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Help Me, LAPTOP: I Want A Gaming Rig Under $1700

Gaming systems run the gamut from the 11-inch Alienware M11x to the 18-inch Toshiba Qosmio X505 and have an even wider price range. So how much system do you need to run World of Warcraft at maximum resolution? Drew wrote in to ask us exactly that. He also does some work with autoCAD, Google's SketchUp modeling program, and Photoshop so he'd want his system to handle those programs, too.

Drew writes:

I am here to ask you about a gaming laptop.

Budget: I am able to spend is about $1700, I will be using this for a desktop SOMETIMES for work for doing 3D design work and some CAD programing. And also will be replacing my dinosaur personal desktop to play WoW(ohh nose!) and some web browsing.

Laptop must be capable of running WoW at close if not at MAX settings, have a back-lit keyboard(its difficult finding the cheap custom builders with them) and pretty much be able to handle day to day tasks. I will take either a 15" or 17" doesn't matter, but nothing smaller then 15".

Drew also told us that a backlight keyboard is a must have. Since he''ll be spending a lot of money on his system, we definitely recommend future-proofing it by making sure there's USB 3.0 port, full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution, and, if he's okay with trading off space for speed, a solid state drive. While this may sound like a tall order, you can get a lot of notebook for $1700.We suggest looking at the ASUS G73SW, which features an Intel Core i7 processor, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 460M graphics card, a 17.3-inch display with 1920 x 1080 resolution, a USB 3.0 port, and a backlit keyboard. While it isn't available with an SSD, it does have two drive bays each loaded with a 500GB hard drive for a total of 1TB of space. When we reviewed the G73SW, our major complaints were the stiff keyboard and short battery life, but those are outweighed by its excellent graphics performance, wide viewing angles, cool temperatures, and excellent webcam. The configuration we tested runs $1784, which is slightly above Drew's budget, but we've seen it for as low as $1655 online.

If the ASUS G73SW's keyboard is a turn off, check out the MSI GT660, which has a quad-core Intel Core i7 processor, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 285M graphics card, and, unlike the ASUS, plenty of pulsing lights around the lid, deck and keybord. Just like the ASUS, it has excellent gaming prowess, plus we found the GT660's speakers to be extra loud and clear. While it features not one, but two USB 3.0 ports for your data transferring needs, its resolution is just 1366 x 768. Other configurations of the GT660 with 1920 x 1080 resolution are available, but we're basing on our recommendation on the model we tested. Although the MSI GT660 was $1849 when we reviewed it, it's now available online for just under $1200.

While it's not cheap, it's hard to resist the appeal of the Alienware M17x. The most recent model we reviewed earned a very rare five star rating and our Editors' Choice. However, it was $3,300 as reviewed and included an AMD Radeon HD 6970M GPU with 2GB of DDR5 memory. The base model of the Alienware M17x starts at $1499, much closer to the Drew's $1700 budget. To cut down on costs, we suggest configuring it with the base quad-core Core i7-2630QM processor, a 320GB 7200 rpm hard drive, a 1.5GB Nvidia graphics card,  and a standard DVD burner instead of a Blu-ray player. Keep the 8GB RAM, and the 1920 x 1080 display that were in the model we tested. We priced out this configuration at $1844 through Dell's site. Bear in mind that dropping down to a different processor, different graphics card, and standard hard drive will impact gaming performance, but it will still be more than enough to play World of Warcraft.

Finally, Drew could forgo a gaming-specific laptop altogether and go with the HP Envy 17. This notebook packs a 17.3-inch 1920  x 1080 display, a quad-core Core i7 processor, and ATI Mobility Radeon graphics. While it can't be configured with an SSD, it does have a USB 3.0 port and a backlit keyboard. When we reviewed it, we praised its strong graphics performance and speedy boot time. It also stays within Drew's budget as the unit we tested was just $1599. While it's not a traditional gaming machine, it does have a separate number keypad for easily navigating in World of Warcraft. Speaking of that game, the Envy 17 played it 1920 x 1080 resolution at 96 frames per second.

World of Warcraft isn't as demanding a game as many others on the market, but it's a good benchmark to keep in mind when looking for a system with graphics oomph and it's one of the tests we run on almost every laptop that comes through our door. If you'd like more information on how we test notebooks at LAPTOP, click here.

We hope we've been able to help Drew make a decision on his next gaming rig.