Why You Shouldn’t Purchase a “Gaming” Laptop

Why You Shouldn't Purchase a Gaming Laptop

A lot of people swear by laptops.

This is understandable and justifiable. Not everyone wants to do all of their computing attached to large, cumbersome desktops, and having a laptop to take with you on the go, especially if you’re a writer or someone who does most of your work on the computer, is a very welcome utility that some may not want to do without. Before you read further into this article, I just want to let you know that I think laptops are great, and there’s nothing better than a laptop that can do whatever I need it to whenever I’m not at my trusty desktop at home.

However, a laptop shouldn’t be purchased for gaming. If you’ve already purchased a gaming laptop and you’re a few years down the line, you probably already know what I mean and don’t need to read this article. You know what happens. However, before covering that, there’s also a wide variety of reasons you shouldn’t be buying gaming laptops.

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Making parts smaller, adding a touchpad and a screen and all the special touches on a laptop, that costs money. If there are two computers of the same power, the smaller one will always be more expensive. Most people who purchase laptops probably know this already, but in this issue, where price and performance are concerned, this scale is even worse in the high-end “gaming” laptop category.

You may notice the quotation marks abone and in the title. Why do I say “gaming” laptop? Surely a laptop powerful enough to be playing the latest games deserves to be called a gaming laptop, right? Well, it does. By definition, a gaming laptop is a laptop designed and suited for the playing of games. It’s in the name.

The problem is, most gaming laptops, especially from companies like Alienware, have severe price premiums for no conceivable reason. While it may be hard to directly measure price/performance in some desktop versus laptop scenarios (as laptops typically use specialized mobile-centric hardware), laptop versus laptop price performance is much easier, and most gaming laptops fall very short in that category.

There’s more to cover than just price/performance, however. While that should be a big deal to any PC gamer, there’s actually a lot more to talk about.

Hold on, you may be thinking, how is practicality a downside for laptops? Isn’t being practical the whole point of a portable, easy-to-use computer?

Yes, actually. But most gaming laptops aren’t very practical.

Simple question: How often have you done heavy-duty, desktop-grade gaming in a place where a desktop isn’t suitable? Unless you’re firing up CS:GO in your car, maybe you should take a moment to consider why you’re investing in an on-the-go computer for gaming … when you don’t really do PC gaming on the go. Now, sure, maybe you’re playing video games at a college dorm or at a friend’s house and you don’t want to tote around a big old gaming desktop everywhere you go, but do these situations happen frequently enough to justify spending all that extra money?

Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that they do. That you’re very careful with your hardware, and you aren’t concerned about dropping it or being stolen, that you do game on the go regularly, and a desktop just wouldn’t fit your lifestyle, and that you’re fine with paying twice (or more) the price of a desktop for the same level of performance on the go.

I hope you have the money for a replacement.

This is the biggest problem for a gaming laptop and one of the main reasons I don’t recommend them.

In my wide circle of friends and family members, they always consult with me for the best-looking laptop, the one with the best hardware and what I think would do them the best for their needs. A lot of these people are gamers, too, and really want a nice gaming laptop. Nice gaming laptops do exist, but usually outside of an acceptable price range for most people.

What I’ve learned, and this isn’t purely anecdotal either, is that laptops simply aren’t made for gaming.

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Or, to be more specific, laptops aren’t made to endure prolonged periods of heavy hardware utilization, especially not over the course of a multiple years. Dust out your desktop every now and again and keep it in a cool room and have a few fans and you should be fine. Laptops, however, simply can’t handle all of the heat generated by performing heavy-duty tasks. It doesn’t matter how well it’s built, and it doesn’t matter if you invest in a cooling pad to keep it from overheating … in a few years your laptop is going to stop performing as well as it should. In a few more years, or less, it may begin crashing and overheating anyways; it may even stop working entirely.

When most people buy computers they’re making an investment. Investments in expensive hardware are typically made in hopes that it lasts a good, long period of time and performs acceptably across that duration. Get a well-built desktop, and it will sing for you as long as it’s maintained semi-regularly. However, even the best practices with a “gaming” laptop won’t stop it from failing on you if you spend a lot of your time actually gaming on it.

But wait, you might say, what if I don’t game on it that much? You’re talking about extreme usage scenarios, maybe I’m more responsible than that!

Great. Remind me again why you’re shelling out all this money for high-performance hardware if you aren’t going to use it.

Across the board, “gaming” laptops aren’t usually a good idea. They have their benefits – portability, that performance being made portable, attractive appearances, cool features, etc., but their downsides are severe and numerous, especially when used for their intended purpose.

In that case, you may be wondering what there’s left to do then. Why would I spend a whole article trashing gaming laptops? What’s the point?

The point is, you shouldn’t purchase a gaming laptop. If you want to get into PC gaming, what you should do is purchase a gaming desktop. For your portable computing needs, why don’t you consider buying a normal laptop? Most laptops can handle light gaming and are more than powerful enough to handle common usage scenarios, and a lot of the most popular PC games, like WoW, CS:GO, TF2, Dota and League, don’t require a whole lot of hardware horsepower to run at acceptable settings and framerates.

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In my opinion, the best thing to do is pay for a nice, well-built gaming desktop that you can use at home for your heavy-duty needs. Portable computing is a big deal for some people, though, so if you prefer that, go ahead and spend money on a good, high-quality laptop … just don’t buy a “gaming” laptop, and just don’t stress it too much. If you want the best of both worlds, make a reasonable budget – $1000 or less will more than suffice – at which you can purchase a high-quality gaming machine that can outperform the current gen consoles … as well as a laptop that’s good enough for your computing on the go.

11 comments

  1. Gaming laptops are big, heavy beasts that is very impractical. The whole point of laptops is their portability, and I must admit that I hate lugging around anything with a screen size bigger than 11.6″. Why bother being portable when it is that big and unwieldy?

    And their performance is usually on par with midrange desktop rigs two CPU generations ago. With no real upgrade path other than changing SSD drives and RAM.

    I had a desktop replacement that was also a “gaming” laptop. It was the worst decision in my life, much worse than the Acer netbook I bought to complement it. The netbook was a slowpoke and had Vista installed. But I carried it more cause it was small and light. Plus it had a decent battery life that can last a typical work day, unlike the bigger laptop that needs to be plugged in after 2-3 hours.

    I have not owned a desktop PC for almost eight years now. Never needed one anymore. I am no longer a hardcore gamer, and I have shifted to playing casual games on Android. My current laptop is a Samsung Series 5 “Ultrabook”. It’s good enough for me.

  2. I got an Alienware M17x-R3 to complement my Dell Inspiron 1501 because the Dell was too slow. I have downloaded a bunch of programming goodies to my Alienware such as Microsoft Studio Express, 64-bit MS Office 2013, Cygwin, DosBox (run Wordstar v7rd, Win 3.1, PowerC from Mix, TurboPascal, GWBASIC), Code:Blocks, Android Developement Kit, Eclipse, FreePascal with Lazarus, etc. Hopefully, I shall learn how to use some of them proficiently. I am retired looking for a job and would probably get proficient in whatever my new job requires. I only have one game from Blizzard, Diablo III. I did not really get it for gaming. I just wanted something faster and easy to transport to the local shop if it needed fixing. At school (ITT Tech), I mostly use the Dell Inspiron 3531 issued to students for a short time because it is highly portable. On occasion I have taken the Alienware but usually not because I think of it as a luggable desktop.

  3. My Gigabyte p34gv2 has been a perfect fit for me. The battery runs out quick if I am doing heavy gaming off battery vs AC, but otherwise runs everything on Ultra settings and I’m not usually far from power when I need it. Its obviously not future proof as a desktop would be, but my investment has matched what I have gotten out of it so far. As an enterprise user its nice to have a faster laptop than most company desktops. The size is what really captured me to purchase the p34gv2, its tiny compared to similarly specc’ed tech out there. But as for any purchase of emerging technology give it a month and the price drops considerably.

  4. I was thinking on buying a good gaming desktop and a modest laptop that could handle games not that new, when I visit my parents one or twice per month.
    This year I also bought a smartphone and tablet.(so many tech purchase in the first half year)
    Considering the price of the desktop(gaming) and laptop (non gaming), i thought it was too expensive…
    So i made a compromise, and I bought a gaming laptop from asus
    Up to now I am happy with the choice. I will follow the generic recommendation of buying a cooling device.

  5. I know some time has passed since this article was created, but I felt compelled to write a comment. Last year, In March 2015 I bought the new Alienware 15 R1. Almost fairly speced out (i7 4710HQ, 970M, 16GB ram, 256 SSD, etc). I have to say during this year it was been awesome! The keyboard feels like quality, I can game on the go, but I have some reservations recommending this setup to others. I paid a little over 2,000 USD for this laptop… With this money, I could have bought a beast of a desktop along with a portable laptop to boot. I didn’t listen to my peers, and went ahead…

    Now I have been lucky, I haven’t had to many problems with this laptop. No massive hardware failures etc… However, I can’t help but feel my money would have been spent better otherwise.. Just a year later and we are getting laptops with desktop grade graphics cards included.. As awesome as that sounds… I can only imagine the level of heat they must be producing in those small chassis.. In conclusion, I really haven’t used the “gaming on the go” as much as I assumed I would in the beginning. I take my laptop to work, I bring it home. I can’t help but see that perhaps… I spent my money in an unwise manner… The choice is yours. Preumium laptops are awesome, but I can’t help but fear that if something breaks after my warranty ends (in another year) just how screwed I am going to be…. Hopefully i’ll be lucky..

    • Hi Ratio,

      I am happy to hear that you are having a great time with your laptop.

      Personally, about 6 Years ago I boght Dell inspiron series with AMD 7000s 1GB graphics, as I was just starting as a student I was limited by the budget. And so far, as non-gaming laptop goes, I used it alot for gaming and work and It was an absolute blessing for me. Easy to bring with me and do work when I have to (all laptops have intel graphics and when you use those for simple task you dont need to be worry too much about battery life) or fit in my small room for gaming when I like it.
      Laptop does heat up, but never expieranced any crashes or problems like that. + Todays laptops have a really good cooling system, so longetivity should be exspected.

      Also, MSI and Alienware have those external GPU’s boxes, so you can also keep up to date with what ever comes in a few years.
      Personally I believe that laptops are great for people who like to do work and game but prefer something better then console, but don’t want to/can’t afford desktop.

      I know that warranty ends can be concerning, but as far as I heard and my own experience of using non-gaming laptop for games, you should only be concern that you can’t run games like Witcher 3 on ultra :)

  6. My son is really into gaming and has been asking for a computer and so I’m really glad that you explained why this type of laptop isn’t the best to get him. For some reason, I thought that these special laptops would perform way better. However, now that I have read your post I might just get him the gaming desktop instead. Yet, how exactly does that type of desktop compare to one of these special laptops? http://www.adkgamers.com/forums/forum/678-overwatch/

    • A gaming desktop with up-to-date parts will always out-value a gaming laptop. What’s your budget? I can make a quick partlist for you. You can then order the parts and have them put together at a local shop.

  7. Well written article and you have made some really good points about laptop vs desktop gaming. I have been a desktop gamer from 1999-2010 and laptop gamer from 2010-till date, so I can easily see both sides of this argument. Today’s world besides requiring short distance travel also involves long distance re-locations due to job requirements. Probably, someone doesn’t game on-the-go but to move between places it’s much easier to carry a laptop (say between states or countries).

    Laptop gaming can need a little more patience and attention than desktop which I realized in 2011. I have had 2 gaming laptops (2010-2014) and the current one, both of which cost around $1050, so not exactly breaking the bank. I sold my last gaming laptop for $550, so it’s not like I lost all my money either. After 3 years for about $500 i was able to upgrade to a newer, faster gaming laptop.

    As of today, I am playing Witcher 3 at 768p with most settings on Ultra (Hairworks off, ofcourse) and a stable 35-40 fps, not too bad for a 2.5 yr old laptop. Heat is a problem but if you know your laptop you can easily combat that. My CPU and GPU never exceed 80 celsius even after 5-6 hours gaming session, so thats another point – A laptop can actually handle gaming for a long time.

    To summarize –
    1) You don’t need to break your bank balance for a gaming laptop. A decent $1k laptop will play games on High settings.
    2) Gaming sessions can be quite long even on laptops.
    3) You need to take care of a laptop and make sure it’s clean and running at low temps. Take the necessary steps if you see overheating.
    4) Gaming laptops are becoming essential for people who game and travel between cities/states/countries. The world is becoming smaller and more and more ppl move around for jobs.
    5) Re-selling a 3 yr old gaming laptop can easily provide returns that can be put forth for a newer laptop. This is something similar to upgrading a PC.
    6) Always buy extended warranty for your laptop. The parts are expensive and its better to have a warranty than be stuck with a fried motherboard.

    As for me, I am out of the moving phase now and will be building my PC soon. I have loved my time with laptop gaming and been helping people around the world with theirs as well.

    • Those are some pretty solid reasons that you have pointed out there Rocky. I have been considering purchasing a gaming laptop for quite some time since my work requires moving around different locations a lot, but the price has always been my main concern. I guess I would go with a gaming laptop as their portability is worth spending a few hundred dollars for. Thanks a lot for clearing up my mind!

  8. To be honest, I don’t really agree with the article. Feels like it’s a bit over the top in bad-mouthing gaming laptops.

    There are two reasons into buying a gaming laptop.
    1. Portability (you want to play games when you are not at home).
    2. Decorative/efficient use of a workspace (desktops are ugly, big and all the accessories take a lot of space).

    Otherwise it’s a well-written article.

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