Gaming laptops are getting thinner, lighter and more powerful all the time. Sometimes they even offer half-decent battery life. There are countless to choose from but we review and rank the best ones out there and explain what to look out for before you buy.
Luckily for you, we've reviewed and ranked lots of different models for you to choose from at a range of different prices, sizes and specs.
In 2021, laptops are arriving with specs such as 11th-gen Intel processors, Nvidia GeForce RTX 30 graphics cards or the latest AMD Ryzen 5000 series. We're always testing and adding new models so keep an eye out for new entries.
Best gaming laptops 2021
Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 - Best Overall
The ROG Zephyrus G14 marries gaming laptop clout with ultrabook sensibilities in one of the most compact and powerful gaming laptops we've ever seen.
A tip of the hat has to go to the thermal design of this compact machine, which can accommodate up to a Ryzen 9 4900HS, 32GB of DDR4 RAM, up to a 1TB M.2 NVMe SSD and, most impressively, Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 Max-Q graphics.
There's also the matter of this machine's 'AniMe Matrix' LED-laden lid, which can display images, text, equalisers and even animated GIFs - perfect for adding a touch of character and personalisation to your machine or as a means to silently trash-talk your competitors during competitions.
Read our full Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 review
Acer Predator Helios 300 (2020) - Best Value Intel
The Helios 300 for 2020 is another well-rounded gaming laptop from Acer offering a nice mix of components and features.
If you just need the kind of pace for mainstream titles and eSports then the 10th Gen Intel and CPU and Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 GPU is a solid combination. And games will be displayed on the smooth 144Hz display.
While the price undercuts many rivals there are a few downsides to consider including lower screen quality beyond that refresh rate, mediocre battery life and a pretty chunky design. If they worry you then look elsewhere for a little more finesse, although likely at a higher price.
Read our full Acer Predator Helios 300 (2020) review
Acer Nitro 5 - Best Budget 17in
If you're looking for performance on a big laptop for a budget price then the Acer Nitro 5 is a great shout.
This offers an Nvidia RTX 2060 and a large 17in display for under a grand meaning it can keep up with more expensive gaming laptops. There are plenty of ports and a nice keyboard too.
While the display is 120Hz, it lacks in colour so games can look dull. The chassis is chunky too so this is an affordable desktop replacement for those not too fussed about the colour accuracy of the display.
Read our full Acer Nitro 5 (A517-51) review
Alienware m17 R4 - Most Powerful 17in
The addition of an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 makes this one of the fastest notebooks on the planet, and the Intel processor, fast memory and storage and solid internal connectivity make this a barnstorming machinery.
Alienware bolsters the components with a stunning 360Hz display, a great keyboard (with optional Cherry MX switches) and an eye-catching design making it one of the best 17in gaming laptops you can buy.
That's if you can afford it though and it has a middling trackpad and speakers. It's also heavy and noisy - and battery life is poor. But none of that is a surprise, and it's not unique to the m17.
If you've got the cash, this is the fastest gaming laptop you can buy, and its design is superb. We'd only look elsewhere if you want more CPU power from an AMD processor.
Read our full Alienware m17 R4 (2021) review
Gigabyte Aero 15 OLED (2021) - Best Screen
It might not be marketed as a gaming laptop but the Aero 15 OLED has the components for it and then some - an RTX 3070 with a Core i7-10870H at the least - only with a display that's designed for creative tasks.
This is an amazingly sleek and portable, yet powerful laptop which will suit those looking for a single machine to handle complex work tasks such as video editing and then, once work is over, some of the latest AAA games. That's if you're ok with a refresh rate of 60Hz.
You can drop down to a Full HD display with 144Hz refresh rate but we'd recommend going for an OLED model if you can afford it - especially if you need the performance of this stunning display which can achieve 100% of the P3 colour space.
It's just very expensive, hence the position in this chart.
Read our full Gigabyte Aero 15 OLED review
Razer Blade Stealth 13 (late 2020) - Best Portability
The Blade Stealth 13 has been updated late in 2020 to fit 11th-gen Intel chips.
As you might expect, Razer offers impressive mainstream gaming power inside a light, slim and sturdy case with a top-notch 1080p screen - if you need a lightweight machine for gaming and eSports, it'll cope.
However, the concentration on svelte design means the Razer has an underwhelming keyboard, an Intel CPU that's regularly beaten by AMD and a very high price - so you'll get a more rounded machine if you're not set on the black and green of Razer.
Read our full Razer Blade Stealth 13 (late 2020) review
HP Omen 15 (2020) - Best Value AMD
The HP Omen 15 (2020) is affordable, and it balances a decent GTX 1660 Ti graphics card with a superb AMD Ryzen 7 processor.
There's plenty of performance here and you can jump to an RTX 2060 for not much more. We also like the new design and the range of ports on offer.
It's a decent option for a portable gaming laptop without breaking the bank. The screen is mediocre, though, and other areas like the battery life and keyboard leave us wanting a little more. Buy it for the power hidden under the bonnet.
Read our full HP Omen 15 (2020) review
Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming 3i - Best Budget
If you just need a cheap gaming laptop then the Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming 3i is a reasonable choice.
It's certainly a lot cheaper than the vast majority of machines on the market. In fact, it's more affordable than some non-gaming laptops and has a decent amount of power for mainstream gaming thanks to a GeForce GTX 1650 and a Ti isn't much more.
The Core i5 chip is good enough for day-to-day use and the 3i also offers an attractive design and nice keyboard.
Downsides at this price are namely the feeble screen (despite the 120Hz refresh rate) but also include a small SSD, poor trackpad and limited selection of ports.
Read our full Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming 3i review
MSI GS66 Stealth - Best Keyboard
If you're looking for a 240Hz display then the MSI GS66 Stealth is a good option.
The screen is excellent and is paired with pretty powerful 10th-gen Intel and Nvidia RTX internal components. Although they might be similar to some cheaper rivals, the advantage here is the sleek and portable design.
MSI also provides a decent keyboard and wide array of ports, too. Battery life isn't great and there are some thermal issues so the 240Hz screen should really be the thing that swings this laptop for you.
Read our full MSI GS66 Stealth review
Dell G5 Gaming - Best Battery Life on a Budget
Can't afford an Alienware? Well, Dell's G5 range in on hand to offer something far more affordable.
The good news here is that there's a decent amount of performance on offer for your money and you can get cheaper models than the one we tested. The G5 15 Gaming has excellent battery life and components such as memory and storage that are often overlooked are also good.
There are, however, sacrifices to achieve the price and they include a washed-out screen, chunky design and a mediocre keyboard and trackpad.
At the end of the day, there are better rivals around this price so the G5 15 makes the most sense at the cheaper end of the available models.
Read our full Dell G5 15 Gaming 5500 review
Your buying guide for the best gaming laptops in 2021
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. 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 laptop.
Which processor is best?
From Intel, the latest generation of Core processor is a good idea for the best performance and longevity. However, opting for the previous year's model can save you a lot of money if you find a laptop reduced in price due to its age.
It's not old, it's just not the latest model so tends to get discounted to clear stock. These days AMD Ryzen chips are outperforming Intel if CPU performance is high up your wish list.
As ever, our benchmark results provided within our reviews will tell you how quick a particular laptop is at various tasks.
Read our Intel vs AMD comparison.
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 graphics chips are the older models but still provide decent performance. You'll see the 'Max Q design' versions of these cards largely as they are created to fit inside the chassis of a laptop, although some occasionally have a proper card.
If you want the latest tech then look for GeForce RTX cards for improved performance along with features like ray tracing. They're just more expensive, of course.
Also bear in mind that AMD is very much back in the game these days and have plenty of Ryzen chips and Radeon GPUs that are top quality.
What screen 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 300nits 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 many graphics processors struggle with Ultra HD (4K) screens. For most gamers, Full HD (1920 x 1080) or Quad HD (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). You can even get 240Hz on the Razer Blade 15. The gaming sector is where you'll find the vast majority of high refresh rate laptops, although there are signs the technology is also coming to consumer devices.
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. Remember that modern games take up a lot of space so get as much storage as you can.
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 some models 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.
Find out how we test laptops.