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(Get your) Game on

We test five gaming laptops – under R25 000 – to find our e-sports winner.

The HP OMEN 15-ax201ni

The e-sports economy is expected to reach revenues of $696 million this year, and grow to $1.2 billion by 2020, according to Newzoo’s 2017 Global e-sports market report. Simultaneously, the global audience watching e-sports is expected to grow from 385 million to 589 million in the same period. The popularity of PC-based gaming is growing across the world.

3D games can run on ‘normal’ laptops, but the experience isn't the best. Being both power and resource hungry, such games either produce stunning high-resolution graphics at an unbearably low frame-rate or smooth gameplay at the expense of detail. Recognising the growing market demand, and the potential impact of virtual reality (VR), the top PC brands are offering specialised gaming laptops in their portfolios.

Equipped with the necessary hardware to operate the latest, detail-rich 3D games efficiently;  these devices also feature high-definition screens, minimalistic dimensions and weight to improve portability and usually offer fully customisable keyboard looks and functionality. Because of their mobility, some gaming laptops include an extra solid and  durable aluminium casing rather than plastic. All gaming laptops can connect to at least one external display device – monitor or projector – and some have multiple display connectors allowing the gamer to hook up to more than one screen.

On the flipside of all the impressive hardware, downsides can include short battery life (during long periods of intense gaming, most won’t last for more than just a couple of hours), and excessive heat production, which results in annoying fannoise generation.

Business or pleasure?

Because of the abundance of processing hardware, like extra RAM and a relatively powerful CPU/ GPU, gaming laptops are more than capable of performing office and home related tasks. HD video editing, 3D rendering and graphic design software benefit hugely from the jacked-up specifications that dedicated gaming laptops house. Although these models are sold at a generally higher price point than the average laptop, gaming laptops arguably offer the best of both worlds for anyone who plans to use these computers for both business and pleasure – as long as battery life isn’t high on your wish list.

Test information

We tested five major brand gaming laptops, with a retail price ceiling of R25 000. Most of the tested models run on the latest 7th generation Intel CPU microarchitecture (codenamed Kaby Lake), and Nvidia’s latest GeForce GTX 10 series GPU. As a result, they’re optimised for VR gaming.

None of the tested laptops have a touch-sensitive screen. One specific configuration was put to the test, for each of the brands. These brands also supply other models with varying specifications and pricing, offering more (or less) storage space and RAM, an optional 4K screen or a slightly more advanced CPU or GPU.

Before commencing the test-run, all laptops were given a once-off update with the preinstalled Microsoft Windows operating system, as well as brand specific software and drivers. After that, all settings were left to their original values as defined by the manufacturer to rule out any form of optimisation.

Industry-standard gaming benchmark software, dedicated measuring equipment and straight-forward, practical, hands-on experience were used to evaluate and score each laptop. Each laptop was pushed to the max to see how much heat the components would produce and noise the fans would generate. The level of customisation was primarily determined by the possibilities to fine-tune performance as well as modify the look and functionality of the keyboard.

 

MSI GP72 7RD Leopard MSI GP72 7RD Leopard
MSI GP72 7RD Leopard

Estimated RP: R 24 999

Distributor: Pinnacle

Product page

Size: 17.3-inch

Weight: 2.7kg

Resolution: 1920 x 1080 (127ppi)

CPU: Intel Core i7 7700HQ (2.8GHz)

GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 (2GB)

RAM: 8GB, max 32GB

Storage: 1TB HDD + 256GB SSD

Connections: HD MI, USB, network, SD-card, Mini-DisplayPort, audio

Keyboard: Backlight, single colour, white

The MSI GP72 7RD Leopard features the largest screen in the test at 17.3 inches. Although this size facilitates a comfortably large viewing area, it also means pixel density is slightly lower than the other tested models and the laptop is bulky to carry around. Its raw performance is more than adequate to enjoy most VR games at high detail level, but the amount of dedicated graphics memory is relatively low. Because of that, the MSI isn't as futureproofed as models with more video RAM and pales in comparison to the 6 GB on the Lenovo. In addition, battery capacity is the lowest, averaging only 1.5 hours of game time.

Overall build quality isn’t top of the line, but good enough to survive most intense gaming sessions. The laptop can get quite hot and noisy when pushed
to the max for long periods. Screen quality is the best of all models because of its high brightness levels, great contrast and wide viewing angles. The keyboard also feels very comfortable; it's a pity it only uses a single white backlight instead of the cool multi-colour some of the other devices feature.

Best features: Screen: 8/10, ergonomics: 8/10

Worst features: Heat and noise: 6/10, Battery life: 5/10

Overall: 6.7/10

 

Asus ROG Strix GL502VM Asus ROG Strix GL502VM
Asus ROG Strix GL502VM

Estimated RP: R 24 999

Distributor: Mustek, Rectron, Tarsus

Product page

Size: 15.6-inch

Weight: 2.2 kg

Resolution: 1920 x 1080 (141 ppi)

CPU: Intel Core i7 7700HQ (2.8 GHz)

GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 (3 GB)

RAM: 8GB, max 24GB

Storage: 1TB HDD + 256GB SSD

Connections: HD MI, USB, network, SD-card, Mini-DisplayPort, audio

Keyboard: Backlight, single-colour, red

The Asus ROG Strix GL502VM is one of the lightest laptops in the test, which has a positive effect on portability. It runs on the same fast Intel CPU as the MSI and HP, but has 3 GB of dedicated graphics memory. This laptop can, however, get extremely hot and loud during prolonged and intensive gameplay.

Its keyboard, build quality and screen are satisfactory, but not impressive. Customisation options are relatively limited, but it will suffice for most gamers.

Battery life is slightly better than that of the MSI and Lenovo laptop as it lasts for an average of two hours when used for gaming. Like the MSI and HP, this laptop only uses a single keyboard backlight.

Best features: Screen: 7.5/10, ergonomics: 8/10

Worst features: Heat and noise: 5/10

Overall: 6.7/10

 

HP OMEN 15-ax201ni HP OMEN 15-ax201ni
HP OMEN 15-ax201ni

Estimated RP: R21 999

Distributor: Axiz, Drive Control, Pinnacle Micro, Tarsus

Product page

Size: 15.6-inch

Weight: 2.2 kg

Resolution: 1920 x 1080 (127 ppi)

CPU: I ntel Core i7 7700HQ (2.8 GHz)

GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 (4GB)

RAM: 12GB, max 16GB

Storage: 1TB HDD + 128GB SSD

Connections: HD MI, USB, network, SD-card, audio

Keyboard: Backlight, single-colour, red

HP’s OMEN gaming laptop is light in weight as its Asus rival. It features a nice mix of a fast Intel CPU, Nvidia GPU with plenty of dedicated graphics memory and 4GB RAM, more than the other models. It’s a pity it only comes with 128GB SSD storage when most are equipped with 256GB. The screen delivers pleasant brightness levels, high contrast values and wide viewing angles, but can’t fully match that of the MSI.

Actual build quality is not as good as the Alienware or Lenovo and baring room for improvement, especially in the middle of the device where the keyboard is slightly flexible during rough gaming. Battery life averages around two hours while gaming. Like the MSI and Asus, this gaming laptop has just one single colour keyboard backlight instead of the multi-colour array.

During intense gaming, this HP can generate a fair amount of heat and noise, comparable with that of the MSI, but unlike the Asus.

Best features: Screen: 8/10, ergonomics: 8/10

Worst features: Heat and noise: 6/10

Overall: 7/10

 

Alienware 15 R3 Alienware 15 R3
Alienware 15 R3

Estimated RP: R 23 999

Distributor: Prima Interactive

Product page

Size: 15.6-inch

Weight: 3.5kg

Resolution: 1920 x 1080 (141 ppi)

CPU: I ntel Core i5 7300HQ (2.5 GHz)

GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti (2 GB)

RAM: 8GB, max 32GB

Storage: 1TB HDD

Connections: HD MI, USB, network, Thunderbolt, Mini-DisplayPort, audio

Keyboard: Backlight, multi-colour

This Alienware 15 R3 gaming laptop is the heaviest of the five we tested, which negatively impacts its portability. However, the trade-off is a gaming system that feels and looks remarkably solid. The tested entry-level configuration features a less powerful Intel Core i5 CPU than the MSI, Asus and HP, has only 2 GB of dedicated graphics memory like the MSI yet is the only one that lacks SSD storage. As a result, pure performance can’t quite match that of the other gaming laptops.

The customisation options of the Alienware 15 R3 are plenty, and its multi-colour backlight keyboard looks, functions, and feels excellent. Although there are a good number of connectors along the sides, an integrated SD-card reader is missing. Screen quality is adequate, but not on par with the MSI and HP.

On a fully charged battery, this laptop will last approximately two hours when used for gaming. During that time, the laptop does get warm and noisy, but nothing like the MSI, Asus and HP laptops.

Best features: Screen: 8/10, ergonomics: 8/10

Worst features: Portability: 5.5/10

Overall: 6.9/10

 

Lenovo’s Legion Y720 Lenovo’s Legion Y720
Lenovo Legion Y720

Estimated RP: R 21 999

Distributor: Tarsus, Mustek, Pinnacle, Axiz
Product page

Size: 15.6-inch

Weight: 2.9k

Resolution: 1920 x 1080 (141 ppi)

CPU: Intel Core i5 7300HQ (2.5 GHz)

GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 (6 GB)

RAM: 8GB, max 16G

Storage: 1TB HDD + 256GB SSD

Connections: HD MI, USB, network, Thunderbolt, DisplayPort, SD-card, audio

Keyboard: Backlight, multi-colour

Lenovo’s Legion Y720 gaming laptop features a multi-colour, LED backlight keyboard, loads of customisation options and has a very robust, premium look and feel. Its graphics processor, and the amount of dedicated video memory, is impressive. However, since it runs on a slightly less powerful Intel Core i5 processor instead of the i7, it ultimately won’t excel in terms of raw performance. Like the Alienware, this laptop features three digital video output connectors to hook it up to multiple external display devices.

It also has a built-in receiver for Xbox One controllers and offers support for the latest Dolby Atmos sound technology. Unfortunately, screen quality isn’t on par with the rest of the tested laptops and battery life averages two hours when gaming.

Best features: Versatility: 8/10

Worst features: Screen: 5.8/10

Overall: 6.7/10

 

And the winner is...

From a pure performance and mobility point-of-view, the Asus and HP gaming laptops are the best choice. While the Alienware and Lenovo feature the best build quality, heat management, noise reduction and gaming customisation options. Though the MSI has the best screen and most comfortable keyboard, it's plagued by relatively short battery life. While the scores were very close, overall the HP was our winner.

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