Gaming Laptops vs Desktop PC’s

As recently as a far years ago gaming laptops would be considered a luxury or a fool’s errand. The sort of high power components necessary to both run a high-end gaming rig and keep it from overheating couldn’t reasonably be fit into such a small device. Things have changed, and the debate of gaming pc vs gaming laptop is actually a viable one.

That doesn’t mean that they’re interchangeable. The same problems that have plagued gaming laptops before are still present – just to a diminished degree – but the question of whether you need a gaming laptop or gaming desktop is not nearly so one sided as it once was.

Each has their own strengths and disadvantages, and we’re here to help you decide whether you need a desktop or laptop for your ideal gaming experience. If you’re asking yourself “Should I get a gaming laptop or PC?” this is the place to start.

GPU

Regardless of the differences between a laptop vs PC, the GPU is going to be far and away the most important component for most gamers. The quality of your graphics card determines the graphical fidelity you’ll experience in game. If you’re a casual gamer who mostly plays indies or isn’t worried about running things on the highest graphical settings on AAA games, this probably won’t be a big deal.

In this instance, any modestly priced laptop or PC for gaming is going to be able to suit your needs. But if you’re a competitive gamer or someone who wants to explore environments the way they were meant to be seen, the boosted frame rates and graphical fidelity that come from a high end GPU can make a world of difference.

That’s not to say that there aren’t portable gaming PCs that can’t offer impressive performance. It’s just that pound for pound, a desktop GPU will always outperform a laptop alternative. It comes down to a simple case of practicalities. GPUs (and CPUs) demand a lot of processing power, and it’s harder to balance the cooling components in the much smaller space of a gaming laptop setup. That said, you can find laptops with a desktop GPU, but they tend to be rarer.

In fact, there are some pretty impressive GPUs available today that can suit even a mini gaming laptop. It’s just all about figuring out what you need for your gaming experience. A laptop with an entry level GTX 1650 can be picked up for less than a grand, while an upgrade to the mainstream RTX 2060 will cost you just a few hundred dollars more. Nvidia now offers the RTX 2070 for laptops, and while a laptop with that can cost as much as $3000, you can expect it to provide you with a top shelf gaming experience that supports virtual reality, 4K, and special bells and whistles like ray tracing.

You don’t necessarily have to make the plunge for a high-end laptop with a high ticket price right away either. If you’re willing to opt for a slightly bulkier laptop gaming setup, you can always upgrade what you have with an external GPU too. It will take up more weight in your bag and on your laptop desktop, and it may require a bit more technical expertise, but it’s an affordable alternative to splurging on the most expensive laptop, and there are plenty of plug and play options out there.

Just be sure to do a thorough laptop spec comparison, because compatibility can sometimes be an issue with external GPUs. In short, there is a distinction in the GPUs available for gaming laptops vs gaming PC, but there are laptops out there who can offer you the most pristine and modern gaming experiences. They’ll just cost you a bit more.

CPU

The CPU isn’t quite as important as the GPU if you’re trying to achieve a quality gaming experience, but these two pieces of hardware work in unison with one another, and finding processing units that are more or less comparable to one another is one of the most important decisions when buying a gaming PC or gaming laptop. Fundamentally, the same principles apply to the CPU as they do to the GPU. A central processor is a major energy hog, and that means that a desktop for gaming can cheaply and more readily fit in a powerful processor than a gaming PC laptop.

That said, you fortunately don’t need to be as concerned about the GPU that goes into your gaming PC or laptop. While the central processor determines the speed at which your computer can handle information, the ceiling for what gamers need is much lower than with a GPU. In short, you don’t really need to concern yourself with what your laptop can handle. While some high-end laptops come with desktop gaming CPUs built in, a laptop-ready Intel i7 should be more than enough for most gamers. That’s especially true of the eighth and ninth generation models which offer significantly greater performance than what came before.

The one thing you want to be sure of when buying a gaming laptop is that you get a CPU you’ll be comfortable with for a long time to come. While a CPU can be swapped out on a desktop computer fairly easily, it’s a much more complicated task when dealing with laptops. As such, you’ll want to make sure to invest in the eighth generation if you want something that can handle more than just retro games or indies.

But if you do buy a gaming computer laptop only to find that its CPU isn’t up to your needs, you aren’t completely out of luck. Nvidia has been making external CPUs for laptops for years. A powerful internal CPU is always going to be preferable to a decent internal CPU supplemented by an external model, but augmenting your machine in this way can help bridge the gap in quality in a gaming desktop vs gaming laptop.

Storage

If you’ve noticed a trend with the differences in specs between a gaming laptop vs PC, you won’t be surprised to hear the truth about storage capacity. A gaming PC is generally going to offer you significantly more storage space than a laptop. One terabyte hard drives are pretty common for the internal storage in gaming laptops, but the sky is practically the limit as far as desktops are concerned. And while a terabyte may seem like a lot, the ballooning size of AAA games and the need for constant patches and updates means you can quickly eat up this space.

But you probably shouldn’t make internal storage space be the make and break feature when deciding between a gaming desktop or laptop. External storage options are available, and they’re a more effective choice than external options for the CPU or GPU. Models like the WD Passport offer incredibly high capacity storage in a format that can practically fit in your wallet, and you can plug them straight into your laptop.

Whether you prefer gaming laptops or desktops, you’re going to want to strongly consider investing in a model with a solid state drive. Not only are they more durable and less likely to breaking, but they can also cut down on loading speeds and slowdown while in game significantly. A wide variety of gaming PCs come exclusively with high capacity SSDs, but in gaming laptops it’s far more common to see a smaller SSD as a supplement to a traditional hard drive. The SSD will serve as a boot drive, speeding up the gaming process while allowing the cheaper and higher capacity HDD serve as your primary means for storage.

RAM

RAM, or random access memory, refers essentially to the short term memory of your computer. Whenever your CPU needs to perform a task, it needs to pull that memory from somewhere. Traditionally this is the hard drive, but the RAM allows your computer to store the information that’s most likely going to need to be readily accessed and ensure that the CPU can reach it quicker. This can improve both your graphical performance and your load times.

RAM is especially important in games that make use of qualities like procedural generation. That means that games that aren’t even that graphically impressive – like a 4X strategy game, Europa Universalis, or even something primitive like Dwarf Fortress – can chew right through your RAM. As a basic rule of thumb, you want a RAM capacity that can go blow for blow with your CPU. 8 GB of RAM is going to be adequate for many entry level gaming machines, but most gamers will eventually want to upgrade to 16 GB. RAM is cheap enough and easy enough to install that expanding it for greater performance is a no brainer.

Fortunately, the laptop vs PC debate is largely negligible here. Upgrading your desktop is as simple as plugging the RAM into the equivalent slot. If you plan on starting with an 8 GB laptop with aspirations to upgrade in the future, you may want to look for a model with easy customization. Many come with readily accessible control panels that you can just flip up and expose the RAM slots.

Portability

This one’s pretty simple, at least on the surface. A laptop is portable, and a desktop isn’t. That isn’t to say you can’t carry your desktop with you. Lugging around heavy towers to a friends house was the norm when LAN parties were the hottest thing in the gaming community, but you can’t exactly toss a modern computer tower into your backpack, and you need to be much more sensitive about the components getting damaged when lugging around a traditional desktop.

But the battle of gaming laptops vs desktops isn’t as clear cut as it may seem at first. If you’re looking for something that offers raw specs approaching that of a desktop with some of the portability of a laptop, there is a middle ground. Many companies make portable gaming desktops that are designed to sit in your home or office while still being able to be taken with you when you want to travel. Often these mini gaming desktops resemble traditional gaming consoles in both design and profile, and they can fit comfortably in a bag. Many companies also offer cases built for carrying that you can use for people looking to build desktops for gaming.

But the disadvantage here is obvious: they don’t come with a screen built in. That means that a portable desktop is going to be a much more fringe option than a traditional laptop. You can’t exactly take it with you and play your favorite games at the local coffee shop, but if you’re looking for something you can bring over to a friend’s house for a game of local co-op, it can be a feasible choice that splits the difference between the advantages of both types of computers.

Accessories

The main debate between a laptop or desktop is that the former can be tossed in your bag and go with your anywhere, and while that’s true for most conventional purposes, gamers are going to absolutely want to carry a few accessories with them. The only one of these that’s an absolute necessity is the mouse, but others are a little more flexible.

  • Mouse: There are a lot of gaming mice on the market, and different ones are optimized for different genres of gaming. Desktop gamers will have the flexibility to opt in for practically any mouse they want, but laptop gamers will probably want to look for something smaller if they want a more portable setup. If you’re a gamer who find yourself playing while traveling regularly, you may want to opt for a mouse with a laser sensor since it works more readily on a wide variety of surfaces.
  • Keyboard: Mechanical keyboards are the undisputed champion in gaming circles for their satisfying, reliable, and tactile response. Unfortunately, you won’t find them built in to keyboards. If you’re a desktop gamer, that’s definitely what you should opt for. If you’re a laptop gamer, you’ll want to consider whether or not the built in model meets your needs. You’ll also have to weigh whether a bulkier mechanical keyboard is feasible or if you’re better off getting a more compact or even foldable model.
  • Sound Peripherals: Most laptops offer better built in speakers than desktops because they’re intended to be used as a singular device, but desktop users have more flexibility in creating complex and high fidelity speaker setups. If you’re gaming on the go, chances are you don’t want to lug around a bunch of speakers with you, so opting for a high-end pair of headphones is a great alternative.
  • Storage: The limited storage capacity in most laptops means that you’ll probably want to keep some portable storage with you at all times. While traditional USB drives offer pretty high capacities today, there are also a ton of plug and play HDDs that can improve on your internal storage significantly.
  • Cooling: Another consideration that only laptop users need to worry about is external cooling. All that power packed into a little space means the casing can quickly become hot. If you’re worried about how to cool a laptop, consider investing in a cooling pad to bring with you.

Display

Even the biggest gaming laptops rarely sport screens larger than 17.3″, a far cry from the expansive external models available. So it obviously seems like towers win out in this battle between a gaming laptop vs gaming PC, right? The opposite is actually true.

While gaming laptops come with smaller screens, using a laptop as a desktop is a very feasible option. And you aren’t limited to just plugging your laptop into your top shelf gaming monitor. Whether you’re looking to host a Mario Kart lawn party with a projector, curl up on the couch for a few hours of Resident Evil, or settle on the couch for a night of Call of Duty, laptops offer a ton of flexibility without having to lug around a heavy tower. Just make sure that your model comes with the appropriate video outputs.

Final Thoughts

If you’re looking at raw power as the only metric in the battle of gaming laptops vs gaming desktops, the winner is pretty obvious. In a battle between an equivalently priced desktop vs laptop for gaming, the former is always going to win out. The more spacious frame means that manufacturers can mitigate gaming risks like cooling without having to perform as many expensive tricks.

But the portability that comes from a gaming laptop can’t be overstated. Being able to carry a machine in your backpack that can run the highest quality games at their top settings would be largely unheard of just a decade ago, and not being tethered to your bedroom desk is a pretty big deal. It’s not that there aren’t laptops that can compete with the better gaming desktops on the market. It’s simply that they’ll cost you more.

Ultimately, the choice between a desktop or laptop for gaming is a pretty simply calculation. Measure the necessity of being able to carry your gaming rig with you against the extra price you’ll pay for comparable specs. For most gamers, the answer should be pretty clear.