New and old gamers alike find themselves asking very similar questions when it’s time to upgrade their hardware: What are the latest graphics card? Have processors changed since I last looked? Do I need to build a new machine or buy one pre-built? Can I use my old ram sticks? Do I need to update my hard drives?
There’s a lot to keep up with computing technology, especially for gamers. The hassle of managing and upgrading a gaming PC may have you asking the most common question for potential gaming purchases: Can I just do it with a laptop? This was an easy-to-answer question in the past, but advances by AMD and NVIDIA have changed the hardware environment. It used to be the case that laptops couldn’t manage anything close to the optimal performance that desktop gamers enjoyed.
While it may be that this statement still rings true, the definition of optimal has evolved drastically. Modern AAA games are much more vibrant and interactive than even their predecessors from just five years ago. Laptops are finding themselves incredibly capable, and the most popular multiplayer games like Apex Legends can be played at near 200 fps.
The battle between laptop and PC is a big one, but there is a third option we’re going to compare today as well, portable handheld all-in-one gaming PCs. This new mobile type is more like a laptop than a PC but has its’ own set of hardware. New products like Valve’s Steam Deck, GPD Win, AYA Neo Pro, Smach Z, and more are using the powerful AMD Ryzen chipset to push the limits of a new handheld gaming pc category.
Has it finally come to be that mobile and stationary computing differences are only for the hardcore PC builders? Let’s answer some of your questions and get you on track to picking the best option for you.
Laptops are a constantly evolving form factor as they are the flagship product designs for most computer manufacturers. However, gaming laptops are a different beast. These machines often have less focus on aesthetic design changes in their yearly iterations. Instead, they often focus on essential hardware upgrades that bring the best gaming performance to a portable format.
Faster screen refresh rates(240hz or even up to 300Hz), higher screen resolutions(up to 4k), the latest in graphics cards(NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3xxx series), and the heated competition between AMD processors (Ryzen 5, 7, and 9) and Intel processors (11th Generation Core i5, i7, and i9) are combined with faster ram (DDR4-3200) and storage options (SSD both SATA and m.2) to set a standard in performance that make gaming laptops a class of their own.
The key advantage to a gaming laptop is and always has been portability. The ability to run powerful software and immersive video games from anywhere as long as you have a charged battery is enticing. Even if the laptop never leaves your home, you can find yourself in more comfortable positions around the house. Playing from a cozy recliner or lying in bed can be the perfect peaceful position for gamers who play soothing slow-paced games.
There are a few other advantages that help with your budget:
- Laptops are a whole packaged deal. This means you don’t have to pick up individual interface hardware (Monitors, mouse, keyboard, headset, speakers, and connecting cables). Though, you may still want to at least buy a decent mouse.
- The total space needed to set up is significantly smaller. Anywhere there’s a nearby wall outlet and enough space to set your laptop in front of you becomes your office.
- Gaming on the go. If you find yourself traveling a lot, having a capable gaming laptop is a perfect solution to keep your hobby alive.
The downside to laptops is also a familiar talking point. The power supply and battery capacity limit the gameplay time and performance level of play. This used to mean that games would run at sometimes unplayable rates, but current state-of-art machines offer fantastic performance that makes that a worry of the past.
With so many former issues rectified, here are is a quick list of disadvantages:
- Laptops are equipped with mobile versions of desktop computing parts. Even with companies like NVIDIA packing in the same type of hardware in laptops as desktops, cooling options and power supply limitations cause the laptop editions of processors and graphics cards to perform at around 75% of what they can do.
- Relying on a battery for heavy power-using hardware means short gaming sessions or being attached to every available outlet.
- It may be called a laptop but the temperature gaming laptops can reach will have you using a lap desk or a table to place it on.
- Most gaming laptops offer only one or two hard drive slots. While this is manageable for a while, newer games can use over 100 GBs of storage on their own.
If you want to have a more in-depth guide to the pros and cons of gaming laptops make sure you read our guide on the pros and cons of gaming laptops.
Desktop gaming PCs are the traditional way PC gamers play at home. There are plenty of reasons for this. The main one is the need to have the latest, greatest, and most powerful hardware to get the highest possible performance that can be achieved. Sometimes this is more about a heavy interest in the machinery rather than gaming itself. However, there is no denying the amazing quality that can be achieved by a well-equipped rig.
Another major reason desktop gaming is heavily adopted is the tower’s ability to adapt over time. Every component of the gaming system can be replaced and customized as long as your build is compatible (motherboard slots have to match the hardware you want to install). It’s this aspect that allowed VR to flourish on a desktop before it moved on to a stand-alone platform.
Desktops are the most versatile option for gaming that exists. The list of advantages always comes down to your playstyle and uses. Building a desktop and getting your office or gaming room ready allows for making choices that customize every aspect of your desktop gaming experience. The hardware you buy will not only be in use almost non-stop. It will be on display and set the mood for your gaming sessions.
Building your rig is a bit of a learning journey but ultimately will result in building the foundational knowledge you need to stay up to date. Along with newly acquired know-how, you’ll also:
- Be able to experience alpha and beta tests for developing games
- Upgrade your machine to keep up with the latest games
- Utilize multiple hard drives to install unlimited games
- Use RGB lighting in every aspect of your computer hardware and gaming room
- Have the highest quality performance from your favorite games
Desktop computers are such useful machines that it’s hard to imagine there are negative qualities to them. However, they are stationary units. This leads to their use being centered around where they are set up. It can be a hassle to rework cable management to move your desktop from place to place and takes up a significant amount of space. While networking hardware allows for remote desktop functionality, it takes some fine-tuning to make sure remote display functions are optimized for gaming.
Other downsides to desktop gaming:
- Computer technology constantly advances. The market is so competitive that a five-year gap in upgrading your desktop’s hardware can lead to a night and day difference in performance.
- High-quality hardware is expensive. The mechanical keyboard, monitors, mice, headsets, and peripherals you attach to your desktop aren’t the only things that cost a pretty penny. A new graphics card can run from $400 to $2000. Processors have a similar range. None of those parts will work properly without a motherboard that has compatible slots.
- Hardware driver management. New and old hardware constantly need new drivers to help their performance with specific software and hardware functions. While it’s not exclusive to desktops, desktops are often brand mismatched which leads to a larger task when keeping drivers up to date. A laptop will often come preloaded with driver management software because the manufacturer has provided the hardware as a bundle. While it is rare, this can sometimes lead to hardware failing to work properly which requires a hefty amount of diagnostic time to pin down.
Handheld Gaming PCs
There is a new category competitor in town. The smaller form factor of processors by AMD and Intel has inspired pc manufacturers to build their own Nintendo Switch-like form factor devices. Companies like Valve and AYA Neo have developed all-in-one tablet-style pcs with console-quality performance and access to full pc functions.
These devices come equipped with built-in gamepad controls, touchscreen, and computer i/o access through a USB type C. They easily achieve 60 fps at 720p resolutions. These devices bring a new level of portability to high-quality and hardcore PC gaming.
With the support of Valve’s Steam and the use of full PC operating systems, these devices offer the entire PC gaming library to the palm of your hands.
This form factor has arisen in response to quick and easy access to your favorite games offered by the Nintendo Switch. While this device is not a direct competitor to Nintendo’s flagship device, it takes a lot of its design cues.
This portable form factor has a lot to offer:
- AAA gaming and access to previously owned PC gaming libraries through Steam or installing digital gaming platforms.
- Full PC functions with keyboard, mouse, and monitor support as well as i/o to use any computing peripherals.
- Bluetooth and AC wireless for high-performance headsets and wireless connections.
- Customizable software just like any other PC, including installing your preferred OS.
- They are among the cheapest gaming PC option starting at $399.
- Higher battery life than gaming laptops with around five to six hours of playtime on one charge.
The biggest downside for the handheld category has to do with performance. These PCs do well when utilizing the built-in lower resolution screens and even 1080p external monitors. The limits become evident when trying to utilize 1440p resolutions or the higher quality settings in demanding games. This is not the option for connoisseurs.
Handheld gaming PCs disadvantages:
- Besides storage, these devices are not upgradeable and will eventually need to be replaced with better models.
- The built-in storage is incredibly small and will require using microSD card slots or spending a lot more to get a decent built-in storage size.
- Portable devices are often exposed to more dangerous situations and need to be protected while on the go.
- The screens are a decent size when compared to other portables but are rather small at 7 inches to 8 inches when compared against a desktop monitor.
Between the Three: Gaming Laptop Vs Gaming PC Vs Handheld PC
There’s a lot to think about with gaming PC options. Hopefully, the details so far have helped to figure out which one is suited for you. Just in case, here’s a quick breakdown of the type of gamers each form factor might be best for.
Gamers who are constantly traveling for work but still want to get the best performance they can get are the perfect fit for gaming laptops. This form factor allows you to set up in a small space and get back to head-shotting aliens. There is still a small performance sacrifice compared to desktops, but it’s the best you can get when you need to take it on the go. If you want to have some tips on what to think about when comparing gaming laptops, make sure to have a look at our guide on finding the right gaming laptop.
Hardcore gamers who spend more time in-game and streaming than doing anything else will want to have the best-built gaming desktop rig they can afford. Gaming desktops not only offer the highest performance possible but also the most durable for gamers that don’t quit. Whether you’re about to spend the next week completing a raid in Destiny or nonstop matches of DoTA, a desktop is the best to handle your needs.
Handheld gaming is perfect for gamers who want a stable, consistent performance out of their entire PC gaming library in the palm of their hands. These devices contain everything you need to play any PC game from your library anywhere you are. This form sacrifices resolution and screen size to deliver access to your games in the backseat of a car, on the bus, on the sidewalk, or anywhere you happen to be. For a comparison against standard game consoles make sure to check out the article about gaming laptops vs consoles.
Is a laptop good for gaming?
Not all laptops are equal, but gaming laptops are great for playing your favorite games at home and on the go. You’ll need to be aware of the hardware specifications required to play your favorite games optimally, but a gaming laptop can surely achieve them.
Is PC or Laptop better for gaming?
Picking between a desktop PC and a laptop is a personal preference. However, a desktop PC is better for enhanced performance and peripheral attachments.
When is it worth getting a gaming laptop?
Gaming laptops are great for travelers and space-conscious gamers. If being able to play where you want matters more than playing at the highest possible settings, a gaming laptop is the form factor designed specifically for your needs. You may also consider handheld gaming PCs.