Gaming laptop performance considerations
Buying a gaming laptop can be confusing – here are some important tips to help sort things out
If you’re in the market for a gaming laptop, you’re probably going to spend at least R8,000 (but likely more), in which case you’ll no doubt want to do a lot of research to try and avoid regretting your purchase.
The world of mobile CPUs and GPUs is even more confusing than desktop components, and with new technology on the horizon you may want to hold off your entire purchase for a few months. With this in mind, here are some things for you to consider before upgrading to a new gaming laptop.
One of the most confusing hardware specifications of a laptop is the processor, where Intel’s “Core iX” naming scheme is even more muddled than the desktop line of processors.
A laptop with a Core i5 processor can be based on the Arrandale architecture, but it could also be based on the second generation Sandy Bridge process. Similarly, a Core i7 quad-core processor can be based in the Clarksfield processor, or on the recently released Ivy Bridge process.
It is also not overtly clear which CPU is a quad-core and which is a dual-core. The i7 2630QM is a quad-core mobile processor, while the i7 2640M is not.
AMD also suffers from similar confusion with their Llano and Trinity series of APUs. To avoid this, readers can head over to NotebookCheck, the authority on all things notebooks. The site has a notebook processor report page which details every popular notebook processor architecture from both Intel and AMD – bar the latest Ivy Bridge and Trinity offerings.
Performance is also another confusing consideration. The Intel Core i7 2670QM appears to be in the same family as the desktop core i7 2600k, since they’re both based on the same architecture. However, the mobile version is neutered by all sorts of design and cooling issues, so the mobile 2670QM processor is actually closer in performance to the older Nehalem-based Core i7 920.
To see how mobile processor performance stacks up against the competition, NotebookCheck has a mobile processor benchmark comparison list that ranks mobile processors against each other, as well as some desktop processors.
The GPU is another important consideration for gamers, and can be as confusing as mobile CPUs.
Naming mobile GPU versions similar to desktop parts is common practise by both AMD and Nvidia. For example the AMD Radeon HD6850M sounds like a 6XXX series graphics card based on the Northern Islands architecture. However, the card is actually a renamed ATI Radeon HD5850 mobile GPU, and offers identical performance.
The plot thickens, as the HD5850 GPU is actually based on the desktop version of the HD5770. Then there are actually two versions of the HD5850 mobile processor; a fast once equipped with GDDR5 memory, and a slower one equipped with GDDR3 memory.
This renaming of GPUs means the HD6770M is faster than the HD6850 despite featuring a lower model number (going against the desktop naming scheme). The HD6770M has also been renamed to keep up with the newer generation of desktop cards, and sometimes even goes around as the HD7690M XT.
Then there are the professional GPUs found in some high-end business notebooks. These are branded under the FirePro (AMD) and Quadro (Nvidia) names, and are often based on other mobile GPUs aimed at consumers (The FirePro M7740 is based on the HD4860). They do have the added benefit of certified drivers which are optimised for professional CAD (Computer aided Design) and DCC (Digital Content Creation) as well as OpenGL performance.
With this in mind, NotebookCheck have a comparison of mobile graphics cards with a range of information on each GPU. It’s a great resource if you’re in the market for a new laptop and want a bit of gaming grunt behind it.
Ivy Bridge and Trinity are here, sort of
Intel and AMD have both released their latest generation of mobile computing technology, which is available right now, sort of.
Trinity mobile APUs released in May 2012, and combine the CPU and GPU onto a single chip. They can also be used with discrete graphics cards which crossfire with the APUs graphics processor for improved performance. Laptops with Trinity APUs aren’t yet widely availabl, though they should make their way to the market within the next two or three months. For the full Trinity breakdown, read the Mygaming overview.
Intel meanwhile released their Ivy Bridge range of processors for desktop and mobile back in April 2012. Laptops with these processors are beginning to make their way into the channel, with Acer claiming that the Aspire V3 range of notebooks is available at retailers already.
MyGaming visited two retailers who confirmed that they stock is incoming, though they do not currently have the devices in store. These should be available within the next few weeks.
Other hardware to consider
There are of course other less important things to consider, including:
Screen size and resolution – Screen size and resolution are important for gamers, as well as display outputs on the laptop. High resolutions are nice to have, however they’re typically only found in the very expensive business and gaming laptops. Lower resolution screens aren’t necessarily bad though, a lower resolution screen means less intensive performance requirements put on the CPU and GPU, making them last longer.
Storage – Storage is another option to consider, though thankfully it’s as simple as desktop drive options. Gamers have the choice of low-speed hard drives (typically 5,400rpm, which are slow and cheap), faster hard drives (typically 7,200rpm, which offer higher performance and capacity), and SSDs (which offer the greatest performance, but are often low capacity and expensive).
RAM – RAM is thankfully not as confusing as the CPU or GPU – it all comes down to size and speed as is the case with desktop computers.
Portability and battery life – If you want a gaming laptop, you’ll probably need to go for a larger, heavier laptop, or pay through your teeth for an Ultrabook with gaming capabilities such as the high end Acer M3 range.