CES 2019 has made gaming laptops exciting again

Here’s a dirty little secret I’m about to share with you: I’ve never been convinced by gaming laptops. Sure, I’ve used and reviewed some seriously impressive – and powerful – gaming laptops, but they’ve always seemed a bit… pointless.

They are far too bulky and heavy to carry around, with pathetic battery lives that mean you pretty much always need to have them plugged into a power socket. You might as well have a desktop PC.

They are also incredibly expensive, much more so than buying – or, even better, building – a gaming desktop PC. That premium price is because they are supposed to be smaller and more portable than traditional PCs, but as I mentioned above, that’s debatable.

Plus, while mobile hardware has been getting better, allowing gaming laptops to become almost as powerful as desktop PCs, you’re stuck with the components it comes with. While you can swap out and upgrade a desktop PC, a gaming laptop could soon become outdated.

So, yeah. Not a massive fan. But at CES 2019, I’ve finally seen some exciting gaming laptops that directly challenge all my preconceptions and prejudices. Could 2019 finally be the year I ditch my desktop for a gaming laptop? Perhaps…

Thin, light and plenty of battery

First of all, there have been a number of seriously sexy gaming laptops that disprove the notion that these devices need to be big, heavy and ugly.

Asus has done some good work here in the past with its Zephyrus range of gaming laptops, and at CES it showed off the ultra-thin ROG Zephyrus S GX701. At the tech show in Las Vegas, the company has packed some amazing tech into the most compact 17-inch laptop I’ve seen.  

We’re talking Nvidia RTX 2080 graphics, a six-core 8th generation Intel Core i7-8750H processor and up to 24GB of RAM. All in a body that’s just 15.7 inches wide, while also being 18.7mm at its thinnest point.

In fact, Nvidia’s announcement of its mobile versions of its latest RTX graphics cards has meant CES has been flooded with compact laptops that pack some serious power.

New form factors

So, while pretty much every laptop manufacturer now has a thin gaming laptop packed with RTX goodies (even Samsung), it’s still all a bit boring. Thankfully, CES 2019 came to the rescue once again with a number of gaming laptops that try something really new and unexpected with their designs.

First up is Asus with its Mothership GZ700 laptop. Unlike traditional laptops (gaming or otherwise), the components are placed behind the screen, not underneath the keyboard. Speaking of the keyboard, it can be completely detached, turning the Mothership into a kind of crazy-powerful giant Surface laptop for gaming.

It’s great, and I like the fact that Asus has essentially said, “We know you can’t use gaming laptops like normal laptops, so let’s stop pretending you will and just go completely crazy.” More of this please.

Meanwhile, Acer – which has never liked Asus laptops getting all the attention – unveiled the bonkers Predator Triton 900, which packs hugely powerful components, while also placing its large 4K display on a “Ezel Aero Hinge”, which allows the screen to be angled and flipped and all kinds of stuff. 

Does it look crazy? Yep. Will you use it? Probably not. But it’s trying something new, and that’s worth applauding, especially when it comes to the rather conservative world of gaming laptops.

Upgradable gaming laptops

Perhaps my biggest complaint about gaming laptops (just ask anyone who I’ve moaned to about this) is that despite costing huge amounts of money, gaming laptops can’t be easily upgraded. It means that no matter how fast and powerful your gaming laptop is, at some point it’s going to become out of date, and one day obsolete.

With a desktop PC, you can pretty easily upgrade most parts of it throughout the years, meaning it can last a lot longer, and you don’t have to buy the whole thing all over again. After a while, you can simply swap out the graphics card to give it a new lease of life, for example.

So, one of the most exciting announcements of CES 2019 for me was the Alienware Area-51m, which is a powerful gaming laptop that will allow you to upgrade the processor and graphics card later on. The CPU seems easy enough, but I’m not sure how the GPU will be upgraded – you may need to send it off to Dell.

So, not quite as easy as upgrading a desktop PC, but it means this laptop is far more future-proof than other gaming laptops, which is just as well considering the eye-watering $2,549 (about £2,000, AU$3,750) asking price.

So, this CES has left me more excited than ever about gaming laptops. I might not be ready to leave my desktop PC behind just yet when playing the latest games, but if companies continue to innovate in the ways I’ve seen at CES 2019, I’ll be very happy indeed.

  • Check out all of TechRadar's CES 2019 coverage. We're live in Las Vegas to bring you all the breaking tech news and launches, plus hands-on reviews of everything from 8K TVs and foldable displays to new phones, laptops and smart home gadgets.
Matt Hanson
Managing Editor, Core Tech

Matt is TechRadar's Managing Editor for Core Tech, looking after computing and mobile technology. Having written for a number of publications such as PC Plus, PC Format, T3 and Linux Format, there's no aspect of technology that Matt isn't passionate about, especially computing and PC gaming. Ever since he got an Amiga A500+ for Christmas in 1991, he's loved using (and playing on) computers, and will talk endlessly about how The Secret of Monkey Island is the best game ever made.