If you’ve been holding out on buying a gaming laptop, now’s the time to pull the trigger. Nvidia just revealed its latest 30 series graphics cards at CES 2021, which will usher in a new wave of notebooks that can deliver performance that rivals the new PS5 and Xbox Series X. Couple that with new processors from Intel and AMD, and this year’s gaming laptops are shaping up to be some of the best PCs you can buy overall — whether you want to soar around in Microsoft Flight Simulator or get some serious creative work done from home.
There’s a lot of new laptop tech to make sense of right now, which is why we’ve dug through it all to break down what the latest innovations from Nvidia, Intel and AMD mean for you, and how to make sure you’re getting a gaming laptop that takes advantage of them.
Enter the RTX 30 series
Debuting on more than 70 laptops this year, Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 30 series of graphical processing units, or GPUs, promise better energy efficiency and stronger gaming performance within a series of highly portable designs. Long story short: if you’re buying a gaming laptop this year, you’ll want it to have an RTX 3060, RTX 3070 or RTX 3080 graphics card.
- Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060: The RTX 3060 is the most affordable of Nvidia’s new laptop lineup, promising high-quality 1080p gaming at up to 90 frames per second in notebooks that start at just $999. Nvidia claims that RTX 3060 laptops are 1.3 times more powerful than the new PlayStation 5, and even beat out the company’s own RTX 2080 Super — a GPU typically found in $2,500 laptops.
- Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070: Laptops with the more powerful RTX 3070 will start at $1,299 and are built to deliver smooth 90-frame-per-second gameplay at a higher 1440p resolution. Nvidia says RTX 3070 laptops will outperform those packing an RTX 2070 by 50%.
- Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080: The most powerful member of Nvidia’s new laptop family, the RTX 3080 will allow gaming laptops to pump out more than 100 frames per second at 1440p. RTX 3080 laptops will be true high-end powerhouses for serious gamers and will start at a pricey $1,999.
So why do these new laptop GPUs matter? On top of getting the existing benefits of Nvidia’s RTX series — including advanced ray tracing for ultra-realistic reflections and lighting in games, and Nvidia Broadcast for enhancing your webcam streams using AI — the 30 series offers a variety of important new perks for work and play. This includes Dynamic Boost 2.0, which constantly optimizes your machine for the best possible performance based on what tasks you’re doing, and WhisperMode 2.0, which allows you to choose multiple modes that will either keep your laptop as quiet as possible or deliver maximum speed. Nvidia says half of the new RTX 30 series laptops on the way will support a blisteringly high 240 Hz refresh rate or better, which will allow for incredibly smooth frame rates that are especially ideal for competitive gamers seeking split-second responsiveness.
RTX 30 series laptops aren’t just ideal for gaming, either. New notebooks that meet Nvidia’s “Studio” certification — including the Asus ZenBook Pro Duo UX582 and MSI Creator 15 — can render content twice as fast as those from the previous generation. You’re also getting up to 16GB of graphics memory on RTX 3080 notebooks, which means lots of headroom to juggle multiple creative apps without having to worry about slowdowns or crashes.
A big boost from Intel and AMD
New Nvidia graphics tech isn’t the only good reason to buy a gaming laptop this year — you can also look forward to a big overall power boost, thanks to the latest breakthroughs from Intel and AMD. Any new laptop you buy will have either an Intel or AMD processor, so it’s important to make sure you’re getting the best one.
AMD just took the wraps off of its Ryzen 5000 series processors, which come in a variety of different flavors and all promise a big performance increase over previous-generation laptops. The latest AMD Ryzen 7 5800U processor, for example, promises up to 16% stronger performance, and up to about 17 hours of general battery life. On higher-end gaming notebooks, you’ll see AMD’s HX series processors, including the Ryzen 9 5980HX that can outperform the previous generation by as much as 23%.
Not to be outdone, Intel also announced its new 11th Gen Intel Core H-series laptop processors at CES, which are specifically built to offer blazing performance within laptops as thin as 16 millimeters. The flagship Core i7-11375H CPU, for example, promises the “fastest single-threaded performance of any laptop,” beating out AMD’s Ryzen 4000 series chips by about 30%. Those are a lot of numbers to chew on, but the key thing is to keep an eye out for the “11” and the “H” in the processor name to make sure you’re getting the latest and greatest.
Nvidia RTX 30 series availability — and the laptops to watch
Laptops featuring RTX 30 series graphics (and in some cases, the new AMD and Intel chips) will start going on sale January 26 from just about every major manufacturer, including Alienware, Asus, HP, Lenovo and Razer. We’ve picked out a few early highlights worth keeping an eye on this year, with options for both casual gamers and serious enthusiasts willing to spend big.
MSI Stealth 15M: If portability is your priority, the MSI Stealth 15M just might be for you. Billed as the “world’s thinnest 15-inch gaming laptop,” the Stealth 15M measures in at just 0.63 inches thin and weighs 3.7 pounds while still packing Nvidia’s powerful new RTX 3060 Max-Q GPU. Look for it this spring, starting at $1,399.
Razer Blade 15 Advanced Edition: If you’re a competitive gamer willing to splurge seeking a high-resolution display that also packs a fast refresh rate, the Razer Blade 15 Advanced Edition is worth a look. This high-end $2,499 model gets you a 15.6-inch 1440p display with a high 240 Hz refresh rate, coupled with powerful specs, including an RTX 3070 GPU and a 10th Gen Intel Core i7 processor.
Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 SE: For those looking to really go all out, there’s the Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo. This unique dual-screen laptop has a secondary 14-inch touch display between the keyboard and the main 15.6-inch screen, which is perfect for doing things such as managing your livestream, checking tutorials or monitoring system temperatures while gaming. You also get up to a beastly RTX 3080 GPU and a powerful AMD Ryzen 9 5900HX processor — though you’ll have to pay a hefty starting price of $2,899.
If you’re shopping for your first gaming laptop — or if you’re looking to upgrade from your creaky old notebook that can barely run Fortnite — this is the time to do it. This year’s upcoming wave of portable gaming PCs is looking like a viable alternative to both gaming desktops and next-gen consoles, and many of them will double as powerful multitasking machines for getting work done from home when you’re not exploring Cyberpunk 2077 or mowing down your friends in Gears 5.
We can’t wait to get our hands on the many exciting laptops coming down the pipe this year (and lose many hours gaming in the process), so stay tuned for our reviews and hands-on impressions.