Gaming Machines

Serious gamers will always lean more toward desktop computers for their flexibility when it comes to upgrading and the sheer power of their components. If being mobile is a priority, however, there are some solid choices in this category. Intel's Core i7 processors are recommended for gaming, as well as a top-of-the-line discrete graphics card from ATI or Nvidia, 4GB to 8GB of RAM, and up to a terabyte worth of storage capacity.

Similar to desktop replacements, most gaming laptops are large, heavy and aren't usually too hot on battery life. There are a number of specialized brands and boutique shops that will let you customize their products with all the latest components and even tailor their looks to your taste -- but they'll also charge a nice premium for it.

Sager NP8120 (Built on Clevo X8100)

If you don't mind stretching your budget to well over $2,000 for a few extra perks and top quality personalized service, there are a number of boutique PC shops waiting to take your order. Over at XoticPC, the Sager NP8120 starts at $2,409 and comes with everything but the kitchen sink. This high-end gaming system utilizes SLI technology to take advantage of not one, but two of the fastest GPUs available from Nvidia -- the GeForce GTX 285M. It uses a gorgeous 18.4-inch display with full HD 1920x1080 resolution, Core i7 720QM processor, 8GB of DDR3 RAM, and dual 500GB 7,200RPM drives.

Throw in an extra ~$400 and you can swap one 500GB drive for a fast Intel X25-M SSD and upgrade the processor to a Core i7 840QM. Besides its powerful hardware, the NP8120 also features a futuristic (though bulky) design with a customizable luminous lighting array, button-less luminescent touch sensor control panel, and eight programmable gaming keys. The keyboard and numeric keypad have been offset to the right to make way for these gaming controls, so that may take a little getting used to. In terms of connectivity you get HDMI and DVI ports, three USB 2.0 ports plus a USB/eSATA combo, Firewire, built-in Bluetooth, a 7-in-1 card reader and 802.11n Wi-Fi. Although you're no doubt paying a premium, this will include a 3 year labor - 1 year parts warranty and lifetime 24/7 phone support.

Additional views:

Quick specs | Full specs Starting price: $2,409
Processor: Intel Core i7 720QM 1.6GHz Graphics: 2x Nvidia GeForce GTX 285M 1GB
Memory: 8GB DDR3-1333 (2 DIMMs) Storage: 2x 500GB 7,200RPM HDD
Display size: 18.4" (1920x1080) Optical: DVD burner
Weight: 12.5 lbs (12-cell) Battery: 12-cell (~2.5 hours)

Asus G73Jh

Asus has packed a lot of muscle into this stealth fighter-inspired gaming notebook without going too crazy on the bill. For around $1,600 you get one of the most powerful mobile video cards available right now, the Mobility Radeon HD 5870, plus an Intel Core i7 720QM processor, 8GB of DDR3 memory, a beautiful 17.3-inch display with full HD 1920x1080 resolution, and a whopping terabyte of storage. Digital content addicts may be disappointed about the lack of a Blu-ray drive (though you can add one for about $100) and certain connectivity options -- there's no eSATA, ExpressCard, FireWire or USB 3.0. But if you're just after a powerful mobile gaming solution these missing features won't matter much.

The Asus G73Jh can handle almost any game on the market even at high visual quality settings -- since its GPU is based off the ATI "Juniper" core with 800 Stream Processors, you can pretty much expect similar performance to a desktop Radeon HD 5770. This means very playable frame rates in games like Far Cry 2, Left 4 Dead 2, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Mass Effect 2, and more. On the aesthetics front opinions will vary. Like most gaming laptops, the G73Jh is large and heavy, but it compensates with a solid built chassis that does a great job at performing cool and quiet. So long as you're not expecting long battery life, it doesn't get much better than the G73Jh when it comes to mobile gaming.

Additional views:

Quick specs | Full specs Starting price: $1,600
Processor: Intel Core i7 720QM 1.6GHz (quad-core) Graphics: ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5870 1GB
Memory: 8GB DDR3-1333 (3 DIMMs) Storage: 2x 500GB 7,200RPM HDD
Display size: 17.3" (1920×1080) Optical: DVD-RW
Weight: 8.5 lbs (8-cell) Battery: 8-cell (~2 hours)

Alienware M11x R2

Usually when you think of gaming laptops, an 11-inch screen is not the first thing that comes to mind. But there's certainly value in having a gaming-capable machine that you can easily take on the go, particularly for frequent travelers or LAN party goers. The Alienware M11x R2 combines the same 'Stealth Black' looks of its bigger brothers, the 15-inch M15x and 17-inch M17x, with a soft rubbery matte finish. Most importantly, it offers an overclockable Core i5 or i7 low-voltage processor, and Nvidia GeForce GT 335M graphics with Optimus technology.

Obviously because of its size constraints and somewhat modest price tag (for its intended market, anyway) you can't expect the M11x R2 to outperform a full-fledged gaming machine like the Asus G73Jh or Sager NP8120. But you can still attain playable frame rates in most current games using medium and in some cases high graphics settings. The 1366x768 resolution of the panel is disappointing, but gaming at 1600x900 would tax the GT 335M even further. Connectivity-wise, the M11x R2 lacks a VGA-out port, USB 3.0 and eSATA, but gets HDMI and DisplayPort, as well as three USB 2.0 ports, FireWire, a 3-in-1 media card slot and Ethernet. As you can see this Alienware gaming laptop isn't without its limitations, but if you're looking for something small to game while on the road, it's one of the most compelling options available.

Additional views:

Quick specs | Full specs Starting price: $949 ($1,224 with specs listed below)
Processor: Intel Core i7 640UM 1.2GHz Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GT 335M 1GB
Memory: 4GB DDR3-800 (2 DIMMs) Storage: 320GB 7,200RPM HDD
Display size: 11.6" (1366×768) Optical: none
Weight: 4.4 lbs (8-cell) Battery: 8-cell (~6 hours)