Acer Predator Helios 16 gaming laptop at CES 2023
Justin Duino / How-To Geek

Gaming laptops come in a variety of sizes, and while it may seem like this isn’t the most important decision to make before buying one, it can have a domino effect on every other aspect of your new gaming PC.

14-inch vs. 15-inch vs. 17-inch Gaming Laptops

Gaming laptops, like all laptops, are broadly categorized according to their diagonal screen sizes. While there are many sizes, the most common are 14″ (with a 16:10 aspect ratio), 15.6″, and 17″. The latter two both with a 16:9 aspect ratio.

The screen size of a laptop determines the total footprint of the laptop. In other words, the chassis of the computer that contains the performance components can’t be larger than the screen. It also affects how thick a laptop can be since the proportional thickness of a 17″ laptop is usually more than, for example, a 14″ design.

The amount of volume laptop designers have to work with is crucial. A 17″ gaming laptop has far more room for cooling, expansion options, ports, speakers, and a larger battery than smaller models. If you stuff power-hungry high-performance parts into a 14″ gaming laptop, they’ll underperform because it’s not possible to push enough power into such a small system without it overheating.

There are other considerations as well not directly related to performance. For example, 1080p is far more palatable on a 14″ screen than on a 17″ screen. Keyboard size is important if you want to play any PC games with the built-in keyboard at all.

In short, the size of your gaming laptop determines the size of the playground laptop designers have to work with, so it’s essential to pick the size that’s likely to give you the best mix of mobility and features for your money.

14-inch Gaming Laptops: Ultimate Portable Gaming

The 14-inch gaming laptop size class is the world of minor miracles. Just a few years ago, the idea of a thin and light gaming laptop would have been laughable. Now, advancements in CPU and GPU technology have made it possible to put powerful components in a tiny chassis.

However, you’ll still notice that these laptops don’t do quite as well as larger models in real-world benchmarks. Even when the on-paper specifications are similar. That’s mainly because of the TDP (Thermal Design Power) of these systems. The CPU and GPU are tuned never to put out more heat than the cooling system can manage, and that means they don’t reach their full potential.

The other main concession of 14″ gaming laptops is the most obvious—screen size. While you might have no trouble watching some Netflix on a 14″ screen, some types of PC games may be a little more challenging at this size. Especially games that require quick responses to small on-screen changes common in eSports titles.

RELATED: Buying a Laptop? GPU TDP Is an Important Spec, Here's Why

On the plus side, if you want the power of PC gaming wherever you go and would like it in a form no bulkier than a big iPad, there’s no better solution than this. If you haven’t kept up with 14″ gaming laptop benchmarks, do a little light research, and you’re likely to be blown away.

Razer Blade 14 Gaming Laptop

Crazy specifications packed into a tiny laptop body. There's a reason Razor rules the 14-inch gaming laptop roost.

15.6-inch Gaming Laptops: The All-rounder Champions

The 15.6″ category is the most common one for laptops of all types. Most everyday work laptops are around this size, and it’s no surprise it’s popular. At 15.6″, you have a good balance of portability and usability. It’s a comfortable screen size to see small details such as fine text, but you’ll have no trouble fitting the laptop in your backpack.

15″ gaming laptops like the Razer Blade 15 are probably the best choice for most people, and lately there have been some pretty slim laptops in this form factor too! This is also large enough to fit the largest allowed battery size on an airplane. So going for a larger laptop won’t necessarily net you better battery life.

The main compromise you’re likely to make with gaming laptops in this size category is at the very high end where top-tier CPUs and GPUs need high TDP levels to really shine.

MSI Stealth GS66 15.6

If you need a laptop that won't turn heads in the boardroom, but will light up your gaming life after work, the GS66 Stealth is the only computer you need.

17.3-inch Gaming Laptops: Goodbye Mr. Desktop

The largest readily available laptop size might seem small by desktop monitor standard, but a 17.3″ laptop is rather imposing in person. These large laptops are really portable rather than mobile, and you wouldn’t want to use one on your actual lap.

MSI Titan GT77 17.3

With sky-high TDPs and no-comprimises in cooling or performance, the Titan GT77 makes the only reason not to ditch your desktop a matter of price.

More often than not, these large laptops are intended as desktop replacement systems. With plenty of room for components, the highest-performing gaming laptops are in this size class. This is also where you’ll find quiet cooling systems (thanks to larger fans), more space for memory and storage expansion, the best built-on speakers, and so on. This isn’t true for every individual model of 17.3″ laptop of course,  but if you want a system that doesn’t require external peripherals at a desk, it’s almost certainly here.

Razer Blade 17 Gaming Laptop

The 2022 Razer Blade 17 is a true weapon with few compromises. This is a great desktop replacement system that handles just about everything, but you'll sacrifice some mobility for it.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

There are in-between sizes in the gaming laptop space as well and sometimes these laptops can offer a more nuanced in-between experience compared to the three popular sizes noted above. What should be clear is that you should think carefully about which gaming laptop size will best suit your needs.

It can be tempting to buy a high-performance 17″ laptop only to realize that you never want to take it with you because of the bulk, or you might regret getting a 14″ gaming laptop because the screen is just too small to comfortably play the titles you enjoy. In many cases, the first decision you should make before looking at any other specification is the physical size and shape of the laptop, to ensure it (literally) fits your lifestyle.

The Best Gaming Laptops of 2023

Lenovo Legion 7i
Best Gaming Laptop Overall
Lenovo Legion 7i
ASUS TUF Dash 15
Best Budget Gaming Laptop
ASUS TUF Dash 15
Acer Nitro 5
Best Gaming Laptop Under $1,000
Acer Nitro 5
HP 14
Best Gaming Laptop Under $500
HP 14
Razer Blade 17 Gaming Laptop (2022)
Best 17-inch Laptop
Razer Blade 17 Gaming Laptop (2022)
Profile Photo for Sydney Butler Sydney Butler
Sydney Butler has over 20 years of experience as a freelance PC technician and system builder. He's worked for more than a decade in user education and spends his time explaining technology to professional, educational, and mainstream audiences. His interests include VR, PC, Mac, gaming, 3D printing, consumer electronics, the web, and privacy. He holds a Master of Arts degree in Research Psychology with a focus on Cyberpsychology in particular.
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