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Should You Buy a Desktop PC or a Laptop for Gaming?

The battle between laptops and desktops is one that seems like it stretches back to the dawn of time (well, the 1990s at least). When it comes to gaming, the battle is a valid one. Both laptops and desktops have their passionate fans. But, which one is right for you? If you're trying to decide between a laptop or a desktop for gaming, keep on reading to discover the pros and cons of each.


Contents


How to choose between a desktop PC or a laptop for gaming

To help you make that all important decision, we’re going to take a look at the key factors you should think about before making a purchase. We’ll take a look at things like performance, portability, upgradability, price and more, and we’ll pick a winner for each category.

So, are you ready for the battle between desktop PCs and laptops to commence? Let’s go…


Price of gaming desktops versus gaming laptops

One of, if not the, most important consideration when buying a new gaming computer is the cost. So, how do gaming desktops stack up against gaming laptops?

Well, we’re going to ‘cop out’ slightly on this one. It’s difficult to directly compare laptops versus desktops purely on cost. This is because of the huge number of different configurations and components that go into the respective machines.

However, we still wanted to see how a pre-built gaming desktop would compare to a gaming laptop. So, we’ve lined up the Horizon 7 AMD RTX 3070 Gaming Desktop PC against HP’s Omen 15-en1001na Gaming Laptop.

Here’s how they compare:

 

Specifications Horizon 7 AMD RTX 3070 HP Omen 15-en1001na
Price as configured £1,610.99 £1,499.99
CPU AMD Ryzen 7 3700X AMD Ryzen 7 5800H
GPU GeForce RTX 3070 (8GB) GeForce RTX 3070 (8GB)
RAM 16GB DDR4 16GB DDR4
Storage 1TB (SSD) + 2TB (HDD) 512GB (SSD)
Display N/A 15.6" 2560 x 1440 pixels

 

Okay, so these two computers are roughly comparable (if not exactly comparable), but they’re a close enough match for our purposes here.

The laptop comes in over £500 cheaper. It features a similar CPU to the desktop, it’s GPU is slightly newer than the desktop’s (albeit with less VRAM), and it has 16GB of DDR4 RAM just like it’s desktop rival.

Surely the laptop’s the winner then?

Well, not quite. Take a look at the storage. The desktop features a massive 1TB solid state drive and a frankly enormous 2TB hard disk drive. The laptop? A relatively puny 512GB SSD in comparison.

That’s not the end of the story though. Yes, while a desktop PC may offer you overall better value compared to a laptop, it does come with some additional upfront costs. You’ll need to purchase a monitor, keyboard, mouse and possibly speakers too. A laptop comes with all of these features built in (although this has its pros and cons as we’ll discuss later).

Winner: It’s a tie! Because desktops and laptops aren’t directly comparable, and personal preference will impact price significantly, we’re calling it a draw on price…


Performance of gaming desktops versus gaming laptops

If you’re looking to play the latest and hottest titles, then you want to make sure that whatever you choose - laptop or desktop - is up to the task and can offer you a smooth gaming experience.

So, with that in mind, how do laptops and desktops compare in terms of performance?

Well, price once again becomes a factor. Sure, if you buy a £2,500 gaming laptop, it’s going to outperform a £500 desktop all day, every day.

BUT, all things being equal, you’re going to get better performance with a desktop. Unfortunately, by being portable, laptops sacrifice many of the things that provide better performance.

A gaming desktop has a bigger chassis, more fans for better cooling and heat dissipation. Which means lower temperatures. And, lower temperatures mean better performance!

There’s also the issue of mobile CPUs and GPUs. As it stands, Intel, AMD and NVIDIA’s mobile CPUs and GPUs just aren’t as strong as their desktop equivalents (although in some cases they come very close in terms of performance).

Winner - If you want maximum performance then you’ll have to go for a desktop.


Upgradability of gaming desktops versus gaming laptops

Closely related to performance is the issue of upgradability. GPU and CPU tech is moving so quickly, that if you want to be able to play AAA titles over the next few years, then you’ll ideally have the ability to easily upgrade your system.

Whether you completely build a custom desktop yourself, or buy a pre-assembled one, it’ll be easier to upgrade it in the future compared to a laptop.

Note - Upgrading a pre-built desktop PC can be tricky if it has a proprietary motherboard. Proprietary motherboards can be non-standard sizes, making it difficult to upgrade. If you’re buying a desktop PC and you’re sure you’ll be upgrading it in the future, check what motherboard it has before you buy.

Yes, if upgradability is a key consideration for you, then a desktop is the way to go.

But, what if your heart is set on a laptop? Can they be upgraded? Well, a bit. Most laptops will allow you to change out the RAM and storage (although some of the very thin laptops have the memory soldered to the motherboard).

Some gaming laptop manufacturers (such as Alienware) have taken upgradability to the next level, providing users with the ability to swap out both the CPU and GPU. However, Alienware are very much in the minority - there are very few laptops currently on the market that offer that level of upgradability.

Winner - Desktop.


Storage and memory of gaming desktops versus gaming laptops

If you’re going to be doing a lot of gaming or working with data intensive applications (such as video editing), then you’ll want a decent amount of RAM and plenty of storage.

How do laptops compare to desktops in this instance?

Desktops come out ahead. Whilst it’s possible to buy gaming laptops with a similar amount of RAM to desktops, it’s in the area of storage that desktops take the lead.

Many desktop gaming PCs come with SATA ports, meaning you can easily install a wide range of hard disk drives and solid state drives, boosting the storage capacity of your system massively. If you want to save huge game or video files on your machine, then a desktop is the sensible choice.

It is possible to expand the RAM and storage of a laptop, but doing so is more difficult than with a desktop. RAM slots on many laptops are difficult to access and require a degree of disassembly. In addition, upgrading the RAM in many laptops will void any warranty you may have.

If you want to improve the storage capacity of a laptop, then you won’t be able to add additional drives to your laptop (think back to the CCL Paladin which we mentioned earlier. With a desktop you can have both a HDD and a SSD!). Your only option is to either replace the existing storage, or use external drives.

Winner - Desktop.


Portability of gaming desktops and gaming laptops

This is where a laptop has a clear, unassailable advantage. If you’re a fan of gaming on the go, or simply can’t bear to be parted from your system, then a laptop will probably be the answer.

But… get those arm muscles in shape, because the majority of gaming laptops are heavy. Depending on what model you choose, a gaming laptop can weigh anything from 1.5kg to 5.5kg. And, trust us, carrying gaming laptops at the top end of the scale is NOT fun.

Nevertheless, even the heaviest gaming laptops are easier to carry around than a desktop.

The key thing is to think about how you’ll be using your computer. If you’ve got a dedicated ‘gaming’ space in your home, then a desktop is probably the better option. You can max out on performance and invest in a massive screen and lots of other gubbins safe in the knowledge that you’ll not be getting shifted at short notice.

If, on the other hand, you intend to use your computer for other tasks (such as recording your mate’s thrash metal band), then you may want something a bit more portable. A gaming laptop is also useful if you don’t have a dedicated space for gaming. If you need the option of being able to game on the couch or on the kitchen table, then go for a laptop.

Winner - Laptop.


Ergonomics of gaming desktops and gaming laptops

In many games, the way in which you interact with the keyboard and mouse can make all the difference between winning and losing.

So, if you’re buying your computer specifically to play games on, you’ll want the ergonomics to be perfect (if you’re unsure what ergonomics means, it’s basically the science of how people interact with things).

The two most important elements from an ergonomic perspective are the keyboard and mouse. How do they compare on a laptop and a desktop?

Touchpad versus mouse

As anyone who’s ever used a laptop touchpad for any length of time will tell you, they are definitely not the most intuitive or easy thing to use. For gaming, they become even more frustrating. You’re confined to a very small area, and the response time of touchpads isn’t always great.

A mouse on the other hand… Well, it’s almost insulting to compare a mouse with a touchpad! If you invest in a dedicated gaming mouse with advanced configuration options, you’ll transform your gaming experience.

Of course, you can always buy a gaming mouse to go with your laptop, but it becomes yet another item that limits your portability (the whole point of a laptop for many people).

Keyboard

Choose a laptop and your options in the keyboard department are limited. The membrane keys that are used by many laptops are not able to withstand prolonged, hard use.

For an optimal gaming experience, you’ll want a mechanical keyboard. With a desktop, that’s easy. Simply buy your preferred mechanical keyboard and plug it in (or connect it wirelessly).

Yes, there are some gaming laptops on the market that feature integrated mechanical keyboards, but they are few and far between. In other words, if you want a gaming laptop with a mechanical keyboard, your options are limited.

Of course, you can always buy a separate keyboard and link it to your laptop, but as with buying a dedicated mouse, this rather defeats the purpose of a laptop in the first place.

Winner - Desktop.


Display of gaming desktops versus gaming laptops

The display is important - especially if you’re a dedicated FPS player or simply enjoy stunning visuals. So, how do desktops and laptops compare in terms of display?

The majority of gaming laptops feature screens between 15 and 17 inches diagonally, with full HD screens and fast refresh rates. But, that doesn’t quite compare to desktop gaming where you can choose whichever monitor you please.

Plus, an added benefit of desktop gaming is the ability to engage in multi-display gaming. You don’t have to restrict yourself to a single screen, but can really immerse yourself in digital worlds. Plus, using multiple monitors can also give you a competitive advantage...

Winner - Desktop.


Audio of gaming desktops versus gaming laptops

There’s no doubting that a laptop offers you a complete package. Today’s gaming laptops offer fantastic sound output, helping to draw you into the soundscape of games.

But desktops offer fantastic audio too. In fact, there’s nothing to stop you turning either your laptop or desktop into a virtual amphitheatre. There are a wealth of amps and speakers that can help you create the perfect sound system for your gaming.

However, we know that many gamers prefer to use a headset when they’re playing online. For that reason, we don’t think there’s necessarily a huge difference between a laptop or desktop when it comes to audio. If you’re going to be playing with a headset, your focus should be choosing a headset with the best drivers and your preferred operating principle.

Winner - It’s a tie. It’s all about the headset!


Is a desktop or a laptop better for gaming?

It’s results time! Let's add up the scores and see whether laptops or desktops have come out on top in the world of gaming…

 

Factors Gaming Desktop Gaming Laptop
Price X X
Performance X  
Upgradability X  
Storage and memory X  
Portability   X
Ergonomics X  
Display X  
Sound X X
Total 7 3

 

It’s a clear victory for desktops! It’s clear that a gaming desktop will be the most powerful, upgradable (and possibly affordable) way to get into gaming. Add in other factors such as the wide choice of monitors, peripherals and potential for enormous storage and memory and you’ve got a compelling proposition that many gamers will find hard to turn down.

However, there’s always that subjective thing called personal preference. Whether you prefer the freedom to game in different places, or you just prefer the form factor of a laptop, it seems there will always be a place for gaming laptops.

Then again, you could always buy both…