Is a Gaming Laptop Worth It? [10 Brutally Honest Truths]

Is a Gaming Laptop Worth It

We have a confession to make, we love gaming laptops. This may come as no small surprise, but we think a gaming laptop is totally worth it. Gaming laptops are powerful, portable computers that play games you once needed a big honking desktop PC to enjoy. But not anymore. For many users, PC gaming is a portable experience — gamers that haven’t touched a desktop for gaming in years are wolfishly flocking to the alluring awesomeness of a powerful gaming laptop. A major reason for this trend is that a fantastic portable gaming rig makes you forget you’re playing on a laptop.

Pros of a Gaming Laptop

The decision to buy a gaming laptop comes with a few qualifiers. And for many gamers, the benefits far outweigh any potential negatives. Here are just a few reasons why we think a gaming laptop is worth it!

1.     Price

If you can remember what the going price was for a gaming laptop compared to their standard counterpart. Then you’ve likely noticed prices have plummeted in recent years though quality has inversely shot up. You had to fork over $1200 to play the latest titles whereas today $900 gets you a gaming machine like the Lenovo Legion powered by an RTX 2060 graphics card. You even get handy features like entry-level raytracing.

2.     Power

One of the many selling points for a gaming laptop is that the performance closely matches that of an equivalent desktop computer; the benchmarks of a mobile version of the NVIDIA RTX 2080 GPU and the desktop edition show nominal differences. Unfortunately, manufacturers tend to underclock components to keep the gaming laptop from overheating. But OEMs have the carte blanche to lower the clockspeed of a GPU only as much as they see fit.

3.     High End Options

In comparison to other options, the price for a new a gaming laptop can be… considerable. But with that price tag comes some truly fringe benefits like high res displays. Except for a few cheap models that make trade-offs to cut costs. There’s a catalogue of reasonably priced gaming laptops offering gorgeous 1920 x 1080 resolution screens which translates to the rendering of gaming visuals in all their scintillating beauty. Spend a little more and you can also get 4K to play the games that offer the crystal clarity of UHD. Solid-state drives (SSDs) also often come standard even more so than on desktop computers these days! What does that mean for you? Lightening fast load times and virtually silent operation compared to a desktop rig with an MHD.  

4.     Improved Portability and Build

The main reason why you want a laptop is obviously portability; it offers a reduced size over what you can get with a larger screen hooked up to a desktop computer. 15-inches is the standard size for any laptop, including gamers. 17-inch models are excellent for giving you a desktop experience while maintaining a wildly more portable form factor. In the opposite spectrum are a class of gaming notebooks known as gaming Ultrabooks. They’re mercifully lightweight. But since trade-offs are a part of life, graphical power tends to lag competing gaming laptop categories. And prices tend to soar like a rocket breaking orbit.

5.     Versatility

A gaming laptop affords you more than just graphical prowess for gaming. And you get way more capabilities than you would going the console route (more about this later). If you’re a student, a gaming laptop is an excellent option that can last you through all four years of University given the higher rated specs compared to a generic notebook. If you’re already a professional, not only can you use your gaming laptop to relax or blow off steam when you’re not working. But the high-end components eliminate the need for a secondary laptop dedicated to work; just look at the wide selection of professional grade laptops for working from home, SolidWorks, Revit, 3D Modeling and Rendering, Engineering, Architecture, AutoCAD, Programming, and Data Science!

Cons of a Gaming Laptop

So obviously we think that gaming laptops are wonderful. But there are several reasons why you might re-consider buying a gaming laptop and they’re all worth considering.

6.     Price

Yup that’s right. The same thing that makes a gaming laptop worth it is the same reason why it may not be worth it for you. On average, gaming laptops tend to have a much higher price tag than equivalent desktop computers with the same specs. Why? It’s mostly to do with the miniaturization of components. An honest to goodness portable gaming rig that can run new games on high settings will typical run $1,200 -$1,300; the same goes for any VR ready machine. A top-of-the-line experience jumps to the $2,000 range.

7.     Size and Weight

We also talked about how the size and weight of a laptop makes it way more nimble than a full-on desktop. However, opting for a 17-inch laptop reduces that portability factor as some desktop replacement laptops can weigh as much as 10 pounds! Not to mention the fact that gaming laptops often prove unwieldly to manage compared to standard notebooks.

8.     Less Upgrade Potential

This is an issue particularly if you purchased a weak gaming laptop but would like to upgrade components to stronger stuff or just for keeping up with the pace of technology – While more portable, gaming laptops have less upgrade potential compared to a desktop. On balance, however, many models provide easy access for upgrading components like RAM and the hard drive with a few easy turns of screwdriver. But replacing graphics cards and the CPU are often out of the question for many rigs, though not entirely impossible. But often what you get is what you get.

9.     Comparatively Less Powerful Components

Many gaming laptops offer less power than a gaming desktop, especially if you’re on a budget. Remember we mentioned how the miniaturization of components is a contributing factor to the higher cost of a laptop? Well, due to the portable nature of a gaming laptop, the hardware inside typically features underclocked CPUs and graphics cards, which can be as much as 30 to 50% – Max-Q designed laptops while lithe in appearance offer less power than full-desktop counterparts. For instance, the Razer Blade 15 with a GTX 1070 offers slightly less graphical performance than the same card in desktop. And if you don’t keep these gaming rigs constantly plugged in, you could throttle both CPU and graphics card from running at maximum capacity.

10. Excessive Heat

One of the biggest enemies for any computing device is increased heat. There’s comparatively less room in a laptop for hardware to play nice with each other than there is in a desktop. High end components generate a lot more heat than their less powerful cousins. Gaming laptops can generate so much heat that they can’t sit comfortably on your lap. And it’s important to keep exhaust vents away from cables or anything else that can melt. But this issue can be swiftly dealt with by choosing a gaming rig with proper cooling and buying an inexpensive cooling pad.

Is a Gaming Laptop Worth It for College?

Today’s gaming laptops come with some serious power to meet the high-end demands on performance for modern games. Powerful portable gaming laptops are comparable to high-end desktop PCs, which is a boon for college students, commuters and travelers – They can be more powerful than gaming consoles and even some gaming desktops.

Obviously, it’s not just the performance that makes gaming laptops such a great buy for the college crowd, it’s the portability. Besides school, these machines are excellent for daily tasks like, surfing the Internet and video editing.

When choosing the best gaming laptop for college, consider this:

  • A gaming laptop with a 15.6-inch screen hits the sweet spot for game immersion and hoping from class to class.
  • From browsing the Internet to preparing PowerPoint presentations, a Core i7-based gaming rig will be fast enough for the day to day and playing AAA titles (Core i5 laptops are also worth looking into).
  • More RAM means you will be able to run more applications at once (up to a point). Opt for a gaming laptop with 8 to 16GB of RAM.
  • Good gaming relies on good display quality. A 1920 x 1080 resolution screen will also make it easier to see your homework assignments. 
  • And while NVIDIA G-sync technology is a nice to have. But we can’t yet recommend wasting your money on 4K as there’s just not that much 4K content out yet.
  • A gaming laptop that offers a good battery life is about as a sports car with good gas mileage. Still since you’re a college student and power outlets aren’t always readily available. Opt for a gaming laptop with at least 4-hours of battery life unplugged.
  • A laptop that offers a solid-state drive (SSD) and a mechanical hard drive (MHD) is always ideal — You can put the operating system (OS), regularly used apps and a few favorite games on the SSD for the faster load times. And put the rest of your games and files on the MHD which has more storage space.

Is a Gaming Laptop Better Than a Console?

So, remember how we said that a gaming laptop provides you with versatility? Did you know that the lifespan of a game can be drastically increased on a gaming laptop through a huge library of mods? Try that on an Xbox or Playstation console.

And if gaming for you is synonymous with platforms like YouTube and Twitch. Or you just need tips on passing a particularly challenging level – online communities are much easier to access when you’re already on a laptop through communities like Discord than on a console.

Speaking of which, the new Xbox Series X currently retails for $499. If you just want a machine for gaming, this could be a good option. But gaming laptops come with expansion ports specifically for hooking up to peripherals like a bigger external monitor or television. Add to that setup an external mouse and keyboard and you’ve got full desktop setup. Can’t do that with a console.

Best Gaming Laptop for Any Budget

If you can’t stomach the thought of dropping $2000 or more on a gaming laptop, our sympathy is with you. There are many standard laptops well configured to serve dual duty as a sub-entry-level gaming laptop. Classics like World of Warcraft, CS: Go and even the battle royale gaming sensation known as Fortnite and PUBG have fairly low spec requirements that can run games at medium settings without any problem.

Here’s a list of the hottest selection of gaming laptops for any budget:

BudgetGraphicsRAMCPUGo to Review
Best Gaming Laptop Under $200Asus Chromebook C202Integrated Intel HD Graphics 4004GBIntel Dual-Core Celeron N3060 CPUReview
Best Gaming Laptop Under $300HP Stream 14Integrated Intel HD Graphics 400 4GBIntel Dual-Core Celeron N3060 CPUReview
Best Gaming Laptop Under $400Dell Inspiron 15 3000 (i3567)Integrated Intel HD Graphics 6208GBIntel Dual-Core i5-7200U CPUReview
Best Gaming Laptop Under $500Acer Aspire 5 SlimIntegrated AMD Radeon Vega R3 Graphics4GBAMD Dual-Core Ryzen R3200U APUReview
Best Gaming Laptop Under $600HP Pavilion 15tIntegrated Integrated Intel UHD G1 8GBIntel Dual-Core i3-1005G1 CPUReview
Best Gaming Laptop Under $700Acer Nitro 5Dedicated AMD Radeon RX 560X Graphics w/ 4GB vRAM 8GBAMD Quad-Core Ryzen 5 2500U APUReview
Best Gaming Laptop Under $800Acer Nitro 5Dedicated NVIDIA GTX 1050 w/ 3GB vRAM 8GBIntel Quad-Core i5-9300H CPUReview
Best Gaming Laptop Under $1500Acer Predator Helios 300Dedicated NVIDIA GTX 1660Ti w/ 6GB vRAM16GBIntel Hexa-Core i7-9750H CPUReview
Best Gaming Laptop Under $2000Acer Predator Triton 500Dedicated NVIDIA RTX 2070 w/ 8GB vRAM16GBIntel Hexa-Core i7-9750H CPUReview

Tablet Gaming

Did you know that you can play big name games like Fortnite and PUBG on a tablet? It’s true! But if you don’t care about either of those titles and you don’t crave the latest and greatest AAA shooters. There’s survival sims like Ark and a motley of classic games from the SNES era to indulge your nostalgia.

Gaming Laptop Buying Guide

It’s all or nothing for gamers: We demand delicious graphics and teeth-clenching speed. The latest AAA titles boast the most ludicrous and unrealistic weapons. But before you can play, you need a good Gaming Laptop. For the perfect gaming experience, pay attention to these factors to weed out the best from the rest.

Graphics Card (GPU)

Since gaming is a visually intense activity, this is where you want to spend most of your money. The graphics card is responsible for delivering images to the display by processing data and transmitting the signal to the display. Most gaming laptops are equipped with the NVIDIA GeForce GTX or RTX GPU.

An RTX 2070 gives you the power to play just about anything on the highest settings. But if you don’t often play games at the bleeding edge of performance, the GTX 1650 and AMD RX 5500M are more cost-efficient options.

The benefit of one of these dedicated graphics cards compared to an integrated GPU is that it comes with vRAM. The dedicated RAM means you won’t suffer severe slow downs during the most critical moments of your game. Notebook Check is a terrific resource for comparing GPU benchmarks.

RAM

8 GB is enough RAM for most gamers; it’ll ensure you don’t run into problems with the majority of games out there. But if you game with many programs in the background like Twitch, you’ll want to step up to 12 to 16 GB of RAM. Keep in mind, however, that anything more is excessive for gaming. Also don’t feel compelled to buy the laptop that offers the most amount of RAM as you can always upgrade system memory in the future.

NOTE: Setting up RAM to run in dual-channel mode offers greater RAM bandwidth. But it might make future upgrades costly.

Processor (CPU)

An Intel Core i5 CPU is good enough to play most games. But for our money a good gaming laptop comes with at least Quad-Cores or more; dual-cores aren’t that capable of gaming.

AMD is good on the cheap and getting closer to delivering Intel performance with each new generation. But nothing touches Intel’s top offerings. Now the Core i9 is top of the line for gaming laptops with Core i7 still delivering excellent gaming performance.

The Core i5 is good for gaming, and even some of the latest Core i3 processors can outperform AMD series APUs. But if you’re on a budget we don’t recommend spending a lot of money in this area; since modern games are better optimized, the hyper-threading and turbo boosting ability that larger CPUs offer largely goes to waste.

Storage

Another component that will greatly affect the price of the gaming laptop you choose is the storage capacity; the more storage capacity any laptop has, the higher its price. Since some big games require as much as 20GB to 30GB of space, we always recommend choosing a gaming laptop that offers both a hard disk drive (7200RPM instead of 5400RPM) and a fast solid-state drive. Not only does this storage solution help minimize cost, but you get the benefit of a much faster gaming rig with the SSD and you can load your games into the large storage capacity of the supplemental MHD. Check out the many flavors of SSDs here.

Size

Thinner isn’t always better. The most popular gaming laptops come with a 15- to 17-inch display. Some even come bigger like the MSI GT83 Titan with its’s immersive 18.4-inch display. But Acer’s insane Predator 21 X tops the chart with a behemoth 21-inch screen.

It might sound counter-intuitive to everything else you probably heard about laptops. But when it comes to gaming laptops, thinner isn’t better. That’s not to say that a thin profile doesn’t have its place when it comes to the world of gaming.

If you’re playing non-taxing titles like Dota 2, or Minecraft, an Ultrabook size laptop could be ideal. But if you want to play the biggest PC series and beefier titles, a thinner laptop might easily succumb to overheating and performance throttling.

A good gaming laptop regardless of size can support a dual fan setup to keep things cool. And its big enough to house features that are important to your game play, like a bigger graphics card, more RAM, and a full keyboard and touchpad.

Resolution

A bigger screen will be more fun to play on too. The trade-off will be a bulkier laptop that’s more power-hungry. But since the size of the screen is related to the overall size of the laptop. A gaming laptop with 17- or 18-inch display will most likely have more powerful components.

If you’re anything like us, you’ll notice that video game developers are producing more 4K content. Although there are more gaming laptops equipped to push 4K displays, this resolution is still really taxing on the hardware. Which is why we often recommend a panel that offers a 1920 x 1080p resolution: Full-HD. A good gaming laptop will also come equipped with IPS (in-plane switching) technology.

Keyboard & Touchpad

A good gaming laptop will also offer a keyboard with an actuation force that feels like the mechanical keyboard on a desktop computer; the SteelSeries keyboards on MSI laptops is a good example of this. The keys on a bad keyboard will feel mushy and make you second guess whether you actually depressed it or not. Needless to say, this is not ideal for a gaming laptop. More gaming laptop manufacturers are equipping their keyboards with backlighting. While it’s not super important to have this feature. If you ever need to game or work in the dark, it sure does comes in handy. Some offer customizable RGB lighting.

Even though you’ll most likely use a gaming mouse when gaming. A smooth touchpad is still paramount to your gaming experience. The touchpad on a good gaming laptop will allow two-finger scrolling, pinch-to-zoom, and have all the buttons you need for those critical levels (some touchpads can even light up in the dark). 

Ports

Does the gaming laptop you’re considering have all the ports you need? At the very least, a good gaming laptop will have an HDMI port enabling you to plug your laptop into a larger monitor. Here is a list of ports to consider for your gaming laptop.

Speakers

A few high-end gaming laptops come equipped with good, built-in speakers. But, for the best quality sound the speakers on any laptop probably won’t cut it. To satisfy your need for Michael Bay-level explosions, you’ll need a decent pair of noise-cancelling headphones.

Battery Life

Charging your laptop when you’re on the move isn’t always easy. Gaming laptops aren’t known for the longevity of their battery away from an outlet. Even a laptop with a bigger battery will give up the ghost after only an hour with all the setting pushed up. To squeeze in some extra game time without need for a power outlet, consider getting a rechargeable power pack for your gaming laptop.

Brand

Like every standard laptop, every gaming laptop brand has its position within the market. In other words, each gaming laptop brand has something unique to offer within the gaming category. For instance, Acer produces some rather unique premium gaming laptops under its Predator series. MSI is well regarded for delivering some of the best high-end gaming laptops. And if you’re looking for a thin laptop to double as a business notebook, look no further than Razer’s Blade and Stealth series.

Final Thoughts

Gaming laptop technology is improving by leaps and bounds. In the end, like Floyd Maywheather or Mahammad Ali, gaming laptops beat the FPS out of any other gaming platform. At the top end, bulky, expensive rigs still rule the roost. But if spending $1500 on a portable gaming PC has you wondering whether your funds wouldn’t be better split between a desktop and a lightweight laptop. Thanks to the power of Max-Q, stalwart efforts are constantly balancing power and a stealthy form factor to better cater mid-range gaming. Is a gaming laptop right for you? For us, there’s only one choice – Gaming laptops rule!