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Can you really play AAA games on laptop?

The question that has mystified gamers for decades: can you have a good, portable laptop gaming experience?
I can remember lugging my heavy 18” CRT monitor that weighed like 100 pounds, just about breaking my back in the process, back in the late 1990s.
Now it seems like this is a real possibility. After all, companies have been producing gamer oriented laptops for some time. Are these things any good?
The answer… they are….sort of.

 

Mario Figure

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

Keep your expectations reasonable

The key word here is “reasonable.”

Gaming laptops have seriously progressed in the past couple of years with cutting edge graphics cards being implemented inside of them – more importantly you can add desktop GPUs to them with the right ports (more on this later).
These enable you to run AAA video games pretty well, though you’ll have to “suffer” some less-than4k performance.“Like play everything at the lowest settings man?”

No no no. What I mean is that newer AAA videos can’t be played on their highest settings powering a 4k monitor.

I love my my Dues Ex: Mankind Divided, but you can’t play that in 4k on a small laptop. There isn’t a mobile processor out there (that I can afford) with enough compute to do it.
“CPU? But what about the GPU? Isn’t that important too?”

Well hold tight…
You’ll need a laptop with a thunderbolt 3 port in order to make your laptop into the gaming powerhouse that it can potentially be, you’ll need to pull out for a real desktop GPU.

Dinky mobile GPUs just won’t cut it, not if you want the awe inspiring performance of AAA games. Instead, you’ll need a laptop with a good thunderbolt 3 port so you can hook up an external GPU to it. This will let you pull out one of the cutting edge GPUs available and hook it up. This, alone, will instantly double your performance if you do this right. However, you can’t do this with any GPU. Instead, you’ll need a special thunderbolt 3 port, which are fortunately becoming more common these days.

Of course, you’ll need a special dock or converter to connect the two.
These ports let you connect up a GPU – which requires a lot of IO, hence why they were usually connected straight to the motherboard in the past – and use it as if it were inside your laptop!

That leads us to the next part….

You’ll need a fairly expensive GPU
You’ve spent $1000s of dollars on a nice laptop, coupled with a thunderbolt 3 port, and you even shelled out the $100s of dollars for a thunderbolt 3 to GPU dock.
Make sure to also shell out for a nice GPU.
I had this friend think that the hard work was done by this point. He didn’t even bother to spring for a nice GPU, instead pulling out a five year Nvidia card from his old workstation. The performance was okay, but when I upgraded to the same setup for our LAN parties a year later the difference was night and day.

 

Super Mario Figure

Image by MikesPhotos from Pixabay

Don’t be like my friend.

Make sure you spend the necessary money for a good GPU.
Gaming on a Laptop – is it worth it?

In a word: Yes.
However, you need to keep it in context with other points.

You’ll need a pretty good GPU to really bring out that 60fps AAA video game performance. You’ll also need a laptop with thunderbolt 3 ports so you can hook up that GPU to it.

Lastly, you’ll still need to keep your expectations a bit in par. You won’t power your 144hz monitor running at 4k with a laptop, but you will get a killer gaming experience for your next LAN party or when traveling.
The future is looking brighter and brighter for gaming. Time to get on it!