One of the first and most important questions you need to ask yourself before purchasing a PC gaming rig is what type of setup you want. You can either go for a laptop or a desktop.
Given that we have only two options, it’s amazing how much weight this decision will carry into your gaming experience.
The truth is, choosing a desktop or laptop will have a massive impact on your gaming experience.
Do you go for the raw power and size of a desktop? Or perhaps mobility is important to you so a laptop will be handier when you need to rock up to a LAN party.
I’m going to go through all the decisions, advantages and disadvantages you need to consider before choosing whether a laptop or desktop is right for you. I’ve provided a summary near the end of this article.
Why consider a gaming laptop?
A mere 5 to 10 years ago, most serious gamers would have laughed at you if you asked them if you should buy a gaming laptop. Back then, they simply were not as popular as they are today.
Sure, you could play less demanding games like World of Warcraft or League of Legends comfortably on a laptop, but graphically demanding games (crysis anyone?) were reserved strictly for desktops.
Why? Because the technology was still catching up. Even if you were willing to fork over 1000s of dollars, a laptop still wouldn’t come close to the gaming performance of a desktop half the price.
Fast forward to today, and we can say laptops have finally caught up … sort of.
Laptops offer around 80% of the performance of a similar spec’d desktop.
It’s an astonishing achievement and has opened up the realm of laptop gaming to all types of users – from the budget-conscious all the way up to the most hardcore gamers.
Such an improvement has made laptop gaming a real possibility for any gamer out there. And with that said, it’s now time to go through the factors you need to consider.
We start with the price. It’s one of the most important factors to consider. As you would guess, laptops are more expensive. To get a more accurate picture of this, we should consider the price per performance.
And of course, if you’re willing to really splurge, nothing will beat the most bleeding-edge hardware that is in desktops.
Despite this, you can get a lot of great gaming laptops for around $1000 – $1500. For many people, the price jump is worth it because laptops have one huge advantage…
Sit a laptop and desktop side by side and one thing becomes obvious – the size. In fact, it’s not uncommon for a desktop to weigh more than 10 times a laptop.
This, of course, gives the nimble laptop a huge advantage when it comes to portability.
Got a LAN party coming up? It’s as simple as packing your laptop into a backpack and your good to go.
What if your gaming laptop is also your work laptop? You can still bring it to the office. In this respect, a laptop can be the only computer you need.
Now imagine trying to transport a desktop. You’ll be dealing with a delicate screen along with a keyboard, the tower itself and other peripherals. If you have to use your own computer for work, you’ll probably need to buy a laptop.
Despite laptops being way more portable, some can still be quite heavy. Those that exceed 10 lbs (and are literally billed ‘desktop replacement’) are sometimes better left permanently on a desk than being lugged around.
This is an extremely important factor to consider. After all, what’s the point of purchasing a laptop or desktop that can’t play the game you want it to?
As we mentioned earlier, similar spec’d laptops can reach about 80% of the performance of their desktop counterparts, for around double the price.
The reason why laptops lag in performance is due to three main reasons: size, cooling, and power.
Just like a desktop, it’s not uncommon to see a laptop sporting 16 GB or more of RAM as well as 4 – 6 CPU cores. However, the performance of these components is somewhat throttled by size and lower power consumption.
The biggest difference in component performance lies in the graphics card.
For example, the mobile Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 has almost a 10% reduced core speed compared to its desktop counterpart. Power consumption is also cut off at 150 Watts compared to 215 Watts for the desktop. The result? The desktop variant performs about 10 – 20% better.
Ever play a demanding game on a laptop and parts of the keyboard become super hot to touch? I sure have. It’s the perfect example of why most laptop cooling systems suck. The limited space and smaller fans are just not big enough to provide adequate cooling, especially over a long session. Using less power is not only critical to reducing the heat generated but to also extend the battery life.
A desktop has no such problems. The large chassis can house bigger fans, support better airflow and use alternative cooling features like liquid cooling.
Sure, laptops have come a long way but desktops still reign supreme when it comes to getting the best performance possible.
Many gamers consider screen size paramount to their gaming experience. It’s one of the biggest deal-breakers when choosing between a laptop or a desktop.
High refresh rates, curved screens, sharp colors, multi-screen setups, and detailed resolutions are all possible with a gaming monitor.
Laptop screens have come along way but still have some drawbacks. Most screens fall in the 15.6″ to 17.3″ range. What about 4K? That’s available, but is it worth to have all those pixels on a smaller screen? Furthermore, you’ll find most laptops will struggle to play the latest games at a 4K resolution at the highest settings.
Keyboard and Mouse
Laptops come with their own keyboard while you’ll want to purchase a separate one for a desktop.
High-end gaming laptops have also followed suit. Big-name players like MSI, Alienware and Razer have their own mechanical keyboards implemented into their laptops.
One can argue; however, that you just can’t beat a standalone keyboard. You’ll notice they are thicker than the keyboards of many laptops and that’s because vertical space for the switches is required. As brands push laptops to be thinner and thinner, compromises are made which can result in a subpar keyboard.
Still, I wouldn’t say that gaming laptop keyboards are bad. Merely, they are just not as good as their standalone counterparts. Of course; you can always opt to purchase a keyboard for your laptop.
When it comes to mouses, I would advise you to purchase one for the laptop as you would for a desktop. There is no sense in using the touchpad. Here’s a test: try using a touchpad for your favorite online game. You’ll soon find out why you can’t win any match.
Sound is extremely important when it comes to the gaming experience. Hearing every creak, shuffle and gunshot is key to tallying up your wins.
Still, if you are gaming on the go and sound is not a huge priority, it’s always nice to have internal speakers that a laptop provides.
When it comes to sound cards, just like other components, desktops can utilize the full-size versions which makes them innately better than a laptop’s smaller sound card.
Most people won’t mind the sound card quality of a laptop. Only audiophiles might have an issue. And most gamers don’t fall into this category.
Many gaming laptops today come with SSD’s as well as hard drives for a faster storage solution. Simply install your system files on the hard drive and use the SSD for your games to lower your loading times.
In both setups, you can also opt for external hard drives to endlessly increase your storage capabilities.
Upgrades and Customizations
A desktop is easy to upgrade and offers endless customizations. You can build one from the ground up if your so inclined, selecting everything from the casing and GPU to the number of fans and brand of motherboard.
In this respect, desktops get a huge advantage when it comes to future-proofing. You can literally extend the life of your gaming rig by years.
Some laptops can also be upgraded but this is less common. As a rule of thumb, what you buy is what you will stick with for the rest of the laptops life. Upgrading such hardware is physically more difficult simply because the build is more compact and smaller.
Customizations are quite limited as well and up to the manufacturer.
And don’t try assembling a laptop unless you really know what you are doing!
|Price||Numbers don't lie. Expect to pay double the price for a laptop compared to a similar performing desktop. The desktop wins hands down.|
|Portability||The sheer size and weight of a desktop can make it difficult to move around. Add in the peripherals and it can become more than a headache to get to that LAN party. Laptop components are all built-in and weigh a lot less. Laptops can also be used in the office, school or anywhere else. This means you can use your laptop as your complete computing solution. It turns out size does matter. Laptops reign supreme.|
|Performance||Although the performance gap is closing between desktops and laptops, the desktop is still superior. Larger and more powerful hardware is available for desktops due to higher power intake and airflow. The desktop outmuscles the laptop.|
|Display||Nothing quite beats the picture-perfect clarity of a dedicated gaming monitor. You have a choice of 100's of models sporting different refresh rates, sizes, resolutions, and gamer-centric features. Just like other peripherals, you could connect a monitor to your laptop but that would make the laptop screen pretty redundant. A dedicated gaming monitor for a desktop wins every time.
|Keyboard and Mouse||While laptops and desktops can both use any mouse, desktop-grade keyboards should be reserved for - you guessed it - desktops.|
|Sound||Laptop speakers can be pretty lame, but we bet no serious gamer is using them. Unless you're a hardcore audiophile, motherboard soundcards for both laptops and desktops are more than adequate these days, especially if you have a good set of headphones or speakers. This matchup is even.|
|Storage||Storage isn't a big concern for many gamers. After all, you can easily get external hard drives and opt for online storage solutions, but as far as internal hard drives go, desktops win.|
|Upgrades and Customizations||Manufacturers have a lot more space to play with when it comes to desktops. It's this reason they can leave room for upgrades. It's pretty easy to also customize your set up since you can choose what components to purchase. Laptops, on the other hand, are usually shipped with minimal changes in mind. What you buy is what you get. Desktops are better when it comes to customizations and upgradability.|
You may think this table is a little lop-sided but it is true that both laptops and desktops are perfectly capable of performing well in all video games.
If you want to experience the highest immersion and fidelity possible, a desktop is a good choice. It also offers the best bang for your buck.
If portability is more your thing and you don’t care as much about maxing out every game you play, a laptop can be a suitable choice.
As always the choice is solely yours and I hope this article has led you in the right direction.