The laptop form-factor is starting to really dominate over desktops. Whereas these portable machines started out as seriously compromised devices that were only justifiable to business people who needed a computer on the go, things have changed. Apart from thermal and power limits, there are no performance compromises between desktops and laptops. The big differentiator is price, but if you are willing to pay you can get a mobile machine with as much grunt as almost any desktop.

This holds true for gaming-oriented laptops as well. While most of us might be way more interested in budget gaming laptops, there’s plenty of choice for those that don’t care about price.

That’s what this set of reviews is all about. Could you build gaming desktops that cost much less than these laptops, but perform the same? Sure you can, but if you want the laptop form factor and don’t want to compromise on, well, anything, these are the machines for you.

What We’re Looking for in an “Ultimate” Gaming Laptop

So how did I decide which laptops count as “ultimate” machines? First of all, I didn’t give any particular attention to price. Yes, all of these machines are expensive, but value for money isn’t that important in this segment. If two machines cost about the same, obviously you want the better deal, but each of these laptops are almost in a class of their own.

What I want to see are CPU and GPU combinations that let you absolutely max out any title at 1440p (regardless of the built-in screen) – machines that have no bottlenecks because every component can keep up. While the laws of physics might not make it possible to have the ultimate combos of CPU and GPU in such a small space yet, I don’t want components that are more than a single step from the top in that class.

After raw performance, style counts for a lot. Think of it as buying a hypercar like a Ferrari or Lambo. When you are spending that much money on a luxury performance item you want to be reminded that you’re using something special. For budget machines I don’t want manufacturers spending too much on non-performance components like RGB lighting or kick-ass vent designs, but at this end of the market they should be free to go nuts.

You should also know that the specific computers I’ve linked to below are in some cases NOT the OEM, off-the-shelf model. Instead, they are further modified, customized, and upgraded by boutique gaming hardware resellers. My views on these machines are based on those specs, not the factory data sheets.

So, without further ado, let’s get into the good stuff!

Alienware Area 51 Gaming Laptop

Alienware is probably the best-known brand in gaming laptops. Its machines have distinctive styling, but tend not to be overblown. In terms of hardware quality and performance, well, I’ve had the pleasure of using several Alienware machines and the quality always impressed me.

This Area 51M machine from the legendary company is very expensive indeed, but just a casual look at the specs list and you’ll know why. This isn’t just an ultimate gaming laptop, this is an ultimate performance laptop, period, barring some specialized mobile engineering workstations.

Both the CPU and GPU are top-tier for this generation. Right now the 9900K i9 is the best gaming CPU money can buy and, of course, the RTX 2080 is only a single step below the 33% faster RTX 2080 Ti.

This combination of CPU and GPU means you’ll get insane framerates, enough to boost past even the 144Hz refresh rate of the 17.3” FHD screen in most titles. Hook this up to a 1440p display, and the result should be just about as good. 4K gaming is definitely on the table as well although, as with all top-tier gaming machines today, you’ll have to compromise for 60fps performance.

Now, the big price tag isn’t enough to justify those two marquee components, but there’s a never-ending list of goodies to gawk at here. Returning to the screen for a moment, it’s an IPS panel with G-Sync and eye-tracking, for fancy control options in certain games. You get whopping 64GB or RAM, which is more than any current title needs and certainly more than any title will need during the useful lifespan of this machine. Even the WiFi chipset is the super-fancy Killer Wireless 1550, so you won’t be dropping packets in multiplayer.

One easy detail to miss is the inclusion of Thunderbolt over USB C, with 40 Gbps bandwidth and Displayport. So you could theoretically use an external GPU solution such as the Alienware Graphics Amplifier. A nice piece of future proofing.

The final tidbit that cements the Area 51M as the ultimate gaming laptop in my view, is the fact that you can upgrade the major components, although in this particular model we’re already at the top of the chain. I have no idea if new future CPUs or GPUs will work, but the concept is great. This model comes with an insane 2TB M.2. SSD configuration, but if you’re happy with less storage space you can cut the price by almost a third and still enjoy the same basic performance. Right now I’m comfortable in saying that this is as close to an “ultimate” gaming laptop as I’ve seen.

ASUS ROG Zephyrus S GX701GX-XS76

The “ROG” or “Republic of Gamers” brand from Asus is essentially its elite gaming line and this roundup actually features two Asus ROG laptops, which just goes to show that the company is not messing around. You can buy all sorts of ROG-branded things; from motherboards to graphics cards, there’s a gaming specific SKU for you.

The Zephyrus S brings it all together in a spectacular way. It may look a little weedy compared to the might of the 9900K freak show that the Alienware 51M has going on, but actually the i7-8750H represents the cream of the laptop CPU crop. It’s a six-core part that runs between 2.2 and 4.1 Ghz, depending on load and thermals. There’s no chance of bottlenecking here.

It’s paired with the RTX 2080, which is once again one tier below the ultimate, but in the laptop form factor this is about as good as it gets. Besides, the 2080 is already an overkill product and will annihilate the 1080p 144Hz panel that’s fitted into the Zephyrus. It’s a setup begging to be attached to a 1440p ultrawide display.

You get 16GB of RAM as standard here, which is OK, but unfortunately the expansion slot is already filled, which means you’ll lose dual-channel support if you upgrade the 8GB dimm to something bigger. Although, even at 1440p bandwidth it should not be an issue. 16GB will be A-OK for gaming for some time to come, so I won’t let it count too much against the Zephyrus.

Storage is pretty reasonable for a high-end machine. You get a full 1TB NVME PCI SSD, which means that this beast should absolutely fly, and loading screens are things that happen to other people.

So far, this might not sound all that impressive at this end of the market, but that’s before we get to the actual design of the machine. This is one svelte computer and would not draw too much attention at a glance in a coffee shop. So it represents a sort of balance between size and power that I rarely see. Sure, when you look at it more closely the gamer-specific design elements become apparent, but this is a machine with a great shape.

There are some nice extras as well. There’s a per-key RGB keyboard installed and this particular bundle also comes with a ROG gaming mouse and pad.

ASUS ROG G703GX-XB76

Our second ROG machine comes with better specs, but you can immediately tell we’re back into the world of thick laptop design. At least the XB76 carries its bulk well, with very attractive curved venting putting the extra room to good use.

The first prize you get for sacrificing ultra-portability is a better CPU. Here we have the i7-9750H, which features a significantly higher frequency range, helpful for pushing those frames as high as the RTX 2080 can go.

RAM is also much, much higher at 128GB, which is total overkill for gaming applications – but I’m not complaining. Secondary storage is similarly insane, with THREE 2TB SSDs, using the superlative Samsung EVO 970 technology. There’s also a 1TB mechanical drive with a hybrid SSD thrown in, which I assume is the base model hardware simply left in. A little pointless, but removing it just leaves an empty space. I guess you could add a fourth SSD in its slot later.

The RGB keyboard looks utterly boss and I really like the two-tone design between the grey and black sections. Closed, the laptop is absolutely beautiful. The rear panel sports copper accents and the lid has a brushed metal look to it. Tastes vary, but personally it’s a 10 for me.

Once again, the built-in panel is only 1080p, but with a 144Hz refresh rate you can still get the most out of that CPU and GPU combo. This is about as hardcore as you can go without going the 51M route of using desktop parts. So if you want to stick to laptop hardware, this is the real “ultimate”.

XPC MSI GS75 Stealth Gamer Notebook EVO

MSI is one of the most respected names in gaming laptops. While I don’t think it has quite the design flair of Asus and certainly not Alienware, its machines are hardly ugly. Often they’re priced better than other brands with the same specs and I’m not aware of any general build quality issues. I have used plenty of MSI products over the years and never had any issues with them.

Of course, price isn’t really a factor in this scenario, but if you want to save a few bucks at the high end, you might ditch some of the brand snobbery for an MSI machine.

This particular GS75 Stealth has rather subdued styling, but in a way that I like. The entire laptop is essentially black, but with wonderful copper accents all over the place. So it doesn’t stand out as a gaming laptop, but looks as premium as heck. The RGB keyboard is bonkers, however, as you can see in the promo shots.

Specification-wise, this is up there with the ROG XB76 – well, unless you’re looking at RAM. This has a much more practical 32GB of the stuff, but we have the same i7 CPU and RTX 2080 GPU, coupled with a 144Hz, 3ms panel. Storage is also less extreme, with a “mere” two 2TB 970 EVO SSDs. Performance then, should be indistinguishable from the ROG XB76, with cutbacks made in other areas that don’t really affect frame rates. A good balance, if there is such a thing in this market segment.

MSI GE63 Raider RGB-499 Enthusiast

This gaming laptop from MSI has one major, obvious difference from the others we’ve looked at here – screen size. While most high-end gaming laptops like these have 17.3” screens, this GE63 Raider has the more traditional 15.6” display. You still get the 1080p resolution, 144Hz refresh rate and 3ms response time, just in a smaller format. This has the side effect of increasing the picture density, making for a sharper image. It also makes the entire laptop smallers, since the screen usually dictates the total body size.

For the most part, having the larger machine needed for the 17 inch screens is good. More space for cooling, a larger screen is easier on the eyes and so on. However it does have an effect on portability. I personally don’t care all that much, since these machines should only move from one desk to another. They’re really more portable than mobile and battery life is a joke regardless of brand.

If you are however a gamer who travels a lot, shifting down to a slightly smaller machine can be a big deal. So if you absolutely must have a 15.6” machine, will this serve as an ultimate gaming laptop?

With the customizations brought on by Excaliber PC, I think there can be little doubt. We have the same 6-core i7 and RTX 2080 as with other high end laptops, coupled with 64GB of RAM and 4TB of SSD storage. Apart from dealing with a smaller screen, I don’t really see much of a sacrifice, apart from more cramped IO. So if mobile matters, you can safely pull the trigger on the GE63.