The Best Gaming Laptops 2019
The Surface Book 2’s feature set includes some of the best hardware you can get in a 13-inch form factor, combined with a screen that detaches from the base for those times you need a portable tablet. There haven’t been many standout convertible laptop releases this year and Microsoft’s Surface is excellent, so we are once again recommending it even though it’s not the most affordable option for everyone.
When you choose the Core i7 model, you get Intel’s top-end Kaby Lake Refresh CPU, the Core i7-8650U, but on top of that you also get a GeForce GTX 1050 discrete GPU, which is much more powerful than the MX150 we typically see in these sort of devices. That extra power does help to drive the gorgeous, high-resolution 3000×2000 13.5-inch LCD, which features a 3:2 aspect ratio that’s awesome for productivity apps.
The list of features doesn’t stop there. The touchscreen display supports the best active stylus in the business, the Surface Pen, which is a $100 optional extra but is definitely worth it for those that like to annotate and draw. The magnesium chassis is one of the best you can get on any laptop, and it now includes USB-C, though there’s no Thunderbolt 3 support. The battery life is also quite good for a laptop that’s so powerful.
Microsoft hasn’t yet updated the Surface Book 2 to use Intel’s newer Whiskey Lake CPUs, but Kaby Lake Refresh is very close in terms of performance, so it’s not a big deal.
Our favorite configuration of the Surface Book 2 would be the 13-inch model at $2,150, which provides the Core i7, GTX 1050, 16GB of RAM and 512GB SSD. It is a very expensive laptop – there are definitely cheaper convertible laptops going around – but you won’t find anything as powerful or well built.
The race really isn’t that close in our opinion: the Surface Book 2 is what you buy when you want the best.
For About Half the Price…
If you want that convertible form-factor and you need a Windows tablet first, full-time laptop second, there’s the original Surface Pro.
Currently on its sixth generation, it’s a proven design that works really well if you see yourself carrying an iPad-like device that runs Windows applications without much fuss. The Surface Pro offers a premium build and design with decent internals that start with a Core i5, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD for $800 (add to that $100 for the necessary Type Cover).
For those that want to buy an ultraportable system for productivity in the popular 13-inch size category, but also want to do some light gaming on the go. What is the absolute fastest system you can get in this sort of form factor?
It might surprise you how few gaming-capable systems there are with 13″ displays. At one point this was sort of an emerging category, but that quickly evaporated in favor of 15″ portable gaming laptops. What we’ve been left with are plenty of systems with no discrete GPU, and a growing number with Nvidia’s okay but not amazing MX150 and MX250 GPU offerings. The MX150 is good for games that aren’t too GPU demanding like Overwatch, Fortnite and CS GO, but what if you want something with a bit more oomph?
There’s only one option: Microsoft’s Surface Book 2 13.5″. As far as we can tell this is the only laptop on the market of this size to pack a proper GTX 1050 in its chassis. The GTX 1050 remains an entry-level discrete GPU, but it’s easily more than 50% faster than an MX150, which opens up more gaming options at medium and low settings.
The privilege of having a GTX 1050 in a (premium built) 13-inch system comes at a price. Kitting out a Surface Book 2 with the required hardware to get this GPU will set you back $1,750, but you’ll probably want more than 8GB of storage and a 256GB SSD, in which case you’re looking at ~$2,000 for 16GB RAM and 512GB SSD. That’s more than most portable 15-inch gaming laptops for less performance.
With that said, the Surface Book 2 does have a lot of advantages, like the detachable tablet section, full stylus support and a high quality 3000×2000 display which you don’t get with most true gaming laptops. So it’s just a balance of what you might want and how much gaming should factor into your buying decision.