Gaming Laptops Buying Guide

I’ve been looking at gaming laptops recently, as I find myself in the situation where I might have to lose my ‘office’ at home, and with it the space for a computer desk.

So, I’ve been thinking of ways to keep my PC without taking up valuable space in the house, and that set me off investigating laptops that are suitable for more than just word processing.

So Many To Choose From

There’s been an increasing number of hardware companies who offer so-called gaming laptops, usually for a huge premium over the rest of the laptops in their range. But what makes a laptop suitable for gaming? What is the definition of a gaming laptop? They have to offer at least the following:

  • Large widescreen display, with 17 inches being the starting point.
  • Serious graphics processing power, with the Nvidia GeForce Go 8700M GT appearing to rule at the moment.
  • A beefy CPU, preferably a dual-core chip with a clock speed of at least 2.3GHz.
  • Plenty of RAM, with 2GB being the minimum.

Bearing these points in mind, I set myself a budget of £2000 and found the following gaming laptops that seemed to fit the bill (best in class is highlighted in green, worst in pinky red):

Product Screen Processor Graphics Memory HDD Price
Alienware Area-51 m9750 17″ WUXGA 1920 x 1200 Intel Core 2 Duo T7600 2.33GHz 512MB Nvidia GeForce 8700M GT 2GB Dual Channel DDR2 SO-DIMM at 667MHz 200GB SATA £1830
Acer Aspire 9920G 20.1″ WSXGA 1680 x 1050 Intel Core 2 Duo T7700 2.40GHz 512MB Nvidia GeForce 8600M GT 4GB Dual Channel DDR2 SO-DIMM at 667MHz 500GB (2x 250GB) £1450
Dell XPS M1730 17.0″ WUXGA 1920 x 1200 Intel Core 2 Duo T7700 2.40GHz Dual 256MB Nvidia GeForce Go 8700M GT (SLI) 2GB Dual Channel DDR2 SO-DIMM at 667MHz 200GB SATA £1500
Rock Xtreme 770 17.0″ WUXGA 1920 x 1200 Intel Core 2 Duo T7700 2.40GHz 512MB Nvidia GeForce 8700M GT 2GB Dual Channel DDR2 SO-DIMM at 667MHz 200GB SATA £1760
Sony Vaio AR51SU 17.0″ WUXGA 1920 x 1200 Intel Core 2 Duo T7700 2.40GHz 512MB Nvidia GeForce Go 8600M GT 2GB Dual Channel DDR2 SO-DIMM at 667MHz 500GB SATA (2x 250GB) £1999
Toshiba Qosmio G40-108 17.0″ WUXGA 1920 x 1200 Intel Core 2 Duo T7700 2.40GHz 512MB Nvidia GeForce Go 8600M GT 2GB Dual Channel DDR2 SO-DIMM at 667MHz 400GB (2x 200GB) £1999

The prices quoted are the best I found online, although it is worth noting that Alienware, Dell and Rock only seem to sell direct or through a very limited number of stockists. The other makes are more easily available, so discounts are possible if you shop around.

Advantages Of Gaming Laptops

There are two rather obvious advantages to laptops. The first is portability, the original purpose laptops were designed for. With all of the laptops mentioned above you’ll get a wireless network card, so all you need is a wireless router and you can setup your laptop anywhere in your house … or in the office … or even in town if you can find a wireless access point. Want to go round to your mates house for a PvP game? Easy, just pop your laptop in a bag, sling it over your shoulder and off you go.

The other advantage is space, or rather less need for space. You don’t need a big desk to fit a base unit, screen, speakers, keyboard and mouse. No, all you need is a few square inches on your kitchen table to start playing.

Gaming Laptops Have Disadvantages Too

Looking back at the table above, you’ll probably have noticed the massive problem with these machines. Price!

For the same amount of money as the cheapest machine above you could get a better specced desktop PC AND a cheap laptop. This over-inflation of price isn’t unique to gaming laptops, but the manufacturers know they can really rake in some fat profits on these machines. With their designer cases and cutting edge technology many gaming laptops are considered cool … Alienware and Dell in particular are very good at marketing their gaming laptops as a fashion accessory.

Mostly this is just hype, and it does fool a lot of people, but if you really need a gaming laptop then I’m afraid you’re going to have to pay extra for it.

The other disadvantage is that you don’t get a full size keyboard and you don’t get a gaming mouse. So, to boost your in-game performance you’ll really want a good gaming mouse, and maybe even a gaming keyboard to plug in. However, isn’t that removing some of the advantage mentioned above?

Decisions, Decisions

So after considering the laptops above, I’ve made a decision. Do I want one? Sort of, but only out of necessity. I’m happy with my current desktop PC, but if it has to go then I want to be sure I’ve still got a good machine for playing games on.

First out of the running are the Sony and Toshiba machines. Expensive and low on GPU power in relation to the other brands, these machines aren’t really aimed at the gaming market. There are no GPU upgrades available so you can’t spec twin 8700 GT cards for SLI, as you can with the Alienware and Dell machines, and they both have an air of ‘business’ about them rather than gaming fun.

Next out of the running is the Alienware, simply because it’s overpriced. I am very tempted by the design of the Alienware and I know they’re a popular brand, but I’m not buying to impress people. There are plenty of options to upgrade graphics, memory and hard drive but these take the machine well over my spending limit and I want to make sure I’m getting value for money when I’m forking out £2grand.

I was quite intrigued by the Rock Xtreme. I only heard of Rock recently after seeing a four page magazine advert. They seem to have lots of glowing magazine reviews and the specs of the machines are good, as well as the styling of the case and accessories. One big feature is that Rock seem to be the only company who make gaming laptops that can have a GeForce 8800 GTX, which means serious pixel-power! However, while cheaper than Alienware the prices were still a little on the high side.

So that leaves the Dell and the Acer, and it’s a close call between the two on specification and value for money. However, it’s not that hard for me to make a decision and it’s the Dell that I’ll be going for.

Why? My current work laptop is a Dell Inspiron and it has served me well for over 3 years now, with no failures (other than the exploding battery, but that was quickly replaced by Dell for free). I also know a couple of people who have bought laptops from Dell, and they’ve been pleased with the service, quality of the machine, and the price they paid.

That’s not to say the Acer isn’t worth buying, I’ve just never used one so don’t know what they’re like.

So what about you guys, have you tried an Acer? Do you think Alienware are asking too much, or does the extra style justify the price? Do you think gaming laptops are way overpriced or about right? Let me know what you think.

Author: Chris

Chris is a devout PC gamer who spends way, way too much time sat at his PC either gaming or writing. You can find Chris on Google+

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2 Comments

  1. Well I agree with you that Alienware is overpriced.

    The only way I’d say “ok..” to someone to buy an Alienware is if they have a ton of extra money lying around, because then you can upgrade the Alienware to better than practically anything else.

    Alienware’s customization with hardware is the best I’ve seen.

    But as for gaming laptops, in general I think they are overpriced, but there is one great one I think people overlook:

    http://www.bestbuy.com/site/olspage.jsp?skuId=9172511&type=product&id=1218043606827

    It’s the Gateway FX.

    4 GB DDR3 RAM is fast and efficient, and an NVIDIA 9800m GTS with 1 GB of GDDR3 memory is great for all games.

    I know this because I have this laptop!

    It’s worked great for me in everything from Crysis to Counter Strike to Half Life.

    It gets a little hot sometimes, but nothing a good cooling stand won’t fix.

    Have a look at that one Chris.

  2. Upgraded asus n71JA ftw. No problems at all, 1t hdd, 4gb ram and ati mob rad hd 5730 – 1gb gpu!

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