When shopping for a gaming PC, gamers often find themselves asking; should I buy a gaming laptop or gaming desktop?
Choosing between the two can be difficult, especially now that advancements in technology have improved the performance of gaming laptops to rival that of gaming desktops.
It is therefore important to know how the two differ in order to make an informed decision.
In this article, we will look at the difference between gaming laptops and desktops. And hopefully, by the end of the article, you will be able to determine which of the two suits your gaming needs best.
Difference Between Gaming Laptops And Desktops
The difference between gaming laptops and desktops is easier understood by looking at the pros and cons of each.
Gaming Laptop vs Desktop: Pros And Cons Comparison Table
|Gaming Desktop||Gaming Laptop|
|Portability and Space||Not portable because they are heavy and require several different peripherals for them to work||Have a small footprint and are compact which makes them easy to carry around|
|Performance||The CPUs and GPUs in desktops have higher clock speeds and are less power restricted. This allows them to perform better than those of laptops.||Laptops have mobile versions of the CPU and GPU which are usually power restricted. This lowers their performance.|
|Upgradability||You can upgrade any part of your desktop PC without having to build a new PC from scratch||Usually, only the RAM and Storage are upgradeable. Only a handful of laptops allow you to upgrade the CPU and GPU|
|Touchpad vs Mouse||Using an external gaming mouse gives you better precision and more room to move your arm when gaming||Touchpads offer limited room for movement and hence don’t provide the best gaming experience|
|Keyboard||You have the freedom to choose a keyboard from any brand that you feel most comfortable gaming with||You are stuck with the keyboard that comes with your gaming laptop, unless you attach an external keyboard|
|Cooling||You can set up your cooling system however you want and you have lots of options available||The cooling system is designed and installed by the manufacturer|
|Sound||You can install large speakers or even have a dedicated sound system connected to your PC for the best sound quality||Due to limited space in the chassis, laptop speakers are small and their sound quality is unable to match that of desktops|
|Customization options||The amount of customization you can do to your gaming desktop is unlimited||Customization options in laptops are very limited due to their compact nature and lack of standardized parts|
|Memory and Storage||Memory and storage are upgradeable and you have the ability to increase the number of slots||Memory and storage are upgradeable but you don’t have the ability to increase the number of slots|
|Display size||You can connect a display of any size||Display size ranges between 14 – 17.3 inches|
|Repair||Easy to repair due to the availability of standardized parts||Lack of standardized parts makes repairs difficult, especially if it’s an old laptop|
|Ergonomics||Adjustable monitors and external keyboards and mice allow you to sit farther and encourages good posture||A smaller display and use of a touchpad and inbuilt keyboard force you to sit close and this encourages slouching|
|Price||Price can range from cheap to expensive depending on the components you pick||Price is usually higher than that of the average gaming desktop|
|Lifespan||The ability to upgrade and carry out repairs significantly increases the lifespan||Lifespan depends on the quality of components installed an how well you take care of your machine|
|Power Consumption||Consume more power due to larger and more components that are less power restricted||Consume less power than their desktop counterparts due to more power restriction|
Portability And Space Needed
Portability is the most obvious distinction between the two and biggest advantage that gaming laptops have over desktops. Gaming desktops are heavy, large in size, and need peripherals such as a mouse, keyboard, and monitor to function. This makes it impractical to carry them around.
If you love to game on the go, laptops are the best solution. Typically, they weigh about 5 pounds. They can easily be carried to LAN parties or Esports tournaments in a backpack.
For example, if you are a student, it is easy to get in a room with 8 other gamers and enjoy playing a LAN game such as Warcraft as you wait for your next class.
Also, consider getting a laptop if you are short on space. Laptops are compact and don’t require any cable management which enables them to use up very little space.
Everything in a gaming laptop including the GPU (Graphics Processing Unit (graphics card)), CPU (Central Processing Unit (processor)), fan, and power supply, etc. is designed to fit in a small chassis.
Performance: GPU And CPU
Performance on gaming laptops has greatly improved over the years, however, it still doesn’t beat that of desktops. This is because gaming laptops, even bulky ones, have mobile versions of CPUs and GPUs, which are less powerful than those of their desktop counterparts.
The limited space in gaming laptops makes it difficult to cram in more power without introducing problems such as overheating. For instance, a desktop core i7 processor performs better than a mobile core i7 processor due to less thermal and power restrictions.
Just like CPUs, GPUs in laptops and desktops differ in terms of performance. Their architecture may be similar, but performance-wise they differ. Gaming desktop GPUs have higher clock speeds, more memory bandwidth, and texture mapping units, which greatly improves their performance.
For instance, according to a study conducted by techspot.com, the Nvidia Geforce RTX 2070 on desktop outperformed the Nvidia Geforce RTX 2070 on laptop, due to its higher clock speed and lesser power and thermal restrictions.
Cooling capabilities between laptops (mentioned in the next point), also have an effect on performance. If performance is your top priority, a gaming desktop will be the perfect match for you.
Modern games come with features such as dynamic weather, photo-realistic textures, and advanced AI that not only responds to your actions but also function autonomously to improve your gaming experience.
However, enjoying these features relies heavily on having the latest hardware in your computer, mostly the graphics card and processor.
Gaming laptops limit you in terms of what you can upgrade since most of their hardware is custom-designed and directly soldered onto the motherboard. Most laptops only allow you to upgrade RAM and storage.
Only a few gaming laptops such as the Alienware area 51M allow you to upgrade the GPU and CPU. Expect to spend a little extra on such laptops.
On the other hand, you can upgrade everything on a gaming desktop and don’t need to buy or build a new computer from scratch. Replacing outdated hardware in desktops is a relatively easy and fast process as long as you know where each component goes.
This means you can start off with cheap components and slowly upgrade them over time to improve performance. Desktops are the better option if you want the flexibility of upgrading your hardware when it gets updated.
Touchpad vs Gaming Mouse Experience
Touchpads, also known as trackpads, are good for simple tasks such as navigating through documents and surfing that don’t require precision. But when it comes to gaming, they are very inconvenient, they lack comfort, flexibility, and accuracy.
Gaming using touchpads isn’t impossible, however, compared to gaming with a desktop’s external gaming mouse, it limits you in a few ways:
Most gamers will agree that moving characters around, targeting, dragging pieces, and firing is much easier and more precise with a gaming mouse than with a touchpad. This is because using a mouse over a mouse-pad or desk gives you more space to glide and move your wrist.
Touchpads lack programmable buttons and a scroll wheel available in gaming mice. In many FPS games scroll wheels are used to switch between weapons while programmable buttons add more functionality such as the ability to set up key-binds in MOBA and MMO games.
If you buy a gaming laptop you may still have to buy a separate gaming mouse at some point. This adds to the cost and if you have to attach more peripherals such as a controller or keyboard, it starts to look more like a desktop.
You will often find membrane keyboards in gaming laptops due to their smaller footprint, light-weight, low-noise, and affordability. But despite these advantages, most gamers prefer mechanical keyboards for gaming which are rare in laptops.
Mechanical keyboards are more durable and can withstand long presses and repeated pressing of the same keys which is convenient for gaming. For example, industry-standard switches, such as cherry MX switches offer a guarantee of up to 50 million keystrokes.
They also have better key roll-over meaning they can register when you press several keys simultaneously to perform certain in-game actions such as combos for boss attacks.
Some high-end mechanical keyboards come with N Key roll-over which allows each key to be scanned independently. This means they can correctly register each keystroke even if you press a bunch of other keys at the same time.
Mechanical keyboards also feel more natural to use than membrane keyboards because they give an auditory click that lets you know a keystroke has registered.
Gaming desktops give you the option to choose between mechanical and membrane keyboards without restriction.
Demanding games such as GTA V and Final Fantasy XV put a lot of stress on the CPU and CPU. The CPU has to process lots of logical operations and calculate what happens when you click, press the keyboard, etc. while the GPU has to render images at a fast rate.
These processes produce a lot of internal heat in both gaming desktops and laptops. Extreme heat causes thermal throttling which results in a drop in gaming performance. Premature hardware failure is also often caused by overheating.
The slim chassis of laptops restricts air-flow and the interior can become extremely hot. Fans on laptops are small and have to spin very fast to drive cool air to components. Desktop fans are much larger and you can install multiple of them to keep temperatures at desirable levels.
Desktops also have larger heat sinks which help dissipate heat from the CPU and GPU more effectively. To keep the weight low, gaming laptops are equipped with smaller, slimmer heat sinks which are less effective.
While liquid cooling is not an option in laptops, the availability of space in desktop cases makes it possible to implement this cooling method.
There are some things you can do to prevent your gaming laptop from overheating such as placing your laptop on a cooling pad. But generally, it is much easier to control overheating in desktops than laptops.
Sound is an integral part of gaming, and without it, it is hard to completely immerse yourself into the gaming world.
Sound options on desktops are unlimited, only your budget can limit you. If you want to get the best quality audio, you have the freedom to connect a dedicated sound system to your gaming desktop.
Dramatic suspense background music offers a more immersive experience when you have high definition audio to match the superb graphics that come with most modern games.
Modern gaming laptops, unlike the previous generation laptops now have better speakers that let you enjoy the thrill of rapid machine-fire and jump scares. Some even come with 2.1 subwoofers installed under their chassis.
Even though gaming laptop speakers are far superior to those of ordinary laptops, they are still not able to completely mask out environmental noises. Sometimes fan-noise alone can be a problem as a laptop tries to cool down its interior.
You can buy a good pair of gaming headphones to mask this noise but your audio quality will still not be comparable to that of a complete audio system.
There’s no limit to the level of customization you can do to a desktop. With a bit of computer knowledge and a handful of tools such as a screwdriver set and pliers, you can customize everything from the processor and graphics card to the casing.
LED lights and peripherals such as the keyboard, monitor, and mouse are also available in a variety of colors to help match your setup to a particular color theme.
But care should be taken when selecting components for your gaming desktop to ensure they are compatible with one another, this is where some knowledge in computers comes in.
Fortunately, there are lots of tutorials that not only teach you how to build a custom PC step by step but also list the exact components you need to buy. You can customize a desktop to match any specs for any game you can think of.
Gaming laptops, on the other hand, are built to be compact, they are not meant to be taken apart. Every component in a gaming laptop is custom-made to fit in their small chassis.
This means you cannot switch a membrane keyboard for a mechanical keyboard and neither can you fit a regular-sized Nvidia or AMD GPU into a laptop.
Even though some laptops allow you to change parts such as the SSD, RAM, and HDD, it is virtually impossible to swap the CPU and GPU as they are usually soldered onto the motherboard. Only a few high-end gaming laptops have this option.
Desktops are the best option if you want a PC that looks and performs exactly how you want. You will also experience a lot of satisfaction in picking and handling individual parts when creating your own custom gaming desktop.
Memory And Storage
Gaming laptops come with at least 8 GB of RAM, which is enough to play most games. But if you run more programs such as those used to stream, edit videos, and record gameplay simultaneously with a heavy game, you may eventually run out of RAM.
Also, keep in mind that the OS (Operating System) alone such as Windows 10 requires between 1 GB and 2 GB of RAM to run properly.
Running out of RAM results in your computer having to retrieve assets directly from the hard drive, which is slower. This leads to undesirable effects such as shutters, crashing, and drops in the frame rate. You need sufficient RAM to run games smoothly.
A laptop’s CPU, as well as the number of memory slots available on the motherboard, limits the amount of RAM you can add. Laptops usually have two memory slots compared to desktops which have four. Some high-end desktop motherboards have as many as eight slots.
SSD (Solid State Drive) and HDD (Hard Drive Disk) are the two types of storage devices you will find in gaming computers. While there are no restrictions to the capacity of SSD/HDD you can add to a desktop or laptop, there are restrictions to the number you can add.
Due to the small size of their interior, laptops usually have one SSD and one HDD slot. It is possible to replace your current storage device to increase storage capacity but you can’t add more SSDs/HDDs.
If you run out of space your only option is to swap out your current SSD or HDD or get an external hard drive.
On the other hand, gaming desktops have more room in their casing and therefore more hard drive bays for installation of more drives. You can install four or more SSDs/HDDs as long as you have the power to run them.
When it comes to both memory and storage, you have more options with desktops than with laptops.
Let’s face it! It is hard to appreciate the rich picture quality that comes with graphically intensive titles such as Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Battlefield 5, Witcher 3, etc., on a low-end display.
Most Gaming laptops have 15.6 – 17.3-inch displays with only a handful having smaller 13.3-inch displays. Gaming on a laptop with larger displays is better, however, the additional weight and size compromise portability.
Larger sized desktop monitors allow you to capture more detail and immerse yourself more into a game. Desktop monitors can range between 19 inches 65 inches or more. If you prefer sitting less than 3 feet away from a monitor, a 24-inch monitor with a 1080p resolution is the ideal size.
Standard gaming laptops have a 1080p screen resolution but 4K resolution in laptops is getting popular. Despite this trend, the color depth of 4K resolution is more noticeable on 27-inch displays or larger which are only available on gaming desktops.
You can get over this hurdle by connecting your gaming laptop to an external monitor, but your laptop needs to be able to power a 4K monitor or TV at the recommended 60 FPS. But most low-end laptops are not able to run 4K gaming at a decent frame-rate.
Another advantage desktops have over laptops is that they have multiple display ports that allow you to connect multiple displays for multitasking. This means you can game from one monitor while you use the other for live YouTube or twitch streaming.
Unless your laptop supports Thunderbolt 3, you’ll be restricted to using a single external display since most laptops have only one display port.
Overall, you have more options with desktop displays than with laptop displays when it comes to refresh rate, response time, and synchronization technologies such as G-sync and Free-Sync.
Number Of Ports
The number of ports determines the number of external devices you can connect to a gaming desktop or laptop. The more the ports the more external devices you can connect. As mentioned earlier, with more display ports you can install multiple displays for multitasking.
Different external devices need specific types of ports to function properly. For example, for VR gaming, you need HDMI or DisplayPorts to power virtual reality (VR) headsets. Keyboards, mice, and Bluetooth dongles are connected through USB ports.
Generally, desktops usually have more ports than laptops. They also give you the flexibility to add or upgrade different types of ports depending on your needs. With laptops, you are limited by the number and type of ports a manufacturer chooses to install on a particular model.
To facilitate portability in gaming laptops, manufacturers such as Razer, MSI, Dell, Asus, etc. often have to customize each component so that it fits in a slim chassis.
This means that it can sometimes be difficult to get genuine repair parts for a gaming laptop you bought three years ago. By this time your laptop warranty has expired and without repair parts, your only option would be to buy a new laptop if your manufacturer doesn’t have the exact parts in stock.
Desktop repair parts can easily be purchased online or from local computer retail stores since their components are standardized. Even if you don’t find the exact parts you are looking for, you can still get another part that is compatible and get things running again.
Hell, you can even choose to upgrade the failed component while you are at it.
Similar to how working for long hours in the wrong posture causes all kinds of discomfort and pain, gaming for long hours can have the exact same effect. It is important for heavy gamers to watch their posture.
The smaller size of the display and position of the touchpad on laptops causes gamers to hunch over the computer. Over time, this can cause problems such as eye-strain and back problems.
Desktops, on the other hand, have larger displays that can be adjusted to any viewing angle. Peripherals also have long cables that allow you to lean back comfortably in your gaming chair.
In fact, if you want to sit farther away and reduce eye strain, you can buy a wireless gaming keyboard and mouse.
Whether you choose a laptop or desktop, it is important to take regular breaks from gaming. This will prevent all kinds of computer-use related problems.
Assuming you wanted to buy a gaming desktop and a gaming laptop of equivalent performance, the gaming desktop will be much cheaper. You pay extra for laptops for convenience and portability.
Smaller components in laptops are more expensive to make and are difficult to design. They also have to withstand the stress of being moved around frequently.
Also, unlike in desktops where you can upgrade hardware depending on your needs and budget, gamers often demand to have the latest technology in laptops. Newer technology costs more.
The lifespan of a gaming desktop and laptop depends on the quality of components used, upgrade options available, handling, and how well the heat produced by the CPU and GPU is managed.
High-end gaming laptops, unlike budget laptops, have proper cooling mechanisms that prevent premature hardware failure, use quality components, and allow some of their primary components to be upgraded.
Without upgrade options, a laptop with outdated components will no longer serve you well if your goal is to play the latest game titles.
Desktops have no restrictions over what you can upgrade and offer more heat management options and this increases their lifespan.
Also keep in mind that laptops, due to their mobile nature, can easily be dropped, and if the impact is big enough the laptop can suffer damage. Desktop PCs are less likely to be dropped because they stay in one location for the most part.
Even though gaming laptops drain batteries a lot faster than normal laptops, they are still more power-efficient than gaming desktops. They have smaller fans, GPUs, CPUs, and displays that consume less power.
Gaming desktops are less power restricted and even though this offers a boost in performance, it also contributes to a higher electricity bill. Desktops not only have larger components that consume more power but also need to power all other connected external peripherals.
Out of all computer parts, displays consume the most power, so if you connect larger displays to your gaming desktop or gaming laptop, expect to see a bump in the power consumed.
It is possible to limit the amount of power consumed by gaming desktops but you can’t do this without sacrificing gaming performance.
Are Gaming Laptops Worth It?
Gaming laptops are worth it if you need to be able to run demand software such as games, video editing, and 3D applications on the go. However, if having a lighter laptop and good battery life are your focus, then getting a normal laptop is the best choice.
Conclusion- Gaming Laptop or Desktop?
So, should you get a gaming desktop or laptop?
This ultimately depends on your gaming needs. If you travel a lot or need the convenience of being able to carry your computer to Esports events, LAN parties, school, then a gaming laptop will serve you best.
On the other hand, if you have a home office, plan to spend most of your time in your gaming den, then a gaming desktop is for you. The ability to upgrade, repair, and customize a gaming desktop is also a plus for hardcore gamers.
Unless portability is a priority, rather than buying a gaming laptop it is better to start with a cheaper gaming desktop and slowly upgrade it over time.
Whichever one you choose, unless you go for the very cheap ones, both have the power to play even the most demanding games smoothly.