Best Gaming Laptops: Holiday 2020by Brett Howse on November 25, 2020 7:00 AM EST
In our series of laptop buyers guides, here’s the latest update to our list of recommended gaming laptops. All numbers in the text are updated to reflect pricing at the time of writing.
Along with our quarterly laptop guide, near the end of every year we also like to take a look at the state of the gaming laptop market. With a much more cyclical upgrade cycle, gaming laptops tend to evolve in lockstep with the major components inside them. For the gaming laptop market, this includes not only more powerful CPUs, but also more unique (for a laptop) components like discrete video cards, mechanical keyboards, and perhaps an IPS panel or high-refresh TN display. All of which come together to make a breed of laptop that is very different from the kinds of machines that define the mainstream and professional markets.
This year has seen the introduction of AMD's Zen 2-based laptop processors via the Renoir APU, and AMD offers this with the typical gaming laptop TDP of 45 Watts in their H-Series. And, although Intel has released the successor to Ice Lake, dubbed Tiger Lake, it is for now still only available as lower-power U-series chips. Because of this, Intel has kept their 14 nm Skylake cores in the 45-Watt+ range as the 10th Gen Core family, but are pushing for even higher frequencies, which is a big help to gaming.
The net result is that compared to the holiday 2019 period, there is some new (and certainly some refreshed) hardware on the market. However, other than the market largely running low on laptops in general – thanks to that pesky coronavirus – we have not seen a major shift in the laptop landscape. The biggest change over the past 12 months is AMD's Renoir APUs eating at Intel's share of the lower-end of the market; especially with increasingly popular A+A (AMD + AMD) laptops that use both the company's latest APU and Radeon RX 5000 series video cards.
|Gaming Laptop Recommendations Holiday 2020
|Starting Price (As of writing)
|Acer Nitro 5
|ASUS TUF Gaming A15
|MSI Alpha 15
|Acer Predator Triton 500
|Razer Blade 15
|MSI GT76 Titan DT
As always, we’ll break the guide down into several segments to serve various markets, from low-cost to mid-range, high end, and ultimate gaming.
Low-Cost Gaming Laptops
If you need gaming on a budget, you can get a surprising amount of performance these days without breaking the bank.
Acer Nitro 5
We recently reviewed the Acer Nitro 5, which was refreshed for this year, with an updated design and improved internals. Although the base model's display can only be described as anemic, if you are on a budget but still want something that can handle 1080p gaming, the Acer Nitro 5 delivers in spades. The combination of the 45-Watt Ryzen 5 and the GTX 1650, along with 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of SSD space for just $669.99 MSRP is tremendous value. Acer also offers higher-spec models, with up to Ryzen 7 and the GTX 1650 Ti, if you crave a bit more performance, but the entry-level model's price is hard to beat.
ASUS TUF Gaming A15
Although similar in terms of specifications to the Acer Nitro 5, the ASUS TUF Gaming A15 adds a slightly nicer design to the mix, and this model comes with a 144 Hz 1920x1080 display. It still features the Ryzen 5 4600H and GTX 1650, along with 8 GB of RAM and a 512 GB SSD. The combo of Renoir and Turing is a great pairing for 1080p gaming.
MSI Alpha 15
Updated for 2020 is the new MSI Alpha 15, now featuring the Ryzen 7 4800H, but paired with AMD graphics as well thanks to the AMD Radeon RX5600M. Although definitely a jump in price compared to the previous two models, the MSI offers a per-key RGB Steelseries keyboard, a 1 TB NVMe drive, and 16 GB of RAM, powering a 144 Hz 1920x1080 display. That, coupled with the nice MSI design, adds a significant amount of usability to justify the price increase over the previous two laptops.
Mid-Range Gaming Laptops
Stepping up to mid-range devices brings a significant number of upgrades to improve the gaming experience. Faster CPUs and GPUs is a given, but once you get into this segment, gaming laptops start to offer much faster refresh rate displays, which can provide incredible smoothness, assuming your GPU can keep up. Better build quality and RGB backlit keyboards are generally also available.
Acer Predator Triton 500
Acer's Predator Triton 500 offers a fantastic design, solid build, and powerful components in a laptop that is still compact and portable. For 2020, Acer has refitted the Triton 500 with 10th gen Intel Core i7, with up to an eight-core model, and on graphics, Acer has moved to the newest RTX models with the RTX 2070 Super, and RTX 2080 Super. Acer offers up to a 15.6-inch 1920x1080 IPS panel with up to 300 Hz refresh, coupled with G-SYNC. Acer is also one of the few manufacturers to include a mutliplexor, accessible in the bios, to switch from Optimius to G-SYNC, giving the best of both worlds. The Acer Predator Triton is a great design, and a very capable gaming system. You can configure it with up to 32 GB of DDR4, and 1 TB of NVMe storage.
Razer Blade 15
Razer's Blade keeps getting improved, and offers arguably the most premium gaming laptop chassis around. The design team has continued with the CNC milled aluminum chassis, and the squared-off edges and thin bezels really bring a modern look to the Blade 15. Razer offers a significant amount of choice in the GPU, from the GTX 1660 Ti all the way to the RTX 2080 Super. The CPU sticks with Intel's 10th gen Core i7, with hex and octa-core designs. Up to 32 GB of RAM and 1 TB of NVMe storage is available. The display front is either a 144 Hz 1920x1080 IPS panel, or a 60 Hz UHD OLED offering. Razer has even introduced a Studio model this year with Quadro RTX 5000. Despite being a gaming laptop, the Razer Blade 15 is easily one of the most elegant laptops on the market. It does not come cheap though.
High-End Gaming Laptops
These are laptops that can't really be used in your lap, due to the weight and cooling capabilities, but these devices offer the ultimate in performance. Desktop Replacement laptops are built to be plugged in all the time, sitting on a desk, but with the convenience of being able to lug them around if needed, unlike the desktop systems they replace.
MSI GT76 Titan DT
MSI's GT series of laptops is their pinnacle, and the new GT76 Titan DT takes it to a new level. The DT stands for Desktop, which is because the GT76 Titan DT offers socketed desktop processors with up to the Intel Core i9-10900K on tap. If there was anything larger than the RTX 2080 Super on the market MSI likely would have crammed that in as well, but as the RTX 2080 Super is still the king of the laptop graphics lineup, that is the max you can get. There are four DDR4 SODIMM slots, and plenty of connectivity. Thanks to its imposing 9.25 lb weight, the performance doesn't come with the noise levels you'd expect either. MSI also includes a per-key RGB SteelSeries keyboard, which is one of the best on the market. The GT76 does not come cheap, but it is a beast of a notebook.
Eurocom Sky Z7 / Clevo X170SM-G
If you're all about absolute performance and minimum price, Clevo's lineup offers far more performance-per-dollar than anything else. One of the best parts of these laptops is the amazing amount of customization you can configure, especially through a system builder like Eurocom, which lets you choose almost every component. The Sky Z7 offers socketed Intel processors, up to the Core i9-10900K, and graphics up to the NVIDIA RTX 2080 Super, with plenty of choices in between. If you need ultimate performance, at a minimum cost, the Clevo rebrands are definitely the way to go.