When you’re buying a gaming laptop, you’re not just looking at specs. You’re looking at a whole computer, including a built-in keyboard and display. Here, we explain all of the decisions you’ll have to make when buying a gaming laptop so you can get the best one for your needs and budget. You can read our list for best gaming laptops in 2021.
What are you going to use the laptop for? There are now many types of gaming laptops. Usually, these are intended either purely for gaming or both gaming and audiovisual content creation. The Gigabyte AERO 15 is a good example of a laptop intended for both categories. Of course, you also pay extra for that because ‘content creators’ need screens with brighter colors. Some laptops are also more or less suitable for ‘productive activities’ – read word processing and spreadsheets. If you plan to work a lot on your laptop, you should also consider a versatile gaming laptop.
What games are you going to play? Do you like to play competitive games at a fast pace and rely on fast reflexes, such as shooters and racing games? Then you should go for gaming laptops with a screen with a high ‘refresh rate’ or ‘Hz’ (see also below for more information about what that exactly means). A screen of more than 120Hz is then suitable. If you mainly play slower games such as RPGs or turn-based games, then you can rather look at gaming laptops with a screen with a high resolution so that the graphics come into their own as much as possible.
How will you use the laptop? This is an important one: do you plan to use the gaming laptop mainly at home or on the road? If you mainly play at home, you can consider building your own desktop gaming PC from scratch, as this will be cheaper than a gaming laptop. If you still plan to use the laptop a lot in other places or on the road, be sure to take the battery into account. Playing games drains the battery very quickly, so you need access to a power outlet. Moreover, gaming laptops can get very hot: the new generation of AMD Ryzen CPUs reach temperatures around 90 degrees Celsius. Not exactly ideal for gaming on your lap.
Which devices are you going to use? This is an important element that you sometimes forget: which peripherals will you use on your gaming laptop? There are big differences between laptops in terms of the inputs with which they are provided. Not every gaming laptop has a Thunderbolt port, and support for HDMI 2.1 is still relatively rare. So think carefully about which devices you want to use on your laptop and which inputs they need to function (such as a second screen, an external drive, and more).
Technical terms and FAQ
CPU: This is the abbreviation for ‘Central Processing Unit.’ The CPU is the core of every computer and is the part that processes and executes instructions. A good CPU is essential not only to the game at high frame rates but also to work smoothly. The most famous CPUs for gaming are Intel with their Core series and AMD with their Ryzen processors.
GPU / Graphics Card: This is the abbreviation for ‘Graphics Processing Unit.’ GPUs (also called graphics cards) play a central role in gaming, as these are the processors that allow your computer to process the shapes, colors, and textures of images. The most famous manufacturers of GPUs for gaming are Nvidia with their GeForce series and AMD with their Radeon series.
Resolution: The resolution of a screen is expressed as a horizontal number times a vertical number (nxn). This means how many pixels a screen can display. The higher these numbers, the more pixels and the sharper the image. The three most common resolutions are 1920×1080 (1080p, also called ‘High Definition’ or ‘HD’), 2560×1440 (1440p) and 3840×2160 (4K, also called ‘Ultra High Definition’ or ‘UHD’). 4K is the sharpest of the three and requires a lot of power from the CPU and GPU, so your frame rate will probably be lower.
Frame rate / Hz / frames per second (fps) / refresh rate: this is how often a screen ‘refreshes’ every second. The higher the value, the smoother a game will play. The default is 60Hz, but many gaming models offer higher values to provide a smoother experience to react more quickly. 120Hz, 144Hz, 240Hz, and 300Hz are now also possible. Such high refresh rates are ideal for competitive games, such as Counter-Strike. Please note: your screen must always support a higher Hz value than the game; otherwise, you will not see any benefit.
RAM: the abbreviation for ‘Random-Access Memory.’ This is basically short-term memory that your device uses to run faster. Instead of constantly searching for data on a hard drive, it pulls data from RAM to act as quickly as possible. Several generations are getting faster. The current standard is DDR4.
SSD: the abbreviation for Solid-State Drive. SSD ensures that data can be stored and accessed quickly. The technology is much faster than hard drives and is slowly becoming the new standard.
HDR: the abbreviation for High Dynamic Range. This visual technique makes lighting much more nuanced. It allows more shades of black and white to exist, making the rendering of lighting in games much more realistic and dynamic.
G-Sync / FreeSync: Both terms refer to ‘adaptive sync technology, a technical process that tries to combat ‘screen tearing’ (the annoying cracks you’ve probably seen in games). The difference with v-sync is that G-Sync / FreeSync tries to avoid input lag, which normally causes v-sync. Almost all modern screens use this technology but beware: depending on which GPU your PC has or which console you use, this technology may not always work.
The types of screens:
- IPS: IPS stands for ‘In-Plane Switching.’ These monitors are usually a bit more expensive but have good viewing angles and excellent color precision. This makes them ideal for those who work a lot with visual productions. However, older IPS panels can have a slower response time (the time between pressing a button and response on your screen). Another problem is the so-called ‘IPS glow .’ The monitor’s backlight is visible in dark scenes. Again, this is mainly a problem with older panels.
- TN: TN stands for ‘Twisted Nematic,’ and this type of screen is very popular for gaming because of the high refresh rates it allows. TN panels are also relatively inexpensive and have very long response times. The bad news is that these panels often have problems with their color rendering. You can counter this by choosing a TN screen that has been certified by Nvidia for G-Sync Compatible. Finally, the viewing angles with this type of screen are also not great: if you are not sitting right before it, the colors seem grayer and more washed out.
- VA: VA stands for ‘Vertical Alignment .’ A VA panel is somewhere between IPS and TN. These panels particularly excel at accurately displaying black tones and very high contrast ratios (allowing HDR to come into its own). They also have better viewing angles and higher color precision than TN panels (but often not as high as IPS panels). The big disadvantage of this type of screen is that the response times are the lowest of the three types. So if you play a lot of competitive games, this may not be the most suitable screen for you.