How to pick the best gaming laptop GPU

Black Friday and Cyber Monday offer great laptop discounts, but the flood of deals can be overwhelming. So many configuration options are available, and it’s not always clear which ones are the best.

If you’re a gamer, your hobby adds one more thing to consider: the GPU. It’s the most important component in any gaming notebook, but choosing the type and level of performance isn’t straightforward. This year in particular has yielded a slew of options for laptop graphics.

That’s where we come in. 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

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Here’s what you can generally expect from the most-common gaming laptop GPUs.

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 940 MX.

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.

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Obviously, the best performance comes from a GeForce GTX 1080, but other excellent options still exist. It all depends on how much performance you need.

Note that 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.

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3DMark FireStrike’s graphics score is probably more represntative of a more intensive game.

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