Workstation Laptop vs. Gaming Laptop: Which Is Better & Why?

Workstation Laptop vs. Gaming Laptop

There’s nothing worse than paying top dollar for a laptop that turns out to be unsuitable for your needs. Luckily, you can get a basic idea of what any laptop can do by asking about its type: For example, is it a workstation or a gaming laptop? In this article, you’ll find a detailed comparison between the workstation laptop vs. gaming laptop, which will help you determine the type of laptop that’s right for you. We also provide plenty of suggestions for the best models you can buy from each category.

Workstation Laptop vs. Gaming Laptop: A Brief Comparison

If you’re pressed for time, you can use the quick comparison Table below.

 Workstation LaptopGaming Laptop
Use3D rendering, CAD software, animation, video editing, oil and gas exploration, etc.High-end AAA gaming and mainstream work purposes.
CPUThey have powerful chips that can process massive data in a short time.   High-end models have: Intel Xeon or Core I9AMD Threadripper or Ryzen 9   Cheaper models have: Intel Core I7 or I5Ryzen 7 and 5CPUs aren’t crucial for gaming, so you’ll often see weaker chips.   Most models have: Intel Core I5 or I7AMD Ryzen 7 or 5   Cheaper models have: Intel Core I3
GPUTheir GPU cards have bigger VRAM and higher clock speeds, entirely geared toward CAD software.   Almost all models have: Nvidia Quadro (more common)AMD RadeonProAlthough they have smaller VRAMs, they offer the best, most affordable experience for gamers.   Almost all models have: Nvidia GeForce (more common)AMD Radeon RX
RAMNeed more RAM to run several programs together.   Minimum: 16 GBMost common: 32–64 GB High-end: 128 GBGames don’t thrive on RAM. You’ll only need a large memory if you’re a streamer.   Minimum: 6 GBMost common: 8 GBHigh-end: 16 GB
StorageNeed massive storage to keep up with high-quality videos and CAD files.   Minimum: 1 TB HDD + 128 SSDIdeal: 2 TB HDD + 512 SSDNeed small to moderate storage.     Minimum: 1TB HDDIdeal: 1TB HDD + 128GB SSD

General Use: What Can a Workstation Laptop Do?

Gaming laptops are pretty self-explanatory, right? Their beefy GPUs are designed to give you the smoothest gaming experience possible.

But when it comes to workstations, some inexperienced users might think that they’re just average laptops that can only work with Word, Excel, and Powerpoint. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Generally speaking, workstation laptops are more powerful than gaming laptops. They have massive CPUs and impressive GPUs that specialize in 3D rendering, animation, computer-aided design (CAD), video editing, oil and gas exploration, and so forth.

Can a Workstation Run Games?

If workstation laptops often outclass gaming alternatives, does that mean workstations can run games? Well, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer here.

If the laptop has limited vRAM, it’ll struggle pretty miserably with visually-demanding AAA games.

Laptops that feature high-end GPUs (either Quadro or RadeonPro) will offer acceptable gaming performance, but they may not outperform dedicated gaming laptops. Why? Keep reading to find out!

The CPU: Workstations Are More Powerful

As a rule of thumb, workstations laptops have brawny CPUs along with powerful their GPUs that can keep up with the complex equations demanded by 3D and editing software.

Workstation Laptops

High-end workstations feature Intel Xeon or AMD Ryzen Threadripper processors, which are the most advanced models on today’s market.

These processors are notorious for their high clock speeds, fast rendering capabilities, numerous cores, and the fact that they can support ECC RAM. These specs are extremely important if your work is sensitive to data corruption (more on this later).

The HP 4RA03UT ZBook 17 G5 is one of the best laptop picks in this category.

Indeed, the types of processors found it in it will cost an arm and a leg, for sure. But, if you’re looking for more affordable options, there’s the Intel Core i9 and AMD Ryzen 9 to suit your needs. In this case, consider workstations like the Lenovo ThinkPad P73.

If you’re unsure which processor you should choose, we highly recommend reviewing the recommended specs for the software you use most often. And since CPUs are generally un-upgradable, it’s better to buy a laptop with all the processing power your wallet can afford up front.

Gaming Laptops

Although high-end gaming requires a CPU with high clock speeds and multiple cores, a beefy GPU is much more crucial here.

However, if you’re on a tight budget, we recommend going for a laptop with an Intel Core i5 over a Core i7 CPU to save money. And the laptop should allow you to upgrade the GPU from something like a GeForce RTX 2060 to RTX 2070, which will do wonders for your games.

Some users prefer AMD’s processors for gaming, especially the Ryzen 9 series. The Asus ROG Zephyrus G14 is a noteworthy laptop that offer that sweet GPU. You can also go with the cheaper models featured in the Renoir series.

Some gaming laptops even come with an Intel Core i3, but these models are slowly disappearing from the market, so they won’t be a smart investment for avid gamers in the long run.

The GPU: Both Laptops Have Powerful Cards

The GPU is the centerpiece of gaming and workstation laptops. However, each model has unique cards to suit a specific set of applications.

Workstation Laptops

Most workstations have Nvidia Quadro or AMD RadeonPro (formerly FirePro) graphics cards. When compared to gaming GPUs, they excel in terms of vRAM, memory bandwidth, and processing power.

With a VR-ready Quadro RTX 5000 on board, the ASUS ProArt StudioBook Pro 15 and the Razer Blade 15 Studio Edition are some of the best laptops in the workstation category.

Gaming Laptops

Almost all gaming laptops feature Nvidia GeForce or AMD Radeon RX cards, which are the cheaper cousins of the Quadro and RadeonPro family.

Although AMD used to rule the gaming world for a long time. Nvidia has been slowly taking its place since they released their newest “Turning” architecture (RTX) to replace the older “Pascal” technology (GTX).

The newest cards featuring this technology include:

And if those rigs are bit too rich for your blood, consider these fine machines:

So, Can You Use a Workstation Laptop for Gaming?

If you’re buying a laptop just for playing your favorite titles, don’t waste your money on a workstation. To put things into perspective, a GeForce RTX 2080 costs about $700, while Quadro RTX 5000 can exceed $2000!

See the difference?

And it’s not only about the cost. Generally speaking, workstation GPUs are geared for better rendering precision rather than speed. The less-than-ideal speed of the kind of graphics card found in workstation laptops fall short when it comes fast-paced FPS gaming.

Can You Use a Gaming Laptop for CAD Software?

Technically, you can, but that would negatively affect your performance as a professional architect or engineer.

For instance, the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti (one of the best gaming cards now) has 11GB of vRAM. Conversely, the Quadro RTX 5000 (which is the current professional flagship) has 16GB.

If you’re running CAE simulations or rendering an animated film, you’ll be in urgent need of more vRAM; the paltry 11GB of the RTX 2080 just won’t cut it.

The RAM: Workstations Need More

Both workstations and gaming laptops need a fair amount of RAM to run multiple processes without lagging. However, workstation laptops are a bit more demanding.

Workstation Laptops

It’s incredibly rare to find a workstation laptop with less than 16 GB of memory. Most users go for 32 GB and 64 GB for good reason; 16 GB offers the ideal combination between performance and affordability.

If money isn’t an issue, we highly recommend upgrading to 128 GB of RAM for your workstation, especially if you have to jump back and forth between several editing and rendering software. And if that’s what you need, consider the Lenovo ThinkPad P53.

And again, you might want to check the system requirements of the software you often use. These specs will tell you the minimum amount of RAM needed to guarantee smooth performance.

What Is the ECC Memory?

Short for error correction code, ECC is a special type of RAM, found mainly in high-end workstations and global servers.

As the name implies, ECC can detect and correct memory errors, which is invaluable for keeping data corruption at bay.

Such technology is precious for users working in professions like the financial fields and cloud services. But for video editors and 3D animators, ECC RAM can be really expensive and a bit overkill!

Gaming Laptops

Just like the CPU, RAM isn’t a decisive factor when it comes to gaming. Most gaming laptops work smoothly with just 8 GB of RAM.

You should only be interested in bigger RAM if you want to run other programs while playing a game. Software for streaming, screen recording, and webcam will need up to 16 GB of RAM to run harmoniously with your game.

32 GB and 64 GB would be a waste of money for any gamer.

The Storage: Workstations Need More

Determining the needed amount of storage – like everything else – comes down to your particular use case. But, in general workstation laptops usually come with a massive amount of storage.

Gaming Laptops

Most gamers can make do with a 1TB mechanical hard drive (MHD), paired with a 128 GB solid-state drive (SSD).

Although some people may ignore the SSD, we think it’s a crucial investment for any laptop. A boot-drive SSD will do wonders for your laptop, especially in terms of speed.

Plus, the price margin between MHDs and SSDs are shrinking, so you won’t be spending a ton of money on this upgrade.

Workstation Laptops

Video editors, animators, and engineers often work with gigantic files. And let’s not forget that such projects usually require a ton of editing, making them even larger.

Just like gaming laptops, workstations benefit significantly from an SSD; think 512 GB for starters. Pair that with two 1TB hard drives, and you’ll be good to go.

What If You Need More Storage?

In a PC, some motherboards can support four or even six hard drives. But with laptops, we’re afraid the small chassis won’t accommodate more than two drives – max.

Let’s not lose hope here, though. You can always get more storage with an external drive. And in that case, your laptop needs at least one Thunderbolt 3 port.

If you’re unfamiliar with this kind of expansion port, Thunderbolt 3 allows you to transfer data at 40 Gbps, which is four times as fast as USB-C (10Gbps). This way, you can move back and forth between your external and internal storage drives quickly.

Here are some of the best workstation laptops that have Thunderbolt 3:

Famous Brands

Most brands release their workstation and gaming laptops in separate series to set them apart from other mainstream models.

Famous workstation laptop series include:

Similarly, the most successful gaming laptops are:

Our Most Recommended Laptop Per Category

Now that we’ve covered the major differences between workstations and gaming laptops, we want to end the article with quick reviews of our favorite models from each laptop category:

Razer Blade 15: Best Gaming Laptop

Featuring a 4K OLED touch display, the Razer Blade 15 is one of the most beautiful gaming laptops in today’s market.

The beefiest configuration includes a GeForce RTX 2080 Super Max-Q (Nvidia’s latest GPU) and an Intel 10th Gen CPU, meaning that you won’t have to upgrade anytime soon.

Lenovo ThinkPad P53: The Best Workstation Laptop

The strongest configuration of the ThinkPad P53 comes with a six-core Xeon E-2276M processor (4.7GHz turbo), a 16GB Quadro RTX 5000 video card, 64GB RAM, and 1TB SSD.

Surely, its extravagant cost can be a huge turn-off for some users. But the unparalleled capabilities are definitely worth every penny.

The Final Word on Workstation and Gaming Laptops

In the duel between the workstation laptop vs. gaming laptop, there’s no “winner” in the usual sense of the word. If you want to enjoy AAA games, a gaming laptop will be a smart, comparatively more affordable purchase. And if you get a high-end model, it’ll also run light to moderate editing software.

On the other hand, workstation laptops have beefy hardware that can crunch through massive data, which explains why they’re so expensive. Such a laptop will be indispensable to you if you’re a researcher, engineer, animator, video editor, and such like.