If you’re contemplating your next gaming PC, you might find yourself torn between two very different options. On one hand, there’s the gaming laptop – and on the other, there’s the faithful desktop. Both can run Windows and play games, but there are several key differences between them, along with more subtle considerations that are often overlooked. So, gaming PC vs gaming laptop – who wins? Let’s run through the main things to think about before investing.
Where gaming power is concerned, the major obstacle for a laptop is heat dispersion. While it might be possible to cram all of the conductive elements that make up a PC into a smaller case, doing so without generating excess heat is hugely difficult.
Budget Gaming PC: The Basics
Dealing with Heat
Whenever a computer performs a calculation, it produces a small amount of heat. When billions of calculations are performed every second, as is the case in a high-intensity gaming situation, this heat can quickly accumulate. You can observe this yourself by running an application like Core Temp during a round of demanding gameplay. The more heat your machine generates, the more resistance builds up in those ultra-thin conductive traces, and the more errors begin to creep into those calculations as ones are mistaken for zeroes. Push things too far and you’ll get the dreaded Blue Screen of Death.
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If you’re looking for a high-performance laptop, then ultra-thin devices are inherently troublesome, as is the practice of actually putting the machine on your lap while gaming – or worse yet, a duvet. You might minimise the problem with the help of standoffs and specialised cooling rigs, which allow air to circulate around the bottom of the machine.
The average graphics card is an enormous thing, but most of this bulk consists of fans and heatsinks designed to keep the device from melting. That isn’t to say it’s impossible to put a desktop card into a laptop – you’ll find plenty of laptops that incorporate high-end cards – but the laws of physics haven’t been engineered out of existence, and you’ll typically find lower clock speeds even when the name of the card is the same. It’s a similar story for every other component in the machine, all of which are subject to the same limitation.
What does it mean for cost?
Partly as a consequence of these challenges, a laptop will invariably be more costly than a desktop machine of equivalent spec. Thus, if you’ve figured out a budget and plan to stick with it, your money will always go further when you’re investing in a high-performance desktop PC. It’s also smart to decide the type of games you’ll be playing most, and choose your PC spec accordingly.
Computers are more than just number-crunchers – they also need to be able to interact with the real world. A gaming session can be made or broken by the input device you’re using; when your mouse stops tracking properly, your experience will suffer. Similarly, output devices – like your monitor or speakers – are what allow us to actually see and hear the action – and they need to be good enough to handle the job.
While LED keyboards that offer the full RGB spectrum can be easily crammed into a laptop, we should also consider the tactile qualities of the device. After all, you’ll spend more time touching those keys than looking at them. A mechanical keyboard designed for gaming will typically come with a throw of several millimetres – which is near-impossible on a laptop. And so, you’ll often experience an inferior ‘feel’ with those devices.
In most cases, gamers will be using an external mouse. Certain genres, like turned-based 4x games, might allow you to get away with the trackpad – others, like first-person shooters, will not.
The key aspects that distinguish monitors from one another are the resolution, refresh rate, and size. In the case of the laptop, the size of your display will be limited by the size of your machine, with anything above 17 inches being out of the question. Again, you can always plug a laptop into an external monitor – but doing so imposes an additional cost.
Once upon a time, a sound card was a major consideration for those building a new gaming machine. Nowadays, however, every decent motherboard comes with high-quality headphone and speaker outputs, and only audiophiles will need to (or want to) invest in separate interfaces. The upshot of this is that, in terms of sound, there’s very little to separate gaming laptops from desktops.
A major point in favour of desktop machines is the ease with which components can be swapped in and out. This means you might use the same case and power supply across multiple builds, swapping out graphics cards and storage drives as the need arises.
While it’s possible to replace components in a laptop, it’s rarely practical, for several reasons:
1. The selection of components is limited
2. Getting inside the laptop can be incredibly fiddly
3. The results can be difficult to predict
In the case of desktop machines, the opposite is generally true: upgrades can be made in mere moments, and a whole slew of specialised components are available, such as oil-based coolers and eye-catching RGB lighting systems.
What can be customised?
The exceptions here are RAM and storage drives, the latter being increasingly available in the ultra-compact M.2 form-factor. If you want to upgrade your CPU, you’re almost always better off swapping the whole machine.
What about overclocking?
Another consequence of the heat being generated is that overclockers don’t have much headroom to explore. This isn’t just a question of aftermarket cooling – laptops are engineered to tighter tolerances, which means (as we’ve mentioned) they run hotter, so cranking that multiplier is more likely to cause trouble.
The main virtue of a laptop is that you can pick it up and take it anywhere. This makes it appealing for artists, writers, gigging musicians, and executives – but it’s also great for gaming. Being able to take a laptop around to a friend’s house for some in-room action offers a social experience that a fixed gaming PC can’t match. If you’re thinking of playing PC games on a friend’s television, a laptop is undoubtedly the best way to do it – just plug in the HDMI cable and play as you would any other system.
which is better – gaming PC vs laptop?
The answer is whichever one works best for you. If you just want the best gaming experience and don’t need a portable solution, then desktop PCs win hands down. The specs are better, the ability to customise your PC is better, and they provide the complete gaming experience. But if portability and social gaming with friends is important, then a laptop is your best bet. Whatever you go for, enjoy, and get gaming!
Whatever your decision, prepare for the ultimate gaming experience
Discover our high-performance Gaming PCs and Gaming Laptops right here on the Cyberpower site.