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The Final Battle: Gaming Laptop vs. Desktop Rig

The Final Battle: Gaming Laptop vs Desktop Rig

Jolene Dobbin
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When it comes to outfitting their gaming battle stations, many gamers like to go all out and buy the best and coolest setups that they can afford (or can’t afford as the case may be). And since some of them are seriously cool, they’re understandably excited about sharing those newfound goods with fellow gamers.
While the reveals may run the gamut between good-spirited camaraderie and cutthroat braggadocio, there is nonetheless a fun and playful element to showing off one’s new rig to an audience who gets it.
Aesthetics, including wall colors, background artwork, and lighting, are often a large part of one’s battle station setup. Comfort is another critical element. Selecting the ideal gaming chair based on support, durability, and ergonomic design can make or break the gaming experience - especially for long sessions of competitive gameplay.
Choosing between a gaming laptop and a desktop rig, though, is probably the most important decision to make from the outset. While the age-old question of power vs. portability will doubtless be on your mind, there are also other features to think about during your decision-making processes. In the battle of gaming laptop vs. gaming desktop, who will win out? Here are a few points to consider before choosing your champion.

9 things to consider when buying your gaming desktop or laptop

If you are thinking of either upgrading or buying a new gaming battle station setup, here are 9 things to consider:
1. Portability
2. Performance (including CPU and GPU)
3. Customizability
4. Memory
5. Storage
6. Monitor
7. Keyboard
8. Sound
9. Pricing

1. Portability

It seems like an obvious answer: if you’re looking for the ability to move around freely and carry your gaming system with you wherever you go - whether that’s across the room or across the state - then a gaming laptop is the best choice. A good gaming laptop will let you game from nearly anywhere. Compared to even the smallest desktops, laptops are lighter with a smaller form factor.
Desktops are not only heavier, but you’d also need to carry all of the related peripherals (keyboard, display, cables, etc.) and deal with the mess of wires that are inherent with gaming desktops.
The answer might not be so obvious, though, if you consider that there are crossover gaming options that allow you to carry around your desktop. Take, for instance, the HP OMEN X desktop VR backpack. This seriously cool backpack lets you strap into your HP OMEN X compact desktop so that you can game while you walk around, seamlessly, without being tethered to your desk or gaming setup.
Winner: Gaming laptops unless you opt for the backpack

2. Performance

Just as important as or even more important than portability, performance is a key characteristic for a gaming desktop or laptop. And if you’re playing games competitively, it’s absolutely essential to have a high-performance gaming system.
Gaming desktops usually offer more and therefore better choices than gaming laptops in terms of power with multi-core central processing units (CPUs), graphics processing unit (GPUs), hard drives, memory, and dedicated liquid cooling.

Quad-core or better CPUs

While you should look for a minimum of quad-core processors, some of the best CPUs for gaming include 6 and 8 core processors (and higher). These powerful CPUs run very hot, especially if they’re being overclocked, and simply cannot be cooled adequately in gaming laptops.

Heat management

GPUs, in particular, run hot, requiring pretty large coolers for heat dissipation. High-performance, dedicated graphics cards are rather large, and gaming laptops just don’t have the space for them. So, they naturally work better within gaming desktops compared to gaming laptops.
However, gaming laptops have been catching up with their desktop counterparts in the performance department. Certain high-performance gaming laptops such as the HP OMEN 17t gaming laptop or the HP OMEN X laptop offer powerful, newer generations of GPUs such as the NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX™ 1070/1080 or AMD Radeon RX 500 series graphics cards like the RX 590, 580, and 570.
Powered by the Pascal-architected NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080, the HP OMEN X laptop is, in fact, the HP OMEN line's first overclockable laptop on select models. It offers two large, high-performance fans that pull in cool air from several vents on the bottom of the laptop. And it transfers heat away from the GPU and CPU towards four massive radiators via an integrated vapor chamber on certain configurations.

External GPUs

One of the advantages of gaming desktops over gaming laptops is the ability to swap out GPUs when a more powerful graphics card comes along. But if you do decide to go with a gaming laptop, there is another option to consider: external GPUs (eGPUs). An eGPU can help you get desktop-quality graphics on your gaming laptop by connecting with an external hardware dock instead of your laptop’s internal graphics card.

Hybrid solutions

And if you’re looking to provide a desktop-level boost to your laptop’s gaming potential, then check out the HP OMEN Accelerator shell: a PC gaming chassis that transforms your laptop into a high-performance gaming system without needing to actually buy a new gaming desktop. It easily fits the industry's latest graphics cards and storage solutions with a large area for a variety of dual-slot, full-length graphics cards from NVIDIA and AMD. And there is plenty of space to connect peripherals with four USB 3.1 ports, a USB 3.1 Type-C port, and an RJ-45.
Winner: It’s a toss-up depending on your gaming habits, although desktops have the slight edge

3. Customizability

A gaming desktop is inherently more customizable than a gaming laptop. Whether it’s the graphics card, processor, storage, or memory, replacing or customizing internal components in the gaming desktop is relatively easy to do, depending on one’s skill set. You just need to open it up using simple tools.
For instance, the HP OMEN X full tower case is customizable for future performance demands with an innovative chassis. It features an inventive tri-chamber design that separates and hides the hottest internal components - including GPU, HDD, and power supply - behind the motherboard, with dedicated cooling for optimal thermal management and easy, safe access.
Conversely, gaming laptops are by nature smaller and more compact, lacking the space to install additional components. They’re also much more difficult to open and customize, requiring both specialized tools and components that are tough to source.
However, the HP OMEN X laptop is an exception to most gaming laptops. It offers easy upgradability and customizability with a unique see-through panel to access internal components. It also has 2 Thunderbolt-certified USB 3.1 Type-C ports, 3 USB 3.0 Type A ports, and an HDMI port.
Winner: Gaming desktop, hands down

4. Memory

As a gamer, you probably know firsthand how important it is to have enough memory to game smoothly. Triple-A (AAA) games, in particular, require more graphics RAM (video memory) in order to effectively render detailed scenes and settings, and not having enough can throttle the GPU’s performance abilities.
While both gaming desktops and laptops can be equipped with large amounts of memory that are ideal for high-performance gaming (e.g., at least 16GB or 32GB), gaming desktops can better handle memory customization and upgrades.
There are some gaming laptops that will enable swapping out memory. However, most have memory slots that are difficult to access. And even if you are able to access them, doing so may potentially damage them and could void your warranty.
Winner: Gaming desktop for after-purchase upgrades

5. Storage

Storage is another feature that affects smooth gameplay since having enough storage for the latest AAA games, which quickly consume it, is necessary. Laptops have limited space within which to install additional hard disk drives (HDDs) or solid state drives (SSD), so gaming desktops offer the advantage of more space for additional storage bays. However, you can install external storage on a gaming laptop if necessary.
Gaming desktops usually have several Serial Advanced Technology Attachment (SATA) ports - which transfer data from the HDD to the rest of the computer - compared to gaming laptops. SATA ports let you install more HDD or SSD storage.
While gaming laptops do offer decent amounts of storage within SSDs, which have the advantage of their small and portable size, it’s not exactly fair to compare them to the sheer size and capacity of HDD storage for gaming desktops.
For instance, the HP OMEN X desktop PC offers four separate storage bays that hold up to 3TB each for a massive 12TB of potential storage.
Winner: Gaming desktop

6. Monitor

Your monitor, or display, is incredibly important for an immersive, authentic gaming experience. There is nothing worse than not being able to effectively see the amazing vistas in a graphically rich adventure game or miss out on the action in, say, a first-person shooter (FPS) thanks to a laggy or stuttering display.
Most gaming laptops offer a minimum of Full High Definition (FHD) displays, with refresh rates of at least 60 Hz, or the ideal for 1080p gaming, and decent diagonals of 15 to 17 inches. The beauty of gaming desktops, though, is that you can easily add whichever monitor (or monitors) you like to your battle station, especially those with higher resolution rates.
Take, for instance, these standout players on the gaming-centric HP OMEN team: the HP OMEN 32 display offers an incredibly large 32-inch screen with a crystal-clear QHD (2560 x 1440) resolution panel with a 75 Hz refresh rate. The HP OMEN X 35 curved display provides a stellar viewing experience with a Wide Quad HD (WQHD or 3440 x 1440) resolution and 100 Hz refresh rate.
Or to really step up to the big leagues, the HP OMEN X Emperium gives you truly stunning Ultra High Definition (UHD or 4K) visuals and blazing-fast refresh rates up to 144 Hz on a giant 65-inch diagonal screen.
While you can plug in a discrete external monitor to your gaming laptop, a gaming desktop setup lets you engage in multi-display gaming with several external monitors giving you more screen real estate for your gaming pleasure.
Winner: Gaming desktop

7. Keyboard

Another important component of your gaming rig is the keyboard. You’ll be spending a lot of time using this piece of your battle station setup, whether you’re using a gaming laptop or gaming desktop. Gaming laptops typically feature low-profile membrane keys, which don’t stand up to continual pressing and long hours of gaming as well as mechanical keyboards.
A gaming desktop setup gives you the opportunity to add some very cool mechanical keyboards to your rig. For instance, the HP OMEN keyboard 1100 is a mechanical keyboard that’s made for high-stakes competition with ultra-responsive blue mechanical switches and a 50-million keystroke lifespan. It also detects every key press while illuminating with a dedicated LED. The HP OMEN Sequencer keyboard is also built for gaming with a 70 million-click lifetime. It features industry-leading optical-mechanical switch technology enabling a 0.2 ms response time, which is 10 times faster than traditional mechanical switches.
At the same time, you can always add an external mechanical keyboard to your gaming laptop setup if necessary. And some laptops do offer useful (and cool) features like built-in backlighting that detect every keystroke, such as the HP OMEN 17.3-inch laptop.
Winner: It’s a toss-up since either can use an external keyboard

8. Sound

Even though most gamers will likely agree that the perfect gaming experience would not be complete without great sound quality, sound quality is nonetheless a subjective experience. Some people are fine with deep, rich baritones while others are more partial to treble tones. Both can be heard in gaming desktops and laptops - the latter of which now offer pretty advanced and decent built-in speakers.
If you’re looking for headsets to either connect to your gaming desktop or enhance your gaming laptop, however, there are some good options available out there. The HP Pavilion gaming headset 600 has 7.1 Virtual surround sound that delivers life-like acoustics. The HP OMEN headset 800 features an immersive soundscape with a large, 53 mm diameter driver to produce sounds with remarkable clarity.
And the HP OMEN Mindframe headset was designed with quality and comfort at the forefront with Virtual 7.1 surround sound with realistic positional audio in addition to 3D spatial awareness that enhances sound localization. It also has easily adjustable volume controls located directly on the headset’s earcup. And the earpads and unidirectional microphone offer excellent noise cancellation.
Speaking of which, gaming laptops can sometimes be noisy thanks to the constant oscillating and whirring of the fans that are necessary for temperature control. As mentioned earlier, however, this is a subjective experience that may or may not affect your overall gameplay.

Winner: It’s a tie since headsets are ultimately the way to game!

9. Pricing

For the most part, gaming desktops usually have a better price-to-performance ratio than gaming laptops. Gaming desktops cost less for the same performance than gaming laptops, and it’s more expensive to get components into the smaller footprints that laptops offer.
You can easily assemble your own gaming desktop rig with the exact components you want, and often at the right price points depending on your sourcing expertise. A gaming laptop is much less customizable or upgradable, therefore costing more in the long run if you ever need to add on components.
At the same time, if you invest in a premium gaming laptop that you plan on keeping for a while, then you can avoid having to spend extra on any peripherals (such as a monitor, keyboard, speakers, touchpad, mouse, etc.) which you would need to do with a gaming desktop.
Winner: It depends on whether you already have peripherals or not

Summary

There are plenty of pros and cons to each gaming setup, but in the end, the perfect gaming rig is the one that fits your budget and lifestyle best.
About the Author: Jolene Dobbin is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Jolene is an East Coast-based writer with experience creating strategic messaging, marketing, and sales content for companies in the high-tech industry.
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