Don't even bother with graphics cards, just splurge on a gaming laptop instead

person using a gaming laptop
(Image credit: Marti Bug Catcher / Shutterstock)

We've followed the graphics card shortage for over a year now at TechRadar, and we're just as disgusted as anyone at the state of the market. 

It's understandable that demand for the best graphics cards is naturally going to be high, but when even last-gen and even last-last-gen graphics cards are selling for a sharp premium over their MSRP, the market is simply broken. And there's no easy or quick fix.

Considering that Nvidia Lovelace and AMD RDNA 3 will soon arrive, it's time we faced up to a hard truth: Nvidia Ampere and AMD RDNA 2 might just be a lost generation of graphics cards.

There's something liberating in acknowledging that though, and even as plenty of us want to play the best PC games on the best hardware available, I think it's high time we shift our emphasis from best to available.

The graphics card shortage is real, but gaming laptops are easy to find

Maybe it's because gaming laptops make terrible Ethereum mining rigs or the delicate maximization formulas used by miners to squeeze the most profit out of a GPU cut against laptops with powerful GPUs, but whatever the reason, the best gaming laptops have been pretty much unscathed by supply shortages.

That's not to say they don't exist – they do – but they are much more run-of-the-mill supply chain hiccups that everything from toilet paper to auto parts have been suffering from in recent months.

It was telling that during last year's Black Friday weekend you couldn't find graphics cards at any price, but the best RTX 3080 laptops were both cheap and in stock.

At the end of the day, if you are upgrading your gaming rig from an older graphics card like the Nvidia GTX 1060, you're going to see a huge performance boost just with an RTX 3050 gaming laptop, much less an RTX 3080 laptop.

And – we really can't emphasize this enough – you can actually buy one right now. Without having to submit to the RNG of the NewEgg Shuffle or wait for hours in online queues. 

Acer Nitro 5

This gaming laptop costs less than $1,000, and it will do just fine for years to come. (Image credit: Acer)

Honestly, you're not missing out on that much by going with a gaming laptop

I've tested and reviewed many different computers in my time with TechRadar, and I'll be honest, an RTX 3090 at peak performance is a thing to behold, but so is a Delacroix in the Louvre, and not everybody is meant to pick one up at auction and hang in their own private gallery.

My all-time favorite gaming PC has been a mid-range gaming laptop with an RTX 3070 that you could have purchased on sale over Christmas for about $1,000. With Nvidia DLSS turned on, I was able to comfortably play Icarus at 60 FPS with high, but not max, settings, and I barely noticed the difference.

What I did notice was the crisp, speedy 1440p display running at 165Hz, something that would have cost me an extra $400 as an external gaming monitor. That display was more than enough to keep me engaged, even though it was just a 15.6-inch screen, and I honestly felt relieved when I was able to clear a bulky space-hogging gaming monitor off my desk.

And this is coming from someone who's played Cyberpunk 2077 for 40-plus hours at 4K@60 with an RTX 3090 review unit. Was it gorgeous? Sure. Was it worth the $7,000 in parts? Not when I could get more or less the same experience for $1,199 and be able to take it with me when I went to visit family out of state.

For some, nothing can replace the experience of playing on the best hardware, and I wish them all the luck in the world. They are going to need it, given the state of the market.

For the rest of us, there really is no other way to say it: a good gaming laptop, not even the best one out there, is probably more than you're going to really need for the next five years. It's okay to admit that. Embrace it, and actually get back to enjoying the experience of gaming rather than wishing you could crank up the texture detail or shadows one level higher. 

Gigabyte Aorus 17G

(Image credit: Future)

Sometimes moving on means letting go

I definitely get it that PC builds are a sacred thing for a lot of gamers out there. Fine-tuning your rig to squeeze the best possible performance from overclocked hardware is often the end goal, while gaming is pretty much a secondary concern.

I really have nothing to offer if you're that person. TechRadar's own computer queen Jackie Thomas is that person as well, and the RTX 3050 broke her heart once she realized that building a budget PC gaming rig like we've always been able to do is now all but impossible.

The days of a $500/£500/AU$800 custom-built gaming PC are gone, especially now that consoles are both competitive in price and greatly outperform a similarly priced PC.

They have almost all of the same games on them as you'll find on Steam, and almost all AAA games are now optimized for consoles rather than PCs, so games like Elden Ring actually play better on consoles.

PCs still have one major advantage that no console, not even the Steam Deck, can match though: they are working computers that can do a lot of other things other than play games, and their hardware offers some perks that you still can't get elsewhere.

By that, I'm talking about overclocking and AI-processing in the form of DLSS and FSR. This super sampling tech will eventually make its way to consoles, but for now, you can still make an RTX 3050 perform like an RTX 3060 Ti with the right settings tweaks, and there are a few titles that remain PC exclusives.

The best thing about it is you can get all of it in a gaming laptop and even treat yourself to some features you might not have enjoyed before, like a high-refresh display or splurge on RAM. 

I can tell you from personal experience that even with an RTX 3080 graphics card, you're still going to need DLSS if you want 4K ray tracing for a lot of games, but you can get the same performance out of an RTX 3070 mobile at 1440p, and you can't even tell the difference. 

Folks, high-end graphics cards simply aren't worth the trouble anymore, and it's about time we all admit that and set ourselves free.

John Loeffler
Components Editor

John (He/Him) is the Components Editor here at TechRadar and he is also a programmer, gamer, activist, and Brooklyn College alum currently living in Brooklyn, NY. 

Named by the CTA as a CES 2020 Media Trailblazer for his science and technology reporting, John specializes in all areas of computer science, including industry news, hardware reviews, PC gaming, as well as general science writing and the social impact of the tech industry.

You can find him online on Threads @johnloeffler.

Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3 (just like everyone else).