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How to buy the perfect PC gaming laptop

Gordon Mah Ung | Nov. 21, 2014
Desktop diehards and the Reddit build-it crowd might scoff at the very concept of a portable PC gaming machine, but the gulf between gaming desktops and gaming laptops has narrowed considerably over the years. Today's laptops can play modern games at 1080p and higher with few to no compromises in graphics settings. And that's not bad.

EA's Titanfall, for example, is a 48GB download. If your main drive is a 128GB or even 250GB SSD, you'll run out of space in no time. So while SSDs provide a lot of great benefits, they can also leave you ass-out when you need storage space the most.

Display: Play it sensible

Gaming notebook displays tend to run the gamut from lackluster to luxurious. The problem is you really don't get to pick what you want. The vast majority of gaming notebooks ship with twisted nematic LCD displays, which generally offer faster response times, but their off-axis viewing can run from fair to terrible. IPS panels are preferred for their better color accuracy, but they also increase laptop prices, so few vendors will deploy them.

The other criterion you should ponder is resolution. You'll want a machine with a sensible native resolution, and this typically means 1920x1080. While 4K is spectacular for pixel density and reducing the need to run anti-aliasing, this resolution will kill frame rates, at least if you run games at the display's native resolution.

Then there's the latest Razer Blade. This gaming machine has an insane 3200x1800 resolution, but the display is arguably overkill, especially if you want the fastest frame rates possible. We say stick with 1920x1080, and consider 1366x768 only if you're looking at a low-end model.


Other than some fancy backlighting schemes, gaming laptop keyboards tend to be pretty generic. The Alienware 17 keyboard features steel pillars under the WASD keys, the keys most often used for directional control in PC games. This gives the keyboard a more solid feel, and prevents you from damaging the laptop when you're fighting for your life.

Aside from these subtle touches, gaming laptops typically all use the same scissor-switch keyboards that productivity laptops employ. But then there's MSI's new GT80 Titan. As insane as it may sound, this upcoming gaming laptop is touted to feature a mechanical keyboard. These haven't been common in laptops since the late 1980s. Mechanical keyboards require extra space for key travel, and this defies the general consumer desire for thinner, more streamlined chassis designs.

Size and weight compromises

You can buy a gaming laptop with two graphics cards, multiple bays for storage drives, an optical drive, and a super-large screen. But it'll weigh more than the boat anchor for the USS George H.W. Bush. For soldiers who live out of their foot lockers, that weight penalty may be worth it.

Of course, not all gaming laptops have to be 12-pound monsters. You can definitely find thinner notebooks that still come with discrete graphics cards, but you'll have to give up some performance.


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