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How to pick the best gaming laptop GPU

A gaming laptop’s GPU matters just as much as its CPU and other components. Given that any gaming laptop worth the name has some sort of discrete graphics, we’ll go through all the mobile GPUs available and tell you what to expect from each one, and point you to some laptops that carry them. 

This year in particular has yielded a slew of options for laptop graphics. To help you make the right decision, we’ve compiled performance scores from more than a dozen different GPUs and laptops, and then boiled it all down into easy guidelines for every budget.

Laptop GPU performance in a nutshell

best gpu for gaming IDG

Here’s roughly what you can expect to see out of the various top GPUs in gaming laptops today. Keep in mind that that the older a game is, the less graphics capability it will require.

The chart above breaks down which resolutions, frame rates, and graphical settings you can expect from the most common laptop GPUs. In it is everything from Nvidia’s top-end GeForce GTX 1080 to the lowly GeForce 940MX. We’ve also updated it with the performance we’re seeing from the Radeon RX Vega M GL component of Intel’s Core i7-8705G.

Want to cut to the chase? Jump below for specific GPU recommendations and laptop examples.

These guidelines are based on Futuremark’s 3DMark Sky Diver benchmark. Though the test isn’t from a real video game, its value actually extends beyond a typical game. Some built-in benchmarks can be influenced by the CPU performance. 3DMark, on the other hand, is inherently a graphics benchmark, and it allows us to focus very narrowly on graphics performance.

Best laptop GPU IDG

Note that 3DMark’s Sky Diver test is a good indication of what to expect when playing lower-intensity or older blockbuster games. If you put a more intensive graphics load in it, you’ll see cards on the lower end of the power scale fall.

For example, in 3DMark’s Fire Strike test, we can see the margin widen between the GeForce GTX 1050 Ti and the GeForce GTX 1050.

Best laptop GPU for gaming IDG

Now that you have a baseline idea of what to expect, let’s break down the best GPU for each common screen resolution. 

Best GPU for 720p gaming

Best: Nvidia GeForce MX150
Best (alternatives): Nvidia GeForce GTX 965M or GTX 960M
Okay: Nvidia GeForce 940MX

Expect to pay: Laptops in this range roughly span $500 to $1,600.

Laptop examples: Acer Aspire E 15 (940MX), Acer Aspire E 15Remove non-product link (MX150), HP Pavilion T8TJGRemove non-product link (940MX)

For playing at a resolution of 1366×768, you have two main options: the Nvidia GeForce 940 MX and its newer, Pascal-based sibling, the GeForce MX150. You can expect to play at medium to high graphical settings, which is roughly the equivalent to console gaming. (Note: AMD has recently released its Vega 8 mobile graphics, which is in this GPU class, but we haven’t tested it yet.)

In this range, the older Maxwell-based GeForce GTX 965M and GTX 960M will perform well, too. Because they can technically handle outputting a resolution of 1920×1080, you’ll get more longevity out of them if you instead regularly play at 1366×768.

You’ll find these GPUs in general-purpose laptops for the most part, so there’s a good range of options in form factor. We’ve seen these in everything from chunky budget laptops (like the Acer Aspire E 15) to slender high-end notebooks (like the HP Spectre x360 15.)

Best GPU for 1080p gaming

Best: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 or GTX 1060 Max-Q
Good: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti
Okay: Nvidia GeForce 1050
Barely acceptable: Nvidia GeForce GTX 965M and GTX 960M

Expect to pay: Laptops in this range span an average of $900 to $1,800.

Laptop examples: Acer Predator Helios 300 (GTX 1060), Asus VivoBook M580VD-EB54Remove non-product link (GTX 1050), MSI GS65 Stealth Thin 8RE (GTX 1060)

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