PC gaming used to require huge tower-based computers with advanced cooling systems and enough heat to keep you toasty on even the coldest nights.
But technology has been moving at a rapid pace. And this is especially true for technologies related to graphical processing. It’s now possible to fit an impressive graphics processing unit (GPU) into a comparatively small package.
Combine all of that with cutting-edge processors and high-quality displays and you have a perfect portable gaming laptop.
However, the new generation of gaming laptops does have one important thing in common with older gaming computers – your configuration options matter.
There are a lot of variables to juggle when deciding which gaming laptop you should buy.
What Are the Most Important Factors To Consider?
Gaming consoles are usually fairly easy to judge. There are only one or two metrics that you really need to keep track of. But a gaming laptop is a serious step up in complexity.
There are far more things to keep track of when you’re looking at a gaming laptop. But the situation isn’t as bad as it might seem at first glance.
You can generally categorize a laptop by the following features. You simply need to decide which elements are the most important for your gaming experience.
The central processing unit, or CPU, can be thought of as the laptop’s brain. When people talk about a system computing something or processing data they’re typically referring to the CPU.
For a long time, the CPU was the most important part of a gaming computer. This is due to the fact that computers relied almost entirely on the CPU for all forms of processing.
Today the GPU, or graphics processing unit, also handles a lot of those tasks. But that shouldn’t be taken to mean that the CPU isn’t important. A powerful CPU is still the hallmark of a solid gaming platform.
The CPU is generally measured by two metrics. Speed is measured in GHz while each CPU also consists of a number of cores.
You can think of cores as collections of processors that usually work at the same speed.
So a 2 GHz system with three cores would essentially have three separate pieces of hardware that could process data at 2 GHz.
You’ll generally want a fairly powerful CPU for your gaming laptop. This means looking for a system that runs between 3.4 GHz and 3.9GHz.
And it’s generally best to have a system with six to eight cores in order to maximize the amount of multitasking possible on your system.
Ram, or random access memory, is analogous to short-term memory for a computer.
When you load up a level in a game it typically puts graphical assets into RAM. This is because accessing RAM is a lot faster than loading something from a hard drive.
Even the faster storage of a solid state drive (SSD) is much slower than RAM. And the more RAM you have the more resources a game can load into it at one time.
8 GB is generally considered the absolute minimum RAM you’d want for a gaming laptop.
This is enough RAM to let you actually play most modern games. But to play them in a fully optimized state you’ll generally want 16 GB of RAM.
The first graphics cards were a groundbreaking addition to PC gaming. These devices acted as dedicated processors that handled advanced graphics.
In fact, the name GPU refers to the fact that a graphics processing unit is entirely dedicated to working with graphics.
A GPU is able to handle 3D graphics far better than a standard processor. And at the same time, it also frees the CPU to concentrate on tasks that it handles better.
Display resolution refers to how many pixels are displayed on the screen. The higher the value the more complex the resulting images.
Obviously, you want to have a good display for your gaming experience. And in general, a laptop that supports 1920 x 1080 or higher resolution is ideal. But like RAM, you can still generally have a good experience while going lower. Though 1280×1024 is generally the lowest acceptable point for a gaming laptop.
Internal storage is more of a subjective issue than it’s ever been before. There was a time when gamers needed to tediously install games from CDs or DVDs in order to play them.
The end result is that you really needed to have as much space as possible on your computer so that you didn’t have to constantly go through that process.
Today most PC gamers just use online stores to manage their games. Assuming a decent internet connection it’s trivial to delete a game to make room for something new and then download it again later.
On the other hand, games are growing in size at a rapid pace. You’ll still find smaller games that might only be around 500 MB to 1 GB.
But It’s much more common for games to be around 40 GB. Larger games, like MMOs, can often reach or surpass 80 GB.
And you’ll almost certainly want to ensure that you have enough space for a few larger games. As such, 500 GB storage is generally the minimum you should go for. But a 1 TB or larger drive is preferred.
Build quality and form factor
This element is a little harder to objectively measure. But you know how a laptop sometimes just “feels” solid and well-built? Other times it might feel flimsy.
A gaming laptop tends to be a significant monetary investment. As such it’s important to make sure that it’s solidly built.
Likewise, you should make sure that the size fits your needs. For example, if you’re planning on walking around with your laptop then you might want to go with a smaller form factor.
What Are Some of the Best Gaming Laptop Brands?
There are a lot of options out there for gaming laptops. But one way to easily meet most of the important criteria is to shop by brand.
There are some companies out there that are well known for their quality gaming laptops. While the following companies aren’t the only options, they’re among the best of the best.
Alienware has an impressive history. The company was created all the way back in 1996. This was right about the time when PC gaming was coming into its own.
Windows 95 allowed for a whole new take on accelerated graphics when compared to the earlier DOS and Windows 3.1. Alienware saw the need within the gaming sphere and jumped right in.
Some of their gaming laptop options have fallen out of favor. For example, their largest screen sizes aren’t in production anymore. But a 15″ screen is still quite impressive. And the company has a reputation for longevity and quality control.
Asus is better known as more of a general-purpose computing company than a gaming PC manufacturer. But the company actually has an entire brand devoted to gaming – their Republic of Gamers.
Acer has made some bold and unconventional moves with its gaming hardware. From phones dedicated to gaming to their ROG Flow Z13 tablet.
But their recent ROG Zephyrus G15 highlights an important point. The company pushes hardware in interesting ways.
The G15 in particular is arguably one of the best gaming laptops on the market. And Asus has taken some bold choices like removing items not used much in gaming, like a webcam.
Acer is another company that the average person doesn’t associate with gaming. But the company’s Predator brand, started in 2008, has proven itself to be a reliable choice for gamers.
Acer has some high-powered gaming laptops. But perhaps one of the company’s most notable feats has been making gaming laptops that fit into more modest price ranges.
This has made the company a great option for people who don’t want to spend too much on their gaming laptops.
Valve might seem like an odd inclusion at first. But the company’s Steam Deck really is a gaming laptop. Just one with an unconventional form factor.
It’s a true gaming computer that runs Linux as its underlying operating system. If you pair a keyboard and mouse with it you can use it just as you would any computer.
But the real magic of Valve’s Steam Deck comes from how it’s changed people’s relationship to a computer’s form factor.
The Steam Deck is a gaming laptop that’s been shrunk down as far as possible. Small enough to fit into your hands. But the fact that it uses an x64 processor means that it’s not a typical mobile gaming experience.
It’s a true gaming laptop that can play most PC games aimed at Windows. But it’s still small enough to take with you when you’re on the go.