How to set up your new gaming laptop for peak performance

Image credit: Canva (Image credit: Canva)

You spotted one of the best Black Friday deals for a gaming laptop, then made that fateful purchase. When it finally comes in the mail and you remove all the packaging, it’s tempting to start it up, install your preferred PC gaming storefront, and go at it. But that’s a rookie mistake that will negatively affect your gaming performance.

However, that’s where we come in. If you have one of the best gaming laptops that you managed to nab through one of the many great discounts, you should be taking advantage of what its specs have to offer by making sure it’s appropriately configured. And once you do, you’ll notice a huge difference in gaming performance versus just using the laptop out of the box.

Though this guide works best for those with brand new Windows 11-based gaming laptops to maximize their performance – ideally paired with the best gaming keyboard and best gaming mice – if you have an older laptop that needs fine tuning then these tips will work just as well for you.

Update your graphics drivers

Graphics card

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Once you boot up your new purchase, the first step you need to take before you do anything else (yes that includes installing your preferred internet browser) is to install graphics drivers for the GPU type that you have in your laptop. You should be automatically checking for any updates to install in the first place since this will also impact general performance, but having the right graphics drivers properly installed and updated will ensure that you get the most out of your best graphics cards.

If you have an Nvidia GPU, then there are several options, the first being downloading the GeForce Experience tool, and then updating straight from there. You can also go to the company’s official website and download the drivers from there directly, or download the Nvidia Control Panel from Microsoft’s official website and install the drivers. There’s also the Windows Device Manager method, which involves you pressing the Windows + X keys, clicking on Device Manager or hitting the M key, selecting Display adapters from the menu, then right-clicking on your GPU and clicking Update driver.

If you have an AMD GPU, there are a couple of ways to go about this. The first and easiest option is to go to the AMD Drivers + Download Center, download, and then run the Radeon software, which will automatically detect whether you have the proper drivers and download them if you need them. You can also manually do this by using the AMD Product Selector to determine your GPU, and then download the correct drivers. 

Set everything to performance mode

Now that your drivers are properly installed and set, and after any other general updates for your laptop have been completed, the next step is to go to the Setting and Control panel menus and start optimizing your machine’s performance. You’ll mainly be doing this by adjusting the battery and display options to always stay on, as well as switching over the performance mode. These may seem like inconsequential changes, but they can make a huge difference to your gaming sessions over time.

First, hit the Windows menu and go to Settings. Go to System, and then Power. Change the Power mode to Best performance, which ensures that your laptop’s power settings will always be maxed out during gaming. From the same menu, also change Screen and sleep options to Never, which is a good way to prevent your laptop from going into sleep mode if you leave it idle, which otherwise would also affect performance. As an extra tip, go back to System, then Display, then Advanced display, and make sure that the refresh rate is at the highest amount possible, which is especially important for fast-paced games like first-person shooters.

The next step is to go to Control Panel, Hardware and Sound, Power Options, Edit Plan Settings, and then Change advanced power settings. From there, go to Hard disk, and under the Turn off hard disk after option, for plugged in choose Never. Go to Display and then Turn off Display after and for plugged in choose Never. Finally, go to Sleep, and under the Sleep after option select Never for Plugged in.

We've got one little bit of advice to add here: setting up your laptop like this will make the fans work overtime, so keep an eye on your system temperatures and give your system a break if it's getting too hot. If you're using an older laptop (or just one with poor thermal performance), consider investing in the best laptop cooling pad or you can prop up your laptop using a book if you don't have the extra cash to spend.

Keep the laptop on AC power

Corsair Voyager a1600 laptop on a wooden desk.

(Image credit: Future)

After all this, you may wonder why we specified ‘plugged in’ for these battery and display options above. The main reason is that if you have a gaming laptop, it might be tempting to take advantage of its portability and try to game using only its battery power. However, this is absolutely the wrong way to think of it.

What the portability of gaming laptops actually means is that, unlike a bulky gaming PC that’s stuck in a single area at all times, you can take your laptop anywhere then set it up once you arrive at your destination. But when you are actually gaming? Never unplug your laptop. 

The main reason for this is that the vast majority of gaming laptops have awful battery lives that will last you just a few hours, which severely limits your gaming sessions. Another essential reason to also not unplug your laptop is that it performs at its best when getting a constant supply of power. Most performance settings are meant for plugged-in mode and you lose a lot of that performance when your laptop is forced to expend its own resources to keep itself alive, and yes even if you set it to not do that in the Settings and Control Panel, it will still throttle itself to a point.

So there you go: some simple but very effective tips to optimize your gaming session. All you need to do now is decide what to play. Allow us to point you in the direction of our best PC games guide, where you're sure to find some fine options. Enjoy.

Allisa James
Computing Staff Writer

Named by the CTA as a CES 2023 Media Trailblazer, Allisa is a Computing Staff Writer who covers breaking news and rumors in the computing industry, as well as reviews, hands-on previews, featured articles, and the latest deals and trends. In her spare time you can find her chatting it up on her two podcasts, Megaten Marathon and Combo Chain, as well as playing any JRPGs she can get her hands on.