bottom speakers||mostly aluminum build, simple design, RGB keyboard with Numpad, bottom speakers|
* Normally Optimus and GSync cannot coexist, we’ll explain how they do in this case further down, once we get to the Zephyrus.
Razer Blade 15 Advanced
The 15-inch Razer Blade is our favorite all-around gaming ultraportable of the moment. However, it’s also the most expensive, and that alone might steer some of you away.
We’ve covered all its aspects in our detailed review. In a few words, though, Razer demand a premium for the excellent unibody aluminum build, the simple and clean aesthetics, the fast and customizable keyboard with per-key RGB illumination, the complete IO with support for Thunderbolt 3, the fast 240 Hz matte screen, the consistent performance, and the good battery life.
Compared to the competition, the Blade has an edge in the design and overall craftsmanship quality. It also one of the very few gaming models with up-firing audio, as well as the single one that offers Thunderbolt 3, a finger sensor and an IR camera at the same time. On top of these, Razer’s control software is one of the better on the market, allowing to easily tweak the illumination and juggle with the performance settings.
Hardware-wise, the Blade 15 is available in a few different configurations. Most of them are based on a six-core Intel Core i7 processor, up to 32GB of DDR4 RAM, a single M.2 PCIe slot for storage and a 80 Wh battery. You can then opt for either RTX 2070 or 2080 Max-Q graphics, paired with a 240 Hz screen. There’s no GSync, just Optimus.
Razer also offers a Blade Base Model variant with a GeForce RTX 2060 graphics card, dual M.2 + 2.5″ storage, a 65W battery and a 144 Hz screen, but it’s very expensive compared to the other compact RTX 2060 alternatives. They also offer an older GTX 1060MQ variant that starts at around $1500, which is still expensive for what it is and sacrifices on the specs and performance, but perhaps could be a decent all-rounder for someone who desperately wants a Blade for its other qualities. Finally, a Studio Edition of the Blade 15 is also in the making for the end of 2019, with a 4K UHD screen.
The performance is another of the Blade’s important selling points. This is one of the few 15-inch gaming notebooks based on the higher-power 90W variant of the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 chip, not the 80W version you’ll find in most of the other models. That allows it to handle demanding games better than most ultraportables, especially once tweaked as explained in our review. The Blade also runs quieter than most, at about 44 dB with games, but at the same time, both the internal components and the aluminum case reach high temperatures.
Buyers should also be aware of the potential coil-whine issues, problems with sleep, and possible QC inconsistencies with the keyboard and clickpad. That’s why you should only buy this from reputable stores that accept returns, just in case you end up with a faulty unit.
The Razer Blade 15 Advanced starts at $2699 at the time of this update for the RTX 2070MQ model with the 240 Hz screen, 16GB of RAM and 256GB of SSD storage. You will most likely find it discounted here and there, though, so make sure to follow this link for updated configurations and prices at the time you’re reading the article.
Asus ROG Zephyrus S GX502
This is the latest update of the ROG Zephyrus S and the best-value gaming ultraportable out there, as you’ll find out from our detailed review.
It’s a few hundreds of USD/EUR cheaper than the Blade in the top hardware configuration, and also more widely available all over the world.
This actually performs better that the Blade in demanding processing loads and almost the same in games, but it also runs significantly noisier (up to 54 dB). That’s because, unlike Razer, Asus opted for a full-power implementation of the RTX 2070 115W chip on this laptop, the kind of graphics you’d normally find on a thicker computer. That allows them to keep the pricing down, without sacrificing on the performance and temperatures, but with that downside of increased noise levels. The competent thermal module gets the “blame” for it, but so does the great software package that allows you to juggle with the acoustics, temperatures and performance levels, as explained in the review.
Performance aside, the Zephyrus also offers one of the nicest keyboards in this segment, just more comfortable than the one of the Blade. It also gets the 240 Hz fast-screen that’s pretty much the norm in this class these days, as well as a strongly crafted magnesium shell that does a great job at repelling fingerprints and smudges. The aluminum covered lid is not as friendly though, nor as well built, and still plastered with a glowing ROG logo that can’t be switched off. There are also no biometrics and especially no Thunderbolt 3 support on this laptop, so no way to hook up an eGPU down the road.
On the other hand, the Zephyrus S has a few unique traits down its sleeve. The AAS cooling system is one of them, a mechanical flap at the bottom that isolates the main chassis from the user and allows gaming on the lap, something impossible on other ultraportables. More importantly, this is also one of the very few gaming laptops that offer both GSync and Optimus. You get to choose between them based on what you want, a smooth gaming experience (with GSync), or long battery life with daily use (with Optimus).
In conclusion, The GX502 has its share of flaws, like the lacks in the IO department, the rather slow SSD that comes installed out of the box, its gaming-oriented design reminiscences, and the middling speakers. If you can live with them, though, this Zephyrus S GX502 is your best bet in this class at around 2300 USD, and it’s most likely going to get cheaper in the months to come.
Gigabyte Aero 15 X/Y
While I don’t think the Aero 15 is as good as the other options at gaming, there’s no doubt it’s a competitive all-rounder with solid particularities of its own, as you’ll find from our detailed review.
For starters, this gets a clean black design, so it’s the best fit for uptight business environments. It also gets a complete keyboard with a NumPad section, a complete set of ports that include TB3, a card-reader and LAN, and the largest battery in the class, at 94 Wh. Gigabyte also allows buyers to choose between several screen choices: the 240 Hz panel from the other gaming ultraportables, but also an UHD OLED variant and an UHD IPS with 100% AdobeRGB coverage, which will appeal to those interested in a portable editing rig.
The Aero 15 matches these features with excellent performance in demanding loads, but its thermal module shows limitations on the high-end configurations in combined CPU+ GPU loads, like PC games. As a result, the components reach high temperatures on the Aero, the fans run loud (at up to 52 dB) and much of the heat transfers to the outer chassis that reaches uncomfortable temperatures of 55-60 degrees Celsius. All these combined only push the Aero to a third place in this list of recommendations.
In conclusion, if you want the sober design and the unique particularities of the Aero 15 in a small and thin package, go for it, the Aero 15 is the one for you. Just make sure you’re OK with the thermal/performance situation explained above and in the review. Finally, I’ll also add that the Aero also has the pricing on its side, matching the Zephyrus and undercutting the Blade by a few hundreds of bucks.
Follow this link or updated configurations and prices at the time you’re reading the article, as well as user reviews from previous buyers.
Almost there: MSI GS65 Stealth Thin and Acer Predator Triton 500
Since choosing the 3rd spot in this section was so close between the Gigabyte Aero 15, the MSI GS65 Thin and the Acer Predator Triton 500, we’ll also quickly touch on the two that were left out.
Our detailed review of the RTX MSI GS65 Stealth Thin is available over here. Specs-wise, this is similar to the Blade 15, but smaller, lighter and a bit more affordable, yet not as well built and not as powerful. In fact, the GS65 is known for its squeaky and flexible chassis, you’ll find plenty of videos about it on Youtube. In the end, it’s up to you if you can accept this in a $2000+ laptop or not.
The looks, the design and the keyboard are this model’s greatest assets. It can also perform well once tweaked, but while the high-end variants get a Core i9-9880H processor this year, they are only built on the 80W variants of the RTX 2080 chip, so are not as fast in games as the Blade. The GS65 is also nor as fast or as price-competitive as the Zephyrus. On top of that, the performance is corroborated with noisy fans (up to 54 dB) and fairly high case temperatures, which will further interfere with your gaming experience.
As for the Predator Triton 500, which we’ve also reviewed here on the site, this one is the most affordable RTX ultraportables you can find in stores, both in the RTX 2060 and the RTX 2080MQ variant.
It has the solid performance in daily use and demanding PC games on its side, as well as a dual Optimus/GSync mode similar to the one on the Zephyrus, but the performance is paired with hot temperatures and noisy fans (up to 54 dB).
That aside, the Predator is compact and light, but not as well built as the other models and not as clean either, with a fair-bit of Predator logos and design elements plastered all around the case. It also only gets a 3-zone RGB keyboard, while all the others get per-key lightning control, and loses points in the speakers’ department.
All in all, if you’re on a tight budget and looking for a compact and light RTX laptop, this could be the one for you, as it’s definitely offering great performance/buck in this class. If you’re willing to spend more, though, there are better-balanced variants out there.
17-inch ultraportable gaming laptops
This a newer breed of gaming laptops that have developed in the last years.
On a first look, they are slightly bigger versions of the 15-inch models already mentioned above. However, the increase is size allowed the manufacturers to further tweak the thermal modules, resulting in lower temperatures and/or less noise, implement faster graphics card options and address some of the issues of the 15-inch models.
We’re not going to get in-depth on these models here, but we’ll link to our reviews for more details.
Asus ROG Zephyrus S GX701 – review – configurations and prices
Pros: good build quality; fast and quiet RGB keyboard; 144/240 Hz screen options with switchable GSync/Optimus; best gaming performer in the class – only option with 100W RTX 2080; best thermals in the class; useful software package; punchy up-firing speakers
Cons: impractical when not on a desk; no card-reader, TB3 or LAN; difficult to upgrade; narrow clickpad; fans get loud with gaming; expensive
Bottom point: The ROG Zephyrus GX701 is, once tweaked, the best performing 17-inch ultraportable on the market. That’s primarily thanks to its inverted design that favors power and cooling over practicality, but also due to its hardware specs. As a result, this notebook is excellent on a desk, but impractical everywhere else, so I’d only recommend it if the performance is your number one criteria.
Gigabyte Aero 17 – configurations and prices
Pros: simple, sober aesthetics and good build quality; RGB keyboard with NumPad; multiple screen options – 240 Hz for gaming, or UHD IPS/OLED for multimedia; complete IO; best battery life in the class
Cons: a bit dated design; not as fast as other options and still runs hot and noisy; same poor speakers from the Aero 15
Bottom point: The Aero 17 is pretty much a larger Aero 15 with a 17-inch screen. None of the other important specs and design elements have changed, but thermals should be somewhat improved thanks to the larger chassis. All in all, though, this will appeal to the same crowd as primarily a thin-and-light allrounder, and not necessarily as a gaming device.
MSI GS75 Stealth Thin – configurations and prices
Pros: compact and the lightest in its class – 5 lbs; one of the better keyboards in the class, with NumPad; good IO; brighter display than on the competition; good performance once tweaked; good battery life
Cons: not as strongly built as the competition; not as fast as some of the other options in games, with the 80W RTX 2080 as the top configuration; poor speakers; rather expensive
Bottom point: Much like the smaller GS65, the GS75 Stealth Thin is the fashion icon in its segment: compact, very light and great looking, but not as sturdy as the other options and not as fast. It does perform well, but only by ramping up the fans to high levels and still running hotter than the bunch.
Razer Blade Pro 17 – review – configurations and prices
Pros: great build and clean design; good keyboard and the best clickpad in the class; fast screen, but only 144 Hz variant available; good performance (RTX 2080 90W) and useful software package; front speakers and biometrics
Cons: gets hot and noisy with modern games; beware of coil whine; smallest battery in the segment (70 Wh) and subpar battery life; steep entry price
Bottom point: The Updated Blade Pro 17 addresses most of its predecessor’s issues. It inherits most of the strong selling points of the popular Blade 15 Advanced, with improved thermals, but also a smaller battery as a result. Razer still expects you to pay a premium for the craftsmanship quality and the overall solid bundle, but even so, the entry price is very steep for a 2060 variant. The 2070 and 2080 configurations are not bad in terms of value, though.
These are all high-tier premium gaming ultraportables.
We’ll talk about better value 17-inch models down below, like the Acer Predator Helios 300, the Asus ROG Scar III G731, the Lenovo Legion Y740 or the MSI GE75 Raider, listed here in alphabetical order and reviewed in previous articles on the site.
More portable, less powerful gaming laptops
If you don’t have around $2000 to spend, but you still want a portable laptop that can handle gaming, albeit, not with the highest graphics settings, you should consider the options in this section instead.
With these you’ll somewhat compromise on the performance, opting for a mid-range graphics chip, but not on the thin-and-light form factor. On the other hand, if you’d rather get something with beefier specs or better overall value (same specs, but at a more affordable level), and don’t care as much about portability, you’d better jump straight to this next section.
I still want to play modern games
In this case, I suggest going with one of the available models built around a GTX 1660Ti graphics chip, or a GTX 1650 chip in the thinnest options. These which will handle most recent PC games at FHD resolution and medium-to-high graphics settings. Older GTX 1050Ti models might still be an option for those of you on a budget, but the performance gap to the Turing GTX 1660Ti is significant, and most likely not worth it if the gaming abilities sit high on your list of priorities.
Asus Zephyrus M GU502 and Zephyrus G GA502
Asus did a very good job with their 2019 lineups of Zephyrus models, that’s why the mid-range Zephyrus M and the entry-level Zephyrus G get to be mentioned in this article as well.
The Zephyrus M GU502 is a simpler, lighter and more affordable version of the Zephyrus S GX502, as explained in our detailed review.
It’s built on a similar barebone, with the same design lines, the same magnesium main-deck and the same excellent keyboard. Hardware-wise, though, the GU502 only gets GTX 1660Ti or RTX 2060 graphics cards, and it’s primarily available in the former variant in most regions. It also drops the AAS cooling system for the GX502, as well as the dual GSync/Optimus mode.
As mentioned in the review, this Zephyrus M is one of the best-performing sub 2 kilos notebooks on the market and also one of the better-balanced options out there. Asus are aware of what they got here, so they charge quite a premium for this laptop in comparison to the other 1660Ti models on the market. I’d expect the price to drop in the months to come, though.
In conclusion, if you can find this for around $1500-$1600, go for it, so follow this link for updated prices and configurations. If not, I’d recommend the RTX 2060 variant of the Zephyrus S GX502 instead, at around $1800 at the time of this article.
If you don’t have that kind of money to spend, but still don’t want to compromise on the size and lightweight and gaming abilities, the Zephyrus G GA502 could be an option for you (review).
This sells for around $1100, and that might sound great for a compact GTX 1660Ti laptop, but as you’ll see in our detailed review, there are a few catches you’ll have to accept: the GA502 is entirely made out of plastic, gets a white backlit keyboard and settles for a lower-quality 120 Hz panel with reduced brightness and viewing angles in comparison to the 144/240 Hz models on the higher-tier Zephyrus lines. On top of all these, it’s actually built on an AMD platform with the 60W Max-Q variant of the GTX 1660Ti, so it’s roughly 20% slower in games and 25-30% slower in demanding CPU loads when compared to the Intel i7/80W GTX 1660Ti variants out there.
It keeps the 76 Wh battery though, which you won’t otherwise find in this class, and, I’ll have to stress this again, sells for a lot less than the other Zephyrus models. However, once you start looking at full-size laptops above 5 lbs, you’ll find that there are actually nicer options for a similar price. We’ll touch on them further down in this article.
Tongfang barebones – Eluktronics MECH-15 G2Rx Slim or Schenker XMG Neo 15
A few different smaller-tier OEMs sell a competitively priced thin-and-light gaming laptop based on the Tongfang GK5CN6Z barebone, Eluktronics (in the US) and Schenker (in Europe) being the most popular brands.
If you’ll look through the reviews on Amazon, Newegg and other stores, you’ll see that these products score very high with their buyers. That’s both because they offer excellent specs and features for an affordable price, but also because these buyers usually know in advance what to expect from such a computer.
So what should you expect? A compact metallic chassis with fair build quality, a mechanical chiclet keyboard that’s different than what you’ll otherwise find in this class, a 144 Hz IPS screen, good CPU and GPU specs, multiple configurations options, and a rather small battery.
However, you also need to be aware that these computers might not be as nicely polished as a Razer or an Asus or an MSI, and the post-sale Client Support is not something you should rely on.
That’s why I’d recommend these barebones to tech-savvy users, but not necessarily to the average customer. However, if you’re buying from Amazon or other big stores, anyone of you will get the option to send the product back within 30-days in case there’s something wrong with it, and that should be reassuring in case you want to give this a try.
Dell XPS 15, Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme and the Asus Zenbook Pro Duo
These are premium ultraportable performance laptops, with an emphasize on premium and ultraportable. However, unlike the Blade and the Zephyrus and the Stealth mentioned in a previous section, these are more affordable and bundle lower-end graphics, namely variations of the GTX 1650 chip (or 1050 Ti in the 2018 generations). That means they’re not primarily gaming laptops, but can still tackle most titles at FHD resolutions and mid-level graphics.
We’ve covered these options in multiple articles here on the site, and while it’s hard to say that one’s a better buy than the others, I will share some of my personal thoughts about them.
The 2019 Dell XPS 15 7590 (which we’ve reviewed here) is a hardware update of the previous generations, with 2019-level hardware and several screen options, including a UHD OLED at the very end. The excellent build quality, the screens, the IO and the long battery life provided by the 97 Wh battery option are among this one’s main selling points. On the other hand, potential buyers need to be aware of the potential issues that they might run into, documented in this article.
Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Extreme (and the P1 workstation variant) has been, for the last year, my favorite option in this class. Doug also owns a ThinkPad P1 as his laptop of choice, and swears by it, which means a lot knowing how picky he is.
The 2019 updates build on the last year versions with modern hardware and some new screen choices, just like the 2019 XPS. The ThinkPad does seem to be a little more consistent and less quirky than the XPS, according to the overall feedback, and also wins points in the keyboard, IO and hardware department. The classic ThinkPad design, on the other hand, might not be for everyone, and with an 80 Wh battery, this can’t compete with the XPS in terms of battery life.
These aside, Asus also offers a competitive ZenBook Pro lineup in this range. The 2018 and early-2019 variants came at the competition with wider availability and lower prices, especially outside the US. However, as detailed in our review of the Zenbook Pro UX580, the build quality, typing experience and battery life were not on par with those of the XPS and X1 Extreme, and it was up to the potential customers to decide if these were compensated by the lower price-tag.
As a result, while Dell and Lenovo stuck with the same designs for their 2019 models, the mid-2019 ZenBook Pro Duo UX581 update is a completely different beast, with a studier unibody chassis, a new keyboard and not just one, but two large screens.
The form-factor pushes the keyboard at the bottom, like on some of the ROG Zephyrus lineups, in order to accommodate that secondary screen at the top. This alone targets the Zenbook UX581 to different demographics or professional users, those who need a competent work-laptop and plan to mostly keep in on a desk, doing real-work. In comparison, the XPS and the X1E/P1 remain smaller and lighter options with a more versatile form-factor and longer battery life, but don’t get the potential added practicality of that second display.
In other words, this year Asus decided to no longer compete with the heavyweights of this category, and instead create a sub-niche of their own with the ZenBook Pro Duo UX581. Time will tell whether that was smart or not, and we’ll update this section once we get to spend more time with the final product.
Other units to keep in eye on in this class are the new Asus ZenBook 15 and an updated version of the 15-inch Lenovo Yoga 730, built on Core U and GTX 1650 graphics. An updated Microsoft Surface Book 3 should also be of interest, as well as the overhauled HP EliteBook 1050, albeit that’s primarily a business notebook with a price to match. We’ll also keep an eye on them for our next major update.
I want a smaller 13 or 14-inch computer
To make things even more complicated, both the MX250 and the MX150 are each available in two variants. One is designed for ultra-thin formats, and another roughly 20% faster, but primarily implemented in budget 15-inch notebooks. There are however some exceptions to consider, so don’t despair, we’ll find something for you.
Before we proceed though, you should know that even the fastest MX250 implementations are not meant for AAA games, bur rather for older titles or simpler casual games (LOL, Dota 2, Apex: Legends, Minecraft, etc). This article explains what to expect in terms of performance and benchmark results, if those are of interest to you.
13-inch gaming ultrabooks
For years, the Alienware 13 has been the only 13-inch performance laptop money could buy. It wasn’t compact and it wasn’t pretty, but it bundled a GTX 1060 GPU in its latest iteration, good enough for FHD gaming at high details.
Since that’s no longer an option, unless you somehow find it used, these days you have to settle for one of those MX150/MX250 models mentioned earlier. The trick is to search for the higher-power variants, and then pick those that can actually cool that chip properly. Sounds complicated, I know, but there’s actually just one such gaming ultrabook: the Razer Blade Stealth 13.
We’ve reviewed it here on the site, and loved the build quality, the small and light form-factor, the excellent touchscreen, the front-speakers and the clicky keyboard. Our unit also performed OK with games, while keeping quiet and not very hot. But the Blade Stealth is also very expensive, and in all fairness, not much of a gamer when compared to the 15-inch devices out there, for two important reasons: there’s only so much that MX250 chip can do, and it only gets a 60 Hz panel.
Nonetheless, if you’re after a compact ultrabook with some gaming punch, the Blade Stealth is your smallest competent choice. As a heads-up, make sure to test your unit for coil-whine once you get it. We only encountered some on our unit, but other buyers have been complaining about loud whine on theirs. Follow this link for more details, updated configurations, and prices.
We can’t jump to the next section before mentioning that there are also quite a few other interesting 13-inch ultrabooks that might be of interest to you, built on the lower-power variants on the MX150/MX250 chips.
Yes, these are 20-40% slower in games than the Blade, with the variation based on their thermal capabilities, but perhaps will appeal to those of you who only have the gaming-performance as a secondary criteria. Among these options, I’d look into the HP Envy 13, the Asus ZenBook UX334FL and even the rather unique Huawei MateBook 13, each with their particularities, strong-points and quirks.
14-inch gaming notebooks
Your options are no longer as limited once you step up to this subcategory, but that’s not going to make your decision easy.
On one hand, you get the Huawei MateBook X Pro excellent all-rounder. That’s compact, light, quite snappy and bundled with a great high-resolution touchscreen. It’s also expensive, though, and based on the lower-tier MX250 variant.
On another, there are quite a few other 14-inchers based on the full-power MX250 card, thus more competent with casual gaming, from the affordable Acer Swift 3 SF314-56G, to the mid-level MSI PS42 Prestige and up to the business-grade Lenovo ThinkPad T490. They’re all good-buys in their segments, with various traits that fall in line with their prices, which range from $600 to $2000.
However, if the gaming performance is truly important to you, then perhaps you’ll want one of the more capable alternatives: either the Asus ZenBook Pro UX480 or the Gigabyte Aero 14. These are both early-2018 models, but you might still find them in stores.
The ZenBook Pro 14 is based on a Core U + GTX 1050 MQ hardware platform, much like the ZenBook 15 or the Dell XPS 15 of that generation, but in a smaller package. It weighs roughly 1.6 kilos (3.5 lbs), so it’s only marginally heavier than the other options above, but performs much better in games, gets a more complex thermal module and a larger 70 Wh battery. It also gets a secondary screen integrated withing the clickpad, which Asus calls the ScreenPad and now includes on most of their ZenBook and VivoBook lines.
The ZenBook Pro is also fairly competitively priced for what it is, selling for around 1200 EUR in Europe (follow this link for more details in your region). It is not worldwide available, though, and the availability will most likely dwindle even more as it’s phased out by the updated 2019 variant, the ZenBook Duo UX481. This one, unfortunately, only gets MX250 graphics.
The Gigabyte Aero 14 is an even more powerful 14-inch gaming ultrabook, based on an Intel Core H + GTX 1060 platform. It’s slightly larger and heavier, at about 1.8 kg(4.1 lbs), but also comes with a full set of ports and a huge 94 Wh battery.
Unfortunately, this hasn’t been updated in more than a year and I doubt it will ever be anymore, thus it’s even harder to come by these days. In all fairness, though, the Aero 15 is not a lot larger or heavier, so perhaps could be an option to consider if a small screen is not an absolute must for you.
More powerful, less portable – the best value gaming laptops
This section of the article focuses on the value gaming laptops, those that will give you the best experience for your money. It includes our recommendations in a few price-brackets, without taking the thin-and-light form-factor into consideration, as in the previous chapters. However, most of these computers are still compact and fairly portable, and only the most powerful models completely leave that aspect aside.
Options under $1000
Your sure bet at this price is still with one of the Pascal GTX 1060 variants of last year. The Acer Predator Helios 300, the MSI GL63 Raider the Lenovo Legion Y530 come to mind as the better options, and you’ll find all about them from our reviews.
With these, you’ll somewhat sacrifice on the build quality, the design lines, and the battery life, but not on the performance, thermals or on a fast 120Hz/144Hz screen. As a result, these can handle FHD gaming at high settings well.
However, several of the newer Turing-based GTX 1660Ti models are starting to creep under $1000. These are not only faster, pretty much comparable to GTX 1070 notebooks of the past in games, but they also benefit from the generation update. That means most of these are more compact and lighter than those 2018 models, get RGB keyboards and improved thermal modules, among others.
The Asus TUF Gaming FX505 is one of the options that sells for just under $1000 often, based on an AMD Ryzen platform. 9th gen Intel-based models perform better in games, though, and run cooler and more efficiently, so I’d recommend one of these instead. Among them, the Acer Nitro 5, the Lenovo Legion Y540 or the Dell G3 Gaming fall in this price-range. However, you will occasionally find discounted higher-tier models for under $1000 as well, like the updated Predator Helios 300 or the Asus ROG Strix G.
Follow the links above for our in-depth reviews, or this one for an updated selection of sub-$1000 gaming laptops based on GTX 1660Ti graphics at the time you’re reading the article.
Options in the $1000-$1500
You get a lot of different options once you’re willing to spend between $1000 and $1500 on your gaming laptop.
At the lower limit, you’ll be able to get a better-specced version of one of the units mentioned above, with more RAM, more storage and perhaps an i7 processor. However, if you’re on a budget and looking for the best gaming performance for your buck, I’d advise sticking with a Core i5 instead and prioritize on the GPU and screen choice, making sure to get a 144 Hz option.
Towards the middle of this price range is where you’ll find the real gems, those sweet spots in terms of performance for the buck. We’ve reviewed most of them here, but the GTX 1660Ti and RTX 2060 variants of the Acer Predator Helios 300, Alienware m15, Dell G5 Gaming, HP Omen 15, Lenovo Legion Y740 and MSI GL63 fall within this segment. Of course, the 17-inch variants of these notebooks are also up to grab if you prefer a larger screen, as well as improved thermals and a large battery in some cases. There’s an updated selection of these 17-inch mid-range gaming laptops over here.
Each of these devices has their particularities, strong points, and quirks, and there’s no easy way to tell for sure which is the best one for you. That mean’s you’ll have to do some digging of your own, go through our reviews (and others) and narrow down your options to the ones you like best.
My personal favorites are the Predator Helios 300 and the Lenovo Legion Y740, I just find them the best balanced and best-priced of the pack. But some of the others are more affordable and last for longer on a charge (like the HP Omen 15), some offer better cooling and performance (like the MSI GL63), and some are studier made than the others (like the Alienware m15), so again, there’s no clear winner here. Think about what matters most for you and where you can compromise, and pick the one that best caters to these needs. And of course, if you need any help, get in touch in the comments section.
At the higher limit, you can find better-specced versions of the models above, but also some RTX 2070 models. At the time of this update, the HP Omen 15 sells for under $1500 with an RTX 2070 Max-Q.
The other options don’t come from tier-A manufacturers and are based on barebone designs from Togfang or Clevo, like the compact and portable Eluktronics MECH-15 G2R, or the SAGER NP8966 / CLEVO P960RD models.
Personally, I would only recommend buying from these companies to those of you who understand what a barebone design means. And that’s because the excellent price is usually compensated by deficiencies in the Client Support and post-sale warranty specifics. However, if you’re a tech person and know your way around a computer, and can also find these from a store that allows potential returns without a restocking fee, then yes, these might be great-value picks for you. In fact, looking at the reviews on Amazon and other stores, buyers are actually very happy with these products and rate them highly, in many cases even higher than the A-brand alternatives.
Options above $1500
At this point, your options get incrementally better, but most of them are not significant upgrades from the models in the previous subsection.
If we’d focus on what $1500 to $2000 can get you in terms of performance, that’s mostly tier-A RTX 2060 and 2070 notebooks with better build quality, better thermals, larger batteries, and slightly improved performance.
Of course, once we push above $2000 and no longer have a limited budget, all sorts of possibilities unveil to us.
If we opt to go the ultraportable way, then the Razer Blade and the Asus ROG Zephyrus will catch our eye, laptops we’ll cover more thoroughly in the next section of this article. On the other hand, if we opt for performance without compromise, there are quite a few interesting desktop-replacements to check out. Among them, there are the unusual Asus ROG Mothership tablet-pc and Acer Predator Helios 700 sliding notebook, the upgradeable Alienware Area 51m and the more classic looking, but beastly, Asus ROG G703 and MSI GT75 Titan.
Neither of these are value buys anymore, though.
All in all, there are a lot of great gaming notebooks in this list, of all sorts and budgets, and more will be launched in the months and years to come. Thus, as potential buyers interested in a compact gaming computer, you’ve got a wide array of options to choose from, starting with the highly portable 13-inch ultrabooks with some gaming abilities and ending up with the powerful 17 inchers with beefy specs and yet surprisingly thin-and-light builds.
In the end, it’s up to you though to choose that device that best suits your requirements and budget. Finding that perfect balance between power, portability, features, and price at the right time is something you’ll have to do for yourself, but we’re here to help.
Thus, if you have any questions or anything to add to this post, drop your comments below and we’ll get back to you.