Finding suitable gaming laptop is a hard task, especially with so many options in the market. Here’s a guide to help you make an informed decision.
People love portability; everyone loves powerful, hardware. These two basic customer requirements piloted the advent of the segment we now know as ‘Gaming Laptops.’ This demand resulted in the industry, launching product after product within this sector of the market. However, the astounding number of options makes it hard to choose a laptop that actually delivers value for money, without compromising on your gaming experience.
A ‘Gaming’ Laptop? Really?
Before proceeding further, let me get one fact straight before our beloved PC warriors pick up their pitchforks. Even though laptops have come a long way in terms of portability, power, and performance, they still cannot compare to the gaming experience on a desktop. This is due to PC hardware developing, just as fast, if not faster than laptops – hence, managing to stay a couple of steps ahead at all times.
Nonetheless, people do need portable devices at times. It might be a college student or a professional who has to travel a lot. Are individuals with a passion for gaming supposed to stop, just because they cannot carry their gigantic desktops everywhere?
Gaming Laptops are targeted toward the populace that requires reasonable computing power on the move.
I fit the bill. How do I choose one?
Now, let me come to the part where I help you make the right choice when selecting one of these gaming laptops.
Generally, gaming is CPU, GPU, and memory intensive. In short, the 3 costliest parts of the laptop need to be top-notch. Many people tend to make the mistake of giving one component more importance than they give to the other. Invariably, this causes a bottleneck in the laptop as any computer can only perform as fast as its slowest hardware component.
Of course, this will cause a significant inflation in the price tags of these products. However, make sure that you spend your money on the right laptop.
I will address a few factors (features) that you need to consider before deciding on a laptop you want to buy:
1. Size & weight
With great power, comes…great size. Sadly, this is true in almost all cases. As the performance capability of a laptop increases, the size increases to accommodate the excess heat dissipated by the powerful hardware.
If you don’t mind lugging around a huge laptop or just need to place your laptop at a certain location, semi-permanently, then you can get the best hardware, without worrying about the size and weight of the laptop.
However, if you are bothered by size and require significant portability, then you have two options. Consider buying a desktop for gaming, or compromise on your gaming experience with marginally inferior performance and hardware with a more portable gaming laptop.
2. Screen Size & Resolution
Who doesn’t love gorgeous 4K displays and large screens? Any gamer worth his salt will instantly prefer larger, high-resolution displays. However, when it comes to gaming laptops, there’s a catch.
I have watched people around me repeatedly fall for this marketing ploy. Gaming laptops do offer high-resolution, 4K, 2K, and full-HD displays. However, what manufacturers conveniently fail to mention is – the laptop hardware is not robust enough to run games at that high a resolution. So there you are, with a beautiful 4K display on a laptop that gives you 10 FPS (60 is considered playable by hardcore gamers, while casual gamers are happy with 30) on the latest game release.
If you have to drop your resolution to achieve playable FPS, then what is the point of paying the premiums that these screens always carry? Keep in mind that running and rendering games at higher resolutions, such as 4K, requires the best hardware available in the market.
Although one could argue that, the multimedia (movies, shows) experience would be worth the premium paid – it is an entirely personal choice. However, the argument only makes sense if you have a steady source of high-resolution multimedia content, without the means to play it already.
3. CPU / Processor
Intel currently dominates the high-performance CPU market. Although the impending AMD Ryzen release offers some hope for a competitive market, Intel monopolizes the CPUs in gaming laptops, for the time being at least.
I have found many people just ignoring the power of their CPU, concentrating on GPU, portability, and even screen sizes or resolutions. This is a fatal mistake if you want a high-performance gaming laptop. Even though a GPU does play a vital role in the performance of a game on a laptop, do not disregard the importance of a powerful CPU.
A few simple rules for you to follow when researching CPUs in a potential gaming laptop purchase:
a: Steer clear of any laptop model with an Intel CPU that has the suffix ‘U’ or ‘T.’ These CPUs are optimized for battery life, which translates to sub-par performance – not what you need for gaming. For example – Intel Core i7-7600U.
b: Never settle for any CPU model below the Core i7 brand name. If you follow rule (a) in addition to this rule, then your processor will have 4 physical cores – offering a significant performance bump over the dual core models. However, a casual gamer can make do with a Core i5 as well, but a Core i3 is still a strict no-no.
c: Do not get sold for ‘Turbo Boost’ promises of higher clock speeds. Remember that unlike desktops, laptops heat up faster. This results in the CPU running closer to the base clock than the promised turbo boost speeds over longer periods.
The GPU or the Graphics Processing Unit handles a significant amount of heavy lifting during gaming. As the GPU manages all graphics intensive tasks such as rendering, textures, etc., I cannot stress the importance of this part of a gaming laptop enough.
In this hardware segment, NVidia and AMD, both offer high to medium performance chips. To make it easier, I will list the popular GPU models, depending on various gaming requirements.
a) The hardcore laptop gamer – Requires blistering FPS at high screen resolutions (2K and above) with all graphical eye-candy maxed out. Suggested GPU Models: NVidia GTX 1080 (laptop), NVidia GTX1070 (laptop), NVidia GTX 980M. AMD GPUs, unfortunately, do not compare to these high-end NVidia offerings at this time.
b) The midrange laptop gamer – Needs blistering FPS at all costs, doesn’t need graphical settings maxed, and can settle for lower resolutions if needed. Suggested GPU Models: NVidia GTX 970M, NVidia GTX 1060 (laptop), AMD Radeon RX570, AMD Radeon RX470, NVidia GTX 960M, NVidia GTX 850M. Gaming laptops with these chips will offer a mid-range performance to gamers. You will have to compromise on either resolution (lower than 4K) or graphics settings.
c) The casual or indie laptop gamer – Rarely plays big title games on their laptop. They usually have a separate desktop for gaming or no interest in big title games at all. Require smooth gameplay, and do not need nor expect high graphics settings, resolutions, etc. Suggested GPU Models: Intel Iris Pro 5200, NVidia GT 840M, NVidia GT 850M, AMD Radeon R9 M375, NVidia GT 940M.
5. Memory or RAM
Gaming Laptops usually provide plenty of memory (RAM), as it is cheaper than the other hardware components mentioned above. Nonetheless, please make sure that ANY gaming laptop you buy should not be bundled with lower than 8 GB of RAM.
Although the amount of RAM your laptop can need will vary depending on your requirements, if the most intensive task you are going to perform is gaming – 8 GB is a safe number that should allow all games to run smoothly.
Upwards of 8 GB RAM ensures the smooth functioning of the operating system, browsers, and games, with leeway for multitasking as well.
6. Battery Life
This is literally the last feature to focus on if you want a laptop that can play all the latest game releases without breaking a sweat. Powerful hardware draws more power – it’s as simple as that. If battery life is a significantly important feature for you, then the gaming laptop category is the wrong segment to browse.
Most gaming laptops offer anywhere between 2-6 hours of battery life. This varies with the tasks being run on the laptop during that time. Watching movies, for example, will use lesser power than playing a game.
Unfortunately, some gaming laptops do offer all the above features – brilliant hardware, more than enough RAM, great battery life, but they heat up like a bag of coals as soon as you run anything CPU/GPU intensive on the laptop.
When hardware parts heat up, they start underperforming to avoid any damage to the component. Think of it this way – you’re in the middle of an exciting game, working fluidly. Thirty minutes in, you start seeing stuttering, dropping frame rates, and at worst a dreaded blue screen.
Although a notebook cooler does alleviate this issue marginally, it does not solve it.
However, my biggest gripe is not the existence of this problem; it is the difficulty in assessing this particular problem, before the purchase of a laptop. There’s no way to uncover a heating problem/issue without either using it yourself or hearing it from someone who has used that exact gaming laptop model.
8. SSD/HDD (Solid State Drive or a simple Hard Drive)
You should know by now, faster or hardware that is more powerful is better for gaming. Well, not for this particular hardware component. Don’t get me wrong – I personally use an SSD, but you should understand what exactly it improves before deciding you need one.
An SSD improves the speed of data read and write. Hence, this significantly improves the time taken for the game, map, or scenario to load. However, it has little to no impact on the actual in-game performance.
Thus, if you are on a budget and don’t mind waiting a few extra seconds, you don’t really need an SSD. On the other hand, if you’re impatient and have a sizeable budget, then go ahead and splurge on an SSD. However, its importance is minimal from the gaming point of view, so make sure that you research the other components (CPU, GPU, RAM, screen, etc.) extensively before deciding on this one.
Considering the huge game sizes nowadays, opting for a hard disk with a capacity lower than 1TB (1024 GB) is sure to cause you grief down the line. Moreover, juggling external hard drives is never fun.
I recommend gaming laptops having a minimum 1 TB Hard Disk with an added SSD if you feel the need for one.
If you’re a hardcore gamer AND want a laptop as your sole gaming machine, be prepared to spend a small fortune on the perfect one. Make sure that companies’ marketing tactics never fool you into ending up with sub-par hardware for a bloated price.
A powerful CPU, GPU, and a healthy amount of RAM are necessary. Heating issues, if any, must be researched thoroughly before purchase.
You should find a suitable gaming laptop if you keep all the above features and factors in mind during your pre-purchase research.