Friday, April 19, 2024

Buying a gaming laptop? These are the brands to trust

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You may know what the best gaming laptops are, but what if you’d like to explore even more options? Nearly every laptop brand has some gaming angle — even MacBooks are on the gaming train these days — but it’s hard to know which to trust. We can help you narrow down your options with this list of the best laptop brands.

Contents

  • Lenovo
  • Asus
  • Razer
  • Alienware

We review dozens of gaming laptops every year, and there are some brands that consistently deliver high-quality laptops that balance performance, price, build quality, and extra features. If you’re shopping for a gaming laptop, these are the brands that should come to mind first.

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Lenovo

Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

Lenovo has some sort of secret sauce in its Legion gaming laptops. Across every Lenovo laptop we review, we consistently see that they punch above their weight class in performance, offering just a hair more than what you’d find on competing laptops with identical components. It could be power management tweaks, better thermal design, or “AI graphical wizardry,” as Lenovo sometimes calls it. The end result is the same; Lenovo’s Legion gaming laptops are fast.

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They’re also reasonably priced. Lenovo has two main series for its Legion laptops — the Pro line, which is focused on performance, and the Slim line, which is focused on portability. Both start around $1,000, offering GPUs ranging from the RTX 4050 to RTX 4070 (although, the Pro line does offer one model with an RTX 4080), as well as CPU options from both AMD and Intel. AMD’s most recent laptop CPUs are very powerful, and Lenovo is one of the few brands to offer these CPUs across its product stack.

There are a couple of laptops that go outside of this range, though. At the high end, you have the RTX 4090-packing Lenovo Legion 9i, which is the only gaming laptop we’ve ever awarded a perfect score. It’s insanely powerful, relatively portable, and efficiently run with a liquid-cooled thermal system. It’s the perfect gaming laptop, assuming you have $3,840 or more to spend.

On the other end, there’s Lenovo’s new LOQ line. These laptops start at $700 and feature lower-end components like the RTX 3050. LOQ laptops also make cuts to the screen and keyboard to keep the price low. They’re solid budget options, but if you can stretch your budget by around $200, you’ll get a much nicer laptop with a proper Legion machine.

Which Lenovo gaming laptop should you buy?

Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

Since reviewing it, the Lenovo Legion Pro 5 has sat on top of our roundup of the best gaming laptops. It hits the sweet spot in a way that no other laptop we’ve reviewed does in this generation. It’s powerful, reasonably priced, well built, and comes with a speedy 165Hz display. It’s not the best display we’ve tested, and there are a few minor problems like the chunky body size. But considering everything else the Legion Pro 5 has to offer, those are fair trade-offs.

For most people, we recommend the RTX 4070 configuration, which you can find for between $1,300 and $1,500 depending on sales. At native resolution in the most demanding games, we found that the laptop cracks 60 frames per second (fps) in games like Red Dead Redemption 2, while nearing 100 fps in titles like Horizon Zero Dawn. The RTX 4070 also comes with DLSS 3, offering a massive performance boost in supported games.

The Legion Pro 5 is the right gaming laptop for most people, but if you have the money for it, the Legion 9i is worth it. Again, you’ll need at least $3,840 for even the cheapest configuration, but the Legion 9i is the best high-end laptop we’ve ever reviewed for those looking for the best of the best.

Asus

Jacob Roach / Digital Trends / Digital Trends

If you like options, you’ll love Asus’ gaming laptops. It has a massive suite of gaming machines, ranging from value-focused powerhouses like the Asus ROG Strix G17 to portable flagships like the Zephyrus M16 to even the handheld ROG Ally. Sometimes to a fault, Asus offers just about any hardware combination you could want in a gaming laptop, with CPU options from Intel and AMD and the full range of Nvidia GPUs.

Asus is one of the few gaming laptop brands paying a lot of attention to the display as well. Its ROG Nebula HDR standard has pushed high-end mini LED displays to laptops, offering excellent HDR, refresh rates up to 240Hz, and a 16:10 aspect ratio. Asus hasn’t quite brought OLED displays over from some of its mainstream laptops, but the Nebula HDR displays still put most other gaming laptops to shame.

Outside of traditional gaming laptops, Asus has a few unique offerings. The ROG Ally and the ROG Flow Z13 are relatively underpowered gaming machines that sacrifice power for portability, but Asus offers its XG Mobile external GPU, giving these devices a huge boost in performance. It’s an ecosystem of products that, although expensive, offers something other gaming laptop brands just aren’t paying attention to.

Which Asus gaming laptop should you buy?

Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

There are a ton of Asus gaming laptops, so narrowing it down to one that’s right for everyone is tough. For our money, it’s hard to beat the ROG Zephyrus G14. It’s a highly portable 14-inch gaming laptop at a reasonable price, and it doesn’t sacrifice any power in achieving its size. Asus offers this laptop with up to an RTX 4090, but we recommend sticking with less powerful GPUs like the RTX 4070 in such a portable machine.

We strongly recommend shopping sales for the Zephyrus G14, though. It goes on sale constantly at retailers like Best Buy, with the price sometimes dropping to below $1,000 if you shop last-gen options. At the time of writing, the 2023 Zephyrus G14 with an RTX 4060 is $1,600 at Best Buy.

At the high end, you have the Asus ROG Strix Scar 17. It packs an RTX 4090, and it’s one of the most powerful gaming laptops you can buy. The big deal here, though, is that it’s the only gaming laptop that sports AMD’s 3D V-Cache CPUs, offering a massive boost in gaming performance — assuming you can afford the insane price tag.

Razer

Digital Trends

Razer would easily be the best gaming laptop brand overall if it weren’t for one thing: price. Razer laptops are expensive. Razer doesn’t compromise on quality, which is why even its lowest-end laptops are so expensive. That also is what makes them so excellent; Razer doesn’t compromise on quality.

They’re the MacBooks of gaming laptops, crafted with an aluminum frame that can hold up to years of abuse. You’re spending a lot to get a Razer laptop upfront — at minimum $2,400 and often much more — but you’ll also get a lot of life out of one. And due to the aluminum frame, you get a much thinner laptop compared to some of the larger plastic machines we see from other brands.

Razer doesn’t just borrow the shell from Apple, either. In true MacBook fashion, Razer Blades are flush with some of the best gaming keyboards you can find, massive trackpads, and displays that are as good for content creation as they are for gaming. The most recent Razer Blades also come with excellent speakers, which are shockingly hard to find on gaming laptops.

For most budgets, a Razer laptop just doesn’t make sense. If you can spend up, though, Razer justifies the purchase with a premium gaming laptop experience that you can’t find anywhere else.

Which Razer gaming laptop should you buy?

Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

There’s not a lot of choice with a Razer Blade. There are only five models available, with screen sizes ranging from 14 inches to 18 inches. For most people, we recommend the Razer Blade 14. It’s not only the cheapest Blade you can buy, but it’s also highly portable and packs powerful hardware like the AMD Ryzen 9 7940HS and Nvidia RTX 4070.

In addition, it stays cool and quiet under load — a nice change of pace from previous Razer laptops — and it supports USB-C charging, so you can ditch the hefty power brick when you want to take the laptop out with you for the day. It also posted excellent battery life in our testing, due in no small part to the fact that the display automatically bumps down the refresh rate while you’re away from the charger.

If you need peak power, Razer also offers its Blade 16 and Blade 18, both of which go up to an RTX 4090 with a 24-core Intel processor. These are great if you need one of the most powerful laptops money can buy, but it’s tough beating the Blade 14.

Alienware

Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

Alienware’s desktops are hit-or-miss, but its laptops are excellent across the board. A lot of that comes down to pricing, with Alienware offering several configurations on even its high-end machines to fit different budgets. Even if you don’t get flagship hardware, you get the same world-class build quality that comes with the priciest Alienware laptops.

Its laptops broadly break down into two ranges. You have the thin and light X-series and the powerful, but pudgy M-series. The X-series machines are fantastic, offering some of thinnest designs we’ve ever seen out of a gaming laptop. They’re built with an aluminum shell as well, and you can get your foot in the door for as little as $1,400. That’s expensive, but with premium build quality that can rival what Razer offers, it’s not too bad.

M-series laptops aren’t quite as impressive, but they trade the thinness of X-series machines for raw power. Alienware has 16-inch and 18-inch models available here, with up to an RTX 4090 on tap. They’re firmly in the desktop replacement class of laptops, assuming you can conjure up a few thousand dollars for a higher-end configuration.

Which Alienware gaming laptop should you buy?

Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

For our money, the Alienware x16 is the go-to Alienware laptop. It’s a larger 16-inch machine that offers the remarkable thinness of X-series machines, but Alienware pairs that design with flagship hardware. You can pack in up to a 14-core Intel CPU and an RTX 4080, and that’s insane considering you can easily carry the Alienware x16 around with you in a backpack.

There’s also the Alienware x14 R2. It features the same thinness, and it’s even easier to carry around due to being a 14-inch gaming laptop. The main difference is that Alienware massively cut down the specs of the x14 R2 to achieve its petite form. It’s still a great gaming laptop, but it definitely has a ceiling when it comes to performance.

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