OK, before you jump to buy a gaming laptop, read this. A gaming laptop is just that – for gaming. Just as you will not use the Formula One car for daily commute to the office, you don’t need a gaming laptop to learn and run Python, Java, C++, and other programming languages, databases, etc. The two classes of computers are very different – different in price and different in specifications.
So what is a gaming laptop? Its a laptop that you will use to play computer games – not the Road Rash or Mario or Flight Simulator type, but far more serious, adventurous, multiplayer games like Fortnite, Apex Legends, Call of Duty, Mindcraft Dungeons, etc. There is a serious community of computer gamers, worldwide. To cater to this segment, many manufacturers such as Dell, Lenovo, HP, Asus, and Acer to name a few, have come out with gaming laptops. These laptops are at the high-end of specifications and price. The term ‘slim laptop’ is not applicable to this category of gaming machines – they are bulky and heavy, primarily because of the quality of components.
So what specifications should one look for when buying a gaming machine? There are two broad categories – gaming desktop and gaming laptop. You have to decide whether mobility is an issue and if it is, go for the laptop. A truly gaming laptop has one distinguishing feature – it must have a dedicated graphics chip (called as GPU – Graphics Processing Unit) as opposed to the ‘integrated graphics’ built into the PC’s main processor. The other two critical components of a gaming machine are the main memory (RAM) and the processor (CPU).
Remember, laptops and notebooks are not upgradeable, so buy something that lasts 5-6 years. But in a desktop, you will be able to update the components. Here are the other specifications that are the bare minimum:
Graphics – Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 2070 Super or RTX 2080 Super – 8 GB DDR6. Other GPUs are GeForce GTX 1650, GTX 1660 Ti but these are slightly older.
Display – 15.6 inch, FHD with 1920 x 1080 resolution (this is also called 1080p resolution). A 17 inch display is always recommended but that will cost more and make your laptop heavier. Refresh rate is an important parameter for display systems and most displays have a refresh rate of 60 Hz. A refresh rate of 60 Hertz means that the image is drawn 60 times a second – or the image is refreshed 60 times a second. Some displays have a refresh rate of 75 Hz or 120 Hz and these are good for fast-paced games. The other characteristic to watch for is the In-Plane Switching panel (IPS). What does this display do? Well, it increases the viewing angle so you don’t have to be exactly in front of the screen to see true colors, even if you are away at angles of 45-60 degrees from the center, you will see colors reproduced faithfully. The other type of panel is the Twisted Nematic (TN) panel which has narrower viewing angles, but has faster response time and fast refresh rates and are cheaper.
Processor – 10th Gen, Intel Core i7 – 10750H, Intel HM470 chipset. If possible, look at the 11th generation core i5 or i7 processors. The 11th Generation ‘Tiger Lakes‘ CPUs have a improved graphics capabilities and are for slim laptops, and lower power consumption.. Quad-core CPUs are the best. If budget is a constraint, start with 10th Gen i5 processor.
Memory (RAM) – Atleast 8 GB x 2, DDR4 2666
Storage – SSD 2 TB. The SSD will hold the operating system for fast boot times, and a few games, but use a 1 TB hard disk to store other apps that will be used infrequently. Western Digital has introduced new products under its WD_BLACK portfolio of storage solutions. These include internal and external SSD drives. What about DVD/CD drives? These have almost vanished and so don’t bother with these. Yes, I know that we were told in 90’s that a CD and DVD disk will last atleast 50 years, but we were not told that the drives would vanish. So if you have an old CD drive lying around, transfer the games from CD to the hard disk or cloud drive. You can also buy an external CD/DVD drive that connects to the USB port.
Keyboard – You need a colorful, backlit keyboard because that’s what all gamers are using! Single-color backlighting in red or white is most common. Passionate gamers will go for lighting that is programmable by zone in 3 or 4 colors. So the num-key pad may be in green, the left side in white, and the middle part in red. It is best to have a separate num-keypad so that you have easy access to the arrow keys as well. And if there’s money to burn, there are also keys with individual backlit colors.
Mouse – You will use this a lot and there’s plenty of variety. Look for comfort and accuracy, smooth, responsive tracking. Mouse resolution is measured in dots-per-inch (dpi) but these numbers are widely misreported. So don’t worry too much about the numbers. Test out the mice.
Webcam – 1080p. These are now available by default in most laptops but do check the quality.
Ports – HDMI, USB-C 3.2 Gen, USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports (2ports)
Headphone jack and wireless headphones, stereo. Check for wearing comfort and quality in the store.
SD Card reader – by default its in most laptops.
Operating System – Windows 10 (Home Edition).
Bells-and-whistle – You can add the other stuff as you progress, like headsets for VR etc.
The Bottom Line – What will all this cost? Be prepared to spend anywhere from US $1000 to $2500.
Can I use this laptop for learning programming? Yes, you can. But you will be tempted not to because gaming experience >> learning programming.