It is a question that people have asked since the rise of gaming on computers: “Should I buy a gaming laptop or a gaming desktop?” Whether you are looking for gaming laptops under $800 or the best gaming PC under $1,000, you have some difficult choices ahead of you when determining what to buy.
If you want to get a gaming computer but are not sure which model will best suit your needs, you have come to the right place. I have been building and playing on gaming PCs for over twenty years, and I will tell you what is the better bet in the competition of a gaming laptop versus a gaming desktop.
Differences Between Gaming Laptop Vs. Desktop
While both machines ostensibly perform the same tasks, the way a laptop and desktop go about doing them is quite different. I will break down some of the most important differences you need to know before you invest in a product.
Size and Portability
When it comes to size and portability, a laptop has a clear advantage over a desktop computer. If you want to take your laptop over to a friend’s house, or meet up in a common area on a college campus for a LAN party, transporting the device is as simple as folding it and heading out.
While some desktop computers are on the smaller side, they are still difficult to transport. Not only do you need to take the tower with you, but you also need to gather up any peripherals like your mouse, keyboard, and monitor. While not impossible, it is quite unfeasible to transport a gaming PC around instead of just letting it sit at your desk.
Laptops also hold the advantage of not needing as much dedicated space. A gaming PC needs a desk to sit at and hold its various accessories. A laptop is lower maintenance, as you can easily set it up on a coffee table or your lap and go. Laptops do not require a dedicated space for them, so they are a good option for those living in smaller areas where space is at a premium.
Power and Performance
Dollar-for-dollar, a gaming PC is nearly always going to have better performance compared to a laptop. Because desktops have more room for larger parts and cooling, they hold the edge in providing the best gaming experience and graphics. In short, even the best gaming laptop will struggle to keep up with highly optimized desktops.
The lower performance does not mean that gaming laptops are not worth a look, but just that a desktop will normally have better frames per second and graphical fidelity.
The differences may not be immediately obvious to more casual gamers, but hardcore players who want to squeeze every last drop of graphics out of a machine may want to avoid a laptop and stick with a more conventional desktop.
Another factor to consider is that you need to keep a gaming laptop plugged into the wall to get the best performance out of it. While you can play entirely on the battery, you will sacrifice the graphics severely and the battery will drain rapidly.
If you plan on taking it on the go for gaming, you should make sure you have an outlet nearby to get the most out of your computer.
Customization is another aspect where desktops hold a distinct advantage over the competition. When you purchase a laptop, you will likely be able to choose from a few different components to fit your budget and needs. But once you make these decisions, it is often incredibly difficult to make any changes down the road.
While some laptops allow you to upgrade the RAM or storage space, you will likely not be able to upgrade two of the most important pieces of a gaming computer, the graphics card, and processor.
These two upgrades are the ones that give you the largest leap in performance, and it means you will likely need to purchase an entirely new laptop when new releases become unplayable.
Upgrading a desktop computer is a simple process, and some users regularly upgrade their PCs with new parts and use the same case for a decade. If you want to jump on and receive performance boosts from new products like NVIDIA’s RTX 4090 or Intel’s i9 processors, you can purchase and install them yourself with a little know-how.
If you care about the aesthetics of your machine, you also have more options with a desktop computer. You can pick components that build to a theme and have a case to match.
Want to make a pink computer or one that has a rainbow motif?
It’s easy to do with the variety of parts you can find. Customizing the look of a laptop is much simpler, and you will not have as many choices.
When you buy a laptop, you will find a keyboard, trackpad, and screen all built into it. This is a double-edged sword, as it does lower the number of things you need to buy, but also means you are stuck with these peripherals for most of the laptop’s life. While you could buy a USB keyboard and mouse and a new monitor to hook the laptop up to, you lose out on some of the price advantages and portability a laptop brings to the table.
Desktop computers have so many options for external peripherals. While a laptop has one screen that you cannot change, you can buy any monitor you want for a desktop PC, or even multiple monitors for a split-screen experience. You can find a monitor with a higher refresh rate, which gives you a distinct edge in multiplayer games.
While most laptop screens and keyboards are sufficient, it is more practical to add luxury items like a mechanical keyboard or high refresh rate monitor to a gaming desktop.
While laptops used to soar past the desktop market in price, the difference between the two models has closed in recent years. If you want the absolute highest bang for your buck concerning performance, the desktop will be the choice for most gamers.
Laptops are slightly more expensive on average, but you receive benefits with a laptop that a desktop cannot compete with. You are paying that extra amount for portability and not having to worry about purchasing extra accessories. A laptop out of the box is ready to use with no extra equipment, while a desktop will need a few peripherals before it is usable.
Pros of Gaming Laptops
- Easier to set up and get running
- No external purchases needed
Cons of Gaming Laptops
- Slightly more expensive than desktops
- Not customizable after purchase
- Often not as powerful as desktops
Pros of Gaming Desktops
- Easy to add new components after you purchase a desktop
- More power compared to the price
- Easier to design to specifications
Cons of Gaming Desktops
- Difficult to transport
- You must purchase a monitor, keyboard, and mouse
- Often requires more effort to get set up
Should You Buy a Gaming Laptop or Desktop?
Now we come to the million-dollar question: should you opt for the laptop or desktop? At the end of the day, you are the only person who can answer that question for your needs and budget, but I will try to direct you to the best option.
Of course, I cannot make the pick for you, so you should do research independently and always look for the best deals before purchasing a gaming computer.
The first thing you should determine is your price range. We know desktops are generally less expensive than laptops with similar performance, but a computer is still an investment regardless of your choice. And you must research any product you buy because there can be an ocean of difference even between a cheap gaming PC under $500 and gaming laptops under $500.
If you are on a budget and cannot find any laptops at a heavy discount, you should opt for a PC, as you can likely find a better quality model cheaper than an equivalent laptop.
If you have extra money and desire better portability, you should stick with a gaming laptop.
The next thing you need to do to settle the debate of a gaming laptop vs. a desktop is to figure out what kind of games you want to play on your machine. If you want to play the latest games with 4K graphics and ray tracing, you may have trouble finding a laptop that can handle the task.
Multiplayer games, especially first-person shooters, need the best hardware possible to maximize frames. Having a higher frame rate and a monitor with a higher refresh rate may be enough to give you the edge in a tight firefight.
If you are playing games like Call of Duty, CS:GO, or Fortnite and consider yourself a hardcore competitive player, you might want to stick to a desktop.
Gamers who do not have any issues with playing older games or turning down the graphics should be satisfied with a laptop’s performance. If you travel a lot and want to play games while on a train or plane, a laptop is doubtlessly the purchase of choice.
Finally, we should look at how much work you are willing to do with your computer. If you want a machine that is less hassle and you can move on from when its shelf life has expired, a laptop is the simpler choice. You will not have the option to upgrade the computer later on, but if that does not matter, then you do not need to worry about it.
If you want to keep upgrading your computer over the years, a desktop is the only choice.
In the end, it is up to each user to determine what they value most and then make the choice. If you lean one way or another, you should follow your instincts, as there is no correct answer.
How To Build a Gaming PC
If you purchase a desktop, you may want to build it yourself. I will give you a few basics so you can better understand the parts you need before embarking on the rewarding quest of building a PC.
The critical components of a PC are the motherboard, power supply, graphics card, processor, RAM, and storage. While it sounds like a lot to take in, it is simple when you get the hang of things. Depending on your budget and power needs, you can figure out where to focus your budget and where you can skimp on components to save money.
The two most critical pieces for better-looking games are the processor and graphics card, so you should spend most of your money there. Most motherboards are similar, so you should find one with good reviews that is compatible with your parts.
RAM is not as expensive as other components, and you must decide between benchmarks. The more RAM, the more tasks your computer can handle simultaneously.
While the power supply may not seem like the most vital purchase, as it does not affect frame rates or graphics, I recommend getting a high-end one. Wiring a computer is time-consuming, and you do not want to deal with a failed power supply that needs replacing. Faulty power supplies can damage your other premium components, so ensure you invest in a safe one.
Finally, storage is where you will save everything. Storage is cheaper than ever, and you should find an internal hard drive or solid-state drive with the space to hold your games and programs. You can never have too much storage space, but you can easily add more later if necessary.
Conclusion: Gaming Laptop Vs. Desktop
Whether you purchase a gaming laptop or desktop is entirely up to you. You should weigh what elements are critical to your enjoyment of the new purchase. If you want portability and simplicity, opt for the laptop. Likewise, if raw power and modularity speak to you, a desktop may be the best choice.
No matter your preference, I hope you find the PC that meets your needs. Having a gaming PC is a rewarding experience, and you have thousands of games to try out alone or with friends.