The funny thing about buying a gaming laptop is that it can be just as confusing as buying a desktop. Because for some reason, the manufacturers are intent on providing too many numbers and models of different hardware combinations. Thus, buying a gaming laptop can necessitate an extensive amount of research.
Seriously, what do all those numbers and letters mean for grandma or little Timmy, who just wants his portable Fortnite machine?
Is something that has ‘Predator’ in its name more powerful than something with ‘Legion?’. These riddles can get rather cryptic when all you just want is the best bang for your buck when buying a gaming laptop.
That’s why we want to help you see past all those buzzwords and marketing hoo-ha. Because once you commit to buying a gaming laptop, you’re stuck with the parts. You can’t just change or upgrade as deliberately as you would a gaming PC.
There are certain specifications and components to look for depending on your needs. Once you’re familiar with them, then you can easily ignore the confusing naming schemes and model numbers/letters and just focus on the specs.
Here’s how to know what you’re looking at or what you’ll want when viewing the spec sheet.
Determine Your Needs First
Before you spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a gaming laptop, you might want to evaluate what you need or want in such a device. For a gaming laptop, this boils down to what kind of games or activities you do.
Ask yourself these questions first:
- Are you going to be exclusively gaming on it?
- Or is it going to be a mix of gaming and productivity (rendering, Photoshop, video editing, etc.)?
- Or perhaps it’s just a mere portable auxiliary to your gaming PC for when you want a more outgoing lifestyle?
Your answer to those questions will determine what kind of laptop components you should look for when it comes to the two most important parts of the laptop, the CPU and the GPU.
At the same time, you also have to consider other factors such as:
- Laptop/screen size
We’ll go over those one-by-one.
What’s the Best Gaming Laptop Tier for Your Budget?
Or rather, what is your budget? There are three stereotypical categories to choose from here: entry-level, mid-range, and high-end.
Here’s the typical budget allotment for those categories:
- Entry-level – Usually has a sub-$900 price tag. This can play the latest, most demanding games at Low to Medium settings.
- Mid-range – Usually costs anywhere from $1,000 to $1,500. This can play the latest, most demanding games at High or Ultra settings.
- High-end – Anything from $1,600 onwards. This can max out any video game within a year or two of release.
Now, just because a laptop is expensive, doesn’t mean it has the best specs. If anything, some resellers are rather deceptive and will sell the previous generation’s high-end laptop for a high-end price just to see if someone will buy it.
So you’ll be saving a lot in knowing what’s the current hardware for the laptop. You can easily tell if the laptop is worth the price by looking at the generations of the CPU/Processor and the GPU/graphics card.
The current generation of CPUs for the Intel brand is 12th Gen or Alder Lake. They usually start with 12xxxH (where x is the model tier and ‘H’ indicates that it’s a laptop processor) in their name, whereas older generations such as the 10th gen start with 10xxxH; the 11th Gen starts with 11xxxH, and so on.
Meanwhile, for AMD, the generational naming scheme is similar. The current generation of AMD laptop CPUs is 6xxxH; the AMD Ryzen 6000 series or anything that starts with ‘6.’ Don’t be fooled by some resellers or retailers charging more for previous generations of CPUs.
Laptops with 10th/11th Gen Intel processors, or Ryzen 4000/5000 series processors should be cheaper and not as expensive as laptops with current-generation processors. Always check the current generation and compare it with what you plan to buy.
CPU tier is also something to consider here. For Intel, these tiers are i3, i5, i7, and i9. For AMD, it’s Ryzen 3, Ryzen 5, Ryzen 7, and Ryzen 9. A good rule of thumb is that the numbers correspond to their budget tier.
3 indicates entry-level gaming laptop tier; 5 indicates mid-range, and 7 and 9 indicate high-end. The number of cores or processing units these CPUs possess also differs by their indicated number.
i3 and Ryzen 3 usually come with only 4 cores. i5 and Ryzen 5 usually have 6 cores. i7, i9, Ryzen 7, and Ryzen 9 have upwards of 8 cores or more. More cores mean better multitasking capability and marginal gaming performance increase.
Having more cores also helps a lot with productivity tasks such as rendering, Photoshop, or video editing. So if you’re a digital media professional on top of being a gamer, you might want to opt for high-end CPUs.
The graphics card or GPU is arguably the more important component for gaming. There are also two brands clashing here: Nvidia and AMD.
Nvidia’s current generation of GPUs is the RTX 3000 series (e.g. 3050, 3060, 3070, 3080, and 3090). AMD’s current generation is the Radeon RX 6000 series (e.g. 6400, 6500, 6600, 6700, 6800, 6900). If you find those names confusing, note that these two have their own brand color schemes; Nvidia is green and AMD is red.
In any case, you’d want the latest generation of GPUs when purchasing a new laptop. Again, don’t be fooled by retailers selling laptops with older-generation GPUs as if they’re worth as much as laptops with current-generation GPUs.
Like CPUs, GPUs also have a tier. For Nvidia‘s current generation, the third number indicates the tier for the graphics card.
- RTX 3050 is entry-level
- RTX 3060 to 3060 Ti is mid-range
- RTX 3070 and beyond (3080, etc.) is high-end
Meanwhile, for AMD‘s current generation, it’s the second number in the GPU model name that indicates the tier.
- Radeon RX 6400 and 6500 are entry-level
- Radeon RX 6600 (and 6650) is mid-range
- Radeon RX 6700 and beyond (6800, etc.) is high-end
It’s similar to the CPU tier numbering scheme with a few discrepancies. For GPUs, any tier number below 6 is entry level; 6 is mid-range, and anything 7 or above is high-end.
Other components are not as important as long as you stick to the latest generation of CPU and GPU when buying brand new. The manufacturers will typically pair those two components with their corresponding recent-generation RAM/Memory or Storage.
You will need to check the capacity for those two components, however. So here are a couple of important pointers when discerning RAM/Memory and Storage.
- For RAM – You will want something with a minimum total of 16 GB (ideally 8 GB x 2) for today’s games or productivity tasks.
- For Storage – Always go for something with an SSD that has a total storage capacity of at least 500 GB. Anything below that is too limiting.
In our humble opinion, it’s best not to get carried away by marketing buzzwords such as UHD, 2160p, or 4K resolution (3840 x 2160 pixels). Because no matter how crisp and packed those pixels are, you’ll have a hard time appreciating them on such a small screen.
The largest consumer-grade gaming laptops only go up to 17.3 inches in diagonal size. A 4K resolution is wasted on that (unless you’re doing digital media stuff on your laptop, which isn’t gaming and a monitor would still be better for that).
So if going for a laptop screen with 1080p resolution (Full HD) or 1440p (QHD) would save you hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars from going 4K on a laptop, take it. If you really want a 4K resolution for productivity or gaming, spend the money you saved on a true 4K monitor instead.
As for the screen size in inches, 17.3 inches is on the bulky and heavy side, so be wary of that. Just don’t pick anything below 15.6 inches for a gaming laptop. But the larger the screen, the better, especially for resolutions 1440p and above.
Brand & Limitations
Picking a brand over hardware is generally not a good idea. These brands all use the same sources of CPU, GPU, RAM, and Storage. Where they might have differences are in after-sales service, additional small features, cooling solutions, battery life, and the screen.
Even so, a lot of these can change from model to model. Most brands tend to give out their best for higher-end models, with the entry-level or even mid-range models having less quality or a poorer warranty.
Just pick the one with the better deal in terms of warranty and price. If you want to compare screens, then you’ll have to physically be at the store so your eyes can do them justice.
Cooling is the more important aspect here and this is where reviews help a lot since they’re the ones who can do the stress testing to see which laptop brands or models are the coolest and least noisy.
As an added peace of mind before you purchase that first or second gaming laptop, make sure to always check the reviews for quality control and thermals. Those are the two things you can’t predict even when looking at a spec sheet or some promotions.
Thus, learning from other people’s mistakes or triumphs is our final tip for buying a gaming laptop. You can never be too careful with your choices as a consumer. Besides, this is a device you’ll want to keep for three years at a minimum. It pays to be wise here.