Buying Gaming Laptops
With so many gaming laptops on the market, I thought this would be a good time to help create a general gaming laptop buying guide to help some of you pick the perfect gaming laptop in 2020. Buying gaming laptops isn’t always easy, there are so many factors to consider and weigh out that most of us are left slightly overwhelmed.
Not only are these gaming laptops evolving, the games and technology that run on them are as well. That is why it is important to stay up to date and to make a smart purchasing decision when you go to buy a gaming laptop. The most important thing to consider when buying gaming laptop is the ability to upgrade because this allows you to buy the lowest spec gaming laptop you want and then upgrade things down the road.
The first thing you really want to think about when buying a gaming laptop is the design. Do you go 15-inch or do you go 17-inch? Fifteen inch laptops have gotten to the point where they’re very portable. They’re light enough that you can carry them every single day. For example, lets go over two laptops, the Razor Blade 17 and The MAINGEAR Vector.
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- Zero-compromise powerhouse: Built for gaming and creative work in a 0.78" thin CNC aluminum unibody with high-performance vapor chamber cooling
- Futureproof design: Supports SSD and dual-channel memory upgradeability, Thunderbolt 3 enabled, compatible with Razer Core X external GPU enclosures for additional graphics power
- Perfect display for work or play: An edge-to-edge, 100% sRGB, factory-calibrated matte screen with a 240Hz refresh rate offers the best experience for both creative tasks or intense gaming sessions
- Customizable RGB individual key lighting: Illuminates in sync with Razer Chroma-supported peripherals and popular games with multiple lighting effects
- Biometric security: Supports Windows Hello instant facial unlock and authentification with integrated webcam and IR sensor
- Intel Core i7-9750H Processor 2.6GHz; 32GB DDR4-2666 memory, 2TB NVME Solid State Drive
- 15.6" Full HD IPS 144Hz Display; GeForce RTX 2070 Max-Q 8GB GDDR6
- HDMI 2 4K Support, Thunderbolt 3/USB type C, Dual fans, USB 3.1 Gen 2 Wi-Fi 6 802.11 ax, Card reader
- Magnesium Alloy housing; RGB keyboard; Glass Touchpad with Microsoft Precision Driver support; 8200mAh Battery
- Microsoft Windows 10 Pro, 230W AC adapter
The Maingear Vector, for example, packs a lot of performance in a structure that only weighs 4 lbs. That’s lighter than the MacBook Pro! On the other hand, you have the 17 inch Razor Blade Pro Stealth, which is very well constructed, but weighs over 6 lbs. Obviously you want to go with whichever has the best performance or bang for your buck, but the weight of the laptop plays into it quite heavily as well.
The benefit to portability is that you always have your gaming laptop on you. The benefit to a 17 inch laptop is you get more screen real estate, a desktop replacement, a bigger shell for better cooling, and more storage slots to increase the overall storage size of your device. Now, I wouldn’t worry about ports too much since most gaming laptops come with a good selection of them. In case you couldn’t tell already, we recommend the 17 inch gaming laptops over the 15 inch ones for the reasons mentioned above.
Now if you’re buying a 15-inch gaming laptop, there’s about two spots for storage. Sometimes you’ll find three, but usually the average is one to two of these. With 17 inch gaming laptops. You’ll have two to three spots for storage, sometimes even four. For example, I have the Helios 300 which is a 15-inch gaming laptop. With the Helios 300, they decide to stick three storage spots in here by sacrificing battery life.
By sacrificing the battery life, they were able to cut out a space for a 2.5 inch drive. This can be a mechanical drive or a regular SSD (which we recommend). Now, if you buy the base model, it comes with one NVME drive, but down the road, if you want more space, you’ll have the two extra slots which comes in handy! When buying gaming laptops, I recommend understanding and knowing your storage requirements now and for future
- Value optimized SSD: Built with Samsung V-NAND Technology, the 860 QVO SSD gives you huge storage, solid performance and reliability with exceptional value
- Enhanced read write speeds: Sequential read and write performance levels of up to 550MB/s and 520MB/s, respectively
- Intelligent Turbowrite: Accelerates write speeds and maintains long-term high performance with a larger variable buffer
- Secure encryption: Protect data by selecting security options, including AES 256-bit hardware-based encryption compliant with TCG Opal and IEEE 1667
- Warranty and compatibility: 3-year limited warranty; Interface: SATA 6 Gb/s interface, compatible with SATA 3 Gb/s & SATA 1.5 Gb/s interface
The next thing to consider when buying gaming laptops is the amount of RAM. Now, most premium and mid-range gaming laptops come with two sticks or dual channel memory. This is important because it improves game performance and helps keep the load off of the other pieces of gaming hardware. In the past, 8 GB was more than enough to handle most games. I remember buying my first gaming laptop and specifically buying 8 GB because I wanted to play Rome II Total War. Now, you’ll get laughed at if you have anything less than 16 GB.
Now, if you’re buying a budget gaming laptop, sometimes it only comes with one. If it comes with one, you’re going to want to go out and buy a second stick to place inside because it will improve the performance of the laptop. Most gaming laptops will allow you to upgrade the RAM anywhere from 32 to 64 GB. I can only imagine what the future will look like where you need 128 GB just to turn your computer on…
- High performance DDR4 memory illuminates your system with vivid, animated lighting from ten ultra-bright, individually addressable RGB LEDs per module
- Take control with CORSAIR iCUE software and synchronize lighting across all your CORSAIR iCUE compatible products, including memory, fans, coolers, keyboards and more
- Customize lighting profiles with millions of different patterns and colors, or create your own in CORSAIR iCUE software
- Compatible with Intel and AMD DDR4 motherboards
- Requires no extra wires or cables for a clean and seamless install
The next thing is Wi-Fi card. I feel this is important now because Wi-Fi 6 is out and we have upgraded our facility and homes to Wi-Fi 6. Trust me, it makes a huge difference in terms of coverage and speed. However, some of these gaming laptops don’t have Wi-Fi 6 cards inside of them. So by being able to upgrade to it down the road will future proof your Wi-Fi capabilities.
Heat management is the most important for your internals. If you see a laptop with only one fan inside, do not buy it because it’s going to be overheating and not performing as it should. If you see a gaming laptop with two fans on one side of it, it will run fine, but it’s going to get hot. Usually you want the fans on opposite ends and heat pipes running across the middle. Usually you don’t want all the heat pipes being shared by the GPU and CPU. You do want some separation and that will give you a better chance of having better thermals.
The display is also really important because you want to take advantage of the new high refresh rate displays that are readily available today. Usually, the sweet spot for 2020 is going to be 144 hz if you’re buying a 15 inch gaming laptop with full HD IPS. Most of these panels that are on the mid-range to premium gaming laptops have good color representation, good color gait, and most importantly, that 144 hz spot you want to be in now.
I wouldn’t focus on 4K gaming because ideally what you want to happen is the GPU and CPU performing fast enough to give you the frame rates that match 144 hz. If you want 4K there are 4K panels on 15 inch laptops, but most of them are only 60 hertz. You are only hurting yourself going that route because the gaming experience is not going to be the same.
If need to have 4K, you should upgrade to a 17 inch laptop because there are a couple of laptops, like the Razor Blade Pro, that offers 4K at 120 hz. Even with the new GPUs coming out this year from Nvidia and AMD, 4K gaming is still not going to be that relevant, but we understand if you need the latest and greatest! Honestly, the sweet spot is 1080p and QHD. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of QHD panels out there with high refresh rates.
The next factor to consider is sound which is probably the least important because any gaming laptop you buy right now is going to be super loud when you’re gaming. In order to keep cool, the fans will constantly be running at full steam which are quite loud. Ultimately, it just drowns out the speakers on these laptops. You should focus more on buying a good gaming headset because that will provide you a lot more value than the speakers on these laptops.
- No.1 selling PC gaming headset in the U.S. - Source: The NPD Group, Inc., U.S. retail tracking service, PC headsets, gaming designed, based on units, January-December 2019
- Lightweight headset (275 gram) with 90-degree rotating ear cups provide a snug fit that conforms to your head
- 50 millimeter directional drivers for audio precision — enjoy the full audioscape of your favorite games
- HyperX signature memory foam provides maximum comfort during extended use
- Adjustable steel slider for a solid and long lasting sturdy feel
Now, I personally feel gaming keyboards are one of the most important things for a gaming laptop. This is what your hand is interacting with for hours upon hours. In order to move your character, usually you want a gaming keyboard that has a good travel distance. The lowest to absolutely go with is 2 centimeters. But ideally you want that threshold to be a 2.5 or more.
Going back to the Razor Blade Pro 17, for example, it doesn’t have the best keyboard. It has great RGB but the keys are mushy and it does not give the best tactile experience. If you look at the Maingear, or other vendors that are using the steel series keyboard, the design is kind of dated. However, it has a nice tactile feel, with good actuation force and is the preferred keyboard to the Razor Blade Pro.
Touch pads are not very important because if you’re gaming you’re going to be having an external mouse (hopefully) connected to your computer. However, if you’re going to be doing productive stuff with it, like you’re using it for school as well, make sure the touch pad is glass coated, that it is big enough and features actual buttons. Make sure it’s using windows precision drivers.
We saved the best and most important for last, let’s talk about performance and hardware specs as this is what most people base their purchasing decisions on. For gaming, the most important thing is the GPU. Whether you buy an i5 or the latest i7, it all comes down to the GPU. I think today if you’re buying a gaming laptop, the lowest you want to be is a GTX 1660 Ti
- Chipset: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1660 Ti
- Boost Clock: 1830 MHz; Core Clocks: 1770 MHz
- Memory Interface: 192-bit
- Video Memory: 6GB GDDR6
- Output: DisplayPort x 3 (V1. 4)/ HDMI 2. 0B x 1
I get it, some people can’t afford that and will have to jump down to a 1650 GTX Ti, but if you can get the 1660 Ti, this will guarantee you that you’ll be able to play most of the games comfortably on high settings at 1080p. With the GTX 1650 Ti, you can still do VR. It just won’t be as good as an RTX card. Now, if you want to have a good sweet spot, the RTX 2060 is preferred. If you want to do high performance gaming, I’d probably skip the RTX 2080 and go with an RTX 2070. It honestly offers the best value for high gaming performance.
- Chipset: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2070
- Boost Clock: 1620 MHz
- Memory Interface: 256-bit
- Video Memory: 8GB GDDR6
- Output: DisplayPort x 3 (v1. 4) / HDMI 2. 0b x 1
As you can see, there are many factors to consider when buying gaming laptops. However, if you break it up into individual pieces, there isn’t a whole lot to it. If you want to buy a complete setup that will last for a few years, buy something a little higher end that you are going to love for the time being. If you need something a bit budget friendly, go ahead and choose something cheaper that allows for you to upgrade it over time.
Also, one thing we didn’t mention was that if you plan on playing games that are not hardware intensive, such as Diablo 2, you don’t need an expensive laptop. We actually would recommend one of these $500 laptops. Now if you plan on playing graphic intensive games, such as Witcher 3, you’re going to want to buy a higher end laptop so that you can play with the highest settings possible at 60 FPS. The choice is yours!