We look at having your cake and eating it: What is the best small and lightweight gaming laptop of 2015?
7. MSI GS30 Shadow
The MSI GS30 Shadow seems like an odd place to start on a roundup of lightweight gaming laptops, because it has one glaring omission in its spec: A dedicated graphics card. Sure, it fits our brief on all other counts – quad-core processor, 16GB RAM, SSD storage and an HD display – and it’s incredibly light at a svelte 1.2kg, but it’s only got an integrated Intel HD 5200 chipset.
So why does it make our list of the best small and lightweight gaming laptops? Because it can be connected with a ‘gaming dock’ which can – when loaded up with a fully-fledged desktop graphics card (even something beastly like a GTX 980 or an R9 380) – allow you to achieve true desktop gaming performance in a lightweight gaming laptop chassis.
But only when you’re at home and connected to your dock, which is massive and entirely not portable. And by the time you’ve added in the price of a high-end graphics card to the already pricey laptop and dock (at least £1500) it’s not a very attractive proposition. You can’t game on the move and you could buy three desktops for the price?
Oh well, nice try MSI!
6. Aorus X3 CF-1
Now this is a bit more like it. The 13.3″ Aorus X3 CF-1 comes with all the same sort of good stuff as the MSI GS30 – desktop-class quad-core processor, big RAM options, SSD storage – but it also comes with that all-important dedicated graphics card: the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 870M.
Not the absolute best-spec mobile GPU on the market today, as the 8XX series has been superseded by the superior 9XX series, but still a great laptop with a belting screen: It’s fitted with a super-bright QHD display that boasts a resolution of 2560×1440. Which is really rather nice.
It also comes in a lovely form factor. The Aorus X3 CF-1 lightweight gaming laptop drops in at a very reasonable 1.8kg and frankly looks like a bit of a bad-ass – the matching Aorus bags and accessories are seriously cool too – but if you want more power, and don’t mind sacrificing a little on portability? There’s a bigger brother model too. (See below).
5. Gigabyte P34W V3-CF1
The Gigabyte P34W V3-CF1 is quite big, at least in terms of our lightweight gaming laptop list. It carries with it a 14″ screen yet still only tips the scales at 1.8kg and change, which is an impressive feat.
Again there’s a beefy quad-core Core i7 processor and plenty of RAM, but the slightly larger chassis (to accommodate that 14″ screen) allows for the inclusion of two hard disks: A smaller SSD for the operating system to run from and a larger mechanical SATA drive (1TB or more) for storing all your stuff.
There are compromises, of course. It may be nice and light but the chassis is physically bigger which could hamper portability, and that 14″ panel is only 1920×1080 – which might look a little primitive compared to the Aorus X3, cramming half as many pixels again into a smaller panel – but who’s going to be comparing them side-by-side?
Be careful you don’t get the V1 or V2 versions of the P34W when you’re shopping around though – The P34W has been around for a little while, and the previous iterations carry NVIDIA GeForce GTX 7XX and 8XX series GPUs respectively – but not for as significant a saving over the V3 as you’d expect…
4. Razer Blade 14
Update: The Razer Blade 14 is now available in the UK and EU from the Razer online store! It’s also soon to be followed by the Razer Blade Stealth ultra-lightweight Ultrabook, and the Razer Core desktop graphics dock.
The Razer Blade 14 is pretty much the perfect small and lightweight gaming laptop, as it happens, so why isn’t it at the top of our list? Because the damn things are like hens’ teeth or rocking horse excrement to get hold of, particularly in Europe.
In the US, where the Razer Blade comes from, there’s another computer company you may have heard of who refuse to localise their hardware – that’s right, we’re talking Apple – who have shipped Macs without ‘£’ and with the ‘@’ and ‘”‘ characters inverted since year dot (and it’s never really hurt their sales). Razer, on the other hand, insist upon only selling their laptops in the United States; even though you can buy all their other gear (peripherals, accessories etc.) all over the world.
Continuing the analogy, the Razer Blade is a very similar form-factor to the previous generation MacBook Pro – aluminium uni-body construction, lightweight and super-thin – but crammed to the gills with gaming hardware, including a dedicated GPU, and that all-important (if you’re a gamer and want to be able to play everything) Windows operating system.
We just wish they were easier to get hold of, not least because the rarity pushes the price right up, but we’re also not sure how a warranty would hold outside of the US.
3. Alienware 13
A few years ago, Alien had a truly lightweight gaming laptop – the m11x – that had an 11.6″ screen and was ludicrously portable, even if it was as thick as your average textbook. Sales were decent enough, but cramming any better hardware into that small a chassis to future-proof the model would’ve been nearly impossible, so it was dropped from the product lineup.
Alienware focused their efforts on the larger models, the 14-18″ segment of their lineup seen as the core gaming laptop market, and all seemed lost. Then they announced the Alienware 13.
Yes, it’s a little big in the grand scheme of our small and lightweight gaming laptop list – it’s as thick as two Razer Blades, and tips the scales at a fraction over 2kg – but because it’s Alienware there’s a degree of customisation: You can spec it lower with a dual-core i5 processor to cut costs, and you can even find early-generation models with an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 860M graphics card.
You can go really beef up the Alienware 13 too, though. Like the MSI GS30 it too has the option of a dedicated desktop graphics card dock – called a ‘Graphics Amplifier’ in Alienware parlance – that allows you to turn the gaming experience up to 11 when you’re playing from home, but still has a decent mobile GPU to give you solid performance on the road. The Alienware 13 is a real best-of-both-worlds solution.
Update 06/11/2015 – Dell have updated the Alienware range, including the Alienware 13, to include all new 6th-generation Intel Core processors. Which is nice.
2. Aorus X3 PLUS V3-CF1
It comes with the same Intel i7 quad-core processors and 16GB of RAM we’ve been seeing throughout this list, but other than that? It goes big. Really, really big, in three areas that count:
Firstly, it’s got dual 256GB SSDs which might not sound amazing – it’s certainly less storage than the Gigabyte P34’s SSD/mechanical option – but you could put those together in a RAID-0 configuration and watch the system absolutely fly. Sure, you’d have zero protection if one disk in the pair failed… but think of the speed!
Secondly, it’s got an enlarged screen over its younger brother, up from 13.3″ to 13.9″ which might not sound a lot, but when you tie that in with the ultra-high QHD resolution and the improved brightness and viewing angles of the bigger panel? It makes for a damn good screen.
And thirdly, it’s got an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970M discrete graphics card. Which just makes it a beast.
1. XMG A305 – discontinued!
XMG might not be a brand you’ve heard of, but that’s fine – they’re a European reseller of OEM laptops made by Sager and Clevo in the far East – but what most people don’t realise is that Sager and Clevo build the base laptops for most of the vendors we’re used to, who then customise the hardware and slap their own badges onto the chassis before sending them off to retail.
So what does that mean in real terms? If you find someone (like XMG) who are prepared to sell Clevo or Sager laptops white-label, or under their own relatively unknown brand, you’re going to get a really great laptop for a far lower price, and usually with some great customisation options thrown in.
The XMG A305 is a 13.3″ lightweight gaming laptop chassis that’s very similar in form to the Alienware 13, just without the big face on the back and the light-up tricks on the keyboard. It’s around 2kg and a chunky machine, but other than that? The world is your oyster. There are a raft of configuration options available to buy off the shelf and for a similar spec to the machines above, you might be saving as much as a third over the big-brand models above.
Update 06/11/2015 – The XMG A305 is no longer listed for sale on their website, but you may still be able to find pre-configured models available from retail outlets like Amazon.
Bonus: Build a custom lightweight gaming laptop?
If you buy from XMG’s website you can build a custom spec. That means you can build the most powerful laptop in the world, or take it as low down as a dual-core i3 with 2GB of RAM if you really wanted to, but that’s not exactly the point of a lightweight gaming laptop…
What that does mean you can do, however, is spec it up without parts if you don’t need them. Have an OEM Windows license key kicking around? Then save yourself the best part of £100 by removing that from the configuration. Have a decent SSD you can salvage from another laptop? Then save some cash on the hard disk as well.
Obviously there are some things you can’t really ship it without – processor, screen, graphics card, on-board devices like network cards – but the options for creating an amazing custom configuration you can be really proud of (or trimming back on cost to make a decent gaming laptop more affordable) are really rather exciting. Here are a couple of great sites to get you started, with a link to some of their equivalent lightweight gaming laptop models:
Update 06/11/2015 – Some Clevo OEM chassis, including the W230SS (upon which most of the lightweight custom gaming laptops are based) appears to have been discontinued, as with the XMG A305 above. That changes our custom build list dramatically:
PC Specialist –13.3″ Optimus V– discontinued! PC Specialist – 14″ SkyFire IV– discontinued! Mysn – 13″ XMG A305– discontinued! Mysn – 14″ XMG C405– discontinued! Utopia Computers – 13″ Sabre-13– discontinued!
- PC Specialist – 14″ Defiance XT – New model! Very pricey, but similar chassis/spec to the Razer Blade!