Having a gaming laptop is a great way to game on the go. However, buying one can be a challenge. You have to make sure that what you get is as good as you want it to be and that it has as long a lifespan as possible because you can’t upgrade it in the same way that you can a desktop. So let’s discover everything you need to know before buying a new gaming laptop.
Graphics card (GPU)
The graphics card is what makes your gaming laptop different from a standard laptop, as it’s a separate unit from the processor, which means everything looks better than on a standard laptop. However, gaming laptops don’t have exactly the same kind of graphics cards as desktop computers do, as they’re a mobile version of the same cards.
All this means is that some of the specs, like the clock speed, are toned down slightly to account for the smaller space and reduced airflow – setting your laptop on fire isn’t a good idea. The performance will be nearly identical to that of a desktop computer’s so there’s nothing to worry about in terms of the games you can play.
To play any kind of intensive game, you’ll need a really good graphics card. Most mainstream games will work fine with an RTX 2060, but for future-proofing, you’ll want to consider a 3060 or 3070, as these will become more and more commonplace over the next year. If you want to be gaming in VR or playing the most graphically demanding games, consider investing in an RTX 2080 or 2080 Ti.
Graphics cards also have a small amount of memory of their own, referred to as VRAM or video RAM. It is used for image display and can act as a buffer between your CPU and GPU. It also means that your computer’s normal memory can focus on other things, as the graphics card is able to read and write the data itself. This means that for very intensive games, the more VRAM you have, the better, but it tends to be less important overall than normal RAM.
The brain of your laptop, a really good CPU will help with your laptop’s speed. However, for gaming, the processor is less important than the graphics card, so if you don’t want to spend a fortune on an option like the Intel i7 or i9, you’ll manage just fine with an i5. It is important that you have at least a quad-core processor, though, so try and get one of those if you can. The number of cores dictates how many different tasks your gaming laptop will be able to run at once, so the more cores you have, the more your laptop will be able to do. Less important is the processor’s clock speed, which tells you how fast it will complete the tasks it’s doing. If you’re only going to be running one program at a time, then a higher clock speed will be better, but if you multitask, more cores is a better option.
Intel vs AMD
The war between Intel and AMD over who produced the best CPUs has been waged for years, and was, for the most part, dominated by Intel. Now, however, AMD is catching up and pulling ahead, although they are used less commonly in gaming laptops. Their processors are often cheaper, which you might think comes with worse performance, but for gaming laptops, they tend to be better at multitasking and provide a slightly better battery life. However, if you’re going to be exclusively gaming on your gaming laptop, and not multitasking so your processor is only using one core, then Intel’s CPUs are superior
RAM is your computer’s short-term memory – it reads and writes data that the processor needs access to. Games can be quite memory-intensive, so ensure that your gaming laptop has at least 8GB of RAM; anything less will leave you with a subpar, frustrating experience. Future-proofing might lead you to get 16GB of RAM You can easily choose the best gaming laptop under 900 bucks with this amount of RAM. If you’re playing a game and running other background programs, such as a voice chat software like Discord for communicating with your teammates or friends, then it’s also a good idea to have more RAM.
Your RAM’s speed tells you how quickly it transfers data to and from your processor. This is the ‘DDR’ number, which stands for ‘double data rate” (this is why RAM sticks are installed in pairs). In the unlikely event that you only have one RAM stick, you should halve the total speed to find out what an individual stick’s speed is.
The number after the DDR tells you what generation of RAM it is – so DDR4 memory is the fourth generation. The speed at which the memory transfers the data is measured in Megahertz and is usually between 1,600 and 3,200. Obviously, faster is better, but if your RAM speed is faster than your motherboard can handle, it will be limited at that speed. You should also consider that while having faster memory might help a little bit, more memory will be a bigger help to your gaming laptop’s performance.
When it comes to brands for RAM, there’s a lot of very well-trusted ones – including Corsair, Kingston and GSkill. Each of them will have its own warranties, and you may find you already have a preference. If not, then as long as your memory is all compatible, then it shouldn’t matter too much which brand you choose.
Games are big, so it’s crucial you have enough storage for them. There are two main types of storage – hard disk drives (HDDs), solid-state drives (SSDs)
These have been around for years, and are the biggest, both in terms of storage capacity and physical size, of all the different storage options. They have moving parts in them that read the data, and this makes them slower than more modern storage options. However, they are also significantly cheaper and come in larger sizes than others, and in laptops, you can get them in sizes of up to 5TB, so they’re a great option for large games like Call of Duty: Warzone which is over 100GB in size. They’re also one of the most common types of external storage, so if you need extra storage for more games, HDDs are a good place to start.
These are much smaller than HDDs and have no moving parts, so reading and writing data is done much more quickly. They’re also more expensive and don’t come with the same vast storage capacities as HDDs. This means they make excellent boot drives, where the operating system and key programs are stored, or smaller internal storage solutions.
The larger the screen, the heavier the laptop, and the less easy to transport it becomes. Conversely, the larger your laptop’s screen, the better your gaming experience will be. You can get gaming laptops with screens that are less than 15 inches across, but these often won’t give you the same performance as a bigger laptop. Most gaming laptops will come with 15 or 17-inch screens, but you can occasionally find 18-inch ones if you want something bigger.
Ensure that the screen resolution is at least 1920×1080 – anything less will give you a subpar experience. You might be able to find a screen with 4K resolution, but this will come with a more hefty price tag.
The games you play might influence the refresh rate you want, but the minimum is 60Hz. If you want a gaming experience that is as smooth as real life, which will be ideal for first-person shooters, you’ll need a higher refresh rate, so you should be looking for 144Hz or 240Hz.
For the aesthetic side of gaming laptops’ keyboards, you’ll need to consider the backlighting – more basic gaming laptops will come with either red or white backlighting for the keys, and you won’t be able to change it. More expensive ones will give you a chance to customise the backlighting with different effects, colours and zones for you to work with.
On the practical side of keyboards, there are a few things you need to consider. The further a key has to travel, the more it protects the keyboard’s frame. This distance should be at least 1.5mm, and if you know you like the experience of typing on a mechanical keyboard, there are gaming laptops with those, but they’re a lot less common, and therefore a little more expensive.
You’ll also need to consider the actuation – how much force is needed to press the keys. This should provide resistance without feeling soft, so somewhere between 60 grams and 70 grams of force is what you’re looking for here.
There aren’t many gaming laptop keyboards that come with macro keys, but these can improve your gaming experience because you can store commands you use often on them, like combinations of keys used in offline fighting games.
You’ll need to ensure that the keyboard has anti-ghosting and n-key rollover. These two functions are vital because they let you press multiple keys at once and ensure that all of them are registered independently of each other. This is vital for gaming as you’re often pressing upwards of five keys at the same time, so you want them all to register and be processed so the effects happen in your game.
For the best gaming experience, you’ll need to keep your gaming laptop plugged in. If it isn’t, it might only last an hour before whatever game you’re playing drains the battery. The biggest cause of this is the graphics card being separated from the processor, and you can’t avoid having a discrete GPU for a gaming laptop.
Gaming laptops are worth the investment, but finding the right one can take time because of all the different things you need to consider. The primary thing to remember is that the GPU is the most important decision you can make, and you need to get a graphics card that can run the games you like to play.
The processor is less important, but also isn’t upgradeable. You can upgrade the memory and the storage, so you can always change these later on if you need to. The bigger your screen, the better your gaming experience will be, but it will make your gaming laptop much heavier, and you have to make sure it’s a good resolution with a refresh rate that suits you. There are also considerations for the keyboard, both aesthetically and functionally; and the battery life is something you’ll need to think about.
This guide should have given you an idea about what you need to think about when buying a gaming laptop.
Rachel Gowland works at a digital marketing agency, Tillison Consulting. She’s a passionate gamer and avid reader who loves to travel, using her knowledge of foreign languages to connect with people around the world.