Gaming laptops have developed to a point where we’re now faced with an unexpectedly nice problem: choosing between so many hardware options as cutting-edge technology arrives at an increasingly quicker pace. From the expanding world of VR gaming to the increasingly accessibility of PC gaming, the choices can make things a bit complicated. However, finding a gaming laptop on a budget does not have to be difficult.
It’s helpful to have someone on your side as you make the important decisions. This buying guide will walk you through important laptop considerations for running low-spec, mid-spec and the highest-spec games available today.
We’re confident that we’ll help you find the gaming laptop of your dreams—meeting your budget, gaming demands and technical requirements.
Quick tips for choosing the right gaming laptop
Before we dive into CPU and GPU options, let’s talk display choices. Gaming laptop displays are typically between 15-18 inches in size, with resolutions ranging from 1080p HD to 4K UHD. For the best picture quality for modern games, we highly recommend getting a display of 1080p or better.
Central processing units (CPUs)
Don’t get a gaming laptop with less than an Intel Core i5 processor or equivalent. Multi-tasking (e.g. streaming while gaming) is ideal with a Core i7 with hyper-threading, while an Intel Core i9 is obviously the beast in the room and is for gaming sessions where raw power is demanded.
- Low- to moderate-demanding games can get away with an Intel Core i5 processor.
- An i7 processor can multi-task without frame shuttering or slowing down your unit.
- An i9 processor is recommended for the latest and most demanding AAA titles, especially online multiplayer and VR games.
Graphic processing units (GPUs)
The recommended GPU for gaming is the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 10 series. For most modern games, it’s recommended that don’t you get anything less than the GTX 10 series, or you risk losing visual quality.
Recommended requirements for gaming
We know we don’t have to explain the importance of having the right requirements for your games. Without enough processing speed, graphics power and storage, insufficient specs make gaming difficult or impossible to enjoy.
Not all gamers need the highest specification build for their gaming laptop. Someone playing Fortnite does not need the same GPU or CPU as someone playing Battlefield V. On the other hand, enthusiasts would not be able to play their power- and graphics-hungry games without higher specs.
Fortnite (low spec requirements)
Gamers who enjoy accessible, popular games like Fortnite, are recommended to choose a gaming laptop with lower spec requirements. It’s cost-effective and allows you to play less demanding games with ease.
Call of Duty: WWII (medium spec requirements)
Serious gamers who enjoy more demanding games like Call of Duty: WWII are going to need better specs. We recommend laptops with mid-range CPU and GPU, as well as superior RAM to play this CoD installment.
Skyrim VR (high spec requirements)
Hardcore gamers who stream, record and play graphics-rich games will require the highest specs. A top-tier game like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR requires superior components more than typical games.
The recommended specifications to play Fortnite are:
- OS: Windows 7/8/10 (64-bit)
- CPU: Intel Core i5 processor 2.8 GHz
- GPU: NVIDIA GTX 660 / AMD Radeon HD 7870 equivalent DX11 GPU
- RAM: 8GB
- VRAM: 2GB
You will be happy to know that gaming laptops with these specs are affordable, and we offer a great selection that is perfect for low-spec games, multi-media, and other entertainment.
Get a gaming laptop with these specs or better and you’ll be doing the floss dance with ease.
The recommended specifications to play Call of Duty: WWII are:
- OS: Windows 10
- CPU: Intel Core i5-2400 / AMD Ryzen R5 1600X
- GPU: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 / GTX 1060 6GB / AMD RX 580
- RAM: 12GB
- VRAM: 6GB
We recommend equipping your laptop with an Intel Core i7 to play demanding FPS and action games. However, if your favourite titles don’t require massive power, you could get away with the minimum recommended Core i5.
Take note that the minimum RAM requirement for Call of Duty: WWII is 12GB and not the standard 8GB.
The recommended specifications to play Skyrim VR are:
- OS: Windows 10 (64-bit)
- CPU: Intel Core i7-4790 / AMD Ryzen 5 1500X
- GPU: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 8GB / AMD RX Vega 56 8GB
- RAM: 8GB
- VRAM: 8GB
Virtual Reality is not a simple gaming experience that can be played with a low- or medium-powered gaming laptop. VR gamers are recommended to have the highest-grade CPU (NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 or GTX 1080) for silky smooth gameplay. Remember: smoother gameplay makes for a more comfortable VR experience, which can help reduce unwanted effects like nausea and fatigue.
Laptop graphic processors (GPU): the visuals
GPU is the top priority in PC gaming. The graphics processor is responsible for rendering images, texture mapping, anti-aliasing and advanced features, like PhysX by NVIDIA. These are all techniques that add greater realism to your gaming.
So, which GPU chip is right for you?
The NVIDIA GeForce 10 series is made specifically for gamers and ranges from the entry-level GT 1030 to the extremely powerful GTX 1080. AMD’s equivalent is the RX 400-series and Intel’s equivalent is the Iris Plus, (but it’s less common and doesn’t support VR).
Note that the NVIDIA GT 1030 (which was popular during its 2017 release as a respectable sub-$100 graphics card) has been reconfigured by NVIDIA and has gone from 2GB of GDDR5 memory to 2GB of DDR4 memory. It’s resulted in a significant decrease in memory bandwidth and is not recommended for a good gaming experience. Stick with the GTX 1050 as the recommended minimum for all gaming.
For games that require medium power for graphics, we recommend mid-range GPUs such as:
- GTX 1050
- GTX 1050Ti
- GTX 1060
For high-end gameplay and VR experiences, we recommend:
- GTX 1060 8GB as a minimum
- GTX 1070 / AMD RX Vega 56 is better
- Enthusiast VR gamers can equip their laptop with the GeForce GTX 1080 for hyper-smooth frame rates.
If you’re a VR gamer, take note:
- GTX 1060, 1070 and 1080 are the only NVIDIA chips from the GeForce line that can handle VR gaming
For AMD’s Radeon line, you’ll find a suffix that represents their tiered line of GPU chips. For instance, the R3 and R5 are entry-level gaming chips. The R7 is mid-tier while the R9 is AMD’s high-performance line.
- R5 is great for titles such as Fortnite and League of Legends.
- R7 minimum for Call of Duty: WWII.
- R9 and better for very intensive games.
- VR needs at least the RX 470 (Oculus Rift minimum specs); RX 480 minimum for the HTC Vive.
Laptop central processors (CPU): the brains
Central processing is the second most important aspect of a gaming laptop. The CPU is the brainpower behind gaming and gives you power and speed.
If you play titles that don’t demand a lot of power, speed or graphics (such as Fortnite), then the Intel Core i5 processor is fine. The i5 will play most modern games, but you could see a slowing of speeds and poorer performance when trying to playing more demanding games. VR is out of the question for a Core i5.
For multi-tasking and multi-player games like Call of Duty: WWII, we recommend at least a Core i5 processor, although an i7 Quad Core is much preferred.
Another term you might come across is Intel’s H-series, which are high-performance processors featuring four to six cores. They also enable hyper-threading for up to 12 concurrent virtual cores to organize your tasks. You’ll see these CPUs marked with an HQ or HK model number, with the latter meaning the processor is unlocked for overclocking.
H-series processors are recommended for those who demand exceptional gaming performance. If budgeting is more of a factor or you regularly play low- to medium-spec games, AMD R5 and R7 work well and are less expensive.
For maximum performance, including 60fps (or higher) gameplay and the smoothest VR experience possible, you don’t want anything less than an Intel Core i9 processor. The AMD FX series is required to even think about VR using an AMD chip.
Laptop RAM: the memory
The importance of having sufficient RAM should not be overlooked. RAM is an active participant while gaming, as it helps load up and launch your games, and it’s where information is read/stored as you play.
This is an easier choice to make, as most modern titles have a recommendation of 8GB of RAM. For VR, you will need 12GB, as virtual reality is much more demanding and requires more RAM.
If you’re a gaming enthusiast, play VR games or think you’re very likely to buy a VR headset in the future, err on the side of greater memory and consider 12GB RAM.
1080p resolution is still the overwhelming preference for gamers despite the availability of UHD. In most cases, having UHD is not necessary to enjoy your gaming experience. Most gamers want to play with blazing speeds and smooth graphics, and UHD displays are simply not necessary for that.
Choosing a screen size depends on your budget, performance and visual expectations.
- 15″: Portable and good for lower-spec games; viewing experience is smaller; smaller GPUs only.
- 17″: Larger screen and frame space allow you to cram more GPU chips and RAM while offering a better visual experience.
- 18″: These monsters are less portable with less battery life, but offer amazing visuals; extra space for larger video cards, RAM, and CPUs.
Ultra HD is becoming increasingly popular. However, you must have the GPU power to back up UHD displays. 4K resolution is 4x the resolution of 1080p. This means your graphics processor will work 4x harder.
- HD (1080p): Offers the best gaming performance while maintaining HD visuals.
- WQHD/QHD (1440P): Balances performance and graphics; aspect ratio not for everyone.
- 3K (1600p): Less common; more graphics intensive than QHD; aspect ratio not for everyone.
- 4K (2160p): Best visuals, but very demanding on hardware.
Choices, choices, choices. Even when it comes to storage options, we still have great choices to create the optimal gaming experience.
There are two options to consider for laptop storage: HDDs and SSDs. Hard Disk Drives are less expensive and remain a good option for casual gamers and games like Fortnite. However, for medium- and high-spec games, HDDs take longer to load up files and install your games. For more demanding games, it’s recommended that you use a Solid-State Drive. SSDs load games quicker and reduce the amount of time it takes to load files.
You know how fast storage space fills up when you’re installing all your games. It’s important to have a hard drive that can store your existing titles and provide plenty of space for future games. 500GB is okay for players who tend to stick to a handful of preferred games, while avid players and VR gamers are recommended 1TB or higher.
There is another option that can solve your storage space demands. If you choose a 500GB drive and end up needing more space, you can turn to our impressive selection of external hard drives. You can add to your storage space later at a reasonable cost.
Other components and considerations
There are other considerations to make when shopping for your new gaming unit. Remember the most basic aspects of wireless laptops: connectivity and functionality.
USB 3.0 ports offer greater bandwidth and quicker data transfer than USB 2.0. It’s called Super Speed, and an “SS” is usually labelled on the port. If you require a USB-C connector for powering a DisplayPort, HDMI device or MHL, make sure your laptop has one. The default protocol for USB-C is USB 3.1, which is about twice as fast as a USB 3.0.
If you use Bluetooth headsets, check the laptop specs for Bluetooth technology.
Functionality is an important consideration, so choose a gaming laptop with enough ports and battery life for your needs. Most gamers don’t care much about battery life, as their gaming rig is stationed at home. However, for gaming on-the-go, pick a laptop with 6+ hours of battery life.
Now let’s get to aesthetics. Backlit keyboards and touchpads offer nearly limitless ranges of colours and effects. If you love to play in dim light or the dark to immerse yourself in the game, a backlit keyboard is all the more important.
Finally, let’s talk sound quality. Many gamers wear gaming headsets to immerse themselves in their game. If you don’t like the fit of gaming headphones or just prefer built-in speakers, sound quality such as bass and clarity will vary between gaming laptops.
When choosing your new gaming laptop, remember that it’s a game of balance. Consider your desired laptop specs, compare them with your gaming use, and find the middle ground between meeting your budget and getting the gaming laptop of your dreams.