The past year or so has been hard on gamers. Those who like constructing their own rigs, whether laptop or desktop, have faced product shortage after product shortage. The graphics card shortage, for instance, has created an exploitative market abused by scalpers and resellers.
You may be able to circumvent some of this by purchasing a premade gaming laptop, though the manufacturer itself might still contend with the same shortages. If you decide to go the prebuilt or brand name route, you need to know how to buy a gaming laptop that works for your needs.
Not sure how to parse the list of specs, parts, and prices? Our guide to buying a gaming laptop will help you through every step of the way.
Remember, Price Isn’t Everything
When you go to buy a gaming laptop, you’ll come across plenty of cheap options, especially as we enter the holiday shopping season. Now’s a great time to get a good bargain on a laptop. However, you should never forget the adage that you get what you pay for.
When a physical retailer like Best Buy or Wal-Mart drops the price of a gaming laptop for a big sale, it’s because they no longer intend to carry the product in question or they’re trying to get it out of the store. This can mean that it’s an older model or something they will no longer repair or support.
While it’s important to consider your budget, you should not leave the price as the deciding factor. Splurging on your gaming laptop can be the difference between having a machine that will last 4 years and one that will barely make it past 1 year.
What You Need for Playing Video Games: Hardware Specs
When it comes to buying a gaming laptop, there are certain hardware specs that can be the difference between running a modern game on potato settings or in full graphic fidelity. Or, if you enjoy playing competitive online games, the difference between rising in the ranks and dropping to the bottom. The 2 main specs you should consider are the CPU and GPU.
Decoding Which GPU You Need
The GPU, or graphics card, is the heart of any gaming laptop. The better the graphics card, the better your gaming performance. Since most modern video games come with 4k and ray tracing graphical options, you’ll need a workhorse of a graphics card to handle those demands.
There are three major brands of GPU on the market: Nvidia, AMD, and MSI. Nvidia, specifically the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080, is considered the go-to for many gamers, capable of handling basically any demand you can throw at it. However, due to the high demand for them, you may be better served searching for a laptop with an AMD Radeon or MSI GeForce RTX GPU. These processors can handle much of the same demands an Nvidia could, while potentially offering cheaper or more accessible alternatives.
Decoding Which CPU You Need
Let’s face it: There’s only one CPU brand that works for gaming laptops, and that’s Intel. Some may argue for AMD processors, but there’s no doubting that Intel is king. You need a 6th generation core and a Core i5 at the absolute minimum. Core i7 Intel processors are much better for the task, especially Quad-Core ones.
You should also pay attention to the clock speed of the CPU. The higher the number, the faster the speed. A low clock-speed CPU with 16GB of RAM may not run as fast as a high clock-speed CPU with 8GB of RAM.
In summary, you should ideally look for an i7 Quad-Core processor with at least 8GB of RAM for your gaming laptop.
What You Need for the Best Gaming Laptop: Display and Sound
Even if you get the best possible internal parts for your gaming laptop, there’s no guarantee that will translate without proper display and sound technology. Not sure what technology you need to bring the game’s code to life? Here’s what you need to know.
Translating Graphics Fidelity Through Your Display
Your display is the means by which you can see all those glorious 4K textures the game developers spent so long creating. For most modern games, you need a display with a resolution of at least 1920×1080 (sometimes referred to as 1080p). However, to get the most out of the high-fidelity textures, you need one capable of QHD and 4K resolution.
However, the best gaming laptop options nowadays have an OLED display, which allows each pixel to have its own light source. This offers, by far, the highest graphical fidelity of the lot.
As far as the screen size is concerned, this tends to be a matter of personal preference. However, generally speaking, bigger display screens mean a heavier laptop, but more gaming space to work with. The common sweet spot tends to be around 15″ across.
Ensuring Every Sound Rings Clear
Since most folks who make their living playing video games use a headset on a regular basis, it can be easy to neglect the built-in speaker system. You need a system with levels that you can adjust on the fly so that you can mix the game’s volume to your needs.
The best laptop speakers on the market use Dolby Atmos or similar technology to increase audio fidelity. So, if you can, try to get a laptop with speakers made by known audio companies like Dolby. Otherwise, prepare to spend a bit extra on a high-quality headset.
Getting Better at Video Games? Get a Better Keyboard or Mouse
When you buy a gaming laptop, the quality of the keyboard and laptop can make or break your rankings. Most gamers already have an external gaming mouse that they’ll hook up to the laptop. However, that doesn’t mean you should neglect the built-in mouse either.
You need a keyboard capable of processing multiple inputs over long periods for games where you have to press down many keys at once. You also need keys and a touchpad that can respond quickly to touch without being too sensitive. And while it’s not necessary, every gamer appreciates a customizable RGB backlight behind their keys.
Understanding the Amount of Storage Space You Need
Now, let’s dig into the amount of storage space you’ll need for playing video games on your new laptop. It’s no secret that modern games can eat up storage space like little else. The now-market-topping MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV, for instance, takes up 60GB of storage space. By the release of its latest expansion pack, that number will jump to 80GB.
Put bluntly, games take up a lot of space. For a gaming laptop to have the right amount of storage, you want to aim for anywhere above 1TB of space. 500GB is workable, but will quickly run out of space, forcing you to play musical chairs with the games you keep installed on your computer.
As far as whether you should go for a hard drive or solid-state drive, a solid-state drive is preferable. Disk-drive-based gaming laptops might be less expensive. However, since they contain a spinning disk, they’re more likely to wear out through heavy use. Solid-state drives, which don’t have any moving internal parts, can last for much longer and operate much faster.
When You Buy a Gaming Laptop, Does Brand Matter?
Another consideration you should take when buying a gaming laptop is which brand you want to go with. While some gamers swear by purchasing prebuilt custom rigs, there are some who prefer to stick to a particular brand. The parts and specifications of the laptop matter much more than the brand name.
However, there are some benefits to buying from a known, mainstream manufacturer. For example, if you buy your gaming laptop from Lenovo, you can contact their service department in the event that something starts malfunctioning with your device. You also have the benefit of finding all your customer reviews for a particular model in one place. This can make it easier to pre-empt or even avoid any common problems that your gaming laptop may have.
Don’t Forget Your Peripherals
As important as the internal hardware and software are, there are some times where you really want to connect your laptop to your television or plug in your MMO mouse. To do that, you need the right number and type of ports. So, when you buy a gaming laptop, don’t forget to check the number of each type of port you have.
How to Buy a Gaming Laptop: Let’s Review
Figuring out how to buy a gaming laptop that will handle everything you need it to do can prove a difficult process. However, if you know the baseline hardware, display, audio, and peripheral specifications, it will be easier for you to get a gaming laptop that will serve you for years to come.
Did you find this guide to buying a gaming laptop helpful? Would you like to read more content like it? If so, then check out the Gaming section of our blog for more handy articles like this one.