Gamers expect hyper-realistic renderings of both familiar and fantastical landscapes. Mind-blowing graphics, atmosphere-enhancing audio, deliberate game design and high interactivity combine to make modern gaming a fully immersive, sensory experience. Hardware that doesn’t meet or exceed recommended system requirements will result in a frustratingly choppy, flipbook-like game session. The sweeping vistas and stunning sunsets of The Elder Scrolls 3: Oblivion or the nightmarish hellscape of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl just don’t have the same visceral impact without solid hardware rendering them into living, breathing environments.
Current laptops designed for high-impact gaming are powered by dual-core (and even quad-core) processors and blindingly fast video cards. Like their bulkier, immobile desktop progenitors, laptops are capable of packing incredible processing power, large reserves of RAM, and giant, high resolution displays to make your gaming experience as realistic and immersive as possible.
With the rise of MMORPGs, a stable, high-speed internet connection became an absolute necessity for serious gamers. Gaming laptops are equipped with all the hardware you need to stay in touch with your guildmates, upload funky Spore creations, or download Half Life mods. The omnipresence of wireless internet means that you can make time for a quick round of Call of Duty 4 at school, the coffee shop, in the airport, or at work after hours. The portability of a laptop ultimately equates to 24-hour access to your World of Warcraft or Warhammer Online avatars and ensures that you won’t ever be out of the game just because you’re away from home. With a power-packing laptop, an impromptu LAN party is always a likely possibility. Grinding your way through the Wrath of the Lich King is more enjoyable with company.
Buying a gaming laptop doesn’t mean sacrificing the computer power, function, or the accessories of your desktop at home. Gaming laptops are standard with all the peripherals you’re used to at home. You’ll find a webcam, microphone, multi-card reader, USB ports, and a decent pair of speakers on just about all gaming laptops available. Blu-ray disc drives, eSATA and HDMI ports are par for the course on mid to high-end gaming and multimedia laptops.
The power gap between desktops and laptops is rapidly closing. The portability, connectivity and versatility of a laptop combined with the power of a desktop allow for a mobile gaming experience every bit as satisfying as what you can expect from a full size, desktop tower at home.
What to look for in gaming laptop?
Dual-core processors are standard in current gaming laptops. We’re even seeing the gradual shift to quad-core processors as more applications and games are designed to use them. High performance gaming laptops have dual-core processors with at least a 2GHz processing speed. The Alienware Area-51 m17x, for example, hosts an Intel Core 2 Extreme X9000 processor that clocks in at a stunning 2.8GHz. A more modest processing speed of 2.2GHz still handles the workload of most next-gen games.
Your video controller provides the muscle for the dynamic lighting, explosions, landscapes and action sequences that make modern games so fun. If you’ve seen a standard desktop’s video card, you’ll know that they are about as large as a paperback book. It’s no simple task shrinking them down to a size suitable for a laptop. Even given size constraints, 512MB and even 1GB video cards are common in gaming laptops. Recently, it has even become practical and even affordable to outfit laptops with dual video cards. Nvidia’s SLI technology harnesses the power of two video cards at the same time. When considering a gaming laptop, be sure to keep next year’s games in mind. Only a handful of games available now fully utilize the power of dual video cards, but up-and-coming games are being designed with SLI technology in mind. Far Cry 2 and Fallout 3 get a strong boost from dual video cards. Look for tried and true performers like the GeForce 8800M, 9800M and Radeon HD3870.
The size, dimensions, and resolution capabilities of a laptop display are important factors to consider when buying a laptop. Like in so many other areas, size does matter! 15, 17, 18 and even 20+ inch displays are available on gaming laptops. A great gaming experience requires a large and bright screen. Looking for a gaming laptop that will fit in a briefcase or backpack? A 17inch display is probably about as large as you want to go. Bigger isn’t always better if you plan on hauling your laptop around town.
Will you be watching a lot of HD movies on your laptop? If so, look for a display like that of the HP HDX 18t Premium—it has a 16:9 aspect ratio that will play movies without resizing them or adding black bars to the screen.
Photos, files, music, and video take up massive quantities of space on your computer’s hard drive. If you plan on storing media in large quantities, the higher the gigabyte count, the better off you’ll be. Current games can occupy as much as 15GB of hard drive space, and in general, having plenty of free space on your hard drive improves performance and load times. Less than 200GB is just too small. And with hard drive prices dropping every few months, why not leap for a 500GB or even a colossus TB (terabyte) drive?
Be sure to keep an eye on hard drive speed. 7,200 RPMs is a fast and responsive drive speed in a laptop. Extreme performance minded users are going to want to consider solid state drives—they forgo spinning drives for flash-based technology similar to that found in a USB memory stick. Solid state drives are gaining in popularity but still cost substantially more than traditional drives. Budget-conscious buyers can be comfortable with the old-fashioned, rotating drive. It won’t be going the way of Betamax anytime soon.
The breathtaking power of a high-end gaming laptop doesn’t come cheap. Manufacturers generally offer a one year warranty that covers any hardware defects. It’s always prudent to take a look at the option of an extended warranty.
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