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The Best Gaming Laptops for 2021: Top Gaming Laptops, Reviewed | Digital Trends

In 2021, gaming laptops are the easiest way to get into PC gaming. They’re portable, powerful, and can even be used as a work machine when you need it.

The Razer Blade 15 is your overall best option. It has it all as a gaming laptop and is even among the overall best laptops you can buy. There are plenty of excellent options beyond the Blade, though, including larger options and more affordable budget gaming laptops.

The best gaming laptops at a glance:

Razer Blade 15

Why you should buy this: It’s the best overall gaming laptop you can buy.

Who it’s for: Gamers who need something small and light that can still pack a punch.

Why we picked the Razer Blade 15:

When you think about the best laptops for gaming, you might think of a thick chassis, accented with aggressive angles and vents everywhere possible. But not the Razer Blade 15. It has changed the perception of just how sleek a gaming laptop can be, without sacrificing any of the performance you expect. It’s not much larger than a MacBook Pro 16-inch or Dell XPS 15, yet packs in a powerful Nvidia RTX 3080 graphics card.

The Razer Blade 15’s gaming experience is as much about the screen as it is about the GPU. A 1080p 360Hz refresh rate screen might sound like overkill, but it ensures that your GPU is never held back by your display. The result is insanely fast and fluid gaming, no matter what genre you play. The new 1440p 240Hz is certainly tempting as well, coming in $100 cheaper than the 360Hz model.

Of course, the Razer Blade 15 is famous for being a gaming laptop that does more than gaming. With up to an eight-core 10th-gen Intel processor, there’s plenty of performance to handle tasks like video rendering. Thanks to how thin it is, you won’t mind taking your work (and gaming), anywhere you need it.

Rumors of an upcoming AMD-powered Razer Blade 14 are enough to get me excited, though the 15-inch model will remain the more powerful option.

Read our in-depth Razer Blade 15 review

Dell G5 SE Gaming Laptop

The Best Gaming Laptops for 2021: Top Gaming Laptops, Reviewed | Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: It’s the best gaming laptop under $1,000 you can buy.

Who it’s for: Students, gamers, anyone who wants a gaming laptop but doesn’t want to break the bank.

Why we picked the Dell G5 SE Gaming Laptop:

You can’t expect a gaming laptop under $1,000 to sport a cutting-edge design. But thanks to the Dell G5 SE, you can expect top-notch performance. It’s an all-AMD solution, featuring Ryzen 4000 processors with 8 cores and 16 threads. These are killer gaming and content creation chips, and the G5 SE makes great use of them.

The Radeon RX 5600M is the graphics card choice, even available in the $880 configuration, which easily beats the Nvidia GTX 1650 that shows up in many gaming laptops at this price.

The G5 SE also comes with the option for a 1080p 144Hz screen, as well as four-zone RGB backlighting. It may look clunky and outdated, but the Dell G5 SE Gaming Laptop is the best bang-for-your-buck gaming laptop you can buy.

Though the G5 SE has yet to be updated to Ryzen 5000 in 2021, Dell has announced a new speckled chassis for the G15 that takes some design inspiration from the Alienware laptops.

Read our in-depth Dell G5 SE Gaming Laptop review

Asus ROG Zephyrus G14

The Best Gaming Laptops for 2021: Top Gaming Laptops, Reviewed | Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: It’s the best portable gaming laptop you can buy.

Who it’s for: Gamers and content creators.

Why we picked the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14:

The G14 is unlike any gaming laptop you’ve used. It’s incredibly lightweight, at just 3.5 pounds — and uses just a 14-inch screen rather than the typical 15-inch variety. The result is the smallest gaming laptop ever made, especially given how powerful this thing is.

The heart of it is AMD’s Ryzen 4000, 8-core processor. It’s a beast. Multi-threaded performance is off the chart for a laptop this small, making it a capable option for video editors, 3D modelers, and content creators of every kind.

The Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 also provides excellent gaming performance, of course. You have options for either a GTX 1650, a GTX 1660 Ti, or the new RTX 3060. If you can opt for the RTX 3060, you’ll be able to play easily most games over 60 frames per second at Ultra settings. The latest model also comes with the new Ryzen 5000 processors, which are fantastic.

If you’re looking for a bit more power, the company also offers a 15-inch model with a bit more gaming performance and a 1440p screen. Meanwhile, the Predator Triton 300 SE is another 14-inch gaming laptop that offers similar performance and portability in a more subdued design.

Read our in-depth Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 review

Alienware Area-51m

alienware area-51m review
Riley Young/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: It’s the most powerful gaming laptop you can buy.

Who it’s for: Gamers who value performance above all.

Why we picked the Alienware Area-51m:

The Alienware Area-51m is unlike any gaming laptop you’ve seen. Not only does it have a bold look with its light grey exterior and sci-fi logos, but it’s also a true desktop replacement. We mean that in terms of power, as well as the actual components inside. The Area-51m comes with CPU options up to an actual desktop-class processor, the Core i9-10900K. That’s an eight-core, 16-thread CPU that makes this laptop considerably more powerful than anything else out there.

Paired with an Nvidia RTX 2080 Super (not the power-limited Max-Q variant found in thinner laptops), the Area-51m is as close to desktop performance as we’ve seen. Dell has yet to update this laptop to the RTX 3080 though, so right now, the Alienware m17 R4 is the more updated model to go for. It’s slimmer, but it has a more standard mobile processor.

But if you do stick with the Area-51m, all the components, including the GPU and CPU, can be replaced. In our review, we found that getting access to those parts wasn’t as easy as the marketing may have alluded to, but it’s an insanely powerful laptop that can run nearly everything at high frame rates on its 1080p 360Hz screen.

The Alienware Area-51m is not the gaming laptop you want if you’re taking it on the go, especially given its low battery life and hefty chassis. But if true power is what you want, look no further.

Read our in-depth Alienware Area-51m review

MSI GS66 Stealth

The Best Gaming Laptops for 2021: Top Gaming Laptops, Reviewed | Digital Trends

Why should you buy this: It’s a great alternative to the Razer Blade 15.

Who’s it for: Gamers who want a sleek laptop without sacrificing an iota of performance.

Why we picked the MSI GS66 Stealth:

Gaming in 1440p is finally possible, and the MSI GS66 Stealth is one of the few options available to make it happen. It starts with the power of the Nvidia RTX 3080, allowing the system to push frame rates higher and higher, even on a native 1440p display. Of course, MSI also sells a 1080p model with up to a 360Hz refresh rate, but the 1440p 240Hz model strikes the better balance of resolution and refresh rate.

The thin, understated chassis of the MSI GS66 Stealth is its other claim to fame. It’s not much bigger or heavier than the Razer Blade 15 but does a better job of keeping the surface temperatures a bit lower and the fan noise quieter. It doesn’t have as nice of a touchpad and keyboard, but if you’re primarily interested in the GS66 Stealth for gaming, it’s a great alternative to the Razer Blade 15.

Read our in-depth MSI GS66 Stealth review

Acer Predator Triton 300 SE

The Best Gaming Laptops for 2021: Top Gaming Laptops, Reviewed | Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: It’s a great alternative to the ROG Zephyrus G14.

Who’s it for: Gamers who want a small 14-inch laptop with great cooling.

Why we picked the Acer Predator Triton 300 SE:

The Predator Triton 300 SE feels like a revolutionary laptop, sporting both a 14-inch screen and a 35-watt Intel processor. It’s certainly unique, though it’s after a goal the ROG Zephyrus G14 already accomplished on the AMD side of things.

Both sport an Nvidia RTX 3060 GPU, a surprisingly slim chassis, and a half refresh rate. The Zephyrus G14 outperforms the Triton 300 SE in some games thanks to its more aggressive cooling. However, that also turns out to be a strength of the Triton 300 SE, which stays cooler and quieter during operation. That includes both while gaming and during work.

It’s a tough choice between the two, but if you’ll be using your gaming laptop for work just as much as gaming, the Predator Triton 300 SE ekes out a win over the Zephyrus G14.

Read our in-depth Acer Predator Triton 300 SE review

Razer Blade Stealth

Razer Blade Stealth 2019
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

Why should buy this: It’s the best 13-inch gaming laptop.

Who’s it for: Gamers who the smallest possible gaming laptop.

Why we picked the Razer Blade Stealth:

The Razer Blade Stealth remains an incredibly unique gaming laptop in 2021. It’s the only 13-inch laptop that can call itself a “gaming” device. Why? Well, it actually has a GTX 1650 Ti Max-Q graphics card inside, a feat no other 13-inch laptop can claim. Its size makes it that much more impressive, being not much bigger than the Razer Book 13, the company’s non-gaming variant of this same laptop.

Razer has had to put some restrictions on that powerful GPU to squeeze into the tiny frame of the Blade Stealth, so you can expect a dip in performance compared to 15-inch laptops with similar specs. But the Razer Blade Stealth is still heads and tails faster in gameplay than every other 13-inch laptop out there. It even has a 120Hz refresh rate display thrown in for good measure.

The $1,800 starting is hard to swallow, but what it buys you is a laptop gaming experience unlike any other.

Research and buying tips

How much is a gaming laptop?

Gaming laptops tend to be more expensive than more general-purpose laptops because they generally include a dedicated graphics chip for better game visuals and frame rates. But they needn’t cost the Earth.

The cheapest options start at around $700, though you can’t expect great performance at that level. Our favorite budget gaming laptop, the Dell G5 SE, can be found for under $1,000. There are some alternative budget laptops that we like, although you’ll struggle to find something that’s great for gaming once you edge towards $500. On the higher end, you can end up spending well over $2,000 if you want the latest components and fastest screens.

What should I look for in a gaming laptop?

If you’re going to play anything other than classic games or very low-intensity indie games, you want a dedicated graphics chip. It doesn’t need to be something amazing, and AMD APUs with Vega graphics onboard are worth considering at the low-end. Either way, you’ll want something more than Intel integrated graphics if you want decent frame rates in most games.

If you expect to hit frame rates over 60 FPS, it’s also worth looking out for a high refresh rate display. We consider them more important than higher resolutions when it comes to gaming and they typically aren’t too costly an extra either.

Are gaming laptops good for work?

Usually, yes. You don’t need a dedicated graphics chip for working, but the fast processors and high-speed RAM that gaming laptops are typically equipped with are just as good at handling spreadsheets and Word documents as they are crunching the numbers for the latest games.

Then again, a larger, thicker gaming laptop with RGB lighting might not be appropriate for every job setting. A more subdued design like the Razer Blade or the G-series Dell gaming laptops fits in much better, and it’s an issue to be aware of.

Are Mac laptops good for gaming?

Some aren’t bad, but most of them aren’t great. Apple only puts dedicated graphics chips in its MacBook Pro 16-inch models, and they come at a hefty price premium. There’s also software compatibility to consider, as many more games are available on Windows than MacOS, even with the addition of Apple Arcade.

If all you want is a little Fortnite on the side, a 16-inch MacBook Pro will get you by, but these are not gaming machines by any means. That being said, if you really want to stick with a Mac, there’s always the option to dual-boot in Boot Camp, which lets you run Windows 10 games on your MacBook hardware.

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