Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

Post-CES ’19: Will gaming laptops finally interest pro-gamers?

  • Gaming laptops now use the same CPU and GPU that are used in gaming desktops, and are easier to upgrade
  • Mobile version CPUs for laptops are meant for comparably lower performance, to keep heating in check and provide more battery backup

New Delhi: Sabyasachi Bose, a gaming pro who has represented OpTic India at international gaming competitions, is open to playing on laptops if they come with desktop-grade hardware. “If the laptop is as powerful as a desktop, I won’t mind using it, but I will have to connect it to a 24-inch or larger monitor which is a requirement in most professional gaming tournaments," he says, adding that regulations may not permit this. Besides, it beats the very purpose of getting a laptop.

Bose is a case in point. Gaming laptops may have come a long way but they have still not found favour with the gaming community. PC makers are trying to change that perception with a new breed of gaming notebooks. Showcased at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held in Las Vegas, these gaming laptops run on desktop-class hardware, are better equipped to handle heat and can be upgraded like desktops.

For instance, Dell’s Alienware Area-51m—a big-screen notebook that has a 17.3-inch display and a modular design. Then there is Asus’s ROG Mothership—a giant 2-in-1 laptop with a 17.3-inch 144Hz display with a metal kickstand for support and a detachable keyboard. Both run on slightly different variants of Intel’s core i9 CPU and Nvidia’s RTX 2080 GPU.

The highlight of the new gaming notebooks is that they use the same CPU and GPU that are used in gaming desktops and are socketed on the motherboard (makes upgrade possible), unlike the usual crop of gaming notebooks that use the mobile version of Intel’s CPU or Nvidia’s GPU, which are soldered (fixed) on the motherboard.

CPUs for desktops are designed for faster performance and overclocking to boost performance in graphic- intensive scenarios), while the mobile version for laptops are meant for comparably lower performance, to keep heating in check and provide more battery backup. For instance, Intel’s Core i7 for desktops come with up to eight cores, 12MB cache and can muster higher clock speed of up to 5GHz, while the mobile version will have up to four cores, 8MB cache and clock speeds of up to 4.5GHz.

The icing on the cake is the flexibility to upgrade, which until now had only been available in desktops. So if something more powerful arrives a year down the line, users can swap it with Intel core i9 CPU running in Alienware Area-51m. This is good news for users as they won’t have to buy a new PC when they wish to upgrade a year down the line. However, upgrading the GPU is not going to be as simple, since it reportedly uses Dell’s proprietary slot, called DGFF (Dell graphics form-factor) for GPUs. This means any GPU upgrades in future will have to support the new slot too. So there is a possibility that users may have to go back to Dell for all future GPU upgrades, points out Aayush Bhardwaj, a professional gamer.

Heat management is another area where gaming notebooks cannot compete with desktops. However, with Asus ROG Mothership, heat may not be an issue, as its innards are packed up behind the display, resulting in better heat dissipation compared to gaming notebooks, where the fans are on the sides of the keyboard base.

Laptops will take more space and will heat up a lot which will affect performance, unlike desktops which can be huddled under the table and have more effective cooling options, says Bhardwaj. “Also, during professional matches gamers are looking for the best experience which is why they use mechanical keyboards and ultra sharp monitors with higher refresh rate, which even these gaming notebooks cannot match," he adds.

Gautam Virk, chief operating officer of Nodwin Gaming, a leading eSports company, points out that laptops might not have a serious impact on the professional gaming industry since their performance degrades over time. “This has been seen in the high-end laptops currently available," he says. “But you never know—this new series by Alienware might surprise us."

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