Hard choices: Gaming laptops, Part One

By Jeremy Laird on September 10th, 2012 at 1:00 pm.

It’s time to talk portable gaming. Not idiotic Angry-Birds-on-your-iPhone action, addictive as that may be, but proper performance laptops. Portable gaming PCs for real RPSers. Why? Some of you have asked for it. More importantly, it’s got to be the trickiest PC-related purchase and one where there’s little going back if you get it wrong. You’re stuck with an ill-specified, largely non-upgradeable brick.

In fact, the whole thing is so very befuddling, we’re going to split it into two parts. So, here’s part one of everything you need to know about buying a gaming laptop.

Dell 4000.jpg

Where it all began

As it happens, my personal portable-PC history makes for a handy potted guide to both the development of gaming laptops and some of the problem areas. Plus, you’re a captive audience. I like showing off. Let’s go.

I was in pretty near the beginning, right back at the turn of the millennium, earning my Counter-Strike stripes playing beta 0.6 on a 14-inch Dell Inspiron 4000. So that was a Pentium III mobile processor (130nm Tualatin, baby!) and ATI Rage 128 Mobility graphics with, if I recall, 8MB of graphics memory. Don’t ask me the clocks. What I do remember is that it played CS fluidly at the 4000’s 1,024 x 768 native. Bloody impressive for a thin-and-light of that vintage.

Then I graduated to a beastly 15-inch Dell Inspiron 8100 with the full-on 1,600 x 1,200 UXGA panel option. It shipped with a 32MB GeForce 2 Go GPU. It was actually a GeForce 2 MX-derived chip, sadly, not a GTS.

Following extensive research and a complicated overseas purchase involving a US-registered credit card and a shady mail-forwarding service, therefore, I procured an ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 card with a monumental 64MB of graphics memory. And I upgraded the Dell 8100.

That’s right, upgradeable graphics

Yup, I upgraded the graphics. That’s a major issue for laptops, so hold that thought for a moment. In fact, hold onto it until part two. Next up was a Dell Inspiron 8600. It was ground breaking in a couple of ways. Firstly it had a 16:10 widescreen panel with a massive 1,920 x 1,200 native res. Matching that resolution with a desktop monitor at the time would have cost more than the Inspiron itself.

The Dell 8600 also packed a GeForce 4 Go. That made it the very first example of a lappie with a downclocked version of the then most powerful available GPU. Put that GPU and screen together and you had what was arguably the highest fidelity gaming device on planet Earth. And it was a portable.

Since then, the gap twixt portable and desktop PC gaming prowess has waxed and waned. For a while it looked like downclocked version of flagship desktop GPUs would be the norm. The GeForce 6800, GeForce 7800 and ATI’s Radeon X800 chips made their way into laptops without suffering any silicon to the surgery.

Then high end desktop graphics went a bit crazy, resulting in massive, power hungry GPUs that we’re never going to cut it as mobile chips. The result is that most recent mobile graphics cards have been drawn from at best one rung down from the top tier of graphics chips. And so it is for my current steed, which sports a GeForce GTX 480M chip.

My dearly departed widescreen wonder

However, the release of NVIDIA’s extraordinarily compact GK104 chip – the basis of the desktop GeForce GTX 680 – has rebooted high end mobile gaming. As it happens, its not necessarily my pick of the latest mobile GPU crew, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Back in that golden era of laptop graphics, you got what you paid for. If it said GeForce 7800, it was GeForce 7800. Even in a laptop. No longer. Both NVIDIA and AMD now use brand names and numbers as no more than rough indicators of position in the product hierarchy. It’s more by chance than design if a product name really tells you what’s lurking inside a notebook.

A typical example here is the NVIDIA GeForce 580M from the outgoing ‘Fermi’ generation of green-tinged mobile GPUs. It wasn’t the same three billion transistor chip, codenamed GF110, as the desktop GTX 580. It was actually the GF114, aka the GeForce GTX 560. What’s more, it’s not much different from the GTX 480 in my old brick. The same sort of shenanigans apply to AMD graphics.

In truth, it’s a bit of a nightmare keeping up. There’s not space to list all the permutations here. But if you’re serious about gaming laptops I suggest you put on the kettle, get comfy and hit up AMD’s [http://www.amd.com/uk/products/notebook/graphics/Pages/notebook-graphics.aspx ] and NVIDIA’s [http://www.nvidia.co.uk/object/geforce_family_uk.html ] reference pages. As ever, remember that things like core counts are not directly comparable between AMD and NVIDIA or even between generations from a single vendor. It’s a pain, but that’s the way it is.

Of course, there are a lot of relatively piss poor gaming GPUs among those lists. But it’s not hard to boil them down to a smaller number of realistic options. I’m going to rule out anything with symmetrical multiple GPUs for starters. That means two of the same GPUs in SLI or Crossfire. If you’ve got money to burn, it might work out well for you. But if you’ve got money to burn, you can afford a few rolls of the dice and don’t need my advice.

For everyone else, a single powerful GPU is the best bet, with the possible exception of a middling GPU hitched up to a fusion processor in a thin and light. But that’s a relatively niche category. So what are my favourite mobile GPUs?

NVIDIA’s excellent GTX 680 can now be had in lappies

The obvious candidate is the GeForce GTX 680M. It’s the real GK104 deal, albeit chopped down from 1,536 CUDA cores to 1,344. Just as significant, the core clock falls from around 1GHz to nearer 700MHz. All told, you’re looking at a chip with around two thirds the raw graphical grunt of NVIDIA’s finest on the desktop. And that’s pretty damn good.

I must confess I haven’t had a chance to play with a 680M yet, but it’s absolutely the obvious choice if you want maximum gaming performance. Because it’s based on that extraordinary GK104 GPU, it’s also available in vaguely sensibly-sized 15-inch laptops. So you can have the best performance without lugging around a 17-inch beast. Yay.

However, the really interesting chip in NVIDIA’s armoury is the upcoming GK106. Built on 28nm silicon and smaller again and even more efficient than GK104, it looks absolutely pitch perfect for use in laptops with 960 CUDA cores. It’s the mobile GPU I’d like to recommend above all others, so I’ve put the question into NVIDIA as to when we’ll see it in notebooks. Watch this space for an update.

The problem, however, is that NVIDIA has already installed the old GF114 chip for use in the GTX 670M and GTX 675M mobile GPUs, so it’s not obvious when GK106 can even fit into the product range. Anyway, in the meantime, those GTX 670M and 675M chips are very similar to the old GTX 580M and GTX 480M chips. They’re all chips with split clockspeeds, roughly 300-odd cores from ye olde Fermi generation (rather than the brave new Kepler architecture in the 680 chips) and broadly similar performance.

In that context, if you see a great deal on a 480M notebook, don’t turn your nose up. It could be worth a punt. Drop any further down the NVIDIA mobile range and performance falls off pretty rapidly. But the GTX 660M is a decent chip for something like a thin and light 14-inch notebook that dabbles in a little gaming.

Going thin and light is an increasingly interesting option

Anything below that and we’re firmly into the territory of non-gaming laptops that may or may not cope with playing a given game, even at really low settings.

As for AMD, well, its mobile GPUs are generally a bit less visible on the market right now, but it does have some interesting chips. Its top 7900 series desktop GPU is an old school brute, so hasn’t found its way into laptops, as yet.

Instead, it’s the smaller 1,280-shader Pitcairn GPU from the desktop Radeon HD 7800 series that lends itself to the Radeon HD 7900M. Then there’s the still the previous-gen 6900M series, which in turn is the same chip as a desktop 6800 series.

Now I know this all seems like a hideous mess. And it is. But all your really need to do is look at the core, texture and ROP counts, factor in the clockspeed, compare it to the closest desktop GPU and you’ll get a good idea what to expect. It takes a little homework, but it’s worth it.

As with NVIDIA’s chips, go much further down the AMD range and you’re giving up on what I’d call proper gaming ability, though again it’s a little different if you’re thinking thin and light. Or just really, really skint.

So let’s recap on the GPUs:

1. My top pick from currently available mobile GPUs is obvious. It’s the NVIDIA GTX 680M.
2. All of the following are interesting if the price is right.
NVIDIA GTX 675M
NVIDIA GTX 670M
NVIDIA GTX 580M
NVIDIA GTX 570M
NVIDIA GTX 480/485M
AMD Radeon HD 7900M Series
AMD Radeom HD 6900M Series

3. Don’t go lower than that unless you are on a tight budget or you’re going for a thin-and-light-come-Ultrabook lappie. The GTX 660M would be my pick for the latter. AMD’s Radeon HD 7600M might be worth a look, too.

Phew! I should point out that big performance needn’t cost the earth. You can have one of those top GPUs in a 15-inch 1,080p portable with a quad-core Intel processor for under a grand.

Tune in next time when we’ll be discussing the virtues of whitebooks versus branded laptops, the graphics upgrade conundrum and the minor matter of screens. I may even have space for a little more discussion of gaming laptops on really low budgets. Toodles.

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137 Comments »

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  1. DumbparameciuM says:

    Thanks for writing these. I’m a bit of a hardware nut, but I usually give zero fucks about mobile, because mobile gaming has always cost a packet, and never seemed worth it.

    No puns, sorry.

    • Nesetalis says:

      Have to agree completely, every laptop I’ve ever played with was rendered obsolete within a year, and wasn’t upgradable enough to catch up.
      My desktop on the other hand… I constructed it 4 years ago, upgraded it bit by bit over the past few years.. and its currently top of the line for most parts..
      Brand new motherboard and ram, last generation GPU, few years old now Phenom II X4 955 processor. (but the motherboard is AM3+ so i can plug in one of the brand new AMD processors when they make one I want.) Also have 2 1680×1050 monitor.

      You can’t do that with a laptop, phase parts in and out… Just a waste of money :\

  2. Pesticide says:

    you wont bilieve it but i have the 8100 dell sitting right next to me here on my desk haha, i went through univeristy playing quake 3 and counterstrike in 1600*1200 native on this baby! Upgraded the gf2mx 32 megs to a gf4mx. I still need to replace the keyboard and screen, the screen has dead pixel lines and i tossed apple juice on the keyboard casuing a bleu screen :( but it still works to a certain extent!

  3. Sakkura says:

    Here’s what you should know about buying a gaming laptop:

    1. Buy a gaming desktop.
    2. Buy a cheap non-gaming laptop (or a tablet if that’s your thing).
    3. Enjoy.

    Seriously, it’ll cost the same or less, and give you better gaming 90% of the time (the remaining 10% being those opportunities to game while you’re on a train, at a family gathering etc. and your desktop is stuck back home).

    • Pesticide says:

      i was gaming on a laptop in 2002 , so dont tell people they cant or shouldnt in 2012 :) As the auther said, just makes sure you get a decent gfx card and not these washed up onboard things.

      yes they are not cheap nor powerfull, but people looking for the luxury of gaming on the move know they will have to spend that extra for the comfort.

    • Premium User Badge

      Lars Westergren says:

      I suspect we are going to see a hundred versions of “You get so much more bang for the buck if you get a stationary!” in the comments of this post. And yes, you do, but for many people other considerations weight more heavily.

      * They might have very small living space (students, people in expensive cities). Having a computer that you can store away when done with it can make a very big difference.
      * They might travel often, or have dual housing.

      • Sakkura says:

        It’s true, there are specific circumstances where it can make sense to get a gaming laptop. But it doesn’t make sense for the majority of people. When I see big computer desks with tiny laptops sitting on top, it really makes me cringe.

        • HumperE3 says:

          Yeah but now the fact is that I don’t got space so thats why I buy something somewhat of a gaming machine.
          It’s not a pure gaming laptop but it works for all new games so.

        • Sheng-ji says:

          What if you don’t want to sit at a desk to play games? I like playing games in bed, in the bath, on the sofa, whereever I happen to be at the time, dragging a desktop around, having to find a place for a keyboard and a monitor etc etc is just a pain. Also think of all the extra space on your desk :)

          Ps do not take your laptop into the bathroom. I have killed 2 top end rigs in the last 5 years in water based bathroom incidents. I can afford the loss, can you? If you must take it in, put it on a table next to the bath, never run mains in ever, never lift it over the bath.

          • david151511 says:

            http://www.kickstarter.com/help/faq/creators#WhatFeesDoesKickChar

            I hope they performed whatever exorcisms they had to after the G73. Just had to get mine repaired for corrupted boot sector, glitchy touchpad, broken fan, and, I don’t know, sclerosis, probably. Whatever illnesses computers can get, it had it. Only after buying did I find that the G73′s notorious for its Grey Screen of Death and nigh-useless touchpad. I guess that’s why they were able to sell them for so cheap.

          • potat0man says:

            How about making the laptop a thin client? a la StreamMyGame.com.

            It sounds like a good idea. Monster desktop gaming rig + a cheapo laptop = gaming anywhere around the house within wifi range.

            I tried to get it to work once but only gave it like 30 mins of my time and gave up. Is anyone actually doing this successfully?

        • Caerphoto says:

          Big(ish) desk, tiny(ish) laptop

          Not that I use the MBP for gaming, since it’s an old one with no dedicated graphics card. The black thing in the bottom left is the desktop PC, and a handy switch lets me use the same keyboard, mouse, microphone and external hard disk on both.

          Still, point is there’s nothing inherently wrong with using a laptop as a ‘desktop’ computer, but with vastly greater portability when you need it.

          And yes, I need to tidy/clean the desk :$

          • cragthehack says:

            i use a MBP (with Bootcamp) for gaming. Though I have the new one (about 1 month old). Runs like a champ. It has: GeForce GT 650M (1024 MB) for graphics. Don’ t know it that’s considered decent, but it plays Skyrim on “high” well.

            I do not want to lug around 2 notebooks. I’m happy with “good” gaming performance. But again, I play RPG’s the most.

    • Korvus Redmane says:

      I’ve been gaming fine on my now ageing laptop for the last 4 years (with a ATI Mobility Radeon HD 2400 XT) and have only had any difficulty running anything in the last half a year. And frankly that feels more like the laptop itself slowing down. This is the upside of aging consoles!

    • Low Life says:

      How about:

      1. Buy a gaming desktop
      2. Buy a gaming laptop
      3. Enjoy

      It really doesn’t have to be a choice betwen those two.

      Personally, though, I went for the thin and light laptop – particularly Sony S13 with Geforce 640M. It handles most current game pretty well, (though something like Planetside 2 would probably run like crap), while being very portable and having nice battery life. It’s especially great since the GPU can be heavily overclocked, went from 500 MHz to 900 MHz without any problems. Probably won’t be that great when the next console generation is released and we hopefully start having proper graphics again, but right now it seemed like the best choice for my particular needs.

      • Sakkura says:

        Not everyone can afford to spend money in such a carefree way. But if you do have the money, knock yourself out.

        PS: Overclocking + battery life = not much.

        • Low Life says:

          Surely no one’s buying a laptop to play graphically intensive games on battery. Well okay, maybe someone is, but that’s just silly. So when on battery, the discrete graphics chip is shut down and doesn’t draw any power, overclocked or not.

      • subshell001 says:

        my macbook pro has a 650m (a bit faster than the 640m), and it handles PlanetSide 2 quite wonderfully!

      • ThTa says:

        I’ve personally got the S15, with the GT640m overclocked to 1000 MHz for both the GPU and memory (meaning it’s slightly better than the DDR3 GT650m, but falls just short of the GDDR5 ones) and yeah, it’s perfectly suitable for gaming. But then, it’s not really my primary usage case for it, so my standards might be a little bit on the low side. I was mostly excited that I managed to get a 1080p IPS display, 256GB SSD (Samsung 830 bought afterwards, replacing the 500GB HDD it came with), 8GB of DDR3 (also upgraded afterwards, from 4GB, saving me 60 euros compared to buying it from Sony), Core i7 quad-core and the aforementioned perfectly acceptable GPU for slightly over a thousand euros and in an extremely thin, light and beautiful package. (I also got a free slice battery to double its battery-life and was offered one of Sony’s portable gaming toys for “only” 99 euros, refusing the latter.)

        I haven’t found myself gaming very much at all on it, as I said before, but man is it great to even have the option to waste an hour or two on a proper game. (And really, Proteus looks just gorgeous on the display. And so do the movies I watch in public transit.)

        So yeah, if you’ve got the money for a decent laptop alongside a proper desktop (assuming you need a laptop at all), I’d definitely recommend it. I’d also definitely recommend the Vaio S15 (S13 maybe not so much, since it’s stuck with a 1600×900 TN at best); though I’d suggest getting it through a third party, so they have to take care of warranty and service, since Sony’s customer relations in that regard are just shite.

      • WhatKateDoes says:

        I’ve owned a Medion I7 Intel/Nvidia Optima 2gb GT555m for about a year now.. and it replaced my quad-core (albeit very old 2.6ghz jobby) 8gb eyefinity’d desktop.. simply because I like to be able to game in comfort in the living room, with a nice little coffee table for the mouse – I’ve gamed this way through Mass Effect 3, Battlefield 3, and most recently GuildWars 2 – all on the highest detail settings (BF3 actually higher settings than the ATI 68xx desktop)

        Gaming on the laptop has made for a more comfortable, and sociable experience for me.. and I think that is was the best £699 I’d ever spent in terms of gaming :)

        The laptop’s most noticeable bottlenecks are the hard disk and memory – I plan to upgrade it to 8gb, and probably a hybrid drive, since unfortunately it doesent have room for more than one drive.

      • PodX140 says:

        For me, that would mean being away from gaming 12+ hours of the day, I’m a student so that’s not a great option. Instead, I’ve merged the two at around the same cost (Sony vaio SA here, loving it for the past year).

        It’s incredibly quiet when not doing anything taxing, the fans are great (out the back, not bottom), the resolution is incredible for the size (13.3, 1600×900), and it can run practically anything at medium to high.

        The reason people buy gaming laptops isn’t because they want the ability to game while travelling, it’s because a desktop just is not feasible.

    • hatseflats says:

      Actually even if you want to buy a gaming laptop it’s not that difficult either. I don’t know who the writer of these “hard choices” is, but I find it rather surprising that he keeps talking about shaders and clock rates. Not only are these things incomparable between brands and series, as he mentions, they usually don’t say much within a range of cards (and there are more important factors besides clock rates and shaders, like memory bandwith (itself a function of memory clock speeds and the memory bus), power consumption and architecture). I bought a Radeon 5770 a few years ago and based on the specs, most reviewers noted that it would probably be bottlenecked by its bandwith. Turned out that overclocking the memory actually didn’t have much of an effect on overall performance whereas the cores could be overclocked quite far before they started struggling due to a lack of bandwith.

      Comparing specs is difficult and nonsense. The easy solution is this:
      Look at laptops, look at the dedicated GPU (it realy cannot be an integrated chip unless it’s an A8 or A10 AMD processor). For both nvidia and AMD, the first number refers to the series. Higher is newer, and newer, all things equal, is typically better (there are a few exceptions and rebrands though). The rest of the numbers is about the positioning of the chip: higher is better. Thus a GTX 640 > 540 and a 550 > 540, or for AMD: a 7970M > 6970M, 7970M > 7870M).
      The positioning of the chip is usually more important than the series, especially considering rebrands.

      Then, once you’ve found a few good looking GPUs, go to the Notebookcheck GPU benchmarks and compare the chips you might want to buy (pay attention to their 3dmark vantage and 3dmark 11 scores). Sometimes a chip looks good on paper but performs terrible, so don’t buy those, obviously. Get the one with the best performance.

      In case you’re wondering how much less performance you get from a mobile GPU and whether you need a mid-range or high-end mobile GPU to suit your needs you can check out the performance of mobile GPUs in games.

      • Zanchito says:

        And the author says as much about comparisons and specs, so I take you’ve decided to criticise without reading the article.

        • hatseflats says:

          “Not only are these things incomparable between brands and series, as he mentions, they usually don’t say much within a range of cards (and there are more important factors besides clock rates and shaders)”

          I take it you criticized my post without actually reading it?

          And he explicitly advises to compare specs and base your choice on those and he states that the GK106 chip will be great based on specs. To anyone who has seen a lot of hardware in his or her life (and that included Jeremy Laird) that’s a ridiculous statement.

          • Zanchito says:

            I could justify myself (I did indeed read the comment), but in the end, it’s a reading comprehension fail on my part. I stand corrected and owe you an apology, sir.

      • Jeremy Laird says:

        Not really sure what you are saying. First you object that you can’t compare based on specs. Then you suggest people should go on “Notebookcheck GPU benchmarks and compare the chips you might want to buy. Compare them based on what? Not the specs, surely?!

        There’s nothing mysterious here. You very much can get a good idea of what to expect from a mobile GPU just from looking at the numbers.

        That said, I agree memory bandwidth is significant. It’s something I’ll address in part two with particular regard to screen resolutions.

        • Therax says:

          Comparing based on specs is difficult — not impossible, but difficult — for reasons originally mentioned in the article. “Core counts,” clock speeds, ROPs, and similar hardware specifications aren’t comparable across manufacturers and design generations within a manufacturer. Nowadays, when a single model number might mean you have one of several different chips under the bonnet, and performance can vary significantly depending on the laptop manufacturer’s choice of clock speeds and cooling implementations, telling readers to go to the home pages of AMD and nVidia sounds more likely to breed confusion than to yield real insight.

          I was similarly dismayed to not see even a mention of Notebook Check’s comprehensive benchmark database. More than specs, it offers a concise ordering of relative hardware performance based on a wide selection of reviewer- and user-submitted benchmarks. The ultimate value of synthetic benchmarks is certainly debatable, but as a first place to look to understand rough relative performance, I think it’s a resource prospective laptop shoppers should be aware of.

          I think you give the GK107-based cards (GTX 660M, GT 650M, GT 640M) short shrift. The 650M in particular offers performance comparable to the older 480M, uses little power, runs cool, and can be had for remarkably little money. I recently picked up an HP dv6 for ~1,200 USD and couldn’t be more pleased about how well it’s able to do gaming at the 1920×1080 matte screen’s native resolution, in a package weighing under 6 lbs.

          I’d also be interested to know where I can find a GTX 660M in a 14″ thin-and-light form factor. The smallest laptops I can find with that chip are 15.4″ models in the ~6 lb range, which is well above thin-and-light. I’m bewildered to see you comparing the GTX 660M and the ATI 7600M series. The 7670M is a rebadged 6750M, and significantly slower than even the GT 640M, which you suggest readers avoid entirely.

    • Crius says:

      Young Player detected.
      This is the classic opposition who come from guys who have only to be worried about the last graphic card and the last AAA game.

      I’m 30y old, got 2 child, a wife and a fucking job.
      I’ve an house, decent but not a freaking villa.

      I’ve just no space to set up a desktop and most of all i’ve no money to spend to keep a dektop always on the cutting edge technology.

      So i just go mobile. The only cons of notebook is the damn overheating.
      And of course the upgrading problem.

      But hey, if your main “job” is being an adult you can consider to do some little sacrifice and play the last game at medium-low detail instead of ubersampling-active.

      • Sakkura says:

        I’m 29 but admittedly no children on the way just now. I live in a 1-bedroom apartment w. small kitchen. I still manage to find room for a desktop. I know kid stuff takes up a surprising amount of room, but come on. It’s doable. It was doable a decade ago when I was living at my mom’s small terraced house with my then-diapered brothers. We actually managed to have two of the blighters with CRT screens.

        Also, I have a core 2 duo in my current computer, so don’t go accusing me of “latest-greatest-itis” please. At least not until I turn 30 and buy an upgrade. That’s next week by the way. *curious mix of dread and anticipation*

      • spongthe1st says:

        Chip on shoulder detected

      • Premium User Badge

        Martel says:

        You make some good points, although in a very dickish way. I find it amusing that you assume somebody with a gaming desktop and a desk doesn’t have a “real job”. I suppose one could also say that people with “real jobs” have corporate issued laptops and therefore don’t need to buy their own and can instead have a real nice desktop.

      • lijenstina says:

        The perceived generalization was countered with a generalization.

      • fish99 says:

        You’re a porn star?

    • Faxmachinen says:

      I used to think so too, until I actually got a laptop capable of gaming. Since then I’ve never looked back.
      Smaller, lighter, much more mobile, less noisy, less power hungry, easier to plug things into, and comes with a built in battery backup for those one hour power outages. What’s not to love?

      I’ve only had a 2500£ Dell M90 and a 1100£ custom built Sager 8000-something so far.
      The nice thing about the Dell was the huge 1920×1200 screen, but it was bulky and nigh impossible to disassemble for cleaning. Also not really worth the huge price tag.
      As for the Sager, the only thing that I don’t like is the trackpad. Other than that it’s cheap, reliable, super easy to take apart, and branding is optional.

    • Premium User Badge

      Naum says:

      I’d second the original point in a less dogmatic version, meaning that you should very well consider especially the following things before buying a gaming laptop: Bad upgradability (= long-term money/value ratio), need for external mouse, possibly bad keyboard, short battery cycles, high weight, possibly bad and small display. A gaming laptop will, below a certain price point, usually be not very good for typical notebook uses due to lower portability and not very good for gaming uses due to less umph.

      I’m not saying that it can’t be the best solution under your specific circumstances, but I for one have found a desktop/netbook combination to be far superior in every regard for day-to-day university + gaming use.

    • Shortwave says:

      It’s sort of common knowledge, no offense.. That a desktop is usually always a better idea.
      But this article isn’t really for those people.
      It’s for people who for whatever reason simply need it to be mobile or lack space for a full system.
      Which is the truth for A LOT of people right now wanting to get into pc gaming.

      This month alone about ten guys have joined up with my group using low end laptops.
      Simply because they can’t accommodate for a full system, or in school and what have you.
      I seriously wish they would of spoken to me first.. Or simply..
      Were lucky enough to see an article such as this so at least they could know which one to get.

      But yes, thanks for pointing out the insanely obvious here.

    • Consumatopia says:

      I’m with Sakkura–gaming laptops don’t make sense for the vast majority of people even ignoring cost. Even if you’re pressed for space on your desk, they sell All in One form factor Desktop PCs. And adding gaming capabilities to your laptop adds weight. Given that tablets and smartphones are becoming more powerful, fewer people are going to be willing to carry around even a thin ultrabook, let alone a 3d gaming laptop.

  4. Simon Hawthorne says:

    This is why I glaze over with hardware – my laptop has a 540M but I have no idea where it fits into the hierarchy above!

    For reference, it’s this http://www.ebuyer.com/279521-acer-aspire-5755g-laptop-lx-rpx02-037 (has been discontinued but this http://www.ebuyer.com/345634-acer-aspire-5755g-laptop-nx-rv4ek-002 is still available, smaller hard drive but better graphics card for a higher price). Mine cost ~£580 around a month ago.

    It runs Arkham City fine – been having a blast with the GOTY edition.

    • Mr Bismarck says:

      Notebookcheck have a GPU ranking ladder right alongside all of their GPU reviews. Here’s your 540m review and the ranking shows it in the bottom third of Class two, of six classes.

    • Wolf Hongo says:

      I bought an ASUS laptop last summer with a GT540M for $750 and I can readily admit that it’s an amazing GPU for its price. Every major title that’s recently been released plays at 25+ FPS on medium/high settings (Max Payne 3 and Guild Wars 2, even), although Planetside 2 has been sadly reduced to low graphic settings. However, I really can’t complain because I’ve yet to find a game that wasn’t playable on this sexy bitch.

  5. blayer32 says:

    And I just bought a GT 640M. Did I just make a huuge mistake?

    • baseendje says:

      No you didn’t, here is what you’ll do: you will pick up your laptop go play all your favorite lan-titles with your buddies (L4D2 2, Cod: MW3, Diablo 3, civ 5, battlefield 3, crysis, starcraft 2, guild wars 2) or whatever you’d like to play and Laugh at those s****** funny person’s with back pain that are bringing their gaming rigs. Just because the can’t stand to set the option high if there is an option ultra.

      =)

      • lizzardborn says:

        You could cram proper 670/7900, i5 and 8 GB ram in an mAtx case. The whole rig will weigh like 4-5 kilos. If that is enough to break your spine – go see a physician.

        • baseendje says:

          Sorry If I’ve offended you. My point is that you can have good reasons and a lot of fun gaming on a laptop. I’ve been a laptop gamer for years now, currently GT 555M and i7 2720QM delivers me frequent joy.

          I am just surprised that RPS is apparently not able to give some mobile gaming advise without a bunch of people blurting out how much mobile gaming sucks.

          • lizzardborn says:

            There was nothing offensive in your post. Mobile gaming does not suck, but also the simple truth is that with the abundance of computational power the huge tower cases will be endangered species unless you need more than 2hdd and one VGA card.

            The problem I have with laptops is only one – there is no solution which I am able to assemble myself with components of my choosing … etc, etc. And because of the lack of standardization I am forced to overpay for the computing power.

            Also huge drawback for me is the laptops’ keyboards. They just suck.

          • Valvarexart says:

            Get a Sager laptop if you want customization. Or a customized Thinkpad with a good GPU. But that might be expensive.

          • Faxmachinen says:

            I’ll second that Sager suggestion. I haven’t been able to find that kind of customizability anywhere else, at least not at those prices. And I love my 12GB of RAM very dearly.

      • Shortwave says:

        What baseendje said, pretty much.

        I’ve been really amazed lately at what low end hardware can do.
        (Even though I don’t even consider what you have low end..)
        Put it this way..
        I dropped a 70 dollar GPU into a buddies computer the other week..
        He’s playing every single new game on high settings..
        And seeing as how low settings usually beats consoles..
        His mind, has been fucking blown.
        We need to seriously get the expensive pc myth out of peoples heads.
        You don’t need to be rich to enjoy beautiful looking new games on pc.

        For the price of a new blockbuster video game..
        You can instantly play hundreds of amazing free games.
        And more.. LIFE IS GOOD FOR PC GAMERS.

  6. Maxheadroom says:

    after weeks of deliberation I have, litterally in the last half hour, ordered a Asus G75 (with 670m graphics). Please dont start off part 2 of this artical by saying it’s a bag of shite and I should have got an Alienware or something, it’l make me sad

    • Premium User Badge

      wyrmsine says:

      Max, you should be fine. I’ve been really happy with my last two ASUS laptops – working on a G74s now, and I love it. Heavy, unwieldy, and impossible to find a decent case/bag for, but great for games and relatively cheap.

    • Valvarexart says:

      I have it but with 660m. I see no reason for getting anything better. The only thing that is shit is the battery life.

    • Snuffy the Evil says:

      Buy a 90 degree adapter for your power cord and pray to the deity of your choice that you don’t have any technical problems you can’t personally fix. Anecdotal evidence and all, but my experience with Asus support has been absolutely awful.

      Also, some Asus notebooks (mostly last year’s G53/74 line) have throttling issues where the CPU, when under high demand, will periodically shift down to around 700Mhz for a few seconds before returning to previous clocks. If your performance in some programs or games isn’t what you think it should be, google “Asus Throttlestop Fix” and follow the instructions there.

      • Maxheadroom says:

        @Snuffy
        Where would I pick up one of them there 90 degree adaptors?

    • TedDahlberg says:

      I bought the G74 in May and have been gaming happily ever since (in fact it got me back into PC gaming after many years away from it. Now maybe I haven’t tried to play the right (or wrong) games, but I’ve yet to find anything it can’t run at max settings in 1080 resolution. Skyrim with high res texture pack for instance runs without a hitch. So I would assume you will have an equivalent or better experience.

    • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

      I hope they performed whatever exorcisms they had to after the G73. Just had to get mine repaired for corrupted boot sector, glitchy touchpad, broken fan, and, I don’t know, sclerosis, probably. Whatever illnesses computers can get, it had it. Only after buying did I find that the G73’s notorious for its Grey Screen of Death and nigh-useless touchpad. I guess that’s why they were able to sell them for so cheap.

      So basically, for anyone reading, if a gaming laptop with crazy specs seems too inexpensive to be true, it probably is. (By comparison, the old Toshiba on which I played the shit out of HL2 still works just fine.)

      I don’t really regret it; when it works, it works like blazes, and being able to play DX:HR on high settings on an affordable lappy is great. But it’s also made me think laptop gaming isn’t quite at the level of sophistication manufacturers would have us believe. I bought it so I could have one, reasonably portable, all-purpose machine, rather than a work box and a game box. Now I think gaming desktop and netbook are the way to go.

  7. Dinger says:

    The key problem with mobile gaming is heat. Video cards put out tons of it, and the gaming laptops I’ve had have all suffered from heat-related ills: the batteries cooks up fast, the connections on the motherboard melt away, and so on. I’ve been able to coax an average of 3.5 years out of my game-laptops, but the last two years have been difficult.
    Admittedly, my cases have been extreme (a 486dx4-100 desktop chip crammed in a laptop, basically a winged steam locomotive ; A Pentium-4D and Radeon 9700M combo — the Tu-144 of mobile gaming). Still, months and years at high heat cause faster wear of components: I’ve seen students with a “gaming-oriented” laptop having to take it outside a library to deal with chronic overheating; and I read today about a MacBook nVidia 6850 “fix” that involves cooking the laptop like it was a funkin’ Paté de Foie Gras.

    I figure one can get at the problem from an energy consumption approach: what delivers acceptable performance for the lowest peak wattage?

    • subshell001 says:

      The 650M was tuned for better battery life, so it doesn’t get that hot. It has great performance.

    • Saiko Kila says:

      I don’t believe nor trust in laptops for gaming anymore – whether designed as such or not. It doesn’t matter how much I paid (the most expensive one was $2000 from the soon-to-be-dead HP, I hope).

      All of them started as fine machines, ended as oversized paper weights. I even bought a business series one, for graphics designers, hoping that it would cope with heat better. I had bad luck getting one of these infamous nvidia chipsets, who were prone to toasting after some time. Apple probably knew all along, because their MacBooksPros, with the same card, were seriously underclocked from beginning. Only after the milk was spilled did HP (and some others) release BIOS with fan and heat control, a disaster management at best, intended to let the product survive the 3 year warranty period.

      But even laptops with “normal” cards end dead or underperforming. I can play games like Assasin’s Creed or Oblivion first, then I can play Deus Ex (the original), then I can play Minesweeper, and in time even that is too taxing on the hardware. Which finally fails completely. Not to mention other problems like blisters from overheating (and probably no children in future, but that may be seen as blessing actually :)).

      In retrospective, all four “gaming-grade” laptops I had forced me to buy actual gaming PCs and other hardware, which may be good for my overall playing experience. But I don’t intend to make that mistake again and buy a laptop for gaming.

  8. dethtoll says:

    Gaming laptop? No such thing.

    • RobinOttens says:

      Oh shit, then what have I been using the last four years!?

    • Ajax19 says:

      Me too!

    • Snuffy the Evil says:

      I was browsing the site on my computer, which disappeared after reading this comment. Now I’m stuck on a library computer. Thanks, dethtoll.

    • subshell001 says:

      that’s strange, because the retina macbook pro I have, which plays Rage at 30fps @ full resolution (2880×1800), seems to exist. Being in denial does not negate their existence.

  9. mbp says:

    Don’t make the mistake I did of assuming that a good gaming laptop is also a good general purpose laptop. A gaming laptop is going to be heavier and drain the battery quicker than a non gaming machine so you sacrifice a lot of portability.

    • Faxmachinen says:

      That certainly used to be the case, and to a certain extent still is. We’ve had a lot of advancements in power saving tech since though, and as a result my current gaming laptop has twice the battery life of my previous one.

  10. fish99 says:

    I always buy laptops with a dedicated GPU, even if it’s just for something like minecraft, but the experience of laptop gaming is pretty suboptimal, mainly due to screen size and quality (static contrast ratios of around 200-400:1 versus 800-1000:1 on a monitor). If you travel a lot then it’s obviously better than no gaming, but other than that I wouldn’t really bother. If you want to really enjoy a good game, you’ll save it for your desktop.

    There’s other drawbacks too, like fan noise, heat (inc. overheating), keyboard feel + layout, plus if you’re on battery power you’ll be lucky to get an hour gaming.

    Having said all that I do love laptops, and use them all the time at home, not just because they’re portable but they also use a ton less power. To me turning my desktop PC on to check my e-mail or read RPS seems silly. I even code (D3D), 3D model (3dsmax) and make music (Live8) on my laptop, jobs it can do perfectly.

    (owner of Vostro 1500, XPS M1330 and Inspiron 13z 1370)

  11. Advanced Assault Hippo says:

    I would never ‘recommend’ a gaming laptop at all, when you weigh up the cost vs performance vs potential isues, etc, compared to a desktop.

    But…. as mentioned, if you were in a position where there are issues of practicality – then I guess if you have no option, you have no option.

    Try and get a decent warranty. My sister used to work in Dell support, and the number of heat-related laptop problems is staggering.

  12. huggyray says:

    I used to be of the mind that desktop gaming was where its at but, since getting married thats all changed. It’s really not acceptable to take yourself off to another room to game so I find gaming on the laptop next to my lovely wife is a happy trade off.
    I used to be all over the nvidia platform for mobile gaming but I’ve had some real issues with compatibility. My newest laptop, the Samsung Gamer 7 comes with the AMD Radeon HD 6970M and its FLIES along. Runs everything I throw at it with the settings on max and as a bonus, also runs all the games I used to have an issue with (I can now dip into Red Alert 2 again….yay!)

    • Ajax19 says:

      I am in the exact same position. Almost 4 years ago (December 2008), I was in need of a computer upgrade. I did a ton of research into laptops because I just didn’t want to have to spen all the time I’d like to spend gaming chained to my desk in my office. I wanted to be able to sit on the couch (or floor) of my livingroom with my wife while she read or sit in my livingroom gaming while watching sports or what not. I wanted to have some mobility in my gaming around the house. I just didn’t like being chained to a desk.

      So, I plunked down $1,800 for a 15″ Sager laptop and have never been happier. Because I don’t have to retreat to my man cave to play, I end up playing a ton more games and, therefore, any additional expense is easily accounted for by increase usage.

      Until just recently, I haven’t had any performance issues and, back in my desktop days, I would start seeing performance issues around this time anyways. I’ve played all three Mass Effects, Dragon Ages, Left 4 Dead 1 & 2, Civ V among many, many other games.

      My gaming laptop is easily the best computer purchase I’ve ever made and I’ve been buying computers for over 25 years. I can’t ever see myself going back to a desktop at this point.

      Sure, you can’t play unplugged for any length of time, but I knew that going in and never expected it to be any different. I just need it to be mobile around the house.

      • Damn Skippy says:

        I did the same thing at the beginning of this year, I have my desktop in the basement man cave and found myself going down there less and less to play games and instead found myself spending time with my wife upstairs. My old non-gaming laptop was over 5 years old and getting less useful by the day, plus one of the partitions got corrupted and I was going to need a full rebuild with a new hard drive soon.

        So I started looking at gaming laptops, thinking like you that I would get more use out of it that way and actually play some of the games in my steam backlog, and ended up looking at Sager’s wares and found exactly what I was looking for. I was able to get a 15″ 1080p matte screen, mobile i7 and a AMD 6990M (which is essentially a 6870 based on the cores and clocks, with them being the same architecture, and top of the line at the time being about equal to Nvidia’s best) for $1600. And I haven’t looked back since.

        I’ve played more PC games this year than ever before, because I have it next to me in my living room ready to go at a moments notice. It runs like a dream. I got myself a good lapdesk so i’d have a solid mousing surface and it keeps heat off my lap, and I’m ready to go for any type of game. There are a few minuses (it needs to be plugged in to get best performance for games, battery life is poor, it’s heavy), but I’m using it in my living room 98% of the time so those negatives don’t rear their head very often. It is really the best computing purchase I’ve made in years, and in another 3-4 years I’ll probably be getting another one.

    • Severn2j says:

      I recently bought a Samsung 7 Gamer (mine came with a Nvidia GTX 675M, not sure why others come with Radeon chips tho) due to having to spend the majority of my week in hotels (thanks job!) and its one of the best purchases I ever made. It was pretty steep when I bought it (around £1200), but it handles anything I throw at it without breaking a sweat. And its also handy for taking round to mates houses for impromptu LAN gaming.

  13. Bobka says:

    Ars Technica did a piece where they suggested the best mid-priced gaming laptop might be the Lenovo IdeaPad Y580 variants – the article came out around 3 days after I ordered a laptop of exactly that make.

    http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2012/08/the-ars-pc-laptop-buying-guide-back-to-school-edition/2/

    It hasn’t arrived yet (it was shipped to Mississauga, then to Fredericton, then back to Mississauga – wtf?), but it should soon. Can’t wait to give it a try, after spending 4+ years gaming on a Toshiba Satellite.

  14. Bhazor says:

    I would never recommend a gaming laptop.
    The number of peripherals needed (mouse and mat, power cable, numbad), the crappy battery life and the screen glare basically remove any portability from it. Add to that the arkwardness of balancing a scalding hot 17″ monitor on your knee and the only way to use it is to sit at a desk. So basically its a desktop pc with components you could of bought at half the price.

    If you want portable gaming then get a netbook. They’re a third the price, super compact and get excellent battery life. Sure they can’t play the latest action games while sitting on a train. But why would you want to?

    Netbook’s certainly seem underated as far as gaming goes. Generally a reviewer declares “This can’t play Crysis 3 at maximum settings therefore it can’t play any games”.
    http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/forums/showthread.php?2015-Netbook-gaming

    • Bobka says:

      Just because you have to use it at a desk doesn’t mean a desktop PC is necessarily more convenient. I’ve spent the last 6 months alternating between two desks at home, the coffee table in the living room, my desk at work, a table at the university library, and a desk at my in-laws’ place. I’d really like to watch somebody lug their desktop PC around like that. I’d even pay for the popcorn.

      Also, maybe this is just me being ignorant, but mousemat and numpad? I haven’t needed either of those things in years – I’ve had the same mouse for 3 and it’s never needed a real mat, and I can’t think of anything I’ve needed a numpad for, except a few old and obnoxious indie games that require numpad for controls and don’t allow you to remap the keys. Maybe if you’re working in a specific software field, though, I suppose I can see that.

      • Bhazor says:

        A laptop is fine. A gaming laptop is imho a waste of money.

        Even if you’re not using a mouse mat you’ll still need to have a square foot of flat surface to use it on. Basically you’ll need to be sitting at a desk. As for numpads, which are either too small or absent on most laptop keyboards, I’d like to see you play any arpg or high apm strategy game with out one.

        • Kaira- says:

          >Basically you’ll need to be sitting at a desk

          I don’t know about you, but my couch has this thing where you can rest your arm. It also works nicely as a place for your mouse and mat.

          • fish99 says:

            I’ve tried it, it’s uncomfortable. Plus if you have the laptop on your knee you’ll just block the air intake so it’ll overheat, so you need a cooling pad or board on your knee, plus gaming laptops weigh 3kg, which hurts your legs after a while. Plus if you use the chairs arm rest for the mouse, your arm aches after a while, plus the mouse doesn’t work as well on fabric. Plus the screen is small and the laptop speakers are poor. Also if you’re in the living room, someone else will be watching TV so you’ll barely be able to hear your game anyway.

            Is it possible? Sure. Is it optimal? No, and let’s not pretend otherwise.

          • Kaira- says:

            Uncomfortable? Works more than fine for me. And well, my laptop isn’t a “gaming laptop”, but rather a general utility laptop which can run games, and as such I’ve not had problems with air flow. Also, using headphones and living alone fixes the last two problems for me. Not a solution for everyone, obviously.

          • fish99 says:

            My laptops aren’t gaming laptops either, the GPUs in them are 8400M (Dell XPS M1330), 8600M (Dell Vostro 1500) and G105M (Dell Inspiron 13z 1370), which are all fairly wimpy, and yet they still get really hot, and if you use them straight on your knee, they get twice as hot really quick because the air intake to the fan is blocked, to the point where they burn your skin. Of course I have a Logitech cooling pad with a fan in it, and it sorts the problem out, no overheating, no cooked legs, but I still wouldn’t compare the experience to gaming on a desktop with a screen double the size. And I personally found it quite an uncomfortable experience gaming in an arm chair like that.

        • Ajax19 says:

          Well, as someone who bought a gaming laptop and has used one exclusively over the last three and a half years, I beg to differ. It’s been a better investment than any desktop I’ve ever owned.

          I have a floor and a coffee table (or dining room table) for games that need a mouse (I don’t have, nor have I ever needed, a number pad).

          For other games, like, say, Civ or Football Manager, slower, turn-based games that don’t require a mouse/fast reactions, I have a very cheap “cooling pad” (no bells or whistles, just a plastic base I rest it on essentially) and a pillow and it sits in my lap very comfortably. No muss, no fuss.

          • Damn Skippy says:

            I have a heavy-ish gaming laptop and I don’t need a desk at all anymore, I got one of these and it’s perfect for gaming with a mouse: http://www.laptopdesk.net/futura-with-max-mouzpad.html

            I got a small mouse pad to put on the plastic mouse surface so it’s quieter and I have no complaints. the laptop is heavy enough that it provides a good counter balance if you rest your hand on the pad too. Has the added bonus of giving you a surface so you don’t burn your balls from the heat. Just day to day stuff i don’t use it, but I keep it in a storage ottoman in the living room and it’s great for what it is.

        • Faxmachinen says:

          My laptop has a full numpad. Also, I have a trackball mouse (and yes, they are just as suited to gaming). And I move to the livingroom table when I want to play Starcraft II with my mate anyway.

    • Dr I am a Doctor says:

      Well I in fact do play Saints Row 3 when I’m on the bus so let me argue more, because as we all know if a single person does a stupid thing, the opposition’s all arguments are invalid

    • Snuffy the Evil says:

      This is a ridiculous statement, and to be honest I’m not really sure where to begin.

      1. A gaming laptop is probably going to have just as many peripherals as a desktop computer. Why do I need a mousemat for my laptop, but not my desktop? I’m also pretty sure a desktop is going to have a lot more cables than my laptop.

      2. Most gaming laptops have full-size keyboards, with numpads.

      3. A gaming laptop is going to take up less space than an equivalent desktop.

      4. Most gaming laptops are marketed as desktop replacements, anyway. I didn’t buy my machine so I could play my games on the train. I bought it so I would have a decently-specced machine that I could easily transport between my dorm and home. It’s pretty much always plugged in, but 2-3 hours of battery life in high-performance mode (and not gaming) is more than enough for my purposes.

      5. Heat is an issue that fluctuates between manufacturers and product lines. If you get that $3800 Sager machine with the downward-facing vents and the two 580Ms, yeah you’re going to have heat problems. Most of Asus’ gaming notebooks, on the other hand, have fans that point towards the rear and are exceptionally comfortable to use on one’s lap as long as you don’t mind the bulk.

      Yeah, gaming notebooks are expensive if you’re just looking at the individual gaming components. It’s important to keep in mind that you’re not just paying for a collection on parts, but also for the form factor and convenience of a moderately powerful computer you can easily pick up and carry with you. If I lived in one place and wasn’t traveling I would’ve bought a desktop in a heartbeat, but I’m not. I didn’t buy a gaming notebook for the games. I bought it so I would have a decent machine that could do whatever I needed wherever I was. The games are just a bonus.

      • Premium User Badge

        Wisq says:

        Um. Maybe you’re deliberately missing the obvious here, but … Peripherals don’t matter for a desktop, because they sit on the desk. You don’t have to carry them around, set them up more than once, or put them away after you’re done.

        Far as I’m concerned, I just get a decent laptop, not a gaming one. I play resource-hungry games on my desktop and simpler games on my laptop. (The latest: Nintendo DS games via an emulator.) Sure, I can’t run the biggest and best titles on the go, but I also have a laptop that’s better for general purpose use and doesn’t cost a ton.

  15. fish99 says:

    Btw if anyone is considering a gaming laptop and doesn’t understand the mobile GPUs market, just google the GPU name and click the notebookcheck link (usually the top link). They have a description of the GPU, specs, 3DMark scores and more importantly game framerate scores, like so-

    http://www.notebookcheck.net/NVIDIA-GeForce-GT-630M.63761.0.html

  16. Lagwolf says:

    I have been gaming on my MacBook Pro with 2gb of RAM running XP for quite a few years now. It runs everything I want pretty damn well. The card in here is GeForce 8600m.

    • Premium User Badge

      emotionengine says:

      Heh, me too. Although I eventually upgraded my 2007 MacBook Pro with 4GB RAM, and a 7200 rpm hard drive that runs Win 7. The Nvidia 8600M had to be replaced about 18 months ago after three and a half years on the job, but at Apple’s expense. I got a new mobo out of the whole affair for free, so no complaints from me.

      I’m constantly surprised and frankly amazed at the performance of the 8600M. Deus Ex: HR, all three Mass Effects, Space Marine, DoW 2, Civ V, Borderlands, Fallout 3 / New Vegas, Burnout Paradise, Dead Space 1&2… and more all run quite smoothly at native resolution at medium to high settings. The only games I have that brought the chip to its knees were Total War Shogun 2 and Crysis (and to a lesser extent, Just Cause 2), but even those are playable if you can live with lower settings/resolutions. I’m not going to attempt running something like Battlefield 3 or Rage on it, but my point is that this five year laptop still has the vast majority of my gaming needs covered.

  17. Ovno says:

    I’ve got a Dell N5010 (Inspiron 15R) with an i3 and an ATI HD5650 and I have found it to be a bloody amazing piece of kit, plays skyrim, dayz and dawn of war2 with out any problems at native res and outperforms my Q9550+HD5770 sometimes, there only arround the £400-£500 mark and really I’d be tempted to call it the best pc I’ve ever had.

    Still my next by will be a nice shiney i7 or above with shit hot gfx card, but that’s a while off yet…

  18. Manac0r says:

    I understand its decadent. But after building a high end desktop, I was plagued with RMA issues. GFX, motherboard, PSU etc. (all high end branded parts) it killed me waiting for parts to be changed and what not. So recently purchased an intel 820Qm with a 680m (still to be delivered). Now I can actually go round to LANs, rather than hosting them and when my desktop decides to throw a wobbly (currently experiencing random power outages, already changed the PSU twice) I have something decent to fall back on.

  19. bill says:

    Gaming works fine on many laptops, as long as you aren’t desperate to have the latest cutting edge graphics. You’ll find most reasonably priced Dells will play current games and look fine – unless you’re one of those people who analyses screenshots to look for low res textures.

    I’d say it’s better to get a medium sized one with an external screen, and not to pay too much for a “gaming laptop”, but rather get a mid priced one that you can replace in a few years.

    Unless you live somewhere really hot – in which case a gaming laptop will melt your hands.

    Personally, after years of messing around with building desktops, it was really nice to have a machine where everything was integrated and just all worked together.

  20. DeFiBkIlLeR says:

    Well this is most disappointing…

    I had the Dell 8100, (blue pad inserts were my favourites BTW..the yellow ones were just too much. I purchased it in 2001 with the 1Ghz Pentium 3 Mobile & Geforce2Go 32mb chip..cost me £1500, and also phoned Dell spare parts division in Texas to buy the Geforce4Go 64mb as an upgrade in 2002, via a mail forwarding company in New York.

    I thought I was being a true pioneer, upgrading something that was never meant to be upgraded…turns out loads of you buggers were at it as well.

  21. kael13 says:

    Going off-topic a bit here, but I do find it a better bet to game on a desktop if you have the space. I supplement it with an iPad for gaming/computing in the mobile space, but I’ve been yearning for something with a little more functionality.

    If only Macbook Airs came with an IPS screen. I’d buy one of those in a flash.

    Back on topic, I spec/buy computers for people in my workplace and I recently went a little overboard on a custom laptop job with an nVidia GTX555M card. It’s actually not a bad gaming laptop and can run SC2 locked at 60fps on high/medium settings.

  22. Shazbut says:

    This is very timely for me, but what I really want to know is whether now is a good time to buy one before Windows 8 hits. I dont know much about the os, so am basically just worried. Will I be able to use Dosbox and play old games and download everything just like i do at the moment?

    If so, then I can wait a few months, but would anything change in a few months considering im just gonna buy the best thing i can for approx £600?

    • Faxmachinen says:

      Look at it this way: 98 was good, ME was shit, XP was good, Vista was shit, Win7 is good, Win8 will be…?
      Though to be honest, I don’t have high hopes for anything beyond that either, what with the whole trying to turn the PC into a tablet thing.

      • Sheng-ji says:

        I would say that you’re on thin ground with “98 was good”, also 95 was shit, 3.x was shit, DOS was good, kinda breaks the pattern a little!

  23. Radiant says:

    ‘High end’ laptops become pretty much obsolete after a year and a half.

    WHY CAN’T I EASILY SWITCH OUT MY GFX FOR AN UPGRADE?

    Not really looking to spend 1k+ GBP on something that I can’t use because it doesn’t have X or Y connectivity 18 months down the line.

    • Faxmachinen says:

      Thing is though, to stay on the bleeding edge you have to switch out your GPU, CPU, RAM, HDDs, motherboard…
      Anything else and you’d get a Frankenstein’s PC that has to crawl on all fours because its beefy GPU arms weigh too much for the PCI legs to bear.

    • Snuffy the Evil says:

      I own a year-and-a-half old Asus machine and it still runs everything beautifully. Yeah, if you feel a constant need to be on the cutting edge of consumer tech then a gaming laptop isn’t for you. If you’re like me and want a portable computer that can do anything I need and still play games at a respectable framerate at respectable settings, then a gaming notebook could very well last you three years.

  24. huggyray says:

    Another point which hasn’t been mentioned yet. It’s so convenient to plug your HDMI output from your laptop into your TV to watch a movie, no need to convert the file or put up with the vagaries of streaming. Download and play…nice and simple.

    • Premium User Badge

      Wisq says:

      Don’t need a gaming laptop for this, though. Almost any modern laptop will let you do HDMI.

  25. quantumnerd says:

    The GTX 660M produces far too much heat to be used in the pictured ultrabook… in fact, I have an MSI GE60 and the 660M at full bore is enough to completely occupy the cooling system. Something with a dinky fan or passive cooling through the chassis definitely couldn’t support it. I should also point out that the 670M is not too appealing, because it’s not Kepler. It’s Fermi. Although you’ll only be using it while it’s plugged in, thanks to Optimus, it’s still going to produce a lot more heat than the Kepler parts.

  26. fer says:

    One of the few perks of being self-employed is getting to choose personal hardware. A few years ago, I bought an Alienware M11x R2 to use as my main work laptop and secondary gaming rig (mostly for playing ArmA2 and editing missions). After some initial wonkiness with the Optimus technology (which automagically switches between the on-board Intel GFX and NVidia GFX card that’s also in the unit), it’s been a great performer and wonderful companion. So much so, that when my desktop rig expired, I was happy to wait for several months before replacing it – the Alienware coped just fine with most things I threw at it, albeit on mid-level quality settings and with the addition of an active cooling stand. I certainly plan on replacing this Alienware with another, though it’s only the daily usage as a work machine that allows me to justify the Mac-like pricetag.

    TL/DR: A decent gaming laptop isn’t a replacement for a desktop gaming rig, but it can come pretty close. Just don’t expect it to be cheap!

  27. SuperNashwanPower says:

    Does someone clever know if its usually possible to change graphics cards in laptops? I know they are usually custom built in, but I have a GTX460M in mine, and would love to know if I can swap a GTX 680M in there. Its a bit of an obscure laptop – the MEDION Erazer (apparently a rebranded MSI GT683)

    TBH it is a very capable machine – as a benchmark I ran Crysis 2, with the high resolution pack, all graphics settings to full (including tesselation), and only started to see game-marring frame rate drop at full 1920×1080 resolution. Backing off to a slightly lower one and it was nice and smooth. Similar story on METRO 2033 – it needed to run at one of the 1600 resolutions (cant remember the figures) for smooth gameplay. Anything else, like Skyrim (even with HD graphics mods), it runs at full whack with no hiccups.

    Would still like to upgrade though, because y’know …. MOAR

    • Snuffy the Evil says:

      It varies from manufacturer to manufacturer (or, if you’ll read my post lower down, from model to model). Long story short gaming GPUs use a format known as MXM 3.0, short for Mobile PCI Express. This is pretty much a standard- if you have a notebook with an MXM 3.0 slot and a mobile GPU with an MXM 3.0 connector, you should have no trouble shoving that sucker in.

      However.

      There are a lot of manufacturers who don’t follow this standard at all. Asus, as explained below, often uses their own MXM format for their notebooks, if the card isn’t soldered to the motherboard outright. Even if a manufacturer follows the standard they may restrict which cards can be used, which means you’ll have to acquire a custom BIOS/vBIOS which would, naturally, void your warranty.

      If the stars align and you have a compatible card with an unrestricted BIOS, if the card you’re replacing has a lower TDP than the one you’re replacing it with (such as the 460M versus the 680M you’re talking about) then you’re probably going to run into heat and power supply issues. The latter is pretty easily solved by buying a more powerful brick. For the former you’re pretty much stuck with modifying your heatsink.

      This varies from notebook to notebook. You’re best off contacting the manufacturer and asking directly. Websites like mxm-upgrade.com may be able to tell you, but may not be of any use because, as you said, your laptop model is fairly obscure.

      • SuperNashwanPower says:

        Hi Snuffy. Ta for the reply! Yes that makes sense. I have found a couple of videos of people taking apart the bog-standard case of the MSI 683 / Medion Erazer, and removing / replacing all components including the graphics card (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Grz0IcLm0Ag and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=owOaREnRHKo&feature=related .. apologies for the soundtrack / voiceover on the latter!) so it definitely seems possible.

        As you say though, that heatsink will present issues, if indeed the new card will fit the slot. I don’t hold out much hope talking to the manufacturer, as I tried that with something relatively simple before and seemed to confuse the poor buggers. I think it might just be someone’s helpful aunt in germany plonked in front of a computer :)

        I will check out that forum you recommended. On the supply side – where on earth do you buy mobile graphics cards? I’ve drawn a blank with amazon, DABS and Overclockers.com (I am UK based).

        • robostac says:

          The best bet is to contact a seller of configurable laptops directly – the cards aren’t generally sold separately. In the UK I’d probably try mysn.co.uk or pcspecialist.co.uk.

        • SuperNashwanPower says:

          TDP comparison:
          460M – 78 watts
          680M – 100 watts

          I wonder if MSI have a stock heat sink and fan to handle it? If the form factor is the same, then is it just the BIOS issue to solve?

  28. Jeremy Laird says:

    Very likely, you cannot upgrade the graphics, I’m afraid. I’ll have more on this in part 2.

    • SuperNashwanPower says:

      Hi Jeremy. Thanks for the personal response :) Do you say that because most laptops GFX are hard-soldered to the board, or is there another reason? It does appear with this laptop that users can fully strip it down, and that the GPU is mounted on a separate, removable board. I am trying to find out more about it, as its a bit of an obscure brand it seems.

  29. johnnype says:

    On occasion I can plug my gaming laptop to a monitor. I have a GeForce GTX 560M. Is there some way to figure out how big a monitor I can use without it being too much for my video card? The 22″ monitor I have works perfectly well but I’d like something bigger. Advice?

  30. MythArcana says:

    You really don’t need anything too powerful with all the games Gleam is pumping out lately. A 500MHz CPU with a gig of RAM should do just fine. They don’t really care about innovation anyway, so you should be alright for years with that setup.

  31. Dannysaysnoo says:

    An interesting question regarding the Razer Blade’s keyboard design.

    http://assets.razerzone.com/eeimages/products/213/rzr_blade(r2)_v05_rgb_bbg_1.png

    Are there /any/ other laptops that have that design of perpendicular keyboard and mousepad?

  32. Gentlemoth says:

    I can offer two pieces of advice for anyone who wants to get a gaming laptop:

    1. Do not get a “GAMING LAPTOP”. Avoid things such as Alienware extreme laptops like the plague, for they are overpriced and often over-equiped. Your laptop will not have as long life-expectancy as a stationary, and it will be a lot harder to repair and replace parts. Purchasing some beast for infinite amounts of money that comes with Quad graphics cards will leave you eventually with a broken laptop that will cost a lot to repair. Heat is quite high in laptops and wear & tear is a lot greater than on a regular stationary, and the equipment is both smaller and more fragile.

    2. Get a large sized one. I myself use a 17″ laptop, it’s not too heavy(I can certainly hold it out in one hand, though unweildly), but it does require space. Not only do you get a better gaming experience with a larger screen, but a larger computer will get you more value for your money. I compared my Dell Studio 17 with the Dell Studio 15, and to get the same hardware on it, it would cost a good $100-200

    • Snuffy the Evil says:

      In my opinion, “gaming laptops” are fine, just don’t pay more than $1200, with an ABSOLUTE max of $1500. Past that point, when you start running into machines with two GPUs and i7-3890XM or whatever processors is where the price-value ratio starts to tank sharply, and it starts costing an exorbitant amount for mediocre gains in horsepower but ridiculous increases in weight and temperature.

      1. You don’t need an overclockable processor in a gaming notebook. Temperatures are already high and you’re only going to make them higher while shortening your already scant battery life.

      2. Notebooks in this range are (usually) already unreasonably hot and heavy- as the price goes up mobility becomes a non-issue because you’re not going to be able to take it anywhere without burning yourself or throwing out your back. A $2500 gaming notebook isn’t going anywhere but your desk. While I do own a gaming notebook and I do carry it around, at this price point it does become more sensible to build a desktop and buy a notebook.

  33. Snuffy the Evil says:

    Note: don’t buy gaming notebooks from Asus. While I own a G53SW-XN1 and am more than happy with it, the two other identical machines in my family have suffered numerous failures (one bad screen, three defective power jacks) that have been compounded by Asus’ extremely poor customer and technical support. We sent the affected computers to their California distribution center (the only location they’ll accept warranty repairs at) and they came back with other miscellaneous damages ranging from missing screws to obvious cosmetic damage.

    At one point their customer support wanted us to send in an affected notebook (which had already been sent in twice) to repair the power jack (again), but neglected to mention the said notebook was no longer under warranty- had we not tried a third-party who was licensed to conduct repairs on Asus machines first (except they couldn’t, for various reasons that were Asus’ fault) we would have never found out and, hence, would have had to foot the bill after we had sent it in. Since me and my family members rely on these computers for school and other matters, well…

    Anyway, thank God for Newegg and their absolutely fantastic warranty service. While I have had exactly zero problems with my laptop and like the various features (such as the rear-facing fans), my indirect experience with Asus support has left an extremely sour taste in my mouth and I am never going to buy a laptop from them again.

    There are other beefs I have with Asus that would take even longer to get into- notably, their terrible driver support and their penchant for proprietary hardware which make hardware upgrades extremely difficult if not outright impossible. For one, I had to completely disassemble my machine just to replace the memory. Two, some of their gaming laptops use a proprietary MXM interface which make upgrading the GPU impossible, others have the GPU just plain soldered to the motherboard and others still are proper MXM 3.0…. naturally, there is no documentation to differentiate which notebooks are affected and which ones aren’t, which means you’ll have to completely disassemble your machine just to find out if you can upgrade it or not.

    So, uh, long story short. Don’t buy anything from Asus. Just… don’t.

  34. Kaje says:

    I have an ASUS G53SX laptop that I paid £900 for.

    i7 Processor
    8GB DDR3 RAM
    2GB GeForce 560m GTX
    Fully 3D with Nvidia Active 3D Vision

    And I can play Battlefield 3 on Ultra with zero slowdown. Nothing. Nadda. Zilch.

    • DeFiBkIlLeR says:

      ..bullshit.

    • Premium User Badge

      Clavus says:

      .. at 1366×768. According to the spec list that’s the only resolution at which it also support 3D.

      • rb2610 says:

        On a 15″ screen does it really matter that it’s at that res?
        1080 is the norm for everything up to a 26″ monitor unless you want to spend loads just for the sake of “MOAR PIXELS”, so that res seems entirely reasonable for anything 15″ or less…

  35. Premium User Badge

    Clavus says:

    I would say the GTX660 is a lot more powerful than this article seems to admit. It easily runs Battlefield on high from what I’ve read, and according to Notebookcheck it’s in the first class of graphics cards, up there with the other heavyweights.

    • rb2610 says:

      This, I’ve seen a few reviews implying it can perform very well, I saw a video review of one playing Skyrim maxed out smoothly, (albeit they only showed gameplay of Whiterun)

      Personally I’d think it better to settle for a 660 or make the jump to a 680, seeing as the 670/675 are fermi chips, and with the better efficiency, in a laptop where overheating is rife, a Kepler chip (and Ivy Bridge) seems a no-brainer, even if it does mean missing out on a little extra performance from the 670/75.

  36. subshell001 says:

    As a proud owner of a Retina MacBook Pro, I can attest that the new 650M chip is really amazing. Whether or not you want a Mac is another story, but under Boot Camp it runs PC games great. At full retina resolution (2880×1800) Rage runs at 30fps. At 1080p it’s about 60fps. 1080p looks great and all, but holy smokes Rage looks incredible at 2880×1800 on a 15″ screen.

    Just got into the PlanetSide 2 beta, and that also runs great on High settings (>1080p).

    What I am getting at is, if you want a gaming laptop, get one with a new Kepler NVIDIA chip. It has the power!

    • Premium User Badge

      emotionengine says:

      That sounds very promising. But how much does the image quality suffer on the native display at something like 1080p as opposed to the full 2880 x 1800 resolution? I was wondering if it was advisable to hook the laptop to an external monitor with a lower native resolution than the ridiculously super high-res retina panel to run games at acceptable frame rates without sacrificing quality too much.

  37. rockman29 says:

    My current laptop has a Nvidia 325 M in it. Great performance. Plays Dota 2 and even runs PlanetSide 2 pretty well. Play Starcraft II and others as well. Doesn’t play things like Crysis or Battlefield 3 well enough to be fun.

    Planning to get a next laptop with a 650 or 660 M, but I also might just get a desktop since this laptop does great for mobile gaming already.

  38. Boarnoah says:

    This comes just a week after I buy a new laptop, hasty purchase indeed T.T .

  39. uh20 says:

    nice that laptops are getting better with upgrades, still going to be getting a normal computer though, cheeper and such.

    not like my computers going to need to move, ill get a video streaming onto a tablet screen and multiseat it with linux, you nerds with laptops in the house are doing it wrong lol

  40. acpc2203 says:

    As previous posters have mentioned the 660 is close to the 670 and 675 in terms of performance in addition to being less power hungry due to being based on new tech instead of being slightly upclocked rebrands of the 5xx series. Also the article fails to mention that the 680M and 7970M are very close in terms of performance, with the 7970M being several hundred dollars cheaper. However the 7970M has a bunch of problems with Enduro (The AMD version of graphics switching) where the card fails to operate at full capacity in many games and is pretty risky to buy unless the laptop has a hardware graphics switch built in, which limits you to Alienware. It is worth checking out the notebookreview Sager/Clevo forums for more info about the issues.

  41. aethereal says:

    I just recently ordered a Sager NP9130 with a 670M, a 256gb ssd, and a 3’d gen core i7, for ~1500$ to replace my old Dell, wayyy cheaper than trying to buy a new Dell or Asus with comparable specs. Unfortunately their 680’s are very expensive right now, taking one would’ve added an extra 500$ to the order, which is a bit toooo absurd.

  42. eleven0911 says:

    This is a rather good post. Thank you very much for sharing.
    Food shelling/peeling machine

  43. WigglyWeirdo says:

    Mr Laird thank you for pointing out that business laptops are the original gaming laptops. They’re still a very much overlooked option for gameplayers. After scoping for a decent gaming laptop for months, but unsatisfied with all the poor-quality LCDs, I finally settled on a Lenovo W520 with a Quadro 2000 video card. From what I’ve heard the HP Elitebook’s Firepro M5950 is even nicer (equivalent to ATI 6770m).
    Business laptops are also very well built and have really nice screens. So why don’t they get any love from most gamers?

  44. juicefriend says:

    I love this post, and I’m really looking forward to the second part. One thing that would make this post even better is a timeline of some sort. The perennial “if you just wait 2 days, X is coming out” debate renders a lot of these overviews less useful/somewhat frustrating when it comes to purchasing decisions.

    So, Jeremy, could you provide a timeline for hardware releases through this year (laptops and/or gfx cards) on the next post? Even if it’s just in Google Docs. Happy to help assemble it if you need some support! It just seems like something you could kill two birds with one stone on!

  45. Iain says:

    I like Jeremy Laird’s writing, but this article basically just summarises Tom’s Hardware’s Graphics Card Hierarchy Chart.