If you’re looking to get a new gaming laptop but you’re not sure where to start, in this guide, we’ll go over what you should look for in a gaming laptop so that you can make the right decision for your needs.
Buying a laptop specifically for gaming is a bit different of a process of buying a pre-built gaming desktop or building your own gaming desktop. Although, the general concept of “find the option with the best hardware for the lowest price” is the same. But, there are other things that you’ll want to consider when purchasing a laptop and there are certain factors that are more important for purchasing a laptop than they are with a desktop.
So, in this guide, we’re going to go over five different things that you’ll want to take into consideration if you are looking to buy a new gaming laptop.
1. The GPU in A Laptop Will Be the Main Determiner of How Well it Runs Games
For gaming-specific laptops, the most important component is the GPU. The GPU inside of a laptop will play the biggest role in determining how much performance it can provide. A weak GPU on a laptop might make it impossible to play today’s top titles or only allow you to play them on lower settings.
As a general rule of thumb, you can expect these levels of GPU power at the following prices:
- Low-Budget ($300-$600): Entry-level GPU or integrated graphics for 1080P gaming at lower settings
- Medium-Budget ($600-$1,000): Mid-range GPU for 1080P gaming at medium-to-higher settings
- High Budget ($1,000-$2,000): High-end GPU for 1080P gaming at max settings
- Extreme Budget ($2,000+): Extreme GPU for 1440P or 4K gaming at medium-to-higher settings
Of course, as a laptop comes with its own display, just looking at the GPU alone won’t give you a good idea of the kind of games it will be able to play and the performance it will deliver in those games. That’s why the laptop’s display is the next most important factor to consider after looking at its GPU.
2. The Display (Screen) the Laptop Comes With is Just As Important As the GPU it Comes With
While a lower-budget gaming laptop might struggle to run games if it has a 1080P display, if it comes with a 1366 x 768 resolution display, it will be much better suited to deliver you higher framerates at higher graphics settings.
On the flip side of that, a medium-budget gaming laptop with a mid-range GPU in it would be able to play most games at at least medium settings, but if the laptop came with a 4K resolution display, it might not be able to run those same games at lower settings.
So, if you are working with a lower budget or a medium budget, you’ll want to make sure that the screen resolution that the laptop comes with won’t hurt your in-game performance. And, in a weird way—especially for budget laptops—it’s almost better to choose a laptop that has a screen resolution that is lower than 1080P.
The other important display features that you’ll want to consider if you have a larger budget are things like a higher refresh rate and NVIDIA’s G-Sync technology. A lot of ~$1,500 or higher gaming laptops right now come with 1080P displays that have high refresh rates and come with G-Sync. The combination of the higher refresh rate and G-Sync will deliver an insanely smooth in-game experience.
3. Inadequate Cooling on A Gaming Laptop Can Render it Useless
Heat is the bane of all computer components (and all electronic equipment in general). And, while it is important to ensure adequate cooling in a desktop system because desktop computer cases are bigger and have more room inside of them (which allows for increased airflow), laptops are much more compact and all of those components working closely together can cause serious issues with excessive amounts of heat.
If your laptop gets too hot, it will force your CPU and GPU to operate at lower speeds in an effort to cool them off. And, when they operate at lower speeds, your in-game performance will suffer as a result.
Depending on how much you have to spend on your gaming laptop, you may not have a lot of options to choose between in terms of cooling. Low-budget and medium-budget gaming laptops generally won’t have perfect cooling solutions and it may be necessary to use a stand-alone laptop cooler with them.
Higher-end gaming laptops can come with upgraded cooling solutions, but there are some expensive gaming laptops out there that don’t offer great cooling solutions. And, at those higher prices, you might want to avoid gaming laptops that run hotter even if they do come with better hardware.
The only real way to tell if a gaming laptop stays cool enough to where it won’t have a negative impact on your in-game experience is to check out reviews and benchmarks on that specific model. You could look for gaming laptops that have “bulkier” cases as that is a potential indicator of an upgraded cooling system. But, it’s better to just compare actual heat benchmarks from popular laptop reviewers in order to check and see if the laptop has problems with heat.
4. Battery Life Isn’t Great for Gaming on a Laptop, So Choosing A Laptop With A Longer Battery Life Doesn’t Hurt
For me, personally, if I’m gaming on a laptop, I’ll just keep it plugged in. I’ve had the power die on me in the middle of a game too many times to know that I will run the battery life down to the bare minimum before thinking about plugging it in to charge it. That’s not the ideal way to go about it, though, and people usually opt for a gaming laptop so that they don’t have to be confined to a plugged-in device.
So, one other important factor that you’ll want to make note of when purchasing a gaming laptop is the average duration of a single charge of the laptop’s battery. Most manufacturers will provide you with some kind of a single-charge duration rating. However, it’s usually not a gaming-specific duration and so it’s important that you check reviews on the laptops you are considering to see what kind of battery life you can expect out of it.
5. Make Note of the Laptop’s Other Hardware, Too (CPU, RAM, Storage, etc.)
Along with all of the factors mentioned above and aside from the laptop’s GPU and display, you’ll also want to consider the other hardware that comes in the laptop. The laptop’s processor, memory, and storage will also play a big role in how it performs.
For the most part, if you have a specific budget, you’ll find similar processor options among the different laptops. For instance, at the time of writing this post, for a ~$1,000 gaming laptop you can generally expect to find a newer Intel Core i5 or i7 or Ryzen 5 or Ryzen 7 processor. And, for the most part, those processors will all perform fairly similarly—especially in regards to in-game performance.
The amount of RAM that comes with a laptop at a given budget can vary a little bit depending on the specific price range you’re looking at. Again, for a ~$1,000 gaming laptop, you can expect to find options that either has 8GB or 16GB of RAM. Anything over ~$1,500 will likely have at least 16GB of RAM and anything under $1,000 will likely have 8GB of RAM—although, the closer you get to a $1,000 pricetag, the more likely it will be that the laptop has 16GB of RAM.
As for storage, most laptops nowadays (even budget-friendly options) come with an SSD. A lot of budget laptops still do opt for a traditional mechanical hard drive, but there are a few out there that opt for a smaller SSD instead. For medium and higher-end gaming laptops you can expect to find both an SSD and a larger mechanical hard drive as a secondary drive option.
Is A Gaming Laptop Right for You?
Because of their lower in-game performance (on a dollar-for-dollar basis when compared to desktop gaming computers), a gaming laptop might not be the best option for you. If you aren’t 100% in need of a laptop and you would be willing to consider getting a desktop instead, you’d be able to get a lot more performance out of your budget.
However, laptops obviously have a significant advantage in mobility over desktops and so if you’re someone who needs the mobility of a laptop, but who still wants an adequate option for gaming, the five factors listed above will help you find the right option for your needs.
For laptop recommendations, consider checking out our guides below: