Gaming Desktop vs. Gaming Laptop: Which Is Best for You?
It’s clear that there are many options when it comes to gaming hardware for PCs. This makes it easier to decide what you need than how much power is available when choosing between a gaming desktop or laptop.
While most of the important questions have remained the same over the years, what has changed is the number of options available to you. There are many different types of gaming laptops today, which can make it more difficult for you to choose the right one. Below is a comparison of gaming desktops and gaming laptops. Here are some things to consider and which options may be best for you.
When comparing gaming laptops with desktops, there are three key factors you should consider: price, portability, overall performance, and cost. These are the most important differences. Often, there will be significant concessions in one.
Desktop gaming PCs are generally more powerful and less expensive than similar-sized laptops. However, portability is a major factor in the difference. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean the decision is easy. You’ll be amazed at how many high-end gaming laptops can deliver the best gaming performance and workstations you could carry around in a backpack.
This is the most important factor in deciding between a desktop or a laptop. Do you need it to go with you? There are many ways to make desktop computers small, including the mini-ITX chassis or micro-builds. Even though mini-ITX computers are smaller than other gaming laptops, it’s still a lot more difficult to carry around.
Even better is the fact that many gaming laptops are lighter and thinner. Razer’s Blade Advanced 15 and Blade 17 Pro are both great options for a MacBook-like experience that can run the most recent AAA titles. It is ideal if you need that gaming experience with the convenience of being able take it on long trips or planes. It’s even better if you intend to play at multiple desks. This will save you the expense of purchasing additional desktops for each one.
Winner: Gaming Laptop
In recent years, gaming laptops have made significant improvements in performance compared to gaming desktops. While a gaming laptop may not perform as well as a desktop with similar configurations, the variety of options now available, including laptops that offer desktop-grade hardware is better. Nvidia has now branded its mobile GPUs the same model numbers it uses on its desktop range, something that was completely different five years ago.
Unfortunately, this can lead to some confusion. Nvidia’s model numbers can be misleading, especially as a mobile RTX3080 and a desktop RTX3080 have different performance levels. Nvidia does not enforce power delivery to GPUs in laptops. This means that different manufacturers can use the same mobile RTX 3080 but deliver different levels performance based upon the power they provide to the chip. Nvidia requires laptop manufacturers to make this information public on their specification sheets. However, it is still very easy to assume that every laptop equipped with a particular GPU performs at a certain level.
AMD’s latest mobile GPUs don’t have this issue, but there is still a performance gap with desktop GPUs. This is a fact of packing powerful hardware into mobile chassis. Cooling and power delivery won’t match desktop setups so performance will be a bit slower. There are ways to minimize these issues. Many of them come down to the resolution and frame rate of your laptop’s display. For example, a 15-inch laptop doesn’t require a 4K panel. This will force your hardware to drive it.
External GPU enclosures are also an option. These provide more graphics horsepower than Thunderbolt ports on Intel gaming laptops. You will need to purchase an additional desktop GPU and enclosure to improve performance. This is not only limited to Intel laptops. This means that you pay more for less performance than you would if the card were in a dedicated desktop. You must also have serious portability requirements to justify this.
Winner: Gaming desktop
It’s obvious that high-end gaming hardware is very expensive, especially in these difficult times when demand is outstripping supply. Desktop GPUs don’t sell for the MSRPs they are recommended, which is forcing more people to look into pre-built hardware (such as those made by Maingear, NZXT and Origin) to get the hardware they desire. The question of the price difference between a gaming computer and a laptop is one that has a constantly changing answer. However, there is one constant: Gaming laptops will always be more costly for less performance, especially if you make your own.
It shouldn’t surprise that gaming laptops offer more than just gaming performance. This complete package requires more complex, more expensive components and a lot of research and development. If you plan to buy a gaming laptop, then you will have to understand that the price you pay for performance is higher than what you can get on a desktop. This is the price of portability. Gaming laptops can also be used as a single solution, while a desktop requires you to buy a separate keyboard, mouse, and monitor.
Winner: Gaming desktop
Gaming desktops don’t come cheap. However, they offer one feature that is more difficult to find in gaming laptops: upgradeability. It’s easy to replace a component of your desktops if it becomes a performance bottleneck or stops working altogether.
This is not true for gaming laptops, especially thin ones that have all components soldered to the mainboard. Most laptops don’t allow you to add additional RAM modules or SSDs after you have purchased them. However, not all laptops are created equal. The Alienware Area-51M allows you to add additional RAM, or replace existing RAM, and the Lenovo Legion 5i gives you multiple M.2 slots that allow you to store additional SSD space.
Winner: Gaming desktop
What should you look for?
You might now be curious about the key features that you should look for in a 2021 gaming laptop and desktop. While this can be a large topic and warrants its own guide there are certain specifications that should not be overlooked. These are the things you need to check if you are buying a system or creating one.
- Minimum 16GB DDR4 RAM with a rating of at least 3200MHz or more
- This CPU is relatively new and has a good single-core performance for gaming. It can be AMD’s Ryzen 3000, 5000 series, or Intel’s 10th or 11th generation desktop chips (ideally a Quad-Core Core i5 or higher).
- A motherboard capable of supporting your chosen CPU. Don’t spend too much on motherboards.
- Your expectations and the type of game you play will determine which graphics card you choose. However, we recommend Nvidia’s GTX 10 series. For the best entry point, we recommend the RTX 20-30 series or the RX 6600 XT and RX 6700 XT RDNA 2 GPUs from AMD.
- If you plan to continue playing modern games in the future, you should avoid GPUs with less than 6GB VRAM.
- A power supply that has an 80 Plus Gold rating for reliability, efficiency, and at minimum 500W depending on the components you choose.
- It is a well-ventilated chassis that offers a simple build experience. Cooler Master, Fractal Design and Corsair are all great options. There is a wide range of options available at a variety price points. If you want to get the most bang for your buck, focus on performance and RGB first.
- Minimum 16GB RAM for desktop systems
- Modern CPUs from Intel’s 11th generation of chips, AMD’s Ryzen 4000 and 5000 Mobile series.
- A dedicated GPU, Nvidia’s newest RTX range including the RTX 20 and 30 series.
- It is also important to ensure that your GPU has enough power. Max-P models will typically ship with power supplies of 280W and higher, while Max-Q versions are usually shipped with power supplies of 230W.
- While tempting, 4K gaming laptops are best avoided as they can cause unnecessary stress to your battery and hardware. You will be happier with higher refresh rates and 1440p options.
- To prevent thermal throttling, ensure that your laptop has a sleek design and efficient cooling.