Gaming Laptop Buyers Guide

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Having a bad gaming experience, read this guide before your next gaming laptop

A laptop is a portable computer. It lets you do stuff you would normally do on a desktop PC, only that you can do it anywhere. Although desktop PCs are more powerful than laptops, a lot of people still want to use laptops mainly because of its portability.

Because desktop gaming rigs reign supreme in the gaming niche, a lot of companies have created a set of gaming laptops to cater people who love to play anywhere. In fact, they have evolved immensely through the years and some gaming laptops can even rival the performance of their desktop counterparts.

If you are one of those people who prefer gaming laptops over gaming desktops, then this article is for you. Keep on reading because I will talk about the things you need to know so that you can get the best gaming laptop for you. People have different wants and needs and it is important that you know the most important information about gaming laptops so you will have an informed decision when buying one.

So, what exactly do you need to know about gaming laptops?

Gaming Laptop Essentials: What You Need to Know

1. Screen Size

One of the most important things to consider is the laptop’s screen size because it will ultimately affect the overall size of the gaming laptop. Although it is just one part of the equation, the screen size can truly affect the heft and the form factor of the gaming machine.

There are a couple of screen sizes you can find on the market: 13-14 inches, 15-inch, and 17-18 inches. The 13-14-inch laptops are considered to be the “Ultra-portable” ones because of their small form factor. This laptop would be for anyone who wants a lightweight gaming machine that they can readily bring with them anywhere to play their favorite games. Unfortunately, there are some downsides to the 13-14-inch gaming laptops and that is their performance specifications are not that good.

It would be great for casual gaming or playing games that are not graphically intensive, but if you want to crank up the settings of the games you play to, at least, the High presets, then you’re going to be out of luck. If you are considering 13-14-inch laptops, you have to also consider that their performance will not be satisfactory, especially if you’re playing one of the AAA titles.

Next is the 15-inch laptop. The 15-inch laptop is considered to be a midrange gaming laptop because it has a good enough screen size and it also has respectable specs. You can probably set the game’s settings to High but you’re not going to max them out. You might also have to tone down some settings as you will find that some games are just way too taxing. Still, the 15-inch laptops are great for people who not only want a portable gaming machine but also want a capable one as well.

And lastly, the 17-18-inch laptops will have the most impressive specs among the aforementioned screen sizes. They can house the most powerful graphics cards you can find on the market that is fit for a laptop. But, because of their bigger form factor, weight is going to be an issue. If you’re the type of person who wants to game with maxed out settings and you do not mind the heft, then get these laptops. If you’re going to travel a lot, then I wouldn’t really recommend it because it is going to be too heavy to carry with you all the time.

2. GPU

The Graphics Processing Unit or GPU for short is considered as the “Heart” of the gaming laptop. It handles every graphical load and it will be the one to work it out. Of course, the CPU comes into play in some games, but for the most part, the GPU is going through all of the hassles. As of right now, there are no new gaming laptops that have the new AMD GPUs so we will stick with Nvidia ones.

If you are getting a gaming laptop, I highly suggest that you get one with at least an Nvidia GTX 960M. It should be able to handle games pretty well with the High or Very High presets. Also, it is power efficient as well. If you can squeeze in some more money, then the new Pascal GPUs is preferred because they are not only more powerful than the previous Maxwell generation GPUs, but they are also more power efficient than the previous generation Nvidia GPUs. You can tell if it is a Maxwell GPU if the numbers start with 9 (like GTX “9”60M). Pascal GPUs start with 10 (GTX “10”60). Also, take note that the new Pascal graphics chips do not have the “M” suffix anymore; probably to simplify things.

Note that VRAM is also important when looking at the GPU of a gaming laptop. Aim to have at least 4GB of VRAM as most games utilize just under that amount. Of course, newer game titles might use up more than 4GB of VRAM but I find that is is the recommended amount of VRAM in modern GPUs. 2GB of VRAM is the minimum but 4GB is the recommended.

3. CPU

The Central Processing Unit or popularly known as the “CPU” is another integral part of the gaming laptop. The CPU handles a lot of things such as the processing of instructions, inputs, and a lot of other things. It works in tandem with the GPU to deliver great gaming performance. The reason why you would need a competent CPU in a gaming laptop is because there are some games that will use more of the CPU and there are some games that would require a 50/50 split of the workload from the CPU and the GPU.

Always get a quad-core processor or higher. This ensures that gaming will be smooth and that the CPU will not be a bottleneck while playing intensive games. The brand of the processor that is prominent in modern gaming laptops is Intel (there are still no new mobile CPUs from the AMD side). If you’re going to buy a gaming laptop, always make sure to get at least an Intel Core i5 processor and that the product name doesn’t end with “Y” because that is their power-saving CPU. As much as possible, you would always want maximum performance from the CPU when it is needed and the “Y” series of CPUs is just not up for the task.

If you’re going to buy gaming laptops with the Intel Core i5 processor, get one with the “U” suffix. If you’re going to get a laptop with an Intel Core i7 processor, get one with the “HQ” suffix as it is far better than any other mobile i7 CPUs. Also, make sure to get the 6th-generation Skylake processors. They start with the number 6 like i5-“6″200U. They are 10% better than the previous generation processors and they are also power efficient as well.

4. Resolution

When you’re shopping for a gaming laptop, you might see the word “Resolution” in the spec sheet. The screen’s resolution is just the number of pixels you can see on the screen. The current standard for screen resolution is the 1080p or 1920×1080, where there are 1920 horizontal pixels and 1080 vertical pixels.

The higher the resolution, the bigger the graphical load. However, if the screen resolution is high, the image will be more high-quality. Basically, the idea here is to never get a 720p screen. Get at least a 1080p screen and you will have no problems.

For 17-18-inch laptops, they might be fitted with either a screen with a 1440p resolution (2560×1440) or 4K (3840×2160). If you buy a gaming laptop with a 4K display, I suggest you do not use it for gaming as it is just way too taxing for modern GPUs. Stay on or below 1440p resolution when gaming. But, if you do not mind toning down some settings, gaming at 4K is really a nice visual treat.

5. RAM

RAM is important in gaming laptops because the computer uses it as a temporary data storage. Ever wonder why the games you load the second time run much faster than the first time you fired up the application? RAM is the reason why.

Now, there was a notion that “more RAM is better”, and to an extent, I agree. But you do not want to waste your money on too much RAM as unused RAM is just a waste. For gamers, 8GB should be enough (provided that you do not have any more applications running in the background). For me, 16GB of RAM is the “new” sweet spot as I find people not only opening up their favorite games but also have a program or two running in the background that would also require RAM.

If you do content creation, photo, and video editing, or anything of that sort, you may want to get more than 16GB of RAM. But, for the most part, 16GB of RAM should make your gaming laptop future proof as it is more than enough for modern games and upcoming titles as well.

6. Storage

There are two storage devices that can be found in modern gaming laptops: HDD and the SSD. The former usually has a bigger capacity but they are slower, while the latter has superior speeds over the HDD at the cost of lower capacity.

When ordering gaming laptops, you can get one with an SSD and an HDD combo. I would recommend at least a 240GB SSD for your most important applications and games and the hefty HDD for everything else.

You can buy a higher capacity SSD but they are much more expensive. But if you can dish out the money, then I highly recommend ditching the HDD entirely and just go with the bigger capacity SSD as games will definitely load much faster than your conventional Hard disk.

7. Keyboard and Touchpad

When you’re going to buy a gaming laptop, never overlook the keyboard and the touchpad as these are the two peripherals that you will use to communicate with the portable gaming machine. There are new gaming laptops that have mechanical keys which are great to the touch and therefore, great for gaming.

But, some gaming laptops don’t have them. So, a general rule of thumb is always to go for a keyboard that has a travel distance of 2mm. This not only ensures a quick key press but it also alleviates too much stress on your hands from prolonged gaming sessions.

As for the touchpad, make sure to get a laptop that has a sensitive touchpad. Although you’re going to be using a gaming mouse most of the time, having a great touchpad will make things easier for you when you’re not utilizing one.

8. Battery Life

Part of the reason why gaming laptops are preferred by many gamers is because of its portability, meaning, you can play anywhere you want. However, the laptop requires a power source to run and they get its necessary juice from the battery. Therefore, if you buy a gaming laptop, make sure to get one that is able to run for at least 3 hours before you plug it into its charger.

Three hours seems to be the minimum when it comes to gaming laptops’ battery life. Do take note that there are a lot of things that can sap the life out of the laptop’s battery. The games that you play, the settings, the brightness level of the screen, the volume of the speakers, are just some of the things that contribute to the decrease of a laptop’s battery life.

Before buying a gaming laptop, gather as much information about the laptop’s battery life first. It is a very important thing to know since you do not want to constantly charge your gaming laptop when you’re playing, right?

9. Other Notable Features

There are also other notable features you may want to look at. For example, the display panel used in the laptop. There are about two display panels that are commonly used in gaming laptops namely the TN and the IPS panel. The former offers higher refresh rates and faster response times but suffers from poor viewing angles and poorer color accuracy; the latter has better color reproduction at the cost of lower refresh rates (usually, IPS panels have 60-75Hz refresh rates, although, there are now laptops that offer more than 100Hz screen refresh rates, but they are still quite expensive).

It is also important to know about the ports the particular gaming laptop you want to buy has. Aim to have at least 4 USB ports and an HDMI port. As for the audio, they are usually hit or miss, but there are some gaming laptops that come with software to somehow improve the audio quality of the speakers.

Some modern laptops come with touch screens and although they can be useful, I do not recommend getting a gaming laptop with one. You see, having a touch screen will drain the battery life of the laptop much quicker because it has an “always-on” touch digitizer. It may be a fancy feature but just ditch the touch screen when you’re going to buy a gaming laptop.

If the price is not an issue for you, then you might want to consider a laptop with multiple GPUs. Having an Nvidia SLI gaming laptop will ensure that you can max out all of the settings in your favorite games. Just remember, though, that the more GPUs there is inside the laptop, the quicker the battery will drain and it will also produce more heat. Be sure to keep that in mind.

Also, when you’re opting for either a 17 or 18-inch laptop, always take into account the weight of the machine. The bigger the laptop, the better its performance but it also weighs much more than, say, a 13-inch laptop. Just remember, if you’re going ultra-portable, the specs aren’t that good. If you’re going for hefty laptops, the performance is great but it will become problematic and less portable to carry at all times.

10. Price

Here’s the thing: gaming laptops are much pricier than gaming desktop rigs. Much of its high price can be attributed to the manufacturing process where they had to shrink things down so it can fit into a small form factor.

If you’re buying a gaming laptop, the most inexpensive ones that are capable of gaming are within the $1500-$1800 range. If you want a true gaming powerhouse, it would cost you more than $2000 but you are assured that the performance is top notch.

11. Brands

I am not particularly biased towards one brand because I look at the actual specs. But, for first-time buyers, getting a laptop from a reputable manufacturer can be an easier step for you. Some of the most reputable brands are Lenovo, OriginPC, Asus, MSI, Alienware, Razer, just to name a few.

Conclusion

Gaming laptops are quite popular now because they are not only portable but they can take on even the most graphically demanding games. Even though they’re quite expensive, nothing can beat their portability. You can literally just bring it with you so you can play anywhere you want.

Just remember to get a gaming laptop with at least an Intel i5 processor, a GTX 960M GPU, 8GB of RAM, and a host of ports that you will need. Also, if your budget permits it, opt for an SSD as they are much faster than HDDs and loading times will be decreased dramatically.

Overall, I hope that this article has shed some light on the things you need to consider before buying a gaming laptop.

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