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With more and more power being packed into laptops, they are becoming platform of choice for many gamers. Until a few years ago, gamers used to either custom make their systems or to buy them from small niche vendors. This changed rapidly in last few years, and Dell's purchase of Alienware in early 2006 signaled how serious the business of selling computers to gamers had become. So, what are the choices and tradeoff faced by today's gamers while considering purchase of a gaming laptop:
It's the Graphics stupid! The feature which is highest on the wishlist of any gamer is best possible graphics performance. Specs of the NVIDIA or ATI chip in a gaming laptop may be more important than the specs of an Intel or AMD chip. Some laptops even allow for end-user upgrade of the graphics card. Some modern laptops offer the capability of upgrading the graphics card. E.g. some laptops have Nvidia MXM-IV (Mobile PCI Express Module) for easy upgradeability to new generation of graphics technology. Absolute cutting edge is a laptop with Scalable Link Interface (SLI) technology from NVIDIA. SLI is a brand name for a multi-GPU solution developed by NVIDIA for linking two (or more) video cards together to produce a single output. Top end gaming laptops also have 1GB DDR-3 video memory. While what is the best gaming laptop will depend on your particular needs etc., in general you don't want to compromise on the graphics subsystem.
Resolution of the LCD screen of the laptop is also a key criteria. For modern gaming laptops, SXGA+ (1400x1050) or WSXGA+ (1680x1050) are the low-end of the resolution. Aspect ratio (ratio of width to height) is also an important consideration. Historically, the standard aspect ratio was 4:3, but more and more laptops are now coming out in the widescreen format (i.e. 16:10). Not all games support the widescreen format. E.g. Warcraft III can play in widescreen format, but images are basically stretched. You will need to check your favorite game titles to see what native resolutions they support. It is expected that more and more future game titles will natively support the widescreen mode.
Get those new levels loaded - fast. A well designed video game comes with a rich set of realities which may vary significantly from level to level. Here the speed of your hard drive and memory matters a lot. Laptops use 2.5 inch hard drives. Current state of the art laptop drive is a 7200RPM SATA drive, which can support a burst rate of 150 MB/sec. Every respectable gaming laptop should have at least a 7200RPM disk. An interesting breakthrough in this area would be arrival of mainstream flash based disks for laptops. While these will probably be always costlier than their mechanical counterparts, they provide major improvement in speed and cooling requirements. A solid state disk uses 50% less power than traditional hard disk technology - resulting in increased battery life and less heat generation
Need to save those laps from burning! With high performance comes heat. Form factor of a laptop does not allow for quick heat dissipation. One strategy here is to complement the built-in cooling in a laptop with an external laptop cooler. Some of these coolers offer other features (e.g. doubling up as a USB hub, memory card reader and storage compartments.
Fire after your bot is swapped back.. A modern day gaming laptop ought to have at least 2GB of memory. Speed of the memory is important as well - state of the art today is DDR2 667MHz memory.
Great for show - may not be worth the dough. While CPU performance is one of the first things people talk about when talking about performance of any computer, it may not be the most important thing for a gaming laptop. If you find yourself making a tradeoff between CPU speed and Memory size - most likely you will be better off opting for higher memory. Of course, CPU performance (both frequency and cache size) does matter. Intel Core 2 Duo Processor T7200 (2.00GHz, 4MB L2 Cache, 667MHz FSB with 64-bit) is a decent choice for a gaming laptop.
Running with Penguins!? While things are improving for gamers on Linux, but still state of affairs is far from at par with Windows. In the past availability of drivers for video and sound cards was an issue. Although now NVIDIA and ATI do provide drivers for their graphics chips. Availability of game titles is the biggest issue for Linux laptop users. Cedga from Trasgaming bridges the gap a bit by allowing Windows based games to be run on Linux systems. Cedega is a fork of Wine with a focus on DirectX (you can first try to see if your game will work on freely available Wine - before deciding to pay for Cedega). Of course, the best would be if game publishers provided direct support for Linux - i.e. create OpenGL based games. Hopefully, with continued march of the penguins on desktops we will see more and more titles natively supported on Linux.
Need extra juice.. While playing you will push on both the CPU and the GPU, and each of their fans - with considerable disk activity. All of this will result in maximum possible strain on the battery. So, if your objective was to be able to play on a coast-to-cost plane ride, make sure to upgrade the battery to the highest number of cells available for that laptop.
Bling! When it comes to a gamer laptop, looks matter! Highlighted WASD keys clearly show to your neighbor on the flight that you take your gaming seriously.
Standard Bearer Alienware Area-51 m17x laptop sets the standard for gaming laptops as of mid-2008. It is a 17-inch Widescreen with NVIDIA SLI graphics, Intel Core 2 Extreme processors, up to three hard drives, up to 4GB Memory. We priced an Area-51 m17x with Dual 512MB MVIDIA GeForce Go 8800M GTX (SLI enabled), WUXGA (1920x1200) LCD, illuminated keyboard, Intel Core 2 Extreme X9000 2.8GHz (6MB Cache 800MHz FSB) processor, 4GB Dual Channel DDR2 SO-DIMM at 667MHz – 2 x 2048MB, 1.5TB of storage, and 2x Dual Layer Blu-ray Disc Burner (BD-R, DVD±RW, CD-RW) at a whopping $6144!
Portability of a laptop makes it much more easier to take it to a gaming party, as compared to lugging a desktop and a monitor. On the other hand, Gaming laptop will certainly not be light on your wallet. One of the choices you may need to make is whether you want to buy a cheap laptop to meet your mobile computing needs and a desktop for your gaming needs.
Gamers' migration to laptops from desktops, augurs well for more mainstream laptop users as well. Gamers bring with them expectations of high performance, killer graphics, and best cooling systems - all of these are great things even for a spreadsheet junkie. Because of relatively high margins involved there is significant interest from vendors. Dell, Toshiba, Sony, Gateway and Asus are some of the top brand laptop vendors offering laptops aimed squarely at gamers. Gamers can expect lot of new developments in the year 2008 for gaming laptops and business travelers can do better than Solitaire...
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