Making the Case for the Affordable Gaming Laptop

Unless you happen to be a dedicated geek who stays constantly up to date with the latest hardware updates, any laptop purchase can turn into a chaotic state of affairs. You have to check up on a lot of things before settling on a computer if you want it to be perfect. This becomes even more difficult when you are looking to buy a gaming laptop, considering that you need top performance for playing games and particularly with the latest gaming machines, constant updates and changes are all-too frequent.

In other words, you have to ensure that the computer is the best in its class (and within your budget) if you want it to last longer than just a couple of years, which – according to Moore’s Law – is the time frame in which the number of transistors, and hence performance, doubles in semiconductors. The same goes for graphics capability. It’s a simple truth that in a few years, even the latest and fastest GTX 580M and overclocked quad-core CPU in your EON 17-S or M18x will be surpassed by the average mainstream laptop. In spite of the cliché, there’s no such thing as a “future-proof” computer.

HP dv6t Quad EditionThat’s not to say you should never buy a full-featured, high-end gaming laptop with all the bells and whistles. Everyone want one, and if you can afford it you will probably be more than happy with your monster laptop. But for everyone with budget considerations, it really makes sense to compromise as opposed to making the final down payment on a really expensive machine five years from now (when the laptop will no doubt feel really old). So, how do you make the best out of a difficult situation? A middle-of-the-road alternative is not a bad option these days. There are lots of (comparatively) affordable laptops today that can play all the latest games, even if it’s not with all the detail knobs turned up to (DX) 11. HP’s high-end versions of the dv6t and dv7t laptops are good examples.

Consult Your Local Geek

The experience of purchasing a gaming laptop becomes even more difficult if you are not a techie because it is impossible for the average guy to keep track of all the latest tech developments in the computer gaming industry. You have to check a lot of things before you get to check and feel your new gaming laptop. Things like hard drive or SSD, GPU, processor, screen resolution, display type, RAM and not least size are all things that you will need to check before finalizing the purchase of your new portable gaming companion.

You always want a powerful graphics card and decent processor first and foremost. Lowering your requirements will disappoint you in your gaming experience. However, how do you determine what the best options are if you are not a computer hardware aficionado? Ask a geek! And if you don’t have one readily available you can always drop a comment here on BestGamingLaptop.net. Nevertheless, below are a very few basic guidelines to keep  in mind before deciding on a laptop.

The Most Important Part – The GPU

When it comes to checking the components in a gaming laptop, the first place to look is the GPU (Graphic Processing Unit) or graphics card. This is the heart and soul of a gaming laptop because gaming laptops need to able to play all the latest games with decent quality settings for at least a year. The GPU is the single component that pulls the heaviest load in this department.

The high requirements of new and upcoming games make it essential to get the most from this part of the computer and consider all other upgrades secondary. Only Nvidia or AMD/(ATI) graphics cards will do the trick. It has to be dedicated – even AMD and Nvidia offer integrated solutions like the useless ones from Intel, which are somewhat better but not enough to handle the latest games. You will know that it’s integrated if it doesn’t come with its own video RAM.

Don’t worry too much about the amount of video memory – any mid-range GPU has enough RAM to do what it’s supposed to. It is more important to look at what type of memory modules are used. The fastest variant at this writing is GDDR5, whereas DDR3 is somewhat slower. On the other hand, DDR3 can still provide more than sufficient performance, as seen in out M14x review.

CPU and RAM

Secondly, no matter how fast your GPU is, if there is not enough muscle in the processor to manage it, it will turn into a bottleneck and also degrade overall system performance. Usually all laptops that come with a good GPU also have a matching processor, but choosing at least a dual core processor, preferably from Intel for the time being, is a good idea if you want a little more power for other things than just gaming. Almost any Core i-series CPU is sufficient for powering the graphics card, but having a quad core processor certainly doesn’t hurt overall system performance.

RAM (Random Access Memory) does no determine how smoothly your games will run to any noticeable extent. Just make sure to have  enough spare RAM to avoid swapping to the page file on your slow hard drive. No less than 4GB of RAM is acceptable in a Windows 7 PC.

Storage

The hard disk is even less relevant for your gaming frame rates, but that does not mean that it doesn’t affect the rest of your system. Choosing the hard disk with a higher RPM rate is best option. For instance, hard drives running at 7200rpm are faster than their 5200rpm counterparts with the same capacity. It is also worth mentioning that higher-capacity hard drives offer better overall performance than smaller ones. The same does not apply for solid state drives, however. An SSD will give you a tremendous boost to overall system responsiveness and performance, but they are still very expensive in cost per GB and rarely available in affordable laptops.

Display and Optical Drive

Screen resolution is another important factor to consider because it has a major effect on how your games (or HD movies) will appear on the screen. 1080p displays offer plenty of screen real estate, but in a low-cost gaming laptop you also have to consider that if your graphics card is unable to run a game in native resolution, a 1080p screen might actually make your games look worse than one with 1366×768 pixels.

As far as the optical drive is concerned, you can buy a blu-ray drive if you’re a movie buff – otherwise ditch it. Blu-ray readers, and especially Blu-ray burners come with a price hike and virtually no benefits unless you are planning to watch HD movies on your laptop.

Final Thoughts

This is not the end of the checklist, because when you find a gaming laptop with the best possible specs within your budget, you also want to make sure that it’s a quality machine with a solid build and good cooling. For example, overheating is one of the potential problems with gaming laptops, so read reviews (if available) or compare it to other laptops with similar specs.

Site founder and gaming hardware enthusiast.

2 Comments
  1. Hi Velve and happy new year!
    That’s a very good point. The screen resolution is indeed very important for getting quality visuals, and sometimes not in the way people think 🙂 So I definitely agree that a low-res screen is a better option in some cases. The bad part is that many mass-produced “standard” resolution screens (i.e. 1366×768) have low quality panels with poor viewing angles and color reproduction. Even more expensive laptops like the Envy 14 (I’m sitting on one right now) ship with panels that leave a lot to be desired. Hopefully the manufacturers can get their act together and start using better panels even for their standard HD options. But your argument still holds: if the GPU isn’t one of the fastest ones available it is generally better with a lower resolution display.

  2. First of all, happy new year 😉

    I’m pretty glad I found your website as I was looking for some serious gamer-laptop discussion that wouldn’t just be a forum where people recommend what they bought.

    I appreciate particularly the technical talk around the different components. However I don’t think enough emphasis has been placed on the screen resolution.

    The screen resolution is the most important factor to determine the laptop’s longevity: the lower the resolution, the longer your computer will be able to run games at that resolution.

    In other terms, a Full HD screen (1920×1080 pixels) will only be able to run the latest games at that resolution for a short period before it becomes limited by its hardware and has to set the resolution to a lower, non-native, resolution.
    With a HD screen (1280×720 or more common 1366×768) the same hardware will be able to render outcoming games at that resolution for a longer time than the Full Hd screen before it has to low er the resolution.

    Moreover, an important factor in image quality is using the display’s native resolution: 1366×768 will look better on a 1366×768 HD screen than on a 1920×1080 Full HD screen.

    To sum up, when considering a laptop, one must look for the best hardware possible on the lowest resolution possible in order to have the best image quality for the longest time.
    By lowest resolution possible I mean a compromise between resolution & image quality: 1366×768, while not being 1920×1080, is still considered High-definition & is twice the quality of DVD-video.

    Once again, thanks for this great website 😉

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