Gaming Laptops Buyers Guide
A gaming laptop is a great alternative to a gaming PC. The two main benefits are size and portability: a gaming laptop takes up far less space than a desktop PC and is much easier to take with you to a LAN party or on holiday. This buyers guide will teach you everything you need to know so you can pick the perfect gaming laptop.
Laptop Graphics Cards
The graphics card or GPU or is the most important component in a gaming laptop. Most laptops that are marketed for home and office use don’t even have a graphics card, instead they have a small GPU built into the CPU. It’s critical to avoid a laptop like this for gaming as they’re not powerful enough to run games smoothly.
Instead, make sure you choose a true gaming laptop with an NVIDIA GeForce graphics card. These are available in a wide variety of models at different prices, with a faster and more powerful graphics enabling your laptop to run more demanding games at higher quality settings at a smooth frame rate.
The NVIDIA GeForce range is divided into two product groups GeForce RTX and GeForce GTX, each with their own set of features and benefits, which we’ll explain in the next section. To make the selection process easier, we’ve divided all the GPUs into three main categories in descending performance: High-End, Mid-Range and Entry-Level.
NVIDIA GeForce RTX Graphics Cards
The most powerful and advanced NVIDIA gaming graphics cards belong to the GeForce RTX 20-series.
DXR Real Time Ray Tracing
GeForce RTX 20-series graphics cards are based on the Turing architecture. Turing marked a major milestone in PC graphics, for the first time enabling real time ray traced graphics in games. Unlike traditional rasterised graphics, ray tracing simulates how light beams and shadows actually work, providing far more rich and realistic graphics. While ray tracing as a technique has been used for decades in pre-rendered films, what makes Turing GPUs unique is that they are powerful enough to produce ray traced graphics in real time.
The RT cores in GeForce RTX GPUs work with Microsoft DXR to enable stunning ray traced graphics.
Variable Rate Shading
VRS enables games to dynamically change the rate at which they shade different parts of a scene. For instance, as the human eye can’t pick up as much detail on fast moving objects as slower moving objects, fast moving objects can be shaded at a slower rate than the rest of the scene, freeing up the GPU to render the whole scene faster.
Mesh Shading is a similar concept to VRS and is a way of dynamically changing the amount of geometric detail on peripheral objects, freeing up the CPU to focus on other tasks.
Sampler Feedback is a new method of saving the GPU from non-essential rendering. The concept is that rather than rendering every frame from scratch, there are frequently lots of objects that barely change in colour or size between several frames. Sampler Feedback analysis these objects and cuts down how often they are rendered, saving the GPU from rendering them every frame, and enabling it to focus on more visibly beneficial tasks.
NVIDIA GeForce GTX Graphics Cards
The current crop of GeForce GTX 16-series cards is based on a cut down version of the Turing architecture. This means they share the same great power efficiency as the GeForce RTX cards, but lack RT cores so don’t support DXR ray tracing or some of the other features from DirectX 12 Ultimate. That said, GeForce GTX graphics cards are excellent value for money thanks to their competitive pricing and some of the more powerful models are even powerful enough to use in VR.
Max-Q Graphics Cards
NVIDIA also makes Max-Q versions of some of its GeForce graphics cards. These special graphics cards enable even thinner and lighter laptops, but the graphics cards aren’t quite as fast as the standard non-Max-Q versions.
NVIDIA Graphics Card Summary
Still not sure which NVIDIA GeForce graphics card is right for you? This table shows the key characteristics, rated out of 10, of the main models.
|RTX 2080 Super||RTX 2070 Super||RTX 2060||GTX 1660 Ti||GTX 1650 Ti||GTX 1650|
*Laptop also has to support VR, not just the graphics card
Size & Weight
The next decision you need to make is what screen size you want in your laptop. The two most popular sizes are 15.6” and 17.3”, with a handful of smaller and larger sizes also available. While a larger screen is obviously more immersive for gaming, it does come at the expensive of weight, so if you’re going to take your laptop around with you a lot a smaller screen is advisable.
It’s also a good idea to look at the weight and thickness of the laptop. High-end laptops tend to be made from lightweight metal, whereas cheaper laptops are made from heavier plastic. You’ll also pay a premium for thinner laptops versus a thicker bulkier laptop.
This table compares the key physical specs of two 15.6in laptops from the same manufacturer, the laptop on the left is the standard Raider model, with the premium thin and light Stealth model on the right.
|MSI Raider||MSI Stealth|
Laptop Screen Resolution
It’s also worth thinking about the screen, after all you’re going to be staring at it a lot whether you’re working or playing. We wouldn’t recommend a laptop with a screen resolution lower than 1920 x 1080, also known as FullHD, as anything lower than this will look pixelated and blocky. However, its equally important that the graphics card is powerful enough to run games smoothly at the screen’s native resolution. For instance, we’d only recommend a 4K screen with a high-end graphics card.
Most gaming laptops also have at least one graphics output for you to connect external monitor(s). Check out the Specifications tab on the product page on the Scan website to find out how many DisplayPort and HDMI ports each laptop has.
Laptop Screen Refresh Rate
The higher the refresh rate of the screen that faster is redraws the action. This is essential for fast paced competitive online games such as CS: GO and Fortnite which tend to run at a high frame rate, but less critical for high fidelity single player games which tend to run at a lower frame rate. The bare minimum in terms of screen refresh rate is 60Hz, with different manufacturers offering a multitude of higher refresh rate screens such as 120Hz, 240Hz and 300Hz.
The video above shows the benefits of a higher refresh rate, with the game running at 60Hz on the left side of the screen and 300Hz on the right. Note how much smoother the game appears at 300Hz.
Gaming Laptop Processors
Although of secondary importance to the graphics card, it’s still important to choose a gaming laptop with a suitable processor. There is wide change to choose from but you’ll be fine as long as you choose either a laptop with either an AMD Ryzen 5, 7 or 9 or an Intel Core i5, i7 or i9 processor. For a pure gaming system any one of those processors is more than up for the job, but if you’re going to be using the laptop for other tasks such as streaming, editing videos or the like its worth opting for high-end processor as they have more cores and threads.
|AMD PROCESSORS||INTEL PROCESSORS|
MID-RANGE -> HIGH-END
MID-RANGE -> HIGH-END
Gaming Laptop Memory
It’s important to have sufficient system memory or RAM in your laptop, if you don’t games will stutter at inopportune moments putting you off your aim. We recommend the following memory configurations, but don’t forget you can upgrade the memory in most laptops later if required.
(Streaming while gaming)
(Games like Destiny 2 and GTA V )
(Games like Minecraft and CS: GO)
Gaming Laptop Storage
An SSD is essential in a gaming laptop, not just to make games load fast but also because they consume less power than a hard disk, helping to boost battery life and weigh less too. We recommend a laptop with at least a 500GB SSD or larger, as with games taking up more space every generation, you can never really have too large an SSD in your laptop. If you do run out of storage space, many laptops will have a spare M.2 slot or 2.5in bay to add in another SSD. However, this isn’t always possible with thin and light laptops, so check the specs carefully before buying an extra SSD.
Gaming Laptop Keyboards
Every gaming laptop includes a compact keyboard, many of which also include RGB backlighting. Some high-end gaming laptops even have superior keyboards with mechanical switches instead of rubber some switches. While these inevitably won’t provide as much feedback as a desktop keyboard due to the far shorter travel distance, they’re still worth keeping an eye out for.
If you’re a competitive gamer or can’t stomach the built-in keyboard it’s not the end of the world. You can simply plug in any USB keyboard to your gaming laptop. To find out which gaming keyboard is right for you read our Gaming Keyboard Buyers Guide.
GAMING KEYBOARD BUYERS GUIDE
Touchpads and Mice
While every laptop includes a touchpad in front of the keyboard they’re only really usable for everyday Windows tasks such as web browsing and word processing. We strongly advise investing in a gaming mouse to make the most of your gaming laptop. To find out which gaming keyboard is right for you read our Gaming Mice Buyers Guide.GAMING MICE BUYERS GUIDE
Speakers and Headsets
Although every laptop includes speakers, because these are integrated into the underside or sides of the laptop and feature tiny drivers the sound quality and maximum volume usually leaves a lot to be desired. Besides which, if you’re playing online games you’ll want a headset with built in microphone so you can chat with friends and taunt your enemies.BROWSE OUR RANGE OF WIRED & WIRELESS HEADSETS
Gaming Laptop Bags
If you’re planning on taking your laptop with you on the road make sure you invest in a good quality bag. This not only makes carrying the laptop and accessories such as mouse and headset a lot more convenient, but also will protect it from damage. We stock a wide range of backpack and executive style laptop bags at a wide range of price points.BROWSE OUR RANGE OF LAPTOP BAGS
Gaming Laptop Coolers
Finally, if you’re finding your laptop runs a bit on the hot side a laptop cooler could be worth looking into. These slim laptop stands lift the laptop off the desk by a few millimetres and provide extra cooling for the laptop via an embedded fan. As an added bonus, most laptop stands also tilt the laptop slightly forwards, making typing more comfortable. We stock a wide range of laptop coolers in a variety of sizes.BROWSE OUR RANGE OF LAPTOP COOLERS
The Best Gaming Laptops
There you have it, everything you need to know about choosing a new gaming laptop. We sell a wide variety of models from top laptop brands such as Asus, MSI and Razer plus customisable laptops from our very own 3XS Systems.
We hope you've found this buyer’s guide helpful. Don't hesitate to contact one of our friendly advisors if you still have questions on how to select the perfect gaming laptop. If you’re all set to go we recommend checking out these top gaming laptops.