Do I 'need' a gaming laptop to play MMOs?
November 9, 2009 12:37 PM   Subscribe

Do I 'need' a gaming laptop to play MMOs?

Computer hardware knowledgable people: what sort of system do you use for determining your 'needs' for a computer? My HP lappy conked out last week (very likely a motherboard failure, I'm told) and I'm in the market for a new one. It wasn't an ideal time financially for this to happen, so I don't want to spend anymore money than I have to. However, I also want this next laptop to last 4-5 years if possible, or, at the very least, 3.

I'm not a huge gamer, but I started playing a fair amount of WoW earlier this year and it's not unreasonable to think I may branch out into a few other MMOs. On my old, mid-range HP, WoW had many errors (not able to process the zone files and crashing) and was generally frustrating. Other than the games, my needs are fairly basic: a small amount of graphic design, word processing/spreadsheets, listen to music and watch DVDs/blu-rays. Is it worthwhile to splash out on a newer, more powerful processor *(quad core or I7, for e.g.) and some extra memory or will this be money wasted due to not using this power? Is there an objective (i.e. not trying to sell me something) site out there that will determine my hardware needs?

I've seen this but that question didn't discuss the needs of MMOs, and I'm not interested in the PC vs Mac side of things. (For reasons of cost and wanting to keep using the same software I already own, some of it purchased at "educational" prices for which I no longer qualify, I'm sticking with a PC.)
posted by Kurichina to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
"On my old, mid-range HP, WoW had many errors (not able to process the zone files and crashing) and was generally frustrating. "

Your machine (or WoW install) was broken. It's not a function of how powerful or weak the system is.

"Is it worthwhile to splash out on a newer, more powerful processor"

No. If you're going to spend on higher grade hardware with WoW in particular in mind, focus on two things: the best GPU you can afford to get in the machine, and having enough memory. WoW is pretty much never CPU-limited -- most slowdowns these days occur due to the 3.x engine putting a lot more textures on the screen with a lot more geometry, and that horrible new shadow rendering path that makes it so painful to fly anywhere there are trees.
posted by majick at 12:42 PM on November 9, 2009

It depends on the MMO, and how you play. I have a dinky Macbook that can play wow, but only solo, and NOT in pvp or a raid. I would not want to try playing WAR or Aion on it. An older MMO might not be an issue.

So really my answer is: if you are playing solo in non lag sensitive ways, you don't need very much. If you are going to be doing large scale raids or pvp, you will need a better graphics card and more ram than you would otherwise.
posted by strixus at 12:43 PM on November 9, 2009

Best answer: I think you'll be fine if you get a reasonable powerful laptop. I have a two-year old Thinkpad X61 which plays WoW ok but not great if I'm soloing (I've had problems with it crashing in raids). I do have to turn down the graphics settings pretty far.

I don't think you need a quad core or I7 - my desktop has a core 2 duo and I can play WoW with all the settings maxed no problem. As majick says, it is mostly a function of graphics card and memory, and even here the requirements aren't too demanding - my desktop has 4GB of RAM and a 9800 GTX+ graphics card, which is now one or two releases behind the cutting edge, and I have no problems with it.
posted by pombe at 12:47 PM on November 9, 2009

Best answer: Do you currently need to upgrade to play the MMO you want to play?
Is your desire to be still playing the same MMO in the next 4-5 years?
What will the graphics requirements of the MMOs you will be playing in 4-5 years?

If you don't need an upgrade, and you will not need the upgrade on the horizon: do not spend the money. Period. Buy the cheapest computer which meets the specifications you need - buy a craptop that you can easily part with and replace later with minimal discomfort within that 4-5 year span if you need to.

Also, If you can answer the last two questions with certainty - then buy the computer that meets those specifications. If you cannot - then reality is that likely something new will come out (hardware, or MMOwise) which will require a future update.
posted by Nanukthedog at 12:56 PM on November 9, 2009

Think about whether you actually need a laptop specifically.

Honestly do you take it places or do you just want a computer you can use at home.

I am biased, I greatly prefer working on desktops, but they are simply a much much better bang for you buck computer, especially for gaming and if you want something you chat with and use to surf the web on the couch, then get a net book with the money you would save.
posted by BobbyDigital at 1:45 PM on November 9, 2009

One of the more important things to look for is a computer which has separate memory for the GPU. In a lot of less-expensive computers, the GPU uses the main memory. That means that the processors run a lot slower because they are starved for memory bandwidth.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:04 PM on November 9, 2009

Don't buy a "gaming laptop" from Alienware or some such nonsense. They're terrible. Get a normal laptop from HP or Lenovo or whomever, but when configuring it look for the special graphics option. You don't want the basic on-chip graphics, you want something branded Nvidia or ATI/AMD that has better graphics performance. It won't rival a fancy gaming desktop PC, but it will be fine for games like WoW.
posted by Nelson at 3:04 PM on November 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've successfully done 25 man hard modes on my 2.4gz/4gb ram/GeForce 9400M while on travel. I've also seen WoW loaded on one of those eee pc's, although I think it was rocking 5 fps.

Personally, the only issue I had was using the trackpad, so I'd recommend getting a mouse.
posted by rickim at 4:42 PM on November 9, 2009

Best answer: It all depends on what games you're going to play, and what your budget is. I've had this Gateway M-6888u laptop for about 6 months now, picked it up for $549 but I've seen it at several stores for $499. Core 2 Duo CPU, 4GB of RAM, and a dedicated graphics chip. Even though the Radeon 2600 chip is now THREE generations old (they just starting selling Radeon 5xxx series cards), it plays WoW, Left 4 Dead 2 (and other Source engine games) at mid-to-high settings at 1280x800 resolution. And THAT is my only complaint about the laptop: the lower resolution screen. That, and the fact that the Function key is to the LEFT of the control key on the keyboard... grrrrr... but I'll get used to that eventually.

If all you're playing is WoW and games with graphics of that caliber, any laptop with a Core 2 Duo CPU (or a higher-end AMD Turion II model) and a dedicated (rather than integrated) graphics solution will work. Even the entry level ones like the Nvidia 9400M and Radeon 4350 are better than the standard Intel 4500-series and Radeon 3200/4200 integrated solutions.

Now, if you're planning on even attempting to play a NEW game 3 years from now, and have around $800 to spend, you'll probably want to purchase a laptop with at least a mid-range graphics card from the newest series available; I'd say an Nvidia GT 240M or ATI Radeon Mobility HD 4650, at the minimum. And even that's not a guarantee, since both those cards are DirectX 10, and DirectX11 cards are now out on the market. In 3 years time, every game studio could be making DirectX11-only games, for all we know. I know Sony has a VAIO model with the 4650 for around $800. And there's this HP available on Newegg for $749, with a Turion II and Radeon 4650.
posted by XcentricOrbit at 12:09 PM on November 10, 2009

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