Game on: 3 high-performance laptops duke it out

We test the Eurocom Panther 4.0, HP Envy 17 and MSI GT783 to find out which will get gamers to the finish line fastest.

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.

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.

And while these systems aren't bad, the best is yet to come. By late summer, look for an onslaught of Ivy Bridge-based gaming systems that will increase processor performance by roughly 20% while using less power than current CPUs. That could mean less heat and fewer cooling fans, so we can hopefully turn back the tide of alien conquest in peace and quiet.

(Story continues on next page.)

3 gaming laptops: Features

Eurocom Panther 4.0 HP Envy 17 MSI GT783-625US
Dimensions (HxWxD) 2.6 x 16.8 x 11.4 in. 1.4 x 16.3 x 10.7 in. 2.4 x16.6 x 10.7 in.
Weight 12.1 lb. 7.6 lb. 8.6 lb
Processor/Speed range Intel Core i7 3960X/3.3-3.9GHz Intel Core i7 2670QM/2.2-3.1GHz Intel Core i7 2670QM/2.2-3.1GHz
Graphics card/VRAM Nvidia GeForce GTX 580M/2GB AMD Radeon HD7690XT/1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX580M/2GB
Screen size/resolution 17.3 in. 17.3 in. 17.3 in.
Screen resolution 1920 x 1080 1920 x 1080 1920 x 1080
Memory 16GB 12GB 16GB
Storage One 750GB HD, two 120GB SSDs 750GB HD 750GB HD, 128GB SSD
Ports 3 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0, e-SATA, FireWire 800, DisplayPort, DVI, HDMI-out, headphone, microphone, SPDIF, line-in, ExpressCard 34/54, SD card 3 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0, HDMI, 2 DisplayPort, 2 headphone, microphone, SD card 2 USB 3.0, 3 USB 2.0, HDMI-out, VGA, e-SATA, microphone, headphone, audio, SD card
Communications Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11n, Bluetooth Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11n, Bluetooth Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11n, Bluetooth
Warranty/upgrade to 3 years 1 year/$300 2 years/$168 1 year/$200
Price $5,290 $1,685 $2,600
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