Is the golden era of laptop gaming a goner? Let's consider the past a second. Wind the clock way back to September 2005 and Nvidia had just launched the GeForce 7800 GTX Go. It was a big, bad 24-pipe beast.
What's more, the mobile and desktop iterations were absolutely identical, save for a small gap in clockspeeds. Finally, mobile machines could go toe to toe with their desk-bound buddies.
Sadly, it was but a temporary anomaly. Nvidia did manage a follow up with the closely related 7900 series but since then, there hasn't been a pukka mobile graphics chip hewn from precisely the same silicon as the very fastest desktop GPU of the day.
Ultimately, there's no getting round the constrained thermals, packaging and power capacity of a portable, even one with pizzabox proportions. That's especially true now that graphics chips are massively parallel monsters with hundreds of fl oating point processing units.

1)Alienware M14x - £1779

2)Medion Erazer X6811 - £799

3)MSI GT780DX - £1497

4)Rock Xtreme 786 - £1799

5)Rock Xtreme 685 - £1649

6)Sony VPC-F21Z1E/B1 - £1589

7)Toshiba Qosmio X770-107 - £1499

8)Acer Aspire Ethos 8951G - £1499

Alienware M14x

Alienware m14x
Proper gaming grunt in a portable package. Can it be done? If anyone can pull it off, it's Alienware – now backed by the might of Dell. Thanks to its 14.1-inch LCD, this is by far the most compact notebook here. At 2.9Kg, it's the lightest, too. However, at 38mm it's a chunky little customer.
Normally, that's undesirable. But we're talking gaming lappies here and we'll happily sacrifice some slim-line style in return for pixel-pumping prowess.
Thanks to solid construction and backlit keyboard, it's a pretty desirable physical specimen, too. Well, if you can live with the slightly adolescent design vibe. Alienware hasn't made too many compromises in return for that 14-inch form factor.
The screen itself packs 1,600 x 900 pixels. In our view, that would be plenty for a 15- or even 17-inch gaming lappy. Squeezed into 14 inches, the result is a tight pixel pitch and sharp visuals. That said, for nearly £1,800 the panel's TN technology and merely decent image quality are disappointing.
We're not convinced Alienware's choice of a matte screen surface behind a clear plastic cover makes much sense, either. Because the screen itself is matte, you don't get the heightened contrast of a true glossy panel. But thanks to that plastic cover, you do get the reflections. It's the worst of both worlds.

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Medion Erazer X6811

Medion erazer x6811
Despite a retail sticker roughly half the size of the next cheapest system here, the Erazer doesn't scrape the barrel in terms of graphics power. Or system memory: 4GB is likewise perfectly sufficient.
What's more, while the 1,366 x 768 native resolution of the Erazer's 15.6-inch LCD panel might seem stingy in an all-purpose multimedia portable, for gaming it makes sense. More pixels make for much higher workloads and chugtastic frame rates.
We don't even have an issue with the relatively pedestrian Intel Core i5 460M CPU. Okay, it's only got two cores, but they are Sandy Bridge. Anyway, few games can truly leverage the full performance of a multi-core processor: a couple of cores running at a fighting fit 2.53GHz baseclock (2.8GHz Turbo) should be a solid basis for gaming.
Of course, for well under £1,000, something has to give. Physically, there's no mistaking the Erazer's budget positioning. The plastic mouldings masquerading as brushed metal will fool absolutely nobody.


MSI gt780dx
Someone's put some thought into the GT780DX. For starters, this isn't a badge engineering job using a commodity-spec whitebook as a starting point: MSI has commissioned a unique design.
The result isn't going to have Apple rethinking its approach to laptop chassis quality but there is at least a frisson of flair in the multi-coloured (and user configurable) keyboard backlighting, slices of genuine brushed aluminium and bevelled chassis edges.
That keyboard is the result of an alliance with peripherals specialist SteelSeries and is probably the most tactile and satisfying of all our gaming group. Unlike the slightly rattle-prone and spongey boards offered by, for instance, Rock and Medion, this one is solid of base and slick in action.
Speaking of partnerships, MSI has also teamed up with Dynaudio to sort out the sound. The idea is to project it carefully to the user, creating more depth and immersion. Put simply, it works. Although the sheer volume on offer is fairly modest, there's a richness and expansiveness to the soundstage none of the other laptops on test can match.
Another nice touch is the trackpad disable button. If you're serious about serving up some online devastation, you'll be using an external mouse. The last thing you want is accidental trackpad inputs. With the trackpad turned off, that's not going to happen.

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Rock Xtreme 768

Rock xtreme 768
On no account should you consider the Rock Xtreme 786 a routinely luggable lappie. This is an unapologetically heavyweight beast that clocks the scales at nearly four kilos and offers 17.3 inches of liquid crystal goodness. Chuck in a power brick that lives up to the name and you have an ensemble few would want to drag around daily.
Better, then, to think of the Xtreme 786 as transportable rather than portable. The sort of rig that's perfect to take up to uni at the beginning of term or to haul to a friend's house for a special occasion. Just don't imagine you'll be whipping it out for five minutes on the tube.
Of course, Rock isn't entirely responsible for the Xtreme 786's gigantism. The chassis itself hails from none other than everyone's favourite whitebook maker, Clevo. For Clevo aficionados, what we have here is the P170HM model with a few added extras.
As tested, the headline specification is very impressive. Intel's Core i7 2630QM CPU is responsible for general computing duties. And very fit for purpose it is thanks to four cores, eight threads and an appetite to tear holes in computational conundrums.


Rock Xtreme 685

Rock xtreme 685
See something familiar? That's right, the Rock Xtreme 685 is yet another re-badged Clevo whitebook. On the downside, that means the styling is about as exciting as a Conservative Party Conference speech delivered by the Undersecretary of Dullness.
For a 15.6-inch notebook, the 685 is a big old thing, too, with a hefty power supply. Put the two together and you have a dreary looking lump that's also a pretty unpleasant package in terms of portability.
Appearances, however, are deceptive. This thing shifts. Partly, that's because it's got the most powerful processor in this month's group. The Intel Core i7 2820QM is not only clocked a little higher than the quadcore competition with a 2.3GHz nominal clockspeed and 3.4GHz Turbo. It also packs 8MB of cache memory where the Core i7 2630QM makes do with 6MB. All in, it makes the 2820QM about 15 per cent faster than the 2630QM.
In store Rock has also made an effort regards storage performance in the form of a pair of conventional magnetic 500GB hard drives in RAID 0. We'd rather have a smallish SSD and a large conventional drive, frankly. But as spinning magnetic platters in laptops go, Rock's RAID'ed effort is about as good as it gets.

Sony VPC-F21Z1E/BI

Sony vpc-f21z1e/bi
There's a spoiler in every group test. This time round, the prize goes to the Sony F Series. We wish we hadn't seen it. Actually, we're pretty peeved that Sony ever sent us the damned thing.
The problem, you see, is the F Series' screen. More specifically, it's the optional Premium LCD, yours for roughly £150. At 16 inches in diagonal, it's nothing special in terms of size. The 1,920 x 1,080 native resolution is nothing out of the ordinary, either. But the quality of the panel is positively to die for.
Sony in its wisdom doesn't deign to define the precise technology used. Our money is that it's some kind of funky VA panel. Whatever, it clearly isn't TN and it clearly is one of, if not the, most delightful laptop screens it has ever been our pleasure to behold. The colours are massively more vibrant and saturated than the others.
Similarly, it generates the sort of deep, inky blacks you normally only see on a high end desktop monitor. The viewing angles are outstanding, too.

Toshiba Qosmio X770-107

Toshiba qosmio x770-107
Dell's Alienware sub-brand aside, the big boys don't normally go after the gaming dollar. Put simply, you chaps are very hard to please and it's typically judged not worth the bother. Hats off to Toshiba, therefore, for having a crack at it. As it happens, we'd been hoping the X770 would mark a return to form for Toshiba.
Five or six years ago, it made some of our favourite desktop replacement systems, you see: quality items with fantastic screens, gorgeous chassis and top notch performance. Enter the X770, therefore, with its 17.3-inch form factor and totally in-your-face styling.
For starters the keyboard is backlit in a moody shade of red. Then there's the liquid-metal effect chassis. Like it or loathe it, it certainly isn't dull. The key specs are tasty, too. The familiar Intel Core i7 2630QM quad-core processor makes another appearance, backed up by 8GB of RAM and a pair of 500GB, 7,200rpm hard drives.
The optical drive is Blu-ray write capable, too. Oh, and the whole shebang is ready to pump out stereoscopic 3D in games and movies thanks to a pair of Nvidia 3D vision goggles in USB trim and 120Hz refresh support.

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Acer Aspire Ethos 8951G

This out-sized Acer is all about the screen. Spanning an immense 18.4 inches, it's no surprise that it ponies up the full-HD pixel count of 1,920 x 1,080. It's about as big as laptop LCDs get. That makes the Ethos a very plausible desktop replacement system. With a panel this big, you won't feel constrained.
On the downside, it makes for a bonkers-big machine that stretches the concept of portability to snapping point. The biggest downer of all, however, is the quality of the panel itself. It just pips the Medion Erazer for the dubious accolade of worst on test this month. In fact, we're surprised anyone is manufacturing panels this poor in what is a pretty rarefied size and form factor. It's the worst sort of old-school TN panel, complete with feeble contrast, washed out blacks and narrow viewing angles.
And that's a shame, because in many regards this has plenty going for it. For starters, of our octet of silicon-powered slabs, this is probably the best looking beast. Acer has combined solid plastics with slices of bona fide brushed metal to deft overall effect.

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MSI gt780dx
We all began with the assertion that graphics is the single most important element in any gaming laptop. That's very nearly how it turned out. If anything, in the context of laptops with stereoscopic 3D support, good graphics is even more critical than we thought.
The key offender here is the Toshiba Qosmio X770. Unlike the Sony F Series, which is also 3D enabled, the Qosmio styles itself as an out-and-out gaming rig. In many ways, it's bang on target. But by slotting in the mid-range Nvidia GeForce GTX 560M GPU instead of a high-end 3D chip, Toshiba has ended up with a laptop that makes no sense at all. As a gamer, you'd be bonkers to spend £1,500 on such an imbalanced rig.

Wondrous screen

The Sony F Series is next to fall. Sony doesn't pretend that it's a full-on gaming machine. And we'll have a hard time forgetting that wondrous screen. But there's little else to recommend it.

As for the Acer Aspire Ethos, there are lots of interesting ideas going on, such as the pop-out track pad. The chassis is nicely designed, too. But thanks to an awful screen and weak graphics performance, it's not one we can recommend.
From here on in, things get a lot tighter. The idea of a compact, ultraportable gaming rig is right up our alley. Alienware's M14x mostly delivers on that promise. At nearly £1,800, however, it's painfully expensive. For that price, we'd want a much better screen and a more powerful GPU. As it is, you'd need money to burn to buy the M14x.

Excellent value

Next up is the Medion Erazer. In absolute terms, the screen is poor, the CPU a little second rate and the graphics performance middling at best. But when you factor in a retail sticker that's nearly half the price of every other laptop here, it starts to look like darned good value.
Rock's Xtreme 786, on the other hand, is hardly what you'd call cost effective at nearly £1,800 on the nose. However, it is a monstrously powerful system with one of the fastest mobile graphics chips you can buy, a huge screen and stereoscopic 3D support. With a better chassis, it would have scored even higher.
The same goes for Rock's Xtreme 685. Thanks to AMD Radeon HD 6990M graphics, it's clearly the fastest gaming laptop on test. If maximum performance matters to you most, don't bother with the rest.
But if you factor in other metrics including cost, design, value and sheer desirability, there can be only one winner in our best gaming laptop group test. It's not the fastest system. It doesn't have the best screen or the most powerful graphics chip. It doesn't even support stereoscopic 3D or have an SSD. But it is the best overall package.
It's the only laptop here with a design that goes the extra mile to give gamers a better experience. And it's a very worthy winner. Give it up for MSI's GT780DX.

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