A few years ago, the words ‘gaming’ and ‘laptop’ were laughed at when used together. Why? Because laptops were simply not good for gaming mainly because of their inability to properly manage heat. Fast track several years though to today and one can easily ask the question, which do you prefer , a desktop or a laptop for gaming?
Enough of that history. Of course, a gaming laptop is a big deal today.

What do I need to know when selecting a gaming laptop ?

In this article, we have put together some tips for selecting a good gaming laptop.

Areas of focus :

  • Processor (Central Processing Unit)
  • Graphics Card
  • Memory
  • Display
  • Storage
  • Heat Management
  • Ports selection
  • Keyboard and mouse (touch pad)

The CPU

The central processing unit popularly known as ‘processor’ is basically the brain of your laptop. There should therefore be no questions into the importance of it in gaming. Some games are CPU intensive , others are Graphic intensive , while some are both graphic and processor intensive. Some modern CPU intensive games include: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, GTA 5,Civilization 6, Total War: Warhammer 2, Rainbow Six Siege, Shadow Of The Tomb Raider…

In terms of CPUs , there are two main manufacturers of chips that are ideal for gaming in the business; Intel and AMD (Advanced Micro Devices).

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At the moment , it is Intel with their high performance i5, i7 and i9 processors and AMD with their Ryzen 5,7 and 9 chips. Take a look here for the top performing CPUs for gaming. At the moment, some of the newest and best performing processors for gaming are Intel Core i7-11850H,Intel Core i9-11980HK, Intel Core i9-11900H, Intel Core i9-11950H, AMD Ryzen 9 5900HX, AMD Ryzen 9 5900HS, AMD Ryzen 9 5980HS, AMD Ryzen 7 5800H, Intel Core i7-11800H..

GPU

The GPU (Graphic Processing Unit) is one of the most important components of a gaming laptop. Designed to manipulate and alter memory to accelerate the performance of image and graphics creation in your gaming laptop, the graphics card/ chip is one of the first things to look for when selecting a system to run your latest games. All laptops come with integrated graphics (graphics built in the CPU),but not all laptops come with a dedicated graphics card, which is usually far more powerful and geared towards gaming and other heavy graphical tasks. Today, a dedicated graphics card usually signifies that a laptop may be able to run games.


As with CPUs , there are two major manufacturers of dedicated graphics cards on the market;

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AMD is once again in the mix, but this time , their main competitor is Nvidia. AMD is armed with their Radeon RX Graphics line, while Nvidia is strapped with their GeForce RTX & GTX cards. At the moment, Nvidia has most of the top performing gaming GPUs on the market with the GeForce RTX 3080,3070, 3060 ,3050 Ti, 2080 Super, 2070 super, 2080, 2070 ,2080 MQ, 2070 MQ, 2060 graphic chips being their newest and best. AMD with a much smaller collection of graphic chips, has the likes of the Radeon RX 6800M,Radeon RX 6700M,Radeon RX 6600M,Radeon RX 5600M that currently top their gaming tier. Here is a detailed ranking of the various graphics cards for laptops.

Things to note:

  • For some of these graphics cards, there are different variants being offered. Some cards are available in different wattages, which ultimately see, for example, some RTX 3060 cards being more powerful than others. RTX 3060 cards are available in wattages from as low as 60 watts , to a high of 130W. It therefore means that a 115W 3060 GPU would offer more performance power than a 95W 3060. For the RTX 3070 graphics cards, the 125 Watt variant of the card, is more powerful than the smaller numbers. Why though ? The more power a card draws, the better it is able to perform.
  • The term MQ used above -beside some of the GPUs, represents ‘Max Q’, this is a term that was once used by Nvidia with their 2000 series graphics cards. Max Q is used to label the lower wattage variants of those cards, while ‘Max P’ which represents maximum performance, is used to label highest wattage chips. For example, the highest wattage 2070 chip available for laptops is 115W, which means, it would be the Max P variant. Max Q labelling is far more commonly used though , which does not mean more lower powered cards are around, but to says sellers are more obligated to let you know you are getting a lower powered card in a laptop, than they really need to spell out when it is the ‘regular’ or fully powered variant.
  • There are other types of graphics cards that you will see in the ranking such as the RTX Quadro and wonder why I didn’t make mention of them . The truth is that, though these cards can be super powerful, unlike GeForce cards that are designed for gaming, Quadro cards are optimized for professionals such as engineers, designers, 3D animators etc. and won’t do well in gaming.

Memory

Many people confuse memory with storage. Memory refers to the Random Access Memory (RAM). RAM provides applications the opportunity to store and access data on a short-term basis. It stores the information your laptop is actively using so that it can be accessed quickly. RAM therefore plays an extremely crucial role in the performance of your laptop, not only in gaming, but in just about all tasks.
Memory is measured in gigabytes (GB). At the moment, the standard for basic gaming is 8 GB RAM, but honestly, the safe spot is really 16 GB as some games do use more than 8 GB RAM .

It is always a good move to get a system running this 16 GB RAM on dual channel. What ia dual channel though ? To be as simple as possible, this is a technology that sees 2 similar sized and configured RAM modules (sticks) , operating together to provide better performance. For example 2 sticks 8 GB 2666MHz DDR4 RAM giving a total of 16 GB RAM will perform better than a single stick of 16 GB 2666 MHz DDR4 RAM.

As you would have seen above, the speed of your laptop memory is measured in Megahertz (MHz), with the higher the number, the faster a stick is. Faster RAM is able to communicate with other components of the laptop, the more efficient your overal system will be.

Currently RAM speeds for laptops, go as high as 3200 MHz as seen in this Eluktronics MAX-15 , one of the best gaming laptops around right now.

Storage

There are two main types of storage drives technologies available at the moment; hard drives (hdd) and solid state drives (ssd).

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Hard drives are older and characterized mainly by a spinning magnetic disc on which information is stored. The solid state drive unlike the hard drive, does not have any moving parts- it instead stores data on a set of integrated circuits.
Solid State Drives are more durable and faster, which makes them the modern choice for storage. So ensure your gaming laptop comes with and SSD , even if its secondary storage solution is a hard drive. There are five main types of SSDs; SATA SSD, PCIe SSD,M.2 SSD, U.2 SSD,NVMe SSD. In terms of storage size, the smallest we would recommend for a heavy gamer is a 512 GB SSD of course, with a secondary hard drive or SSD to store game files. With this being said, a good gaming laptop should have at least one secondary storage drive or the slots for you to expand storage by adding another drive or two.

Heat Management

This probably should be at the top of the list as too much heat is the enemy of every gaming laptop. When selecting a laptop, you definitely should get some information about how well its two main component i.e.., processor and graphics card are kept cool during heavy gaming sessions.

Image showing the internal cooling system of a gaming laptop

There are several factors that affect the heat management of a laptop, some of which include the design of heat sink, thermal paste, pipes and fans, location of vents and the general design of chassis. The higher the wattage of a GPU and CPU, the more heat they give off when put under heavy load. This laptop needs not only a proper cooling system to dissipate heat from its chassis, but also proper management software to control fan actions etc. Therefore, when buying a gaming laptop, be sure to do thorough research on heat management.
Metal chassis have proven to be more effective in allowing heat to exit a laptop, thanks to metal being a better conductor of heat than plastic.

Please note that the ‘sweetspot’ for CPU while under very heavy load in gaming is up to 80°C, but most modern chips will run fine at temperatures a little higher. Above 85°C should be a cause for concern and some processors at this time , start to throttle (reduce power and performance) in order to lower temperatures and prevent damage.90°C and above for your CPU is very hot; not good! As for the graphics card, up to 185°F (85°C) is the recommended zone, though some cards can operate at higher temps. Below , are some gaming laptops with decent heat management:

Ports Selection / Connectivity

Your laptop ports are crucial to you as a gamer whether it be to input or receive data from your system. A good gaming laptop should have at least 3 USB ports (at least one type C- the others can be USB 3.1, 3.2 gen 1 or 2), HDMI port ,a thunderbolt or mini display port, Headphone/Microphone Combo Jack port/s, Ethernet RJ-45. An SD card reader can be very handy as well.

Keyboard and Touchpad

These two aren’t as crucial as others because many gamers will purchase a gaming keyboard and mouse to use with their gaming laptop. Some even go for controllers that see them having to use mouse and keyboard minimally. Nevertheless, a good gaming keyboard on a laptop is usually a Membrane or mechanical RGB Backlit Keyboard with a dedicated numeric keypad.

While some gamers love the crunchy and tactile feel of a mechanical board, while others enjoy the smoothness of membrane types, most will tell you they like the idea of being able to program each key to do what they want it to as well as to have the backlit color of their choice.

Conclusion

Selecting a gaming laptop can be a very confusing task since there are so many systems available. Following the guidelines above and paying attention to those key aspects of a laptop, should definitely assist you with selecting the perfect gaming laptop.

List of some great gaming laptops available on the market

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