Essential Gaming Laptops of 2015

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Unlike their bigger brothers—the brutish but more immobile gaming PCs—gaming laptops sacrifice a certain degree of power and customization in exchange for portability. Choosing the right one can be a difficult task. That sacrifice of power doesn't necessarily mean a huge downgrade in performance, but foregoing the ability to upgrade or customize your device easily does mean you'll be partnered with your new gaming rig, as-is, for the foreseeable future—unless, of course, you've got money to burn or are particularly handy with a soldering iron.  

The challenge, then, is selecting a gaming laptop that highlights your particular needs as a gamer. Making that decision depends on the type of gamer you are, the games you play, and the environment in which you play them. With these factors in mind, we've assembled a list of some of the best gaming laptops around. Not all pure powerhouses, this list takes into consideration the vast and varied array of gamers out there because it's not about which gaming laptop is best, but which is best for you.

ASUS Republic of Gamers G751JY-DB73X

They say that a person is only as good as their tool kit. Well, if that’s true, then using the ASUS ROG G751JY-DB73X might just make you the best around—among gamers, anyway. What makes the ROG such an excellent gaming rig is that instead of highlighting one or two keys, or gaming-specific features, it manages to check off practically the entire list of what makes a high-end machine high end. Starting with the ever-important screen, the ROG features a 17.3" Full HD display, with a matte finish to combat glare. Its 1920 x 1080 native resolution is supported by a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M GPU with 4GB of GDDR5 discrete memory, enabling you to play all of your AAA titles on ultra settings without FPS loss or degradation, even under duress. Powering the ROG is a 4th-generation Haswell 2.5 GHz Intel® Core™ i7-4870HQ quad-core processor that runs at 2 GHz and can be over-clocked up to 3.7 GHz. Coupled with 32GB of DDR3L RAM, a 1TB 7200 rpm hard drive with a 512GB solid-state drive, and a bevy of other high-end features (Blu-ray burner, Gigabit Ethernet, etc.), you’ve got a rig that has you covered no matter the need. Of course, don’t get us wrong: the ROG G751JY is a high, high-end gaming laptop and that comes at a pretty high-end price, but considering all that it delivers, and the power it brings, you definitely get your money’s worth. If your goal is to be the best by virtue of owning the best, you’d be hard-pressed to look elsewhere.

MSI GT80 Titan SLI-071

Calling the MSI GT80 Titan SLI-071 a gaming laptop might be somewhat of a misnomer. Yes, it fits all the technical descriptions of a gaming laptop: it’s portable and consolidated; it prioritizes power and gaming performance over things like battery life and whispery fans. But saying the GT80 is technically a gaming laptop is like saying a tank is technically a highway vehicle. Not that that’s especially a bad thing. This missing link between laptop and PC comes loaded with a mind-boggling 18.4" widescreen display (with Full HD 1920 x 1080 native resolution) and its own built-in, full-size SteelSeries mechanical keyboard with track pad. Backing the display are dual (as in, two of them) dedicated NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970M SLI graphics cards with 6GB of GDDR5 discrete memory each. The Titan’s system is powered by a a 2.6 GHz Intel Core i7-4720HQ processor, with 16GB of 1600MHz DDR3L RAM and a 1TB 7200 rpm hard drive in support. In short, you’ll have performance to match any rig out there, with room to spare. Of course, running on enough juice to power a nuclear sub does have its drawbacks: battery-life is pretty non-existent, so you’ll need to keep an outlet in sight; also, don’t even think about sitting this bad boy in your lap—it’s simply too big. However, if you’re looking to best the competition by simply clobbering them with one of the biggest, baddest laptops out there, or if you want a machine that can rival the power of a home PC (and still technically weighs less), then this is the rig for you.

Razer Blade (2015)

One of the great ironies about gaming laptops is their implied portability. We hear “laptop” and we automatically assume it's this sleek, featherweight device that can be thrown into our purse or backpack and whisked away to the next LAN party. Try selling that idea to owners of the 9-lb ASUS ROG or near-10-lb MSI Titan. The truth is, high-performance gaming laptops usually weigh as much as a newborn child and many are just as unwieldy. And if the idea is to get something lightweight and easy to tote around, then maybe those bulkier rigs might not be for you. Luckily, the 2015 Razer has you covered. At 0.7" thick and weighing less than 5 lb, the 2015 Razer is easily the slimmest, most lightweight model on our list. You'd need two Razers stacked together just to equal the weight and girth of the MSI Titan (though, in all fairness to MSI, it would also take two Razers to match the Titan's graphics processing power).

Looking at the aluminum chassis and sleek design of the Razer, you can't help but think of the He-who-must-not-be-named of the gaming community (*cough, Apple, cough*)—simply put, it’s just a gorgeous machine. However, aesthetics aside, the Razer does manage to pack all the necessary components of a truly high-end machine into its sleek and slimmed-down form. A NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970M graphics card with 3GB of video memory and an Intel Core i7-4720HQ processor are all onboard, as well as 16GB of DDR3L RAM and a 512GB SSD. The Razer also boasts a QHD+ display that supports a native resolution of 3200 x 1800. Its GPU might not have quite enough juice to fully support all titles at that resolution, but tweaking the graphic settings a little bit will still yield better than Full HD settings. Because it is so trim, and by virtue of it being a gaming laptop, heat can become an issue, depending on the length of your gaming sessions and tolerance for scorched denim. However, that’s a small and easily remedied inconvenience (take it off your lap), and players who don’t want to carry around something that weighs as much as a kettle bell will happily endure it. So, if you’re looking for a powerhouse machine with a more legitimate claim to being “portable,” then the Razer is far and away your best option.     

So far, our list has covered laptops that will keep you right at the cusp of top performance and playing power. And while it’s fair to say none of these laptops will totally break the bank, they’re not exactly pocket change (nor could they be, considering all that they deliver). But what about the gamer on a budget? The player who still wants to enjoy the latest and greatest games, but doesn’t have 3 Gs to spare? Or what about the non-professionals, the leisure-players, the part-timers, people with (shudder) full-time jobs? If any of those descriptors apply to you or the gamer in your life, then allow us to introduce you to the—

ASUS Republic of Gamers GL551JW-DS71

As far as gaming laptops go, the ASUS ROG GL551JW is a pretty cheap date. The reason for this is largely because of the lesser-than-premium display, which is a common trade-off with budget laptops. However, the ROG’s 15.3" display with 1920 x 1080 native resolution is nothing to sneeze at (or on), especially when compared to its cost-conscious peers. Display aside, the ROG manages to pack a wallop of quality specs for its price point—something that ASUS, as a brand, seems to have figured out: how to give you a lot of bang for your buck. Inside the ROG is a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M graphics card with 2GB of dedicated memory, which is enough power to run your newest, most demanding games at a medium or high graphics setting for a suitable frame rate. Additionally, it houses a 4th-generation Haswell Intel Core i7-4720HQ processor, which has a stock speed of 2.6 GHz and can be over-clocked up to 3.6 GHz, 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB hard drive. Again, for the price, these are all excellent, somewhat too-good-to-be-true specs. Enough so that, were you to bump up the quality of the perfectly adequate display, you’d probably be looking at a price closer to the Titan or Razer 2015. If you’re OK with a display that’s just OK, but still want a high-performing machine that will allow you access to all the best games, new and old, the ROG GL551JW is the (affordable) ticket.

A gaming laptop, like almost any commercial product, is as much about the person buying it as the machine itself. Each of the laptops on this list represents a certain type of gamer with a certain type of need: all-around performance, pure power, portability, or on a budget. While this list doesn’t (and can’t) cover all the different variants of gamers out there, nor their requirements, it does give you some of the best options currently available for the aforementioned categories, and a better look at some of the specs that make a gaming laptop high-end.

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