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I’ve never been a fan of gaming laptops. So the question of what a good gaming laptop may be isn’t one I’ve thought about much. These days, however, it’s clear that things have changed.
The biggest change that swayed my mind towards the idea that a good gaming laptop is even possible is the fact that Nvidia’s latest GPUs no longer have “M” or mobile variants. Of you buy a laptop with a GTX 1060 you get the same chip as the one on desktop cards.
That’s pretty amazing and a testament to power efficiency and thermal control. Sure these cards can’t go quite as fast because of cooling limits. But you can get within 10% of the stock desktop GPU, which is a true revolution.
Asking the Right Questions
In this article, I’m going to outline a series of questions that you have to ask yourself before swiping that credit card. There are many different kinds of laptops that are billed as “gaming” laptops. On top of this, there are laptops that will do just fine for your gaming needs but aren’t sold for that purpose.
These questions should help you make sense of how well certain products are going to fit what you really need.
The Games You Play
The first question you have to ask yourself is what games you intend to play on the laptop. The required and recommended specifications that your games have are a good guide as to what specs you should look for. A good gaming laptop is primarily one that will play the games you want to play.
Do I Really Need to Game on the Go?
Gaming laptops command a much higher premium than mainstream laptops. They also cost a lot more than a desktop gaming PC with the same specs. So ask yourself if you really need to take you PC gaming on the go.
These days we have great games on phones, tablets and handheld consoles like the Switch, Vita or 3DS. Do you honestly need to game on battery power?
If what you want is portability rather than mobility, maybe it’s a better idea to invest in an ITX computer? It’s an option to consider.
Gaming components are hot and hungry, even the latest ones. So the size of a laptop will dictate things such as thermal dynamics and how big the speakers can be.
The key here is deciding which size is going to be the most usable for you. If you are moving from one desk to another at a hotel or something, then a 17-inch monster is fine.
If however you actually want to use the laptop as a mobile computer then you may want to seriously consider something like the Razer Blade gaming ultrabook instead.
More and more laptops are offering 4K resolution as an option and you may be tempted by that possibility. I’ll say it clearly: don’t do this. Always go for 1080p.
Even the mighty GTX 1080 is not up to the job of running games at 4K, which means you’ll be forced to play at non-native resolutions. This almost never looks very good and you should always try to use the native resolution of a screen to get the crispest details.
The only reason to opt for a 4K screen is if you are a video professional who edits 4K content or need the screen real estate for some reason. Although, even on a 17″ screen 4K is hard to appreciate anyway.
The GPU is the most important gaming component. Take the most graphically intensive game you plan on playing and look at the recommended GPU specification. That GPU should be the hear of the machine you choose.
If you don’t care to run games at ultra or even high settings, you can of course scale back a few steps.
Refresh Sync Technology
Laptops with a syncing technology matched to the GPU brand are well worth considering since this eliminates ugly screen tearing without adding lag or otherwise affecting the experience.
In Nvidia’s case, it’s known as G-sync and AMD call it FreeSync. It’s a good thing to have, believe me.
A Sound Choice
Are you going to mainly use headphones or the speakers built into the machine? These days you can get gaming laptops with 2.1 sound that’s quite decent, but that means a bigger machine. A good solution is to use headphones on the go and regular PC speakers at home.
In Your Interface
Using a gamepad is a good choice for a lot of games, but you’ll still want to play stuff with the keyboard and mouse. The good news is that you can get laptops with mechanical keyboards, although you’ll pay for the privilege.
Trackpads are also not great for gaming, unless perhaps for things like RTS games. So investing in a wireless travel mouse with gaming aspirations may help too.
Read some reviews from actual users to get an idea if the keyboard and trackpad are up to scratch.
Although you should use your favorite game’s specs as a guideline, I do feel comfortable outlining the general specifications a modern gaming laptop should have at a minimum.
Here is what I consider the minimum specification for a good gaming laptop in 2017:
- A Core i5 quad-core (a fast dual core is still OK, but more games need quads these days)
- At least 8GB of RAM, 16GB if you can get it.
- The GTX 1060 with a 1080p screen is the sweet spot. Only the hardcore need more on the go.
- 4GB of VRAM is reasonable.
- An SSD as the main or only drive.
A Good Gaming Laptop is Possible
I would not have believed it just a year or two ago, but it’s entirely possible to have a laptop that is actually good for gaming. Yes, I still think we pay way too much for what we get, but the progress has been amazing.
If you value the laptop form-factor enough then that premium may well be worth owning a good gaming laptop. For the desktop faithful, there’s always building your own PC.
Lead Image CC-BY-SA 2.0 Run Mizumushi-Kun
Aorus X7 V2 Inside Teardown Larry Qian CC-BY
3DS Boy MIKI Yoshihito CC-BY