There’s no doubt that you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to PC gaming hardware, so choosing between a dedicated gaming desktop or a gaming laptop comes down to what your setup demands rather than available power. Most of the important questions you must ask yourself haven’t changed over the years, but your alternatives have; there are many more gaming laptops of various sorts available now than ever before.
Three key factors must be addressed when comparing gaming laptops and desktops. The three major distinctions are in overall performance, mobility, and price. Desktop gaming PCs are frequently more powerful and less costly than comparable laptop configurations. Top-tier gaming laptops can deliver some of the best gaming experiences while still fitting into a backpack.
Do you need to transport them? This is the simplest aspect to consider when deciding between a desktop and a laptop. Sure, there are ways to make desktop PCs as tiny as possible, especially with the current popularity of mini-ITX chassis and boutique micro-builds. Despite this, transporting a mini-ITX PC about is considerably more difficult than just tossing a gaming laptop into a bag, even when you’re looking at the heaviest ones available. Even better, most gaming laptops have grown significantly lighter and slimmer. You simply need to consider Razer’s Blade Advanced 15 or Blade 17 Pro to have a MacBook-like experience with the sheer horsepower required to run some of the most recent AAA blockbusters. That makes it an excellent choice if you want that level of gaming power while still having the convenience of being able to take it on a plane or a lengthy road trip. Even better if you want to game at various workstations, as this may eliminate the need for extra desktops at each station.
In recent years, gaming laptops have come a long way in terms of closing the performance gap between themselves and gaming PCs. Without a doubt, a gaming laptop will not outperform a similarly built desktop, but the variety of alternatives available now, including some laptops with desktop-grade technology, is considerably greater. It’s so comparable that Nvidia has labelled its mobile GPUs with the same model numbers as its desktop GPUs, something that wasn’t even separate not even five years ago.
However, there is some unpleasant misunderstanding as a result of this. Model numbers, particularly with Nvidia, may be deceiving, with a mobile RTX 3080 and a desktop RTX 3080 performing vastly differently. Worse, Nvidia does not mandate power supply to its GPUs in laptops, which means that various manufacturers can utilise the identical mobile RTX 3080, for example, but offer varying degrees of performance depending on the power they send to the chip. Nvidia has now required laptop makers to publish this information on particular sheets, but it’s still so buried that it’s extremely simple for most people to believe that every laptop with a given GPU performs to a set level.
At the moment, AMD’s newest mobile GPUs do not suffer from this issue, although the performance gap between them and desktop GPUs persists. That’s an unavoidable consequence of cramming powerful hardware into a mobile chassis. Cooling and power delivery will never equal desktop configurations, and therefore performance will always lag a little. However, there are various techniques to alleviate these difficulties, many of which are related to the resolution and frame rate of your laptop display. For example, you don’t need a 4K display on a 15-inch laptop, and straining your gear to do so would just disappoint you.
External GPU enclosures, which provide more graphics horsepower than Thunderbolt connections on Intel-based gaming laptops, are also an option. Aside from being limited to Intel laptops, which aren’t the cream of the crop when compared to current AMD options, you’ll also need to invest in an extra desktop GPU and enclosure for performance, which is ultimately hampered by Thunderbolt’s bandwidth. That implies you’re paying more for less performance than if the card were on a dedicated desktop, which means you must have some severe portability needs to justify it.
There’s no denying that sophisticated gaming hardware is costly, especially now that CPU scarcity is causing demand to outpace supply. Desktop GPUs aren’t selling for their suggested MSRPs, causing an increasing number of consumers to seek out more expensive pre-built solutions (such as those from Maingear, NZXT, Corsair, Origin, and others) merely to obtain the hardware they desire. This makes the price difference between a gaming desktop and a gaming laptop a moving target, but there is one constant: gaming laptops will always be more expensive for inferior performance, especially if you construct your own PC.
This should come as no surprise—gaming laptops are about more than simply gaming performance. You’re getting a full product that necessitates more compact, more costly components as well as significant R&D expenses. So, if you want to go with a gaming laptop, you’ll have to accept that you’ll be spending more on performance than you can get far cheaper on a desktop. That is, in a sense, the cost of portability. However, gaming laptops are also all-in-one solutions, whereas desktop computers frequently require the purchase of a separate monitor, keyboard, and mouse.
That doesn’t mean gaming desktops are inexpensive, but they do provide one feature that is more difficult to find in many gaming laptops: upgradability. When a component in your system becomes a performance bottleneck or just stops working, it’s quite simple to replace it without having to change everything else within.
That is not the case with a gaming laptop, especially one that is slim and has all of its components soldered to the mainboard. Many don’t even enable you to add more RAM modules or SSDs once you’ve purchased them. That is not to suggest that everyone is like that. Some gaming laptops, such as the Lenovo Legion 5i, allow you to install more RAM or replace what is already there, whilst the Alienware Area-51M has several M.2 slots for future SSD expansion.
What Should You Look For?
With all of this in mind, you might be wondering what the important characteristics are to look for in a gaming desktop and laptop in 2021. This is a large enough topic to merit its own guide. However, several standards should no longer be compromised. If you’re buying a new system or developing one from the ground up, here are certain checkboxes you should check:
- At least 16GB of DDR4 RAM, ideally at 3200MHz or higher.
- • A modern CPU with strong single-core gaming performance.This can range from AMD’s Ryzen 3000 (beginning with the Ryzen 3600) or 5000 series (beginning with the Ryzen 5600X) to Intel’s 10th and 11th generation desktop processors (ideally a quad-core Core i5 or higher).
- • A motherboard capable of supporting the CPU of your choice, preferably with heatsinks for the VRMs on the board.There are several expensive motherboards available, so don’t spend your cash here.
- Your graphics card selection is based on your projected performance and the sorts of games you’ll be playing, although we wouldn’t recommend anything older than Nvidia’s GTX 10 series. For the best entry points, you’ll want anything from the RTX 20 or 30 series, or either of AMD’s newest RDNA 2 GPUs, such as the RX 6600 XT or RX 6700 XT.
- If you’re expecting to play modern titles for the foreseeable future, you should stay away from a GPU with less than 6GB of VRAM.
- A power supply with an 80 Plus Gold rating for reliability and efficiency, and at least 500W or higher depending on your component choices.
- • A well-ventilated chassis with an easy-to-build process.Corsair, Fractal Design, Lian Li, Phanteks, and Cooler Master are excellent alternatives, with a wide range of solutions available at a variety of pricing points. If you want to get the most bang for your budget, prioritise performance over RGB.
- A current CPU from Intel’s 11th generation of processors or AMD’s Ryzen 4000 or 5000 Mobile series with at least 16GB of RAM, like desktop computers.
- A dedicated GPU from Nvidia’s most recent RTX series, such as the RTX 20 or 30 series,
- It is also critical to ensure that your GPU receives adequate power. The more powerful Max-P variants will most likely arrive with a 280W or higher power supply, while the less powerful Max-Q versions will generally ship with 230W power supplies.
- Although tempting, it’s best to avoid 4K gaming laptops because they’ll put a strain on your hardware and battery. Higher refresh rate screens and 1440p resolution alternatives are preferable.
We at Solent Way Computers advise getting a gaming desktop if you want to go full out with your gaming, get the utmost potential from your games and play with peace of mind that whenever you like, you can upgrade your desktop to be a lot better. However, if you want to do some light time-to-time on the go gaming, we would strongly suggest a gaming laptop.