I’ve already mentioned in a previous post (Top 10 Laptops for Back to School), that laptops are more important to students than ever for this school year. Many will be taking at least some of their classes online, which makes a laptop an invaluable tool. Another big trend that’s been a part of 2020 has been a rise in the popularity of gaming. This time around, I’m writing about those two factors coming together, with a list of the top gaming laptops for back to school.
It wasn’t all that long ago that the prospect of using a gaming laptop for school would really feel like a stretch. High-powered gaming laptops were technically portable, but no-one would want to lug one of those to school on a daily basis. And if they did, chances are the battery would die after two or three hours.
This is no longer the case. Thanks to advanced new processors from Intel and AMD that offer more power with less energy, a new generation of mobile graphics cards from Nvidia and AMD, and space-saving tech like M.2 solid state storage, many of today’s gaming laptops look like the ultra-portable laptops from just a few years ago. And when used for productivity tasks like writing essays, battery life can last for the entire school day. Gaming laptops also offer the advantage of offering a huge range of ports, supporting both new and legacy PC accessories. This year, my twins (hardcore gamers) made the choice to buy gaming laptops for school, and that decision has worked out very well.
If you’re in the same boat, here are five gaming laptops that would also get good grades for use at school. One thing to note before I get started, many gaming laptops lack a built-in webcam. That’s more of an issue now, with the possible of remote learning. However, this is not a deal-breaker. You can plug an inexpensive USB webcam into any laptop.
ASUS is a PC gaming powerhouse with its Republic of Gamers (ROG) brand. The ROG Strix 15.6-inch is a solid entry as an affordable gaming laptop.
It’s equipped with a 10th generation Intel Core i5-10300H processor and 8GB of DDR4 RAM (which can be user-upgraded up to 32GB). With its 4GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 TiA graphics card, AAA games will look great and play smoothly. Its 512GB PCIe SSD offers plenty of fast storage. The 15.6-inch Full HD anti-glare display has a fast 144Hz refresh rate, so game motion is smooth—and Microsoft Office will look crisp. It’s equipped with all the latest networking standards including a 10/100/1000 ethernet port, Bluetooth 5.0 and Wi-Fi 6.
The ROG Strix 15.6-inch looks the part with its Aura RGB backlit gaming keyboard. This laptop comes in at 2.54 cm thick, and weighs 2.4 kg. ASUS also offer the option of a significant performance upgrade for a very modest bump up in price. The ROG Strix 15.6-inch gaming laptop is also available in a configuration with an Intel Core i7 CPU, and 16GB of RAM.
We all know that kids can be a little tough on laptops. Throw the excitement of gaming in the mix, and keyboards really take a pounding. Shoving a laptop in a backpack with a bunch of textbooks doesn’t help either. That’s a big part of the appeal of the ASUS TUF 15.6-inch gaming laptop. It’s very capable for mobile PC gaming, with a high-powered AMD Ryzen 7 processor, 16GB of RAM, a 15.6-inch Full HD display, and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660Ti graphics with 6GB GDDR6 RAM. That’s powerful enough to be VR-ready!
However, the ASUS TUF series gets its name from tough construction. It features a durable design that meets the MIL-STD-810 military standard, helping it to withstand occasional knocks, bumps and even short drops. The RGB-backlit keyboard is rated to withstand 20-million keystrokes. That’s a lot of assignments, and many, many campaigns as well.
When what’s onscreen—and how big that screen is—is of primary importance, the ASUS ROG Strix G17 is an excellent option.
Your course might involve editing video files or digital media, or perhaps working with spreadsheets that have a huge range of cells. In cases like these, a whopping 17.3-inch Full HD display is a must-have that will keep you from squinting. Courses may require the use of peripherals such as an external display, a graphic tablet or an external hard drive. This laptop has you covered off there as well, with a huge selection of ports: three USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A, USB-C (with Display Port), and HDMI. It has all the latest wired and wireless networking connectivity as well, with Bluetooth 5.0, Wi-Fi 6 2×2, and Gigabit Ethernet. Its 512GB PCIe SSD has plenty of fast storage for even big multimedia files. This size also gives you a keyboard with a numeric keypad, for faster entry when working with numbers.
That 17.3-inch display (which has a 120Hz refresh rate) also makes this laptop an awesome mobile gaming centre. The rest of its specs will impress the gaming crowd as well. Power is provided by a 10th generation Intel Core i7-10750H processor, with six cores and turbo boost of up to 5.0GHz. That powerful CPU has 16GB of RAM at its disposal. You can crank up the graphics settings with the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 graphics card with 6GB of video RAM. It not only supports VR, but also raytracing.
It’s a little bulkier than other choices on this list (2.54 cm thick and 2.9 kg), but considering the size of the display and the power onboard, I’d say that’s a worthwhile tradeoff.
HP’s Omen packs a lot of gaming goodness into a laptop that’s just 2.26 cm thick. The display is a crystal clear, 15.6-inch 1080p Micro-Edge IPS panel with anti-glare treatment. The CPU is a 10th generation Intel Core i7 with six cores, and it comes with 16GB of DDR4-2933 SDRAM installed. The Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 graphics card with 6GB of dedicated Video RAM will let you play AAA PC games with the visual effects maximized—and it also supports real-time ray tracing effects. OMEN Tempest cooling technology keeps components from overheating even during intense gameplay. Storage is as fast as it gets, and there’s plenty of it: the laptop is equipped with a 1TB PCIe NVMe M.2 solid state drive.
You’ll find an array of ports that rivals a desktop PC, including USB Type A, USB-C (with Thunderbolt 3), HDMI 2.0a, Ethernet, and even an SD card reader. A 70.9Wh 6-cell lithium-ion polymer battery provides maximum life away from an electrical outlet. Its full-sized keyboard features OMEN RGB LED backlighting, and 26-key rollover anti-ghosting.
This gaming laptop also includes an integrated HP wide-vision webcam, fast Wi-Fi 6 connectivity, and dual array microphones, so it’s fully-equipped for online learning out of the box. Other multimedia highlights include dual speakers tuned by Bang & Olufsen.
HP offers the option to take this Omen to extremes. The next step up Omen 15.6-inch gaming laptop keeps most of the core specs, but it gets Nvidia’s Max Q GeForce RTX 2010 graphics card with 8GB of GDDR6 video RAM. It pushes those pixels on a beautiful, bright, Full HD display with a 144Hz refresh rate and Nvidia G-Sync certification.
The final entry on this list is an entry from another PC gaming leader. The latest Acer Nitro 15.6-inch gaming laptop is a laptop with a focus on gaming performance. At its heart is a 10th generation Intel Core i7 six-core processor with 16GB of DDR 4 RAM, and an Nvidia GTX 1650Ti graphics card with 4GB of video RAM. The 15.6-inch IPS Full HD display has a fast, 120Hz refresh rate for crisp visuals. The 512GB SSD offers all the fast storage you’ll need for games and school, but if you need more there’s a second M.2 PCIe SSD slot.
At 2.39 cm thick and 2.3 kg, this laptop is surprisingly portable. If you take it to school and use it for anything but gaming (which is always a battery-killer), you can expect up to 8 hours of use without having to plug in. It’s also well-equipped for remote learning scenarios with Wi-Fi 6, a built-in webcam, dual microphones, and stereo speakers.
Whether you shop online, or choose a safe, in-store experience at your local store, Best Buy has everything needed for a successful school year.
[Editor’s note: this is an updated version of an earlier article. The gaming laptops mentioned have been updated to reflect products that are currently available.]