Gaming laptops are blurring the lines between desktop and portable options, with some that have more processing power, graphical prowess and higher-res displays than most mid-end consumer machines.
Among the hundreds of available gaming laptops, from flagship offerings to budget options, how would you know what’s best for your gaming needs? More importantly, can a gaming laptop run the latest AAA titles without stuttering or lagging?
For those who are ready to take the plunge to the glorious world of PC gaming, here’s a detailed gaming laptop buying guide for you.
First, the GPU
Gaming laptops live and die by a specific piece of hardware called the GPU.
Due to its non-upgradeable nature, gamers will have to think ahead in terms of what graphics card they want on their laptop. Newer, high-end GPUs will make the laptop cost more, but you’re pretty much assured that all future games can be run on the highest settings for the next couple of years.
Here’s a breakdown of gaming laptop uses and the corresponding GPU that can get the job done:
Entry Level Gaming. If you intend to play casual games, Facebook games, online casinos and MMOs of yesteryears, then an entry-level laptop will be the perfect choice. They’re not as expensive and you can still play new games on Mid settings. Look for ones that have the GTX 1650 or the GTX 1660 Ti.
Mainstream Gaming. Need a capable machine that can deal with the newest releases at High settings? The GeForce RTX 2060 is a good starting point for GPU options. Most gaming laptops that has this hardware should be able to handle VR games and equipment such as the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift.
VR and Power Gamers. Those who think money is no object and want the absolute best gaming laptop should choose machines that have the RTX 2070 and the RTX 2070 Ti. These machines can play the newest and most demanding AAA titles in Ultra settings, 4K and even VR.
Next, the Specs
After you’ve decided what GPU to get, you’ll need to think about processing power, memory and storage space.
CPUs will depend on your budget, but if you’re planning on doing other processor-intensive tasks such as video editing, rendering and converting, you’ll need the latest i7 Intel CPU. Games inherently rely on GPU to push out the polygons, so budget-minded gamers can make do with at least an i5 Intel CPU.
One thing to keep in mind is that processors aren’t upgradable, so consider spending a bit more if it means getting a quad or hexa core processor of at least 8th gen.
Games can indeed take up a lot of memory, so you must make sure you have enough. Don’t skimp out on RAM as it’s cheap and can mean the difference between stuttering and buttery-smooth framerates. 8GB is the absolute minimum for both gaming and productivity tasks, but we’d recommend 16GB and above, especially if it means spending only $50 or so to get higher RAM.
There are two options for storage- HDD, or hard disk drive and SSD, or solid state drive. Each one has its own pros and cons, but to cut the story short, it’s better to have both of them so you can get improved loading times and ample space for all your games, videos and more. The latest gaming laptops will tout a 1TB HDD and 128GB SSD in tandem; the higher you go, i.e., a 256 or 512GB SSD, or a 2TB HDD, the more you’ll have to pay, so consider just how much space you really need before making a decision.
What should you look for in a gaming laptop display?
Size. Most gaming laptops come in the 15 to 17-inch range, and what you choose will depend on your viewing or gaming preference. Remember though, that the bigger the screen the heavier the machine but it can show you more details as compared to its smaller-screen option.
Resolution. It’s imperative to go full HD, which is 1920 x 1080 at a minimum. If you want to future-proof or get the absolute best, look for laptops that have 2K or 4K resolutions at 2560 x 1440 or 3840 x 2160 with a 60Hz refresh rate. 4K displays will need the RTX 2070 or 2080 GPU or else you won’t get the whole 4K experience.
Battery life isn’t a dealbreaker for gaming laptops since you’ll be plugged in anyway to keep playing for hours, but choose a machine that offers at least 1 to 3 hours of play and 3 to 5 hours for other computing tasks.
Come up with a checklist and write down the hardware you want for each main category (GPU, CPU, Memory, Storage and Display), then assign a reasonable budget. From there, browse through available selections until you find the perfect gaming laptop that meets all your requirements. It helps to raise your budget by a little if it means getting a more powerful GPU or CPU and more RAM.