Gaming Laptops: Are They Worth It?
Name two things gamers love, and the first will be interchangeable with the second: great graphics and speed. Good game play runs third, simply because the recipe for what makes a good game varies greatly according to personal preference. No credible fan of gaming will give up one over the other, either—it’s all or nothing for us gaming folk. We build large, elaborate desktop systems with multiple graphics cards, oodles of RAM and processors that could power a small city just for the privilege of standing over a fallen comrade in gaming and sticking out our tongue, saying, “nyah nyah.”
As the PC industry evolved, however, games became more portable. Lugging around a dedicated $10,000 PC for LAN parties became a drag, and we saw games shrink down to handheld portables within a decade. But as tablets and more powerful laptops took their first toddler steps into credibility, they brought along the gamers’ credo—good looks, powerful speed. Tablet manufacturers focused on app-style games, and in keeping with the small and light aesthetic of tablets, never really pushed the boundaries of mobile graphics. Laptop manufacturers tried to offer some concessions, but the ability to recreate fantastical worlds takes graphic muscle, and most times graphic muscle costs extra, and in the case of small form factor laptop computing, graphic muscle took up chassis space, and that is real estate that is hard to come by in a laptop.
But mobile gaming isn't lost—not by a long shot. There are dedicated PC manufacturers out there who are committed to drawing gamers away from their desktop computers, away from their ready-made consoles like Xbox One and PS4, and into the world of laptop gaming, using some of the most powerful and sophisticated gaming-centric technology out there. Although you will pay a premium for such high-end mobile gaming, it is well worth it in the long run if you are after a true gaming experience that goes beyond launching birds at a pig’s house.
Take for instance, the Razer Blade Pro 17.3" Gaming Notebook Computer. Now, speaking for myself, I like a big screen on my gaming laptop, and the Razer supplies the granddaddy of mobile screens—a 17.3" Full HD 1920 x 1080 LED backlit screen. Yes, you can buy a laptop with a better screen, but for most gamers, this is still quite enough muscle. You wouldn’t be able to do anything with that screen without a good graphics controller, and this includes an NVIDIA GeForce GTX860M with 2GB of dedicated GDDR5 VRAM. The muscle behind that graphics engine is an Intel® Core™ i7-4700HQ quad core processor, and is enhanced with 16GB of DDR3L RAM.
PRIMER TIME: You want a good graphics card or controller. You also want an Intel® Core™ i7 or similar processor, at least. And you want lots of RAM. Those three things combined will give you what you need to experience gaming as it was meant to be—good-looking and fast.
Another bonus for the Blade Pro is that is it is thin—only 0.88" inch thick when closed, and weighs just 6.5 pounds—which is impressive for a 17.3" laptop. Be careful, though; it only has a 256GB SSD, which means you may have to be choosy about what games you load. If you’re also adding productivity software so that Mummsie and Popsie think you’re using it for school, then double that caution. This laptop also includes 802.11 ac Wi-Fi.
Also available is the MSI GS60 Ghost-003 15.6" Notebook Computer, a slightly smaller gaming laptop which, nevertheless, bares its teeth with a 2.4GHz Intel Core i7-4700HQ quad-core processor, 16GB of 1600 MHz DDRL3 RAM, and a 1TB 7200 rpm hard drive with a 128GB solid-state drive to help speed things up. The display is a 15.6" LED backlit Full HD with 1920 x 1080 resolution, powered by an NVIDIA GeForce GTX860M with 2GB of dedicated video ram, just like the Blade Pro. I happen to like the SteelSeries LED backlit keyboard on the MSI machines, along with their dedicated-to-gamers Killer Gaming Network. They do all the heavy lifting when it comes to latency issues and network lag. Also less than an inch thick when closed, this only tips the scales at 4.36 pounds—but we’re talking about a 15.6" versus 17.3" screen.
MSI also has a scaled-down version that may be ideal for the less picky gamer. The MSI GE60 Apache -033 15.6" Notebook Computer features the same processor as the two above—the 2.4GHz Intel Core i7-4700HQ—but only 8GB of RAM (still good enough for about 75% of games out there) and a standard 1TB hard drive. It also drops the GPU to the NVIDIA GEForce GTX 850M, one model down for the previous two gaming laptops. Will you see that drop in quality? It depends on what you’re playing. Most of you won’t care, since its price is at least $1,000 less than the Blade Pro. The Apache also has 802.11 ac Wi-Fi and the Killer E2200 game network, but unlike the dual thermal fans of the Ghost, the Apache only has one fan. Every gamer knows that keeping your system cool is hugely important.
Another gaming manufacturer with an impressive resume of gaming laptops is Gigabyte. The company offers the P35Wv2-CF2 15.6" Gaming Notebook Computer, with lots of sensible additions, and some that may sway your choice. They start with a slightly beefier 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-710HQ processor, which upgrades the thread count—the 4700HQ used one thread per core, and the 4710 uses 2 logical threads per core, also known as hyperthreading. Does this make a difference? It makes a slight one that you probably won’t notice. The clock rate of the processors is more important than hyperthreading.
But the P35W does offer an improved graphics controller in the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 870M, with an amazing 6GB of onboard dedicated video memory, and a hefty 16GB of RAM. How about adding not one, but two 128GB solid-state drives AND a 1TB hard drive? Yeah, how about it? With RAID 0 structures and extreme read/write rates with the dual SSDs, you’re looking at some very fast gaming options. There’s also a hot-swappable optical disk tray that you can transform into another drive slot, and add a 2.5" HDD or SSD when you’re not using the optical drive.
Besides a 15.6" Led backlit display that supports Full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution, the laptop also includes a mini DisplayPort port, full-size auto-adjusting backlit keyboard, 802.11 ac Wi-Fi and a Blu-Ray rewriteable drive with BDXL support. It also supports NVIDIA Optimus technology for 4K and multiple monitor support, and includes an innovative tube/fan cooling system that moves air more quickly and efficiently than a fan-only system.
Had enough? For gamers, enough is never enough. Let’s go large again. ASUS jumps into the gaming laptop arena with their Republic of Gamers G751JT-CH71 17.3" Gaming Notebook Computer. Starting with the same slightly upgraded processor, the 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-710HQ, the RoG laptop also perks up the graphics card with the slightly better NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970M GPU, with 3GB of RAM, which looks great on the 17.3" Full HD 1920 x 1080 backlit LED display. The laptop comes configured with 16GB of DDRL3 RAM, expandable to 32GB, and all other standards, such as a 1TB 7200 rpm hard disk drive, illuminated backlit keyboard, and a DVD RW drive. One nice addition is the Thunderbolt port, which can add a plethora of peripherals to your laptop, and keep a steady 10 Gbps transfer speed.
CyberpowerPC is another purveyor of powerful gaming laptops, and has introduced newer and stronger models every year. The company now offers the FANGBOOK EVO HFX7-1200 17.3" Gaming Notebook Computer. Loaded with a 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-4810MQ processor, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB 7200 rpm HDD and 120 GB SSD combo, this laptop will provide the sufficient power and speed you need to game on. The graphics controller is an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 880M GPU, not in itself that special, but it contains 6GB of dedicated RAM, which is special. That graphic controller enhances the visuals on the 17.3" Full HD 1920 x 1080 LED backlit display, which also can output to multiple displays via the HDMI and mini DisplayPort terminals. Amenities include a SuperMulti DVD burner and backlit keyboard with gaming icons, but not much else.
That should be enough to quell the complaint that “There’s no such thing as a capable gaming laptop.” You have to look deep at the specs, and dig deep into your resources, but what you’ll end up with eventually is a laptop that contains enough speed and power to muscle through your gaming library. These laptops do exist—and they’re waiting for a dedicated gamer like you to pick one up.