Gaming laptops do not always have the best reputation among PC enthusiasts, which is reasonable.
You’ll pay more money for less power in a gaming laptop, and raw performance is often compromised due to the challenge of balancing a small form factor with the heat output of higher-end graphics cards. Many gaming laptops look like Neo threw up all over an extra from Michael Bay’s Transformers films. Size can also be an issue, making many feel like enormous chunks of plastic, filled with screaming fans desperate to keep everything from overheating. And they are hard — and sometimes impossible — to upgrade.
I get it. There are tradeoffs, and the downsides can be substantial.
But I’m not sure I’m ever going to go back to a tower, even if it means saving up a little more money for my next upgrade. Having a portable, capable gaming PC has spoiled me in many more ways than I was expecting.
The power of portability
PC gaming is often a solitary pursuit, even if you’re playing with others online. My friends and I have one or two yearly LAN parties, sure, but it can be a pain in the ass to break everything down, pack it up safely, set it back up someplace else, and then repeat the entire process in reverse later that evening or the next day. This is especially true if you’re particular about wiring in your gaming space.
But being in the same physical space with others is so much nicer, no matter how much I love playing online in general. There have been so many evenings in 2019 in which I’ve unplugged the laptop, put it in my backpack with a USB mouse and headset, and driven over to a friend’s house to try a new game or play an old favorite after ordering some food and chatting, face-to-face, between matches.
I had always known this was one of the upsides of owning a gaming laptop, but it was academic. Before I had the option, I had no clue how much more social and fulfilling PC gaming could be when the friction of playing with others, playing physically near others, was almost completely removed.
Calling gaming laptops “portable” may be stretching the term a bit though, especially with some of the huge plastic monstrosities that exist out there. But even semi-portability opens some helpful doors, especially in a house with a lot of kids. Being able to play PC exclusives in bed, with a USB controller and headphones, feels luxurious. So does playing a game in the living room on the laptop while the kids dominate the TV.
These aren’t new thoughts; it’s not like gaming laptops are a fresh idea. However, there have been a few companies that have been able to create gaming laptops that approach the looks of a standard, non-embarrassing “work” laptop while still providing enough power to comfortably run most games in the last few years. There are now more options that are slimmer, and lighter, without the garish colors and plastic builds that used to be so common. Even better, this doesn’t always mean a reduction in power, or a huge uptick in price.
VR-ready laptops, while often pricy, also add the benefit of semi-portability to an experience that you may not want locked to a single room in your home, especially if you like taking your VR headset out of the house to show friends and family. (Though I still recommend the Oculus Quest for true VR portability.)
The real reason for writing this was just to share some praise for the things that gaming laptops do well, due to how often my enthusiasm for them is met with skepticism from some and outright hostility from others. There are plenty of downsides to gaming laptops, and I don’t want to downplay those issues.
But there is at least some worth in taking the time to point out the things they can do well, and how much more comfortable and social they can make PC gaming. Having the opportunity to use one at length in 2019 changed how I think about PC gaming in general, and I’m happy to add my voice to the very small — and often ignored — chorus that sings their praises.