GAMING LAPTOP BUYING GUIDE
Gaming laptops have become so much more than just a portable gaming rig. Whether it’s gaming, content creation or work-related, there are a few things to note when choosing a gaming laptop that best suits your needs and budget.
While specs may be the most important, we’ll be looking at everything that goes into making a good all-round gaming laptop – including upgradeability, display, features and battery life.
In this guide, we’ll be looking at both the individual components as well as what defines an entry-level, mid-range and a high-end laptop.
Graphics cards will always have the biggest impact on gaming performance. If you’re looking to use the laptop purely for gaming, make sure to get the best possible GPU within your budget. Remember that you can’t upgrade the graphics card of a laptop, so choosing the latest generation will help with future-proofing your setup.
While NVIDIA and AMD have recently released the RTX Super and RX 5700 respectively, neither have any announcements about coming to laptops, so for the purpose of this article we will be focusing on the GeForce GTX 16 and RTX 20 series cards from NVIDIA.
This is not to say that the existing GTX 10-series laptops aren’t great machines, and can still be found at some great prices.
CPU / PROCESSOR
The CPU / processor is the second most important component that will affect gaming performance, and like the graphics card, can not be upgraded.
The choice is fairly limited, and gaming laptops will generally come with a standard Intel Core i5 or i7 processor. AMD has recently introduced the Ryzen 5 and 7 processors, which offer great value for money and have started becoming more available among manufacturers.
High-end laptops may come with overclockable Core i9 processors but at a hefty price tag.
You will find entry-level laptops tend to use the Core i5, while mid-level and above will have an i7. While the i5 will be more than adequate for most games, manufacturers will try to balance the GPU and CPU and generally won’t offer high-end GPUs paired with an i5.
When looking at the laptop’s CPU, take note of the model number. The Core i7-8750H, for example, is Intel’s 8th Generation CPU, while the i5-9300H is the newly introduced 9th generation.
We recommend going with the current generation as they offer better performance, lower temperatures and more efficient power usage (better battery life).
RAM / MEMORY
The current generation of gaming laptops all come standard with 8GB of DDR4 memory, which should be sufficient for most games and daily usage. Fortunately, memory can be upgraded quite easily.
Remember that while games may require 8GB of memory, Windows, Laptop Software and other apps will also be using their share of memory.
We would recommend going with 16GB of memory. Certain brands, such as Asus, offer a convenient compartment to easily add more memory or upgrade/add a solid state drive or an additional hard drive and positioned so that warranty is not affected.
It’s an easy upgrade with a screwdriver, but if you don’t feel confident enough opening your rig, our team is more than happy to assist with upgrading your beast.
STORAGE - SOLID STATE DRIVE AND HARD DRIVE
Entry-level gaming laptops will generally come with just a 1TB hard drive or hybrid hard drive. Hybrid hard drives include a small amount of flash memory making it a little bit faster than traditional hard drives.
The current generation will almost always include a solid state drive between 128GB and 512GB and in some cases an additional 1TB hard drive.
Solid state drives offer vastly decreased load times over standard hard drives but come at the cost of total capacity. Unless you have an external for all your media and games, we’d recommend having both an SSD and a HDD so you’re not constantly juggling space.
If the laptop you’re looking at includes an SSD, make sure it has an additional 2.5” hard drive slot. Similarly, if it comes with only a 1TB hard drive, make sure it has an M.2 SSD slot for future upgrades.
When looking at gaming laptops think about how, and where, you’ll be playing your games. Would you always be connected to a monitor, or would you be playing off the laptop display a lot of the time? Will you be moving around a lot, and how much space will be available?
Display size is a matter of personal preference, but remember a 17.3-inch will be both larger and heavier than a 15.6-inch.
Most gaming laptops will have a Full HD (1920 x 1080) display with QHD (2560 x 1440) starting to become more readily available for mid-to-high-end laptops. Very few will have a 4K (3840 x 2160) display, and we don’t feel it’s worth it at this point in time as even desktops struggle to hold a consistent FPS at 4K on high settings.
Something to note is the output capabilities of the laptop. Should it only have a Full HD 1080p screen, but include a DisplayPort, it will be able to connect to a QHD 1440p monitor and output at that resolution. If the laptop only has an HDMI port, it will only output 1080p.
The same thought process can also be applied when looking at the refresh rate. Entry-level laptops will be more than capable of handling most games at 1080p while holding a consistent 60 FPS. This means a 60Hz display may be the best option.
Newer gaming laptops are offering FHD and QHD with between 120Hz and 240Hz. While this may offer smoother gaming experiences, they will probably need at least an RTX 2060 to achieve this type of frame rate at higher settings.
High-end gaming laptops will support adaptive sync technology such as FreeSync and G-Sync which eliminates screen tearing and stuttering but comes at an additional cost.
The short answer is that if you’re looking for 8 hours of battery life, you may want to reconsider your decision to get a gaming laptop.
A reality of owning a gaming laptop is that battery life is never going to be great.
In order for your laptop to operate at full performance, it will need to remain plugged in. Even if you’re not maxing out your settings, you will probably only get 45 minutes to an hour worth of gameplay.
For other tasks and day to day work, you’ll generally be able to get around 2 – 3 hours worth of usage out of your laptop. An additional hour or two could be squeezed out by reducing screen brightness, disabling keyboard illumination and a few other tweaks.
KEYBOARD AND TRACKPAD
We’re just going to go ahead and say it. No one uses the trackpad on a gaming laptop.
The keyboard, on the other hand, is a worthwhile feature to take into consideration.
Key Travel Distance refers to how far down you can press a key. Shorter travel gives it that shallow feel, almost as if you’re bottoming out. Longer strokes provide more feedback and feel more like a gaming keyboard.
Actuation is the force needed to apply to a key in order to press it down. Too much and it can feel a bit stuff, while too little will make it feel spongy.
N-key rollover is a big one. This allows each keystroke to be registered independently of one another, no matter how many are being pressed. You don’t want to be fumbling that crouch, lean, aim, change weapon scenario. Anti-ghosting refers to the number of keys that can be pressed at the same time and registered.
Macro keys and hotkeys while useful, are not a necessity. Programmable keys will generally be controlled and customisable by the laptop’s software.
Backlighting usually comes in three flavours. Red, white and RGB. While the team here believe in everything RGB, the red and white are perfectly adequate and are more than just a gimmick. Gaming doesn’t normally happen in a well-lit room, and it’s always helpful to see your keyboard.
Where RGB shines is that a lot of them allow you to individually light keys so you’ll never miss your WASD or assigned hotkeys.
SO WHICH GAMING LAPTOP IS RIGHT FOR YOU?
If you’re not looking to play the latest titles on high settings, the GTX 1650 and GTX 1660 Ti will provide enough power to hold a consistent frame rate on most competitive titles and games that don’t demand high textures. If your budget allows, the GTX 1660 Ti is definitely a worthy investment and will provide a noticeable increase in performance over the GTX 1650.
These will generally come with an i5, 8GB memory, and a single 1TB or 128GB solid state drive.
Mid-level gaming laptops
The GeForce RTX 2060 is a great mid-range card and is capable of holding a consistent framerate on high settings. It also packs NVIDIA Turning Architecture and real-time ray tracing.
These will generally come with Core i7, 16GB memory and a 256GB – 512GB solid state drive.
High-end gaming laptops
The GeForce RTX 2070 and RTX 2080 will allow for most games to be played on high to ultra settings at a consistent frame rate. These high-end laptops will also offer 144Hz displays, which these cards are more than capable of handling.
These will generally come with a Core i7 or i9, 16GB memory and a 512GB solid state drive.
When buying a gaming notebook, focus your budget on the graphics card and processor. These aren’t upgradeable so getting the latest series helps future proof your purchase.
RAM and storage can be upgraded, but pay careful attention to what is supported by your laptop.
Don’t worry about battery life, you’ll always need to have it plugged in when you’re gaming.