Best gaming laptops 2021, from budget to high end systems

·22-min read
 (Predator)
(Predator)

I believe it was the playwright George Bernard Shaw who said: “We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.” Well, I believe it was the playwright George Bernard Shaw who said it… although it could just as well have been something I glanced in one of those awful tat shops that sell off-cuts of wood with “Live, Laugh, Love” painted on them. In either case, there can be no doubting the wisdom of those words; particularly if, like me, you’re just a big kid who never quite attained true adulthood, as all my peers are constantly at pains to point out.

But just what, in our constant bid to avoid the entropy of age, should we be playing? Well, not stuff like ‘Tag’, ‘Statues’ or ‘Duck, Duck, Goose’ because that kind of stuff at your age is going to provoke too many questions concerned with your own safety. No, once you find yourself in the precarious position of possibly getting old, it’s time to double down and really commit to some seriously hardcore digital gaming, thus eschewing all the entrapments and responsibilities associated with the awful world of ‘adulting’ altogether.

So, assuming you’ve now been sold the idea of getting into digital gaming with all the ease of somebody looking for a solid excuse to be constantly unavailable, just what do you need? Well, you could go for a console or a high-performance desktop PC, but as I’ve been commissioned to write about gaming laptops, I say the Devil take your consoles and desktop PCs, the only way to truly indulge in the dynamic world of digital gaming both at home and – importantly – on the move is with an all-powerful gaming laptop.

The question now is: what should you look for when choosing a gaming laptop?

And the answer to that is SIZE! Yes, size matters – the size of the screen, the size of the CPU, the size of the GPU, the size of the memory – and the bigger the better is absolutely what you’re looking for here, none of that ‘it’s what you do with it’ nonsense. A big screen makes gaming especially epic and its native resolution and refresh rate are vital considerations.

You also don’t want to be caught short when it comes to processing power or, indeed, memory and storage, especially if you’re intending on tackling some of today’s more taxing on the tech games such as, say, Assassin’s Creed Origin, Far Cry 5, or the much anticipated (and due to drop in Feb 2022) Total War: Warhammer III.

Fortunately, most of the main laptop manufacturers make models specifically designed with the demanding spec required for digital gaming, while others specialise in creating nothing but gaming machines. However, all this scale and power often comes with an equally sizeable price tag attached. So, seeking to make gaming laptops accessible to all* (*optimistic and unlikely), I’ll be looking at options on both sides of the divide, in categories I’ll laughingly be calling ‘Budget’ and ‘High-End’.

Still on board? Then check your bank balance, sit back and picture a digitalised version of me, as I walk you through the features of the following 10 gaming laptops. And as an aide to your imagination, I’ll be dressed like a Lycra-clad Tron.

High-end (Over £1300): Acer Predator Triton 300 SE

Best for: the high-end gamer on the go

While I understand fully that in order to make your gaming laptop stand out in a busy marketplace you need to imbue it with a name that smacks of danger and excitement, I do think a balance has to be struck. To that end, while I fully approve of the use of Triton, the mightiest of Neptune’s moons, I rather fear that the word ‘predator’ has become far less synonymous with Great White sharks, Polar bears and other apex beasts in the wild and far more with dubious “celebrity” beasts in the 70s and 80s.

But that aside, what we have in the solid silver fine form of the Acer Predator Triton 300SE is a lean, mean gaming machine that packs in all the essential grunt demanded by bigger games, while weighing in at a surprisingly muscle-trifling 180kg thanks to its magnesium-aluminium alloy casing, making it the ideal laptop for the mobile gamer lacking in upper-arm strength.

Despite this feather-aping mass, the spec on the Acer is far from lightweight, as it comes packing a Quad-core Intel Core 7i processor (i7-11370H) clocking 3.3GHz, 16GB RAM and 1TB SSD, and an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 graphics card which is where the Predator Triton 300 SE comes alive as a true gamer.

When it comes to the display, the Acer is blessed with a 14-inch IPS LCD screen featuring 1920 x 1080 resolution and a 144Hz refresh rate, delivering flowing game play, realistic colours and good contrast to help those darker-hued titles not see you lost in the shadows.

On top of this you get a nicely spacious keyboard and responsive trackpad that are more than comfortable to work on during times when gaming needs to take a backseat, ports galore for all your peripherals, a built-in microphone, fingerprint reader and all flavours of Wi-Fi to keep you connected come work, rest or, indeed, play.

Buy now £1400.00, Acer

HP OMEN 16-c0500na 16.1

Best for: devilishly good game play

Another awesome gaming option with a more than slightly sinister moniker, the Omen 16 may sound like a horror movie franchise, but this 16-inch stunner is less Damien and more, erm, game-ien. Yes, designed single-mindedly to be geared towards gamers, the spec options on the Omen include an 11th Gen Intel Core i7-11800H or an AMD Ryzen 9 5900HX processor, a NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 or 3070 GPU, up to 1x 1TB PCIe Gen3 or 4 x 4 SSD and up to 32GB DDR4 3200 memory. All of which amounts to a fair level of gaming grunt.

Then there’s the display, a glorious 16.1 diagonal inch QHD design with up to 165Hz refresh rate, 3ms response time, IPS, micro-edge, anti-glare, Low Blue Light, 300 nits brightness and 100% sRGB colour. All of which may sound like the kind of pseudo-science gibberish uttered at high-speed by some white-coated nerd in a Sci-Fi film, but what it actually all equates to is some seriously crisp, colourful images and uninterrupted, flicker-free game play which, in the heat of a Fortnite throw-down is precisely what you want.

But great graphics and game play are only two thirds of the gamer’s dream ménage à trois, for where there’s awesome visuals there has to be equally audacious audio. And the Omen doesn’t disappoint, delivering dual Bang & Olufsen speakers for powerful yet well-balanced boom.

Also offering up to WiFi 6E for super-fast Internet speed and low latency, plus 3x SuperSpeed USB Type-A, 1x Thunderbolt 4 (Intel + NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 above model) or 1 x SuperSpeed USB Type-C, HDMI 2.1, BT5.2, RJ45, Mini DisplayPort and a combo audio jack, all connections you could possibly need are catered for.

Completing this player’s paradise is a full-size, island-style, 4-zone RGB backlit, shadow black keyboard with 26-Key Rollover Anti-Ghosting Key technology, putting all the gaming tools you need quite literally at your fingertips and making the Omen – ahem – one devil of a device.

Buy now £1300.00, HP

Alienware X17 R1

Best for: plush game players

A heavyweight gaming laptop at a reasonably heavyweight price, the X17 from Alienware is – first and foremost – beautiful to behold. Finished in what the company calls ‘Lunar Light’, it certain stood out amongst the army of black laptops crossing my desk this month. But then the feast for the eyes continues as you open the lid and you’re treated to a disco display of multicoloured lights dancing across the trackpad and keyboard as the beast sparks into life.

But shallow aesthetics aside, it’s what’s inside that counts and the Alienware is rammed to the metaphorical rafters with gaming tech goodness, including the mighty 11th Gen Intel Core i7 11800H processor (8-Core, 24MB L3 Cache, up to 4.6GHz with Turbo Boost Technology), NVIDIA’s GeForce RTX 3060, 3070 or 3080 with either 6GB, 8GB or 16GB GDDR6, 16GB or 32GB DDR4 3200MHz of memory and 512GB or 1TB of SSD storage.

With a screen refresh rate of 165Hz through 360Hz depending on your panel choice (later speed requires GeForce RTX 3080) both options here have a response time rated at 3ms or less, making for seamless 17-inch screentime, and 4K images with full RGB values (up to 16.8 million colours) are sharp, brilliant and vivid.

Connectivity comes courtesy of an absolute embarrassment of port riches, including Global headset jack, Type-C Thunderbolt4, USB 3.2 Gen, USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A with Powershare, Killer 3100 RJ-45 2.5G Ethernet, Type-C USB 3.2 Gen 2, HDMI 2.1, Micro SD and a Mini Display Port 1. Add WiFi 6 to the mix for lightning-fast Internet and you’re better connected than Kim Kardashian.

With 4-way stereo speakers (8W total) providing the soundtrack to your inevitable gaming victory, plus cunning multiple fan technologies combined with adjustable energy usage options to keep things cool, Alienware X17 is both powerful and prepared to meet epic hours of use. In fact, with such advanced cooling technology, the only thing likely to overheat here is you as you send Spiderman bouncing off the side of a building in yet another mistimed web-swing.

Buy now £1890.00, Dell

Lenovo Legion 7

Best for: larger screen, smaller footprint

If the 17-inches of the Alienware above is deemed just one-inch too unwieldy for you, but you do enjoy a pleasingly expansive display when immersed in the digital realm, then turn your otherwise far too singularly focused attention to the fine-looking lines of the Lenovo Legion 7, a 16-inch option that gives you a taller 16:10 aspect ratio display. And while that may not sound like much, but – let me tell you, you old cynic – it makes one hell of a difference when playing.

That perfectly proportioned screen is also a WQXGA (2560x1600 resolution) IPS, with 500 nits of brightness, Anti-glare to stop the ‘real’ world from distracting you, a 165Hz refresh rate, 100% sRGB colour, Dolby Vision, HDR 400, Free-Sync, G-Sync and DC Dimmer, all of which comes together to create a haute cuisine visual feast for even the most jaded gamer’s eyes.

On the ‘engine’ side, an AI-optimised AMD Ryzen 7 5800H processor hides under the hood (8 Cores / 16 Threads, 3.20GHz, up to 4.40GHz with Max Boost, 4MB Cache L2 / 16MB Cache L3), tied to 16GB SO-DIMM DDR4 3200MHz memory (can be upgraded to 32GB) and 512GB M.2 2280 SSD storage (can upgrade to 1TB), so which is more than beefcake enough to do all your next-gen gaming heavy lifting.

Sound-wise, 2x 2W Harman speakers handle the audio with the help of software from Nahimic Audio, a company that specialises in gaming sound solutions, so we may not be looking at neighbour-annoying volume, but the epic audio quality more than makes up for it.

Keeping you connected is 1x USB Type-C (USB 3.2 Gen 2, DisplayPort 1.4), Headphone / mic jack, 1x USB Type-C (USB 3.2 Gen 1), 3x USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 (always on 5V), 1x USB Type-C (USB 3.2 Gen 2, DisplayPort 1.4, power delivery), 1x HDMI 2.1 and an RJ45 for an ethernet connection, and on the wireless side of things there’s optional Killer™ WiFi AX1650 (2x2), 2x2 WiFi 802.11ax and Bluetooth 5.1.

So, take all that and throw in a Corsair iCUE RGB keyboard too, and the Lenovo Legion 7 is nothing short of gaming 7th heaven.

Buy now £1500.00, Lenovo

Alienware M15 R6

Best for: the space-restricted

Of course, not all gamers will have the requisite desk or, indeed, lap space to accommodate the larger portable PC gaming options out there, but they still have every right to demand the ‘largest’ spec imaginable, just with a more condensed form. For these individuals Alienware offer up the M15 R6 like some gift from the gaming gods.

Okay, at a shade over £1300, it’s not really a ‘gift’ per se, but you get an awful lot of pure gaming power locked inside a slick, sexy, black body complete with Alienware just-for-effect lights. For a start there is a choice of 11th Generation Intel Core i5 (6-Core, 12MB L3 Cache, up to 4.5GHz with Turbo Boost) or i7 (8-Core, 24MB Cache, up to 4.6GHz) processor, an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 6GB or 3070 GB GDDR6, a choice of 16GB DDR4 2933MHz or 16GB, 2x8GB, DDR4, 3200MHz memory and a 512GB or 1TB of SSD storage. Like I said: a lot of pure gaming power.

This solid oomph comes married to the option of a 15.6-inch FHD (1920 x 1080 resolution) screen featuring a 165Hz refresh rate and 3ms response rate with ComfortView Plus, or the step-up 15.6-inch QHD (2560 x 1440 resolution) display boasting a 240Hz refresh rate and 2ms response rate with ComfortView Plus, NVIDIA G-SYNC and Advanced Optimus.

And as if all this absolute power and pristine presentation wasn’t enough, you also get stereo Realtek speakers (total of 4W) with A-Volute Nahimic audio processing software and integrated Alienware Sound Center (AWSC) seeing to your sound and a plethora of ports, comprising 3x Type-A USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports (one with PowerShare), 1x Type-C port (Includes Thunderbolt 4i, 1x USB 3.2 Gen 2, Display Port 1.4, 1x HDMI 2.1 Output port, 1x Killer E2600 1Gbps-rated RJ-45 Ethernet port and a Global Headset jack.

Completing the party comes Killer Wi-Fi 6 AX1650 (2x2) 802.11ax and Bluetooth wireless connectivity and Alienware’s very own mSeries 4-Zone AlienFX RGB keyboard to keep your hands happy for countless hours at a time. Although, like you mother undoubtedly told you many times, do remember to go outside and get some fresh air and sun occasionally.

Buy now £1320.00, Dell

Budget (Under £1300): Dell G15

Best for: the benefits of Alienware without the cost

Dell might not be the first name that leaps to mind when considering gaming laptops, but then you might not know that Dell acquired gaming tech experts Alienware way back in 2006. What this means though, is that Dell has benefitted from Alienware’s mastery ever since, something which helps elevate the Dell G15 Gaming Laptop above others in its price bracket.

Coming blessed with the Alienware Command Centre, both hardware and software environments on the G15 can be adjusted to suit the requirement of each game played, resulting in a gaming experience that fits like a digital glove and goes beyond otherwise very similar-to-rivals’ spec.

Speaking of which, driving the G15 is Intel’s 11th Generation Core i7-11800H (24MB Cache, up to 4.6GHz, 8-cores), while graphics is handled by the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 6GB GDDR6 GPU, all paired up with 16GB DDR4 3200MHz memory and 512GB SSD storage. So, a more than capable set-up straight out of the traps.

Then there’s the display, a 15.6-inch FHD (1920 x 1080 resolution) job, with a 120Hz fresh rate for fast, smooth gaming, 250 nits brightness (so not as bright as the Lenovo Legion 5) and Anti-glare so that pesky sun can’t ruin the moment for you when it comes peeking through the curtains.

Largely unremarkable dual speakers come fitted, but as most gamers favour decent headphones, they’re relatively unimportant. But what is important is that, whether you use the speakers of separate cans, the audio quality comes enhanced no-end by the use of Nahimic 3D software.

Connection-wise, all the usual suspects are present and correct, namely, 1x USB 3.2 Gen 1, 1x USB 3.2 Gen 1 with PowerShare, 1x Thunderbolt 4/USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-C port, 1x USB 3.2 Gen 1, 1x HDMI, RJ45 and a combo headphones/mic port. And keeping the wire-free side of things running smoothly is WiFi 6 and Bluetooth 5.1.

So, take all that, factor in the aforementioned Alienware Command Centre control aspect and get ready to game.

Buy now £1100.00, Dell

HP Victus 16-e00038na

Best for: gaming beginners

Etymology fact fans (of which I’m utterly convinced there will be many currently reading this) will be thrilled to learn that the word ‘victus’, as opposed to what you might imagine as some kind of Roman gladiatorial/battle-based origin, actually derives via Middle English and Anglo-French from the Latin noun victus, meaning ‘nourishment’ or ‘way of living’. Of course, I’m also equally convinced they’ll be many more people reading this who couldn’t give a fetid damn about me and my etymology, so I’ll get to the point.

This is the HP Victus, a 16.1-inch display gaming laptop that offers a lot of spec for very few spondoolies or, indeed, for fans of 9s rap music, skrilla. For beneath the stylish ‘mica silver’, ‘performance blue’ and ‘ceramic white’ case colour options, the Victus offers a way for those new to the virtual world to access an accessible, yet elevated, gaming experience without any potential buyer’s remorse.

First up is the processor, a ferociously fast AMD Ryzen 7 5800H (up to 4.4GHz max boost clock, 16 MB L3 cache, 8 cores, 16 threads), which comes matched with some 16GB DDR4-3200 MHz memory and 512GB PCIe NVMe TLC M.2 SSD storage. Then there’s the GPU, an absolutely bang up to date NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 6 GB GDDR6, which is the same dedicated graphics processor you’ll find in some of the much more expensive laptops you’ll see listed lower.

To display all this gaming glory, the Victus comes sporting a 16.1-inch FHD (1920 x 1080 resolution) display, with a 144Hz refresh rate, 7ms response time, IPS, micro-edge, anti-glare, Low Blue Light, 300 nits brightness and 100 per cent sRGB colour, all combining to bring you brilliant, ultra-sharp images that’ll have you so utterly immersed in the game in no time that eating, sleeping, basic hygiene and going to work will be the stuff of ‘past you’.

When it comes to ports, the HP Victus spoils you for choice, with 1x SuperSpeed USB Type-C 5Gbps signalling rate, 1x SuperSpeed USB Type-A 5Gbps signalling rate, 2x SuperSpeed USB Type-A 5Gbps signalling rate, 1x HDMI 2.1, 1x RJ-45 ethernet and 1x headphone/microphone combo connectors all ready and waiting, while wireless is seamlessly handled by a slick Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.2 combo.

Add in audio courtesy of dual Bang & Olufsen speakers with HP Audio Boost built-in and there you have it: pure nourishment for the newly minted gaming soul.

Buy now £1150.00, HP

Lenovo Legion 5

Best for: a real gaming bargain

A gaming laptop for under £1000? What fresh madness is this – surely some terrible mistake? Well, I can understand you thinking that as, well, gaming laptops are famously, some might say notoriously, expensive. So just how has Lenovo managed to create one that scrapes into the sub-grand category by a single penny? And, moreover, is it any good?

Well, having already reviewed its big brother, the Legion 7 and being left massively impressed with that, I too was a little sceptical of the 5, but it’s not the first time I’ve been wrong… and I doubt it will be the last.

To start proceedings, the 5, despite its low price-tag, comes with a AMD Ryzen 5 5600H Processor (6 Cores / 12 Threads, 3.30GHz, up to 4.20GHz with Max Boost, 3MB Cache L2 / 16 MB Cache L3) chip at its heart, something that should have geeks appreciatively sucking air in through their teeth as I type, this combined with a NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3050 Ti 4GB GDDR6 GPU (upgradable to AMD Radeon RX 6600M 8GB GDDR6), some 16 GB SO-DIMM DDR4 3200MHz memory and 512GB M.2 2242 SSD fuse together to form a powerful, precision engine room; so no corners cut here.

Then we come to the screen – after all, what good is all of the above if the screen is not up to task? A 15.6-inch FHD (1920x1080 resolution) with IPS, 300 nits brightness, Anti-glare, a 165Hz refresh rate, 100% sRGB colour, with Dolby Vision, Free-Sync, G-Sync and DC dimmer, you needn’t worry about any quality issues here, just sit back and enjoy razor-sharp, flicker-free images and brilliantly reproduced colour.

Audio-wise, the Legion 5 comes packing 2x 2W speakers with specialist Nahimic Audio software designed specially to enhance gaming sound. And as to connectors, 1x USB-C 3.2 Gen 2, 1x headphone/mic combo, 1 x USB-A 3.2 Gen 1, 3 x USB-A 3.2 Gen 1, 1x USB-C 3.2 Gen 2, 1x HDMI 2.1, 1x RJ45 ethernet ports take good care of all your tangible needs, while WiFi 6 and Bluetooth 5.1 see to the rest.

So, in answer to the opening questions, firstly, I haven’t got a Scooby how Lenovo have put this together for a penny under grand and, secondly, no it’s not good; it is much, much better than that.

Price begin at £999.99.

Buy now £999.99, Lenovo

Asus TUF Dash F15

Best for: gamers on a real budget

As firmly established above, laptop gaming tends to be the seat-based sport of the monied alone, but sometimes, just sometimes, a machine comes along that allows entry into the electronic arena at a surprisingly low price, like having a mate working the door of a popular club letting you in through the back, and the Asus TUF Dash F15 is just that machine.

Okay, full disclosure, a gaming laptop that retails for under £700 is not going to be spectacularly specced, but – dependent on what you wish to play – it doesn’t necessarily have to be, so long as it has just enough muscle to cover the basics… which is what we have here.

While upgrade options are available, the model we’re concerned with is the base, cheapest, £680 option, so the spec spills out as such: Intel Core i5-11300H processor 3.1GHz, 4-cores (8MB Cache, up to 4.4GHz), 8GB DDR4 memory, 512GB SSD storage and a NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3050 4GB GDDR6 graphics processor. So, just enough muscle.

The display on the TUF is a 15.6-inch IPS LCD affair with Full HD resolution (1920 x 1080p), a refresh rate of 144Hz with NVIDIA G-Sync to help smooth out the graphics and a frames per second (FPS) rate of 137 when playing Fortnite at 1080p.

For sound, the more-economical Asus features relatively basic dual speakers with DTS, connectivity via 1x 3.5mm Combo audio jack, 1x HDMI 2.0b, 3x USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A, 1x RJ45 LAN port and 1x Thunderbolt 4 support DisplayPort, plus Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.1.

Finally, to complete the gaming laptop feel, Asus include a Backlit Chiclet Keyboard with fully illuminated directional keys.

So, yes, basic for a gaming laptop, but the Asus TUF Dash F15, a gaming laptop at under £700, is brilliantly executed in simply being so.

Buy now £680.00, Currys

HP Omen 15 15-en1007na

Best for: ‘budget’ gamer on the go

Like an omen of something sinister oncoming in a not-too-distant future, the review of the Omen 15 from HP here serves as both a recommendation of a reasonably priced gaming machine and a dark foreshadow of the Omen 16 I’ve also reviewed later, or something.

Anyway, poor quality Omen-based wordplay aside, what we have here is 15-inches of highly portable gaming kit with a simply stunning 15.6-inch QHD screen, meaning a resolution of 2560 x 1440 pixels and making the Omen 15’s display the best in this category by a country mile. And, not just that, it all comes imbued with a rapid 165Hz refresh rate, and equally expeditious 3ms response time, IPS, micro-edge, anti-glare, 300 nits, brightness and 100% DCI-P3 colour space. What does all that mean? It means images so clear and crisp that if they were any sharper they might have your eye out.

But all that screen finery would be for nothing if it wasn’t supported by a powerhouse combo of CPU and GPU which, of course, it is. Indeed, rocking an 8 core, 16 thread, 16MB L3 cache AMD Ryzen 7 5800H CPU that clocks up to 4.4GHz on max boost clock and a NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 Laptop GPU, the Omen 15 is ready for you to bring your ‘A’ game.

Memory and storage, meanwhile, are taken care of by 16GB DDR4-3200 MHz of RAM and 512GB PCIe NVMe TLC M.2 SSD, while the dual speaker system is not only by Bang & Olufsen it also features DTS:X Ultra and HP Audio Boost.

Letting you flex your fingers for longer, this Omen also comes with a full-size, 4-zone RGB backlit, mica silver keyboard and 26-Key Rollover Anti-Ghosting Key technology, and seeing to your connection needs are 1x SuperSpeed USB Type-C 5Gbps signalling rate, 1x SuperSpeed USB Type-A 5Gbps signalling rate (HP Sleep and Charge), 2x SuperSpeed USB Type-A 5Gbps signalling rate, 1x Mini DisplayPort, 1x HDMI 2.1, 1x RJ-45, 1x AC smart pin and a headphone/microphone combo, plus WiFi6 and Bluetooth 5.

Quite the temptation at only £1300, and with a weight of just 2.46kg too, a definite consideration for those who like to take their gaming gear wherever they go.

Buy now £1300.00, HP

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