Gaming PC vs. Gaming Laptop: Which Should You Buy? – MUO – MakeUseOf

They’re almost the same. Almost, but not quite. So, what should you choose?
You're all ready to buy some new gaming hardware. But, should you go for a gaming PC or a gaming laptop?
There are significant benefits to each option—but downsides, too. So, which should you choose?
There are five key differences between gaming laptops and gaming PCs:
It's a conundrum that every gamer faces when the time comes to upgrade their gaming hardware. A gaming laptop is obviously more portable than a gaming PC, but does it deliver the same performance? A gaming PC is more upgradable than a gaming laptop, but will it cost you more than a gaming laptop in the long run?
With those questions in mind, let's take a look at the five key differences between a gaming PC and a gaming laptop and figure out which you should buy.
Gaming laptops and gaming PCs are actually more similar than you think when it comes to equipment and features. Interestingly, the biggest difference is actually in your out-of-box experience.
When you buy a gaming laptop, it comes with everything you need. You head online or to your local PC hardware store, pick a gaming laptop, and it comes with all the bells and whistles, including a webcam, integrated speakers, Wi-Fi card, battery, and so on.
When it comes to gaming PC, you'll have to choose between more variables. A gaming PC is almost endlessly customizable (which we'll explore more in a moment)—but you also need more peripheral hardware to get it going, too. For example, you'll need a keyboard and a mouse as the bare minimum. Then, you might want a microphone to talk to people and a webcam if you want to be seen. Then what about audio? You'll need speakers. The list can quickly expand.
Next up, which delivers better 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.
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.
Gaming performance leads us directly into another key difference between a gaming laptop and a gaming PC: upgrade options.
Simply put, upgrading a gaming laptop is almost impossible in most cases. You certainly won't upgrade the CPU or GPU, the two main components behind a gaming laptop experience. There are modular laptop designs, but these aren't typically focused on building gaming laptops (at least, not yet).
On some gaming laptops, you'll have the option to install faster RAM or a faster storage device, like an M.2 SSD. But that will be the absolute limit to what you can upgrade on a gaming laptop. Gaming laptop manufacturers spend a great deal of time streamlining their designs and making sure they are efficient at transferring heat out of the case and don't want end-users doing anything that may compromise that design, even if you do it with the best intentions.
When it comes to upgrading a gaming PC, you're only limited by your budget and your previous PC building decisions. What we mean here is that you may decide to upgrade your existing hardware to a faster CPU. If that's the case, you'll be limited by the CPU socket on the motherboard, which dictates the CPU generation you can install. For example, when AMD releases its new AM5 socket, it won't be compatible with older AM4 CPUs. That might move some to upgrade from AM4 to AM5, but you'll also need a new AM5 compatible motherboard.
On that, it's a similar story for your system RAM. You can upgrade your memory, but you'll be restricted by whatever memory type your motherboard is compatible with, be that DDR3, DDR4, or DDR5.
You may have noticed one hardware feature popping up more than most: the motherboard. As the motherboard connects all of your PC hardware together to make your gaming PC function, it's at the heart of any gaming machine. If you feel your gaming PC is aging, you can swap out the motherboard and potentially salvage bits from your older gaming machine for your new build.
A gaming PC is infinitely more upgradable than a gaming laptop, and it will stay that way until modular laptops catch up in earnest.
Just as there was only one clear winner in the upgrade section, there is only one clear winner in the portability section. One of the driving forces behind the popularity of gaming laptops is their portability. Who wants to walk away from their gaming rig at the end of a weekend when you could pick it up, throw it in your bag, and take it with you?
Although some gaming laptops are on the chunkier side of things to accommodate more hardware and better cooling, the overall footprint of a gaming laptop is smaller than most gaming PCs.
Space requirement-wise, it's actually an interesting comparison. Sure, a gaming PC case will take up more room overall, but for most people, the tower lives under a desk or similar, and the only thing in front of you is your gaming mechanical keyboard and a gaming mouse. Not forgetting your monitors, of course.
A gaming laptop has a smaller overall footprint, but you might connect it up to a secondary monitor, use a USB keyboard, a gaming mouse, extra speakers, and so on, so the comparison between a gaming PC and a gaming laptop in terms of space isn't completely clear cut.
But, yes, when it comes to portability, a gaming laptop wins, hands down.
The final comparison category is cost and value. Which costs more: a gaming laptop or a gaming PC?
Typically, a gaming desktop will cost less than a comparable gaming laptop. There are two key factors behind this.
First, a gaming desktop doesn't require as much development and streamlining as a gaming laptop. A gaming laptop manufacturer has to design and package everything into a single, portable case while ensuring it doesn't overheat and can still function properly.
Second, although this relates to upgradability, a laptop's performance will fall behind as it ages. It's also not helped by a performance deficit to gaming desktops to begin with, further pushing down the long-term value of a gaming laptop.
When it comes to cost and value, a gaming desktop is often the best option.
The biggest factor that will swing your decision between a gaming laptop and a gaming PC will come down to portability. If you're not regularly stationed at the same desk in your home, move around regularly for work, school, or otherwise, or just want the extra freedom that comes with a gaming laptop, you're likely to feel the extra cost is a worthwhile investment.
On the other hand, if you're gaming at home, don't need to move around, and want the extra value and customization options, a gaming desktop is the right option for you.
Gavin is the Junior Editor for Technology Explained, a regular contributor to the Really Useful Podcast, and a frequent product reviewer. He has a degree in Contemporary Writing pillaged from the hills of Devon, and more than a decade of professional writing experience. He enjoys copious amounts of tea, board games, and football.
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