If you’re purely interested in gaming performance and price, then a gaming desktop PC is by far the superior choice over a gaming laptop.
Desktop PCs are typically far more affordable than laptops and have considerably more powerful components at the same price.
They’re also much more easily upgradable – with some gaming laptops actually being impossible to upgrade at all.
With all that said though, gaming laptops do have their advantages and will represent the best choice for some people. In this post, we’ll compare each and help you to make the right choice.
Why PCs are Number One for Performance
When it comes to performance, gaming PCs will win hands-down. And there are four big reasons for this: cost, space, components, and power.
One reason for this is that desktop PCs are cheaper to manufacture.
Laptops represent a much more complex engineering challenge, as all those components need to be crammed into a small space, with a working hinge, built-in IO, etc. For example, the best GTX 1080 laptop will still cost well over $4k despite being a couple of years old.
Because there’s less to worry about with a PC, more of your dime is actually going toward beefy components.
Then there’s the matter of heat dissipation.
Anyone who has pushed their PC hard in the past, will know that throttling can be an issue once components reach their max temperatures.
Related: guide to GPU temperatures
Because PCs are housed in larger units with big fans, they can go harder for longer.
A laptop on the other hand will heat up more quickly – especially the more svelte units.
And with more space, you can quite simply fit more in.
This is why you’re far more likely to find a desktop with two GPUs, or an SSD AND a massive HDD for good measure.
And for these space-saving reasons, laptops will actually use lower-powered components as compared with their larger counterparts.
For example, a laptop with a mobile GPU version will perform slightly differently from a desktop with the PC version. Specifically, it will experience an 11% reduction in boost performance, and a 14% reduction in base performance.
The same is also true for CPUs. Mobile versions of CPUs will typically feature fewer cores, lower wattages, and reduced ability to overclock.
Improvements in the manufacturing processes have closed the gap between desktop and mobile chipsets – allowing for greater efficiency at a smaller scale. But that gap is still there and is important to consider when making your choice.
As well as issues with heating, another reason that manufacturers will downgrade the mobile versions of their CPUs and GPUs is for power efficiency.
Remember: with a laptop there is the presumption that at some point, you want to use the thing on your lap.
Therefore, you will likely be running off battery power sooner or later. To that end, manufacturers want to make their machines less power hungry.
Some laptops will effectively have two ‘modes’ to get around this problem. They might switch from dedicated to integrated graphics on the fly for instance.
But for simplicity and for marketing purposes, it’s often just easier to have a single estimate for the battery life, which means that performance will take a hit.
The Benefits of Getting a Laptop
All those limitations, and you often can’t even upgrade the CPU or GPU without voiding your warranty and paying over the odds.
With all that in mind, you might wonder why there is even a market for a gaming laptop these days!
But of course, there are some distinct advantages to keep in mind. The first is that gaming laptops are portable.
With the huge success of the Nintendo Switch, we have seen that there is a definite audience for machines that let you game on the go.
Most gaming laptops aren’t tiny and will only just fit into a laptop.
That’s especially true when you consider the huge power bricks, and the fact that you often only get 2 hours of gaming on the battery if that.
BUT there are still benefits to being able to take your gaming rig on the road.
Visiting family for a weekend and want to get in a spot of Assassin’s Creed while you’re there? A gaming laptop might just provide the answer.
Likewise, for tournaments and meet-ups, having lots of gaming laptops on a single network is a great way to handle multiplayer.
And even in your own home, a gaming laptop will have a smaller footprint and take up less space.
An All-In-One Solution
Then there’s the fact that a gaming laptop provides a ready-made, all-in-one solution.
The best gaming PCs are custom builds, where the buyer will choose each component themselves to match their intended uses and their budget.
This of course requires at least a certain amount of knowledge.
Gaming laptops however will typically come with just a few different configurations and will be ready to play right out of the box.
Of course, you can buy a ready-made gaming PC, and these are very popular. But even then, you will still need to choose a good keyboard and monitor.
And those keyboards that come with ready-made PCs tend to be of the cheap-and-nasty variety.
The best gaming laptops on the other hand will feature excellent made keyboards, silky-smooth 120Hz monitors, 4K plus resolutions, RGB lighting… the whole shebang.
The better news for laptop-lovers, is that hardware is currently soaring away in terms of what it can accomplish.
A laptop with a GTX 1060 graphics card and last gen i5 processor for instance won’t set you back too much. But it will be more than capable of handling 100% of the triple A titles on Steam.
You may occasionally have to dial back the settings – especially if you have a 4K display – but otherwise there will be very few instances where you’ll feel the difference.
Of course, you can’t guarantee futureproofing. But if you don’t need the very best, and you’re happy with ‘extremely good’, then a gaming laptop is still a viable option.
In fact, if you’re happy to stick to mainly Xbox 360-era games, then you can even make do with no external GPU at all!
Want the best of both worlds?
There are some absolute beast laptops out there that pack in desktop-grade CPUs and GPUs. Some come with multiple GPUs. For instance, the laptops which featured in our 2080 gaming laptop guide are more than capable of the most demanding tasks.
Unfortunately, they’ll also likely set you back a huge amount of money and will be entirely out of most people’s price range!
One alternative then is to get a slim gaming laptop with dedicated graphics and a thunderbolt 3 port.
That way, you’ll be able to plug into an external GPU (or two) for some serious gaming when you get home.
Or how about going the other way? If you have a hulking desktop PC and you want to play in any room of your house, you could consider getting a Steam Link, or even using Steam In-Home Streaming to an Android device.
There is no right or wrong answer here then, and the ultimate best solution will depend 100% on the type of gamer you are.
Find that sweet spot between power, portability, performance, and versatility, and you’ll be in gamer heaven.