Full-time psychology student and part-time Sims addict. Fell in love with "The Sims" in 2002 and never really stopped loving it.
Although a desktop PC is better for gaming, many people choose to use laptops instead. Whether this is down to costs, purposes beyond gaming, or simply personal preference, using laptops for gaming is more common than the PC master race would have you think. This convenience compared to desktop causes a trade-off though; they may need a little more care if used for gaming.
Of primary concern is overheating, although lack of upgrade opportunities, thermal paste issues and soldered-on CPUs are also problematic. However, it is pretty easy to get your laptop well-prepared for a gaming session.
Disclaimer: I am not a computer scientist, a repair person or a tech expert. These are just things I have done to improve my laptop's performance and overall health. Take immense care when doing anything that will alter your laptop's hardware or components.
Know Your Limits
An important issue for laptop gamers is the lack of updating opportunities. You can't just replace most components like a desktop; CPUs are soldered to the motherboard, and often the GPU is integrated into the CPU.
Integrated graphics severely limit what games you can play, as well as the graphics settings you can use. If you're looking to buy a laptop for gaming, look only for dedicated graphics, even if it means choosing one with a slightly less beefy CPU. An i7 processor means nothing if you don't have the GPU to back it up.
If you're already stuck with integrated graphics, it may be worth evaluating how much you want to play those new AAA games. If you can't afford a new laptop, try focusing your gameplay on older games or less graphically demanding games. Also, it's a good idea to play on low graphics settings. It may look bad, but burning out your entire CPU and needing a new motherboard will be worse. Trust me.
A pro tip for anyone concerned about their specs: look at the minimum and recommended requirements before you buy a game.
Keep It Cool
Thermal throttling is no fun for anybody. When your laptop components get too hot, your CPU uses less power and energy to avoid catastrophic overheating. This can cause stuttering, lag, and reduced performance. To avoid this, you want to keep your laptop internals at around 80°C whilst gaming; the lower the better. Naturally it will get hot whilst gaming, but there is such a thing as too hot.
I personally use Intel XTU as it gives me a graph of the past hour of temperatures, as well as CPU usage and thermal throttling status. It can also do some pretty useful things to keep your laptop running well, as I will detail in a bit.
First of all, a cooling pad helps ventilate your laptop with its fans. This helps clear hot air from the laptop's fans quicker, as well as provides additional cooling. They are a godsend, especially on hot summer days where the heat of a gaming laptop can feel excruciating at times. They can easily be found on Amazon or elsewhere and most cost around £20-30 ($25-37). I've been using one for a while now and it makes a modest but noticeable difference on my laptop temps, especially in the summer! Just make sure to dust it off now and then.
This is where Intel XTU's other use comes in. With this software, you can undervolt your CPU, i.e. send less power to it, therefore keeping it slightly cooler. Laptops tend to send a bit too much power to their CPUs, more than they need, which makes them lean towards overheating – and therefore throttling – a bit more than they should.
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Before you go in, know the model of your CPU. For example, mine is an Intel i5-8300H. This will enable you to find a good benchmark to undervolt your own CPU to based on what other users have done. Google is your friend here! Of course you can set your own benchmark a la this video, but it's a bit of a faff.
As for my benchmark, I find that -0.110v is the sweet spot for an Intel i5-8300H CPU. In the -0.90v to -0.110v range I get noticeable cooling with no impact at all on CPU speed. Try it out for yourself! Just be warned though, undervolting too much can cause stuttering and crashing. If you notice any significant reduction in CPU speed in XTU, reduce the undervolt a little.
To undervolt in XTU, do the following:
- Click on the Core tab under Advanced Tuning.
- Find the Core Voltage Offset bar, it should be at 0.00mV to start with.
- Click the left arrow next to the numbers to incrementally increase the undervolt.
- Find the level of undervolt where you get temp reductions without performance drops or crashes.
More Hands-On Upgrades
Despite laptops not being as easy to upgrade as desktop computers, there are certain parts which are simple to upgrade on most models. Some will be a lost cause on modern laptops, such as CPU and GPU. However, some components are still upgradeable.
As with all physical hardware upgrades, be sure that you know what you're doing! Watch videos and read articles about the procedures first, and don't do anything you feel unsure about. It is so important to be careful even with more simple procedures such as the ones below.
Unlike the CPU, most laptop RAM cards are quite easy to remove and replace. The benefits are immense too, especially considering the cost.
My gaming laptop actually came with an empty RAM slot alongside the slot used for the default RAM card. For only around £50 ($62), I doubled my computer's RAM from 8GB to 16GB. The effect was immediately noticeable; my laptop ran even more smoothly and quickly than before! Double check if your laptop has a spare RAM slot lying unused, as you can get some major gains on your laptop for surprisingly cheap.
Before buying, check which shape of RAM card your laptop uses. Most use SODIMM, but double check beforehand to avoid disappointment. As for the power rating, make sure to get DDR4 RAM if you can as it is faster than DDR3 or DDR2.
I swear by SSD storage. I won't even use hard drives anymore aside from an external HDD for old archived material. Honestly, the difference is so insane that you'll never want to go back either! What even are loading times anyway?
Installing an SSD is a little more tricky of course, as it requires that you know where it can go in your laptop and therefore which kind you need to fit in that particular place. Look up the model of your laptop and discover your options. Of course though, if you're in the market for a new gaming laptop aim to buy one with full or partial SSD storage.
That being said, SSD is a fair bit more pricey than HDD. Still, I managed to get a 300GB SSD from a highly reputable brand for around £85 ($106) and converted my split SSD/HDD laptop into a full-SSD speed machine!
Thank you for reading! I hope that these tips improve your laptop gaming experience as they have mine. Remember that these steps can not only help make slower laptops a bit faster, but also ensure that your laptop stays healthy for longer.