It doesn’t always have to be a bulky desktop PC to play current games in high quality: The new generation of compact notebooks has enough power to bring even demanding titles to the display smoothly in high resolution and realistic level of detail. Because when it comes to the processor (CPU), graphics unit (GPU), screen resolution and memory equipment, mobile PCs largely rely on components that are also used in “large” computers. These include powerful CPUs such as Intel Core i9 or AMD Razer 9 and RTX GPUs from the 20xx and 30xx series from Nvidia.
Power dwarfs for gaming, work and creativity
The exquisite hardware components in connection with high-resolution displays and extensive storage facilities not only ensure more fun while playing, but also make demanding office and creative software really steamy, so that a gaming notebook can serve as an almost fully-fledged replacement for a desktop PC can. With a docking station or a monitor connected via HDMI or DisplayPort as well as an external mouse and keyboard, a gaming notebook cuts a fine figure on the desk and enables ergonomic gaming and working.
Processor: Which CPU is the right one?
The processor equipment is decisive for the overall performance of a gaming laptop. Therefore, the minimum requirement for occasional gaming and office jobs are four or eight-core CPUs such as Intel Core i5 or an AMD Ryzen 5. Core i7 or Ryzen 7 would be better. For high system performance requirements, top CPUs such as Intel Core should be used i9 or AMD Ryzen 9. We explain more about the difference between AMD and Intel in the guide Which AMD Ryzen is the best choice?
Graphics unit: high-performance pixel pushers
In the field of mobile GPUs, Nvidia models have the edge, so that AMD chips play a subordinate role. The general rule is: never use a system with a graphics solution (“iGPU”) integrated into the CPU, but always rely on dedicated graphics chips. Entry-level systems get along with the previous generation GTX 1650 Ti with 4 GB of video memory (VRAM), whereby frame rates above 50 fps (frames per second, frames per second) are not to be expected. The Nvidia chips from the MX series are less suitable for serious gaming.
Ambitious gamers therefore choose the current models of the RTX series with 6 to 12 GB VRAM. In this segment, the RTX 2060, 2070 and 2080 meet medium requirements, while high-end systems with RTX 3060, 3070 and 3080 ensure frame rates of well over 50 fps even with high display resolutions and maximum details. When choosing the GPU, you should also pay attention to the TPD information.
What does TPD mean?
In the case of mobile CPUs and GPUs, the abbreviation TPD is often used, followed by a power rating in watts. The “Thermal Design Power” describes the maximum power loss of the respective component and the required cooling systems that prevent the system from overheating.
Due to the compact design of a notebook, a lot of waste heat has to be led outside, which can push the efficiency of the cooling system to its limits. This is why mobile chips are usually throttled in their power consumption. For example, while an RTX 3080 for desktop use can draw up to 320 watts from the power supply, the mobile versions of the same graphics unit are throttled to 80 to 150 watts, which is indicated in the form of the TPD value. This is accompanied by corresponding performance losses compared to pure desktop systems with a lot of space and complex cooling.
Storage equipment: RAM and mass storage
8 GB of RAM are the minimum equipment for a decent gaming notebook. But more RAM would be better. 16 or 32 GB already shorten reload cycles and generally have a positive effect on the overall performance – even when working with the notebook when several apps are open at the same time and / or large image or video files are being processed.
Most gaming notebooks use slim M.2 NVMe bars as mass storage devices, which usually offer between 512 GB and 1 TB of storage space. In any case, we recommend choosing the larger version, as 512 GB are quickly used up by the operating system, a handful of installed games and productivity apps. We explain more on the subject in the guide NVMe will be cheap: simply retrofit fast storage and move Windows for free.
Display: crisp and high-resolution
The display is a decisive purchase criterion, as it not only influences the display quality, but also the performance and dimensions of the mobile PC. Full HD LCDs with 1,920 x 1,080 pixels represent the entry-level class, but due to the smaller number of pixels compared to high-resolution panels, they can also handle weaker graphics chips.
In the middle and upper class, WQHD displays with 2,560 x 1,440 pixels have prevailed, which represent a good compromise between the low Full HD and the resource-intensive 4k resolution. The maximum refresh rate of the display should be between 100 and 160 Hz in order to be able to display fast movements in graphics without delay or flicker. Top models even manage 320 Hz in full HD mode.
Ports: Connection wanted
A practical gaming notebook is equipped with at least two USB-C interfaces and a USB-A port for input devices. Ideally, the USB-C interfaces are compatible with the Thunderbolt standard, which enables a monitor to be connected via DisplayPort or a VR headset. Alternatively, external monitors or projectors can be operated via an HDMI 2.0 interface. Internally, Bluetooth 4.x or 5.x and WiFi-6 are standard for high-quality notebooks. Headphone and microphone jacks allow a headset to be connected. In our guide to gaming headsets from 10 to 350 euros, we show what is important when it comes to gaming headphones.
Dimensions, weight and battery
The dimensions of a gaming notebook always depend on the display – a larger screen diagonal results in a more spacious housing. Most models are available in 15.6, 16.0 and 17.3 inch diagonals. A larger display not only ensures a more intense gaming experience, but also provides more space for productivity software.
The weight ranges from 1.5 kg for entry-level models to 3.0 kg for high-end notebooks with complex cooling systems. The battery plays a rather subordinate role in a gaming notebook, as the full system performance is only provided when connected to the mains – therefore the power supply should always be plugged in when playing games or using demanding software.
Recommended gaming notebooks from all price ranges
From around 750 euros there are notebooks that are suitable for gaming – such as this HP Pavilion 15. With an Intel Core i5, Nvidia Geforce GTX 1650 TI, 8 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD and full HD display with 15.6 inches, it is ideal for a quick game in between in low to medium detail level.
In the mid-range price range from 1,500 euros, RTX graphics cards and fast eight-core processors are a must. A typical representative of this class is ASUS ROG STRIX G713QM-HX211T with Ryzen 9 CPU, RTX 3060 GPU, 16 GByte RAM and 1 TByte SSD. Most current games can thus be enjoyed in a high level of detail.
The upper class of gaming notebooks starts at around 2,500 euros. High-end models like that Alienware x17 even outperform many high-end desktop PCs. The top model in the range for around 4,000 euros leaves little to be desired with an Intel Core i9 CPU, RTX 3080 with 16 GByte VRAM, 32 GByte RAM, 2 TB SSD and 17-inch display in 4K resolution.
A gaming notebook can almost equally replace a desktop PC as a game machine. In addition, they offer more mobility during transport than a stationary system. Dedicated graphics chips from Nvidia play a particularly important role. A graphics solution integrated in the CPU, however, is not suitable for gamers. However, it should be noted here that the mobile versions of the graphics units are throttled due to the poorer cooling options compared to their counterparts in the desktop PC. This causes a certain loss of performance.
When it comes to choosing the processor, an Intel Core i5 or AMD Ryzen 5 is sufficient for casual gamers. For high demands, however, a high-end version such as the Intel Core i9 or AMD Ryzen 9 is required. At least 16 GB of RAM are also recommended for shorter reload cycles an NVMe SSD with 1 TB capacity for enough space for software and games.
Beginners can find laptops suitable for gaming from as little as 750 euros. The middle class of gaming laptops starts at 1500 euros with RTX graphics cards and fast eight-core processors. The upper class is beyond 2500 euros and is almost open at the top.