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The Three Best Ultraportables for Gaming

written by: M.S. Smith•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 10/22/2010

Most gaming laptops are huge, and that's normally fine. But if you're a traveler AND a gamer, what can you do? Let's take a look at three ultraportable laptops that are also great for gaming

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    Best Small Notebook for Laptop Gaming

    Gaming laptops are usually big, massive, beefy systems that ooze adrenaline, neon lights and, occasionally, energy drinks. That’s fine for many users, as many gaming laptops are only moved between LAN parties and desks belonging to friends.

    But what if you really need a laptop that can play games and is also mobile? What if you need a laptop that can be used to enjoy World of Warcraft at reasonable detail settings but also can be used to work on a presentation while on a flight? While the stereotypical gamer is still a teenage boy, the true average gamer is 32 years old, and he or she has work to do.

    Let’s take a look at a few laptops that can play many modern games without sacrificing battery life and portability.

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    Alienware M11x

    Best small notebook laptop for gaming Built for gaming from the very start, the Alienware M11x is a tiny hot-rod system with an 11.6” display and netbook form-factor that remains capable of playing most modern games at medium detail settings or higher. Although the M11x is heavy for a laptop of its size (it weighs about 4.5 pounds) it is still very portable.

    There are numerous processor options available including older Core 2 Duo and newer Core i5/i7 based CULV processors. All M11x laptops come with Nvidia GT 335M graphics, and the Optimus graphics switching technology is included. This makes it possible to enjoy games but also use the M11x for about five hours on battery (your exact battery life will depend on the processor you choose).

    The M11x is the best gaming laptop listed here, but it is also the worst general-purpose laptop. The keyboard is bad, the ergonomics generally sub-par, and it just won’t work if you need a laptop that looks professional. Still, the M11x starts at $799 and is a good choice for an on-the-go gamer.

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    Apple MacBook / MacBook pro 13.3”

    MacBook Gaming Laptop You may not think of the MacBook has a gaming laptop, but it is actually well equipped for a laptop of its size. The 320M graphics are integrated, which means they share system memory. But the GPU itself is powerful, and the 2.4 GHz Core 2 Duo processor isn’t bad either. This means that the MacBook can obtain a 3D Mark 06 score of about 4700, far above the norm for a 13.3” laptop.

    Mac OS X is not a very good operating system for gaming, but you can always install Windows on the system and use it exclusively for gaming. This gives you the best of both worlds – you can enjoy Windows compatibility in games and also take advantage of the superior sleep functionality and low battery life made available by OS X. Of course, you’ll need to install Windows on the machine first, which will cost you extra if you don’t happen to have a spare Windows key hanging around.

    The basic white MacBook 13.3” costs $999, while the MacBook Pro is $1199. The main difference is the RAM – the base MacBook has only 2GB, which is adequate but not ideal. Of course, Apple also now offers the new MacBook Air models in both 11.6” and 13.3” formats, but the lack of optical drive and small hard drives on these systems makes a dual-boot system less manageable.

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    Sony Vaio Z

    Best small gaming laptop When it comes to engineering solid, reliable laptops, few companies can match Sony. The company’s base level models, such as the E series, provide some of the best keyboards in the low-end market and are available in eye-catching colors.

    The high end is where Sony really starts to impress, however. The Sony Vaio Z is the company’s flagship ultraportable. It is a 13.1” laptop that manages to weigh under 3 pounds and remain less than an inch thick through most of the chassis. Battery life is better than six hours in most usage scenarios, as well.

    Yet the Sony Vaio Z also provides incredible processing power. The basic model comes with a Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, a 128GB solid-state hard drive and a display resolution of 1600x900. Upgrades to Core i7 processor and larger hard drives are readily available. Better yet, all models come with Nvidia GT 330M mobile graphics with a unique switching feature that functions via an actual physical switch on the unit. The only problem is the price – it starts at $1799 and goes up from there.