What To Look For When Buying a Gaming Laptop In 2021
There once was a time when gaming on a laptop involved firing up solitaire and waiting to get close to a PC with reasonable requirements, but luckily you have plenty of brand choice in laptops made with gamers in mind these days.
Having a gaming laptop gives you mobility that desktop PC just cannot provide, as well as a reduced physical presence anywhere you plan to set up. This is what you can look out for before you commit to buying if you’re considering picking up a gaming laptop.
Budget Will Be Your Main Limiting Factor
You can purchase just about anything, including a top-notch gaming PC with all the trimmings, if you have money to burn. But even if you don’t save all your spare change to throw yourself into a new device, you do need to match the cost with the features that matter most to you. When purchasing a premium gaming laptop, that’s always true, not just if you are in the market for a mid-range or a budget machine. And after you have your budget in place, what else should you take into consideration?
GPU vs CPU
When you’re after a gaming laptop, it’s actually more important to choose an internal GPU than to choose a CPU. Instead of their full-powered counterparts, some very cheap laptops that advertise themselves as ‘gaming’ laptops may still opt for mobile equivalent GPUs, but if you can afford it, it is worth investing more on a top-tier GPU rather than a top-tier CPU. Anything combined with a top-tier NVIDIA GPU in a more mid-range Intel Core i5 can do enough for your gaming needs, and could be better than a mid-range GPU and a faster CPU.
One big advantage of purchasing a real gaming laptop is that they often allow upgrades of components, something you won’t find an ultrabook. The CPU and, strictly speaking, the GPU are exceptions.
This is because if a Thunderbolt 3 port is included in your gaming laptop of choice, it should be able to take an eGPU as a technical upgrade path. In that case, however, you are sacrificing the mobility of your gaming laptop and being able to use your laptop in your lap. And it will almost always be more cost-effective to buy or build a gaming desktop in those circumstances. However, it can theoretically be achieved.
Many but not all of the current crop of gaming laptops make use of NVIDIA GPUs rather than their AMD counterparts, but if you want to throw 2021’s crop of games at your gaming laptop, get one that has a graphics card with at least 4GB of RAM, the more the better (within budget constraints).
Ideal Gaming Display Size
Many gaming laptops are large, cumbersome units that are not really easy to carry around with you, and a lot of that blame comes down to the size of the gaming laptop’s screen size. Gaming is the one area in which there is still a lot of competition in the 15 to 17 inch and greater if your budget can handle the screen size space. But that much screen this will still make a laptop rather more difficult to carry around.
However, there are exceptions to this, and there have been more than a few well performing 13 inch gaming laptops is although size is important (when it comes to gaming laptops) it comes at a cost to portability.
Additionally think about your gaming needs as a smaller laptop would also give you less space, and likely less space for external connections, if you attach your laptop to an external monitor, add peripherals, or for a lag-free experience connect to wired networks.
Screen: Resolution vs Refresh
Buying a strong gaming laptop that comes with a woeful screen is simply useless. But you have an option between the underlying resolution and the usable refresh rates for most gaming laptops. The quick refresh rates that competitive gamers want can simply not be handled by many gaming laptops that sport 4K capable displays.
Speaking in general terms, on a monitor that can accommodate at least 1920 to 1080, you are best off going for a higher refresh rate than a 4K display where you can have a whole host of refresh rate and screen tearing problems. If you are looking to make your gaming laptop a Netflix viewing station too, then there is still something of a 4K argument, but keep in mind that you will be up close most of the time while you are watching on a laptop and some of the advantages of 4K are still debatable.
Battery life numbers and quotes are beginning to use phrases like all day battery life for most standard laptops. And this feels like it would be a ideal thing for a gaming laptops as well. But sorry to burst your bubble but this just won’t happen, or it won’t happen with current battery technology, at least. Without a question, the combined impact of large displays with high resolution and heavy GPU and CPU use is the worst case possible for battery life.
Or to put it another way, battery life is horrendous on all gaming laptops even the best gaming ones, so don’t use this as a major purchasing factor.
You might just about get away with 8GB of RAM at the absolute budget end, but you’re going to find it a very limiting experience. With 16 GB of RAM, you’ve got space to breathe, and even more with 32 GB overhead. Also remember that many gaming laptops are still reasonably upgrade friendly when it comes to RAM, unlike many other laptop choices. And even if you can’t switch out the CPU or GPU, you could improve performance down the track with a cheap RAM upgrade.
Go For SSD Storage
When it comes to storage in gaming laptops, there are a few approaches at distinct price points. SSDs, particularly if you want a lighter and thinner laptop, are much more preferable to mechanical drives, but also because of the massive improvements in data throughput you can see as a result.
Many AAA titles will easily consume up to 50 to 100GB and over updates, so be ready to
budget for improvements down the road if you opt for a gaming laptop with a smaller drive. Ideally, it should be in a replacement drive that can be mounted after the fact, but on a quick fix, you can use an external drive in a pinch.
Gaming Laptop Gadgets
The keyboard habits and preferences of each individual gamer are a little different, as are the keyboards you find on gaming laptops. You won’t get any more than a basic and very flat set of scissor switches at the budget end of the laptop spectrum, whereas high end models will provide superior mechanical keyboards.
There will also be a certain amount of matching to your playing style; if 4X strategy games are your thing, then your needs are likely going to be a little different from those of a competitive FPS player.
Many gamers will use keyboard and trackpad their gaming laptop came with, but will pair it with a mechanical keyboard and gaming mouse that is gaming focused. While the inputs on gaming laptops have improved a quite a bit in recent times dedicated peripherals are still beat them hands down.