Maybe don’t do gaming laptops

A good friend in search of a laptop reminded me that I should probably share my experience with regards to gaming laptops. She has a set of criteria that has to be met, and a number of people have recommended gaming laptops for the purpose. (Honestly, this piece has always been waiting to be written in the back of my head, but the friendo’s laptop search convinced me it was time to commit this to pixels on a computer screen.)

I tried to walk this path. I’ve wanted a portable but decent grade Windows machine for a minute, and as a Christmas thing I decided to give a gaming laptop a go: a Dell G15. Arguably one of the better ones because I’ve seen many a MSI machine end up at repair shops due to substandard hinge design. Asus seems to be hit or miss, they’ve put out some apparent bangers (Zephyrus G14) but other laptops just look like they’ll fall to bits if you look at them wrong.

That G15 was returned in a week. Did it perform horribly? Absolutely not! But it highlighted a problem I think a lot of gaming laptops have, and that’s that they’re designed first and foremost to hit a certain spec target and literally everything else is an afterthought.

For desktops, that might fly. For laptops, that get lugged around and thrown around in bags? Absolutely not. Laptops at a minimum need to be designed to take some abuse, and the design of the G15 had me convinced that it was not up to such abuse. The lid had some horrible flex to it. The chassis was all plastic (and not good feeling plastic, honestly). The laptop itself had a huge ass (ah, Dell recycling fun old designs) that housed beefy heatsinks, with this oddball hinge design that made it so the point of contact with the lid wasn’t all that great and made it feel very likely to break.

Essentially, I needed a laptop that I would feel confident chucking in my bag and traveling with. The G15 wasn’t that.

Things didn’t really improve from there, either: the power brick was one of the bulkiest I’ve ever seen, with the cord material itself being exceptionally thick and stout; these are usually qualities considered to be good but when it’s so ridiculously stout that it ends up causing the barrel jack to pull out of the back of the laptop, we’ve got problems.

The trackpad was also awful and you could just tell it was placed there as an afterthought so you could technically use the machine as a portable. No matter how I set it, it was too sensitive and intermittent, losing track of my fingers frequently. The trackpad buttons (underneath the pad itself) felt awful, and I really wish OEMs would stop doing this. They can’t build an Apple-style trackpad to save their lives. Bring the dedicated buttons back. Please.

As you can no doubt guess, that’s the theme here: give us a good CPU, good GPU, good amount of RAM and decent disk space and absolutely everything else is an afterthought.

But wait! There’s more! You’d think with the beefy cooling system that necessitated giving this laptop a humongous ass that maybe it wouldn’t sound like a damned banshee when playing a game. You’d be wrong. You start a game—even an older one—and the thing immediately maxes the fans. It doesn’t seem to care about striking a balance between acoustics and performance in the slightest. My Precision 7720 (which had some level of gaming prowess, as I was able to play The Witcher 3 on it turned up somewhat) kept its temperatures under control and didn’t sound like a screaming banshee under load. And the chassis wasn’t this angular, plastic-coated mess that poked you if you grabbed it the wrong way.

(And yes, you can argue that I’m comparing two significantly different flavors of apples here, because the G15 is a 15″ laptop and the 7720 is a 17″ laptop. However, the G15 has so much extra girth that it seriously feels like a 17″ machine, even if it isn’t.)

While I still want to get a good Windows laptop for gaming whilst traveling (if I ever like, do that again at this rate but I do go out of town yearly so there’s that), I think I’d rather wait/save up more/do whatever it takes to get something like a Precision instead. Even though yes, I’m arguably not the target market for one. But I want a machine that’s built to last, and I feel the only way you’re getting that these days is by going with business/professional class offerings. Gaming laptops just don’t feel built to survive the rigors that come with being a portable machine.

I might be basing this off of having used one machine recently, but I know people who have gaming laptops from other brands. I see them constructed in similar ways. MSI is notorious for having hinge problems. You might claim I’m harshing on the whole product segment because of my experience with one laptop from one OEM, but it feels like the entire segment is like this for the most part: Give people baller specs, absolutely everything else is an afterthought.

Which, at least for me, absolutely does not make for a good laptop experience.