Despite competition from next-generation games consoles and mobile gaming in iPads and the like, the sales of dedicated gaming laptops have increased by 50 percent since 2011, according to the graphics gurus at nVidia. And, of course nVidia has a lot to do with that success, as its GeForce range of graphics cards almost completely dominates the gaming industry, dazzling users with super-fast framerates and ever more spectacular 3D eye-candy. Also see 15 best laptops 2014.
And nVidia’s domination looks set to continue with the arrival of its latest generation of graphics cards for laptops, the GeForce GTX 800M series. These new GPUs are faster than ever – that’s only to be expected – but this improved performance means that prices of gaming laptops have finally begun to drop quite significantly. See all laptops buying advice.
High-end laptops with true gaming potential we’ve reviewed in the past typically costed £1,500 to £2,000. And you can certainly still spend that sort of money on a top-of-the-range gaming rig. However, as we discovered, the enhanced performance of the 800M series GPUs means it’s possible to get respectable gaming performance from more mid-range machines in the £1,000 to £1,500 category. In fact, Chillblast’s Defiant 2 and Scan’s 3XS Graphite even manage to come in under £900, yet still maintain great gaming credentials thanks to the strong performance of a mid-range GTX 860M graphics card.
The new 800M series bring another shift in emphasis, too. Like Intel’s Haswell-generation chips – the fourth generation of the Intel Core series – they are now starting to focus more on energy-efficiency and portability. Gaming laptops have traditionally been big, heavy and noisy, with large air vents and cooling systems required to cope with the heat output of their powerful GPUs. And, of course, the power requirements of these GPUs meant that battery life was always pretty poor.
Many gaming laptops still follow that pattern, especially the 17in monsters. However, better power efficiency means it’s possible to cram some serious gaming potential into smaller, lighter designs. We’re seeing more 13- and 15in gaming laptops that are small enough to fit into a backpack without giving yourself a hernia. The Chillblast Defiant 2 fits easily into a bag, while the 15in P35W v2 from Gigabyte Is an Ultrabook-esque 20.9mm thick. This means that there’s now greater choice in the gaming market than ever before, so read our reviews to see which laptop is right for you. Want something cheaper? See how to buy a budget laptop.
Best gaming laptop 2014: Conclusion
Our key conclusion after testing all these gaming laptops is that nVidia’s latest range of GPUs really does provide strong gaming performance at more competitive prices than ever before. There are two laptops from Chillblast and Scan that use the mid-range GTX 860M and are capable of providing playable frame rates for games such as Tomb Raider, even when they are set to their highest graphics settings. Yet both laptops are priced at a competitive £899. The 13.3in screen of the Chillblast Defiant 2 Mini means it’s the more portable of the two, but the 15.6in 3XS Graphite from Scan has a better sound system and a built-in DVD drive.
At the other extreme are the 17in gaming monsters from Alienware and Asus. These are old-school gaming laptops – expensive, and so big and heavy they’ll probably never leave home. Their gaming performance is, however, exceptional and their large screens are ideal for gaming and other forms of entertainment.
But, sitting right in the middle of this group is Gigabyte’s P35W v2-CF2. The GTX 870M chosen by Gigabyte isn’t quite top-of-the-range, but its performance will satisfy all but the most hard-core gamers, while also allowing Gigabyte to slim this 15.6in laptop down to just 20.9mm thick and a weight of 2.5kg. It’s not quite in Ultrabook territory, but the P35W v2-CF2 manages to provide excellent performance in a genuinely portable design. The finishing touch is a price of £1,399 that represents real value for money and earns it our Best Buy for gaming laptops this summer.
Best gaming laptop 2014
£1,544 inc VAT
The P504 is big and heavy, and combined with the poor battery life it’s essentially confined to indoor activities. But what it lacks in elegance it makes up for in performance.
£1,769 inc VAT
You can find similar performance at a lower price, but features such as its Blu-ray drive, 2.1 speakers, and Thunderbolt interface mean that the G750JZ is well-equipped for other types of entertainment, as well as demanding tasks such as video editing.
4. Alienware 17
£1,699 inc VAT
The Alienware 17 isn’t perfect – a laptop costing this much ought to include an SSD. However, it provides top-of-the-range performance that would previously have cost you £2,000 or more.
PC Advisor Recommended
£899 inc VAT
It’s a shame that you don’t have the option of specifying the graphics card in the Defiant 2, but it’s hard to argue when this sturdy little laptop provides such strong performance for just £899. And, unlike most gaming laptops, it’s small and light enough to carry around in a backpack, making it a great choice if you need a powerful laptop that can also cope with life on the go.
PC Advisor Recommended
£899 inc VAT
The design of the 3XS Graphite isn’t anything to write home about, and at 2.7kg it’s probably not going to leave home very often either. However, it’s good value and provides the sort of gaming performance that not so long ago would have cost £1,200.
PC Advisor Best Buy
£1,399 inc VAT
It’s impressive to see a gaming laptop as slim and as light as this, especially one that provides such strong graphics performance. The poor screen has room for improvement, but the P35W v2-CF2 provides high-end gaming performance at a more accessible price.