Help Me, LAPTOP: I Need a Gaming Notebook Under 5 Pounds

Is the MacBook Pro with Retina Display the new king of PC gaming notebooks? Reader Petetor (a victim of Valve’s ludicrously low-priced Steam Summer Sale) bought “Batman: Arkham City” for dirt-cheap and is looking for a gaming rig powerful enough to play it — that weighs less than five pounds.

My current machine, while still pretty good, can’t hope to cope with gameplay like the Batman Arkham series, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Serious Sam 3 or Alan Wake with at least medium settings and decent resolutions. However, the portability it brings to the table (easy to carry around in one hand or in a bag) is a huge plus which I’d like to keep. So, here are the requirements:

It should weigh less than 5 pounds.

Screen resolution should be at least 1600×900.

Graphics capability should be around the level of a GeForce 650M.

Monitor quality: anything better than my current’s (which has bad vertical viewing angles and uneven brightness).

Budget is not necessarily an issue, but of course cheaper would be better. So, do you think that somewhere out there’s a laptop that’s a good fit for me?

The desire to wing your way through the mean streets of Gotham as the Dark Knight, delivering justice to petty thugs with batarangs and well-timed fists to the head, is of course a natural inclination — as is the desire to avoid damaging your spine by lugging around a ten-pound gaming notebook actually capable of playing “Arkham City” on medium settings at more than 30 frames per second. Does a notebook that packs these specs and weighs less than five pounds really exist?

The only notebook that really nails every one of Petetor’s criteria is the MacBook Pro with retina display ($2,199). This 4.46-pound, 0.71-inch-thick beast sports an Nvidia GeForce GT 650M GPU with 1GB of VRAM and a jaw-dropping 2880 x 1800 display. When playing “Arkham City” using Boot Camp, we were able to notch a whopping 115 frames per second with the resolution set to 1366 x 768 and the graphics set to Low — that is, until the game crashed on us. According to our readers, however, the latest beta drivers for the 650M allow “Arkham City” to run on the MacBook Pro, and with excellent frame rates: One reader wrote that he was able to consistently maintain 45 fps with a resolution of 1920 x 1200 and High settings.

However, if Petetor wants excellent graphics and at least a 1600 x 900 display, but isn’t interested in the MacBook Pro, he’s going to have to compromise on weight. We found a number of notebooks powerful enough to handle “Arkham City” that weigh just a bit more than five pounds.

[See More: Top 10 Notebooks Now]

The new Dell XPS 15 ($1,699) delivers on pretty much all of Petetor’s criteria: it sports an Nvidia GeForce GT 640M GPU with 2GB of VRAM and a gorgeous 1920 x 1080p Gorilla Glass display, and weighs just 6 pounds. Unfortunately, the system seemed to struggle when running “Arkham City” as even with the resolution at 1366 x 768 and the graphics set to Low, the notebook managed only 36 fps. Although the latest drivers from Nvidia may increase performance, the XPS 15 isn’t the best choice for playing the latest games.

At 6.3 pounds, the 17-inch Samsung Series 7 Chronos ($1,499) weighs just a bit more than the 15-inch XPS 15 and delivers similar graphics performance. While “Arkham City” looks excellent on its 1920 x 1080 display, the notebook’s Nvidia GeForce GT 650M GPU with 2GB of VRAM managed only 36 frames per second with the resolution at 1366 x 768 and the graphics set to Low.

[See More: The Best & Worst Laptop Brands of 2012]

Of course, we would be remiss if we failed to mention the Alienware M14x R2, a 14-inch powerhouse featuring a 1600 x 900 display and an Nvidia GeForce GT 650M GPU with 2GB of VRAM. Sure, it weighs 6.4 pounds, but this notebook easily cranked out 41 frames per second while playing “Arkham City” at its native resolution and with the graphics set to Low. Unlike with most the systems mentioned above, you could turn on more advanced graphics features and easily maintain a frame rate above 30 fps.

If you have a question about fixing a technical problem or buying a new product, drop us a line at helpme@laptopmag.com and we’ll respond to the most interesting questions in this section.

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