What kind of screen do you want?
Screen size is a good place to start when judging gaming notebooks. In general, 15-inch laptops will be the best balance of immersion and portability, while larger 17-inch models are heftier, but naturally give you more screen real estate. And sure, there are some 13-inch gaming notebooks, like the Razer Blade Stealth, but paradoxically you’ll often end up paying more for those than slightly larger 15-inch options.
But these days, there are plenty more features to consider than screen size alone. Consider refresh rates: Most monitors refresh their screens vertically 60 times per second, or 60Hz. That’s a standard in use since black and white NTSC TVs. But over the past few years, displays have evolved considerably. Now, 120Hz 1080p screens are the bare minimum you’d want in any gaming notebook — and there are faster 144Hz, 240Hz and even 300Hz screens. All of those ever-increasing numbers are in the service of one thing: making everything on your screen look as smooth as possible.
For games, higher refresh rates also help eliminate screen tearing and other artifacts that could get in the way of your frag fest. And for everything else, it just leads to a better viewing experience. Even scrolling a web page on a 120Hz or faster monitor is a stark difference from a 60Hz screen. Instead of seeing a jittery wall of text and pictures, everything moves seamlessly together, as if you’re unwinding a glossy paper magazine. Going beyond 120Hz makes gameplay look even more responsive, which to some players gives them a slight advantage.
Not to make things more complicated, but you should also keep an eye out for NVIDIA’s G-SYNC and AMD’s FreeSync. They’re both adaptive sync technologies that can match your screen’s refresh rate with the framerate of your game. That also helps to reduce screen tearing and make gameplay smoother. Consider them nice bonuses on top of a high refresh rate monitor — they’re not necessary, but they can still offer a slight visual improvement.
One more thing: Most of these suggestions are related to LCD screens, not OLEDs. While OLED makes a phenomenal choice for TVs, it’s a bit more complicated when it comes to gaming laptops. They’re limited to 60Hz, so you won’t get the smoother performance you’d find on a high refresh rate screen. And they’re typically 4K panels; you’ll need a ton of GPU power to run games natively at that resolution. OLED laptops still look incredible, with the best black levels and contrast on the market, but we think most shoppers would be better off with an LCD gaming laptop.
A few other takeaways:
Get at least 16GB of RAM. And if you’re planning to do a ton of multitasking while streaming, 32GB is worth considering.
Storage is still a huge concern. These days, I’d recommend aiming for a 512GB M.2 SSD, which should be enough space to juggle a few large titles like Destiny 2. Some laptops also have room for standard SATA drives, which are far cheaper than M.2’s and can hold more data.
Normally we’d recommend getting your hands on a system before you buy, but that’s tough as we’re in the midst of a pandemic. I’d recommend snagging your preferred system from a retailer with a simple return policy, like Amazon or Best Buy. If you don’t like it, you can always ship it back easily.
The best gaming laptop for most people: ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14
Starting price: $1,050
Recommended spec price (Ryzen 9, RTX 2060): $1,450
If you can’t tell by now, we really like the Zephyrus G14. It’s compact, at just 3.5 pounds, and features AMD’s fast new Ryzen 4000-series chips paired together with NVIDIA’s graphics. It’s a shockingly compact machine, and while its 14-inch screen is a bit smaller than our other recommendations, it looks great and features a fast 120Hz refresh rate. We also like its retro-future design (some configurations have tiny LEDs on its rear panel for extra flair). The G14 also starts relatively cheap, at around $1,050, but we’d recommend the specced-up Ryzen 9/RTX 2060 model for $1,450. The only downside: It doesn’t have a webcam, which can be inconvenient in the era of never-ending Zoom calls. Still, it’s not that tough to attach an external camera.
The best budget option: Dell G5 15
Starting price: $824
We’ve been fans of Dell’s G5 line ever since it first appeared a few years ago. Starting at just $824, it features all of the latest hardware, like Intel’s 10th-generation CPUs and NVIDIA’s GTX and RTX cards. (You can also find AMD’s Ryzen 7 and Radeon RX 5600M graphics in the special edition model whenever that’s back in stock.) It’s a bit heavy, weighing over five pounds, but it’s a solid notebook otherwise. And you can even bring it into mid-range gaming territory if you spec up…
Read More: How to buy a gaming laptop