After 20 hours of new research and testing—plus 150 hours over the past few years—we found that the Acer Predator 17 G9-793-78CM is the best gaming laptop for most people because it has the best performance for the price without any major flaws. The Predator 17 stays cool, has a comfortable, responsive keyboard, and sports a great 17-inch 1080p IPS screen with G-sync. Its fans are loud, and that keyboard is ugly and looks cobbled together, but these flaws are worth the tradeoff for excellent performance at a low price (for a gaming laptop, anyway).
The G9-793-78CM model has a powerful Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 graphics card, an Intel Core i7-6700HQ quad-core processor, and 16 GB of RAM. It also comes with a 256 GB of solid-state storage, and a 1 TB hard drive. (The G9-793-V9V5 model has a newer Core i7-7700HQ processor, but it costs about $250 more at the time of writing. Both processors have similar performance, so it’s not worth spending more than $50 extra for the V9V5 for now; get whichever is cheaper.) With these specs, the Predator 17 will be able to play most modern games on ultra settings, and it can handle VR, too. Like most gaming laptops, our pick has extra bulk and poor battery life compared to, say, an ultrabook. This is a tradeoff most gamers are willing to make, but a flaw nonetheless.
If our main pick is unavailable or you don’t mind waiting a while for a slightly better laptop, we recommend the Asus ROG G752VS-RB71, customized with an additional 256 GB solid-state drive and an Intel Dual Band 8260-AC Wi-Fi card through Xotic PC. The G752VS is a better gaming laptop than the Predator 17, with quieter-but-equally-effective fans, nicer build quality, and a better keyboard and trackpad.
Our recommended config of the G752VS has similar specs—and therefore similar performance—to our top pick for a similar price. But the only widely available models of the G752VS cost at least $400 more than the Predator 17 and include unnecessary upgrades like overclocked processors and memory. The only place to get our ideal specs for a decent price is to customize the G752VS through a boutique, which will take at least two weeks to ship.
Why you should trust us
I’ve tested, lived with, and reviewed hundreds of laptops in my career, and I’ve spent hands-on time with countless other models while covering the CES trade show, attending events, and visiting stores. I’ve reviewed most gaming laptops released in the past five years, and I’ve spent thousands of hours gaming on laptops since high school.
Over the past few years we’ve tested a ton of gaming laptops.
Who this is for
Gaming laptops are a tough sell. To provide the power to play games at decent settings, they sacrifice portability, battery life, and value compared to non-gaming laptops. At the same time, a $2,000 gaming laptop is less powerful and less upgradeable than a $1,200 desktop gaming PC. And a $1,000 ultrabook will handle non-gaming tasks just as well at a third the weight and with four times the battery life, much better build quality, and a better keyboard and trackpad.
A gaming laptop makes sense only if you’re a serious gamer but still want to travel with your machine. Gaming laptops tend to be popular with students, deployed soldiers, and road warriors—people for whom a gaming desktop isn’t feasible.
Gaming laptops are gargantuan compared to ultrabooks.
If you have an aging gaming laptop that can’t handle new games at 1080p and can’t be brought up to speed with a simple parts upgrade, it’s time for something new. The gaming laptops we recommend can handle current games at 1080p on high or ultra settings—and even some games at 4K, if you attach a 4K monitor—and the graphics cards in our picks are powerful enough to run games on virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, too. If your gaming laptop is past its prime or you want to buy a gaming laptop for the first time, this is what you should get.
If you can’t spend more than $1,600 on a gaming laptop, or you want something (a bit) more portable, check out our budget gaming laptop guide. You won’t get the graphical quality of our pick, but you’ll save a lot of money and get something that’s easier to haul to class or take on the train.
What makes a good gaming laptop
The attributes that impact a gaming laptop’s performance are, in order: graphics card (GPU), processor (CPU), the chassis’s heat management, memory (RAM), and storage. Other important features include noise management, keyboard, display, and (to a lesser extent) the speakers and trackpad.
A good gaming laptop starts with the graphics card. Notebook check’s useful Computer Games on Laptop Graphic Cards chart has the best examples of how this generation of graphics cards performs in actual games. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, which came out in 2016, is a good test of how well different graphics cards handle games. According to Notebook check, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080—the fastest mobile graphics card right now—can run the game at 1080p on ultra settings at 57 frames per second, which is excellent. The GTX 1070, the second fastest, can run DE:MD on the same settings at 42 frames per second, which is also far above our minimum playable threshold of 30 fps. The 1070 can play nearly all current games at 1080p on ultra settings.
In comparison, the less powerful GTX 1060 can run the game on ultra settings at 28 fps, just below our threshold. This means you’ll see occasional stuttering and choppy combat, and performance will only degrade further with the release of newer, more-demanding games over the next few years. The GTX 1050Ti, which we recommend for gamers on a tighter budget, runs at a poor 20 fps, which will result in frequent stuttering and make the game difficult to play. If you lower the settings to high, the GTX 1060 can run it at 54 fps and the 1050Ti does 38 fps.
The GTX 1070 is available in laptops below $2,000, making it ideal for our main recommendation. In the past, we’ve recommended Nvidia’s top-of-the-line-at-the-time card as an upgrade option, because it tends to hold up well and play demanding games for longer, and it was available in the same chassis as our main picks. This year, however, we don’t have a pick with the GTX 1080 because it costs a lot more than the GTX 1070, doesn’t provide a tangible performance improvement to current games at 1080p, and isn’t available in the same chassis as the 1070. (You can get even more performance with multiple graphics cards in SLI or Crossfire, but that’s very expensive overkill that adds complexity and potential graphical issues.)
After choosing graphics cards, you want a processor that won’t bottleneck the setup much (or, ideally, at all). The Intel Core i7-6700HQ is the slowest processor used in the current generation of gaming laptops, and it should be fast enough for all but the most CPU-intensive activities. The Skylake i7-6700HQ is now being replaced by the next-generation Kaby Lake Intel Core i7-7700HQ, but the performance improvement between Skylake and Kaby Lake is only about 10 percent. This small performance jump isn’t worth paying several hundred dollars extra for, so until the price on the Kaby Lake models drops, we recommend sticking with the cheaper Skylake versions because they’re fast enough. AMD processors are generally not competitive in gaming laptops at present, though that could change later in 2017.
Most gaming laptops today come with 16 GB of RAM, though 8 GB of RAM is plenty for most games. Buying 32 GB or more of RAM is a waste of money because gaming and multitasking situations don’t require more than 16 GB. So, we focused on laptops with 16 GB or less.
Storage options vary across manufacturer and even configuration, so we had to be flexible here. In a perfect world, gaming laptops would have at least a 256 GB solid-state drive and 1 TB of hard-drive storage. The SSD gives fast access times for your operating system, programs, and a modest library of games, and a roomy hard drive is nice for storing extra game files, movies, and other media. Once 1 TB SSDs are more affordable, it’ll be nice to get rid of mechanical hard drives entirely—most ultrabooks already do.
With that in mind, our ideal gaming laptop has an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 graphics card or better, an Intel Core i7-6700HQ or i7-7700HQ processor or faster, at least 16 GB of RAM, and at least a 256 GB SSD and 1 TB hard drive. We would prefer that it cost less than $2,000, but we’re less strict about price in gaming laptops provided the machine is worth the cost.
Powerful hardware isn’t the only consideration. A gaming laptop’s processor and graphics card produce a lot of heat, and if the laptop doesn’t have an effective cooling system, it can overheat. That can slow gaming performance because the CPU and GPU will throttle themselves to try to cool down. Overheating can also shorten the lifespan of the laptop or even burn you. The cooling system should disperse heat well without drowning out the speakers’ audio with loud fans. The laptop also needs a good keyboard and solid build quality.
Even though Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1070 can run games on high settings at 4K resolution, we still recommend 1080p displays because 4K screens are currently too expensive. We surveyed our readers to see if they would pay extra for a 4K screen. Forty-six percent of respondents wouldn’t, 37 percent were willing to pay up to $200 more, 16 percent would pay up to $400 more, and only a single respondent would pay more than $400. At the time of this writing, the cheapest version of our pick with a 4K screen costs a whopping $750 more than the model with a 1080p screen.
G-sync—a hardware feature that helps prevent tearing and stuttering by allowing the display to synchronize its refresh rate with the video card’s output rate—comes standard in nearly all this year’s contenders, and doesn’t cost a premium.
In previous generations, the only way to get the best mobile graphics cards was to buy bulky 17-inch laptops, because those were the only ones large enough to properly house and cool said cards. This year, however, a number of 15-inch options are available with a GTX 1070 card. Two-thirds of our survey respondents told us they would prefer a 15-inch gaming laptop, while only one-fourth prefer a 17-inch screen. (The others had no preference, or wanted a different size entirely.) For our first round of testing, we focused on 17-inch options because we know they can stay cool, but we will test 15-inch options for a future update.
Some features that are must-haves in non-gaming laptops aren’t quite as important here. Poor speakers can be bypassed with a good pair of headphones, and most people use a mouse instead of the trackpad while gaming. Battery life and portability have never been the strong suits of gaming laptops, which spend most of their lives plugged in and stationary. (There are some thin and light gaming laptops available, but none is worth buying yet.) A Blu-ray drive can be a nice bonus for watching movies as long as you aren’t paying too much extra for it. Touch screens and 3D aren’t important for most gamers.
Our pick: Acer Predator 17
The Acer Predator 17 offers the best performance for the price, though its blocky, matte-black design doesn’t look as sleek as the brushed metal of other gaming laptops. Photo: Michael Hession
Of the gaming laptops we researched and tested this year, the Acer Predator 17 G9-793-78CM has the most powerful specs for the price, without any dealbreaking flaws. The Predator 17 keeps its WASD keys, underside, and components cool, and it has a comfortable, responsive keyboard and a great 17-inch 1080p IPS display with G-sync. Its biggest flaws are loud, distracting fans and an ugly, haphazard-looking keyboard. Most important, the Predator 17 will be able to play most modern games on ultra settings—it offers great performance for the price. (If you want to know how it will handle a specific game, take a look at Notebookcheck’s benchmarks database.)
The Predator 17 meets all of our hardware requirements. The G9-793-78CM config has an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 graphics card with 8 GB of dedicated memory; a Skylake Intel Core i7-6700HQ quad-core processor; and 16 GB of RAM with two extra memory slots, so you could add more (though you won’t need to). It also comes with a 256 GB solid-state drive (actually two 128 GB drives in RAID 0) and a 1TB hard drive for storage. The Predator 17 has a 17-inch matte display with a 1080p resolution and G-sync support, a dual-band 802.11ac wireless card with Bluetooth 4.1, a rainbow-backlit keyboard, and a two-year warranty.
Acer also sells a G9-793-79V5 model, which comes with all the same specs as the 78CM except for a newer Core i7-7700HQ Kaby Lake processor. At the time of this writing, the newer model costs about $250 more. It’s not worth paying the extra money because both processors offer similar performance. However, when the price of the 79V5 drops to match (as we expect it to, eventually), you should get whichever laptop is cheaper.
The Acer Predator 17’s fans, which exhaust through those massive vents, keep the laptop cool, but they’re loud. Photo: Michael Hession
The Predator 17 stays cool thanks to its rather noisy fans. It had the loudest fans of the gaming laptops we tested—just 12 minutes into playing The Witcher 3, the fans were running at high, and we had to crank up the volume on the speakers in order to hear dialogue. We wish the Predator 17’s fans were quieter, but a loud, cool laptop is better than a silent one that smolders away on your desk.
The Predator 17’s keys feel a little mushy, but are responsive and comfortable enough, with deep key travel and rainbow backlighting. You can customize the rainbow backlighting to a limited degree within the PredatorSense software, which lets you change the color of four separate zones. The only brightness options, however, are on and off. Both the Asus ROG G752VS (our runner up) and the MSI GT72VR Dominator Pro keyboards have three brightness levels. The Asus also has only red backlighting, while the MSI allows you to completely customize backlight colors. The Acer’s keyboard is ugly, even for a gaming laptop, but we’ll discuss this more in the next section.
These macro keys can be customized using the included PredatorSense software. Photo: Michael Hession
To the left of the keyboard, the Predator 17 has six macro keys—five programmable ones and one that toggles between three customizable profiles for those five keys. Using the PredatorSense software, the macro keys can be configured to disable Sticky keys, run the fans at full speed, swap between preset multimedia modes, or activate any macro you’ve recorded in a different tab of the software. The macro keys themselves are more like the hard-plastic buttons on a kitchen appliance than keyboard keys—they’re a little hard to depress, and they’re difficult for my smaller-than-average hands to reach from the WASD keys, so they’re not ideal for heat-of-the game macros. They’re handy, though, for frequently used system shortcuts.
This button lights up green and red when you toggle the trackpad on and off, in case you couldn’t tell by the glowing red box around the trackpad. Photo: Michael Hession
The Predator 17’s trackpad—not often used for gaming—works well for all standard Windows gestures. It has physical left- and right-click buttons, which have snappy, satisfying feedback, but are a bit short (top edge to bottom)—the edge of my thumb frequently pressed into the hard plastic barrier between the left-click button and the touchpad. A button to the right of the trackpad toggles the trackpad on and off, a useful feature for gamers who might otherwise trigger the touchpad with their palms while playing. The button’s red and green light is gratuitous if we’re being generous; distracting and ugly if we’re being blunt.
The speakers are good (for a laptop) with decent bass and crisp highs. Compared to the Asus ROG G752’s tinny, flat speakers and the MSI GT72VR Dominator Pro’s horrendous ones, the Predator 17 had the best speakers by far in our tests. They could be placed better, however: They’re located on the bottom of the chassis along the front edge, so they beam music straight into the table and sound best near your belly button. We recommend disabling the pre-loaded Dolby Audio software enhancements, which only make your music sound worse.
That USB-C port on the far left is full Thunderbolt 3, not some weirdo custom USB-C implementation. Photo: Michael Hession
The Predator 17 has hella ports: Ethernet, HDMI 2.0, DisplayPort 1.2, Thunderbolt 3, four USB 3.0, an SD card slot, jacks for headphones and a microphone, and a Kensington lock slot. Like most gaming laptops, the Acer Predator 17 is easy to upgrade: Two small screws and a panel stand between you and installing two more sticks of RAM. Our pick doesn’t have any open drive slots, but you can access the included hard drive and solid-state drives if you need to replace them.
Unlike most other laptops, gaming laptops still often have separate mic and headphone jacks rather than a single headset jack. Photo: Michael Hession
The Predator 17 doesn’t come with too much terrible pre-loaded software. We recommend disabling the Dolby Audio enhancement software. But Acer Care Center checks for driver and BIOS updates, and PredatorSense allows you to customize the macro keys and keyboard backlighting, so those two are worth keeping.
Flaws but not deal breakers
The Acer Predator 17 suffers from a few model-specific flaws: It has loud fans, its boot drive is RAID 0, it’s ugly (even for a gaming laptop) and it makes a loud “zoom” noise on boot that can only be disabled in the BIOS. And like all gaming laptops, it’s heavy, bulky, and has poor battery life. The Predator 17 also lacks a few features we don’t think are crucial but are worth mentioning anyway.
The Acer Predator 17 has the loudest fans out of the gaming laptops we tested for this update. They were loud enough to be a distraction, and we had to crank up the volume to hear dialogue over the loud whooshing. Playing with headphones solves the problem (for you, if not your roommates), and we think it’s a worthwhile tradeoff for a gaming laptop that keeps its components and oft-touched surfaces cool.
The model we recommend has two 128 GB m.2 SATA solid-state drives in a RAID 0 configuration. RAID 0 makes the solid-state storage twice as fast (which can reduce boot times and loading times in games) but also twice as likely to fail: If anything goes wrong with one of the drives, the data on both are toast. Even SATA solid-state drives are fast enough for gaming without RAID 0, so we’d prefer if manufacturers stuck to quick, reliable single SSDs instead.
The Predator’s keyboard is a carnival of ugly. Photo: Michael Hession
Gaming laptops are notorious for over-the-top, edgy designs, with flashing lights and futuristic fonts. The Acer Predator 17 is ugly, but in its own special way. The Predator 17’s keyboard looks like it was cobbled together by five teams who have never spoken to one another. The keycap font is similar to that of Acer’s non-gaming laptops, white with powder blue accents. And in case you forgot it was a gaming laptop, the WASD and arrow keys have a red font and outline.
The clashing rainbow backlight and red, white, and powder blue keys are bad enough, but the trackpad and its toggle, the macro buttons, and power button also glow red, green, and blue. You can customize the keyboard backlight, but none of the other glowing lights can be customized or disabled. Nothing can make this keyboard look decent. Other gaming laptops are ugly, but at least they’re ugly with intent.
Every time the Predator 17 boots up, it makes a ridiculous loud sound like an aircraft zooming past. Even if the laptop is muted. This is horrible. You can disable this obnoxious noise by pressing F2 as the laptop boots to enter the BIOS settings, going into the Main tab, and disabling POST Animation & Sound. Then press F10 to save your settings, so you can turn it on in a room with other humans without setting a world record for side-eye.
The Predator 17 (top) is huge and heavy, but it’s a bit smaller and lighter than our runner up, the Asus. Photo: Michael Hession
The Predator 17 is 16.7 inches wide, 12.7 inches deep, 1.6 inches thick, and weighs a whopping 9.3 pounds—not counting the power brick you’ll also have to lug around. It’s a tiny bit smaller and lighter than the Asus ROG G752VS, but it’s still huge. If you’re buying a bag to carry it around, make sure the laptop will fit.
No gaming laptop has great battery life. At least the Predator 17 exceeded expectations on PCMag’s video rundown test, lasting 4 hours and 44 minutes compared to the Asus ROG G752VS-XB78K’s 3 hours and 48 minutes. Size, weight, and battery life are common shortcomings among gaming laptops, and this won’t change until manufacturers figure out how to effectively cool thin and light gaming machines or offload graphics to external docks, or until GPUs put out less heat.
The Predator 17 G9-793-78CM model has a DVD burner but not a Blu-ray drive. A Blu-ray drive isn’t a crucial feature for most people, since most PC games are distributed digitally or on DVD, and you can pick up an external Blu-ray drive if you need one. Our recommended model doesn’t have a touchscreen, either, but neither does our runner-up there’s really no good reason to have one in a gaming laptop.
Who else likes our pick
Not many publications have reviewed the most recent generation of the Acer Predator 17, the G9-793, but here are the best reviews we found:
PCMag compared our recommended configuration of the Predator 17 to the previous generation Acer Predator 17X, the higher-specced Asus ROG G752VS-8B78K, and the 15-inch MSI GT62VR Dominator Pro, which aren’t directly comparable. The review concludes that the Predator 17 is “a good deal with strong performance, VR-capable graphics, and long battery life” despite its “heavy, bulky design” and the fact that its “fans can get loud.”
Notebookcheck a pre-production unit, and encountered some issues we did not find in our review unit, such as screen bleed and high processor temperatures. The review praises the Predator’s “very decent build quality, the great display, the very potent hardware, and the future-oriented selection of ports including Thunderbolt 3. The gaming-specific tools and the programmable keys are standouts as well. Last but not least, the very decent sound system is also worth mentioning.”
Ultrabookreview a pre-production unit, and had similar issues with screen bleeding, plus slow Wi-Fi away from the router. We didn’t encounter either issue (again, with our production model), but we agree with their praise of the Predator 17’s “solid performance and excellent thermals,” “good display with Gsync support,” and “capable speakers,” as well as the review’s criticism that the Predator 17 is “massive and heavy for this day and age” and has “flashy LEDs and design elements.”
Runner-up: Asus ROG G752VS
The Asus ROG G752VS is a better gaming laptop than the Acer Predator 17, but the configuration we recommend is hard to get, and the common configurations waste money on upgrades you don’t need. Photo: Michael Hession
If the Acer Predator 17 is unavailable or you don’t mind waiting a couple weeks for your laptop, we recommend the Asus ROG G752VS-RB71 customized with an additional 256 GB solid-state drive and an Intel Dual Band 8260-AC Wi-Fi card through Xotic PC. Comparably configured, the Asus ROG G752VS is actually a better gaming laptop than the Acer Predator 17: It has the quietest fans we tested, better build quality, and a superior keyboard and trackpad. The previous version of the G752 was our pick last year for all those reasons.
But this year, the only widely available configurations of the G752VS cost at least $400 more than the Predator 17 and include unnecessary upgrades like overclocked processors and too much memory. The only place to get our recommended specs for a decent price is to customize the G752VS through a boutique seller, and at the time of this writing, the Xotic PC-configured model we recommend takes nine to 15 business days just to ship—a long wait compared to retailers than can deliver in only two days.
The RB71 config has an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 graphics card with 8 GB of dedicated memory; an Intel Skylake Core i7-6700HQ quad-core processor; and 16 GB of RAM with three extra memory slots (so you can add more, up to 64 GB total, though you won’t need to); and a 17-inch matte IPS display with a 1920×1080 resolution and G-sync. The base configuration includes a 1 TB hard drive for storage, and we recommend adding a 256 GB PCIe solid-state boot drive for around $130 and an Intel Dual Band 8260-AC Wi-Fi card for $35. You can pay more for a larger solid-state drive if you’d like, but we don’t recommend any of Xotic PC’s billion other add-ons, as they’re unnecessary.
The G752’s cooling system has two small rubber plugs that prevent dust from getting inside when the laptop’s not in use. You’re supposed to take them out when you’re gaming, and they have little straps that prevent you from losing them when they’re out. Photo: Michael Hession
The Asus’s WASD keys kept cool during our testing, measuring the same as the Predator 17’s at 33 °C (92 °F). Both the Asus and Acer kept their WASD keys much cooler than the MSI’s sweat-inducing 40 °C (104 °F) keys. The underside of the G752VS and the right side of the keyboard did get too warm in our tests—43 °C (110 °F) and 48 °C (119 °F), respectively—but these aren’t regularly touched areas on a 17-inch gaming laptop, and we expect these temperatures to be cooler on the non-overclocked model.
The G752’s fans remained quiet during all of our tests—in fact, they were the quietest of all three laptops we tested this year—and we never had to turn the speakers up to hear over their hum. If you need a quiet gaming laptop, the G752 may be a better option for you than the noisy Predator 17. The G752VS has pair of weird rubber plugs on its back vents to prevent dust and other particles from getting inside the system when it’s not in use. The plugs are tethered to the chassis with nylon ties, and look odd when they’re dangling out of the ports. You can always cut the ties and remove the plugs permanently if you prefer.
The Asus’s keyboard is responsive and comfortable, with deep key travel. Photo: Michael Hession
The laptop’s keys feel snappy and are responsive, with deep key travel and edgy red backlighting. The Asus ROG G752 and Acer Predator 17’s keyboards feel similar, though the Asus’s keys feel a little springier and crisper. The G752’s keyboard doesn’t have a multicolor, customizable backlight—it’s red or nothing.
The Asus’s recording button and five programmable macro keys are located above the keyboard, rather than to the left of it as on the Acer Predator. Photo: Michael Hession
The G752 has a set of six macro keys—one recording key and five programmable ones—in the upper left of the keyboard, about a centimeter above the F1 to F6 keys. The Asus’s macro keys look and feel like extra keyboard keys, unlike the Acer’s stylized buttons, and they’re easier to reach, too. The M1 through M5 keys can be programmed using the preloaded ROG MacroKey software.
The G752’s trackpad is spacious and has two physical buttons. Photo: Michael Hession
The G752’s trackpad works well for all standard Windows gestures and has physical left- and right-click buttons. The buttons are much larger than the Acer’s and aren’t hindered by any raised border, but they lack the satisfying tactile feedback of the Acer’s buttons.
The Asus ROG G752 has a large IPS screen with vivid colors and wide viewing angles, perfect for staring at Velen’s landscapes. Photo: Michael Hession
The Asus ROG G752 has an excellent 1920×1080 IPS panel with G-sync support, just like the Predator 17. Both have good viewing angles and bright colors. In our tests the Asus had slightly worse black levels, but we didn’t notice a huge difference between the two screens when playing games. Asus’s preloaded software offers a few preset color profiles—Normal, Eye Care, Vivid, and Manual (with a basic color temperature slider)—while the Predator doesn’t have any.
The Asus also has a ton of ports—including audio out, mic in, and audio in—most of which are clustered on the right side of the laptop. Photo: Michael Hession
The Asus ROG G752VS has a wide array of ports: Thunderbolt 3, Ethernet, HDMI, Mini DisplayPort, four USB 3.0 ports, an SD card slot, a Kensington lock, and jacks for headphones, a microphone, and audio in. Also like the Predator 17, the Asus ROG G752VS has a DVD burner, but no Blu-ray drive. If you need one, you can add it on Xotic PC for $100.
The Asus ROG G752VS is also easy to upgrade. Removing one small screw and a panel grants access to two open RAM slots and the 2.5-inch drive bay. Another four screws and a tiny metal panel reveal both PCIe M.2 slots.
The wedge-shaped Asus ROG G752VS is technically portable. It measures 16.9 inches wide, 13.1 inches deep, and 2.1 inches thick, and weighs 9.6 pounds (not counting the power brick). It’s larger and thicker than the Acer Predator 17, and it weighs about a third of a pound more. The overclocked XB78K configuration that PCMag tested had shorter battery life than the Predator 17. We expect the RB71 configuration we recommend to have longer battery life because of its less power-hungry processor and memory, but likely not by much.
The G752’s speakers are mounted on the inside of the screen hinge, which means that sound bounces off the open lid and comes out louder and clearer behind the laptop, rather than in front, where you sit. The speakers also make music sound weak on bass, tinny, and flat. We also experienced frequent speaker popping, but all these audio shortcomings can be solved by plugging in a decent pair of headphones.
Like most laptops, the Asus comes with a bunch of preinstalled software, though most of it is useful. It’s an easy problem to fix—for example, you can use Decrap My Computer to get rid of any unwanted programs.
The Asus ROG G752VS-RB71 comes with a one-year manufacturer’s warranty from Asus, as well as lifetime email and phone support from Xotic PC. Xotic PC also sells an additional three-year parts and lifetime labor warranty, but it costs around $250 extra.
Most reviewers (including us) tested the more expensive and widely available overclocked model. We expect this model to run hotter and have shorter battery life than our recommended configuration, which already meets our standards for gaming performance, but evaluations of the XB72K model are otherwise applicable to our runner-up pick.
LaptopMag gave both versions of the overclocked G752VS an Editors’ Choice award, writing “it manages to stay cool while gaming” and concluding “Overall, you can’t really go wrong with the G752VS. It’s a solid price for butter-smooth gaming and a great screen. You just may want to invest in some external speakers.”
Don’t buy a thin and light gaming laptop yet
Thin and light gaming laptops like the 2016 Razer Blade offer a slimmer design but get too hot. Photo: Kimber Streams
Since 2011, when Razer introduced the Blade, manufacturers have been working on thin and light gaming laptops. But every single model we’ve seen so far suffers from the same deal-breaking flaw: poor heat management. Extreme heat for extended periods of time can throttle gaming performance, shorten the lifespan of the laptop’s components, and even burn you.
We’ve tested several generations of the Razer Blade, most recently the 2016 model with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M graphics card. (The latest Razer Blade only goes up to a GTX 1060 graphics card, so it’s not powerful enough to compete with the other laptops in this guide.) Like Blades before it, the 2016 model has a cooling system that’s designed to vent heat away from the WASD keys on the left of the keyboard. In our tests the WASD keys were indeed cooler than the rest of the laptop, but they were still far too hot. Just eight minutes into a 30-minute session of Borderlands 2, the left palm rest and the WASD keys felt uncomfortably warm, and the laptop’s fans were screaming.
The Blade’s surface temperatures, though, were simply unacceptable. As you can see in the chart above, the Razer’s WASD keys were a sweat-inducing 43 °C (109 °F), the K key was 49 °C (120 °F), the strip of metal above the keyboard was a scalding 54 °C (129 °F), and the underside of the chassis was 52 °C (125 °F). The same points on the Asus ROG G752VT reached 33 °C (91 °F), 42 °C (108 °F), 43 °C (109 °F), and 42 °C (107 °F), respectively, and the fan noise never rose above a soft whooshing.
Such surface temperatures are similar to what I saw when testing the 2014 Razer Blade, which left me with a first-degree burn on my leg after I used it on my lap for a 15-minute stint. And we’re not alone in experiencing high temps. In a review of the early-2016 Blade, Gizmodo writes, “Man oh man will it roast your legs. Playing Firewatch, a graphics-intensive exploration game, for thirty minutes switching back and forth between Ultra and High settings, the bottom of the Razer Blade got hot and the fans whirled and more than one person in the office asked me if it was going to die.”
LaptopMag tested the most recent Razer Blade, and found “As pretty as the Blade’s aluminum chassis is, it doesn’t take much to turn from a cool customer into a hot potato. After 15 minutes of running around White Orchard in Witcher 3, the touchpad measured 106 degrees Fahrenheit, which is above our 95-degree comfort threshold. The center of the keyboard was even hotter at 111 degrees while the undercarriage hit 119 degrees.” And yet they still gave the Blade an Editors’ Choice award. Both Notebookcheck and ComputerShopper report a high-pitched whining from the fans.
What about an external graphics dock?
External graphics docks (also called graphics amplifiers) could potentially solve the problems that come from shoving a powerful graphics card that generates lots of heat into a super-thin laptop that has no way to dissipate that heat. Graphics docks give the laptop more graphics power than it could ordinarily contain by offloading the graphics card entirely to an external enclosure.
This also means that rather than needing an immobile desktop PC or a huge gaming laptop to play games, plus a super-light laptop to take on the road, you could use a graphics amplifier to give an ultrabook desktop-level gaming power. These devices have existed in various forms for some time—mostly for professionals—but now gaming laptop manufacturers are working on them, as well.
The Razer Core is an external graphics dock that uses Thunderbolt 3 to pass graphics, power, data, and video over a single USB-C connection. This means you can connect an external monitor, a mouse, and a keyboard to the Core; connect an ultrabook via a single USB-C cable; and play a demanding game on that thin and light laptop, all while the laptop charges. (You’ll still be limited by the processor and RAM of the ultrabook, so games with high processor requirements could still encounter a bottleneck.) Right now the Core is certified to work only with Razer’s Blade Stealth ultrabook, but it isn’t a proprietary device. The Core should theoretically work with any computer that has Thunderbolt 3 and the proper Intel drivers to support graphics over Thunderbolt. But it’s expensive, at $500 (plus the price of a graphics card) or $400 if you buy it bundled with a Blade or Blade Stealth.
Engadget that the Core’s Thunderbolt 3 connection bottlenecks performance, though the issue was somewhat alleviated by turning off the laptop’s display and using only an external monitor. The Core won’t quite match the performance of a desktop—Dave Lee that graphics cards in the Core provide 85 to 90 percent of the performance those cards get in a desktop—but that’s certainly worth the tradeoff for an external dock that’s easy to hook up to an ultraportable laptop.
Ultrabookreview’s also found similar performance discrepancies, and more importantly, some serious issues using the Core with non-Razer laptops. The review notes difficult setup, issues booting a laptop with a connected Core from sleep, frequent disconnects, inconsistent performance issues, and more.
We’ll continue to keep a close eye on the Razer Core and other graphics amplifiers (like the Asus XG Station 2 and the Alienware Graphics Amplifier). But right now they’re not ready for most people.
Ultra-high-resolution screens (like 4K) have been a growing trend in gaming laptops over the past few years. At first, they were available only on thin and light machines with inexcusable heating problems, which made it difficult to evaluate ultra-high-def gaming performance because of the potential for throttling and other issues caused by poor heat management. Last year, when ultra-high-resolution screens started showing up in 17-inch gaming laptops with better cooling systems, the 900-series mobile graphics cards available at the time weren’t powerful enough to run modern games at resolutions higher than 1080p.
Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1070 and GTX 1080 cards can handle 4K gaming at high settings, but ultra-high-resolution screens are currently too expensive. The cheapest version of our top pick with a 4K screen costs $2,500 at the time of this writing, a whopping $750 more than the 1080p model we recommend. On another model we tested, upgrading to a 4K screen adds over $500 to the price. Only one person out of 122 survey respondents was willing to pay more than $400 for a 4K screen instead of a 1080p one, so it’s not a feature for most people yet.
What to look forward to
Gaming laptops is a tricky category. Components—graphics cards, processors, solid-state drives, wireless cards, and the like—are refreshed at various points throughout the year. Some gaming-laptop makers release only one new line per year, while others update their offerings and prices year-round to reflect new components and tiny design tweaks. Such high product churn means there isn’t really a best time of the year to buy a gaming laptop, but here are some things that might be worth looking forward to.
At the Computex Taipei trade show in May 2017, Nvidia announced Max-Q, a new design approach that allows laptop manufacturers to create thinner, lighter, and quieter gaming laptops with GTX 1080, GTX 1070, and GTX 1060 graphics cards. We’ll keep an eye on these new laptops as they’re released. Although we’re still skeptical of thin and light gaming laptops’ ability to manage heat, we’re hoping the introduction of Max-Q is a step in the right direction.
MSI also announced a bunch of new gaming laptops at Computex, but currently they have no pricing or set release date. We’ll plan to test any that meet our specs and price requirements as that information becomes available.
Lenovo announced the Legion Y920 in May 2017. The Y920 has a 17-inch, 1080p HD IPS display, along with a seventh-generation Intel Core i7 processor, 16 GB of memory, and 512 GB of storage. It also offers an Nvidia GTX 1070 graphics card, as well as a full-size mechanical keyboard and RGB backlighting. It will cost $2,700 when it’s released in June.
Acer announced the Predator Triton 700 at its April 2017 press conference. The 15.6-inch gaming laptop will measure only 18.9 mm thick and will have a 1080p display, seventh-generation Intel Core processors, and Nvidia GeForce 10–series graphics cards, plus two PCIe SSDs and up to 32 GB of RAM. We don’t currently recommend buying a thin and light gaming laptop, but we will look into the Predator Triton 700 when Acer releases it later this year.
Samsung announced the 17-inch Notebook Odyssey at CES 2017. It has a 1080p display and a seventh-generation Intel Core i7 processor, with up to a 256 GB solid-state drive and 1 TB of hard-drive storage. Since not all of its specs have been announced, we’re looking forward to checking out the Notebook Odyssey when it’s released.
This year, for the first time, a number of 15-inch gaming laptops are available with powerful GTX 1070 graphics cards. Two-thirds of our survey respondents told us they would prefer a 15-inch gaming laptop, so we’ll be looking into 15-inch options for our next round of testing.
As we explained above in the How we picked and tested section, we ruled out any laptops that don’t have an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 or better. That left us with a short list of contenders other than the ones mentioned above.
The XB72K and XS74K models of the Asus ROG G752VS are more expensive than our recommended config and have unnecessary upgrades like overclocked processors, more than 16 GB of RAM, or solid-state drives in a RAID 0 configuration. We recommend these models only if both our recommended Acer Predator 17 and Asus ROG G752VS-RB71 configurations are unavailable.
The MSI GT72VR Dominator Pro had the warmest WASD keys by far after 30 minutes of The Witcher 3, measuring 40 °C (104 °F) compared to the Asus’s and Acer’s 33 °C (91 °F). My fingers (which are almost always cold) felt uncomfortably warm, and my palms were sweating after just 18 minutes of gameplay. The GT72VR also lacks G-sync support and had the worst speakers I’ve ever heard in my life—they crackled, buzzed, and cut out so much that we suspect our review unit was a lemon. No speakers could be this bad on purpose. Right? (We didn’t ask the manufacturer about this speaker issue, as the GT72VR wouldn’t have been a pick even if the speakers were great.)
We were unable to test the latest Alienware 17 for this update, but it costs around $2,100—a few hundred dollars more than our picks for the same specs—and lacks G-sync. Last year’s model was the second-hottest in our tests, and it had a shallower keyboard than the Acer Predator 17, Asus ROG G752, and MSI GT72VR Dominator Pro.
We were also unable to test the latest HP Omen 17, but LaptopMag’s reviewer reports: “After I played Battlefield 1 for 15 minutes, the rear portion of the Omen’s underside warmed to a scorching 124 degrees Fahrenheit […] The keyboard also registered a quite hot 99 degrees, while the touchpad reached a manageable 85 degrees. It doesn’t help that the notebook’s fans were whirring pretty loudly during my play session.” Ars Technica’s review also points out a number of issues with the keyboard, trackpad, and G-sync. New versions of the Omen have a redesigned cooling system, and HP is now offering an external graphics dock for the line. But we don’t expect it to unseat our picks yet.
We didn’t test this year’s MSI GE72MVR Apache Pro because last year’s model felt cheap and had poor build quality and the worst cooling we tested; this year’s model doesn’t include enough changes for us to think it would fare any better. After 30 minutes of Borderlands 2, its W key measured 45 °C (114 °F), which felt uncomfortably warm and made my palms sweat.
Boutiques like Origin PC, Digital Storm, AVADirect, Sager, Xotic PC, iBuyPower, and others sell less-expensive, more-customizable gaming laptops, often using chassis made by Clevo or MSI. Most boutiques allow buyers to choose almost all of their own components, which is great if you know what you’re doing, but can be intimidating if you’re not intimately familiar with all the options for RAM, wireless cards, and thermal paste. Many boutiques also offer lifetime customer support, repair, and upgrade packages, using better customer service to set themselves apart from traditional manufacturers. But they also take longer to ship your laptop than a retailer like Amazon or Newegg, because they customize each laptop to order.
Another downside of boutiques is that, so far, the chassis (aside from those made by Asus and MSI that are resold through boutiques) tend to have subpar build quality compared to those used by our picks. This tradeoff for a less expensive, ultra-customizable gaming laptop is worthwhile for some people, but the trend of poor overall build quality means it’s not the best option for most people. For example, Origin’s EOS-17X currently breaks $2,500 with our recommended specs, and as OEM gear likely doesn’t match either the Acer or Asus in build quality.
This year we didn’t test any laptops with GTX 1080 cards, because they’re very expensive (around $3,000), don’t provide a tangible performance improvement in current games at 1080p, and require different chassis and cooling systems.
We considered laptops with a GTX 1060 or below for our budget gaming laptops guide.
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- Computer Games on Laptop Graphic Cards, Notebookcheck, December 9, 2014
- Review: Nvidia G-Sync Makes Your PC Games Look Amazing, Game Spot, January 9, 2015 ,
- How to Install RAM, wikiHow, August 4, 2014
- Asus ROG G751 review, CNET, November 10, 2014 ,
- ASUS G752 Review, Laptop Mag, December 2, 2015 ,
- Asus ROG G752VT-DH72 review, CNET, January 28, 2016 ,
- MSI GT72 Dominator Pro Review: GTX 980M Reigns Supreme, Anandtech, November 11, 2014 ,
- How much RAM do you really need for gaming?, PCMag, October 18, 2014 ,
- Asus G751JY G-Sync Notebook Review, Notebookcheck, July 7, 2015 ,
- Asus ROG G752VT Notebook Review, Notebookcheck, November 7, 2015 ,