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The video gaming industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. Every year, video games push the envelope of what is possible in terms of graphics, performance, storytelling, and immersion. Long gone are the days of simple, 2D pixel sprite graphics, where your imagination is left to fill in the blanks. These days, a video game can rival the quality of a Hollywood summer blockbuster. Not just in entertainment value, but production quality, as well as all of the elements listed above.
But as video games kept evolving, so too did the machines that were made to play them. In the early days of gaming, video game consoles dominated the industry: from the classic Atari 2600 to the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Sega Genesis, from the Super Nintendo Entertainment System to the Playstation and Xbox, and so on.
However, sometime during this video game revolution, the personal computer or PC also quietly joined the race. While 16-bit consoles were the top dogs, the PC was already installing games via CDs. When the 32-bit consoles were experimenting with 3D platform, fighting, and racing games, the games for the PC were already creating new genres. And this trend continued until one day, PC versions of games became the benchmarks in which console versions measure.
These days, a correctly assembled PC, even with mid-tier parts, can easily outperform the latest next-generation consoles like the Playstation 4 and Xbox One. Not only that, consoles are mostly stuck with whatever hardware they come shipped with. PCs, on the other hand, can be upgraded over the years to improve its performance and keep up with games for that year and run it at maximum settings.
And considering that an adequately assembled PC is much more versatile than a console (such as being able to run other programs like video editors and so on), it has more value for money. So overall, choosing to play video games on a PC seems like the best choice. Or so do the fans of the gaming laptop vs. desktop debate say.
Now then, there is yet another choice to make. Which is a better machine in the question, a gaming laptop vs. desktop?
Deciding between a gaming laptop vs. desktop is a very valid concern. Both have pros and cons that should not be so quickly dismissed. And choosing between one or the other will significantly depend on your preferences and tastes when it comes to gaming.
But before you decide, you must first understand what a gaming laptop is, what a gaming desktop is, and what their similarities and differences are.
What Are Gaming Laptops?
Imagine the power of a desktop but packed inside a portable shell. That, in essence, is what a laptop is all about. Now crank that power up to eleven and beyond, and that is what a gaming laptop is. Laptops, just like the desktop PC, have evolved from merely being office machines to become what is now a multi-billion dollar industry that includes video gaming. Gaming laptops are capable of playing games just like any gaming console or desktop, but with one very striking feature: portability.
But how did the gaming laptop come to be? To understand that, we must first look back at how the basic laptop was born.
The first “laptop” was the portable microcomputer or the “Portal” from 1980. It was by R2E Micral CCMC, a French company, to do payroll and accounting. However, what is considered to be the first mobile computer is the Osborne 1. It has elements very recognizable for laptops even up to this day: a “foldable” shell that had five ¼ floppy diskette drives, a small screen, and a keyboard. While this machine was a failure due to its weight and cost, it set in motion an industry that would produce the gaming laptops we know today.
The road that the laptop would take to reach modern times wouldn’t be easy, however. Countless portable machines developed, and most of them failed. However, each model produced by the companies that stuck it out would push the envelope further and further. Coincidentally, these companies, like Dell, Toshiba, IBM, HP, Compaq, and so on, would become some of the leading brands when it comes to modern laptops.
By the late 80s, technology has caught up with the idea of a portable computer. Batteries improved, screens became larger and more power-efficient, and electronics became smaller and smaller. The stage came for the emergence of the first beneficial and efficient laptops, like the IBM ThinkPad, the Macintosh Powerbook, the Compaq LTE, and more. These granddaddies of the laptop industry would pave the way for the gaming laptops we all know today.
Fast-forward to 2019, and what was thought to be clunky machines that would never see the light of day are now the most potent machines when it comes to portable video gaming. Brands like Asus ROG, Alienware, Razer, MSI, Lenovo, and HP are at the tip of the spear when it comes to gaming laptops, and are regularly producing machines that can rival even the most powerful desktops. The gaming laptop vs. desktop battle is truly in full swing.
Most of these brands’ models are larger, heavier, and more costly than a regular laptop. However, what you are paying for is the capability to play modern triple-A games, at high or ultra settings, wherever you go. Perhaps you’d want to work in a cafe but then have the capability to have a gaming break or two now and then. Or maybe you and your friends love hanging out together and gaming as a group. Whatever the case, the portability and power of a gaming laptop vs. desktop are undeniable and are the main reasons why you will want to get One.
A gaming laptop will have the most potent GPU or graphics processing unit that can come installed in a portable system. It will also contain more than enough RAM to run any game with little to no lag or delay. A solid-state drive or SSD will also be present and allows for fast access to programs and games. It also removes any risk of a regular hard drive with moving parts to be damaged in the event of sudden movement while in operation. A powerful processor and cutting-edge motherboard will tie it all together. Yet, what is a gaming laptop without a fantastic display? So a gaming laptop will have a high-resolution capable screen. All that power contained in a portable chassis is bound to produce a lot of heat, so the best gaming laptops will also have large and powerful fans to keep the unit cool. And finally, a gaming laptop will also look the part and have an aesthetically pleasing design. Whether it is loud and bright to announce to the world what kind of machine it is, or a sleek design that is entirely above a regular looking laptop, a gaming laptop will look the part.
But can a gaming laptop vs. desktop question be answered?
What is a gaming desktop?
In essence, a gaming desktop is a personal computer that is for video gaming. Coincidentally, much of the hardware necessary to run video games at maximum settings are also the hardware one will need to run other work programs, such as video and photo editors, 3D modelers, and so on. So while a gaming desktop is for games, should it be necessary, it can quickly become a work desktop as well.
But were desktops always made for gaming?
The first personal computers, while not primarily designed for video games, quickly had a library of titles as soon as possible. For example, the PDP-1 or the Programmed Data Processor-1, made in 1959, is credited as the computer that created the hacker culture. As soon as possible, the video game “Spacewar!” immediately followed suit. But the widespread creation of games for personal computers in the 60s, 70s, and 80s would mostly come in the form of ports of games made for popular consoles at the time. It wasn’t until the video game crash of 1983 that affected console companies that gave the opening the PC needed. The crash of consoles like the Atari2600 saw the rise of personal computers. And with it, companies such as Electronic Arts, Blizzard, and many other companies we still know today, came and started focusing on the personal computer as a video game platform.
It was made possible due to the IBM Personal Computer, or PC platform. It is such an iconic platform that to this day, we still refer to desktop gaming as PC gaming. And it is considered a platform on its own, alongside consoles such as Playstation 4, Xbox One, and the Nintendo Switch. But how did the IBM Personal Computer have such a huge effect?
Before the rise of desktop gaming, most computers were used for corporate tasks. Also, the IBM PC was costly. However, by the mid-80s, the IBM PC platform was cloned by different companies. These clones were cheaper and more affordable, and this caused the real IBM PC also to lower its cost. And with the proliferation of the IBM PC platform, more and more companies created products, as well as games, for the machines. By the time the 80s was drawing to a close, DOS, or disk operating system, personal computers were in almost every home. And despite the Nintendo Entertainment System nearly killing the PC gaming industry, it survived.
Bit by bit, the hardware for the standard desktop computer improved, with better graphics, higher resolution displays, and the increasing use of the computer mouse as part of the gaming experience. The computer mouse proved to be an essential peripheral, giving unprecedented control that a typical console controller could not.
But when the Microsoft Windows operating system came into being in the mid-90s, the PC gaming industry changed for the better and was set to overtake the console industry fully. With this came the simplification of device drivers and memory management, as well as the arrival of hardware-accelerated 3D graphics. Easy to assemble parts, as well as different configurations, allowed the typical household PC to be modified, especially for gaming, which became the start of what we now know as gaming desktops today.
These days, gaming desktops have processing and graphics power that consoles can only dream of. A gaming desktop can quickly overtake a next-generation console, and whatever specs come with it. And if you know where to look, it will end up being much cheaper as well.
Just like a gaming laptop, a gaming desktop will have the most powerful graphics processing unit possible for the budget and more than enough RAM to run the games with little to no lag. It will also have a solid-state drive to allow for faster access to the game, and the most modern motherboard possible to connect everything. Aesthetically, a gaming desktop will also have an attractive looking chassis, which will feature LED lights, perhaps a clear window, but perhaps most importantly, a proper cooling system. Combine all of these with state-of-the-art audio systems or a gaming headset, and a large monitor, a Smart TV, or a projector for a display, and it is truly a gaming desktop setup.
Either a gaming laptop vs. desktop works for proper gaming. But which one should you choose? Both options have tons of pros and advantages, but they are not perfect and also have cons and disadvantages. Let’s take a look.
Pros and Cons of Gaming Laptops
- Pro: Portability – This is perhaps the most glaring pro of a gaming laptop. If you’re the type of gamer who wants to game anytime, anyplace, then a gaming laptop works for you. Imagine being able to play your favorite triple-A first-person shooter game in a Starbucks while enjoying your favorite cup of coffee and waiting for your friends. Or going on a long trip away from home, and being able to play in the backseat of the car. The gaming laptop’s portability is undeniable and is what sets it apart from a gaming desktop.
And because a gaming laptop is also a powerful workhorse for other kinds of programs, it also provides portability for other tasks as well. If you are both a gamer and a graphic designer, a gaming laptop allows you to do both with ease anytime, anywhere. Easily switch from doing work for your day job to playing your favorite video game while out and about without having to skip a beat. The possibilities are endless.
- Con: Weight and Bulk – Even if gaming laptops are portable, many high-end variants are a lot bigger and heavier than their regular laptop counterparts. Because even though decades have seen electronics shrink down to minuscule sizes, a lot of hardware is still needed to run games at optimal levels. Not only that, gaming laptops will require extra equipment to keep the machine running properly, such as fans (we’ll get to this part later) and to give a proper gaming experience, such as larger screens and excellent speakers.
All of these elements add weight and make a gaming laptop bigger. Almost always, it is a given that the stronger the gaming laptop is, the bigger and heavier it gets. It isn’t still the case, but for many brands and models, it is.
So if you’re planning on getting a gaming laptop, be prepared to lug around a machine that will give you a workout as you do so.
- Pro: Buy and Play – Unlike a gaming desktop, wherein a bit of research still needs to be done to get the right parts and assemble them in a way that will play the games you want, a gaming laptop is ready out of the box. When you get a gaming laptop, similar to a console, there is very little you need to do to play. The laptop manufacturer has done all the work for you.
Not only that, depending on the make and model of the gaming laptop, you are guaranteed to have hardware designed for gaming. There’s no possibility of buying, for example, a GPU with specs that look good on paper but is not suited for high-end gaming. The hardware configuration of a gaming laptop is already going to synergize well and will provide the proper gaming experience you are looking for.
- Con: Lack of Upgradability and Minimal Customizability – While most gaming laptops can improve with additional peripherals and some upgrades (like external GPU support) for the most part, they are stuck with whatever hardware they come shipped. A good gaming laptop will have a long lifespan when it comes to being at the forefront of the gaming world’s technical requirements. But once a game generation comes along that requires better hardware, the gaming laptop won’t be able to run it at maximum settings anymore.
It isn’t to say that gaming laptops cannot be “upgraded.” Some makes and models can. You can add more RAM or upgrade the hard drive, and so on. But as far as totally changing the internal hardware like installing a better internal GPU, it is nearly impossible. Sure, someone with more technical know-how can do it, but at the cost of either voiding the warranty, breaking the machine, or both.
So if you’re looking to always have the best hardware for gaming possible, better be prepared to regularly replace your gaming laptop as a whole, perhaps every four or five years.
- Pro: Performance – Despite the minimal upgradability options, a gaming laptop’s performance will rival, if not exceed, a typical gaming desktop of the same generation. As mentioned earlier, a gaming laptop’s hardware is customized for proper gaming. But beyond that, an appropriate laptop of gaming manufacturer will make sure that the performance of the laptop as a whole will be topnotch. The hardware will work together, in-sync with one another to deliver a high-quality gaming experience.
- Con: Battery-life and Heat – All that performance capabilities can suck the gaming laptop’s battery life dry very fast. At first glance, the average five-hour battery life when gaming isn’t so bad. And to be honest, it’s not. However, considering that this ordinary battery life will vary depending on the hardware usage of the time, and all of a sudden, playing on battery power might not be so ideal. Some gaming laptops are so powerful that you cannot maximize its full potential if you only run it on battery power. The extra features will require the laptop to be plugged in. And in some cases, a gaming laptop will need not one, but two power adapters to fully utilize the hardware installed.
With lots of power and performance comes to energy usage. And with lots of energy usage comes to heat. This heat has to disperse somewhere, or else it will cause performance drops or even damage the hardware over time. So most gaming laptops will come installed with large, powerful, and sometimes very noisy fans to vent out the heat. In many cases, the temperature will emanate out of the laptop itself, most specifically out of the keyboard. It causes many gaming laptop users to buy external keyboards to play, which kind of defeats the purpose of the gaming laptop’s compact, portable perk.
Because the hardware is so close to one another in a laptop chassis, the temperature will rise fast. It is why when getting a gaming laptop, the cooling system is just as important, if not more so than the power and performance capabilities of the machine.
- Pro and Con: Price – Depending on who you ask, how you view gaming, and if you fully utilize your gaming laptop, the price will either be a pro or a con. If you are indeed a mobile person who travels a lot or is in college and moves from one building to another before going to the dorm or just someone who loves doing work outside the house, then a gaming laptop is worth the price. However, if you find yourself mostly preferring to game at home, or already have a laptop but is just there in your room or home office, then you’re not utilizing the gaming laptop fully.
You can also justify leaving the gaming laptop at home if space is an issue. If you live in an apartment and cannot afford to have space for a desktop setup, then a gaming laptop will be worth its money. Otherwise, perhaps a gaming desktop is a better option.
Also, most gaming laptops will be more costly than their desktop counterparts with similar or even better specs and hardware. So to get the most out of the gaming laptop’s price, you should be able to fully utilize the pros of the gaming laptop that the gaming desktop does not have.
Pros and Cons of Gaming Desktops
- Pro: Unparalleled Customizability and Upgradability – Perhaps the biggest pro a gaming desktop will have over not just a gaming laptop, but also a gaming console, is its upgradability and customizability. Even branded desktop systems can be taken apart and upgraded as the years go by, and be able to keep up with the times and the hardware requirements of modern games.
Doing so is very simple, as well. Need more RAM? Perhaps you want a better GPU? Want to add more storage with additional hard drives or SSDs? Just open up the desktop chassis, find the right slots, install the hardware you wish to add, and you’re good to go. Some hardware such as GPUs will need some drivers or other programs installed, but that is nearly effortless. It’s just as simple as double-clicking an icon and waiting for the process to finish.
Not only that, you can easily mix and match hardware (as long as they are compatible with the system you are using) to maximize your machine’s capabilities. It ensures that your games will run with the best possible settings for maximum gaming enjoyment.
- Con: Can Be Confusing To Assemble – The nearly limitless possible configurations you can put inside a desktop is not always a good thing. It is because it can be very confusing to pick and choose what kind of hardware to install. It can be very tempting to get the most expensive hardware or the ones with the highest numbers, only to realize they are not compatible with one another or your existing motherboard.
It is not a difficult task to read up and learn what pieces of hardware you should get, but to the uninitiated, it can take some time to understand fully. So if you’re looking to buy a machine so you can immediately play, you can either get a pre-assembled gaming desktop or a gaming laptop instead of assembling one yourself.
- Pro: Price – A gaming desktop will always be much more cost-effective than a gaming laptop if it’s only about gaming and performance. For the same amount of money as a decent gaming laptop, you can acquire a powerful gaming desktop with some cash to spare for extras. In some cases, the price difference is minimal, but this is only when a gaming desktop is from a known brand that has pre-assembled it for you.
If you can buy the parts separately, from chassis to RAM and everything in between, you can save up a lot of money for the performance capabilities you are looking for.
Think of it as buying a dish in a fancy restaurant. Often, a meal that will cost big bucks can be made by you for a much lower price. You need to know what ingredients to use, how to put it all together, and make an effort to cook it. You get the end product, feel good that you made it, and actually saved money!
- Con: Quality Control – Assembling a gaming desktop by yourself can be a fulfilling experience, but you run the risk of doing it wrong or mishandling the parts during construction. Putting too much thermal paste, or turning a screw too tightly can result in disaster. As well, unless all the pieces you use are from trusted or known brands, it can be easy to create a gaming desktop that is good on paper but is a low-tier assembly in practice.
Quality control will then come from a couple of other sources, like reading up on the right material, taking great care in the assembly, and knowing how things work. When buying a gaming laptop or a pre-assembled gaming desktop, the extra cost you will pay is not just from the fact that you won’t be doing the assembly yourself. It is also from the fact that when assembled, quality control is done to ensure that the end product not just works as intended, but works well.
- Pro: Performance – Most gaming laptops will have powerful hardware, but for a price. For someone looking to dedicate their budget to video gaming, no gaming laptop will hold a candle to a gaming desktop that contains the best hardware available at the time, regardless if it costs the same or even less. Not only that, the performance comes without the disadvantages the gaming laptop has, like how to vent excess heat, noise, and power limitations. You can keep gaming for hours on end, without worrying the gaming desktop will suddenly run out of juice or just shut down from overheating. If the gaming desktop is plugged in an Uninterrupted Power Supply, even a power outage will give enough time to shut the machine down and save your game data properly.
And because it is much easier to install and upgrade the best hardware, you can ensure maximum performance and max settings all the time when playing your games. Want a bigger screen? Then use a Smart TV or a gaming projector. Want loud sounds? Add on a booming surround sound system. A gaming desktop will be able to handle it all quickly.
- Con: Space requirements, immobility – The more massive and more high performance your desktop setup is, the harder it will be to move around, if at all. It is not the choice for someone who travels around a lot, or if you have minimal space in your home or apartment.
Depending on your display, whether it is a typical PC monitor or a TV, you will need a large desk. The PC chassis also takes up a lot of space. It might do a better job of keeping your internals cool, unlike a gaming laptop, but that comes at the cost of space. Add to that your speaker system, your keyboard, mouse, gamepad, and other gaming peripherals, and you can quickly render a typical table unusable for anything else.
And then, of course, comes the wiring. Another disadvantage of a gaming desktop is the tangle of wires you will inevitably have to deal with. Have some pets around? Well, better, make sure those wires are safe and out of reach. And if you’re doing some redecorating, then you better know beforehand where and how you want to set up your gaming desktop, because it isn’t as easy as simply closing the lid, and moving the machine from one desk to another.
So how can you decide between a gaming laptop vs. desktop? As mentioned, it will depend much on what your personal preferences are. One pivotal point in decision making is whether or not you will want to play anytime, anywhere, or if you’re keeping your gaming time at home. Deciding this alone will make the other points nearly moot.
If you can go either way, then definitely another thing to consider is the budget. For a lower budget, you’ll do better with assembling your gaming desktop. If you can afford to spend a bit more, a gaming laptop takes away all the effort to figure assembly out and has the added perk of being portable.
Space is also an issue for the gaming laptop vs. desktop debate. You may not have the right budget for a gaming laptop, but whatever money you might save could be for nothing if you have to buy a new desk and other peripherals to set up a gaming desktop.
But in the end, it all boils down to video games. Whatever option will make you enjoy your favorite video games is the correct choice. Portable gaming or power gaming in your room, as long as you’re enjoying your video games, you’re all set!