How to get the best bang for my buck in a notebook?
October 12, 2010 7:04 AM   Subscribe

What's a powerful notebook for a traveling gamer?

I realize a question like this is so open and can lead to many different answers and suggestions. I'll try to name my exact needs and preferences so you get a better picture.

I've been doing research myself since I'm kind of a computer nerd but I've never purchased a laptop. I'm used to buying my own motherboard, HD, video card, etc. and making it as cost effective as possible.

I'm a casual gamer who likes to have the latest and greatest or as close to it as possible. I have a great custom built desktop at home that has done everything I've asked of it over the years. The problem though is that I travel every week, Monday-Thursday, so I don't have access to that beastly machine. Instead I have a business grade Dell Latitude D620 that work gave me.

*Preferably an Intel i7 processor
*Good graphics card (I don't play anything too crazy, just Left 4 Dead 2, CS:S, Minecraft, etc... nothing like Crysis)
*Something that does 720p or 1080p would be a bonus
*HDMI out would be nice so I can plug into my TV
*Wireless N for for N network at home
*Any size HD will do as I'm probably going to replace it later once SSD drops in price
*USB 3.0 possibly for the future
*Blu-ray isn't a big need. I've had a PS3 for 4+ years and own two BD movies
*A 17" screen would be nice but I'm not sure how easily that travels. I don't mind carrying heavy things but it would be awkward if it was ungodly huge. Maybe meet in the middle with a 16"?
*I've also read about "switchable" graphics, which would be handy when I'm not gaming but it's not really an issue if I don't get it
*~$1500 for my budget, maybe a little more

Are there any specific brands you'd recommend when it comes to higher-performance laptops? Any specific retailers you'd recommend, whether online or brick and mortar?Is there any technology you think I must have right now if I plan on having it 2-3 years? Right now I'm thinking the processor and video card are the only two things I can't upgrade in the future, so I'd like to get the best I can now.
posted by jwfree to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The ASUS Republic of Gamers line is very nice. I picked up one from Best Buy on sale for about $900 but they run as high as $1700.

And just a suggestion, if you travel a lot with the laptop, I don't suggest a 17". My husband has one and we usually leave it behind because it's so damned heavy to lug around.
posted by tryniti at 7:21 AM on October 12, 2010

Response by poster: tryniti: You're probably right about the 17" laptop and traveling. I also already have a bag for my 15.4" work machine so ideally I wouldn't want to buy another one. In the past I didn't remember seeing 16" laptops but I'm running into them a lot lately while I've browsed around.
posted by jwfree at 7:25 AM on October 12, 2010

I wanted to second the ASUS Republic of games line. I have the 16" version, and I can tell you, it doesn't fit into bags very easily, but it's not as heavy as the 17" I used to have. It games beautifully though.

If you are flying a lot, I can't recommend the scan-through bags enough.
posted by Zophi at 8:25 AM on October 12, 2010

Response by poster: Zophi: I've been doing a lot of research on the ASUS line. It looks great. Right now my eye is on the ASUS G53JW-A1 which should come out in the next week or so. I'll have to take a look at the newer airport bags. I've just been using the bag I received from my company.
posted by jwfree at 8:56 AM on October 12, 2010

I have an ASUS G73, one of the aforementioned ROG line. It meets every bit of your criteria. I've been extremely happy with mine. Not just a beast for gaming, but also very cool, very quiet. Looks good too. You say you don't need anything "crazy", like running crysis - it runs crysis pretty darn well.

The exact model I got came with a 500gb drive and a free bay - I've read a lot of people put a SSD in the free bay and use it for booting and games, keeping the slower drive for music, pictures, etc. storage.

I got mine as a desktop-replacement style notebook, assuming that I'll have space to set up and won't be traveling too much, so the 17" screen works for me. If you're going to be on the go often, (as you say) I'd have to say to take it down a step. It's heavy. The balance is weird for a laptop as well, much heavier in the back than front, moreso than any other laptop I've seen. I don't know if the weight distribution makes a difference to you, but there it is. I guess you could always balance it in a backpack with the 85-thousand-metric-ton power brick.

Which brings me to the battery life - you'd be lucky to get an hour of gaming in on the battery - the G-whatever series is designed to be plugged in.

Hope that's helpful.
posted by mrgoat at 9:52 AM on October 12, 2010

Response by poster: mrgoat: Thanks! I've seen some great specs and prices on the 17" models. If I was going to be home a lot I would go that route definitely. I'm just scared to travel with something like that. The backpack would have to be huge. The model I mention in my post above has a possibility of a free bay, so I'll look more into that for future expandability.
posted by jwfree at 10:15 AM on October 12, 2010

I recently spent a lot of time looking for a new laptop computer, although my requirements were different than yours. I wanted a travel computer on which I could game, but I also spend a lot of time traveling over huge distances, and I wanted something that had good battery life for when I'm in an airport or on a train/bus. I found that if you want a good laptop for gaming, you will either have to have a short battery life or a very heavy weight. Since you didn't mention battery life being a concern, I assume that's not an issue for you.

What helped me a lot was to go to local stores and pick up and play with each laptop to get a feel for size and weight. I originally was looking in the 14-15 range, but after playing with the computers, I found that 13 worked fine for me too, although I didn't like anything smaller than that. Weight was the biggest concern of mine after price, so picking up the laptops in store really helped me narrow things down. I wrote down all the specs of the laptops I saw in store in order to know what my weight range was, which screen sizes were good for me, and also to compare what I could get in store versus what I could get online.

For reviews I used cnet (taken with a grain of salt) and talked to friends of mine that were happy with their gaming laptops. I spent a lot of time looking at the refurbished Dells and HPs, but you have to check there regularly in order to snatch the rare great deal.

The Dell Alienware stuff has good reviews online and my friends have been happy with it. I'd suggest either that line or an ASUS like what has been suggested earlier.

Because battery life and weight were more important than being able to play high powered games, I ended up buying my first mac - refurbished 13 inch macbook pro. It plays Star Craft 2, which is good enough for me. When I started searching, I'd said no macs and nothing under 15 inches, but playing with the computers and deciding what was most important to me in the laptop led me to this purchase and I'm very happy with it.
posted by avagoyle at 12:41 PM on October 12, 2010

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