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What makes a gaming laptop great?

Demystifying the ins and outs of the most powerful (and portable) gaming machines, one microchip at a time.

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Laptops, like any other tech, come with lights, logos, and more — all with the goal to make them appeal to consumers. But if you’re a serious gamer then it’s not the aesthetics that will make your gameplay amazing, it’s the internal components that take you to the next level. What should you look for in a laptop to keep you from losing your cool? We’ll break it down so you can choose a killer system.

First Priority: Keeping your Graphics Moving

Screen renderings in games are much higher quality—and more demanding to your computer—than a YouTube video shot on a cell phone. The Graphics Processing Unit (GPU), more commonly referred to as the graphics card, is the element of your laptop that will have the greatest impact on the quality of your gameplay experience. Great graphics cards in the market boast specs like:

  • Over 2000 processing cores (CUDA cores)
  • GDDR5 or HDM2 RAM over 6 GB
  • Frame Buffer of 6GB
  • Memory Type-Speed of 8 Gbps
  • Support for maximum digital resolution of 7680x4320 @ 60 Hz

Top graphics cards surpass these statistics, featuring over 3,500 processing cores and over 10 GB of memory. However, that speed comes with the highest price in the market as well. Are you a fan of a specific game? Check the game’s recommendations for optimum specifications to get a better idea what you need to be successful without breaking your budget. Some games are more demanding than others with GPU requirements, especially those games that require significant renderings or feature 3D gameplay.

If you can afford it, buying one of the best GPUs on the market will give your gaming laptop a longer life, raising your chances that it will support games released later down the line. A gamer who is devoted to always having the latest release would benefit from prioritizing the GPU and sacrificing in other, less critical elements to expand their laptop life.

Because GPU is considered the highest priority in gaming laptops it is likely that any laptop with sufficient GPU power also has the CPU power to keep up with your games. But let’s talk a little more about CPU.

Illustrations by Nick Jarvis

Choosing a Processor: The Need for Speed

Your CPU, also known as your processor, is in charge of gaming logic. If you’re playing against a computer, solving puzzles, casting spells, etc. then your CPU is calculating outcomes behind the scenes. CPUs may include anywhere from one to eight cores, with your processing speed increasing with each core that can take on processing tasks. The frequency of your CPU contributes to the operating speed—but increased frequency doesn’t always guarantee better performance. You should also check your CPU’s ‘‘instructions per clock’’ to get a better indication of your actual speed. Great CPUs will feature:

  • Turbo-boost frequency above 3.5 GHz
  • At least four cores
  • Base clock of at least 2.2 GHz
  • L3 Cache of 8 MB or higher

Here’s the catch: CPUs are only as good as the software that they are running. If a game is only programmed to use three or four cores then having eight cores won’t increase your performance. To maximize your budget you should check your game specifications to make sure you’re not overspending on CPU without gaining any benefit.

CPU importance also depends on the type of gameplay involved. More visual games, such as a First Person Shooter (FPS) game played online, depend on people controlling the characters and taxes your CPU less while working your GPU harder. On the other hand, strategy games that involve computer characters will demand that your computer is making constant calculations and will need a CPU that can keep up.

Other Considerations

Your gaming laptop will have other features that also contribute to overall performance. The thermal cooling of your laptop is critical—making sure that it’s used on a hard surface will allow your cooling system to do its job and keep your system from overheating. Your monitor’s refresh rate is also a contributing factor, as illustrated in the video above.

Got your budget and your favorite game in mind? Remember these tips, check the game specs, and head out in search of your perfect gaming laptop to get the fun started.  

HP Omen 15.6" Gaming Laptop

Great for gaming on the go

Razer Naga Trinity Chroma Gaming Mouse

Great for outmaneuvering the competition

Logitech G430 Headset

Great for strategizing with your teammates

Razer Cynosa Chroma Gaming Keyboard

Great for bringing some flair to your system

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