What is this about?
Welcome, Salutations, and Come in. Updated 2017. Like windows only with less updates.
This is the new and updated version of this Guide! In the year and a half since the original post, there have been major changes in Laptop Gaming. So to include into that I will mark the bits that have been updated with a (*Updated) to note changes and (*Revised) to note major changes to previous understandings that affect purchasing decisions.
The goal of this post is to explain the bare-bones of what needs to be understood with laptop gaming, its costs, performance, and usability. This post will not be covering pure recommendations or provide feedback of laptop choices. The goal here is to arm the average forumite with the basics in understanding laptop gaming, and by extension demystify high end systems in general.
Content1. The General Bits 1.1 You know Alienware right? Or how about Sony, Toshiba, HP or Dell right?
1.2 What are they then?
1.3 Who makes these kits?
1.4 Who is this Clevo company?
1.5 The Take Away
2. Costs2.1 Way 1: Dollar unit pricing *Updated
2.2 Way 2: Price to performance in relation to desktop *Revised
3. Performance *Updated3.1 Can a laptop beat a desktop? *Revised
3.2 What about gaming can they do that?
4. Usability4.1 Mobility
4.2 Death Thy Name Is Heat
5. Buying Advice5.1 Hardware Priorities *Updated
5.2 GPU *what does AMD R390m or Nvidia 980m even mean? *Revised
5.3 Which GPU is better? *Revised
5.4 Where can I buy a good laptop?6. Last Remarks6.1 What laptop brand do you own? *Revised
6.2 Can I play Total War (fill in the blank)? *Updated
6.3 Which GPU is better? *Updated / Revised Ending
1. The General Bits
Who makes this laptop? Are they reputable? Who the heck is Clevo?
These are all questions I am sure you have probably either never asked before or have never gotten a real answer to.
Lets start with the first.
1.1 You know Alienware right? Or how about Sony, Toshiba, HP or Dell right?
Wrong. You actually don't. At least not in the way your about to know them. All of those companies have one thing in common BRANDING
Quite literally that is all they are as computer companies, brands. None of them actually produce or build their own laptops.1.2 What are they then?
The answer is simple, they are assemblers. When you buy a laptop from a company you are actually buying what is called barebone kits. What they do is outfit those kits with extra thingies that you buy from them in an aftermarket kind of way.
1.3 Who makes these kits?
The answer to this one is shrouded in mystery... no actually they are kind of hidden unless you know where to look. You wouldnt realize it but here is just a few names. Clevo, Compal, Asus, and MSI. You might recognized a few of those names. They are what is called original design manufacturers or ODM for short. They are the ones who actually make your laptops, and what brand you buy actually determines the quality of the laptop you get. As an interesting side note those companies listed are actually Taiwanese companies. Huh.. the more you know.1.4 Who is this Clevo company?
Clevo barebone kits are famous for their quality, and upscale units. In a nutshell you buy Clevo every time you buy alienware laptops. That's right alienware is literally a re-branded Clevo laptop.1.5 The Take Away
The majority of companies that sell laptops, don't actually make their own products. They re-brand them from ODMs and market them as their own. So if a laptop from HP keeps breaking just follow the trail. You will find the ODM eventually.2. Costs
I am sure the first question that comes to mind is, "how much do these suckers cost?"
The answer here is actually not an exact science. Laptops have a range of costs. But for the sake of argument I will break down costs in 2 ways.2.1 Way 1: Dollar unit pricing. (*Updated)
Lets be clear, any old laptop can cost pretty cheap, but we will skip those. How much do the ones you want cost?
A laptop costs around $1,300 to $2,500 USD. Specific configurations of laptops lowered the bottom cost of laptops from $1,500 to $1,300 and this decrease in price is a major change to the pricing structure of gaming laptops seen across the board. That price decrease since 2015 should not be understated as we are now seeing laptop gaming starting to unify with desktop gaming and that is a massive change. Don't expect it to be much cheaper than that going into 2017. The reason why is due to the form factor and parts needed for the laptop being more specialize and having less marketability than desktop parts but times are a changing.
2.2 Way 2: Price to performance in relation to desktop (*Revised)
(old)A laptop has traditionally been priced between 1.5x-2.5x in price to performance with a desktop. This seems to be trending down as laptops gain more benefits from power usage reduction. Just don't expect to get the same performance as a desktop of equal costs. (2015 original post)*Revised
A laptops performance for price is between 1.25 and 1.5X more expensive in 2016 -2017. This change is incredible; I never thought it would happen. Now to be clear this is not comparing “upgradability parts” meaning that you upgrade over time to newer and better parts but rather a strict new to new part comparison. In that comparison when you account for the desktop with all its parts plus all the periphery parts such as monitor, keyboard, mouse, speakers ect. The price between setups is between 300 and 500 USD, before we were talking about a 500 to 1000 dollar difference. That difference was between power and capability performance of desktop and laptop brand new.
3. Performance (*Updated)
This section is straight forward, laptops have traditionally been about 75% of the performance of their desktop cousins. They are seeing great gains, however, due to the increases in efficiency in the last few years. *(Update) The big change of 2016 was the removal of that performance gap with desktop grade parts appearing in laptops. The price difference still exists but power does not.3.1 Can a laptop beat a desktop? (*Revised)No.... Ok let me unpack that for you. As stated previously on a dollar to dollar comparison laptops are worse than desktops. But that said they are certainly significantly more powerful than they used to be and can run their desktop cousins into the ground in some cost to performance comparisons.*Revised
The Answer is now that they are on par in terms of power with their desktop cousins. It is now a matter of money at the high end of the system not performance for them. The price is $2,200 to $3,000 for desktop equivalent laptop.3.2 What about gaming can they do that?
IF anyone says laptops are bad for gaming, they probably had a ridiculous high standard for good, or they are just wearing old prejudices on their sleeves. A good high end laptop can play most games if not all games on high settings just fine. The caveat being though like all technology they will become outdated. Further more, its always a good idea to figure out which settings draw the most power and turn them off to ensure games always work to your standards.4. Usability
Laptops have a range of benefits but also negatives that a buyer needs to be aware of. So without further ado the constraints and work arounds.4.1 Mobility
The number one reason to buy a laptop is mobility. The second reason is that a laptop is self contained. Depending upon your needs these are very good reasons to buy a laptop. There is little or no take down / setup time. Just plug and play.4.2 Death Thy Name Is Heat
Laptops have one enemy in terms of equipment that's heat. A laptop will slowly use functionality as heat kills the high heat portions of the laptop. So what can you do? Well actually quite a bit. Hardware choices, aftermarket cooling setups, and a little bit of ingenuity can reduce heat and extend the life of your laptop. Basically lifting your laptop off the table and allowing more air to flow into the vents is key to extending the life of your system.
A bit of advice here, try not to place a laptop on any kind of fabric be it table cloth or bed comforter. If you do you need some sort of flat hard surface to go over it. Cloth keeps the heat in and plugs the vents. It can cause irreversible damage if left there for too long.5. Buying Advice
When buying a laptop for gaming there are things you should keep in the back of your mind in terms of mobility, price, performance, aftermarket goods, and hardware inside. So lets unpack a few of those.5.1 Hardware Priorities
Your priority should follow like this
1.GPU (graphical processing unit) This is your graphics card
2. CPU (Central Processing unit) This is your computer speed.
3. RAM (Random Access Memory) This is where programs are stored when they are run.
4. HDD/SSD (Hard Disk Drive / Solid State Drive) This is your long term storage for your system.
1. The GPU is the single most important piece of hardware for laptops as that is traditionally where they are weakest. This is your first priority for buying price.
2. Generally speaking the higher end the GPU the higher end the CPU will be on laptops so you don't have to worry too much about which unit does what and is that one better than this one.
3. Ram typically is around 6-8 gigs right now on most systems. Of course over time that number will increase.
4. HDD for system should be about 1 terabyte with an SSD at around 120 gigs. If the SSD is throwing your budget off drop it. While the performance is nice its size limitation means that you cant do too much with it. When trying to save much always drop the SSD first.5.2 GPU *what does AMD R390m or Nvidia 980m even mean? (*Revised)
When talking about GPUs there are a bunch of numbers you will see plus letters but trying to understand them for informed decisions can leave people a bit cold so here is the general info in regards to it.
AMD / Nvidia actually have similar naming conventions it makes identifying top tier graphics cards easy.
The R3 in R390 and 9 in 980 are the series numbers. The higher these numbers the newer the generation of cards.
Here is the quick and dirty breakdown.
R3 / 9 (series number)
9 / 9 (power level / enthusiast rank / price ) Call it what you will but this is the sucker that determines is its high spec or not.
0 / 0 (as development occurs sometimes this number will change to denote a more powerful version over the original release. You can generally ignore it.)
M (this is the marker for mobile, not mobile phone but that the GPU was designed to be less power hungry)*Revised
The above is mostly true but there is an important note to be made. With the introduction of the 1060 – 1070 – 1080 from Nvidia, the Mobile graphics cards are dead in the near future as the new nvidia cards effectively merged the laptop and desktop graphics markets.
A comparison from the 980m to the 1060 the 1060 has something like a 40% to 50% power increase over it.
5.3 Which GPU is better? (*Revised)
(old)Common wisdom will tell you always to buy the most powerful GPU. For laptops, that is actually a bad idea. The more powerful GPU the more it pumps out heat and the more energy it sucks.
Moral of the story
Avoid Nvidia. They generally set their laptop GPU to get more performance and thus overheat more easily.
AMD has traditionally cost less and are more power efficient, for long term system enjoyment go AMD. This may change in the future but as of the writing this trend has held true the last 6 years.
This section is now completely wrong. Nvidia with the Pascal Architecture in the 10XX line has changed everything. Who knows what 2017 or 2018 will bring but if it builds off Pascal, Gaming laptops will benefit massively.5.4 Where can I buy a good laptop?
That's actually a harder question than you might think. It depends on region, but I can point you a website to compare laptops and makers.
This is a reseller website, I suggest looking through it. It will give a good range of options from many sellers, and you can get a feel for what the price actually gets you. As a gamer though don't settle for anything less than a x70m card typically. You need that power.
XoticPC6. Last Remarks
Yes I have some.6.1 What laptop brand do you own?(*Revised)
I have a Clevo rebranded by Sager NP9390. In crossfire config (2 gpu) of amd 8970m. You can check out their website here. http://www.sagernotebook.com/home.php
I am currently buying a new laptop as my current laptop is hitting its 3-year anniversary. Instead of buying from Sager I am buying through a company called Pro-Star and I am buying the Clevo P873DM3-S
. You can find a video review of it with the Sager rebranding on it here
.6.2 Can I play Total War (fill in the blank)? (*Update)
See I got to this eventually. The answer for this is a bit quick and dirty as the nature of this post isn't about specifics per-say but about a general understanding.
My question to you is this. Whats your GPU? Is it listed as (series number)10 – x50? If the answer is yes, then you will have a tough time. You need at minimum an x70m to have a superior experience with TW.
You might be asking yourself why x70, minimum. When it comes to barebones kits they scale with the price of the unit. The base minimum of a laptop is often defined by the generation and power level of GPU not the other way around because the laptop is not a plug and play system with its interior parts the way a desktop is or can be.6.3 GPU Gaming in General (*Updated)
FFor gaming laptops the GPU will bottleneck long before your CPU will. Here is a quick run through guide of the power levels and their meanings. Also you can't change out the laptop cards, what you buy is what you get. To get an upgrade to your system requires at minimum another 1200 dollar purchase so don't cheap out trying to save an extra 100 on that card.
x10-x30 (base graphics cards are only useful for documents, movies and flash games. Don't expect much out of them.)
x40-x50 (Mid range cards. You can get some performance out of them. But in terms of gaming laptops they are worthless. x50 less so but its budget and not worth your money in terms of initial investment. As you can’t replace that guy later without buying a whole new unit)
x60 (High midrange*Updated) With the Pascal 1060 cards the x60 can be more than recommended for gaming laptops as it outperforms the 980m and even the desktop 970 graphics card of last generation.
x70 (This card is the beginner of the enthusiast cards, they start to get the better features and might even be the next generation card ahead of time. )
x80 (These cards are the gold standards of laptop gaming, when buying laptops the x80s are the ones your really trying to get your hands on. Sometimes they can be a little bit out of your price range if that's the case the x70 has you covered)
x90 (This card is your ticket to a long term investment for laptop gaming. When you buy an x90 you are ensured that your gaming laptop will remain competitive for about 3 to 4 years depending on how gaming changes.)
(Old)I stated above that my laptop is an NP9390. That design is 2 over years old. My laptop can run Attila with everything max at around 40fps. The GPU 8970ms are the limiting factors, my CPU if its test its capability gets well above 60fps. (I dont generally max everything out as certain features hit performance without drastically changing the visuals.)
That laptop is still going strong and probably will only creak with age in another 2 years, but that is the cost of gaming.
Well… the old laptop is definitely creaking now. Previously I mentioned a laptop on the low ceiling of 1300 well I am going to link you guys to it. Now a similarly built desktop can get better performance and price than this system. Tom’s Hardware has a best system at 600USD and 750USD (tower builds) that outperform, but those are just towers without anything else. Therefore, the true costs (if you don’t have the extra bits) is a bit higher.
Now for those of you who want a cheap but powerful laptop well. Here ya go. See reading until the end is a good thing. The Asus GL502VM-DB71 $1,299 that is the 15ich screen variant and there is a 17inch screen for the same price.
Happy Gaming All.