What is a gaming laptop?

A group of Asus ROG Strix gaming laptops sit next to each other
Credit: Asus ROG

A group of Asus ROG Strix gaming laptops sit next to each other
Credit: Asus ROG

These days, almost everyone is familiar with the concept of a laptop being a portable computer that unfolds with a screen on one hinge and a keyboard on the other. Not all devices are built alike, however, and some are more powerful than others. From the extra punch of a processor to speedy screens, it’s important to know the key differences between a gaming laptop and a regular, run-of-the-mill one when figuring out your next purchase. So, what makes a gaming laptop so special?

Given how new AAA PC games are more demanding than ever, having a laptop that’s able to take advantage of graphical technology such as G-Sync, ray-tracing, and Nvidia DLSS is key for anyone looking to experience the latest and greatest, while still fitting in a backpack to take on-the-go. It’s a delicate balance packing all that hardware under the hood, but the end result is a laptop that’s capable of playing the latest games, tackling the most strenuous work tasks, and looking good while you’re out and about.

If you’re thinking of taking the plunge and buying a gaming powerhouse of your own, here’s what you need to know.

Is a gaming laptop better than a regular laptop?

Most gaming laptops are better than a standard one, as they’re dedicated machines built to provide stellar visuals, faster processing speeds, and advanced performance down to the millisecond. A regular laptop is fine for carrying out everyday needs like browsing the web, creating documents, or typing out assignments, but a gaming laptop is designed for resource-demanding tasks that only a high-end CPU, GPU, and other specs can achieve. They also pack a MUX Switch, which can come in handy.

When it comes to the differences between gaming laptops and normal laptops, the parts that make up a gaming laptop are often of much higher quality than a standard one, and it’s important to understand the value those specifications. Of course, the often-times sleek, outrageous, or RGB light-laden designs of these machines are great, but the increased RAM, powerful graphics cards, display features, improved storage, and cooling systems running under the hoods of the best gaming laptops are what we’re looking for.

Gaming laptop vs. normal laptop

By directly comparing the moving parts that go into a gaming laptop's design with an everyday laptop, it’s easy to see the benefits of buying one. However, that’s not to say that a gaming laptop doesn’t come with its fair share of drawbacks either, so considering your best options is equally as important when you’re in the market for one.

To that end, we’ve put together some simple advantages and disadvantages here that will help you weed out some potentially bad choices or spot what you’re really looking for in a portable computer.

Gaming laptop advantages

The best gaming laptops will always have high-quality build specifications that accentuate peak performance in any media experience. It’s these specs that provide the essential advantages you want:

  • Processor (CPU): High-performing, 10-core processors like the Core i5 and i7 series are perfect for facilitating demanding tasks at high clocking speeds, which makes simply using a gaming laptop feel faster.
  • Graphics Card (GPU): Nvidia’s 30/40-series Geforce cards or AMD’s own Radeon brand both provide the best in graphically intensive processing, FPS-boosting, and more.
  • Display: Built-in displays with high refresh rates in gaming laptops ensure that you see every frame as it comes. IPS (in-plane-switching) tech enables a wide color range and greater detail.
  • RAM: Most gaming laptops have an average of 8-16GB of memory, but as the minimum specifications for new games keeps climbing higher, we recommend not settling for anything less than 12GB in 2023.
  • Storage: Many laptops now use high-speed solid-state drives (SSDs) over traditional hard drive storage for faster access to whatever you need. They're smaller and leave more space for other bits and bobs, and it's safe to say you won't hold the in-game lobby up when loading into a match.
  • Cooling: Helps keep your laptop and GPU cool during intensive sessions, increasing longevity overall.
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  • Connectivity Ports: The best laptops need the best peripherals, and many gaming machines will have plenty of USB ports and more to connect a mouse, headset, or anything else.

Gaming Laptop Disadvantages

Still to this day, no matter the gaming laptop build, there are some common pitfalls in their design that even the best brands like Lenovo, HP, MSI, Asus, Acer, Gigabyte, and more still struggle to offset the disadvantages they present which any potential buyer should be wary of:

  • Battery Life: Amidst even light use, most gaming laptops will still require plenty of battery power to function at their best, meaning unplugged battery life can be pretty low, often around six hours or less if you’re really overclocking.
  • Portability: Heavier use usually means heavier parts, physically speaking. Gaming laptops are often a chunk heavier than regular ones due to larger batteries and other components, which can be a tough carry!
  • Price: Easily the most glaring disadvantage. Many entry-level gaming laptops start at around $500-700 USD (at the cheapest and can easily soar into the $1,000 or $2,000+ range.

Is a Gaming Laptop Worth the Price?

In simple terms, it depends. Portability comes at a premium, so you'll need to weigh your needs against the heavier cost of a gaming laptop compared to a desktop PC or even a Steam Deck. Plenty of popular brands like Asus, Alienware, and even Lenovo offer different price brackets to work with almost any budget.

Moving from entry-level to mid or high range machines scales with desirable features and extras, from better graphics cards to a faster screen and slimmer design.

Can I use a Gaming Laptop for Work?

Absolutely. Gaming laptops are one of the leading options for facing demanding tasks, so if your work involves the likes of editing photos, video or sound, software development, compiling, or most any other process-heavy workload, then they’re a great pick. Of course, you can use it for the usual business Zoom call or Microsoft Office work that any regular laptop could too.

Can You Upgrade a Gaming Laptop?

Most parts of a laptop, whether gaming-focused or not, can’t be removed and replaced with better parts, with most CPUs and GPUs being soldered directly onto the laptop’s motherboard. However, plenty of brands offer the option for increased RAM and storage components in their laptops, with extra storage bays and RAM slots at the ready in higher-end machines should you feel the need. Some even let you change or add NVMe SSDs.

That just about does it for everything you need to know about gaming laptops, but of course, there’s always plenty more to learn if you’re delving into the nitty gritty likes of upgrades or what a MUX switch is, and most other modern gaming laptop conventions.

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