Gaming Laptops: Building the Best Gaming Laptop Computer It used to be that if you wanted to play the most cutting edge computer games, you needed to at least have a computer tower, a monitor, speakers or headphones, a keyboard and a mouse. Not so any longer. With major advances in graphics and video technology, LCD screens, mobile processors, and other laptop components it is now possible to buy a gaming laptop computer that can outperform the some of the fastest desktops available. Not every laptop computer is able to handle such intensive applications like computer games, but certain custom gaming laptops are able to fit the bill. These lightning fast laptop computers do have some tradeoffs that need to be considered - they are generally very heavy for laptops and they have poor battery life. Despite this, the "desktop replacement" (DTR) market has grown in leaps and bounds and it shows no signs of slowing down. Much of this growth has been fueled by the demands of those who want the best custom gaming laptop computer available to them.
The basics of building a custom gaming laptop computer - for the newbies Custom gaming laptops have specific components that generally can be customized, and certain elements that cannot. It is possible to shop for a gaming laptop computer without knowing much (or anything) about computers. You just need to be aware of the main internal components that you are looking for. When shopping online for a gaming laptop computer, you will most often encounter what might be referred to as a "system builder". This page is where you can add and subtract components based on your particular needs. A well-designed site will update the pricing without needing to refresh or reload the page, but on other sites you may need to manually reload the page to update. If you have never been to a system builder page like this, you may want to play around a bit by changing the options until you are comfortable with the format. Keep in mind that you do not make any permanent changes by simply selecting and deselecting components. Once you are comfortable, you are ready to build your custom gaming laptop.
Inside a gaming laptop computer. The best way to build a gaming laptop computer is to hand pick each and every component based upon your specific needs. Games are very, very demanding on the system resources of a computer. Overall, a really good quality gaming laptop computer is going to have top components in it - from the GPU to the LCD. Looking at each of these components separately makes choosing the options that are right for you a little bit easier.
The best gaming laptop computer GPU. The Graphics Processing Unit (GPU), also known as the laptop video card, is the lifeblood of a gaming laptop computer. This is the single most important component in a gaming laptop. Without a good GPU, computer games simply won't run properly.
Gaming Laptop Computer GPU versus Desktop GPU - nVIDIA 6800 mobile card (left) and a desktop ATI Radeon 9800 PRO Off the shelf laptops generally do not have separate video cards that have their own memory on board. Rather, they use the laptop computer's shared resources (the central processing unit - CPU - and the random access memory - RAM) to supply the video and graphics to the screen output. This type of system will not make the best gaming laptop computer. To obtain the frame rates necessary to run today's games without frustration and lag, a gaming laptop must have a separate video card that has its own resources. The makers of mobile video cards are nVIDIA and ATI. Systems advertised as gaming laptops should not have shared video. Laptop manufacturers and mobile video card manufacturers are now working together to offer gaming laptop upgrades using what is called a socket GPU design. While the technology is there, manufacturers cannot predict requirements of future GPUs, so upgrades are not always possible. Also, keep in mind that graphics cards are proprietary to the manufacturer of the laptop. It likely won't be possible to take a GPU from a Dell and put it into a Sager. The newest games on the market today push the limits of even the most current mobile GPUs. It is unrealistic to expect that a mobile GPU that is even a few years old will be able to handle a new game without any trouble. This is important to keep in mind when building the best gaming laptop computer - saving pennies by going with a slightly older laptop video card may not be the best option given the sophistication of today's games and the current inability to upgrade the GPU easily.
The Best LCD for Gaming Laptops The LCD, or Liquid Crystal Display, is absolutely vital to the performance of a gaming laptop. There tends to be a lot of confusion about LCDs by consumers shopping for laptops or monitors. While it can be confusing, there are really only six things that one needs to be concerned with when choosing the best LCD for a gaming laptop: resolution, rise and fall times, brightness and contrast, angle view, and size.
Understanding resolution in gaming laptop screens. Each LCD screen has a set number of cells. These cells can be compared to the pixels found on a standard cathode ray tube (CRT) monitor. These cells are what create the images on your screen. They are controlled by different voltages that work to create the different colors that come together to form a complete image. The term 'native resolution' refers to the resolution at which the screen is best viewed. The number of pixels on your screen determines the native resolution. For example, a widescreen gaming laptop computer may be 1,440 cells across and 900 cells high. The native resolution for this screen is 1440x900. It is possible to run a screen at a resolution other than its native resolution, but the results will not be nearly as crisp as at the native resolution.
One question that we get often is, "What screen would I choose in order to build the best gaming laptop computer out there?" If only there were an answer as simple as that question. The honest answer is that there is no one perfect gaming laptop screen. It is possible to game on a screen not set at its native resolution. Since the graphics are constantly moving, one may not ever notice the slightly soft edges that appear when a screen is set to something other than its native resolution. One thing you can do when shopping for a gaming laptop is to head to your local electronics box store and play with the laptops on display. Taking into account the distance you will normally sit from the screen, what corrective eyewear you may or may not be wearing, and other personal preferences, take some time to play around with these display computers by changing the resolution and opening some programs. Attempt get a good feel for what owning a screen with that resolution might be like. View the screens in their non-native resolutions so you can determine if the blurry edges bother you. It all comes down to preference. It is likely that you will be doing more than just gaming on your new laptop, so make sure that you are comfortable doing word processing, web surfing and whatever else you do on your existing computer on a regular basis.
Standard LCD Resolutions
(VGA - Video Graphics Array, XGA - Extended Graphics Adapter, S - Super, U - Ultra, Q - Quantum, W - Wideseceen)
Rise times and fall times are important in gaming laptops. Very simply, the rise and fall time of a LCD measures how fast the cells in a LCD screen can respond. This is measured in ms, or milliseconds. A fast moving image, like those you would see in a computer game, requires that the cells in the LCD change color very quickly in order to render the moving image on the screen accurately. If the rise and fall times are not fast enough, the image that is produced will have a 'ghost' trail behind it as the cells attempt to keep up with the changing image. LCDs with a slow rise and fall time would not be a good choice when building the best gaming laptop. Ghosting can be very frustrating when gaming. The best gaming laptop LCD screens out there today have a 25 ms or less rise and fall time. Non-gaming laptop LCDs typically have a 40 ms or less response time. Be careful - some screen specs will only list the rise time, and this can be misleading. Make sure the specification listed is the total rise time and fall time or you may end up with a less than optimal screen in your gaming laptop.
Contrast and brightness in a gaming laptop screen. While LCDs are generally pretty bright, they can sometimes lack good contrast. In these cases, the black isn't as black as it could be and there isn't as much clarity between images that contain similar shades of colors. Excellent contrast is essential for a really good gaming laptop. Contrast is expressed in a ratio format - for example 200:1 (read 200 to 1). This means that the black shown by the screen is 200 times darker than the white that screen displays. When building a gaming laptop, you want at least a 200:1 ratio, but there are some gaming laptops out there have LCDs with a contrast ratio of 400:1 or higher.
Consider the angle view of your gaming laptop screen. It can be difficult to view some LCDs from any angle but straight on and at the correct height. Depending upon what you use your laptop computer for, this can be a problem. When viewing from the side or from above, the image on the screen can become very washed out and difficult to see. Below are two images of different gaming laptops. The computer on the left looks great head on, but at this above angle, the picture really suffers. The computer on the right is viewed from the same angle and the images on the screen still looks as great as they do head on.
The importance of the viewing angle really depends upon the needs of the user. High end gaming laptops are generally great for giving graphics intensive presentations to groups of people because of their internal components, but if the LCD has a poor viewing angle then the laptop is useless for this purpose since it would be difficult for more than one person to get a good view. When shopping for a gaming laptop, it is important to take situations like this into consideration. Even if you only plan to game on your gaming laptop, it is possible that you will have friends that will want to watch you play at some point, but they won't be able to stand behind you and see the screen if you have the laptop pictured above on the left. Most of the best gaming laptop LCDs out there today have excellent viewing angles. Generally, they have 120 degree viewing angles or better (that is, the LCD can be viewed well for 60 degrees to either side). When evaluating this component of your gaming laptop computer, it is best to not rely entirely upon the manufacturer's spec sheet, but rather go out to your local electronics box store and look at a lot of LCDs in person. The importance (or unimportance, depending upon your exact needs) will become clear pretty quickly.
Size does matter in a gaming laptop. The final parts of the LCD puzzle are the screen size and screen aspect ratio. These two features are as important as any other. The size is simply the viewing area, and the aspect ratio is simply the ratio of width to height. The standard aspect ratio is 4:3 (read 4 by 3), but more and more TVs and LCDs are now coming out in the widescreen format (for LCDs this means 16:10) - this is particularly true of some of the best high end gaming laptops. Not all games are released with a widescreen option, although it is becoming more accepted as a gaming format. If your favorite game does not have this option, it is possible to play the game slightly stretched to fit the widescreen, or you can set it to have two black bars on the side that fill in screen area to create a 4:3 ratio, or you can modify your .ini file to display the field of view in the correct aspect ratio. There are those who dislike the widescreen format and there are those who wouldn't be without it. Again, this all comes down to preference. A widescreen laptop gives the user more horizontal real estate for their game to fill (giving them a wider field of view than if the game was played in 4:3 format), but it can also be beneficial in other, non-gaming applications. When it comes down to which screen would be better in the best gaming laptop, there isn't a clear cut answer. The industry trend is definitely toward more widescreen LCDs, but not all games are compatible. For the user that wants the absolute best gaming laptop out there, widescreen may be the better choice, given its future potential and field of view benefits. And as far as the actual size is concerned, bigger wins. We have found that the best gaming laptop computers generally come equipped with a huge LCD screen (15" or larger). Most flagship gaming laptops come equipped with a 17" widescreen LCD, but 19"+ screens aren't in the too distant future either.
Random Access Memory in gaming laptop computers. The amount of random access memory (RAM) in your gaming laptop is important. Generally, any laptop that is advertised as a gaming laptop will have the correct RAM speed, but often the actual amount of RAM is left up to the consumer. The RAM found in laptops is called SODIMM (small outline dual inline memory module). It is generally recommended that a gaming laptop computer have 1GB of memory. Current games on the market can be run on 512MB, but future games will demand more. For those who run several applications at one time or for other reasons feel they need more, gaming laptops generally come with the option to upgrade to 2GB of RAM. Below is a comparison of laptop RAM and the much larger desktop RAM.
The gaming laptop CPU. The central processing unit (CPU) in a gaming laptop can be either a mobile version or a desktop version - but either way they are generally screaming fast. These processors do come at a price, as they tend to suck up battery life and run hot. The best gaming laptops today are equipped with a huge battery, a massive heat sink and several fans to keep the CPU cool, but don't be alarmed if after hours of gaming your laptop feels pretty warm to the touch.
The gaming laptop hard drive. The final gaming laptop computer component to consider is the hard drive. Generally speaking, gaming laptop makers do not skimped on the hard drive choices that they make available. It is now possible to get multiple 100GB hard drives and raid 0 or raid 1 set-ups in a gaming laptop, but that isn't as important to consider as how fast the drive is. Currently, the options for laptop hard drives are size (40GB and up) and RPMs (5400 to 7200). Gamers are typically using the higher RPM hard drives when possible.
Below image: Notice the size difference between a gaming laptop hard drive on the left and a desktop version on the right.
The bottom line: Gaming laptops are all about speed. When building the best gaming laptop computer, the overall theme is speed, speed, and more speed. Playing today's cutting edge games is one of the most demanding tasks that a laptop can perform. These games are designed to pack a big punch and they require the latest technology to run properly. It is possible to get so wrapped up in researching and waiting for the next great product release that you delay ordering to the point that you think you may never get that beautiful gaming laptop you have been working so hard to research and build. As an electronics consumer, it is good to remember that there will always be new releases right around the corner. This technology changes daily - and for the better. What is new today will be old news in a few years. Gaming laptop shoppers need to find the perfect balance of the newest and fastest components and the price point that they can afford. While there are always new components in production, a nice custom gaming laptop computer purchased today will do its duty for years to come. Hard core gamers will be dissatisfied before too long, but this will stem more from their desire to buy the best of what's out there and less from their computer's inability to play the newest games. In the future, gaming laptop computer shopping will only get more exciting as GPUs become user upgradeable, CPUs become faster, LCD screens become bigger, and the need for desktop computers begins to disappear entirely. Today is the perfect time to join the gaming revolution!