While an utopia a few years ago, playing games on thin-and-light laptops is more than possible these days. Despite having compact bodies, many modern ultrabooks and portable laptops pack powerful-enough hardware to deal with most AAA titles, not to mention more casual and less demanding games.
Picking the right one is more than just a matter of skimming through a list of specs though, we also take other important aspects into consideration, like the screen quality, typing experience, IO, audio and appropriate performance, thermals and noise.
There are however many interesting options out there (that’s why this is not just one more regular Top 10 article), with various form factors, hardware platforms, features and price tags, and while all the variants that made it into this article are overall good buys, they do cater to different needs.
So take your time and go through the entire post, it will help you narrow down your options and make a well documented decision in the end.
In order to help you out we split the article in a few different sections:
34 gaming ultraportables (the condensed version);
- more portable, less powerful;
- more powerful, less portable.
2019 laptops with RTX graphics
Before we proceed to the bulk of this article, I want to quickly touch on the 2019 notebooks based on Nvidia’s RTX graphics, which we already listed in these separated articles (RTX 2060, RTX 2070 and RTX 2080).
As with all new launches, most of these are expensive, which leads to two aspects that you should consider. First of all, for the time being, you’re going to get better value with the existing Pascal (GTX 1000) laptops, especially since most of these are discounted, that’s why the vast majority of this article still covers GTX products, and not necessarily the updated RTX models. However, we are testing a lot of RTX laptops these days, and we’ll update this post once we finalize the reviews.
Second of all, RTX laptops offer two competitive advantages over the existing GTX models: Ray Tracing and DLSS, both with significant improvements in graphics details. However, Battlefield V is pretty much the only RTX compatible game at this point, and switching RTX on causes a 40-50% fps drop, so as of Feb 2019 there’s actually very little practical use for these technologies. That’s going to change in the months to come, as other RTX titles will be launched, but RTX laptops will also drop in price by that time, thus improve on their value.
Bottom point, if you have the money and want the best you can get in a gaming ultraportable, then, by all means, get an RTX laptop right now, but all of you looking for value for your money should hold on purchasing one for now.
Best 3 gaming ultraportable laptops
This is the condensed version of the article, for those of you who don’t want to go through the entire multitude of options and the hassle of narrowing things down.
The gaming notebooks in here combine compact, thin and well-made builds, high-quality screens, good keyboards, the latest hardware specs and the ability to properly deliver the performance that the hardware is capable of in demanding loads and in games.
At the same time, these options come with premium price-tags, and you should expect them to run hot with games, as there’s simply no way around both these aspects when you squeeze powerful hardware inside thin, premium builds.
First, the specs and particularities, and then we’ll get in-depth on all our picks and explain what to expect and why they were chosen.
|Gigabyte Aero 15X||Razer Blade 15||Asus ROG Zephyrus M|
|Screen||15.6-inch – FHD 144 Hz matte, UHD 60 Hz 100% aRGB matte||15.6-inch – FHD 60Hz/144 Hz matte, UHD 60 Hz 100% aRGB touch||15.6-inch – FHD 144 Hz matte with GSync (*)|
|Processor||Core i7-8750H||Core i7-8750H||Core i7-8750H|
|Video||Nvidia GTX 1070 Max-Q, with Optimus||Nvidia GTX 1060 or 1070 Max-Q, with Optimus||Nvidia GTX 1060 or 1070, with Optimus(*)|
|Memory||up to 32 GB DDR4 (2x DIMMs)||up to 32 GB DDR4 (2x DIMMs)||up to 32 GB DDR4 (2x DIMMs)|
|Storage||2x M.2 PCIe||1x M.2 PCIe||1x M.2 PCIe, 1x 2.5″|
|Ports||3x USB-A 3.1, 1x USB-C with Thunderbolt 3, HDMI 2.0, miniDP 1.4, LAN, SD card reader, mic/earphone||3x USB-A 3.1, 1x USB-C with Thunderbolt 3, HDMI 2.0, DP 1.4, mic/earphone||4x USB-A 3.1, 1x USB-C with Thunderbolt 3, HDMI 2.0, mic/earphone|
|Battery||94.2 Wh||80 Wh||55 Wh|
|Size||356 mm or 14.01” (w) x 250 mm or 9.8” (d) x 18.9 mm or .75” (h)||355 mm or 13.98” (w) x 225 mm or 9.25” (d) x 16.8 mm or .66” (h)||384 mm or 15.12” (w) x 262 mm or 10.28” (d) x 19.9 mm or 0.79” (h)|
|Weight||~2.08 kg (4.6 lbs)||~2.08 kg (4.6 lbs)||2.5 kg (5.55 lbs)|
|Price||starts at $2299||starts at $1899, $2399 for GTX 1070MQ/144 Hz screen||starts at $1899, $2199 for GTX 1070|
|Particularities||mostly aluminum build, simple design, independently lit RGB keyboard, bottom speakers||unibody aluminum construction, clean design, Chroma RGB backlit keyboard, front-facing speakers||gaming design, larger and heavier, 4-zone Aura RGB backlit keyboard, 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.
Gigabyte Aero 15X
This is perhaps the best balanced lightweight gaming laptop available out there at the time of this update. It’s well built, with a sturdy metallic chassis and few plastic elements, it looks clean and unpretentious, is compact, thin and light, it matches the other options in this section in terms of hardware specs and beats them at the battery and IO departments.
Update: Our detailed review fo the RTX Gigabyte Aero 15 is available over here.
Few buyers complain about the sharp inner edges, the overly bright status LEDs and the tightly squeezed ports around the side, but at least you do get all the connectivity you’ll need with this notebook, including LAN and a card-reader that other options lack, and which should come in handy for professionals. They’ll also appreciate the optional UHD 100% AdobeRGB screen, although those interested in gaming should rather opt for the standard 144 Hz FHD IPS panel, which is fast and overall good enough for everyday use.
Performance is another aspect where the Aero 15X scores appreciations, with the hardware working properly in demanding CPU/GPU loads, with little to no throttling once properly tweaked out (undervolted, repasted). The components and the outer shell do get hot though, and the fans inside spin loudly with games. That aside, I’ve also read complains about BSODs randomly occurring on some units, so it looks like Gigabyte still have some QC issues with this line, thus make sure to buy from places that handle returns and warranty claims professionally.
All in all, if you want the performance and the ultra-compact form factor, the Aero 15X is probably your best bet out there. It’s also well priced. Other similar options might start below $2000, but once you spec them out they mostly end up more expensive than this model, so with an MSRP of $2299 for the GTX 1070 configuration and 512 GB SSD, the Gigabyte Aero 15X is well worth your hard earned buck.
Follow this link or updated configurations and prices at the time you’re reading the article, as well as user reviews from previous buyers.
Razer Blade 15
This is the updated design of the iconic Blade 14 (which we reviewed in the past). It builds on the craftsmanship quality of its predecessor, the IO and nice RGB keyboard, but with a modern design, high-refresh rate display and more powerful hardware.
Many call the 15-inch Blade a “MacBook Pro for gaming”, because it’s just as well built and the two have some design similarities, like the thin unibody aluminum build with straight edges, simple keyboard flanked by up-firing speakers, and the large trackpad beneath. The new Blade gets however thinner bezels around the screen, a 144 Hz FHD IPS panel (alongside other options) and more powerful hardware.
Update: Our detailed review fo the RTX Razer Blade 15 Advanced is available over here.
The Blade 15 is available in a few different configurations, with a similar barebone based on a six-core Intel Core H processor, up two 32 GB of DDR4 RAM, a single M.2 PCIe storage slot and a 80 Wh battery. You can then opt for either GTX 1060 or GTX 1070 Max-Q graphics, as well as three display versions: FHD 60 Hz, FHD 144 HZ and UHD 60 Hz with 100% AdobeRGB color coverage. The latter is an excellent option for creators who need a color-accurate screen, while gamers should choose the 144 Hz FHD option, preferably paired with the GTX 1070 graphics chip. There’s no GSync option, but that leaves room for Optimus and longer battery life with daily use.
Performance is solid on this laptop, which doesn’t run into hiccups and throttling, despite its compact form-factor. It runs hot of course, yet not as hot as other similar devices, and its high-pitch fans are not that noisy either (about 44 dB with games), even if some might say it should have been quieter for a Max-Q design.
Potential buyers might also not appreciate the keyboard that much, which is rather stiff, lacks illumination for secondary key functions and gets an awkward layout around the directional keys, the lack of an SD-card reader, the single M.2 storage slot inside, the fact that the 144 Hz screen is a bit dim, as well as the high price tag.
The Razer Blade 15 starts at $1899 at the time of this update, but the GTX 1070MQ version with the 144 Hz screen and just a 256 GB SSD gets and MSRP of $2399, which is a few hundred USD on top of the other options in this section, for similar specs.
Follow this link for updated configurations and prices at the time you’re reading the article, as well as this link for our detailed review of this laptop.
Asus ROG Zephyrus M GM501
This is the updated version of the ROG Zephyrus and not the original release from 2017. That’s important because it’s different in a few ways: it gets the keyboard on the right place this time, it offers an interesting mix of both GSync and Optimus, and is more affordable and overall better performing, as the original version was bundled with GTX 1080 MQ graphics (there’s a selection of thin and lights with GTX 1080 MQ graphics in here, if interested) that were both too expensive and too hot to behave properly in a thin build.
That aside, the Zephrus M GM501 is also different than the other options in this section. On one side it’s not as portable, as both a little bigger (as you can tell from the thicker screen bezels) and about 1 lbs heavier. But on the other it gets a more powerful full-TDP version of the GTX 1070 graphics chip, and not the snipped Max-Q variants available on the other notebooks, which translates in a 10-20% boost with modern games, albeit it might require some tweaking (repasting) to get the best out of. But since you’re after a gaming laptop in the first place, these might be worth somewhat sacrificing on portability.
Then there’s the GSync and Optimus aspect. They don’t work at the same time, but you can opt for either one or the other from software, and switching between the two modes requires a reboot. That allows you to get longer battery life when you’re not playing games, by enabling Optimus, or benefit from the smooth GSync experience on the 144 Hz screen when you opt for GSync. That’s a win-win, even with the minor nuisance of a restart. You can argue GSync is not a necessity on a 144 Hz screen, but it does improve the experience with fast-action games nonetheless.
On the other hand, the Zephyrus M only gets a 55 Wh battery, much smaller than what the other laptops in here offer, and that’s because Asus opted to include a 2.5″ storage bay inside. That means you can put a HDD for increased storage and end up much cheaper than if you were to use an SSD of similar capacity, but you do have to sacrifice on battery life, even on the Optimus mode.
On top of all these, the Zephyrus is also a little more ergonomic and nicer built than the MSI GS65 and even the Aero 15X, but potential buyers will have to accept the gaming accents and the annoying ROG backlit logo on the hood, as well as the fact that the keyboard only gets 4-zone lightning and there’s no ability to individually control each key, like with the other options. Oh, and there’s no card-reader either, even if the IO is otherwise solid.
You can find more about the Zephyrus in this review, as well as in our review of the original variant, with whom this later update shares many aspects. All in all this, this notebook is more geared towards gamers than the other recommendations in this section, with a faster GPU, GSync and cheaper storage. It also runs cooler, mostly due to its larger body, but also due to the mechanical Active Aerodynamic System mechanism that lifts the body and allows better airflow. It is however noisier at the same time, with the fans ramping at around 50 dB with games, as it doesn’t have to meet the stricter noise requirements of the MaxQ standard.
In the end it’s up to you whether if you’re willing to sacrifice on portability, battery life and acoustics for the improved gaming experience provided by the ROG Zephyrus GM501. A fair bit of buyers are torn between these aspects, and that’s why this notebook gets a fair bit of bad reviews with some, but excellent with others.
Follow this link for updated configurations and prices at the time you’re reading the article, as well as those user reviews aforementioned.
Update: As of more recently Asus also offers a Zephyrus S gaming laptop, a smaller and thinner computer with modern hardware and a similar 144 Hz screen, but size-wise a closer match for the other devices in this top.
Almost there: MSI GS65 Stealth Thin
Since choosing the last option in this section was so very close between the ROG Zephyrus and the MSI GS65 Thin, we’ll also quickly reference this one in here.
Update: Our detailed review fo the RTX MSI GS65 Stealth Thin is available over here.
You’ll find all about this laptop in these in-depth reviews (here and here), but in a few words, this is similar to the Gigabyte Aero 15X and Razer Blade 15 in terms of screens, hardware specs, and features. It does, however, run into some performance issues out of the box (which you can tweak, and get flawless performance in the end – as explained in the review) and runs hot with games, is difficult to service and upgrade, and most importantly, is not that sturdily built. Although the 2019 model is sturdier than before, this still gets a plastic chassis underneath the rather thin sheet of metal used for the outer case, which helps keep the weight down, but at the same owners complain about the build quality and the fact that the chassis creaks when you lay your hands on the deck to use the computer or lift it up, which is hard to accept at this level.
On top of that, the 2019 MSI GS65 Thin is one of the more expensive options in its class, but that should change down the road, as last year’s model eventually sold for less than any of the alternatives mentioned in this section. The GS65 and is also more widely available around the world than the others, thus for some of you, it might actually be the only option in your region.
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 necessarily the latest launches with high graphics settings, you should consider the options in this section.
With these you compromise on power, but not on the thin-and-light form factor. If you’d rather get something with beefier specs and don’t care that much about portability, jump 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 1050 / GTX 1050 Ti graphics chip, which will handle most recent games at FHD resolution and higher details, but in some cases, you’ll have to trim down the details to stay above 45 fps. Just keep in mind that the recommendations in this subsection are mostly excellent all-rounder computers for everyday activities and work, with some fair gaming abilities, but not nearly the performance you’ll get with our top pics above.
Dell XPS 15
This used to be my go-to option in this section, and we covered it extensively in this detailed review. Lenovo’s ThinkPad P1 and X1 Extreme have stepped to the top of the category in the meantime, and you can find out why from our reviews until we’ll update this section.
Anyway, back to the XPS, At just around 2 kilos, this laptop combines an excellently built aluminum chassis with a soft carbon fiber interior, a compact form-factor, two great screen options, modern hardware, and a large battery. Dell offers the XPS 15 in several configurations, with either an FHD matte panel or a UHD touchscreen, up to Core H i7 processors, with or without a 2.5″ storage bay, and in most cases a 97 Wh battery (versions with the HDD cradle only get a 56 Wh battery).
If you’ll go through the review and some of the other opinions online, you’ll find that this notebook is not without its fair share of quirks and it will take some tweaking to get it to work well. Doug’s been an XPS 15 owner for a few generations and we have quite a few articles here on the site that explain how to fix throttling on this device or its battery readings, among others, and Derek owns one as well as shared his impressions in this article.
All in all, the XPS 15 is mostly a premium all-around computer for everyday use and work, with some gaming abilities, as the latest version is only bundled with a GTX 1050 Ti Max-Q chip, which is about 30-40% slower than the GTX 1060 or GTX 1070 MQ available in our top three recommendations for a true gaming ultraportable. On top of that, this still has some thermal issues when running games, which can be addressed to some extent, but not entirely. In conclusion, I wouldn’t get the XPS 15 primarily for gaming, but it’s otherwise an excellent choice if you need a complete computer with some gaming capabilities. Oh, and I wouldn’t get the i9 configuration, it throttles and you’re basically paying a lot extra for very little gains inside this chassis.
The XPS 15 starts at around $1000 in the US, with good mid-level versions going for $1200 to $1500. It is however more expensive in other regions. Follow this link for updated configurations and prices at the time you’re reading the post, as well as user reviews.
Asus Zenbook Pro UX550 and UX580 series
These are close alternatives for the XPS 15s. We’ve covered the Zenbook Pro lines in multiple articles and reviews here on the site, but in most regions, these are more affordable than the XPS, which is the main reason you’ll want to consider them over Dell’s offer.
In Asus’s “good” tradition, the regular user is going to have a hard time distinguishing between the available models, but in few words, there are two important variants to consider, one with GTX 1050 graphics and another with GTX 1050 Ti, both the full-power versions, not the snipped Max-Qs. On top of that, the UX550 and UX580 models are similar, but the latter gets a secondary screen integrated within the trackpad (which is actually useful and not just a gimmick), while the UX550s get a standard clickpad.
Based on our experience with all these lines, the best value is in the GTX 1050 models with the i7 or even the i5 processors, which start at around 1300 EUR in Europe. In fact, these Zenbook Pros make most sense for buyers outside the US, where the XPS 15 is usually more expensive, as there are fee to no reasons to go with them at similar prices to the 15-inch XPSs, unless you really like their aesthetics (which I have to agree are simply stunning) and that’s enough to make you look past their quirks.
Don’t get me wrong, these are great computers on their own, but the build quality is not on par with the XPSs’, they get smaller batteries and dimmer displays. And while the GTX 1050 models work well with some fine tweaking, the cooling struggles to keep up with the GTX 1050 Ti configurations, so while on paper the 1050 Ti GPU inside these might seem very attractive, in real life you’re only getting marginal benefits compared to the GTX 1050 Ti chip that’s available in the XPS 15. The 1050 models on the other hand are sure worth checking out for the right price, with performance pretty much on par with the Ti Max-Q GPU inside the XPS, but a fraction of the cost.
All in all, the Zenbook Pros are not primarily gaming machines, but the lower end GTX 1050 configurations can be excellent all-rounders with premium looks and features. Check out our reviews for more details, and follow this link for updated configurations and prices at the time you’re reading this post.
Microsoft Surface Book 2
The Surface Book is completely different than the other machines in here, as it’s a unique 2-in-1 laptop.
This one gets a detachable screen that acts as a stand-alone tablet, with a 13.5-inch IPS panel that supports inking and a 3:2 aspect ratio. This screen can hook up to a solid base if you want to use the Book as a regular notebook, which includes a bigger battery, a keyboard/trackpad, ports, and an optional Nvidia GTX 1050 graphics chip. The CPU, however, is only a KabyLake-R quad-core Core U, so not on par with the six-cores that power most other options, but still fast enough for everyday use and occasional gaming. It’s tucked inside the tablet and passively cooled; the entire combo performs well while the tablet and base are attached and plugged into the wall, but performance in tablet mode is somewhat limited, as you’ll find out from this review.
The Surface Book is also not primarily a gaming machine and should cater to those who need a high-end hybrid computer with an excellent screen and solid inking capabilities in tablet mode. It can run games, of course, and while the GPU performs well, the overall experience is slightly dragged down by the CPU with some titles, and the fan inside the base gets annoyingly noisy.
On top of these, the Book 2 is definitely on the pricey side, with the Core i7 + GTX 1050 versions starting at $1999. Whether its unique particularities are worth that kind of money is entirely up to you. Check out this link for more details, updated configurations and prices.
A 15-inch variant is also available, very similar to the 13-inch model, but with a GTX 1060 GPU in the base and a starting price of $2499.
Other units to keep in eye on are the 15-inch Lenovo Yoga 730, the Lenovo ThinkPad P1 and X1 Extreme and HP EliteBook 1050. These are newer launches at the time of this post, so I suggest to further look into them at the time you’re reading the post. We’ll also keep an eye on them for our next major update.
I want a smaller computer
In this case, you should look at some of the available ultrabooks built on Intel quad-core Core U platforms and Nvidia MX150 graphics. This kind of graphics will handle gaming at FHD resolutions and medium details, with some demanding titles requiring to drop the settings to low. You’ll find more about the MX150 chip and what to expect from it inside laptops in this dedicated article.
There are a number of full-size 15-inch notebooks with Core U hardware and MX150 graphics out there. Among them, the Asus VivoBook S510 (review) and VivoBook S530 (review) are some of the smallest, lightest and still affordable variants. The Xiaomi Mi Notebook Pro (review) is a pricier option with a premium metallic build, a bright screen and a 60 Wh battery, while the HP Spectre x360 15 (review) is another high-tier variant, with an excellent 4K convertible touchscreen and a huge 80 Wh battery.
On top of all these comes the newer Asus ZenBook 15 UX533, which actually gets a 15-inch screen with minuscule bezels, Core U hardware and GTX 1050 graphics in a compact and light body. You’ll find all about it from our detailed review.
You can also follow this link for a larger selection of portable laptops with MX150 graphics and quad-core Core U hardware.
If these, however, are not compact enough for you, check out these next recommendations that we consider the best gaming ultrabooks you can find in stores at the time of this update.
Lenovo ThinkPad T480
As mentioned in the MX150 article, Nvidia offers two versions of this chip, a full-performance variant that’s mostly made for 15-inch laptops, as well as a more efficient variant for smaller computers, which is however about 25% slower. Most thin and light options get this latter version, and the Lenovo ThinkPad T480 is only one of the few 14-inch notebooks built on the full-power 25W MX150 chip.
At a little under 4 lbs and one inch in thickness, this is not as light or as compact as the other options below. It is however a very good all-round computer with capable hardware and multiple customization options. As with most ThinkPads, you can configure your own model on Lenovo’s website and choose among various screens, CPUs, storage types and battery sizes. As a particularity of this series, the T480 gets a 24 Wh internal battery and either a 24 or 72 Wh extra battery, for a total of up to 96 Wh of battery capacity, which translates in 12+ hours of real use.
The T480 is also very well built, as expected from a ThinkPad that’s primarily designed for the hassle of business environments and life on the road, gets a great keyboard and a full set of ports.
All in all, if you’re after a practical, sturdily made and still fairly portable all-day computer than can handle casual chores, but also demanding loads and the occasional game, the Lenovo ThinkPad T480 should be high on your list. It starts at around $900, but you’ll pay extra for the dedicated GPU, bigger battery and the higher quality screens.
The Asus Zenbook UX430UN and the MSI Prestige PS42 are two other highly-portable laptops with Core U hardware and full-power MX150 graphics, both under 3 lbs and more affordable than the ThinkPad T480.
Lenovo also offers a thinner and lighter variant of this laptop, the ThinkPad T480s (review), with similar capabilities, a 57 Wh battery and somewhat higher price. You can however only have this one with the Max-Q version of the Nvidia MX150 chip.
Huawei MateBook X Pro
Although Huawei are new to the laptop business, they make some excellent devices. The MateBook X Pro is their premium offer and is available with MX150 Max-Q graphics for the top configuration, alongside a Core i7 processor, 16 GB of RAM and a 512 GB SSD.
This particular model is listed at around $1500, so is not cheap by any means, but you can occasionally find various promotions and coupons that can shave a few hundreds of that price. Follow this link for updated configurations and prices at the time you’re reading the article.
Still, I’d like this one at sticker price too, as you’ll hardly find a similar premium computer with this kind of hardware and a total weight of under 3 lbs in today’s market. The MateBook X Pro offers a high resolution touchscreen with 3:2 aspect ratio and 3000 x 2000 px resolution, an excellently crafted aluminum case with tiny bezels, a sturdy chassis, a good backlit keyboard and a 57 Wh battery. The only other device that comes close is the Asus Zenbook UX331, which is lighter and a bit more affordable, but pales in comparison in the screen, build and keyboard departments.
Huawei targets the top of the market with this product and the X Pro aims to compete with the likes of the 13-inch MacBook Pro, Dell XPS 13 and other premium offers in the compact and lightweight category. Based on the existing reviews out there and buyers’ overall opinions, they’re doing an excellent job at it.
Those interested in gaming should know that the hardware performs mostly well on the MateBook X Pro, despite having such a thin case, but you’ll want to undervolt the CPU and preferably repaste the CPU/GPU in order to get the best out of them. On top of that, it should come to absolutely no surprise that this computer is going to run hot with games, with certain areas getting to 45-50 degrees Celsius, which is just something you’ll have to accept if you want this kind of hardware in this kind of a body. The fan inside stays fairly quiet though, so the overall experience is pretty good.
They’re both compact and light, weighing less than 3 lbs, pack comfortable keyboards, nice screens (matte on the Zenbook and a convertible touch model on the Envy) and fair-sized batteries. Both run hot and rather noisy with games though, as expected. Follow the linked reviews for more details.
More powerful, less portable gaming laptops
There are many more excellent gaming laptops to consider when your choice is no longer constrained by the compact form factor, and many with much more affordable price tags.
We’re not going to cover all of them here, but only those that we believe are best-buys in their classes. However, if you want to further dig down into gaming laptops, these articles will help:
- for 4K gaming – our list of GTX 1070 and 1080 high-performance gaming laptops;
- for FHD gaming with high settings – our list of GTX 1060 best-buy gaming laptops;
- for FHD gaming with mid/tight settings – our list of GTX 1050/1050 Ti mid-range laptops;
- for FHD gaming with mid settings and affordable prices – our list of MX150 notebooks;
- this article for a complete list of portable machines built on Nvidia Max-Q platforms.
With that out of the way, let’s focus on a few best-buys based on price, size and some extra features.
Best bang-for-the-buck gaming notebooks
For starters, if you’re on a limited budget and looking for the best gaming performance you can get with as little money as possible, the sweet spot is in some of the Core i5 H series CPU + GTX 1050 Ti GPU combos out there. You’ll be fine with just 8 GB of RAM for starters, especially since you can add more yourselves with most builds, but I’d go with a configuration that includes an SSD, is going to much improve your daily experience.
The Acer Nitro 5 would be my first pick in this segment, which for around $700 at the time of this update gets you a Core i5-8300H processor, 8 GB of RAM, 256 GB SSD and a GTX 1050 TI GPU.
This laptop is not just about the hardware specs though, it’s also fairly well made, types well, gets a decent IPS screen and a mid-sized battery, as you’ll find out from our in-depth review available over here. Of course, if you’re willing to spend a little more you can find computers with brighter displays, better speakers and overall nicer looks, but don’t forget we’re after value for money in this section.
The Lenovo Legion Y530(review) is a close competitor, just a tad more expensive than the Nitro 5, similar in specs and features, but with a cleaner design and more compact build that borrows from higher-tier computers, with small bezels around the display and a thin profile. It also gets a slightly bigger battery and performs excellently with games and demanding loads, but also runs hot and rather noisy.
The Asus TUF Gaming FX505 should also be on your list, a tad more expensive than the options above, but a compact computer with small screen bezels, excellent build quality, a 144 Hz IPS display, an RGB keyboard and a 48 Wh battery. You can find all about it in our detailed review.
Other options to look at are the more affordable Dell G7 Gaming (rather bulky, simple design, 60 Hz IPS screen, 56 Wh battery), MSI GV62 (looks nice, rather poor plastic build, good keyboard, 60 Hz IPS screen, small 41 Wh battery) or the Asus TUF FX504 (gaming design, well built, good keyboard, 120 Hz TN screen, 48 Wh battery), but they come after the other models mentioned before.
However, if you’d rather play games with higher graphics settings, can afford to pay more and perhaps want a better all-round computer that you can also use for demanding work loads, you should turn your attention to one of the available Core i7 H CPU + GTX 1060 GPU configurations.
Acer offers the go-to pick in this category as well, with the Predator Helios 300, which for around $1200 gets you the Core i7 processor, the GTX 1060 graphics, 16 GB of RAM, a 256 GB SSD and a fairly nice 144 Hz IPS FHD screen that’s going to make a big difference in games. Just like the Nitro, this one screams gaming, with red accents and aggressive logos, as well as noisy fans and rather poor speakers. It is however also available in white with copper accents, unlike any other gaming computer out there.
You can find all about this laptop, its strong points and its quirks in our detailed review.
The Clevo N850EP6 / Sager NP7851 / Eluktronics N850 (same product, solid by different companies) is the closest alternative at around the same $1200 price, with similar hardware, a slightly brighter 144 Hz screen and a bigger battery, but according to some of the existing reviews, you\ll have to repaste the GPU to get the most out of it, which will void warranty and I’d reckon many won’t be comfortable with.
The Lenovo Legion Y730 and the Asus ROG Strix GL504GM offer the same hardware platform as the Predator Helios, but with brighter 144 Hz screens, bigger batteries, nicer speakers and more compact designs, with thin bezels around the screen. They are better notebooks overall, there’s no argue about it, but also more expensive and pretty much at the same level in terms of performance.
These aside, if you’re willing to skip on the 144 Hz screen, the HP Omen 15 (compact, light, big battery, 60 Hz screen, around $1200), Alienware 15 (bulky and heavy, 120 Hz screen, highly configurable, available with 1060 OC graphics, expensive) and MSI GE63 Raider (great build and keyboard, 120 Hz screen, expensive) are options to consider.
Other compact options
This section includes the thin-and-light gaming options that didn’t make it to the top 3 recommendations at the beginning of the post, but are still excellent gaming computers you should consider.
Gigabyte Aero 14
This is one of the very few gaming laptops with a 14-inch or smaller screen, 8th gen Core H hardware and fairly capable graphics (GTX 1050 Ti) still available in stores at the time of this update, as the Razer Blade 14, Alienware 13 or the Aorus X3 were no longer updated to the newer Intel platform.
However, with an older design, only GTX 1050 Ti graphics and pretty much the same features and price as the more powerful and modern looking Aero 15x, this is a hard buy, but if for some reason you’d rather have a 14-inch gaming computer, well, this is your best(and single) option.
MSI GS63 Stealth Pro and Gigabyte Aero 15W
These are the more affordable and slightly slower versions of the MSI GS65 Thin and the Gigabyte Aero 15X that we covered in our Top 3 section.
The GS63 Stealth is still one of the lightest gaming laptops out there, weighing less than 4 lbs, but design wise is an older concept with a larger footprint and thick bezels around the screen. You’ll find all about it in our detailed review. This is no longer widely spread, but you can still find the updated 8th gen models in some stores with either GTX 1060 or GTX 1070 Max-Q graphics for a few hundred less than the newer GS65 Thin update.
The Aero 15W is pretty much an Aero 15X with GTX 1060 graphics and slightly different cooling solution, and sells for around $2000, which is about $300 cheaper than a similarly specked 15X. Follow this link for more details and updated configurations.
You’ll lose some in terms of gaming performance, as the 1060 is about 10-15% slower than the 1070 MQ inside the 15x, as well as some points in the battery life, temperatures, and noise departments, as the 1060 requires more energy. Up to you if these are worth $300 extra or not.
Aorus X5 and Asus ROG Strix GL504GS
These two are the most powerful 15-inch gaming laptops that are still fairly compact and light (under 6 lbs, around 1 inch) that you can find in stores these days, even more powerful than the Asus Zephryus M GM501GS, Eurocom Q6 or the Acer Triton 700, as they are built on Intel Core H platforms with either a full-power version of the Nvidia GTX 1070 GPU (both the ROG and the Aorus) or a GTX 1080 Max-Q variant (for the Aorus).
The Aorus X5 is expensive and not as small as some of the other alternatives out there, but the GTX 1070 version works well and will get you that extra fps in games, with the compromise of high-case temperatures of up to 60 degrees Celsius and noisy fans (up to 50 dB). The 1080 MQ chip on the other hand struggles in this chassis, as you’ll find from our detailed review, so you’d better stay clear of that one.
The Asus ROG GL504GS is a more compact, but thicker laptop, and actually performs much cooler than the Aorus. It’s still noisy though and not as nicely built, plus gets all these gaming inspired accents that might steer some of you away, as you’ll find out from our review of the GL504 series. It also gets a smaller battery, but if performance and a nice screen are primarily what you’re after, this is one of the best bets out there around the $2000 mark (more details via this link).
Portable 17-inch gaming laptops
This section includes a list of light and fairly-compact 17-inch laptops built on Core H platforms and Nvidia GTX 1060, 1070 and 1080 graphics, but also newer RTX models available as of 2019.
There are few 17-inch computers with thin bezels at the time of this update, as this trend has yet to step up to this class, but there are quite a few that are thin and won’t break your back when carried around. The MSI GS75 Stealth Thin, MSI GE75 Raider, Asus ROG Zephyrus GX701 and the Lenovo Legion Y740 should be on your list of you’re after a compact and light 17-incher, and they’re all available with Nvidia RTX graphics.
MSI GS73 Stealth 8RF – review – At 5.3 lbs, the MSI Stealth is the lightest high-performance gaming laptop out there. It gets a 120 Hz FHD screen, a GTX 1070 MQ graphics chip, and just a small 51 Wh battery, but this aside and the fact that is difficult to service and upgrade, this computer is a great buy. It starts at around $2300.
Asus ROG Strix GL703GS Scar Edition – review – A more affordable and powerful alternative, but in a slightly thicker and heavier body (6.2 lbs), the ROG GL703GS is the best-buys in this class. With a starting price of around $1900 at the time of this update, it will get buyers a full-power GTX 1070 graphics chip that works great, a 144 Hz IPS screen with GSync and a 76 Wh battery.
Sager NP8374 (Clevo PA71ES) – If you’d rather save around $300 and don’t care much about GSync, but still want a 17-inch laptop with a full-power GTX 1070 GPU, this is the option to consider. It comes with a 120 Hz IPS screen and 66 WH battery and weighs around 6.6 lbs.
Aorus X7 DT – review – The X7 steps it up a notch and offers a WQHD TN 120 Hz screen with GSync and either GTX 1070 or 1080 graphics, up to 64 GB of RAM, as well as a 94 Wh battery. It’s an option for those who want the best in terms of performance, and what’s still a portable shell at around 1-inch in thickness and 7 lbs in weight. The 1070 versions start at around $2400, while for the 1080 you’ll pay somewhere around $3000.
Aorus X9 DT – The X9 is an updated version of the X7 and pretty much one of the best-specced gaming notebooks out there, with a Core i9 CPU and GTX 1080 graphics, up to 64 GB of RAM, triple storage options, a 144 Hz IPS screen with GSync and a 94 Wh battery. It’s also the heaviest of the bunch here, at 8 lbs, and starts at $3199.
Razer Blade Pro – For years this has been one of the most hyped thin-and-light 17-inch gaming laptops, but the latest iteration is just not a good buy, as you’ll find out from our detailed review, that’s why we’re merely mentioning it here at the end of the article. We’ll update when/if Razer releases a new model.
All in all, there are a lot of great gaming ultra-portable laptops in this list 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 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. We’ve gathered here what we consider to be the best options on the market at the time of this update, yet finding that perfect balance between power, portability, features, and price at the right time is something you’ll have to do for yourself.
We’re here to help though, so if you have any questions or anything to add to this post, drop your comments below and we’ll get back to you.