You’re probably using a smartphone with enough processing power to operate a mission to Mars, but somehow that’s nowhere near enough to satisfy the requirements for the latest Assassin’s Creed mobile spin-off. And that’s only the second worst problem; the real deal is the PC game market, which still hasn’t been surpassed by its mobile counterpart. At approximately $35 billion, this market is supplied every month or so with a new release that leaves PC builders in cold sweat. Just imagine games like Rise of the Tomb Raider, Ashes of the Singularity, and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, which make short game of a $2500 gaming rig; all you can do is set everything to “medium” and hope for the best. Not to mention that 4k has come well within the realm of possibility and it’s even implemented in a couple of high-spec games right now. The problem is… how will any simple PC render that kind of monster?
There’s also the problem of portability. Of course, you can buy an oversized case and build your gaming PC for $4000, which will probably work perfectly. However, what if you want to go to your friend’s house and enjoy an old-fashioned gaming night? What if you want to have some fun while you’re outside or something like that? Up until a couple of years ago, that was an impossible dream, as no laptop was powerful enough to run any high-end game properly. However, that’s not the case anymore.
If you want to get something good for $1500 or less, here are a couple of recommendations. All prices are for brand new laptops; we do not recommend you to get a second-hand laptop or whatever other second-hand electronics.
Top Rated Gaming Laptops For Under $1500
1. Alienware 15 Touch
You simply can’t make a list of gaming PC’s, regardless of whether they are desktops or laptops, without adding at least one Alienware model. Many people say that Alienware laptops are either overpriced or underperforming (the same thing, really), but, in all truth, they are the very icon of gaming, and there’s a damn good reason for that.
There are four available configurations for the Alienware 15, but the one we’re thinking about is just hitting the maximum budget. This is the middle version, there’s also a cheaper and two more expensive versions. They all offer the same processor, Intel Core i7-6700HQ (sixth generation, Skylake), quad-core, clocked at 2.6GHz, overclocked at 3.5GHz, which has become standard for Alienware right now. However, that’s where similarities stop. This version has a 15.6”UHD (3840×2160) IPS Panel TrueLife display, which completely beats the average 1920×1080. This awesome screen is powered by a nVidia GTX 970M with 3GB GDDR5. That’s honestly enough for all practical purposes. Add the 16GB Dual Channel DDR4, upgradable to 32GB, and you have a gaming rig like no other. It also comes with a 128GB SSD, as well as a 1TB HDD, so the space vs. speed problem is solved from the very start.
2. ASUS ROG G752VL-DH71
ASUS is one of the most well-known companies in the all-around laptop business and, with the ROG series, they’ve made a fabulous entry on the gaming laptop market as well. Let’s go through the things you can expect from this particular model.
The processor is the same as the Alienware standard: an Intel Core i7-6700HQ, quad core, eight threads, up to 3.5GHz. The graphics card, however, is not quite as amazing as what Alienware offers for the same price; this ASUS model features a GTX 965M with 2GB GDDR5. It still packs quite a punch, undoubtedly, but there’s nonetheless a fairly big difference between the two. There’s also the fact that this model’s screen is a 17” 1920 x 1080 FHD IPS – while the screen is bigger than its Alienware counterpart, the resolution is a lot lower. It also features 16GB Dual Channel DDR4, upgradable to 64GB. The only problem is that the 16GB are 2×8, which means both slots are occupied, while the Alienware has one 16GB card. It has a 1TB 7200RPM HDD and no SSD, but it does have an M.2 slot.
3. Acer Predator 17 G9-791-735A
Yet another beautiful Intel-nVidia combination, this graceful beast is the Predator to take on the Alienware (please, you must know the movie). And it does it quite right, in our educated opinion. In fact, besides that crazy screen we’ve seen on the Alienware 15 alone, there’s nothing this Acer model doesn’t have as well. In fact, you can get the same resolution, though on a 17.3”screen, on the G9-791-75 model, but that’s significantly more expensive.
It’s the same configuration: i7-6700HQ, nVidia GTX 970M with 3GB GDDR5, 16GB DDR4 upgradable to 32GB, a killer sound system with four speakers and two subwoofers, and 1TB 7200RPM HDD + 128GB SSD. The same. Well, the Predator has 4 USB 3.0 instead of 3, besides HDMI, USB Type-C, and all the rest. Other than that, the laptop is 2” bigger and a bit cheaper. Since it’s not such a big price difference, it seems that the battle is between the more portable Alienware and the bigger screen of the Predator.
4. MSI GE62VR Apache Pro-001
While MSI is not as amazingly well-known in the world of gaming as Asus or Alienware, it appears that the laptops they produce can compete quite well for the title of “best gaming laptop under $1500” and, why not, for the “Best Gaming Laptop” as well.
While the processor is still the eternal i7-6700HQ, those at MSI went the extra mile and brought out a new graphics board jewel. The nVidia GTX 1080 is used for the first time, with next-generation architecture (Pascal, as compared to the Maxwell architecture of 980 and 970). This seems to be quite the improvement, according to graphics card reviewers. It also has 16GB DDR4 RAM, as well as a 1 TB HDD and 256GB SSD.
5. Lenovo Y700 80NV00Q9US
In the realm of average-size 15.6”, this model is quite a bit cheaper than our top 4. However, that does not mean that its performance is too much behind; in fact, for the most part, it can very well compete with the other models.
This Y700 features yet again the i7-6700HQ we’re used to seeing in gaming rigs. The video board is not quite the same: a GTX 960M with 4GB GDDR5. It’s not that much different from the 970M, and it has 4GB VRAM, which is nice. Anyway, it’s more than enough for the FHD 15.6”screen. It also has a 1TB HDD and 256GB SSD, which is more than any of the top 3 models. It does lack, however, the USB Type-C and it only has 2 x USB 3.0 and the annoying USB 2.0 some companies can’t do without. Also, it has Bluetooth 4.0 instead of the 4.1 the others have.
There are many perks to living in the exponential era. One of them is that it’s not the software only that evolves quickly – the hardware does that as well. Another related one is that while new inventions are always pretty expensive, every previous version thereof becomes cheaper. In practical terms, every time they find a way to push more micro-transistors in a CPU or improve its overall architecture, such as Intel did with the new Kaby Lake and whatnot, the older CPU models become cheaper. However, that doesn’t mean they’re not good – just one year or so older than the latest trend. In even more practical terms, this means that a computer with specs that would have cost $3000 three years ago is now half that price and probably works better. As such, if you consider giving up the hope of playing Deus Ex with everything maxed out in favor of portability, and whatever other advantages a laptop offers, you can now get a pretty satisfying gaming laptop for less than $1500.
There are, obviously, custom gaming laptops as expensive as $4000 or so. And no, we’re not talking about the new MacBook Pro, regardless of its beautiful, slim profile and all that. But then again, not everybody has that kind of money and, honestly, $1000-1500 is already a lot of money, especially if you have to pay for games as well. And there’s nothing more annoying than the shocked faces of your parents when you tell them you’ve just spent $5000 on a new Alienware Area 51 to play Candy Crush, even if you’re already a grown adult and have a 6-figure income.
Obviously, playing games don’t have to be the only thing you do. In fact, if you’re using it for work, which you totally can, that computer can easily get your money back in no time. If you’re making video games, editing photos and videos, working with demanding software like AutoCAD and so on, a normally overpowered laptop may find itself overwhelmed. In short, a gaming laptop doesn’t have to be a gaming laptop only, as you can use it for pretty much everything else. By contrast, you can’t use an ordinary laptop for gaming, or at least not very efficiently. At any rate, you can buy a laptop that will work for all practical purposes, including Candy Crush, for less than $1500.
Then again, buying a gaming laptop is not as simple as 1-2-3.
There are plenty of things you need to take into account when purchasing such a sensitive and expensive machine. After all, it’s not like you’re buying an ice cream: whatever you pick, you’ll probably have to live with it for at least two or three years until you can afford to get something else. As such, we’ve made a list of the things you need to look at when buying a gaming laptop. Many of these stay true for gaming PC’s as well and, why not, for gaming consoles too. Here’s what you need to look at:
1. The CPU
The CPU is every computer’s brain, regardless of whether it’s a PC, a mainframe (a.k.a. “big iron”), a laptop, or a gaming console for that matter. Everybody will tell you that it’s only secondary in importance to the GPU when it comes to gaming, blah blah. Well, they’re right. It is of secondary importance when it comes to gaming. However, without a good CPU, you won’t be able to do anything at all, let alone play Candy Crush. There’s a reason why it’s called Central Processing Unit.
How does that work for gaming? Well, games do require an ungodly number of calculations per second, which are done by the GPU when it comes to the video rendering part and whatnot, but everything else has to be done by the CPU. In fact, new games max out new processors, which is why things like overclocking have been invented. To keep up with the crazy requirements of some games, processors like the latest Intel i7 with the Kaby Lake optimization can be overclocked from 2.7 to 3.5GHz.
What do you need for gaming? Well, since we’re talking about a $1500 price range, you can easily go for an Intel i7 belonging to any of the latest three upgrades (Broadwell, Skylake, or Kaby Lake), as well as an AMD A-class processor belonging to the 6th or 7th generation. What’s the difference? Well, in very simple terms, Intel tends to squeeze more power into two cores, as most of its processors have two physical cores (not the infamous Xeon E5-2699, with its 18 cores, but that’s for servers anyway), which makes it more suitable for heavy single-thread tasks. By contrast, the multi-core CPU’s produced by AMD go a lot better with multi-threading. At any rate, you should first check what exactly you want to play and see if the specs correspond. You should do that with all the other things on this list as well, for that matter. Also, there are relatively few AMD processors on laptops, so that pretty much leaves you with the choice of 6th generation Intel for now.
Should you get a Kaby Lake processor? Well, for most practical purposes, no. If you have a 6th generation CPU (Skylake), there’s no real need for an upgrade, unless you’re crazy about having the latest model of something. We advise that you wait until 2018, when the new Cannon Lake appears: that’s going to be one serious improvement, from the 14nm manufacturing process to a 10nm one. Also, Kaby Lake only works with Windows 10, period. Do what you want with this information.
2. The Graphics Card
Here we go, talking about the very epicenter of the gaming earthquake. Just like the CPU battle is between Intel and AMD, the GPU battle is between the latter and nVidia. However, what was pretty simple with CPU’s becomes a lot more complicated with graphics cards. It’s not that either of them is much better than the other or performs entirely differently, but that there are a lot more variables to take into account. So many, in fact, we’d have to dedicate at least ten separate articles to go through all of them. To begin with, whatever you learned about frequency when you looked at CPUs, you can forget right now. The problem with graphics cards is that they have so many cores and do so much multi-tasking that it’s virtually useless to try and properly clock them. nVidia does pretty much what Intel does, pushing fewer cores up to greater clocking speeds, while AMD is still AMD and simply gets more cores. However, let us give you a few numbers: nVidia goes for, say, 500 cores, while AMD goes completely nuts with 1500 or so.
While video RAM is not as simple as it seems at first glance, it is nonetheless a fairly good measure of how much your graphics card can take. The more, the better – this is a good indicator when it comes to everything in a computer. There is one drawback, however, which is no problem with a desktop computer, but annoying with a laptop: power drainage. A discrete graphics card will use up battery like there’s no tomorrow. Heavy usage can decrease the maximum battery life by as much as six times, and the graphics card plays a huge part in it.
If you want a nVidia board, the latest Titan X is a bit too much for you. However, a mainstream mid-to-high-end board like the GTX 950M with 4GB GDDR5 VRAM should do the trick all too well. The previous model, GTX 850M is not bad either, but the 950M is clocked a bit higher, and it’s currently available on plenty of laptop models. High-end models like the 970M and the 980M are also accessible within the price range. If you find an AMD-based model appealing, you should know that the Radeon RX 490M is available and it performs pretty much like the GTX 980M. If you can’t find that (it’s still pretty rare), the previous RX 480M and 470M are perfectly good to go, with capabilities similar to the previous nVidia models.
While in the previous years we only had to choose between a big HDD and an even bigger HDD, today’s technology allows us a wider palette of options, which includes higher speed for normal SATA-based HDDs and the new special-turned-mainstream Solid State Drive, a.k.a. SSD.
Why pick an HDD? Well, for the time being, it’s a whole lot cheaper. Not just a few dollars cheaper, but even a few times cheaper for the same size. At any rate, if sheer size is what concerns you, you should just settle with the biggest HDD you can find, because there’ll probably be another three or four years before SSDs reach the same price-per-size. It’s also that almost every laptop today works with an HDD, while the SSDs have just reached the implementation stage. What’s more, modern HDDs are much more stable than SSDs, which are apparently susceptible to sudden power drops and similar issues. Also, while HDDs have a theoretically unlimited number of uses, every tiny cell in the SSD has a limited number of uses. As such, if you keep processing many gigabytes of data every day, an HDD is highly recommended.
Why pick an SSD? Speed. Sweet, beautiful speed. Compared to the fastest 7200RPM HDDs, which are a bit faster than normal 5400RPM ones, even the slowest modern SSDs are faster by leaps and bounds. In fact, a normal OS will boot in a few seconds, and the read/write speed can jump up to hundreds of MB/s. They’re also more reliable regarding shock absorption, as they have no moving parts. What’s more, the new TRIM technology can potentially increase their lifetime to 6-8 years, which means you’ll probably discard the whole laptop anyway before the SSD fails.
What do we recommend? Honestly, an SSD. You don’t need more than 500GB of space and, if you do, you can just purchase an external HDD, which can be as big as you like.
4. The RAM
There’s not much to say about this. More is simply better. If you want a high-end gaming computer (which you can totally acquire for less than $1500), you should not be satisfied with anything less than 8GB. In theory, that should do for most of the games. However, consider this: you will probably be doing more than just gaming at one point. Some people listen to music while they’re playing, something else than the game’s soundtracks. Some people are live streaming. Some people simply have to multitask and quickly switch between the game and one of the 7446 Chrome tabs. All of these things use up RAM as well as processing capacity, so make sure to get as much as possible. Ideally, you should get 16GB with the possibility of further upgrade.
5. The Screen
Three high-end graphics boards in your PC will do no good if your screen is not up to the task. Up until one or two years ago, an HD resolution of 1366×768 on a 15.6” widescreen laptop was about standard. This is not the case anymore, thankfully. You can often get a 1920×1080 FHD screen even on a mid-range laptop, which you can buy for $500 or so. All in all, you should have at least that much.
There’s also another important thing: your screen refresh rate. In order to profit from your video card and get high FPS output on a game, you need a high refresh rate. VSync (Vertical Synchronization) synchronizes your FPS output and your screen refresh rate so that no screen tearing appears. If your screen can only go at 60Hz, however, and the game runs at 100FPS, that’s a problem. As such, the higher the screen refresh rate, the better.
6. The Audio
Laptops are not renowned for their exceptional sound quality. After all, what can you expect from a couple of tiny speakers hidden in the body of a laptop? Then again, the sound quality is undoubtedly a part of every great gaming experience. There is no good game without a good soundtrack; what’s more, you want to hear your enemies cursing you in high-definition when you hit a 360o no-scope.
Luckily for you, most $1500~ish laptops do have fairly good-quality sound systems, so you don’t have to worry about it all that much. However, if you want a recommendation from us, that’d be to get yourself a surround sound system when you’re at home and a good pair of headphones when you’re not.
7. The Battery
Since it’s portable computers we’re talking about, the portable power supply must be taken into account as well. Generally, laptop batteries are Li-Ion (Lithium Ion) rechargeable batteries, although Li-Polymer is also available. You don’t have much of choice in this aspect, besides getting an extended battery which offers twice the running time of a normal one. You do need one, trust us. While the battery life stated in the instructions manual can be up to 8 hours or even more, remember that it’s a maximum battery life, i.e. under ideal conditions with low-to-moderate usage. In truth, if you game like there’s no tomorrow, expect the battery life to shorten to an amazing 2h or so, or even less than that.
How do you find a good battery? Well, generally, the more cells it has, the better, as long as it’s still compatible with your laptop. However, the true measure of a battery’s endurance is the mAh (milliamp hour) rating. A 3000mAh battery will last 50% longer than a 2000mAh battery, under the same conditions. That’s valid for mobile phones as well. You may see the rating stated in amp-hour, Ah, in which case it’ll be something like 3.3Ah instead of 3300mAh.
8. The Motherboard
The motherboard’s brand is not altogether that important, as any good provider like Gigabyte, ASUS, MSI, Biostar, and so on will work just fine. However, the upgrade possibilities it offers are, indeed, extremely important, especially if 1) you don’t want to completely discard your laptop anytime soon and 2) you’re planning to upgrade only one part of it when something new appears, or you get some extra cash. What you need to know:
- Maximum RAM – at the very least 16GB, at least 32GB, optimally more. Remember to check how many free RAM slots it has and how much RAM per slot can be added.
- CPU compatibility
- HDD/SSD compatibility
- Graphics card compatibility
9. The design
Oopsy daisy. We’re out of hardware issues, so we’re getting to the design. While a desktop PC can be built in a fish tank, a cardboard box, or a tractor wheel, a laptop has the portability issue to deal with, among other things. Here’s what you need to look at:
- If you want a big screen, get a desktop computer. If you want a laptop with a big screen, get a 17”. However, remember that the bigger the screen, the bigger the body and the heavier the laptop. When people say “laptop,” what they mean is 15.6”, and this is what we recommend. There are no 14” or less gaming laptops that we know of, and we really don’t want to know anyway.
- ALL laptops overheat, period. Gaming laptops don’t have particular overheating issues, it’s just that you’re using them for a lot more challenging tasks than Microsoft Word and, therefore, they heat up a lot more. Choose a model that has proper cooling and check for reviews about that aspect. Melting CPU is a thing and holding a hot laptop on your lap is unhealthy in every aspect. What’s more, overheating also damages your battery. You can assess the level of cooling visually: the smaller and fewer the fan holes, the lesser the cooling. Well, at least that’s a rule of thumb for laptops of similar performance.
- External connectivity – type and number of external ports. Currently, USB 3.0 is trending, but there’s also 3.1 incoming, as well as the famous/infamous USB Type C, currently only adopted by Apple and Chromebook makers. This is a motherboard-related issue, but we’re putting it here because you can check the connectivity without opening the case. Ethernet and Wi-Fi are also extremely important: make sure that your laptop can handle high-speed internet. Otherwise, the 1Gb/s broadband connection is wasted on you. Same goes for Bluetooth; the 4.0 version is now standard for laptops, although newer versions like 4.1, 4.2, and 5 are also available.
This is all you need to know when buying a gaming laptop and pretty much any laptop, in fact, as most of these considerations (besides the crazy graphics cards) apply just as well to office laptops and so on. The better the specifications, the better your experience, but also the higher the price. Trust us; it does get pretty amazingly high.
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