Gaming on a laptop — how it compares to desktops and should you buy one?

I'm big on PC gaming. And that means desktop PC gaming. I've owned the an Xbox One since launch, but I rarely play games on the machine — you could even go as far as to say it's "like new". My record is even worse when it comes to gaming laptops, but I decided to really take some time out with the MSI GT83VR (opens in new tab) to see just how good gaming on the go can be.

Impressive spec tables

Gaming laptops aren't designed to be lightweight, portable and of such a size that they're easy to carry around on journeys and whatnot. They're built to contain as much power as possible in such a tight space with limited cooling and available power. Early releases years back suffered from awful battery life and heat issues, not to mention thermal throttling on units I tested out. Fast forward to 2017 and things look to be a whole different kettle of fish.

Dell Inspiron 15

New gaming laptops are more compact than older units. They are also more efficient, which helps in prolonging the amount of game time before having to dig out the outlet cable from the travel bag. What's more is they're packing the latest in graphics processing technology, namely the new Nvidia GTX 10 series. You can snag a capable laptop today with a GTX 1080 locked away inside. If that's not a true sign of power then I don't know what is.

On paper, things certainly look impressive, with anything up to 64GB of RAM, SSD storage, powerful seventh-gen Intel processors, and more. In fact, I'd say some of these machines pack more power than many PC gamers have installed in their actual desktop gaming rigs. Throw in the GTX 10 series GPUs and now we're entering VR territory, which is now plastered on the marketing material of many gaming laptops.

The specs in gaming laptops today are nothing short of incredible.

Gaming on a laptop is a strange experience. Even with a built-in mechanical keyboard with genuine CherryMX switches, it's still bizarre having all this power inside such a compact chassis. The performance with an Intel Core i7-7920HQ, GTX 1070 (SLI), and 64GB RAM is unsurprisingly good. Like, really good. The Witcher 3? No problem. Rise of the Tomb Raider? Handles it like a boss. It's difficult to throw a game at the GT83VR that it struggles with, which will be the case with most laptops rocking GTX 10 series of GPUs.

Not so portable

MSI GT83VR

The only problem is battery life. Manufacturers have made improvements over the years, but all these powerful components are thirsty for electricity and even the biggest reasonable battery cells won't last long. I found myself needing to have it plugged in more than not, but it was possible to open it up near the beach and play through some Stellaris. A good thing with this laptop, in particular, is the 1080p display, which isn't as taxing as 1440p or 4K.

The main problem is portability, as aforementioned. The thing I hate the most about these gaming laptops is the bulkiness. These things are heavy and are certainly noticeable, even in a backpack. That said, even with measurements more than doubling that of Ultrabooks, they're not quite as big as one might expect.

The GT83VR takes up a fair amount of space on both your lap and on a table or desk. I'd not recommend the former for these machines though. They're meant for a flat supporting surface. It depends really on which laptop you go for. The more powerful the internals, the bulkier the exterior will be to house it all and additional cooling. The good thing about the new GTX GPUs is that it's possible to pick up a GTX 1060 laptop and have enough power for most games at solid settings without sacrificing too much on portability.

Where these things really shine is at hotels or relatives hwere access to your main gaming rig is restricted.

That price tag though

Ready to get into gaming on the go and pick up a powerful laptop? Perfect, just be prepared to part with upwards of $6,000 for the luxury. That's for a laptop with an insane amount of RAM, GTX 1080, Intel i7 processor, and a stunning whole package of internals. This is the main downside of gaming laptops and why they're out of reach for most consumers. The last thing you want to do is settle for a unit with less power.

But should you have the funds available, have the need to game when not at your main desktop rig and wish to invest in something that can be dragged around and perform productivity tasks just like a laptop, then one of these may well be right up your alley. If you are going to have a look around, don't go for an older model. Make sure your purchase has a GTX 10 chip inside.

See at Amazon (opens in new tab)

Rich Edmonds
Senior Editor, PC Build

Rich Edmonds is Senior Editor of PC hardware at Windows Central, covering everything related to PC components and NAS. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a PC chassis. You can follow him over on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.

28 Comments
  • Yes the price and size are an issue. But on the other hand try talking your desktop on your next week long trip!
    Btw, there is a typo just before the last sub-article. Where is spelled "hwere".
  • Skull Canyon NUC 32GB Ram Dual 500GB M.2 SSD's 2400Gps transfer rates Thunderbolt 3 Dual ASUS USB 3.0 displays that fit in a backpack Gaming Keyboard by Coolermaster HDMI with UHD 4K for external displays and you can...Entire rig cost less than 3K.  
  • LOL, No graphics card - only Integrated Graphics! Not suitable for Hardcore Gaming.
  • Not suitable for nearly ANY gaming.....Yea what an idiot LOL......
  • Yeah sure he is wrong, but no need to get rude. Plus if you really wanted you could connect an external graphics enclosure to it, but that defeats the 'portability'.  
  • I just laugh at the idiots who throw words around not understanding what the point of a portable gaming rig is for.  I'd much rather have this 3k desktop than a 6-7k laptop that's heavy, and not portable at all.  Plus I don't do serious gaming away from home (BTW, this will run the Witcher 1 & 2 without any graphics card external enclosure).  I work more often than gaming anyway.
  • Well duhhh, but it can use an external graphics card through Thunderbolt 3.  And it's good for more than just gaming.  I use mine as a media center, gaming pc, and AutoCAD 3D travel rig.
  • That's right, you could have mentioned external graphics card along with that although external graphics are very limited now due to proprietary.
  • I figured people on this tech website knew how to research.  My bad.  Anyhow, I have a GTX 1070 in a Razer Core at home for serious gaming, otherwise, I just play older or less demanding games on the go which the Skull Canyon is more than enough for. I'm in Brazil right now for a few months before I return home, so I use the system for work when I am away from home. It's my main machine at home along with a Surface Pro 3 for the bedroom / mobile use.  I can't believe how many people on this site assume other avid tech guys are stupid these days.
  • If I go on a week long trip, gaming isn't involved. My last week long trip, last year, was spent by, or in a pool, with all the drinks and food I could have. My next trip in a couple months will be similar.
  • Personally, I would go with the Razer Blade Pro. The laptop is really thin (especially compared to the one in this article), with almost similar spec (maybe juuust a bit less like 32Gb of RAM, not the same processor), and it's cheaper.
  • Not a great idea, as you don't get a decent cooling with that and you will have throttling; which defeats the purpose of having an i7 and GTX1080 inside, if you can't run them at full power without throttling.    
  • Good article.
  • You would have to literally be wealthy to afford a $6000 laptop just for gaming. I the only reason I would need a rig like this would be if I was a game designer and could count it as a business expense.
  • You can get a really good gaming laptop for way less then $6K. If you are trying to justify a high price statement by looking at the top 0.01% of gaming laptops, you could do the same with desktop gaming rigs and say they are way too expensive at $20K+ if you want the very best out there.  
  • 1, no gaming PC is 'just for gaming' I use my gaming PC for tons of other things. 2. I'm far from wealthy and I could drop 6k tomorrow if I felt like it.
  • Listen to yourself. You have more disposable income than most people. Wealth is all about perspective.
  • Actually the difference is I live within my means. I in no way make any crazy income. I just don't spend it on everything and anything and rack up credit card debit.
  • Thankfully there are more affordable options that get the job done. I have the MSI GT62VR, and while I do have a beefy gaming desktop, I could game on just my laptop if I had to as the 1070 does just fine for 1080p. Gaming laptops have come a long way since I had my 2014 Razer Blade, or even my Acer Ferrari back in the day.
  • It does come down to how serious you are as a PC gamer. Me, I have a Surface Book that I game on just fine occasionally while also having it docked at my desk with output to two monitors. And this is on the i5 version even! It comes down to the needs of what you're doing with computer power and processing speed.
  • "prepared to part with upwards of $6,000 for the luxury" That is utter BS; only like 0.01% of gaming laptops are in that price range; you can get an insanely powerfull Alienware 17 with i7-7820HK, GTX 1080, 32gb RAM, 512gb SSD + 1TB HDD, 1440p 120hz screen (or 4K) for under $2800 - now that is not bad at all. As for portability and battery life, nobody who is after a gaming laptop even takes that stuff into consideration; bottom line is if you want that don't look for gaming laptops. That being said the latest generation of gaming laptops are not far from ultrabooks (at least some of them), and with 99Wh battery you can get close to 5 hours if not gaming, but just working.  
  • Seriously why make these articles....who spends that much for something that ridiculous.....seriously. Just buy a portable LANBOX gaming rig to bring to places if you want tsome to bring to a friends....you can easily fit it and a keyboard and mouse into a backpack....for easily $800-$1200......not that nonsense price of 6K! And who would need 64 GB of RAM?? in 2 years it would be obsolete anyway....there goes your 6K.....
  • I'm pretty sure the CPU and the GPU are upgradable. My question is what game in 2017 can take advantage 64GB of RAM. It'll be usable in 4-5 years when 8k gaming starts becoming popular. I also agree that it's too expensive.
  • If you're gaming and recording, producing that content can use all the extra RAM you can afford.
  • I agree with some comments regarding gaming but when your an on the go Visual Design guy that needs as much horsepower as possible in a PORTABLE rig than these kick ass. I run Revit, 3DS, Fuzor, Navisworks, Illustrator and a host of other software programs are hungry for speed, ram and discreet graphics. Desktops don't travel well and neither do 17-21" desktop replacements.
  • If you are rich, yes you can. External GPUs are freaking expensive so that's out for me. I'm not rich. I upgrade my Desktop piece by piece. My PSU is 6 years old. I reconditioned it myself last year when the fan failed. My Aluminium Casing even older. On average, I spend USD300 a year on upgrades. GPU or SSD or CPU/Mobo or gaming RAM. This allows me to play all my games at 1080P highest settings. I just upgraded to RX480 last year. Next upgrade will be a move to DDR4, so I'm watching AMD Ryzen and Core 6th gen i7 with interest. If I win that 4K monitor, THEN my current system is instantly inadequate!!! LOL
  • If I am going to spend that kind of money on ANY rig, it has to be less solid state and more upgradeable. I just think from a REAL-WORLD perspective where people have bills and responsibilities to take care of, a good system would have to not only be sustainable, but also able to be improved when the base requirements for software advance like they always do. Plus there has been a real shift towards a throw-away society and it is really affecting the way our younger tech-heads are developing. There's a disturbing trend towards just turning over their opinions, tech-education and user-control over to the commercial profit mongers. It's sad to see people just roll over and accept everything becoming solid state and disposable. Makes me really wonder what they next generation will accept as normal...
  • I have an MSI PE60 with - i7, 16gb ddr4, Nvidia GF960, I bought it as a factory referb and it plays FO4 Skyrim SE, Witcher 3 very nicely. Cheers, BR