Gaming Laptops – Things to Consider
|April 5, 2011||Posted by alex under Hardware|
So it’s gotten to that point where I am seriously thinking about turning in my old laptop and getting a newer one. As I’ve ranted about in the past, technology moves ahead pretty fast, and the laptops of two years ago are nothing compared to the laptops of today. Nothing could make this more obvious than when it comes to gaming.
My current system is a Dell Studio 1737 with 6 gigs of ddr2, an Intel Core 2 Duo 8600 processor and a Radeon HdD 3650 vid card. Not the shabbiest system out there, not by a long shot, but when it’s suddenly become a trial trying to run games released in the past 2 years on settings above “lowest” it makes you think it’s time to move on.
It’s too bad, because when looking at my ram and processor, it’s not all that bad of a laptop. The real problem, with regards to gaming, is my graphics card. The 3650 just doesn’t cut it for gaming or any sort of powerful 3d rendering. I’ve noticed from personal experience that the card, though it claims to have the capabilities, can’t handle any anti-aliasing without a significant framerate drop.
Often times this isn’t so bad, because I can just go into the game settings and switch it off and be fine, but it has posed problems for some current PC versions of cross-platform games, such as Call of Duty: World at War and Alien Vs Predator which do not actually have the option to turn off AA in game. Thus, I have to resort to tweaking the settings in my control centre, which has sadly caused a whole slew of other problems (something to do with the fact that I spent hours tweaking the card when I got in, and now that I’ve retweaked I can’t seem to remember the optimal settings, sigh).
So what do I do? Upgrading isn’t much of an option (I’ve seen the tutorials on youtube and they hardly put me in the mood to tear the back panel off my Dell). Buying a new computer is really the only option to get to that next level of performance, but where to begin? Do I head to one of those specialty brands for a “gaming laptop” or try to get a designer / studio type laptop with a decent video card? Normally I would say “yeah, go all out for the gaming rig” but things aren’t the same for Desktops as they are for Laptops when it comes to gaming. I suppose if I was really serious about gaming I would go for a desktop, but honestly, after a few crash ridden, failure desktops in a row, I only found true happiness with a the overall system stability and portability of a laptop.
And also, I suppose it has a bit to do with the fact that pc gaming is all but dead nowadays anyways. After all, serious gamers play Xbox.
But for the sake of argument, let’s say I still had some love for the pc gaming industry, and wanted to go for a brand new laptop that could handle things better than my current one.
There are more than a few things to consider when shopping for a gaming laptop.
1) The Price
This is the big one: how much will buying a gaming specific laptop set you back? If you head on over to Dell and check out their Alienware gaming laptops you will probably be taken back by the price tags attached to some of those monsters. Costing upwards of $1600 for a “Brand Name” gaming laptop is a little steep for most of us, especially considering when you can always find a similar system designed by Asus or MSI over at Newegg for hundreds of dollars less.
Still, even if you find a top spec gaming laptop for, say, $1200, it will always crush the soul to know that you could be getting a desktop with twice the ram, four more processor cores and an extra video card for the same price.
Then again, quality (and luxury!) has its price.
2) Portability / Aesthetics
A second important factor to consider (one in which I completely overlooked when making my first laptop purchase) is the size of the laptop. I went for a 17″ in laptop, largely because I felt the need to pamper to my taste for large screens. Yes having a 17″ monitor is quite lovely on a laptop, but utterly useless and cumbersome. I use my laptop as a desktop replacement, which in my case means that it sits happily with its lid closed most of the time while I use an external keyboard, mouse and monitor. When I do bring it places (which is quite often) I can happily abuse the privilege of having a wide screen wherever I am, but that hardly changes the fact that my laptop weights a ton. At over 7.5 lbs it’s noticeably an added weight when I walk places. To make matters worse, it doesn’t fit in my side-zip school bag, so whenever I want to bring it places I have to resort to an even more massive carrying case. Honestly, it’s like having a briefcase filled with bricks hanging off my back whenever I bring my laptop with me. Convenient? Not really.
Though when looking at the spectrum of gaming laptops, my Dell is practically the sleek sports car of the bunch. Because newer, more powerful video cards and components take up more space and power than middle of the road ones, you can expect your gaming laptop to suffer in the portability and even aesthetics departments.
Take the Asus G73 series of gaming laptops. Weighing in at around 8 pounds they are also twice as thick as the average casual household laptop. To compensate for the awesome specs on the inside (top notch NVIDIA graphics, massive amounts of ram, i7 processors and the like) and the bulky battery and power source, the modern gaming laptop often looks like it was something pulled straight from the 1980s. They have an almost eery sci-fi look to them. Hardly what one would call a sleek an sexy laptop, like the ones you normally see hipsters totting at coffee shops.
With something that big and ugly, I would hardly want to bring it out of the house for fear that the neighbours would see it, which at the same somewhat defeats the purpose of a gaming laptop. I suppose if you have a car, it’s fairly simple to toss one of those suckers on the back seat and drive to wherever you go, but if you’re one of the highly mobile types (like me) who resort to walking, city buses and the metro system, all I can say is “yikes”.
3) Battery life / Power
The main thing to remember when leaving your house with one of these laptops is to pack the power cable with you. Otherwise, good luck getting in more than a round or two of Call of Duty.
Manufacturers often overquote the battery life on laptops. It usually says something like “3 hours of battery life” but what this really means is that on an ideal day, with the laptop on and not running any programs, you could probably hit 3 hours. The second you start running something demanded, like a game, you can probably watch the battery life drain down like the fuel gauge on on a 1950s Hot Rod.
Again, such is the price we have to pay for wanting the best possible system. If we really wanted batteries to last through those long plane or tain rides, we would have picked up at tiny 14″ ultra-portable notebook or even one of those hideously underpowered netbooks.
4) Graphics Card
While it is technically possible to get a decent graphics card in a notebook (see NVIDIA’s GTX 460 SLI series or above) there are, once again, some limitations to consider. The first being that they are incredibly expensive. Expect to only be able to find laptops around the $2000 with this kind of power. Second, they are bulky and add to the size of the laptop. Third, they contribute to the short battery life. And fourth: laptop video cards are not the same as desktop video cards.
Oftentimes, a laptop will come equipped with a video card bearing the same name and number as their desktop counterpart, only with the words mobility slapped on. Beware! Most of the time the mobile versions are significantly less powerful than their desktop cousins. Always be sure to check out the benchmarks on a laptop version of a graphics card even if you know the desktop version to be quite powerful. Sometimes you will be surprised by the results. Some of ATI’s mid-level graphics cards are notorious for this, such as the Radeon HD 3650 I currently have, and even more noticeable: the desktop version of the 3800 vs the laptop version.
So there you have it: quite a few things to consider. Buying a gaming laptop that is right for you is no walk in the park; it takes quite a bit of research to make sure that whatever it is that you dish out $1500 or more on had better be exactly what you want.