Gaming laptops don’t come cheap. That’s the usual refrain and it’s almost always true. Except maybe, just maybe, on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The best gaming laptops are pricey because gaming demands serious performance from pretty much every major component, from the CPU to the graphics chip and the laptop’s screen.
Net result? Lots of expensive components squeezed into a small and expensively engineered box. Thank goodness, then, for Black Friday, a chance to grab one of these marvels of modern computing at a cut-down price.
So, here’s our guide to choosing a great gaming laptop and where to grab one from this Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Getting the graphics
If there’s a single component that you need to get right on any gaming laptop, it’s the graphics chip or GPU. You can have the fastest CPU known to man, but if it’s paired with a weak graphics chip, you’re toast.
As ever, true gaming performance is only on offer from dedicated graphics chips from Nvidia and AMD. Of Nvidia’s current GPU line up, the GeForce GTX 1650 is the bare minimum you need for proper gaming.
However, we’d view the 1660 and 1660 Ti as more realistic entry points. Both will give a great gaming experience paired with a 1080p screen.
For higher resolution screens and if you want to game at really high refresh rates of 120Hz and beyond, you’ll need to step up to the Nvidia RTX 2060, 2070 and 2080 GPUs.
Speaking of higher refresh rates, do make sure you have realistic expectations. High refresh rate panels are becoming increasingly common. But driving them makes huge demands of graphics chips and even the most powerful mobile GPUs struggle to hit triple-digit refresh in the most demanding games.
For that reason, if you can secure a laptop with support for adaptive refresh, such as Nvidia’s G-Sync tech, that’s arguably of more real-world value in terms of ensuring smooth gaming as high refresh rates.
As for the AMD alternative to all that Nvidia gaming hardware, AMD’s mobile graphics offerings are going through a relative hiatus. There are very few gaming laptops currently available with AMD graphics. We expect that to change in 2020, but this Black Friday’s best gaming laptop deals will be dominated by Nvidia graphics hardware.
Choose the right CPU
That won’t be entirely true on the CPU side. There are several good value gaming laptops powered by AMD Ryzen processors, such as the Asus ROG Zephyrus G.
All AMD Ryzen mobile chips are currently quad-core models. They offer an attractive bang-for-buck proposition, even if Intel CPUs remain the highest performing laptop chips for gaming. Remember, AMD’s latest Zen 2 architecture as found in the Ryzen 3000 series desktop CPUs has yet find its way into AMD mobile processors.
Of Intel’s mobile CPUs, any full-performance model, as opposed to low and ultra-low voltage ‘U’ and ‘Y’ series chips, with at least four cores will give good gaming performance.
Six-core models will give some benefit in certain games, but given the choice we’d favour spending more of any given budget on the graphics chip than Intel’s pricey CPUs.
Before we entirely square away the CPU and GPU, remember they need careful pairing with the gaming laptop’s screen. It’s no good expecting, for instance, a relatively lowly GeForce GTX 1650 to drive a 4K screen smoothly.
It’s also arguably something of a waste to drive a mere 1080p LCD with Nvidia’s mighty GeForce RTX 2080. The latter assertion is somewhat open to debate, and many high-end laptops do indeed pair 1080p with Nvidia’s top graphics solution with a view to achieving very high frame rates. But it’s certainly something to think about.
Pick your storage and connectivity
Next up is storage. A fast M.2 SSD for speedy game loads is obviously desirable. However, given the size of many modern games, it’s somewhat unrealistic to expect to store the entirety of a really big game library on the SSD of a gaming laptop.
Perhaps better, in value terms, is to aim for a minimum 512GB drive and store less frequently used titles on an external drive. Regards the latter, it’s just one of several reasons why a USB-C port is desirable for fast data transfers to and from an external drive.
The other reasons involve broader connectivity. USB-C is fast becoming the interface of choice for connecting high performance peripherals including gaming monitors.
It also helps to keep desk clutter at a minimum by consolidating both data and video into a single connection. That said, DisplayPort and HDMI (so long as the latter is in 2.0 spec) are widely used and very capable display interfaces.
Which form factor should you choose?
Form factor is another critical question. Gaming laptops up to 15.6 inches can remain relatively portable. Just remember that the thinner and lighter you go, the more likely performance is going to be constrained by thermals. Check out our pick of the best 15-inch laptops to help you decide.
That’s particularly true now that Nvidia has given laptop makers more scope to reign in clockspeeds with its Max-Q mobile GPu variants. Actual clockspeeds and so performance can vary considerably from one laptop model to the next, even when the graphics chip is ostensibly the same.
Larger 17-inch models invariably have better thermals and so performance. The downside is significantly reduced portability. You pays your money and you takes your choice. Visit our best 17-inch laptops page for more advice.
As for battery life, the good news is that many gaming laptops actually no sport big batteries and decent longevity away from the mains. Keep your eyes peeled for larger battery capacity options on any given laptop model if battery life is a major concern.
Set a budget
While we’re on the subject of paying money and taking choices, how much do these mobile power houses cost?
For this Black Friday, we’re expecting truly gaming capable laptops with Nvidia 1650 chips to kick off around $500/£500 minimum with 1660 models starting in the vicinity of $700/£700 and up. Really powerful rigs will be well into four figures, even on Black Friday.
To find those deals, there’s no better venue than here on TechRadar. We’ll have a veritable army of experts trawling the web for the very best deals, both leading up to Black Friday and on the day, and you’ll find the deals presented in neatly categorised and easy to scan lists. So, it’s a bit of a no brainer to start your search with our best Black Friday laptop deals guide.
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