5 Best gaming laptops
HP, Acer, Asus, MSI
5 of the best gaming notebooks of 2016.
A swallow flying backwards. A two-headed calf being born. These are omens. And the thing about omens is that they usually mean you’re reading Shakespeare, but it could also be referring to HP’s gaming notebook range. The HP Omen has got a black aluminium casing, a unique V-shaped design and a very sexy screen – even if said screen likes to impersonate a mirror at every opportunity.
There are some impressive gaming touches: Adjustable LEDs behind the keyboard (in segments, naturally) and near the Bang & Olufsen speakers, an array of rear ports for the inevitable extra peripherals, and an extra-wide trackpad – for some reason. All of which add to the chassis’s gaming cred. There is also a set of programmable macro/ shortcut keys for your MMO or RTS needs, down the left side of the keyboard. The Omen seems to have it all. Seems to.
What the Omen doesn’t have is the grit to go all the way. It’s still using Intel’s Haswell chipset, which was a blast back at the beginning of 2015, but has since been supplanted by both Broadwell and Skylake. 2016’s gaming hardware is characterised by the latter – if you don’t have Skylake, you don’t have anything. Which is a damned shame, as the Omen brings everything else to the party. HP’s RAM allocation, a GTX 960M and the 512GB Samsung SSD actually tick all of the other boxes and have the Omen on par with the cream of this year’s gaming setups.
If not for this oversight the HP Omen might well have walked away like a newlyminted Oscar winner, with a spring in its step. As this configuration stands, a Heaven benchmark framerate of 23.8 frames per second (1920×1080, Ultra, no AA) puts it just on the right side of playable. The old adage is true in this case, it is what’s on the inside that counts.
HP Pavilion 15
What happens if you take the Omen and strip it away? Take away the aluminium and the lights, substitute a rather plain black plastic casing with limegreen accents and you have the HP Pavilion 15. Which is the gaming equivalent of hiding certain magazines in a plain brown envelope. That’s just a fancy way of saying that the Pavilion 15 is a lot sexier on the inside than you would think.
HP’s other gaming machine doesn’t go in for looks. There’s still an optical drive in here, for goodness sake. When was the last time you needed one of those? ere’s no backlighting on the chiclet-style keyboard or any other frills you’d expect from fragging hardware. The chassis comes across as the kind of thing you’d use at a boring office job, but that’s only until you decide to take it out for a spin. Then you’ll quickly fi nd that it sounds like a jet engine taking off when under load. But that can’t be right, right? Actually…
The Pavilion 15 gets rather hot, with the right-hand vent emitting more heat than expected. Unfortunately you’re probably going to cook your right thigh (or melt any candles in the vicinity) while fraggin’ noobs in Team Fortress 2. But Intel’s Skylake 6700HQ, an Nvidia GTX 960M and 8GB of RAM are bound to produce at least some heat and it has to go somewhere. The heat production is for a good cause too, as this rig snags an average FPS in Heaven of 27.8 (1920×1080, Ultra, no AA) and attains a respectable average with the anti-aliasing turned on.
We can live with that. It just shows to go you, HP doesn’t have to throw expensive design at users to make eyebrows lift in appreciation. The Pavilion 15 is a worthy undercover winner that eschews all the prettiness in order to cram in some of the best hardware you’ll encounter in the fi rst half of 2016. At a fraction of the cost of a heavier hitting notebook.
Asus ROG GL752VW
Asus’ ROG (Republic of Gamers) marque has long been a staple of the serious gamer and the 17.3in/44cm GL752VW doesn’t do anything to let the side down. Like most of the other machines in this roll-call, the GL752VW sports a spanking new Skylake processor. You’re nothing without a 6700HQ these days.
There are no design surprises, just stock Asus styling. That means that it’s competent, it’s sturdy as far as these things go, and it’s rather plain. Stick it side-by-side with a few other Asus models and you’ll battle to tell them apart. But, as with most good things in life, looking inside provides the answers we’re looking for. The question, by the way, is: Can this thing run all of our games on Ultra?
The answer to that is, happily, yes. Unigine’s Heaven and Valley benchmarks post an average frame rate of 36.8 and 34.5 respectively (at 1920×1080, Ultra, with antialiasing disabled). Cranking the settings plops it between 22 and 30 frames per second, which is within playable tolerances. If you’re after PC gaming nirvana and its fabled 60fps, you are going to need to take a page from Back to the Future II and invest in more power. Naturally.
The culprit, or culprits, slowing things down are the GPU and the drive configuration. Starting with the latter, most of the competition packs an SSD/ HHD hybrid system which can remove some of your loadtime bottlenecks. The GL752VW also fi elds a GTX 960M. It’s a good enough GPU but it doesn’t match the grunt that the 970M and 980M bring to the table. Don’t let that depress you, however. Asus has made up for its not-reallya- lack in extra in the RAM department, and there’s also the additional screen-space so you will more easily see the creepy little camper who keeps trying to snipe your digital posterior.
Acer Predator 17
A predator should be at the top of whatever pyramid it sits on, provided that pyramid is predicated on consuming the things below and not, you know, mathematics or something. Said consumption should preferably be in as bloody and brutal a fashion as possible. Acer has chosen to name its core gaming lineup the Predator series. Coincidence? Nah. But do they have the teeth to back up the brag.
Based purely on the new Acer Predator 17 gaming notebook, we’re going to have to go with yes. At least, in the present company. Both MSI (up next) and Asus have their own caged monsters and the Predator 17 should be playing with those. In terms of sheer power in this lineup, Acer has the real goods. 8GB of RAM can’t hold back the Core i7-6700HQ/GTX 980M combination that tips the scales on the Heaven benchmark at an average of 84.7 frames per second (1920×1080, Ultra, no AA). At similar settings on the Valley test the Predator hauls down a 77.2fps average. is is where you want to be gaming.
Being this much of a beast equals noise, though, as the Predator 17’s fans need to compensate for the heat being created. It’s a tradeoff , though, as you’re also getting a very slick mechanical keyboard and an interesting feature: the option to disable the trackpad while gaming using a physical button. Why don’t more gaming PCs do that? Backlighting, programmable shortcut keys and a large 17.3in/44cm playing area round out the experience, but you’re still going to want to connect your favourite weapons of war. Acer has included its own take on gaming-specifi c software. Nice enough, but it has a way to go to catch MSI and Asus.
So, is this an apex Predator? Sure, but right now it’s also swimming in a sea of smaller fi sh. It’s a lot easier to be a shark in that situation.
What Acer achieves with 17 inches at its disposal, MSI has almost equalled. And its off ering is two inches shorter. Either you’re up to speed or you need a sensitivity class, we’re talking about the gaming notebook form factors on show here. What you’ll quickly note about the MSI GS40 6QE-042ZA (to use its full title) is that it is very, very compact. Far more compact than you’d expect, given its insides.
MSI has crammed in the Core i7-6700HQ so favoured by gaming machines this year along with a 3GB GeForce GTX 970M and a chunky 16GB of RAM. Also a 256GB SSD and a 1TB hard drive, which has been sandwiched into a chassis that is comparatively light and skinny compared to everything else represented here. How do they do it? Well, they’ve made it into one heck of a lap-warmer in the process. Use a solid surface rather than your legs, yeah?
The design is all MSI. Shady shades and a no-frills keyboard – which remains serviceable – and trackpad cosying up to a 15.6in/40cm HD display that you’re going to love. Despite the thin profile and stripping down of the more visual features, the GS40 still offers players a more-than-respectable frame rate to brag about. As with the rest of these machines, Heaven and Valley from Unigine were the benchmarks and testing at 1920×1080, Ultra, with no anti-aliasing, returned average frame rates of 63 (Heaven) and 65 (Valley).
This is remarkable because of how much less space the GS40 takes up compared to the Predator 17, for instance. The two are not in the same league, power-wise, but MSI’s still nipping at Acer’s heels. It’s like watching a Jack Russell get into a fight with a Doberman and seeing both pooches come off second best. You knew the Jacky was going to get his butt kicked but the scars in the other direction are a bit shocking. If this is what MSI’s smaller rigs can do…