(props to viakado for the banners and headers)
We're finally here! Consider this OP a perpetual WIP, as I continue to streamline the format and add information. All suggestions for improvement are welcome via PM or openly in the thread.
There is now a mandatory requirement for "I need a laptop" posts. See the end of this post for criteria.
Let's start here.....
I feel this is an important question to ask, because with the gaming laptop you usually get roughly 1/3 of the GPU power you'd receive if the same amount of money was spent on a gaming tuned desktop. EDIT: Allow me to explain how I reached that figure. Mobile GPUs are simply much more expensive than their desktop relatives. An aftermarket Clevo GTX 680M is currently $750, while its analogue, the GTX 670, can be found for as low as $350 (as of 12/31/12, and I didn't shop around too extensively). So you can build a desktop with SLI GTX 670 for the price of the single 680M equipped laptop. This example is not quite the "1/3" figure I calculated, but also factor in that the GTX 680M also cost around $900, originally.
Let that sink in a bit. If you're going to be spending the majority of your time at home anyway, tethered and sitting at a desk, the desktop setup is the much stronger and more economical choice.
I've always held that the want for a gaming laptop should be about fulfilling one of very few things: necessity, luxury, or a combination of the two. They're a good option for:
- Frequent travelers - you spend a lot of time away from home and will rarely see time in front of your desktop.
- Students - You need something portable enough to take to class/studies and back home for holidays.
- Casuals - A cheaper laptop to play some games on the couch, or to compliment a more powerful desktop
- Ballers - Because you want one.
But I have good news, which is twofold. First, is that technology has advanced to the point where pretty much every laptop based on 2012 tech can game, at some level. This is mostly thanks to Intel and AMD's advances in integrated graphics power. Second, you no longer have to spend $1,000 just to get an entry level dedicated GPU, capable of 720p/30fps.
Moving on to hardware.....
There is honestly little to touch on here, outside of 'AMD vs Intel', and 'Dual Core vs Quad Core'.
'AMD vs Intel' is rather easy, as AMD's current lineup of mobile CPUs is objectively horrible. You know there's an issue, when their flagship processor, the A10-4600M, is only as fast as Intel Core i3s. So the best advice is to avoid AMD at all costs.
'Dual Core vs Quad Core' is also a straightforward affair; if you can afford a quad, get a quad. Today, games are still leaning much more heavily on GPU strength, but the number of games which take advantage of more cores is only going to increase, and the next generation of consoles has a lot of people gearing up to make sure they aren't left behind when they release. There's no reason to choose a dual core, when money is not an issue.
Which CPU should you choose? If you do find yourself configuring with a Core i5, don't fall into the trap of spending more and more money on slightly higher binned and barely faster models; the basic i5-3210M is more than fine. Things are a bit different with the choice of Core i7s. The basic i7-3630QM will be adequate for most, but a case can be made for the more expensive i7-3740QM, as it can be manually overclocked via Intel's XTU software, with certain chipsets.
The GPU is priority #1, where you should allocate the majority of your budget.
For the sake of simplicity, I'm going to divide the GPUs into tiers, based on average performance in today's games, generally console ports. They are:
- Low: Medium to High settings at 1280x720 (perhaps 1366x768)
- Medium: Medium to High settings at 1600x900
- High: Medium to High settings at 1920x1080
- Ultra: High to Max settings at 1920x1080
This will not be perfect and the absolute truth for each GPU, but it's the best way to help people know what they're generally going to be getting into with each card. Also, current gen cards and rebrands only.
- Low: GT 630M, 745M, 7650M, 7670M
- Medium: GT 640M, GT 645M, GT 650M, 7690M, 7730M, 7750M
- High: GTX 660M, GTX 670M, GTX 670MX, GTX 675M, 7850M, 7870M, 8870M
- Ultra: GTX 675MX, GTX 680M, GTX 680MX, GTX 770M, GTX 775M, GTX 780M, 7970M, 8970M
I know a lot of perspective buyers of gaming laptop are coming from the desktop scene, and have little to no idea what the mobile GPUs names actually mean. After all, the GTX 670M has absolutely nothing in common or to do with the Desktop GTX 670. Most of these cards are indeed literally desktop chips, which have simply been undervolted and downclocked, to fit them within a viable mobile mobile TDP. So when I say that X = Y, know already that the card does not deliver 100% of its desktop analogue's performance, unless you are able to safely raise the voltage and achieve the reference desktop frequencies.
GT 630M (which is a rebranded GT 540M, which is a rebranded GT 435M) = GT 430
GT 640M, 650M, 660M, 730M, 740M, 750M = GTX 650
GTX 670M (which is a rebranded GTX 570M) = GTX 550 Ti
GTX 675M (which is a rebranded GTX 580M) = GTX 560 Ti
GTX 760M, GTX 765M = GTX 650 Ti Boost
GTX 670MX, GTX 675MX, GTX 770M = GTX 660
GTX 680M = GTX 670
GTX 680MX, GTX 780M = GTX 680
7650M, 7670M (which are rebrands of 6630M, 6650M) = 6670 DDR3
7690M, 7690M XT ((which are rebrands of 6750M, 6770M) = 6670 GDDR5
7730M, 7750M, 7770M = 7750
7850M, 7870M, 8870M = 7770
7970M, 8970M = 7870
The best resource we currently have for comparing specs and gaming benchmarks is Notebookcheck. They are considered by many (including myself) to be of dubious consistency, but the fact is that they're the only site dedicated to the compiling of data on mobile GPU. I'd be dishonest if I said I don't appreciate the effort.
The best advice one can give: Spend as little as you possibly can on memory. A mere 4GB of 1333MHz is still more than enough, but 6 to 8 gigs of 1600MHz RAM is the standard for comfort right now. Just don't blow large sums in the laptop manufacturer's Configurator, because 8GB (2 x 4GB) of good 1600MHz RAM is dirt cheap right now. Always take the minimum they offer and DIY upgrade it yourself at home.
This is another area where it's best to check prices and upgrade yourself after purchase. SSDs are amazing boot drives, but if you aren't buying a laptop with two drives slots or an mSATA slot, you'll either need to sacrifice space or drop a wad of money on a large capacity SSD.
Do SSDs benefit gaming? Well, yes, but not greatly, as you won't gain in the framerate because of a faster drive. They definitely cut load times by a significant amount. Sometimes I feel mine loads too fast, as I in certain games never have enough time to read the cool little tidbits and tips the devs put in the load screens. I'll choose the faster loading any day though.
Their is also a major safety benefit to the SSD. Not too long ago, my brother accidentally let his powered on laptop slide off of his lap, onto a lightly carpeted floor. No problem right? The next morning, it refused to boot. Turns out, the HDD had locked up due to the shock of the fall.
With an SSD, such a freak occurrence is not an issue, as there are no moving parts.
As new technology is revealed, I will update this section. The next big industry event is the 2013 International CES, which runs from January 8-11.
Check out Desktop GAF and Tech Support GAF!
Consider joining the Notebook Review Forum, as it's a great community and there's a wealth of information help on individual laptops and notebooks there. You can find me posting under the name Kevin on that site.
Gaming Mouse Advice Thread
Recommended System Monitors: CPU-Z, HWMonitor, and GPU-Z
There will now be mandatory format requirements for "I need a laptop" posts.
This is information we need included in your request for help finding the right laptop, so posts don't have to be wasted with asking and waiting for the simplest of information. Failure to comply may cause your post to be ignored. Simple inclusions:
Country where it will be purchased.
Max size (can be in screen inches, dimensions, weight).
Planned usage (what kind of games or specific games it must run, if heavily gaming at all). Ideally you'll point out what resolution and settings are your standard, based off of what I've laid out in the OP.
Whatever else you find relevant, misc. things such as desired battery life, screen resolution, fan noise, etc.