Video games require a lot of processing and graphics horsepower, which is why it’s hard to game on a laptop with comparatively light specs. Even more problematic is that desktop replacement laptops aren’t that portable and are extremely expensive. Below are five good choices for the budget-conscious gamer on the go.
Dell Studio XPS 16
Revision date: January 2009-2010 (depending on model)
Specs: 2.4-3.06Ghz Centrino-i7, 3-8GB DDR3 RAM, multiple graphics card options (Customizable)
Dells are known as run-of-the-mill, if uninspired and occasionally clunky. The XPS line is their multimedia/performance laptop series. Their prices are good, on first look–but how much your final price will come do varies depending on what you buy. The cheapest version ships with an Intel Centrino processor, which is old, pitiful for games and disqualifies it immediately. Better models come with i5 or i7 processors. The best prebuilt bet is the $1399 model, which features better battery life considering the regular life is quite short, this is probably a must and a .n-flavored wireless card, but the problem is that these amenities are standard on other computers, and generally cheaper. Additional tweaks can be made online, and there are often rebates for things like free RAM upgrades (always a perk for the cash-strapped among us.)
Affordability: High to medium; you’re getting what you pay for, but you can tweak and upgrade a lower model to ignore components you won’t need. For a cheaper model by Dell, see the Studio 17 starting at $599.
Apple Macbook Pro
Revision date: June 2009
Price: $1699-$2299 (15″ model)
Specs: 2.55-3.08 GHz, 1066 Mhz frontside bus, 4GB DDR3 RAM, multiple graphics card options (Customizable)
Gaming on a Mac has long been a near-contradiction in terms, but luckily not only are AAA games coming out native for the Mac, you can install Windows on your computer via Boot Camp, giving you essentially two computers for the price of one–a boon to anyone who needs to use a Mac for work and wants to use it for play as well. While you have a choice of what screen size to get (13, 15, or 17″ models), the 15″ offers the best portability vs. power ratio, although that’s smaller than most other models reviewed in this article. You can get your choice of pre-built configurations off Apple’s site or tinker with it online (although that can get more expensive than it should be). The most optimal choice is the $1999 option, which gets you a 2.66 Ghz processor, a 320 GB hard drive. An interesting feature of the higher-end notebook options of Apple is that you get two graphics cards; on the $1999 option, a NVIDIA GeForce 9400M + 9600M GT (256MB). The 9400M is an integrated processor, meaning that just gaming with that alone would use RAM you could have dedicated to the game, but that’s less of an issue with a dedicated graphics card as well; the use of a integrated processor also gives you a more-powerful battery-saving option on the road.
Affordability: Medium to low; $1999 for a midrange gaming computer, even a good one, is a pricey investment. If you’ve got a PC, you’re better off sticking with it for gaming; also, given the date of the last refresh, buying a new computer know would only lead to heartache as better models are expected in March or April. For a cheaper model by Apple, look at the Macbook ($999).
Revision date: February 2010
Specs: 2.4 GHz Core 2 Duo, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 260M, 4 GB DDR3 RAM (stock option; customizable)
Alienware used to be independent, but now it’s Dell’s premium label. The 17x is a 17″ laptop with a wide array of customization options, but like with the Dell, you have to be aware you may be nickeled and dimed for things like screen resolution and faster RAM (the default stock is slower than the 1333 MHz RAM found on the Dell XPS). Maxing out the hardware specifications save its hard drive brings its cost to over $3500. On the plus side, Alienware loves its graphics cards, and you can get a single 1GB GeForce 260M or swap it out for two of the same for a total of 2GB, and it offers 9-cell batteries for the best battery life while gaming.
Affordability: Medium. Customization can get you the most bang for your buck. For a cheaper Alienware laptop, see the M15x ($1199) with a 15″ screen.
Gateway P series
Revision date: February 2009
Specs: 2.4-2.53 GHz Core 2 Duo, NVIDIA GeForce 9800M, 4GB DDR3 RAM (1066 MHz)
Gateway’s P series comes in two basic configurations. The P-7807 and P-7809 are much alike, the only difference being greater hard drive space and faster processors; things like RAM speed, processor type, screen size (17″ with full HD resolution) and graphics options are all the same, which makes choices far easier than computer makers like Dell. Like the MacBook Pros, the P series has two GPUs, the dedicated 9800M and an Intel PM45.
Affordability: High. If you want a no-hassle purchase, Gateway supplies it, but those wanting more customization will be left in the cold–there’s no customization options provided. Also, the revisions are getting long in the tooth; you will want to wait for the next models to drop.
Revision date: February 2010
Price: $1500 (base configuration)
Specs: 2.16-2.66GHz i7, ATI Radeon HD 5870 1 GB, up to 8GB DDR3 RAM (1066-1333 MHz)
The ASUS G line is their offering of gaming laptops (G for gaming, get it?) and the G73JH features a 17 inch HD screen, the latest Intel i7 processors, an ATI Radeon graphics card, and room for up to 8GB of RAM (the speed of your RAM is dependent on which processor you get). Features ASUS touts include an ergonomic chassis that can be tilted and grouped noise components to the rear for a quieter experience and improved cooling. The 1TB hard drive is far roomier than any other above laptop’s standard configuration. Unfortunately the computer is less svelte and heavier than average, limiting its portability somewhat.
Affordability: Medium. You may benefit from the extra storage space, but the lack of customization means that Asus computers aren’t as attractive buys as the other options discussed above.