How to buy a gaming laptop

Image of someone in a darkerned room featuring blue and green lighting playing Overwatch on a gaming laptop.
Credit: Razer

Image of someone in a darkerned room featuring blue and green lighting playing Overwatch on a gaming laptop.
Credit: Razer

Gaming laptops are pretty much always changing, packing in so many new features that they’re now considered the Swiss Army knife of portable PCs. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a gamer, student, content creator, or professional, they’re powerful enough for pretty much everything, but some will get you further than others.

Entry-level gaming laptops often start around $700 USD / £800 GBP and will net you something that plays games smoothly so long as you don’t mind turning the settings down. Upping this to around $1,400 / £1,400 puts you in the mid-range, with more powerful hardware to tackle beefier tasks. And spending around $2,000 / £2,000 should net you something that can play anything and everything with the graphics turned up.

If you're looking to get the best gaming laptop possible, this detailed guide will help you sort through the range of options on the market today and make a smart choice.

Quick tips

Close-up of a gold, white, and green CPU inside a laptop.
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Credit: Olivier Collet

Processor (CPU):

The CPU, or processor or chip, is the brain of your laptop. It affects everything from mouse clicks to gaming performance. Understanding the key characteristics of laptop CPUs will help you make an informed decision about which to buy. There are five parts to consider:

The first is the instruction-set architecture, which is the foundation of every processor. It determines how the processor interprets computer code. Laptop processors are primarily based on the x86 or ARM architecture, and software is often designed to work best on a specific architecture.
Also, modern laptop processors have two or more physical cores, which can be compared to the cylinders in a car engine. A dual-core processor is a minimum requirement for basic tasks, while a processor with more cores is better for multitasking and processor-intensive applications like gaming and video editing.

Then there is the thread count, which refers to the number of virtual sequences of tasks a processor can handle. You should look for a CPU with at least four threads, but users who need to take on more demanding tasks may require a processor with eight or more threads. Generally, you should get by with an Intel Core i5 or AMD Ryzen 5 for gaming, while the i7 and Ryzen 7 and above target multi-taskers, content creators, and professionals.

Next, we have clock speed. Clock speed, measured in megahertz (MHz) or gigahertz (GHz), determines how many CPU instructions can be executed per second. Higher clock speeds are generally better. Processors may have base and boost clocks, with the boost clock providing extra speed for more demanding tasks.

Lastly, we have the processor power rating, often displayed as TDP (thermal design power). This indicates the amount of thermal energy the cooling system needs to dissipate for the CPU to function properly. Power ratings can vary widely, with higher wattages generally indicating better performance, but a bigger drain on battery life.

Close-up of a black Nvidia RTX 2060 graphics card.
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Credit: Christian Wiediger

Graphics card

The graphics card generates images on the display and is commonly known as a video card or simply GPU. Most modern games require a dedicated graphics card instead of an integrated one that’s baked into the motherboard, which is why a GPU is the cornerstone of a true gaming laptop.

The graphics card doesn't require much power in some usage scenarios, such as showing the operating system interface, common programs, or Office software. This is because the displayed visuals are mostly static, barely moving, and contain few fast-changing elements. The same goes for playing movies and TV shows, which are pre-rendered.

On the other hand, games include far more dynamic visuals and animations that demand a lot of processing power to make the stuff on the screen feel smooth and stutter-free. The better the graphics card, the greater the detail and the higher the frame rate.

Image of someone choosing the resolution of a video on a black and silver laptop.
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Credit: Onur Binay

Resolution and screen size

Neither HD vs. UHD nor LED vs. OLED should be your first consideration when selecting a laptop display, but rather the desired screen size. For laptop screens and resolution, bigger isn’t always better. The most important thing is how you use it.

A screen size of 18 inches or larger will offer a stunning, spacious display for improved immersion, similar to a desktop monitor. These are excellent for content producers and gamers who intend to use their laptops primarily at home. Smaller displays, like 14-inch screens, are preferable for mobile gaming. If you travel frequently, portability may be more important than a larger, heavier laptop.

Higher resolution translates into richer pixel density and more intricate images on laptop gaming screens. Even though higher resolution displays are preferable, if frame rate is your primary goal, you might not require a gaming laptop with a 4K UHD (3840 x 2160) display. The quickest speed in-game is FHD (1920 x 1080) as it usually boasts a higher refresh rate - which is how fast the screen refreshes to display changes to the image.QHD (2560 x 1440), however, strikes a wonderful mix between speed and gorgeous pixels.

When deciding between 4K UHD, QHD, and FHD laptop displays, consider the following: 4K Ultra HD or QHD if you routinely render high-resolution media or play immersive games. FHD is an option if your only concern when gaming is frames per second.

Close-up of a laptop's battery life at 97%.
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Credit: Panos Sakalakis

Battery life

One of the key features of your laptop that you don’t want to take for granted is its battery life. While its other features determine what games you can play on it or what software you can run, the battery life is the timekeeper that determines how long you can have fun.

A gaming laptop typically has a battery life of about 4 hours; however, this can vary depending on the model and features. Some powerful ones also allow for 6–8 hours of nonstop gaming. High-end lithium batteries in these laptops deliver more charge because they are larger than others. Generally, a gaming laptop should have a battery that lasts 3–4 hours without charging. Make sure you check your laptop’s battery life before buying it.

Close-up of a green, black, and gold RAM.
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Credit: Possessed Photography

RAM

Random Access Memory (RAM) determines how many tasks your laptop can handle simultaneously. As humans, we tend to want to multitask and love versatility. You want to be able to use your laptop for other things in the background while gaming; if it can’t handle this, it gets frustrating. For gaming needs, aim for a minimum of 16GB of RAM. However, if you are willing to part with a little more, consider laptops with 32GB or more for better multitasking and future-proofing.

What should I consider when buying a gaming laptop?

Before you start thinking about how much money you will need, take a step back and review all the elements we discussed above. Once you’ve got a hang of those, it is time to start thinking about your budget. Your budget is the ultimate determinant. Gaming laptops, like everything else in life, have classes or levels.

Budget-friendly entry-level

Some entry-level gaming laptops can offer a rewarding gaming experience without breaking the bank if you're a novice or beginner.

The Intel Core i5 or AMD Ryzen 5 mid-range processors, which provide a decent blend of performance and price, are frequently seen in these laptops.

The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 or AMD Radeon RX 5500M are two dedicated graphics cards that can be used with these laptops to play popular games in respectable settings. They usually come packed with 256GB to 512GB of storage capacity, which should be enough for a few games and programs, and 8GB of RAM, which enables seamless multitasking.

For instance, the Acer Nitro 5 is a budget-friendly gaming laptop with excellent value. It has a 512GB SSD, an Intel Core i5 processor, an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 graphics card, and 8GB of RAM. This setup provides enough storage capacity for games and other files while enabling a fluid gaming experience on a budget. It’s worth noting that modern games are shifting towards 16GB as the new minimum, so your mileage with an 8GB RAM laptop may vary.

Mid-range mainstream

Mid-range mainstream laptops are a wonderful option if you're searching for gaming laptops that strike a balance between performance and price.
The processing capability of these laptops often increases with top-tier CPUs like the Intel Core i7 or AMD Ryzen 7.

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These laptops can play demanding games at higher settings when paired with a more potent graphics card, such as the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 or AMD Radeon RX 5600M.

They provide seamless multitasking and enhanced performance with 16GB of RAM. Mid-range laptop storage typically ranges from 512GB to 1TB, offering plenty of room for gaming, entertainment, and other things.

A perfect example is the mid-range gaming laptop Lenovo Legion 5i renowned for its performance. It has a 1TB SSD, 16GB of RAM, an Intel Core i7 processor, and an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 graphics card. This setup offers ample storage for games, multimedia, and other things while enabling fluid gameplay.

High-end and VR-ready

These are the ‘Big Boys’ for heavy gamers. If you're an avid gamer or interested in virtual reality (VR) gaming, high-end gaming laptops are made to satisfy your strict needs.

These laptops have top-tier processors, such as the Intel Core i9 or AMD Ryzen 9 offering outstanding performance for resource-intensive workloads and gaming. They can also easily handle the most demanding games and VR experiences when paired with solid graphics cards like the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3070 or AMD Radeon RX 6700M.

They provide seamless multitasking and plenty of memory for gaming and multimedia development with 16GB to 32GB of RAM. High-end gaming laptops usually have 1TB and 2TB storage capacities, allowing you to store a sizable collection of games and multimedia.

An example of a high-end gaming laptop that is VR-ready and designed for intense gaming performance is the ASUS ROG Strix Scar 17. Boasting 32GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD, an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3070 graphics card, and an Intel Core i9 processor. This setup provides excellent gaming performance, enabling smooth VR experiences and gameplay in the newest AAA games.

How much money do you need for a gaming laptop?

Black Razer gaming laptop on a wood table next to a black Xbox controller.
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Credit: Sam Pak

As already mentioned, your budget determines the level of gaming laptop you can afford. The cost can vary significantly based on the brand, features, and performance.

From roughly $700 to $900, entry-level gaming laptops provide adequate performance for leisure gaming. Mid-range mainstream laptops offer a fair blend of performance and price, often costing between $1,000 and $1,500. Gaming laptops with top-tier specs and support for VR can cost anywhere from $1,800 to $6,000 or more, and they can handle even the most demanding games and VR experiences.

Post-purchase considerations

There are a few crucial post-purchase factors that guarantee a top-notch gaming experience. We'll show you how to get your laptop working at peak performance, install the programs and drivers you need, and keep your gaming rig in the best state possible.

Setting up and optimising the laptop

After unboxing your new gaming laptop, the first step is to set it up properly. This involves connecting it to a power source, configuring your operating system, and personalising your settings. Take your time to explore the various options and customize them to your liking. Adjust the display settings, optimize power management, and ensure your system is performing at its peak.

We also recommend that you safeguard your laptop by installing antivirus software. Protecting your gaming laptop with trustworthy security software is essential since it is a priceless possession. If you want to play safely, ensure your anti-virus software is current.

Installing essential gaming software and drivers

You can’t realise the full potential of your gaming laptop until the necessary gaming software and drivers have been installed.

To get started, head to the NVIDIA, AMD, or Intel websites and grab the newest drivers for your brand of GPU. These revisions enhance functionality, mend issues, and guarantee that older games are compatible with the newest drivers.

Extra software dependencies like DirectX or Visual C++ redistributables may be necessary for specific games. Installing these parts first will prevent incompatibilities and guarantee a trouble-free gaming experience.

Maintenance and cleaning tips

To keep your gaming laptop in good shape and extend its lifespan, you must clean and manage it regularly. Start by cleaning the outside of your laptop with a soft cloth and a light cleaner. Don't use harsh chemicals or things that are rough on the build because they could damage it.

There are a few key places to pay attention to when cleaning the inside. Start by cleaning the cooling vents and fan grilles of dust or dirt. When dust builds up, it can stop air from flowing properly, which can cause the machine to overheat and work less well. You could clean these spots carefully with compressed air or a small brush.

Finally, keep an eye on the health of your laptop's battery. Most modern gaming computers have tools for managing the battery already built in. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for calibrating and using the battery for the best performance and longest life.

Conclusion

A well-maintained gaming laptop means countless hours of immersive gameplay, so take the time to make the most of your new gaming companion. Level up and enjoy the journey.

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