What you need to know about the differences between a gaming laptop and a gaming desktop.
Years ago, when it came time to buy or upgrade your gaming rig, there was really only one practical choice: a desktop tower. Times have changed, and these days you can find gaming laptops just as powerful as their desktop counterpart. So, if you’re in the market for a new gaming PC, laptops can be a great alternative.
As you do your research, many questions are likely to pop into your head: Should I go with a laptop or desktop? Which option gives me the power needed to play the games I want? How can I future-proof my rig so it’ll run the latest games for years to come?
To help make your decision easier, this article will explore nine key differences between gaming laptops and gaming desktops. You’ll see the pros and cons of each as well as important factors to consider as you decide which option is right for you.
Gaming laptop and gaming desktop: key differences
- Graphics processing unit (GPU) performance
- Central processing unit (CPU) performance
- Storage and memory
- Overall value/conclusion
The graphics processor is the most important piece of hardware when considering a new gaming rig. Desktops typically have a more powerful range of GPUs to choose from, while laptops use a mobile counterpart. Let’s take a closer look at each.
First off, it’s important to know that laptop GPUs and desktop GPUs are not the same. Laptop GPUs are smaller and have an “M” designation in their product number. The latest high-end laptop graphics cards can play most modern games on high settings, even demanding ones with virtual reality elements. But for this kind of power, you need a GeForce GTX 1070 or better.
If you demand extreme GPU power, desktop towers with NVIDIA or AMD graphics cards are the way to go. Desktops have space to pack in larger, more powerful chips, as well as ventilation systems to keep them cool. Gaming laptops don’t have the luxury of space, and generally, the cooling performance is more limited.
Here’s a list of the most popular laptop GPUs, the GeForce GTX 10-series and NVIDIA Titan:
- GeForce GT 1030 (entry-level)
- GeForce GTX 1050 (mid-range)
- GeForce GTX 1050 Ti (mid-range)
- GeForce GTX 1060 (mid-range)
- GeForce GTX 1070 (high-end), VR-Ready, Minimum Recommended for VR
- GeForce GTX 1070 Ti (high-end) VR-Ready
- GeForce GTX 1080 (high-end) VR-Ready, Recommended for VR
- GeForce GTX 1080 Ti (premium high-end) VR-Ready, Highly Recommended for VR
- NVIDIA Titan X (premium high-end) VR-Ready
- NVIDIA Titan Xp (premium high-end) VR-Ready
The most popular desktop GPUs from least to most powerful, are:
- AMD Radeon RX 580 8 GB (8GB GDDR5)
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 (8GB GDDR5)
- AMD Radeon RX Vega 56 (8GB HBM2)
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 Ti (8GB GDDR5)
- AMD Radeon RX Vega 64 (8GB HBM2)
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 8GB GDDR5X)
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti (11GB GDDR5X)
- NVIDIA Titan Xp (12GB GDDR5X)
The GTX 10-series is the most popular GPU line used in gaming laptops. The 1050 and 1060 chips are quite common, but for maximum performance we recommend a 1070 minimum, and preferably a 1080 or 1080 Ti. AMD is a less popular but still viable alternative, and most games offer minimum and recommended specs with AMD included.
NVIDIA Titan Xp is an extremely powerful graphics card and it’s only available for desktops. With a desktop running Titan Xp, you can play the latest games on max settings and have a smooth VR experience. For most gamers though, a GTX 1070 or 1080 is perfectly fine. These cards can run most modern games on high settings.
Next, you’ll want to take a look at the CPU. Once again, gaming laptops have mobile counterparts of popular chips such as the Intel Core i5, i7 or i9 processors. The mobile versions are typically created for efficiency in mind, with performance as a secondary consideration. Therefore, while a laptop and desktop can both have an Intel Core i7 processor, the laptop’s CPU will be slightly less powerful with less turbo boost speed.
While laptops are limited by space and the power of mobile CPUs, desktops are limited only by how far technology has come and your budget. Desktop processors have higher clock speeds and less power restrictions than laptop CPU counterparts. Power-hungry games, applications and software will run faster and smoother with a desktop CPU. The gaming desktop has a distinct advantage over laptops when it comes to potential CPU power.
Storage and memory
Similar to other pieces of hardware, storage and memory are limited by laptop size. You typically see laptop hard drives starting at 128GB and going as high as 2TB. Some gaming laptops include dual drives, such as a high-speed 128GB solid state drive (SSD) with an additional 1TB hard drive.
On the other hand, gaming desktops can have much higher storage limits. 1TB tends to be the standard, but you can upgrade this to 2TB, 4TB or even 8TB. Another option for gaming desktops is expanding storage by plugging in an external hard drive via a SATA cable.
The story is similar when it comes to memory. Gaming laptops usually offer anywhere from 4GB-32GB RAM, with 8GB being the most common. Gaming desktops also typically have 8GB of RAM as a standard, with options for 16GB, 32GB and 64GB. If you plan on playing VR games or modern games at high settings, it’s highly recommended you choose at least 16GB.
When it comes to which has the better display choices, desktops win hands down.
Laptops offer 1080p, 3K, 1440p and 4K gaming displays; however, most gamers still prefer 1080p displays. This is because they offer crisp HD resolution, while needing just a quarter of the power that a 4K gaming display needs. This helps conserve battery power to give you more gaming time. Desktops, on the other hand, let you connect any monitor you want. You can choose the size, resolution, refresh rate, panel type, shape (curved, dual-screen, flat screen), angle/setup and more.
Gaming laptops often come with RGB-backlit keyboards with customizable options for immersive gameplay. Since the keyboard is integrated into the chassis, this also means you’re limited to the what the laptop comes with.
Conversely, desktops allow you to choose from any keyboard on the market. There are options for wireless or wired, different size and shapes, various colour schemes or RGB backlit keys and more. This means more versatility and upgradability vs a gaming laptop.
On average, gaming laptops offer better speakers than standard laptops, with better bass and larger speakers. For example, the HP OMEN gaming laptop has built-in dual speakers with HP Audio Boost that deliver a rich and powerful sound experience.
With desktops, you’re purchasing a PC tower with no out of the box audio functionality. Essentially, you have three choices: buy a monitor with integrated speakers, hook up a sound system or use a gaming headset. There’s a large range of audio options for all three routes. Of course, most gaming headsets can also be connected to a gaming laptop.
If portability is a big factor for you, then you’ll likely gravitate towards a gaming laptop. They’re designed to be light and compact so you can carry them around from place to place. The standard size ranges between 15″ to 17″, with lightweight gaming laptops getting as low as 5lbs in weight. Heavier laptops may be harder to lug around, but they tend to offer more robust batteries that will last longer between charges. Larger laptops usually have beefier specs for a better gaming experience.
As for PC towers, most gamers generally don’t move them once setup. Lugging around a monitor, keyboard, mouse and speakers is a pain, especially if you have to move them back and forth. As such, gaming desktops have very limited portability.
An important part of future-proofing your gaming rig is your ability to upgrade component parts later on.
Gaming laptops vary on their upgradability. Some manufacturers offer the ability to swap out component parts, while other manufacturers limit what you’re able to access and upgrade. If upgradeability is important to you, it’s important to research whether particular models you’re interested in are configurable.
PC towers are notorious for their upgradability and many gamers take pride in fully customizing their gaming rig. Gaming desktops are easily the better option for those who love upgrading to the latest gear, but if this doesn’t appeal to you, we recommend getting a desktop with high specs to fend off obsolescence for years.
Determining the overall winner really depends on what’s most important to you. Gaming laptops have the benefit of having an integrated display and speakers, giving you a compact all-in-one gaming device. They’re also, of course, much more portable than their desktop counterpart.
In contrast, a gaming desktop gives up portability in favour of raw power, versatility and more upgrade possibilities. You’ll have the added advantage of being able to customize all your accessories: monitor, keyboard, mouse and speaker system.
If you’re looking for the best gaming experience possible, gaming desktops still have the advantage, but the gap is narrowing fast. Come take a look at the wide range of gaming desktop and gaming laptops available at Walmart.ca.