By the time 2020 was over console gamers were celebrating the start of a new generation and PC gamers had powerful new graphics cards to look forward to – that is if buyers could actually get their hands on either one of those.
2021 instead signaled the arrival of Nvidia’s 3000 series graphics card for laptops, promising the same top-notch ray tracing graphics, low power draw and performance that would easily beat a PS5, even in the budget-oriented 3060 models.
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With both the PS5 and Xbox production warranting presidential attention and GPU shortages expected to continue at least until summer, a gaming laptop is looking like one of the best alternatives to play the latest games right now and get some work done too. However, buying a gaming laptop can be a daunting task for those inexperienced in the matter, so in order to avoid costly mistakes here are the most important things to keep in mind before shelling out any hard-earned cash.
AMD Ryzen Vs. Intel
For the past couple of years AMD has been slowly eating away tiny bits of Intel’s market share in desktop and mobile computers. So what does this all mean for gamers? Actually, not that much, since most games take little or no advantage of the fantastic multi-core performance AMD’s Ryzen lineup offers, so choosing Intel won’t result in huge fps differences when shopping in the same price brackets.
For everything other than gaming Ryzen CPUs easily beat their Intel counterparts in tasks like image editing, video rendering, and practically anything that requires lots of processing power. The takeaway here is that buyers should have their eyes set on Ryzen new 5000 series CPUs, but if availability is an issue or a good deal and more desired features become available then an Intel 10th gen CPU isn’t a bad choice.
Max-Q, Max-P, Nvidia Optimus And What’s A TDP?
Unlike their scarce desktop counterparts, laptops are not necessarily designed to quench max power from their CPUs and GPUs since manufacturers have to work out how to get rid of all the heat generated by these parts. Due to this similar laptops featuring RTX 3070 GPUs could put out very different gaming performance or even beat out an underpowered 3080 model.
As a general rule laptop GPUs labeled as Max-Q will consume less power and for this reason they’re the ones available on thinner laptops that favor portability over performance. The same goes for Nvidia Optimus the company’s tech solution to enable on the fly switching between the laptop’s CPU integrated graphics and the GPU, great for pushing battery life and sales for Nvidia but bad for gaming benchmarks.
Laptops in the Max-P category will do away with these power constraints by employing better thermal solutions and some might even have a MUX switch, which allows the user to go GPU only. As a general rule, a higher TDP translates to higher fps numbers.
What Specs Are Needed To Beat A PS5?
The bold claim that new gaming laptops will surpass the PS5 and Xbox Series X comes with some caveats, like the power limitations detailed above. The absolute lowest priced RTX 3060 laptop is MSI’s GF65 at $999, however, its measly 8GB of RAM won’t cut it for multitasking and streaming. The good news is almost every 2021 laptop comes out of the box with 16GB of RAM and at least 512GB of expandable storage.
RTX 3060, 3070 or 3080?
All of Nvidia’s 3000 series GPUs have the potential to demolish the PS5 and Xbox Series X in sheer gaming performance, but buyers must account for the Max-Q and Max-P branding. What this means is that a 3060 running at its full potential can go toe to toe against a 3070; while the 3080’s full power won’t be harnessed by many notebooks.
Overall, the 3060 and 3070 definitely offer the best value for the money spent, with the 3080 is for those with extra cash to spend.
Screen Quality, Size And Resolution
Aside from newer and faster CPUs and graphics cards, 2021 is making the high refresh rate displays that gamers adore more accessible than ever so every new laptop is guaranteed to match the best gaming monitors. Screen size is usually 15.6″ or 17.3″, a decision that will largely depends on the user’s need for portability.
1080p resolution is the norm for laptops and quite frankly at 15.6″ it’s hard for 1440p and 4K panels to be noticeably better for gaming. Those extra details really start to show off more with a larger 17.3″ display, though higher resolutions and a bigger screen will take a toll on battery life. If planning to use an external monitor most of the time then it’s best to save money here, especially since connecting a laptop to a monitor can even boost its gaming performance.
With all that in mind, these are the best gaming laptops that can be bought or pre-ordered right now.
Best Thin and Light Laptop: Asus ROG Zephyrus G14/G15 (2021)
Starting at $1,499 the Zephyrus G14/G15 packs some of the best compact gaming experiences out there weighing in at 4.19 pounds with a slick magnesium-alloy chassis. The 2021 models feature the new 5900HS which is pretty much the best mobile CPU, unless one has an unlimited budget.
The smaller G14 is a rare but convenient size format at 14” that comes with 16GB of RAM, a 1TB NVMe SSD, Nvidia’s RTX 3060 and a 144Hz display. Meanwhile, the pricier G15 comes in 3060, 3070 and 3080 variants, however, the 3060 and 3070 are the best value since this is a Max-Q model.
Best Laptop For Creators: Aero 15 OLED KC-8US5130SP (2021)
Though high refresh rate panels are all the rage for gamers, there those that need a laptop to act as a reliable workstation first and foremost with gaming being a second priority. In that case Gigabyte’s Aero line comes with Samsung 4K OLED display capped at 60Hz (perfect for playing Ocarina of Time), though given the 15.6” screen that would still allow Cyberpunk 2077 to run beautifully at 1080p while taking advantage of the vivid colors from the OLED panel.
The Aero 15 starts at $1,599 and comes with an I7-10780H CPU, RTX 3060, 512GB storage, 16GB of RAM and great battery life. As always it can be purchased with better specs, but the base model should be more than enough for those leaning towards content creation and it will run any game flawlessly. Its non-4K pair the Aorus 15G has the same specs but instead swaps the display for a 240Hz 1080p IPS panel shaving $100 off the Aero’s price.
Best Budget Laptop: Gigabyte G5/A5 (2021)
If gaming is the sole priority, then Gigabyte’s G5 ditches the Aorus brand name to give consumers a no-frills option to be able to run the best and latest games in 2021. Starting off at $1,099 the G5 comes with an I5-10500H 6-core CPU, 16GB of RAM, an RTX 3060 with a higher TDP than the Zephyrus G14/15 and a great 240Hz display that is almost too good to be true at this price point.
The downsides come in the form of no cosmetic flair or RGB lighting like the rest and a barely thicker chassis than other alternatives, as well as a tiny removable 49Wh battery that is incredibly rare these days. The A5 models are more expensive but feature Ryzen 7 5800H processors for better performance in both games and other tasks.
Best Performance Per Dollar Laptop: Asus ROG Strix G15/G17 (2021)
Like its ROG Zephyrus cousins the Strix G15/G17 feature new Ryzen 5000 series CPUs paired with Nvidia’s latest GPUs, however, they outdo those models with higher power consumption and they also level up in flashy RGB lighting and edgier aesthetics.With solid battery life, quality high refresh rates in their displays, slick design and unbeatable performance, the only difficult part in choosing to buy one of these is actually finding them, as stock for is proving to be quite rare in most online retailers.
2020 Laptops Are Still Great, For The Right Price
One of the best parts of a new generation of notebooks entering the market is that last year’s models will gradually start going up for sale. In case one chooses to get a laptop with an Intel CPU, prospective buyers would only be missing out on a new Nvidia GPU since new 2021 models still come with 2020’s 10th generation chips and those aren’t even that much better than the 9th gen ones.
While the jump in last year’s Ryzen 4000 series CPU to 2021’s chipsets in much larger, the performance improvement offered by new laptops might not be necessary for everyone looking to have a movable gaming machine, especially if there’s good deal to be had somewhere else.
Those looking to mainly play competitive esports titles (like Overwatch), not too crazy about improved ray tracing or simply happy to beat a PS4 rather than a PS5 could be well suited to a laptop that’s packing an older RTX 2060 or 2070, maybe even a GTX 1660 Ti. There’s also the chance of finding a 2020 laptop with more premium features, like say a Razer Blade with an RTX 2070 for a lower price than a newer RTX 3060 laptop.
Newer laptops surely promise better performance and prices than ever before, but 2020 models will start being available for under $1,000, the key here is to follow all the previous tips and to adapt one’s needs, desires and budget to what’s available.
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