Gaming PC vs. Gaming Laptop: Which Should You Buy?

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Gaming PC vs. Gaming Laptop: Which Should You Buy?

You’re all set to purchase some new gaming gear. Should you buy a gaming PC or a gaming laptop?

Each choice has substantial advantages and disadvantages. So, which should you go with?

5 Key Differences Between a Gaming Laptop and a Gaming PC

There are five significant distinctions between gaming laptops and gaming PCs:

  • Equipment and Features
  • Game Performance
  • Upgrade Options
  • Space and portability requirements
  • Cost

Every gamer confronts this quandary when it comes time to replace their gaming gear. A gaming laptop is certainly more portable than a gaming PC, but does it perform as well? A gaming PC can be upgraded more easily than a gaming laptop, but will it cost you more in the long run?

With these questions in mind, let’s look at the five significant differences between a gaming PC and a gaming laptop to help you decide which to purchase.

1. Equipment and Features

When it comes to equipment and functionality, gaming laptops and gaming PCs are really more comparable than you may assume. Surprisingly, the largest change is in your out-of-the-box experience.

When you purchase a gaming laptop, it includes everything you need. You go online or to your local PC hardware shop and choose a gaming laptop with all the bells and whistles, such as a camera, integrated speakers, Wi-Fi card, battery, and so on.

When it comes to gaming PCs, you’ll have to make additional decisions. A gaming PC is practically infinitely configurable (which we’ll go over in more detail later), but it also requires additional peripheral gear to get started. As a starting point, you’ll need a keyboard and a mouse. Then you’ll need a microphone to communicate with others and a camera to be seen. Then there’s audio. You will need speakers. The list may easily grow.

2. Game Performance

Next, which performs better in terms of gaming performance: a gaming laptop or a gaming PC?

Typically, the gaming PC will win out over the gaming laptop if you compare like-for-like hardware. That’s because although you might read about the same hardware on the product listing for a gaming PC and a gaming laptop, there are differences in the capabilities between the two.

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For example, a laptop GPU isn’t the same as a discreet desktop GPU. The laptop GPU is likely throttled for thermal control, which like it or not, has a knock-on effect on in-game performance. It’s a similar story for laptop CPUs. Adding powerful hardware to a confined space will always result in compromises, and unfortunately, gaming performance takes the hit.

The best way you can see these differences is in the following video comparing an Nvidia RTX 3080 in a desktop and an RTX 3080 in a laptop.

Jarrod’s Tech also compared the RTX 3070 in a desktop and a laptop, reaching the same conclusion.

You see, a gaming PC running the same hardware as a gaming laptop will always win out.

Now, is that a problem? Probably not for most people. If you’re still pulling 120FPS in Call of Duty Warzone on your gaming laptop, you’re unlikely to care about a few missing frames per second.

3. Upgrade Options

Gaming performance immediately brings us to another important distinction between a gaming laptop and a gaming PC: upgrade possibilities.

Simply simply, upgrading a gaming laptop is nearly always difficult. You will almost likely not increase the CPU or GPU, the two key components that power a gaming laptop experience. There are modular laptop designs, however they aren’t usually employed to create gaming computers (at least, not yet).

Some gaming laptops allow you to add faster RAM or a quicker storage device, such as an M.2 SSD. However, it is the exact limit of what you can improve on a gaming laptop. Gaming laptop makers spend a lot of work refining their designs and making sure they are effective at transporting heat out of the casing, and they don’t want end-users doing anything that may jeopardize that design, even if they do it with the best of intentions.

holding laptop ram in hands
Image Credit: borevina/Shutterstock

You are only limited by your money and past PC construction selections when it comes to updating a gaming PC. That example, you may elect to update your current gear to a faster CPU. If this is the case, the CPU socket on the motherboard will restrict the CPU generation you may install. When AMD launches their new AM5 socket, for example, it will not be compatible with existing AM4 CPUs. This may persuade some to go from AM4 to AM5, but you’ll also need a new AM5 compatible motherboard.

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It’s a same scenario with your system RAM. You can update your RAM, but you’ll be limited by the memory type supported by your motherboard, which may be DDR3, DDR4, or DDR5.

You may have noticed that one hardware feature appears more often than others: the motherboard. The motherboard is at the core of any gaming machine since it brings all of your PC components together to make your gaming PC run. If you believe your gaming PC is becoming old, you may replace the motherboard and perhaps recover parts from your old gaming machine for your new build.

A gaming PC is immensely more upgradeable than a gaming laptop, and this will continue until modular laptops catch up.

4. Portability and Space Requirements

There is just one obvious winner in the portability part, just as there was only one clear winner in the upgrading section. The mobility of gaming laptops is one of the driving causes for their appeal. Who wants to leave their gaming setup at the end of the weekend when they can pick it up, stuff it in their bag, and carry it with them?

Although some gaming laptops are larger in order to allow more technology and better cooling, a gaming laptop’s overall footprint is less than that of most gaming PCs.

It’s an intriguing contrast in terms of space requirements. A gaming PC case will take up more space overall, but for most people, the tower will be hidden behind a desk or similar, and the only thing in front of you will be your game mechanical keyboard and a gaming mouse. Of course, don’t forget about your displays.

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A gaming laptop has a smaller overall footprint, but you may connect it to a secondary display, use a USB keyboard, a gaming mouse, additional speakers, and so on, so the space comparison between a gaming PC and a gaming laptop isn’t quite apparent.

However, when it comes to mobility, a gaming laptop easily wins.

5. Cost and Value

Cost and value are the last comparing categories. Which is more expensive: a gaming laptop or a gaming PC?

A gaming desktop will often cost less than a similar gaming laptop. This is due to two major considerations.

For starters, a gaming desktop does not need the same level of development and streamlining as a gaming laptop. A gaming laptop producer must design and put everything into a single, portable casing while also guaranteeing that it does not overheat and functions correctly.

Second, and related to upgradability, a laptop’s performance will deteriorate as it matures. It’s also not helped by a performance disadvantage compared to gaming desktops, which further reduces the long-term worth of a gaming laptop.

A gaming PC is often the greatest choice in terms of price and value.

Gaming Desktop vs. Gaming Laptop: Which Should You Choose?

The most important consideration when deciding between a gaming laptop and a gaming PC is mobility. If you aren’t constantly stationed at the same desk at home, travel about often for job, school, or otherwise, or just desire the additional flexibility that comes with a gaming laptop, the extra expense is likely to be a smart investment.

A gaming desktop, on the other hand, is the best choice if you’re gaming at home, don’t need to travel about, and want the added value and customization possibilities.

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