Most gaming laptops aren't really all that portable. Sure, they beat hauling your desktop computer around, but at more than 10 pounds and 2 inches thick, many are inconveniently and unapologetically huge. Traditionally, the excuse has been that hard-core gaming demands hard-core hardware: powerful graphics processors (sometimes two), dedicated RAM to make on-screen motion look natural, batteries to power it all and fans to keep things cool. You just couldn't cram all that into a teeny frame -- until now.
The latest Razer Blade is the first gaming laptop that really can double as your everyday laptop. It measures just 0.66 inch thick and weighs just 4 pounds, yet manages to pack true gaming prowess into a wafer the size of an Ultrabook. Finally, experts say, a real gamer that you can toss into your backpack on a daily basis.
The lightweight Razer Blade gets top scores in reviews. "The definitive gaming Ultrabook," says AnandTech.com; "there simply isn't anything else out there like it." It racks up awards at PCMag.com, PC World, Maximum PC, Wired, Engadget.com and TheVerge.com, too. The Blade also makes a great Ultrabook, even for non-gamers, experts say. It checks all the right boxes: up-to-the-minute Intel Core Haswell processors, speedy SSD and all-day battery life.
Let's not forget the Nvidia GeForce GTX 765M graphics that annihilate ordinary Ultrabooks. The Razer Blade will play any game at max settings, but only at the 14-inch screen's native 1,600-by-900-pixel resolution. Critics don't mind that it's not full HD, but they do wish it had better viewing angles, which is the Razer's main flaw. You can play on a 1080p external display, but not at max settings.
If power is more of a concern than portability, Dell's revamped Alienware line might be just the ticket. Most reviews are of the 14-inch Alienware 14 and 17.3-inch Alienware 17 (Est. $1,500 and up) . Feedback is uniformly positive, with the Alienware 14 and Alienware 17 capturing a host of Editors' Choice or similar awards. The latest versions come equipped with fourth-generation Intel Core processors and can be customized to as high a level of performance as your wallet can withstand.
As an example, Laptop Magazine gives the Alienware 17 its Editors' Choice recognition, calling it "the gold standard for gaming rigs, combining a sleek new design, glorious full-HD display and excellent graphics power." It tests a $2,800 configuration that includes a Core i7 Haswell processor, 16 GB of RAM, a 256 GB SSD, a 750 GB standard hard drive, a Blu-ray optical drive and GeForce GTX 780M graphics with 4 GB of dedicated graphics memory.
Build quality and ergonomics are exceptional. Some love the design, while some merely like it. Regardless, the backlit keyboard, which lets you put any of 20 colors in any of 10 zones, is certainly attention-grabbing. "It's kind of gimmicky, but it differentiates the Alienware laptops from competitors," PCMag.com says. The display is HD, bright and beautiful, but not touch enabled. Windows 7 rather than Windows 8.1 comes standard, though you can request the newer operating system instead. Aside from weight (this isn't a laptop commuters will love) and, of course, price, experts find little to quibble about with the Alienware 17.
The Alienware 14 gets a touch less love, though still overall good ratings and a handful of Editors' Choice awards. Depending on configuration, the Alienware 14 can keep up performance wise with the Razer Blade and has a better display as well. But the Alienware 14 is left in the dust when portability is compared. "It's as thick as a few slim laptops stacked together," CNET notes.
Most that are interested in the Alienware 14 won't be interested in that machine's base configuration. Instead CNET tests an $1,800 version that ups the ante to a fast fourth-generation Core i7 processor, Nvidia GeForce 765M graphics with 2 GB of memory, 16 GB RAM, Blu-ray drive and both a 256 GB SSD and a 750 GB standard hard drive. Performance is excellent, according to the site's benchmark testing.
Though the smaller size necessitates some ergonomic differences compared to the Alienware 17, reviewers have few bad things to say about build quality or comfort. "The system feels very high-end in the hand, with rock-solid construction and a soft-touch finish on the palm rest that won't bother you after spending hours with your hand hovering over the WASD keys," says CNET's Dan Ackerman.
The CyberPower FangBook Evo HX7-200 (Est. $1,530 and up) also gets some recognition as a top-end gaming rig. It has a 17.3-inch full-HD screen. It also packs 16 GB of RAM, twice as much as the Razer Blade, plus Nvidia GTX 770M graphics and a Blu-ray Disc drive. The catch? It's huge.
With its clunky power brick, the FangBook "tips the scales at more than 10 pounds and looks about as elegant as a water buffalo," PC World says. Laptop Magazine says it looks like RoboCop's notebook, with its armor-like silver panels and glowing red logo. Unlike the Blade, which could almost pass for a MacBook, you won't be sneaking the 2-inch-thick FangBook into any board meetings. But if you don't plan to carry it around much, the FangBook is a great buy, experts say. You won't find a more powerful, full-featured gaming laptop for less than $2,000.