June 24, 2012, 7:03 AM — Whether it's killing zombies or pitching a perfect baseball game, top-notch gaming has always demanded the fastest systems and best graphics. You want a high-end computer? Look at what gamers are buying and you'll have it.
Once the exclusive preserve of desktop computers or stationary gaming consoles, a new generation of notebooks is now offering enough speed and power to satisfy the inner gamer in all of us.
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But what is the current state of the art? To find out, I gathered together three of the hottest gaming laptops on the market today: the Eurocom Panther 4.0, Hewlett-Packard's Envy 17 and the MSI GT783.
Each comes with a high-resolution 17.3-in. screen, a performance-oriented graphics engine with at least 1GB of dedicated video memory, a Core i7 processor and a minimum of 12GB of RAM.
Big, beautiful and hot -- literally
When you talk about mobile gaming equipment, the word "mobile" has to be taken with a grain of salt. These are not laptops that you casually pop into your backpack. The heaviest is the Eurocom Panther, weighing in at a cumbersome 12.1 lb. The 8.6-lb. MSI GT783 is next in line, while the lightweight of the group is HP's Envy 17, which weighs 7.6 lb.
And don't forget that they need power: Each has a large AC adapter that weighs more than a pound. In fact, when gaming gets intense -- when you're surrounded by the enemy and spinning around with your blaster going -- the Panther uses so much power that it requires two 3.5-lb. AC adapters, bringing its total travel weight to more than 19 pounds, enough for the system to qualify as a piece of gym equipment.
All that power ends up as waste heat inside the system's case. As a result, these gaming notebooks risk losing their cool when the on-screen action heats up. All three of the notebooks reviewed here have elaborate heat sinks and one to four internal fans. When the gaming gets hyperactive, it can sound like a duel between vacuum cleaners.
But what do true gamers think?
To get another perspective on this topic, I convinced a group of high-school-age gaming enthusiasts from The Masters School of Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., to play with these high-performance notebooks. (It didn't take a lot of convincing.) They played several games, manipulated 3-D models and watched HD videos -- all, of course, in the name of science. Their reactions accompany each review.
At between $1,685 and $5,290, these are among the most expensive portable computers around. Are they worth it? It depends on how important good gaming is to you.