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What To Look For In A Gaming Laptop – Things To Consider

What You Need To Think About When Deciding If A Gaming Laptop Is The Best Option For Your Needs.

Updated: Mar 14, 2023 5:09 pm
What To Look For In A Gaming Laptop – Things To Consider

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In this handy article, we’ll show you exactly what to look for in a gaming laptop. When searching for a gaming laptop, you should first be considering all of the regular key points as you would when buying an ordinary laptop. Screen size, build quality, display quality, price, and performance to name a few.

However before you start looking, there are additional points you should bear in mind, particularly if you are moving from gaming on a desktop PC. So let’s get stuck in!

Gaming Laptop Performance for Price

Whether affordability or performance is your priority, the inescapable reality of gaming on a laptop is that you will be paying double or more the price you would for a desktop PC, for the same or sometimes less performance. This extends to the power of the CPU and the GPU, and therefore affects the FPS (Frames Per Second) and max graphics settings you will be able to enjoy whilst playing games, and also the quality and size of the display. As a rough example, a gaming laptop priced at $1,600 would usually have the same or lesser performance than a desktop PC build worth around $800 (this includes self-built PCs or pre-builds). Ultimately what you are paying for is portability – and cramming all the components from a normal PC case into a laptop sized device (for example: a laptop) is not an easy task. These days the most powerful graphics cards available are of considerable size and mass and will not fit into a laptop, hence more slimline laptop specific components must be made which by necessity must sacrifice performance. Reduced space for PSUs and cooling solutions also mean the CPU and GPU cannot reach the same level of performance.

Firstly, you need to decide whether you consider the benefits of portability offered by a gaming laptop to be worth the price mark-up for your particular needs (which the rest of this guide should help you do). Secondly, the best way to pick exactly which gaming laptop to buy is by comparing the FPS performance of different models against each other for the games you are interested in playing (or failing that, of games that are similarly demanding) and also compare results on productivity testing if that’s something you are interested in.

Gaming Laptop Power Adapters

More so than regular laptops, the adapter portion of the power cable for your gaming laptop (technically a “Switched Mode Power Supply” but also referred to as a “transformer” or a “converter”) will invariably be both large and heavy, to the extent they are referred to a “power bricks”. The function of this component is to convert the AC input coming from the plug socket into DC of the correct voltage and wattage required by your laptop. The CPUs and GPUs of gaming laptops need greater wattage and voltage to run your games at a good FPS, particularly if they are demanding titles. Other demanding programmes and processes (e.g. video editing or graphics design software when rendering) similarly require high voltage and wattage to perform adequately. Higher voltage and wattage needs mean larger components and more space needed to dissipate heat, unless more expensive components and materials are used.

Ultimately then, the size and convenience of lugging a heavy power adapter around must be factored into your calculations when determining how portable and ergonomic your gaming laptop experience will be. If you’re planning on gaming on a train for instance, bear in mind you will likely need a space and a socket to plug in the hefty adapter, particularly when the loss of performance when you unplug the laptop is usually severe.

power brick

Gaming Laptop Performance On Battery Only

A crucial piece of information that many first-time buyers of gaming laptops may not realize, is that in most cases you must have the laptop plugged in if you want a decent gaming experience, not only in terms of battery life, but most importantly FPS performance. On graphically undemanding titles where FPS isn’t that big of a consideration (e.g. Crusader Kings 2 or 3, Rimworld, Football Manager 2021 and the like) you will be absolutely fine running just off the battery, though bear in mind that you still won’t get more than a couple of hours of battery life unless you reduce the brightness of your screen and tweak the power settings to balanced or power saving modes, which will further hamper performance.

For graphically demanding shooters, particularly in competitive gaming, the frame drops will usually be so great that the game will often be unplayable on the highest settings. It’s not uncommon to experience drops of 75% when running on battery mode on a gaming laptop, even if you modify the Windows power settings and those in the Nvidia Control Panel / AMD Radeon Adrenaline to preference performance as much as possible. The extent of this differs from laptop to laptop, but as a general rule, expect to need your gaming laptop plugged in when playing games.

How To Keep A Gaming Laptop Cool

Virtually any laptop playing a game with good performance will generate a lot of heat. Internally the temperature won’t be any greater than in a desktop PC of course, but rather than being expelled through large fan or radiator ports into the room, the heat is generally pumped downwards into the surface the laptop is sat on, so is usually more noticeable and may lead to the body of the laptop itself heating up.

As a result, playing medium-to-demanding games with the device directly on your lap is generally not a good idea: besides the damage this might do overtime to your delicate regions (I’m not joking) your body’s heat will warm up the laptop considerably and thereby reduce performance, and potentially reduce the lifespan of your laptop’s battery and internal components (how like machines we are). A laptop’s heat exhaust ports are invariably on the bottom and/or back of the device so by blocking them you will reduce the device’s ability to cool itself. Whilst this obviously applies to when you place a laptop on a desk to a degree, desks are cooler objects that take awhile to heat up. Furthermore they are flat hard surfaces, so if an exhaust port is even slightly raised on the back of a device say, there will be clearance enough so airflow is not blocked. If you have a blanket/soft pillow/duvet/loose clothing between your lap and the device however, this will typically envelop the ports with a material often designed to insulate – not ideal.

There are various laptop stands and tables you can buy for either sitting on the sofa or to place on your desk to get that vital clearance under the bottom of the laptop. The extra cooling can ultimately make a small but noticeable difference to the performance and longevity of your device. How comfortable and convenient these will be for your personal gaming experience is largely down to personal preference, and where you expect to be doing your laptop gaming, though we will be putting together a list of our favourites in a handy guide for your convenience.

laptop bottom vents

Gaming Laptop Noise Levels

In short: gaming laptops are noisy. More accurately, if you are just browsing the web or typing up a document then they’re no louder than regular laptops, but if you want to play a game then the volume of the fans will generally increase to cope with the heat generated by the increased strain on your CPU and GPU. Fan speed can usually be controlled from the desktop using the software that comes with your gaming laptop, but this is usually determined in part by the power and performance settings. If you have the laptop set to “performance mode” (or whatever equivalent nomenclature the brand of your laptop uses to designate the highest power consumption and fan speed setting), and are running a reasonably demanding game, then expect the noise to be substantial.

Obviously fan noise differs from laptop to laptop, some are louder than others and this is a point to look out for in any product review, but if you think you can run the latest AAA title on high settings whilst sat next to someone on the quiet coach of the train, think again! I mean you could try it, but expect them to be fairly irritated.

Gaming Laptop Portability and Ergonomics

We’ve covered a lot of the aspects of this above, but to summarise you need to consider the need for a power outlet, the size and weight of the power adapter, the noise produced by the laptop and finally the heat when trying to determine how useful a gaming laptop will be to you as a portable device.

A fairly obvious, but often forgotten consideration, is the fact that you will need space for a mouse and mousemat on whichever surface you set up your laptop, if you’re playing a game that requires them. If you intend to rely on the trackpad for gaming, firstly make sure that the games you’re interested in can be played using a trackpad (which basically rules out all first person shooters), and secondly make sure that the trackpad on the laptop you’re looking at is up to snuff. Many gaming laptops don’t prioritise trackpads as they assume most “gamers” will be using a mouse, so do some research (such as by reading a WePC product review!) and where possible, try out the trackpad before you buy the laptop.

The biggest factors governing portability of course, that we have not yet discussed, are the weight and dimensions of the laptop itself. Until very recently, most dedicated gaming laptops were considerably chunkier and heavier than their non-gaming counterparts, to account for the more powerful GPU and other components taking up more space. Over the last few years however, we’ve seen gaming laptops getting slimmer and slimmer, with the Razer Blade series proudly claiming the title of the “world’s smallest gaming laptop” coming in at only 19.8mm (0.78″) deep and 2.09kg (4.6 lbs) for the Razer 15 base model. On the whole you can expect gaming laptops to still be slightly heavier and thicker than regular laptops (particularly when the adapter brick is taken into account), but the difference is no longer substantial.

asus rog zephyrus s gx701 yugatech8

Gaming Laptop Screen

Obviously all the usual considerations apply when selecting a gaming laptop in terms of the display as they would with any laptop: bezel size, matte or gloss, color gamut, color accuracy, brightness, contrast etc. Besides this though one should take particular note of the refresh rate when shopping for a laptop suitable for gaming. There’s little point in getting a machine with a CPU and GPU capable of playing games at 100 FPS if the screen doesn’t go above 60Hz as you won’t be able to see the benefit – you need the refresh rate (as measure in Hz) to match whatever FPS you want your games to run on.

Almost all laptops marketed as “gaming” these days are 60Hz or above, but if you’re interested in playing competitive first-person shooters then we would recommend a screen with at least 120Hz refresh rate and the CPU and GPU power to run the game on 120 FPS on whatever graphics settings you would be comfortable with (e.g. most serious competitive CS:GO players typically set the game on low settings to squeeze out the best FPS possible).

Some Of Our Other Gaming Laptop Articles

Don’t neglect even more of our useful gaming laptop articles below.

In-Depth Laptop Reviews

‘Best Of’ Guides

Final Word

That concludes our rundown of the main things you need to bear in mind when considering buying a gaming laptop. Keep a look out for our upcoming reviews of gaming laptops in the coming months, an area we intend to be focusing more on, for 100% independent, unbiased reviews. Until then, adieu!

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