With the power of a gaming PC stuffed into a seriously tiny package, gaming laptops are some of the most impressive PCs on the gaming market today. Like pretty much every topic in PC gaming, however, gaming laptops are also the subject of intense debate, as well as more than a few myths and superstitions.
It’s time to confront a few of these misconceptions head on! Below, we’ll talk about some of the major factors in gaming laptops’ performance, how they line up against gaming desktops, and more.
- Myth: Gaming laptops are only good for gaming.
The great thing about gaming laptops is that they’re powerful computers outright. Thus, even when you’re not gaming, a gaming laptop will still provide plenty of computing power for demanding applications like CAD software or video editing. Gaming laptops sometimes aren’t optimized for these tasks in the way that workstation laptops are, but the beefy components of a gaming laptop will often still give you better-than-good performance with these demanding tasks.
It’s true that the aesthetics of some gaming laptops can look a little weird when transplanted into a professional context. You might not want to show off your keyboard’s sick RGB lighting to a client when presenting a design. Fortunately, features like RGB lighting can be turned off. Many of today’s gaming laptops use minimalist logos and aesthetics that won’t raise eyebrows at the office or the pitch meeting.
- Myth: Gaming laptops have the same computer components as gaming desktops.
It’s understandable to look at a gaming laptop’s specs and think that an RTX 3080 graphics card is the same component as a desktop RTX 3080 — but don’t be fooled. Parts with the same name will often have lower performance specs in the laptop and desktop versions. (Some companies use different names for the mobile and desktop versions of components, but others don’t.)
The reason is straightforward: The small form factor necessitates some trade-offs in power to maintain acceptable heat levels. Gaming laptops get considerably hotter than gaming desktops, and their components just can’t run as wide-open as desktop parts that have a whole PC case for airflow and heat dissipation can. This also means that overclocking a laptop is rarely a viable option.
Of course, to continue with our example, any 3080 — desktop or laptop — will still give you awesome graphical processing power. However, if you’re torn in the gaming laptop vs. desktop debate, make sure to check the laptop’s performance specs against the requirements of any specific software you know you’ll want to run.
- Myth: Leaving your gaming laptop plugged in won’t damage the battery.
When you’re playing your favorite games or using other battery-intensive applications on a gaming laptop, the battery will usually deplete fairly quickly. That can lead you to the conclusion that you might as well leave the laptop on its AC charger.
Well, not so fast. It’s true that this practice won’t immediately wreck your battery. However, over time, you’ll likely notice a significant drop in battery life if you leave your gaming laptop on the charger constantly. To simplify, that’s because being in a fully charged state and connected to AC power keeps the battery at a higher voltage, shortening its overall lifespan.
However, there’s a relatively simple workaround: Most gaming laptop manufacturers now offer a built-in battery management utility, such as Lenovo Vantage or Dell Power Manager, that lets you tell your laptop to stop charging after a certain point. In addition, getting a laptop battery replacement is an option for some models, although you’ll need to get a professional to handle the job rather than doing it yourself.
- Myth: The trackpad of a gaming laptop offers an experience roughly comparable to a mouse.
The fact is, if you want to do serious gaming on a laptop, you’re probably going to need a gaming mouse. Yes, the trackpad is convenient, but it’s no substitute for a normal mouse, and especially not for a gaming-oriented model. Trackpads just can’t provide the lightning-fast response time or movement accuracy of mice. Using a trackpad for extended gaming sessions can put some painful wear and tear on your wrist.
Plus, all that is before you even take into account the many extra buttons on most gaming mice. A trackpad really has no alternative to the huge range of programmable buttons that a gaming mouse gives you. What’s more, other functions of a powerful laptop (like Photoshop or AutoCAD) can be a pain to use with a trackpad. TL;DR: Get a gaming mouse, or use the one you have already, and never look back. While you’re at it, consider a separate keyboard, too.
- Myth: You can’t upgrade the parts on a gaming laptop.
This myth has some basis in fact, as it’s generally true that you can’t swap out laptop parts, such as the CPU and GPU, which are soldered to the motherboard. However, there are at least two big exceptions to that rule: RAM and storage.
Most gaming laptops allow you to swap out the RAM modules if you’d like to add more memory, which can potentially raise performance on demanding games. Almost all gaming notebooks also let you swap out the included solid state drive for a bigger model with more storage space. So, while it’s hard to truly future-proof a laptop, there are definitely some improvements you can make to keep it relevant for longer.
Furthermore, there are ways to work around these limitations. One is to use an external GPU. These devices allow you to connect another graphics card to your laptop via a high-speed port like a Thunderbolt 3 or 4. They can be a little tricky to use, but it’s potentially a good solution when you want to upgrade. The display, meanwhile, is easy to upgrade externally. All you need to do is connect your laptop to a monitor via HDMI or Thunderbolt.
The truth is that gaming laptops, although they still aren’t for everybody, are better than ever today! If you’re a gamer on the go, gaming laptops are definitely worth your consideration, so check out some specs of different models and see if there’s one that suits you.