Your buying guide for the best gaming laptops in 2018
There are plenty of things to consider when on the market for a respectable gaming laptop. You need a capable CPU, a graphics chip that is powerful enough to deliver your games as the developers intended them, enough system RAM to keep applications stored in memory, high-capacity and fast storage drives to hold games and other files, a sizeable and decent-resolution screen to view the action on, and a good chassis to bear all these components.
With that in mind, we've broken down our buying advice by component to help you figure out what to look for - though you can also just skip straight ahead to our selection of the best gaming laptops.
Oh, and if you're open to buying a powerful laptop that's not been designed specifically for gaming, check out our guide to the best laptops of 2018.
Which processor is best?
From Intel, the seventh-generation Core series processors (codename: Kaby Lake) are well suited to the CPU task, but the latest eighth-generation (codename: Coffee Lake) are even more power efficient while also providing a boost in performance.
Many of the laptops here have 8th-gen chips, but going for an older model from last year could prove a bargain. You don't need a Coffee Lake chip but you will be future-proofing yourself.
You may have heard about Intel's i9 processors and these are starting to appear in laptops like the MacBook Pro. Watch out for this option in a gaming laptop but read the review first in case there are issues.
As ever, our benchmark results provided within our reviews will tell you how quick a particular laptop is at various tasks.
Which graphics card should I choose?
The graphics card is arguably the most important component of a gaming laptop, as it does most of the work when you're playing a game. Unlike with a desktop PC, you can't usually upgrade the graphics card in a laptop, so it pays to get the best you can afford to begin with.
Laptops with Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti, 1080, 1070, 1060 and 1050 graphics chips are currently the ones to look for. Unlike the 900M-series chips in older laptops, these new GPUs are not cut-down versions for laptops: they're the same as their desktop counterparts.
The new GTX 1050 and 1050 Ti are found in slightly cheaper gaming laptops. We were expecting to see much lower prices (around £600-700) but as of yet, such laptops are still around the £1000 mark. This could be due to the current demand for GPUs for cryptocurrency mining, pushing up the price of GPUs across the board.
What screen size do I need?
Laptop screens have improved in recent years, with screen resolutions now settling at full-HD (1920x1080), and using better technology than the basic TN type found on cheap portables. Look out for IPS panels, which offer wide and consistent viewing from all angles, better contrast ratio and wider colour gamuts.
Don’t be misled by boasts about screen brightness - contrast ratio, especially at lower brightness settings, is far more important than dazzling your eyes with 300cd/m2 figures.
It’s also easier to find screens now with more practical anti-glare finishes, reversing the trend of high-gloss reflective panels that were once unavoidable from most brands.
And you can usually ignore the trend for greater-than-HD resolution, since most graphics processors struggle with UHD (4K) screens. For most gamers, FHD (1920 x 1080) or QHD (2560 x 1440) is a happy compromise between glorious on-screen detail and playable framerates. If you want a smoother experience at 1080p or 1440p, opt for a display with a higher refresh rate (120- or 144Hz).
How much storage do I need?
For storage, a solid-state drive will greatly improve the user experience when it comes to booting a PC, launching programs and opening and saving files. It won’t make your games run faster, although it may reduce any loading times between levels, and they should start up faster.
Nevertheless, an SSD is always recommended, with the option of a second capacious hard disk to store your games.
Do gaming laptops have better sound?
Some gamers like to use headphones or headsets, especially in multiplayer games, but if you don’t anticipate spending your time donning ear defenders you should still find that modern gaming laptops run quieter today. Which means you may get to appreciate the built-in stereo speakers.
Some sport brand badges to suggest bespoke audio systems - we’ve seen B&O, Dynaudio, Harman, Klipsch and Onkyo put their names to tinny laptop speakers - although in our experience, these are more window dressing, with some of the best-sounding laptops bearing no fancy badges.
Battery life and other considerations
Battery life is perhaps less a concern for a desktop-replacement type of gaming laptop, although that’s more a historical resignation caused by the long-standing difficulty in combining fast graphics with svelte and mains-dodging laptops.
As we discovered with one model in the following group at least, you can have a powerful gaming machine and stunning battery life, even if the unplugged runtime will dwindle more rapidly once low-power integrated graphics have switched over to hungrier gaming graphics.
Don't forget about the warranty. You're spending a lot of money, so it's important to make sure the manufacturer offers a good, long warranty. Ideally, this would cover the cost of shipping the laptop back to base for repair and then being returned to you, so always pay attention to the small print.
- Reviewed on: 6 December 2017
The Gigabyte Aero 15X is a gaming laptop that defies the conventions of this class. It refuses to be 4cm thick, to weigh at least 3kg and to last just four hours between charges.
What you end up with is a very powerful, desktop-rivalling laptop that is also slim, light and long-lasting enough to function as a portable computer. In this field your best other option is the Razer Blade, which isn't available with a GTX1070 Max-Q (yet) and works out more expensive anyway.
This is a laptop that can “do it all”, although you will probably have to spend some time getting used to the keyboard.
Read our Gigabyte Aero 15X review.
- Reviewed on: 19 July 2018
If you're looking for the most portable gaming laptop possible without compromising on performance then the Asus ROG Zephyrus GX501 is the best one we've tested to date.
This thing is only just over 2kg and under 20mm, yet has the power of an 8th-gen Core i7 and an Nvidia GTX 1080 in the Max Q edition.
It means desktop level performance is a stylish laptop that can go anywhere with you. You'll just need a power outlet and a bank balance that can handle the price.
Read our Asus ROG Zephyrus GX501 review.
- Reviewed on: 7 February 2018
The Asus RoG Strix GL703VM is a high-quality laptop that packs great 1080p gaming performance into a respectably thin and light case. It’s not that portable, and isn’t designed to be, but is a good option for those who don’t want a machine that weighs 4kg and is 4cm thick.
You don’t pay in performance, but the Asus RoG Strix GL703VM’s keyboard does get warm during play, which may annoy.
- Reviewed on: 20 April 2017
The Alienware 15 R3 is a gaming laptop that is hard to beat. It has as much power as any of its mainstream rivals, and has lighting that is both eye-catching and customisable, but can also be switched off when you’d rather let you laptop slip into the background. It’s very well-made, the keyboard is great and the frame has some connections you sometimes only see in a laptop dock. However, its omission of a memory card slot is odd, the fan system is fairly loud and while hardcore gamers may appreciate the use of (in some models) a TN display it doesn’t do pure image quality many favours. As usual with an Alienware machine, you can find similar specs for less money from value-driven alternatives from, for example, PC Specialist and the HP Omen range. Its price is competitive with its direct rivals, the Acer Predator and Asus RoG series, and this is easily the slimmest and classiest-looking of the trio.
Read our Alienware 15 R3 review.
- Reviewed on: 10 July 2017
The Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming gets just about everything right apart from its screen tech. Its design is fine, its performance admirable and its battery life a jaw-dropper. This makes its lacking screen quality all the more annoying, although at least Dell lets you upgrade this if you can afford £1299 rather than £899. It’s something to consider carefully if £899 is your upper limit, though, as the poor colour and contrast really does not do games justice.
Read our Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming review.
- Reviewed on: 20 March 2017
We have just one issue with the Asus ROG Strix GL702V: its trackpad does some strange things, most likely because of driver issues. Operating under the assumption this can or will be fixed, this is a great gaming laptop. It’s not incredibly expensive by today’s standards but still gets you desktop-grade gaming power, a good display, solid build and fair battery life. Thanks to the great power of Nvidia’s latest laptops graphics cards, this could well be the only gaming machine you need. And this particular one is hundreds cheaper than some others using the same GPU.
Read our Asus ROG Strix GL702VM review.
- Reviewed on: 20 July 2017
There’s no doubt that the Alienware 17 R4 is one of the most capable gaming laptops we’ve seen, making easy work of our CPU and GPU benchmark tests and providing generally smooth gameplay. The design is eye-catching too, sporting a flurry of customisable LEDs across the body of the laptop, although it’ll never look as sleek and attractive as a MacBook Pro.
But while the Alienware 17 R4 is a powerful beast, it’s not perfect; it gets hot and loud fairly quickly, it’s heavy at over 4kg and we feel like it should feature one or two more USB ports, especially when boasting VR compatibility. And while it is incredibly powerful, our build was incredibly expensive too.
Read our Alienware 17 R4 review.
- Reviewed on: 21 June 2017
The Aspire VX 15 is a value gaming PC with plenty of bold design flourishes that gamers seem to love. There’s none of the smart aluminium you’ll see in an Alienware 15, but as usual Acer’s plastic build feels very solid. A competent cooling system, usable keyboard and decent (for the price) performance add up to a solid buy. There are two problems. An uninspiring trackpad isn’t necessarily a big deal when you’ll want to plug-in a mouse a lot of the time anyway, but the poor screen really isn't ideal. Bad contrast and weak colours won’t make your games look great, although the rival Dell Inspiron 7000 Gaming suffers from exactly the same problem.
Read our Acer Aspire VX 15 review.
- Reviewed on: 1 March 2017
The Dell XPS 15 is an amazingly flexible laptop, despite looking like an ordinary high-end one on the surface. It’s very powerful but has unusually good battery life for its class. It has a 15in screen but is smaller than almost all other 15in laptops with one. And is its 4K version the XPS 15 has the colour performance for pro design work.
It’s also good-looking, and while not ultra-portable is not that heavy given the components inside. It makes the new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar seem a bit frivolous in comparison, not to mention extremely expensive.
Read our Dell XPS 15 9560 review.
- Reviewed on: 22 August 2017
We'd normally write a verdict explaining whether you should buy the product we've reviewed but that hardly seems appropriate here. The 21X is clearly not a product for the masses and is essentially a concept you can buy.
The value of this laptop is very low but that's probably not an issue if you've got the money to afford one. Acer has successfully made the most insane gaming device we've ever seen that, despite some flaws, we'd love to own. It's a great way of showing off what it can do and to point the majority of gamers to its more accessible Predator devices.
Read our Acer Predator 21X review.