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Gaming on a Notebook or Laptop Computer

September 26th, 2009

gaming-laptop.jpgAs mobile technology becomes ever more pervasive, the power of mobile devices continues to increase. With the demand for portable computing growing by the day, a diverse body of notebook users are finding more and more applications for their machines. For some, that means pushing notebooks to do something that laptop users once wouldn’t dream of doing – playing games!

All things considered, there is really no reason that a notebook should not be able to play video games. A notebook is, in most respects, the same as a desktop computer – it has all of the same hardware components and runs the same operating systems. So why is it that so many laptops don’t seem to pass muster when it comes to playing modern, 3D video games? The simple answer is that laptops are designed specifically with space, portability, heat, and battery life in mind, whereas the average desktop is not, and so their overall power is considerably less.

The majority of laptops contain integrated graphics. A laptop with integrated graphics has a Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) that is built into the motherboard. Some desktops have integrated graphics as well, though that’s less common, as the main reason for integrated graphics is to save space and power. Onboard graphics accomplish that, but what they don’t do, at least not very well, is play games.

In recent years, newer integrated chipsets like the GMA X3100 or the X4500HD have done a considerably better job at handling 3D applications, and can even play some relatively modern games like Half-Life 2 at a tolerable performance level, assuming that the other components, such as the processor and memory (which tend to be of comparatively better quality) are up to snuff. Still, any highly demanding game, like Crysis – which has the ability to bring any computer on Earth to its knees when challenged – isn’t going to work. People should be especially wary of netbooks, which are designed for ultra-portability and battery life. Only a handful of netbook models, like the Asus N10J, are capable of even low-intensity gaming.

Any laptop user who wants to do serious, heavy-duty gaming on their notebook needs to look for discrete graphics. A notebook with discrete graphics is one that has a separate graphics card physically built into the machine. These cards can range from the low end of the spectrum to the highest, but with discrete graphics, the potential for gaming is there. Of course, the prices of these machines vary as much as their horsepower. It’s generally best to avoid novelty gaming laptop brands like Alienware or Falcon Northwest. While these companies’ machines are fast, their pricetags have more to do with their name and their aesthetics than their quality. Companies like Sager Notebook, for instance, produce some of the best gaming laptops on the planet, with flagship systems costing around $2,000 to $3,000, depending on customization.

Gamers not looking to break the bank can find cheaper alternatives, like HP’s dv2 line, which for around $800, provides them with enough power to play games like Call of Duty: World at War reasonably well. Still, notebook owners will always have to pay more than desktop users will for equal performance. What they’re really paying for in a gaming notebook is convenience.

Not everything about a gaming notebook is convenient, however. They’re generally heavy, oftentimes exceeding the ten pound mark. The higher-end models usually have 17” screens (sometimes larger), making them rather cumbersome and relegating them to the status of “desktop replacement” rather than something truly mobile. This is one reason why more portable systems with 12-14 inch screens may be a better choice, as they’re often cheaper, lighter, and can run games at lower native resolutions, thus boosting performance. Still, one thing notebook gamers should never expect is outstanding battery life. While the less powerful gaming notebooks can provide 3-4 hours of battery life at best, the higher end models get laughably poor longevity – some less than an hour and a half.

The most important question that prospective notebook gamers should ask themselves is how much performance they need to get out of their machine. Those with light, simple gaming needs can probably get by with a relatively inexpensive laptop built with ample memory and processing power along with one of the newer integrated GPU chipsets, and gamers with moderate needs can get a much more powerful system, like the dv2, for a price not that much higher. Those who really need outstanding performance can probably obtain it for a price somewhere in the $1,500-$3,000 range, depending on their tastes. There are gaming notebooks out there to match almost any gamer’s preferences – so long as they can stay close to a power outlet.

Somewhat related article: How to Backup Your Laptop Data

Constant Content author “Warpoet” has produced 11 articles and 6 sales.

One Response to “Gaming on a Notebook or Laptop Computer”

  1. comment number 1 by: sea eagle 285

    Those who need to play games on a laptop , I’d recommend one laptop at 1500$ +++ . Without one laptop that have good video chipset, you won’t play 2009 or 2010 games… I have one HP and I can play for example crysis without any problems,but I can’t play new games…

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