5 things I wish I'd known before buying a gaming laptop

Buyer beware – don't spend any money before reading this

Gaming laptops
(Image credit: Razer)

If you find yourself in the market for one of the best gaming laptops, it's likely that you're going to have to spend a substantial amount of money to pick one up – and that means you need to do your research to make sure it's money well spent.

Fortunately, the experts here at T3 have tested a lot of gaming laptops down the years – as well as the best gaming chairs – so we're in a privileged position in terms of being able to help you out with your shopping choices.

In that spirit here are five things that I wish I'd known before I bought my first gaming laptop. In other words, I should've consulted an article very much like this one before spending quite so much of my hard-earned money.

1. Expensive isn't always better

Alienware X17 R2

The Alienware X17 R2

(Image credit: Future)

The price of a gaming laptop is a good shorthand for how powerful it's going to be, but you need to be careful about which components account for that money – and how that translates into actual gaming performance. What you want more than anything else is value for your money, which can be tricky to work out.

It's worth figuring out the games that you want to play, and checking out performance levels for your shortlisted laptops (reviews and benchmarks can help with this). Remember it's not just about the power of the GPU – the available RAM, the CPU choice, and the screen resolution all play a significant part too.

Don't pay over-the-odds for brand new components that are more powerful than you actually need: it's possible that your money is better spent further down the scale. It's not an exact science, but careful comparisons of competing models will pay off.

2. Check the dimensions thoroughly

Razer Blade 14

(Image credit: Future)

The best gaming laptops pack in a lot of powerful components, and that has an impact on size. While you can find gaming laptops that are reasonably slim and svelte, they won't be the most powerful ones on the market – there's always some kind of trade-off going on.

It's perhaps not the first detail you're going to check in a review or on a specs list, but we'd recommend looking up the dimensions of the laptops you're interested in buying and making sure you have enough room on your desk. Gaming laptops need a lot of room around them too, to enable enough airflow for cooling.

You can get gaming laptops that don't look out of place in a coffee shop, but they're not all that common – so if that's what you want, look for that specifically, with a lighter frame and a smaller screen (and less power as a result).

3. Don't expect much battery life

Asus ROG Zephyrus M16

The Asus ROG Zephyrus M16

(Image credit: Future)

Something that you might not realise when buying your first gaming laptop is that the battery life isn't going to be up to much at all. Even the gaming laptops with the most battery life will struggle to get through a couple of hours – and that's just watching videos and sending emails.

If you're actually gaming, you'll be lucky to get an hour's worth of battery life. These aren't machines designed to spend a long time away from a power socket, because the high-end components inside them need a lot of energy to run.

Those of you who need a laptop that's going to run for hours while you're out and about might be better picking up something else, like one of the best ultraportable laptops. It's something to bear in mind as well if you were wanting a gaming laptop that can double-up as a normal laptop.

Further to this: you'll want to plug a gaming laptop in to deliver the full wattage potential from the processor, i.e. games will run better when plugged into the wall. So if you're always going to be playing when on the go, then look for a lower-end specification in the first place to save cash.

4. The ecosystem matters

Razer Barracuda Pro

(Image credit: Future)

When you're weighing up which of the best smart speakers you should buy, you need to consider how it's going to work with the rest of the smart home kit in the place where you live – the phones, laptops, lights, and other gadgets you've already got.

It's not exactly the same with gaming laptops, but it's similar. Just about all of the manufacturers making these laptops also have headphones, keyboards, and other accessories you can get hold of – so you're not just investing in a laptop, you're investing in a whole ecosystem.

If you already have some gaming hardware in place, look for laptops that work with it. If you don't, look at the compatible accessories that are available for the laptops you're looking at – as you might want to buy some of these as well, in the future.

5. You might not need a laptop

new alienware aurora black

(Image credit: Alienware)

It can be easy to default to thinking that a gaming laptop is what you need, but consider the drawbacks of these pieces of hardware: they're typically large and heavy, and don't usually offer you much in the way of battery life.

That sort of negates the main benefits of actually having a laptop, and you might be better investigating the option of a gaming desktop instead. The components will have more room to breathe, which means they can be more powerful, and get you better frame rates in return for your money.

Depending on what you already have around – such as a monitor, for instance – you might even be able to save some money by going for a gaming desktop rather than a gaming laptop, so make sure that the laptop is the form-factor that's right for you.

David Nield

Dave has over 20 years' experience in the tech journalism industry, covering hardware and software across mobile, computing, smart home, home entertainment, wearables, gaming and the web – you can find his writing online, in print, and even in the occasional scientific paper, across major tech titles like T3, TechRadar, Gizmodo and Wired. Outside of work, he enjoys long walks in the countryside, skiing down mountains, watching football matches (as long as his team is winning) and keeping up with the latest movies.