Since the dawn of PC gaming, ATX towers that sit across the entire desk have occupied the spotlight.
However, as tech progresses, CPUs become smaller and GPUs become more powerful, you can get an ultra-portable laptop with i9 and Nvidia RTX 2080 that can handle modern AAA games on a whim.
So the question arises, what should you pick, a gaming laptop or a gaming desktop?
This article will help you figure out what suits you best based on your performance requirements, budget, and much more.
The Short Answer
Despite how powerful laptops get, a gaming desktop will be a better fit for most of the people out there.
The Long Answer
The long answer to the ever raging question can be divided into seven parts- performance, price, portability, heat management, upgradeability, specs, and peripherals.
We’ll go over each of the seven points in detail and award one point to the winner of every respective category.
In the end, we’ll tally the score between gaming laptops and gaming desktops, and the one with the higher score wins.
Despite who wins, we’ll also compare the upsides and downsides of a gaming laptop as well as a gaming desktop based on our seven-point evaluation.
Laptop Vs. Desktop: Face-Off!!
The performance of a gaming PC is directly co-related with the potential to run the latest AAA games at the maximum setting, otherwise known as ultra-high, and maintain a high yet stable framerate.
Better graphics outweigh frame rate in expansive single-player titles such as Red Dead Redemption 2 and Witcher 3, while higher frame rates are preferred in dynamic and fastpaced shooters, such as Doom Eternal and Call of Duty Modern Warfare.
In both cases, better graphics or higher framerates, the most crucial role is served by the graphics processing unit or GPU.
Due to space constraints on a laptop, a gaming laptop’s GPU will always be physically smaller than its desktop counterpart.
The smaller size means reduced core speeds, soft limitations to control the temperature and overall reduced performance.
Take a look at the latest consumer GPU from Nvidia, the GeForce RTX 2080.
Both the desktop version as well as mobile version are packed with 8 GB of GDDR6 VRAM, but the mobile version that’s fitted in laptops has reduced clock speeds.
The desktop version also consumers a lot more power than the mobile version, so naturally, it’s performance is better than its mobile counterpart.
However, the mobile version isn’t quite power efficient either, so Nvidia released an even less powerful version of the GeForce RTX 2080 with further reduced clock speeds for better power efficiency.
Naturally, most of the laptop manufacturers prefer the GeForce RTX 2080 Max Q, the toned-down version, over the regular mobile version to increase the battery life of their laptops.
Here’s how the tweaked core speeds affect gaming performance. Doom Eternal, a fast-paced shooter game can achieve 293 FPS on low settings with the GeForce RTX 2080 desktop version.
At the same low settings, the RTX 2080 Max Q can achieve just 156 FPS. When we turn up the settings to ultra, the desktop version had a frame rate of 223 FPS while Max Q had a frame rate of 134 FPS.
Coming to Red Dead Redemption 2, a graphically demanding AAA title, the desktop version ran at 153 FPS on low settings while Max Q ran the game at 121 FPS.
The RTX 2080 supported an ultra-resolution at 45 FPS, but couldn’t go beyond that. The desktop version played the game on ultra settings at 63 FPS but could go all the way up to 4K resolution with 34 FPS.
So, despite having the same amount of VRAM, the desktop version of RTX 2080 absolutely crushed the laptop version. While the performance on the laptop versions was still commendable, it’s a question of future-proofing.
Moreover, the difference will only widen as developers take the maximum advantage of the newer architecture. Such a difference can be better observed in older GPUs, say the Geforce GTX 1070.
A similar pattern is observed with the desktop and laptop versions of CPU.
Let’s not forget the fact that we can add more than one graphics card to a gaming desktop, but that’s not possible with gaming laptops.
So, in the performance section, the gaming desktop sweep a clean win.
Pricing is a little more complicated than performance. Say you have a budget of $1000.
For that money, you could get an entry-level gaming laptop with a Ryzen 5 or Intel Core i5 processor, GTX 1650Ti graphics and 8 GB of RAM.
For the same price, you could build a much better gaming desktop with better specs.
A rule of thumb about specs says that a gaming laptop will cost you twice as much as a gaming desktop with the same configuration.
But when you buy a laptop, you can start using it right of the box. On the other hand, after you have built your dream gaming PC, you’ll need a monitor, a keyboard, and a mouse which will cost you extra.
So, after you’ve invested everything, you’re almost standing at the same place with a gaming laptop and a gaming desktop.
This is said with the unsaid consideration that you know how to build and assemble your own PC.
If you don’t know how to assemble a gaming PC from, then your only options are to buy a factory assembled gaming PC or hire an expert to assemble it for you.
If you opt for the factory assembled model, then you won’t have control over the specs and you’ll have to pay a premium.
On the other hand, while you have freedom of specs if you get your PC built by a professional, you’ll have to pay a fee.
Then comes the question of resale. A laptop is purchased and sold as one piece. So, after 3 to 4 years, you’ll resell your laptop which would have depreciated over time. With PCs, you have the option to simply resell a part, and upgrade it with a newer one, thus going easy on your pocket.
One thing that’s often missed out when comparing the gaming laptops with gaming desktops on the basis of price is power consumption.
A gaming desktop consumes far more electricity than a gaming laptop, which adds to your electricity bill. So while it’s not a cost you pay upfront, it accumulates over the years.
If you’d have to declare a winner between the two on basis of sheer specs that you get for a fixed price, then sure, gaming desktop can sweep an easy win.
But if you add the cost of peripherals, assembly fee (if you don’t know how to assemble a gaming PC yourself), resale prospects, and power consumption, then it’s a tough battle.
Thus, it’s a draw between gaming laptops and gaming desktops in the pricing section.
The gaming laptop sweeps a clear victory in the portability section. If you’re addicted to LAN parties and local tournaments, then a gaming laptop is much more sensible than carrying around your gaging desktop along with all the other peripherals.
Even the heaviest and bulkiest of the gaming laptop is more portable than a gaming desktop simply because of the fact that it does not require any external monitor or dedicated power supply unit.
Portability simply doesn’t stop at LAN parties and gaming tournaments. Gaming laptops can serve as excellent work laptops as well, especially if your work requires heavy processing, such as video editing or 3D rendering.
They allow you to merge your work machine and gaming machine into one.
That being said, hefty gaming laptops are usually quite bigger, heavier and chunkier than your regular day to day ultrabooks.
Additionally, the battery performance on gaming laptops is usually disappointing, especially when the GPU is in use, so you can expect to carry your charger everywhere you go.
Despite everything, even the heaviest of the gaming laptops can be closed and carried in a bag.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about desktops, so gaming laptop wins a point here.
4. Heat Management
When you are pushing the CPU and the GPU to their limits to get that extra bit of framerates, you’re bound to generate some heat. The desktops have an upper hand when it comes to heat management.
For starters, the extra space in a gaming desktop allows for better cooling and heat dissipation.
As such, the crucial components do not tend to overheat and thus, they can push better performance. The better heating solutions also allow you to overclock your GPU and get the most out of it.
The bigger fans on a desktop GPU, as well as on the case, allow the heat to escape. Even if the fans aren’t cutting for you, you can install liquid cooling that is guaranteed to cool your system down despite the load.
The GPU isn’t the only component that benefits from a larger room and better ventilation. The regulated heating system improves CPU performance.
As such, the desktop version of a CPU always has more cores and faster memory than its laptop counterparts since it can run without overheating.
Overheating is the biggest problem when it comes to gaming laptops.
Even with the best in class fans and thermal paste, a laptop is prone to overheating under heavy loads simply because of the sheer amount of power it is using.
Combine that with the confined space that the GPU and CPU are packed in and you’ll face overheating problems. Additionally, when laptops fans are cranked all the way to the top, it can get quite noisy and vexing.
Laptops aren’t built to sustain such heavy loads for long periods of time, thus, gaming desktops claim victory in the heat management section.
That being said, it’s worth mentioning that the cooling solutions in laptops are evolving every day. There is an innovation that excites.
The Asus ROG GX700 comes with an external liquid cooling system. The external system can be plugged and connected with the heatsink of the laptop.
The external unit drags out the heat to give the GPU a 43% improvement in performance. Maybe a few years down the line, gaming laptops may come with an integrated liquid cooling system. Who knows?
The extent of upgradability on a gaming desktop is far more than a gaming laptop.
When it comes to gaming laptops, the most you can do is add a RAM stick and upgrade the storage by adding an SSD or HDD. Although, not all gaming laptops give you the ability to do so.
On the other hand, the extent of upgradability on a gaming desktop is virtually limitless. You can swap out or upgrade pretty much each and every component on your gaming desktop.
So, if a component of your gaming PC is busted, you can simply swap it out for a newer one. On the other hand, if you run into the same problem on a gaming laptop, you’d have to scrap the whole thing.
All you need in order to upgrade your gaming desktop is a screwdriver and some basic knowledge.
Upgradability adds a layer of future-proofing to your gaming desktop. For example, if you buy a $2000 gaming laptop today, it might become obsolete four years down the road.
On the contrary, if you build a $2000 gaming desktop today, you’ll need a $200 upgrade four years down the line and it would be as good as new.
So,gaming desktop wins this round.
6. Spec Selection
The Spec selection is totally up to you in case of a custom-built gaming desktop. Gaming laptops, as well as factory-made gaming desktops, are produced for the masses.
Thus, they offer the most generic yet well-rounded build at that price point.
But when you have control over the specs, you can configure your gaming PC yourself. Say you like to have a lot of other tabs opened while you’re gaming, so you can add more RAM while configuring your gaming desktop.
If you’re into 3D rendering on the side, then you can spend more on the GPU and less on the CPU. Gaming laptops simply don’t give you that option.
The only noticeable downside to this is that you’ll need to make sure that each component is compatible with every other component of your rig.
For example, if you get a beefy GPU and a small power supply unit, then your system won’t work.
The same goes for every other component. You’ll also need to keep the size and cable management in mind.
You’ll never run into such a problem on a gaming laptop as they’re tried and tested before mass production.
Still,the complete control over the specs makes the gaming desktop the winner of this round.
The gaming peripherals market is ginormous in 2020. You’ve got gaming monitor, gaming keyboard and mouse, gaming headphones, and even gaming toasters, although the last one never made it into production.
With gaming desktops, these peripherals are compulsory. You need at least a monitor, keyboard and display to use your glorious gaming desktop.
On the laptops, you essentially don’t need anything else. Nonetheless, keyboards run hot and trackpads are not useful when it comes to gaming, so you’re quite likely to buy a keyboard and mouse even for your gaming laptop.
So it is a tie? Well, not exactly.
The ports on a gaming laptop are diminishing every passing day, henceforth reducing your possibilities to use external peripherals.
The latest ultrabooks feature just a couple of thunderbolt ports, perhaps the gaming laptops may follow the same trend a few years down the road.
Desktop wins the peripherals round by a small margin, but laptops aren’t quite far behind.
Now, let’s take a look at the tally.
Gaming desktop win. They dominate their counterparts in almost every field except for portability.
So, if you want a gaming PC, should you just go ahead and buy a gaming desktop.
Well, not exactly. Gaming Desktop won fair and square. But are they for everyone? NO.
While gaming desktop will be always better value for money and be more powerful, it’s false to say that modern laptops can’t run AAA games at respectable settings.
Laptops also tend to be the more well-rounded machines that require less maintenance.
So what you need is based on your requirements. If you’re just going to keep your machine at a desk and play games, then gaming desktops are the way to go!
But if you need even a hint of portability, and you’re not going to build and upgrade your desktop, then a laptop is a better choice.