Several decades ago, the idea of putting the most powerful PC components into a portable all-in-one shell sounds too ridiculous. Now that everyone carries a computer in their pocket, gaming laptops are about as standard as they come. Still, that doesn’t mean they have the technology to match that of gaming PCs.
You will need to temper your expectations when it comes to purchasing your gaming laptop. Or if you’re switching from a gaming PC to a gaming laptop, you need to expect mostly compromises.
All that portability and small form factor comes at a cost, and we’re not just talking about the retail price here. Because for some, certain gaming laptop shortcomings are enough to dissuade them from the platform. So based on experience, here’s what you’ll want to anticipate when switching over to gaming laptops.
Expect to pay more
The first thing to consider is cost, of course. Gaming laptops, in general, tend to cost more compared to a PC with the same specifications (if we’re talking about a 1:1 basis here based on the component names).
On average, some mid-range gaming laptops ($1,000 to $1,500) tend to cost a few hundred dollars more compared to their desktop counterparts. Call it a premium for portability; since for a lot of manufacturers, it’s not exactly easy to squeeze in so much computing power in such a small shell.
For a lot of people, the heftier price tag isn’t a problem, but you’ll have to live with the fact that gaming laptops will always be weaker than their PC counterparts. That brings us to the next expectation.
It still won’t be as powerful as a desktop
Despite paying more for a gaming laptop, there’s no way for it to surpass the performance of a gaming PC with the same specs in the sheet.
The reason is simple. Gaming laptop components (namely the CPU and the GPU) are neutered versions of their PC counterparts. Both laptop CPUs and GPUs have significantly lower TDP (thermal design power). This is the wattage they consume to reach their advertised performance.
One good example is the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 GPU for the PC. Its usual TDP is 170W or watts. Meanwhile, the RTX 3060 mobile GPU on a gaming laptop only runs at a range of 80W to 115W. In-game, this translates to around a 20 to 30 percent lower performance.
As a rough example, if you’re getting 100 FPS (framerate) in Fortnite or Apex Legends on the PC using the abovementioned GPU, you’ll only be getting 70 to 80 FPS on the gaming laptop version. For some sensitive eyes, this difference in smoothness is noticeable or even jarring.
That’s arguably one of the biggest sacrifices you’ll live with if you go for gaming laptops.
Your upgrade options are too limited
If you’re used to upgrading your PC every three to five years, then you can forget about that hobby in gaming laptops. At best, you can only upgrade the RAM/memory and the storage for most gaming laptops. Even then, it won’t add more to the laptop’s relevance or performance.
On gaming PCs, you can upgrade the CPU, the GPU, and pretty much all the components; even if you’re new to the notion. Overall, this kind of modularity translates to better savings in the long run. Because if you need better performance in your gaming laptop, you usually don’t have a choice but to replace the whole laptop itself.
This also leads to another drawback of owning a laptop. If one non-modular part of the gaming laptop fails or breaks, the whole thing will need to be taken in for repairs (more expensive). On PCs, if one part fails, you can easily diagnose the culprit and replace it.
You can consider this as some kind of upkeep for gaming laptops. Depending on how often it breaks down, you might end up paying more than just the retail price.
It’s heavier than it looks
Granted, it’s not as heavy as the stationary PC tower (which is usually 15 kilograms on average). But laptops can still be surprisingly heavy. Most of the laptops built for gaming weigh around three kilograms or more.
It’s heavier if you add the charger, mouse, and cooling pad. There’s sadly no other way around this, since laptops that are thinner tend to have worse cooling systems or solutions. Beefier and heavier laptops get the advantage of having more space to accommodate better cooling.
The laptop will always run hot and loud
Speaking of cooling, a gaming laptop will be anything but cool when it comes to gaming. It doesn’t have the same airflow space as a PC thanks to its small chassis; hence, gaming laptops will always run hotter than gaming PCs.
More than that, they will also run noiser. The laptop’s measly fans will need to work harder in order to keep the components from wearing themselves out with too much heat.
This can also be a problem with gaming PCs, but at least you can always upgrade a PC’s cooling system with cheap yet effective aftermarket solutions. No such solution exists for most laptops.
Thus, you can expect temperatures of about 80 to 100 degrees Celsius on gaming laptops. Don’t be alarmed by the cooking temperature and the jet engine noises; that’s just how they operate.
In some cases, a gaming laptop getting too hot will be forced to throttle or reduce its wattage and performance to keep itself manageably cool. This is another compromise you have to face when using a laptop for gaming.
Forget about using your lap as a table
For smaller, office laptops, putting them on your lap during their intended purpose is usually fine. But for gaming laptops, we highly discourage doing that especially if you’re gaming.
It’s an ironic recommendation, given that it’s a “lap” top, but the reasoning is that most gaming laptops draw or exhaust air from the bottom grills. Putting the gaming laptop on your lap during gaming will choke this airflow system.
It’s better to find a flat, hard table for your laptop where the pressure will be on the corners, edges, or the laptop’s rubber feet. This will allow for better airflow. An even better solution would be a cooling pad or laptop stand.
You’ll probably want additional monitors
This will depend on where you use the laptop, but the small screen is never conducive for multitasking or productivity. Most desk jobs will benefit from an extra or bigger screen, meaning gaming laptops are at a disadvantage here.
But what if you’re just gaming? Well, gaming monitors are a far superior choice due to their bigger size alone. There’s also the fact that some laptop GPUs will get better performance if you plug a monitor into them.
All in all, you might want to consider adding in a monitor to your budget, both for gaming and productivity.
You’re going to game with the charger always plugged in
This could easily become a dealbreaker for a lot of people hoping to game heavily on their gaming laptops on an airplane or train ride.
As it is, most gaming laptops have terrible battery life. And even if their battery is full, it’s not recommended to play moderately heavy games on them.
This is because the CPU and GPU of a usual gaming laptop will be relying on the laptop’s power supply or charger to supply them with their needed wattage in a sustained manner. If you do find a game that can run on minimal power, the battery will drain itself fast anyway due to the high-refresh-rate screen and the speakers.
So you will want to bring your charger or power block everywhere you go.
Still, don’t feel discouraged if you really need or want a gaming laptop. Some of you can easily manage these realistic expectations and compromises. Gaming laptops are still worthwhile investments, especially if you travel a lot or don’t have a lot of space.