Jan. 2012 update: This article was originally published a few months ago, in the middle of 2011, and surprisingly little has changed considering the usually rapid development in the tech industry. As of CES 2012, we have seen some progress from Toshiba in the way of glasses-free 3D gaming, but Nvidia’s 3D Vision solution is still dominating and arguably your safest bet.
The other major graphics card manufacturer AMD also has a viable solution, which is similar to Nvidia’s in that it uses active-shutter 3D glasses and a 120Hz display (as opposed to the normal 60Hz) to render an additional dimension in your games.
With a display that has double the standard refresh rate it is able to send every other image to your left and right eye, respectively. Every laptop being sold as a 3D laptop will of course be equipped with this type of display, but it’s important to know that for a laptop to run games in 3D, it must be equipped with a special panel right from the start. The only option for getting 3D on another laptop would be to use an external display or compatible 3D television.
We have taken a look at what’s available as of early 2012 with an emphasis on gaming–i.e., if it doesn’t have a decent graphics card it won’t be listed here. This is even more important in 3D gaming laptop, since there’s a certain amount of overhead (and performance loss) when the laptop has to calculate the 3D visuals. A figure that has been floating around is somewhere around 30%, so the faster the GPU, the better.
1. Alienware M17x 3D Edition
This is currently the king of 3D gaming laptops as far as we’re concerned, and that’s only because the Alienware M18x has no 3D option. The reason is that it offers the option for the fastest NVIDIA graphics card, the GTX 580M, along with a 3D Vision kit from the same manufacturer. Consequently, when fully loaded with the top GPU, the M17x R3 is compatible with most current games and will turn out excellent frame rates even in 3D mode at high resolution.
2. ASUS G74SX-3DE
The ASUS Republic of Gamers G74SX 3D Edition (3DE) offers the very same 3D solution as the Alienware M17x R3 3D, with the drawback that it can’t be upgraded to the much faster GTX 580M GPU from NVIDIA. It comes pre-configured with an NVIDIA GTX 560M (same as the base model of the M17x), which is nevertheless quite a powerful graphics card. On top of that, it comes with a quad-core CPU, backlit keyboard, Blu-ray burner and an attractive design. If you are planning on getting a 3D laptop with a GTX 560M anyway, the G74SX is just as good a choice as the M17x.
3. Toshiba Qosmio X775 3D
This laptop is not to be confused with the new Toshiba F755, which is the glasses-free 3D laptop from Toshiba and unfortunately only equipped with a GT 540M GPU. The 3D version of the Qosmio X755 is instead a “conventional” 3D laptop with more or less the same hardware as the aforementioned machines. This one also comes with a GTX 560M graphics card, an optional quad-core CPU and of course the necessary 120Hz display plus active shutter glasses.
4. Dell XPS 17 3D
Now we are past the top-tier 3D gaming laptops with the most powerful hardware and move on to the slightly less expensive alternatives (relatively speaking), but ones that still have enough muscle to produce playable frame rates in three dimensions. One of them is the 3D version of the Dell XPS 17. This one can be configured with an NVIDIA GT 555M, which is not quite as fast as the GTX 560M but fast enough for inclusion in the Alienware M14x, so it is by no means a slow graphics card. The 3D solution is again the one from Nvidia; a 120Hz display coupled with active shutter glasses, which is the most competent and versatile alternative at the moment.
5. HP Envy 17 3D
HP has opted for a different approach by using an AMD graphics card, but still with the same tried-and-tested active shutter technology even if it does not come with the same 3D Vision kit as the other laptops on this page. To be more specific, the Envy 17 3D uses TriDef 3D Ignition software, which currently supports around 600 titles and continuously adds new game profiles. The GPU is a Radeon HD 7690M, so it is quite capable of playing the latest games, but when playing them in 3D it is usually necessary to lower the detail settings. What puts the Envy 17 3D apart from the rest, however, is its stunning design and comparatively slim dimensions for a 17-inch desktop replacement.
There’s no doubt that the top 3 on this list are the laptops that are configurable with the fastest hardware, but the other two are certainly not slow either. 3D gaming laptops have been around since NVIDIA launched its 3D Vision concept at CES 2009, and although the 3D technology itself hasn’t changed much in the last couple of years, the hardware that is powers it has become much more capable in general–something that is particularly noticeable in laptops. The result is an improved gaming experience when playing in 3D, but on the whole we will probably have to wait a few more years before the extra spacial dimension is included as a standard feature in mainstream laptops.