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If gaming is your primary goal, then you’ve surely asked yourself: should you simply buy a gaming laptop and call it a day or, conversely, build a PC yourself and, in doing so, get better performance for a fraction of the cost?
It’s a conundrum millions of gamers face each and every single day. There’s something inherently alluring in having a spec’d-out gaming laptop, a sleek and beautiful machine that was engineered and devised to deliver an exceptional level of performance, even in the latest and greatest AAA titles.
These laptops seemingly blend the best of everything. They’re also incredibly hard to cool down, they tend to sound like a Boeing 747 taking off when pushed, and they also run a bit too hot (internally and externally). Good gaming laptops are hard to find — good in the sense that they were tweaked and tuned to handle any possible workload one might throw their way without exhibiting any issues or inconveniences.
They’re also insanely expensive, for the most part. Those spec’d-out behemoths we all dream about? They often retail for well over $1500. And the lower in price they go, the worse they get. We’re talking dim, washed out displays, wobbly hinges, awful mushy keyboards, rattly trackpads, outdated I/O, plastic chassis (which creak and flex), and gimped power limits for both the CPU and GPU. Or, even worse, incredibly high power limits which incur too big of a penalty in regards to thermals and fan noise.
Gaming PC vs Gaming Laptop — An Uneven Battle
Striking a fine balance has been a challenge only a few OEMs have been able to meet. Gaming PCs, on the other hand, offer a nigh endless list of possibilities. You can spec them out however you want, and even upgrade any component your heart desires further down the line — should the need arise, of course.
They’re malleable and can “evolve” whenever you so desire — for a much more palatable sum of money. Upgrading a gaming rig is an incredibly simple endeavor. Upgrading a gaming laptop, on the other hand, is essentially impossible. You’re stuck with whatever you have for as long as you have it.
For a price of an “entry-level” budget gaming laptop, you can build an astonishingly capable gaming PC. It won’t be portable, obviously, but you’d get a lot more for your money’s worth. Your games would run a lot better, your system would be a lot quieter, and wouldn’t have to think about any of your components frying itself for running too hot or having to deal with any QC issues, RMA procedures, and whatever else.
Building a gaming PC is always a safe option, and it always yields great results. The fact that the whole crypto craze is over means that gamers can also get their hands on some truly powerful GPUs for a truly reasonable sum of money.
Still, the very portable nature of a gaming laptop gives it a wholly unique edge over each and every single desktop PC. Their use-cases might be similar (if not, in some cases, identical), but there’s a pretty big difference in regards to where and how these devices can be used.
And that, needless to say, will always command an increase in price.
Gaming PC vs Gaming Laptop — Let’s Talk Performance
Gaming laptops, for the longest time, couldn’t really compete with gaming PCs — and naturally so. Their components, capable though they were, simply couldn’t draw as much power as their biggest, desktop-bound counterparts due to thermal and efficiency reasons.
That, however, has changed — not tremendously, granted, but in numerous tangible ways. Due to many different technological advancements, laptop components no longer need to draw as much power in order to provide a spectacular level of performance. A mid-tier gaming laptop can now, in 2023, deliver a very comparable experience to a similarly spec’d gaming PC and that, needless to say, is nothing short of extraordinary.
And even the best, most powerful gaming laptops — while nowhere near as powerful as the biggest and “baddest” gaming rigs out there — can still hold their own, even in 4K with maxed-out settings. CPU and GPUs have evolved tremendously over the last couple of years and, with the advent of various different upscaling technologies like NVIDIA’s DLSS, AMD’s FSR, and Intel’s XeSS, gamers can reach high frame rates even with laptops that seemingly aren’t all that capable specs-wise.
The best gaming laptops out there are capable enough to deliver a desktop-like experience in even the latest and greatest AAA titles, but that always comes at a cost: both financially and acoustically.
Gaming PC vs Gaming Laptop — Cooling
Gaming laptops are loud. We’re talking 50+ decibels when on Turbo or Performance mode and, to make things even worse, there’s a tremendous amount of variance when it comes to the way in which these machines are cooled. Some have vapor chambers, others have more “traditional” heat pipe setups. Others still even have a bit of water cooling thrown in (although those models are very few in number).
Either way, if you’re sensitive to fan noise (and, at worst, ample coil whine), then you’d probably be better off building a full-fledged gaming rig.
And it’s a pretty frustrating conundrum, all things considered. Relatively underpowered gaming laptops — those with, say, an NVIDIA RTX 3050 — will almost always be on the noisier side because they’re not all that expensive and, as such, don’t have tremendously capable cooling assemblies. The most powerful laptops, on the other hand, will be even louder, despite using much more advanced and complex cooling solutions because their components run at well over 100W.
You’ll have to deal with high temperatures and ample fan noise no matter which model you end up going with, but those issues can be somewhat alleviated and circumvented with a bit of tinkering. Third-party apps like G-Helper have turned out to be a tremendous boon, and much of the same can be said for specific tweaks like turning off Turbo Boost (with no discernible loss in FPS), using a laptop cooling pad, setting custom fan curves and power limits, and so on and so forth.
If you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and fine-tune your gaming laptop, you will most likely end up with a very enjoyable experience. It’ll never be as silent as a gaming PC, but a higher amount of fan noise is, to some users, a very small price to pay for the ability to play even the most demanding titles whenever they’re away from home.
Gaming PC vs Gaming Laptop — Upgradeability and Repairability
This is where things get a bit more complicated. Desktop PCs are modular and upgradeable by their very nature. That’s one of their biggest benefits. If a component happens to malfunction, it can easily and within minutes be replaced. If the need for an upgrade arises, that, too, can be easily dealt with.
Gaming laptops are, for the most part, finished products. You can swap out the RAM, storage, and Wi-Fi card (in most cases, at least), but that’s not really going to make a noticeable difference when it comes to gaming. You’ll have to make due with its processor and graphics card. If they’re insufficiently powerful for your gaming needs, then you’ll simply have to sell your gaming laptop and buy a more powerful model. There’s no way around it.
Repairability, too, warrants a mention. Gaming laptops are devilishly fast and, by proxy, hot. So hot, in fact, that it’s by no means a rarity for one of their components to malfunction over time — most likely the graphics card or the motherboard. In that case, if it’s still under warranty, you’ll have to send it in for repair. If it’s not, you’ll essentially have an oversized brick on your hands and repairing it will often times be more expensive than just flat-out buying a brand new model.
It’s not an ideal setup, all things considered, which is why it’s so important to source your laptops from respectable brands and OEMs which have a stellar reputation (which, for the record, are few in number). You need that failsafe in place if something happens to go awry — a good warranty is worth a whole lot more than one would expect, especially in today’s market where quality control issues seem to be more prevalent than ever, even with the biggest and most capable of manufacturers.
Tips on Buying a Gaming Laptop
You should always read and watch as many reviews as you possibly can on the particular model you’re interested in before making any kind of purchasing decision. There’s no shortage of gaming laptops out there, but only a few of them are actually worth the asking price.
Most will run way too hot which, in turn, results in a shorter lifespan. If you plan on keeping your gaming laptop for longer than, say, two or three years, then you should try your absolute hardest to find a model that’s both powerful enough for your needs and is appropriately cooled.
Do a bit of digging, search out opinions on Reddit, message boards, and such like. Try to find whether the model you’re interested in has any horrendous QC issues relating to backlight bleed, fried motherboards, dead batteries, insanely high temperatures, botched BIOS updates, and so on and so forth. These things are by no means a rarity, and they tend to occur even with the best of models — the ROGs and Razer Blades of the world.
Moreover, once you’ve made your decision, make sure to buy your laptop of choice from a retailer that has a very lenient return policy — a storefront like Amazon or Best Buy. That way, if you end up getting a “dud,” you’d be able to return in and get your money back in no time. A week or two is more than enough time for you to check whether there are any glaring quality control issues.
Buy a Gaming Laptop If:
- You need a portable computer, whether it’s for school or your travels
- You don’t need the most powerful components money can buy
- You want to have a versatile, “all-in-one” machine which you’ll be able to use both at home and on the road
- You’re okay with tinkering with your hardware and are willing to — if the need arises — undervolting, reapplying thermal paste, downloading third-party programs and tweaks, and so on and so forth
Buy/Build a Gaming PC If:
- You want the absolute best performance-per-dollar
- You want to have absolute control over your hardware
- You want to be able to upgrade (or repair) any individual component further down the line
- You don’t want to deal with incredibly high temperatures and obnoxious fan noise
- You don’t need a portable computer for your work or travels
Conclusion — Gaming PC vs Gaming Laptop
There’s no “one-size-fits-all” kind of answer to this conundrum. Building (or buying) a gaming PC is always the better, more sensible option. They’re much cheaper and more powerful when juxtaposed to similarly priced laptops, and they’re also easier to cool down and tinker with — not to mention upgrade and repair.
They’re not portable, though. Even if you go with a mini PC (something like an Intel NUC or any of Minisforum’s offerings), you’d still have to supply your own mouse, keyboard, and monitor — and you’d have to carry around a sizable power adapter as well. A gaming laptop is sort of a “2-in-1” kind of solution. You can use it as your main computer throughout the day and then, when the need arises, pack it up and go wherever you want — whether it’s a LAN party at a friend’s place or a more remote destination — with all your games and files in tow.
It’s a luxury worth spending a little extra on, which means the only real challenge one has to deal with is finding a model that ticks all the right boxes — both in terms of performance and a host of other parameters and criteria like efficiency, cooling, build quality, and acoustics.