Update August 2016: Nvidia has just announced that the GTX 1080, 1070 and 1060 graphics chips will appear in laptops imminently. Not only this, but they're not cut-down versions: they're the same as their desktop counterparts. This is exciting news, and we'll be reviewing a selection as soon as humanly possible. Given that you can't upgrade a laptop's graphics card, it's worth waiting for these to launch. They're likely to be expensive, so if you have a budget of under £900, you'll find decent options in the list below. When it comes to high-end Windows gaming, we’ve cracked that. It’s a doddle to find a powerful PC system that will play the most arduous of action titles, all day long and at the highest detail on high-resolution displays.
Today’s challenge is now to squeeze that kind of performance into something quiet and portable, a gaming laptop that can be toted as easily as any other modern notebook PC.
We’ve come close with workstation-class gaming behemoths, but they weighed well in excess of 3kg, required a mains brick that brought that mass closer to 5kg, and sounded (and felt) like a salon hair dryer once the on-board cooling kicked in.
Thankfully the two heavyweights in computing silicon, Intel and Nvidia, have come to understand that the demand is now for power efficiency – to make central and graphics processors that carefully sip precious power rather than guzzle it, making their chips run cooler in confined spaces and without the need for huge fans or liquid cooling systems. See all laptops buying advice.
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If you’re looking for a laptop that can take on modern games, the graphics processor is the most influential component, the part that controls whether your game runs at 5 or 50 frames per second. But it does need back up. This means a capable main system processor, enough system RAM to keep applications stored in memory, sizeable and fast drives to store games and other files, a great screen to view the action on – and a good chassis to bear all these components.
Currently Intel and Nvidia are in the ascendent for both listed processor duties, with AMD’s mobile CPUs and graphics processors lagging behind in performance and efficiency.
From Intel, the sixth-generation Core series processors (codename: Skylake) are well suited to the CPU task, being even more power efficient while getting the same amount of work done. One laptop maker - Schenker - has even managed to shoe-horn in a desktop Skylake processor into its XMG U506.
Update August 2016: For graphics processors, things get a little tricky at the moment. Most of the laptops here have chips from Nvidia’s 800 and 900 series. However, the company has just announced that its new GTX 1080, 1070 and 1060 will be available in laptops almost immediately. We're currently in the process of reviewing some of these laptops, but many won't be released for another couple of months. If you're not in a hurry, it's well worth waiting as laptops aren't upgradeable, so you're stuck with the graphics chip you buy, and it's always a good idea to get one from latest generation.
Laptop screens have also improved, with screen resolutions now settling at full-HD, 1920 x 1080 pixels, and using better technology than the basic TN type found on cheap portables. Look out for IPS panels which offer wide and consistent viewing from all angles, better contrast ratio and wider colour gamuts. Don’t be misled by boasts about screen brightness – contrast ratio, especially at lower brightness settings, is far more important than dazzling your eyes with 300cd/m2 figures.
It’s also easier to find screens now with more practical anti-glare finishes, reversing the trend of high-gloss reflective panels that were once unavoidable from most brands. And you can usually ignore the trend for greater-than-HD resolution, since graphics processors struggle with UHD (4K) screens. For most gamers, 1920 x 1080 is a happy compromise between glorious on-screen detail and playable framerates.
For storage, a solid-state drive will greatly improve the user experience when it comes to booting a PC, launching programs and opening and saving files. It won’t make your games run faster, although it may reduce any short pauses between levels. Nevertheless an SSD is always recommended, with the option of a second, traditional capacious hard disk inside to keep your games stored.
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Some gamers like to use headphones or headsets, especially in multi-player settings, but if you don’t anticipate spending your time donning ear defenders you should still find that modern gaming laptops run quieter today. Which means you may get to appreciate the built-in stereo speakers.
Some sport brand badges to suggest bespoke audio systems – we’ve seen B&O, Dynaudio, Harman, Klipsch and Onkyo put their names to tinny laptop speakers recently – although in our experience, to date these are more window dressing, with some of the best sounding laptops bearing no fancy badges.
Battery life is perhaps less a concern for a desktop-replacement type of gaming laptop, although that’s more a historical resignation caused by the long-standing difficulty in combining fast graphics with svelte and mains-dodging laptops.
As we discovered with one model in the following group at least, you can have a powerful gaming machine and stunning battery life, even if the unplugged runtime will dwindle more rapidly once low-power integrated graphics have switched over to hungrier gaming graphics. See how to buy a budget laptop.
With the new academic year about to begin there are some great bargains to be found on tech gadget. Many companies use this season to entice students onto their platforms, which means it’s often possible to save money on the latest laptops, tablets, phones, or software. We’ve gathered together the best deals we could find to ensure that your new term gets off to the best possible start. See also: How to go through clearing online
Microsoft has its own Student Store on the UK website, which includes a decent range of deals and discounts. On the software side there is a University version of the Office365 suite that’s available for £59.99. This price allows you to install Word, Excel and all the other Office apps on two PCs, Macs or tablets, alongside two smartphones.
That’s already a good deal when you compare it to the standard Personal plan, which costs the same and only allows one PC, one tablet, and one smartphone, but the real bargain is that Office 365 University is £59.99 for four years rather than one.
If you’re looking for a new laptop then Microsoft offers students a 10% discount on it’s entire Surface line. This means you can pick up the excellent Surface Pro 4 for as little as £674.10, although you’ll still need to buy a Surface keyboard (£98.99).
Online customers are also currently being offered a £50 Amazon voucher if they buy the Surface Pro 4, and there are deals on a number of laptops too, so it’s worth paying the site a visit. Apple has long had an incentive program for students. To find it you’ll need to visit the Apple website and scroll to the bottom of the page. Here you’ll see a number of light grey options separated by various headings. In the For Education section there’s a link to the Shop for University, click this and you’ll be able to view the deals on offer.
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Apple does require that you set up a free Apple UNiDAYS account, which involves proving your student status, but once this is done Apple states you can save up to £50 on an iPad or £339 on a new Mac. There’s also currently a deal that offers a free pair of Beats Wireless headphones with every eligible Mac, iPad or iPhone.
Best student deals & discounts: Best Amazon deals for students - Amazon Student
Being a student isn’t all about work. Sometimes you need to take a break from pouring over textbooks, a chance to relax, recharge, and binge watch Arrow. One excellent way of doing this is through Amazon’s new Student version of Prime.
For the first six months you get all the normal Prime benefits - Amazon Video, Music, Unlimited photo storage, and free next day delivery - all for free. Then you can continue at half the normal price. So essentially you get Prime for eighteen months and it only costs £39. That’s a great bargain right there.