A gaming laptop is an exciting, but invariably also expensive, purchase. With high-end hardware crammed into a relatively compact chassis, there are costs to consider, but also an element of trying to work out exactly how the laptop will perform ahead of time.
In this article, we'll go over some of the most important considerations to keep in mind when shopping for a gaming notebook. These will all prove crucial if avoiding buyer's remorse is a priority.
Storage space and speed
Many computers these days come with an SSD (or solid-state drive) out of the box, which is a major improvement over the hard drives of old. Not only are they faster, but they feature less moving parts, making them more robust and less likely to fail.
Typically, a gaming laptop will come with some form of SSD; either a standalone one that sports a relatively large capacity (often 256GB or more), or a combination of SSD + hard drive.
Ideally, any computer you buy should feature a large, standalone SSD for optimal performance, but an SSD + HDD combination can work if storage space is a must. This will allow you to potentially store your entire library of games on your computer, but those games will usually load quite slowly if saved to the HDD.
Bear in mind that an NVME drive (an SSD variant) is the fastest drive of all, and will typically yield excellent boot- and load speeds.
Screen size, resolution and refresh rate
Opting for an FHD (1920x1080 resolution) screen with IPS technology is a good bare-minimum place to start when it comes to selecting an appropriate gaming panel.
Higher resolutions, such as those featured on 4k screens, may look beautiful for day-to-day usage, but will struggle to run games smoothly unless you have a top of the line graphics card. This is due to the fact that more pixels on-screen requires a more advanced GPU to keep everything running nicely.
When it comes to screen refresh rate, 60hz is considered the default, but 120- and 144hz variants are also common. The latter are preferable, as they will allow you to run games more smoothly, but will require a substantial graphics card to be able to run the latest titles at frame rates above the default of 60.
Screen size is largely a personal preference. Gaming on a smaller screen may prove tricky, so generally speaking, a 15.6" or 17.3" is recommended. A larger screen is associated with additional weight, however, so do consider that if portability is a factor.
Processor and RAM
A powerful processor is a must when it comes to a gaming laptop. Taking your prospective CPU and researching its benchmark scores online is essential. This will give you a good feel for how fast it is, and how it stacks up against the competition. More power is better, but may drain your battery faster. It may also generate additional heat.
Don't get too hung up on clock speeds when it comes to the CPU, as these can prove deceptive in terms of benchmark rankings. Instead, perform your own due diligence and work out how well it fares in real-world tests by way of the benchmark research mentioned above.
An ample amount of DDR4 RAM is also vital. Running 16GB in dual-channel mode is considered the sweet spot for gaming laptops these days. Avoid odd configurations (such as 12GB) or low-speed RAM (anything under 2100mhz would not be recommended).
Predictably, your graphics card will be the key factor when it comes to exactly how well your gaming laptop will run the latest titles.
As with the CPU, it's important to benchmark the graphics card you're considering. We recommend working out where it stacks in the overall GPU hierarchy, and watching videos online to determine the kind of frame rates you can expect.
You can chisel down the price of your computer a little if you're willing to budge on the GPU, but that is not recommended as you will miss out on the best visuals in games. Having to turn the graphics settings down to medium or good is certainly not the end of the world, but not ideal if you want an immersive experience.
There are many online tools to give you an indication of how fast a graphics card is - utilize these where possible.
Weight, dimensions, and portability
A gaming laptop is usually heavier, and often bulkier than its everyday counterparts. This is due to beefier hardware and additional mechanisms needed to keep the PC operating at stable temperatures under load.
Knowing this, you may have to accept that your new rig might prove difficult to lug around. Weights of 6 or 7lbs are not uncommon, and gaming laptops tend to work best on flat, stable surfaces. So unwinding in bed with a game isn't necessarily out of the question, but not recommended. At the very least, ensure your vents are uncovered!
Heat dissipation and fan noise
One of the issues that appears to be intrinsic to gaming laptops is that of heat dissipation. A larger plastic chassis with highly-rated heat pipes will usually yield lower temperatures than a sleek-body aluminium laptop, so do consider this if you're ogling one of those thin-bezel gaming notebooks. In this respect, it can sometimes pay to go a little "uglier" in terms of design.
High temperatures are not something to overlook. They can cause shutdowns and catastrophic hardware failure in extreme cases. Having the notebook fans coming on and operating at top speed is also not ideal, if you want an optimal experience. But even researching your gaming laptop's fans is useful - metal fans often cool better than plastic ones, for instance.
When it comes to additional help in keeping temperatures low, a cooling pad is a must, especially for those long gaming sessions. Look for one with holes (for optimal heat dissipation) and silent fans.
In summary, a gaming laptop is a tricky purchase. There are a number of factors to juggle and weigh up against one another. In some cases, a perceived plus can be a disadvantage in another respect. Bear this in mind when shopping, and read multiple online reviews before making any decisions.