There is no doubt that gaming laptops are the perfect choice for gamers who need a portable PC that is powerful enough to run any game.
However, choosing the right gaming laptop is not easy, especially today when there are so many models from different brands, all with unique specs.
The good thing is that once you learn what to look for when buying a gaming laptop, picking one that caters to your needs won’t be very hard.
In this guide, we will look at the most important specs you need to consider in a gaming laptop before hitting the buy button.
Let’s get started!
Get A Good CPU And GPU Instead Of More RAM And Storage: In most gaming laptops the CPU and GPU come soldered on the motherboard hence cannot be upgraded. RAM and storage can always be upgraded later.
Don’t Get A Gaming Laptop For Low-End Titles: If you plan on playing less graphics-intensive games, such as Into the Breach, Stardew Valley, and Minecraft, a decent regular laptop will work just fine.
Don’t Go For Second Hand Or Refurbished Laptops: Get a new gaming laptop with a 1-2 warranty from the manufacturer so that in case of anything you can have it fixed or get a refund. Also, since technology evolves fast, older laptops will have outdated hardware.
Invest In SSD: With Solid State Drives, you get fast game installs and load times compared to using regular hard disk drives (HDD).
Don’t Expect Good Battery Life: High-performance components such as the CPU and GPU are quite power hungry so don’t expect to game for lots of hours on battery.
Be Careful When Picking Very Slim And Powerful Gaming Laptops: While slim gaming laptops are easy to carry, they often lack an efficient cooling system. It is hard to install large cooling fans and heat sinks in a very small chassis. This increases the likelihood of a laptop overheating.
Choosing A GPU For Your Gaming Laptop
Modern games are graphics-intensive, and this makes the Graphics card, also known as GPU(Graphics Processing Unit), the single most important component in a gaming laptop.
The GPU is responsible for rendering images on your screen during gameplay and has its own dedicated memory known as VRAM (Video Random Access Memory).
The amount of VRAM you need will vary depending on the games you want to play and the screen resolution. For 1080p gaming, 4GB of VRAM is usually enough, but for 1440p and 4K gaming you need at least 8 GB VRAM to get smoother gameplay.
If you plan on playing open-world games such as Grand Theft Auto V, Raid Redemption 2, and Just Cause 4 you’ll also need lots of VRAM. This is because they come with lots of graphical assets such as 3D models and textures that need to be loaded into VRAM as the game progresses.
Nvidia and AMD are the two major graphics card manufacturers. Most gaming laptops come with Nvidia GeForce GTX or RTX GPUs, but a few have AMD Radeon GPUs, such as the AMD Radeon RX 5500M.
Nvidia’s RTX 20-series are the most current Nvidia GPUs for gaming laptops, however, some laptops still have the older Nvidia Geforce GTX 10-Series GPUs. The new RTX-20 series graphics cards are an improvement from the previous GTX 10-Series because they are designed to support Ray Tracing.
For you to use ray tracing features with older GPUs, you need to download the latest Game Ready drivers for specific cards. Currently, some of the games that implement ray tracing include Metro Exodus, Battlefield V, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.
In some Nvidia GPUs, you will find the extension “Max Q”, which is a term borrowed from the aerospace industry. These GPUs are thinner and offer a balance between graphics performance and power efficiency.
Another extension is “Ti” which stands for Titanium, which means that that GPU is more powerful than the non-Ti version.
GPU For Entry-Level Gaming Laptop
If you are buying a gaming laptop for casual gaming or don’t plan on playing games at high settings, an Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti, GTX 1060, GTX 1650, or GTX 1660 will work for you.
These GPUs can run current AAA titles at 1080p resolution with low-mid game settings. The cost of laptops with these GPUs is usually in the $700 – $1100 range.
GPU For Mainstream Gaming Laptop
To play graphic intensive games at high settings, you need something better than an entry-level GPU. These GPUs include Nvidia GTX 1070, GTX 1080, GTX1660Ti, and RX 2060.
With these cards, you can expect to achieve a high frame rate (measured in Frames Per Second or FPS) while gaming at 1080p and decent s FPS at 1440p for most games even with the settings set to high.
FPS is also affected by how graphics-heavy a game is. If a game is very graphics-intensive and your GPU isn’t powerful enough to render fast, you can expect to experience a drop in FPS.
Laptops with these types of GPUs to be in the $1100 – $1700 price range.
GPU For VR Gaming And Highest Settings
To get the smoothest 4K and VR gaming, you need a laptop with an Nvidia GTX 1080, RTX 2070, or RTX 2080 GPU.
These GPUs are capable of running any game smoothly even at high settings and with all the features such as ray tracing, anti-aliasing, and other special graphical effects enabled.
You will find these GPUs in high-end laptops in the 1700-$3000 range. The cost may be even higher depending on what other specs and features are included.
For most gamers, these laptops are overkill unless you are into high-level competitive gaming or have a large budget to work with.
What CPU Do You Need?
The Central Processing Unit (CPU), also known as the processor, is the brain of the computer. It is the second most important component in gaming laptops after the CPU.
It handles logical calculations and sends instructions to other components, including the GPU, on what to do based on the program that’s currently running. It is also the component that determines what happens on the screen when you press a button or hover your mouse during gaming.
For heavily coded games with lots of instructions, simulations, computer A.I, and non-player characters (NPCs) such as Far Cry 5, Quantum Break, and Final Fantasy XV you need a very fast CPU to achieve smooth gameplay.
Otherwise, you may experience overall lagging and slow response times after feeding an input. Gaming laptops have either AMD Ryzen or Intel CPUs, with Intel being the most popular.
Gaming CPUs differ from those of regular laptops in that they are built for high performance. You can Identify high-performance CPUs from regular ones by looking at the letter extension at the end of the model number.
High-performance CPUs usually have the “H” extension at the end of the model number. For example, AMD Ryzen 7 3750H and Intel Core i7 9th Gen 9750H processors.
Another extension is “HK” which usually means that the processor is not only a high-performance CPU but is also overclockable (K). An example is the Intel Core i9-9980HK processor.
Overclocking enables you to adjust the clocking speed of the CPU so that it can operate at a higher frequency than what was originally set by the manufacturer.
The other thing you need to keep in mind is the CPU generation usually denoted as “Gen”. Basically, the higher the Gen-number the more advanced the CPU. For instance, Intel 8th Gen CPUs are an improvement from the previous 7th Gen CPUs.
CPUs For Entry-Level Gaming Laptops
AMD Ryzen 5 and Intel Core i5 H series processors are what you’ll require for entry-level gaming. They are the least expensive, but fast enough to run most games smoothly.
While you won’t have problems playing older or less CPU intensive games, these CPUs are not ideal for modern AAA games that implement lots of A.I, simulations, and Physical algorithms.
CPUs For Mainstream Gaming
For mainstream gaming, you need Intel Core i7 or AMD Ryzen 7 H-Series processors. These processors are an improvement from the previous Intel Core i5 and AMD Ryzen 5 processors and are perfect for mainstream gaming.
They are able to reach higher clock speeds which allows instructions to be processed much faster. This means they offer better response times which allows games to run more smoothly even at high settings. Multitasking is also much smoother with these CPUs.
CPUs For Highest Performance
If you are looking for even faster processing speeds than what is offered by intel core i7 and AMD’s Ryzen 7 processors then an Intel Core i9 or Ryzen 9 processor is what you need.
These CPUs have more cores and higher clock speeds for flawless multitasking and gaming. A good example of a laptop with this much power is the Acer Predator Helios 700.
For most gamers getting a gaming laptop with these processors, will not only be very expensive but also unnecessary unless you need that much power. In fact, currently, there’s no game that lists an Intel Core i9 in its system requirements.
Random Access Memory (RAM)
You need a minimum of 8GB RAM for gaming and average multitasking. However, some games such as Batman: Arkham Knight and Quantum Break need more than 8 GB to run smoothly on Windows 10. Therefore, going forward, 16 GB of RAM will be the sweet spot.
Modern gaming laptops now have Double Data Rate 4 (DDR4) RAM which offers higher bandwidth than the previous 3rd generation RAM or DDR3. Besides the RAM generation, you also need to pay attention to the number of channels.
RAM can be operated on a single channel or dual channel. A laptop that operates RAM in a single channel will only have one RAM slot while a dual channel one will have 2 RAM slots.
Dual-channel RAM performs better than single-channel RAM because it allows for both RAM sticks to be accessed simultaneously, thus doubling the data transfer bandwidth.
Things To Consider In A Gaming Laptop Keyboard
For most PC games, the keyboard is the main input device and you’ll be spending most of your time on it. Therefore, its design and feel are very important.
The good thing is that most gaming laptop manufacturers try to put better, more durable keyboards on their laptops than you would find in normal laptops. Some go as far as installing mechanical keyboards with swappable W, S, A, and D keys.
Below are some of the things you should consider in the keyboard:
N-key Roll-over/Anti-ghosting: N-key rollover is a feature that allows each key to be scanned completely independently regardless of how many other keys are being pressed at the same time.
This feature allows your keyboard to register several keys simultaneously, thus allowing you to perform combo moves on games such as Tekken 7. The video below will help you understand N-Key roll-over better.
Actuation Force: This refers to how much force you need to press down a key for an input to be registered. An actuation force of about 60g is considered ideal for gaming because it doesn’t feel too soft or mushy.
Macro Keys: Macro keys are programmable keys on the keyboard that allow you to complete certain tasks with the press of a single button. They eliminate the need of having to remember difficult keyboard shortcuts or going through a lengthy process.
For example, macro keys in Asus ROG gaming laptops allow you to import, add, rename, and customize game profiles through the ASUS ROG Macro key application. You can also use Macro keys to set up key-bindings in MMO and MOBA games.
Key Travel: This refers to how far down you need to press a key for it to make electric contact. Key travel of about 2mm is considered ideal for gaming. A shorter travel distance requires little effort to actuate keys while a longer one can make the keystrokes feel more distinct.
Backlighting: Keyboard backlighting is important because it allows you to game comfortably even in low-lit environments. Also, most gamers love the look of backlit keyboards. You can always turn off keyboard backlighting if you don’t need it.
Budget keyboards usually have single-color backlighting, meaning that the keyboard is lit with a single color such as red or green.
On the other hand, with RGB backlighting, you can assign different backlight colors to specific keys or commonly used keyboard zones, such as W, A, S, and D keys.
While most gamers prefer mechanical keyboards only a few high-end gaming laptops such as Aorus 17, Razer Blade Pro 17, and MSI GT83 Titan have this feature because they are much harder to fit in portable devices.
But if you don’t like the feel of the keyboard that comes with your laptop, you can always get an external gaming keyboard.
Things To Consider When Choosing A Display For Your Gaming Laptop
Your laptop’s built-in display is extremely important because it’s what you’ll be using to view all your games. It’s very hard to fully immerse yourself in a game if your laptop’s display doesn’t allow you to absorb all the graphic details while gaming.
Consider the following when picking a display:
Resolution: Screen resolution refers to the number of horizontal and vertical pixels on a display. For gaming, a 1920 x 1080 screen resolution (1080p) is considered the minimum. 2560 X 1440 (1440p) and 3840 X 2160 (4K) resolution displays are the other options available.
1440p and 4K displays offer sharper images with more detail than 1080p displays but for you to achieve high FPS with these displays, you need to have a powerful GPU.
Although laptops with 4K displays are available, to truly appreciate 4K gaming, you need a larger display than the one that comes with laptops.
Refresh Rate: Refresh rate is a measure of how many times a display’s image is repainted or refreshed per second in hertz.
A display with a refresh rate of 60Hz is capable of refreshing an image 60 times per second. This also means your frame rate is capped to 60 FPS, no matter how powerful your GPU is.
Gaming laptop displays are available with refresh rates of 60Hz, 120Hz, 144Hz, 240Hz, and 300Hz.
A few years ago, 60Hz displays were considered the standard for gaming. But currently, 120Hz -240Hz displays have proven to have less input lag and allow for smoother, tear-free gaming.
Size: Screen size is a matter of preference. 15.6-inch displays are the most common in gaming laptops. However, laptops with 17.3-inch (largest) and 13.3-inch (smallest) displays are also available.
While large displays are great for gaming, they increase the weight and size of a laptop. This slightly affects portability.
Touchscreens: Touchscreens are not a necessity in gaming laptops unless you have a specific reason to use them. They are expensive and drain batteries a lot faster.
Bezels: Bezels refers to the outer frame that supports your display. While they have no impact on gaming performance, narrow bezels make a laptop more compact without sacrificing the viewing point. Whether to go for large or thin bezels is a matter of preference.
AMD FreeSync And Nvidia G-sync: More advanced displays in high-end laptops will have support for either AMD FreeSync or Nvidia G-Sync technologies.
FreeSysc and G-Sync technologies synchronize your display’s refresh rate with your graphics card refresh rate to eliminate stuttering and screen-tearing when gaming.
Matte vs Glossy: The display can have a matte or glossy finish on its surface. Matte displays have an anti-glare coating applied to them which eliminates reflections on the screen. However, this coating also makes colors appear a bit dull.
Glossy displays, on the other hand, provide more contrast and colors are more vivid. However, when light shines on these displays, reflections are more noticeable.
Whether to go with a matte or glossy screen depends on the environment you’ll mostly be gaming or working in.
What Other Specs Should I Look For?
Gaming notebooks can have Solid State Drive (SSD) or Hard Drive Disk (HDD) storage devices, and sometimes both. SSDs are much faster than HDDs at writing and retrieving data because they have no moving parts.
They store data in chips or flash memory, however they are more expensive. SSDs are preferred for gaming because they offer fast boot and load times. If a game has cutscenes, they will load much faster on an SSD than an HDD.
HDDs are better for storing bulk files that don’t take a lot of time to load such as movies, photos, documents, etc. You want at least 256 GB – 512 GB of SSD storage space for fast loading and response, and at least 1 TB of total storage space.
Aim to get as much storage space as possible to avoid running out of space quickly.
Gaming laptops are known for their flashy and striking aesthetics that appeal to gamers. If you are buying a laptop which you’ll also be carrying to a professional environment, you want one with a simple, clean look.
Having LEDs on the panels, large colorful logos, stripes, and large stylish air vents don’t quite fit in with office-type environments. For example, carrying a flashy laptop to a business meeting can be distracting.
The chassis or casing is often an overlooked part when picking a gaming laptop. It protects your laptop’s internal components from the external environment.
In case you accidentally drop your laptop, it’s the first to absorb that impact, therefore its quality matters. Usually the chassis can be made out of plastic and in some cases metal (usually aluminum).
Metal chassis tend to bend or dent from a fall while plastic may break depending on the size of the impact. Expect to find high-quality plastic or metal casings in pricier laptops and lower quality casings in budget laptops.
The type of ports determine what devices you can connect to your laptop and how many. For instance, VR gaming requires DisplayPortTM 1.2, USB 3.0, and HDMI 1.4 ports depending on the VR headset.
Multiple USB ports allow you to connect more USB devices. And if you are looking for lightning-fast data transfers (up to 40 Gb/s) then investing in a laptop with a Thunderbolt 3TM port is the way to go.
At the bare minimum you should be able to upgrade RAM and storage. But if you want to be able to upgrade the CPU and GPU as well, a few gaming laptops such as the Origin Eon 17x and Alienware Area 51M allow you to do just that.
However, expect to pay a premium for these laptops. They are also much bulkier because they have some desktop-grade components such as the CPU.
Sound is an integral part of gaming. Most game developers include lots of sound effects and background music which makes games more immersive. Therefore, the sound quality of your laptop’s speakers matters a lot.
But if you like everything else about a laptop other than it’s speakers, it doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker. You can always plug in some gaming headphones or even better connect your laptop to your home theater when gaming at home.
If you travel a lot, you need to pay attention to the dimensions and weight of the laptop. Laptops with 17-inch screens will likely be heavier and less portable than those with smaller displays.
Not only do larger displays increase a laptop’s diagonal dimensions, you also need a bigger battery to power the display, which makes it bulky. Currently, the Razer Blade Stealth 13 is the most portable gaming laptop.
There are lots of gaming laptop brands available in the market today. None can be said to be better than the other since they all produce gaming laptops with different specs and try to stand out in their own unique way. These brands include:
- Asus ROG
- Dell Alienware
- Acer Predator
- Gigabyte Aorus
- Lenovo Legion
- HP Omen
Lastly, once you’ve found a gaming laptop that you like, check whether it is within your budget.
Rather than buying a low-budget laptop whose hardware will get outdated fast, it is better to hold off buying one (if you can) until you can afford to get one with more current hardware.
Conclusion- What To Consider Before Buying A Gaming Laptop
Understanding gaming laptop specs is key when choosing a gaming laptop. Always put more priority on buying a laptop with a good CPU and GPU since these components are not upgradeable on most laptops.
You can always upgrade the RAM and Storage later. I hope this gaming laptop guide made it clear on what you need to look for when buying a gaming laptop.