Check out our buyer's guide to the best gaming laptops! Updated 2/2010
Being a former serious gamer, and a laptop enthusiast, many people have asked me what to look for in a gaming laptop. So, in this article I’m going to point out the 4 most important things. These are also ranked specifically, because a lot of people tend to be on a budget, so try and upgrade from the top down if you’re looking to get a good gaming computer. Also, if you’ve got the money, I’ve got some expensive upgrade options included in some sections.
The first two aspects are actually a tie, in my opinion – these are the processor and the graphics card. When running games, you need them to run at decent speeds, so they’re not choppy and don't freeze up. For this I recommend at least a dual core processor, with a speed of 1.8 GHz or above. You probably shouldn’t go below 1.8GHz, just because even most of the games that are a couple years old don’t run well on processors below 1.8GHz. Also, over time, computers get slower (not by themselves, there are several contributing factors), so a 1.8GHz computer can eventually run like a 1.6 or even a 1.4 after a couple of years. So to ensure longevity go with as high a speed as you can. Also, if you can afford the new quad core processors, have at it, those things make for a very pleasant gaming experience. Additionally, you cannot have choppy video. If something is shooting at you and your images don’t render well, or fast enough, you’ll probably be dead by the time you can even see what it is that’s shooting at you. So for this, I recommend at least a graphics card with 256 MB of dedicated video RAM. Personally, I like NVIDIA, but the new ATI CrossFire could prove to be a good challenger (stand by for future articles reviewing those). Either way, don’t dip below 256MB, and try and go up to 512MB, because I can’t even begin to stress how important video is. If you’ve got the money, check out SLI enabled systems (again, look for future articles that discuss SLI technology).
Next, we come to our laptop RAM (as opposed to the dedicated video RAM). To be able to run all the grueling tasks that most games require, you’re going to need at least 2 GB of RAM. Again, most games will run very choppy on anything below 2 GB of RAM. But, in this specific aspect, it may not be worth while to go above 2 GB of RAM, unless you have money to burn. Most games don’t fully utilize RAM above 2GB, so anything more is in excess. In the future this will probably change, but for now if you don’t have the money don’t worry about upgrading too much. Most of the time you’ll be limited by processor speed and video RAM before laptop RAM.
Finally, a big change from the past, is the sound card. This normally wasn’t that important, and you could get by with using the integrated sound card. But recently, gaming companies are all about high definition video AND high definition sound. This means if you don’t have something good enough to process your sound, even the sound will come in choppy. In some more rare cases, games can even crash. I personally like Creative, just because they’re not too overpriced. There are other options as well, like Audigy. This isn’t as important as the other aspects, so if you can’t afford this, don’t worry too much about it. You can probably make do with the integrated one.
Now, this is hardly an exhaustive list of all of the things you’ll need in your new gaming rig, but it lists a lot of the basic internal components. There are some aspects that play a slight role, like hard drives, but since most games are run off the internet the size and speed of the hard drive is becoming less and less important. Also, keep in mind that this is some of the internal technology. I’ll talk more about some external factors like speakers, monitors (laptop and external), internet connections, keyboards, mice, etc in future articles to help you make your ultimate rig.