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Gaming laptops
Well, isn't this a surprise? After going so long without talking up the subject of gaming laptops, we're finally ready to offer some guidance and recommendations. A question that's probably going around in your mind is "what took you so long?" The main reason for this is that it's hard to evalute gaming laptops. No, really, bear with us. Since gaming laptops universally pack more powerful hardware than their brethren—even if it's just a dedicated graphics card—they require good thermal management and acoustics to be any good. However, we're all too familiar with the race to the bottom in cheap laptops (Chromebooks aside). When you add "gaming" to "cheaply built," the result is almost universally a disaster—if not there and then, then a year or two down the road.

That's not to say that there haven't been good gaming laptops produced before now. Far from it. It's only fairly recently that thin 15" and even 13" gaming laptops with above-average build quality started popping up, though, mostly thanks to the appearance of Nvidia's Pascal mobile GPUs and their excellent performance-per-watt ratio. The GeForce GTX 1050 and GTX 1050 Ti in particular have made quite a splash in this segment, offering a good gaming experience without the prodigious power draw and heat production that used to be side effects of gaming on the go. Without further ado, here are the picks we think you should keep an eye out for.

Product Specs Price

Dell Inspiron 15 7000
Display: 15.6" 1920x1080 IPS or 3840x2160 IPS
CPU: Intel Core i5-7300HQ to Core i7-7700HQ
Graphics: GeForce GTX 1050 or GTX 1050 Ti
RAM: 8GB to 32GB
Storage: 128GB SSD to 512GB NVMe SSD
Battery: 74 Whr
Connectivity: 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2
Thickness: 1"
Weight: 5.76 lbs
Base: $749.99

(Core i5-7300HQ, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, GeForce GTX 1050 Ti)
Gigabyte Aero 14 Display: 2560x1440 IPS
CPU: Intel Core i7-7700HQ
RAM: 8GB or 16GB
Storage: Up to 512GB SSD
Battery: 94 Whr
Connectivity: 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2
Thickness: 0.75"
Weight: 4.2 lbs

(Core i7-7700HQ, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD, GeForce GTX 1060 6GB) 

Alienware 13 (2017)
Display: 14" 1920x1080 IPS or 2560x1440 OLED
CPU: Intel Core i5-7300HQ or Core i7-7700HQ
Graphics: GeForce GTX 1050 up to GTX 1060 6GB
RAM: 8GB up to 32GB
Storage: 128GB SSD up to dual 1TB NVMe SSDs
Battery: 76 Whr
Connectivity: 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1
Thickness: 0.87"
Weight: 5.8 lbs
Base: $1,049.99

(Core i7-7700HQ, 16GB RAM, 256GB NVMe SSD, GeForce GTX 1060 6GB, OLED display)

Dell Inspiron 15 7000
If you're looking to do a little gaming on the road but don't have a ton of cash to spend, you can do little better than the Dell Inspiron 7000. While it's true that this machine is a tad bulkier than most of us would like with its 15.6" screen and its one-inch-thick body, it's also a fact that it's very well-balanced platform. All of the options in Dell's configurator are quite reasonable and in tune with one another. For example, it's a commonplace theme to see laptops with "Core i7" advertised in blazing letters on the sticker, only to find out that the CPU has been paired with a puny graphics card that can barely lift a few pixels. This machine makes no such mistake, and the choice of an IPS display by default is the proverbial cherry on top.

Our sample configuration costs just $850, and it has a Core i5-7300HQ CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, and a GeForce GTX 1050 Ti graphics card with 4GB of VRAM inside. Those components push pixels to a desirable 1920x1080 IPS display. That's a perfectly-balanced setup if we ever saw one, but those with a little more cash to spend can upgrade to a Core i7-7700HQ CPU, a GeForce GTX 1050 Ti graphics card, or even both.

One last note, though: there's a version of this laptop starting at $750 with a display based on a TN panel. While in itself a TN panel isn't a problem, the particular unit that Dell chose appears to be of sub-optimal quality. Stick to the $850-and-up model we linked above.

Gigabyte Aero 14
Gigabyte's Aero 14 is the second surprise in our gaming-laptop picks. Although Gigabyte is best known for its wide-ranging selection of motherboards and graphics cards, the company also has a burgeoning lineup of laptops with pretty good specs and a no-nonsense looks. The most interesting of the bunch is undoubtedly the Aero 14. As the name implies, this machine fits a 14" screen (preferably the 2560x1440 variant) into thin bezels and a body that's only 0.75" thick—a slim waist by gaming laptop standards.

The goodies don't end there, either. Despite being a compact machine, the Aero 14 has a capacious 94 Whr battery. After all, there's no point in having top-shelf hardware if all the gaming you can get when you're away from a wall socket is a few seconds of the Steam login prompt. Our chosen $1700 configuration is quite meaty: a Core i7-7700HQ CPU accompanied by a GeForce GTX 1060 6GB graphics card, capped off with 16GB of RAM and a 2560x1440 display. Can't go wrong there.

Alienware 13 (2017)
Dell took Alienware over roughly ten years ago, but only recently has the sub-brand established itself as the official label for all things PC gaming-related in Dell's catalog. While Alienware's past gaming laptops tended to be big and heavy, the newer Alienware 13 bucks that trend—and to great effect.

Judging by a mere passing glance, you'd be forgiven for thinking that there's nothing special about the Alienware 13 compared to other similar-sized offerings. But here's the kicker: there aren't any similarly-sized offerings. The 13" laptop form factor isn't a popular one among gaming laptop makers thanks to the difficulty of packing high-end hardware in a constrained space. And yet, the Alienware 13 can be set up with CPU choices up to the Core i7-7700HQ and graphics card options as fast as the GeForce GTX 1060 6GB. But the star of the show in this machine is the optional 2560x1440 OLED screen. I had the pleasure of seeing one of these with my own eyes at the TR BBQ XIV, and I can definitely say that it's quite a sight.

The model we picked out has a Core i7-7700HQ CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 256GB NVMe SSD, and that beautiful OLED display. The whole caboodle will set you back $1900, but it's oh so worth it.