Ask LH: Should I Buy A PC Or A Laptop For Gaming?

Ask LH: Should I Buy A PC Or A Laptop For Gaming?

Dear Lifehacker, I have a $1000 budget and I like gaming, but I have no idea if I should buy a laptop or a PC. I don’t know what specs I need to be able to play this year’s games on normal quality. Please help! From PRS.

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Dear PRS,

If you’re looking to save money and still get yourself a decent gaming system, your best bet is to build your own computer. While most AAA games and a lot of indie games these days are optimised to run on low-spec machines, it’s very possible to build a decent gaming PC for under $1000. The advantage to building a PC (or buying one pre-built if you don’t have the time) is that it’s easy to upgrade parts at a later date when your budget allows for it.

While a gaming laptop might seem like a more convenient option, the challenge of compressing parts to fit into a much smaller system means that you’ll end up paying a lot more for the same specs. A notorious problem with gaming laptops is the lack of sufficient cooling, as they don’t have near as much room for heavy-duty fans as their desktop counterparts. That being said, if you like gaming on the go and are happy to sacrifice some performance for the convenience of portability, it is possible to buy a sub-$1000 laptop for gaming. However, watch out for laptops like Kogan’s $999 gaming laptop that, with only a GeForce 940M GPU, is going to struggle to play a lot of newer games.

If you’ve never built a computer before and you’re not sure where to start, PC Part Picker is a great resource, allowing you to virtually build your system before you have to buy any parts. They even have a huge database of build guides so that you can pick and choose from other people’s favourite builds.

If you’re unsure where to start building, let’s have a look at some minimum specs that you may want to aim for. Witcher 3 was one of this year’s most graphically demanding games, and this is what you’ll need to run it without any issues:

Witcher 3 Minimum System Requirements Intel CPU Core i5-2500K 3.3GHz / AMD CPU Phenom II X4 940 Nvidia GPU GeForce GTX 660 / AMD GPU Radeon HD 7870 RAM 6GB OS 64-bit Windows 7 or 64-bit Windows 8 (8.1) DirectX 11 HDD Space 40 GB

With the Oculus Rift’s consumer model releasing early next year, it might even be worth your while looking at its recommended specs, if VR gaming is something you might be interested in.

Oculus Rift System Requirements

NVIDIA GTX 970 / AMD 290 equivalent or greater Intel i5-4590 processor equivalent or greater 8GB+ RAM Compatible HDMI 1.3 video output 2 USB 3.0 ports Windows 7 SP1 or newer

For a PC that will mostly be used for gaming, you can cut corners on price here or there, but one thing you don’t want to cheap out on is the graphics card. If you’re going to splash out on any one component of your computer, make it this one. Avoid flashy-looking PC cases as well — the plainer ones will often give you the best performance for the best price. For some more in-depth tips on custom PC building from an expert, check out our comprehensive Q and A here.

If you’re not feeling up to building your own computer, you can also have a look in the Overclockers AU forum for a good deal — although note that you have to be a member for more than three months to see the trading forum. It can be worth the wait, however, with people often selling their own builds at bargain prices for a number of different reasons.

Good luck, and happy gaming!

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • The article is pretty much spot on that a built rig is better. Later you can always upgrade.

    Should you go down the laptop path you could get a mix of both with a moderate laptop and external video card dock, but do your research before committing. The bonus is you’ll be able to upgrade the Video Card should you ever need too.

    I got a good 6 years worth of gaming from my old laptop a Toshiba Satellite A200 with a Core 2 Duo 2GB cpu, 4GB ram and an ATI Mobility Radeon HD2600, handled Skyrim on low settings with little effort.

  • I built my first PC earlier this year after deciding to upgrade from an ASUS ROG gaming laptop and it was honestly the best thing I’ve done in ages. The laptop was great for the time I used it, but in the end I felt handicapped by the fact I’d never be able to upgrade any hardware besides the RAM. My new PC is awesome and was way easier to build than I had imagined (Youtube came in very handy). I saved a bit of money by picking up some components used (i7-4770 paired with R9 280x – I got everything organised literally just before Skylake dropped). All in all I spent around $1500 AUD including two 1080p monitors, so around $1200 on the tower alone. Already I’ve done a CPU cooler upgrade and I’m about to put an optical drive in as well. I specced it out very specifically around what it would take to play GTA V at 60 fps on a mix of high-to-very high settings, and it does exactly that. I used PC Part Picker to plan it out but I also found that /r/buildapc was a helpful resource.

  • This is pretty spot on except for the case, flashy cases generally are better than cheaper ones because of the air flow and the way you can mount things. While it’s not the most important component(which I feel is the PSU, NEVER cheap out on a PSU) it will still help your system to not sound like a jet taking off each time you use it.

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