Macbook Pro 13-inch 2020 (M1)
Whether it’s Minecraft, Fortnite, Apex Legends or Call of Duty, gaming has never been more popular and – perhaps – more befuddling for outsiders. But if you’ve been handed the daunting task of buying a gaming laptop, or helping someone choose a one, don’t panic.
In this guide, we’ll take you through everything you need to look for when choosing a laptop that will be great for gaming.
A gaming laptop is a model that's designed to run graphically intensive software such as 3D games. Most have dedicated graphics cards (see below) and powerful processors, and high-end models have extras like keyboards tuned for more responsive gaming.
In brief: £500 can get you a good gaming experience, but £800 is a safer bet
If you don’t have time to read our in-depth advice below, here are some very broad recommendations for popular games, the amount you could spend on a laptop to play those games and the specification you should look for. Keep in mind that there’s lots more detail and jargon explained further on in this article.
Laptops for Minecraft and retro games: You can probably spend as little as £300 on a basic laptop that should be able to handle the popular game Minecraft. If you’re looking to dig out some of your old game collection from the mid-2000s you could buy yourself a second-hand laptop with a dedicated graphics card (see next section) for under £500.
Laptops for Fortnite, World of Warcraft, Apex Legends, FIFA, Rocket League and similar: For these games, you can spend around £500 on a new laptop. Look for an Intel Core i3 or i5 processor and integrated Intel HD 620 graphics, or AMD Ryzen 3 with Vega 3 graphics. These won’t offer a brilliant experience; you’ll have to turn down all your graphics settings and resolution to get something even remotely smooth, but they will be playable. Look to spend around £600-£700 on a laptop with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 or AMD RX 560 for a good-looking and smooth-playing gaming experience.
Laptops for Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds, Tomb Raider, Far Cry 5, GTA V, Formula One, Call of Duty Black Ops 4 and similar: For a playable gaming experience, spend £600 at minimum, looking for at least an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 and AMD RX 560. For a great experience at higher resolutions and better graphics settings, spend more than £800, looking for Nvidia GTX 1650, 1660 or 1660Ti and AMD RX 580. We wouldn’t recommend playing these games on laptops with integrated Intel or AMD graphics.
For these games you may also need to consider what CPU your laptop comes with, as this can make a difference to your gameplay experience. Pick a laptop with an Intel Core i5 or i7 or AMD Ryzen 5 or 7 processor to ensure you get the best experience possible.
In brief: Consider the games you want to play, as well as your budget. Some are more strenuous for laptops than others.
You can’t just buy any old laptop to play games on. The more you spend, the more games the laptop will be able to run smoothly. Just because a game ‘works’, doesn’t mean it’ll be an enjoyable experience.
How much you should spend very much depends on the game that the laptop is going to be playing. Minecraft, for example, can be played on practically any laptop while a game like Fortnite will only work on more powerful – and thus more expensive – machines. Keep in mind that almost all games have adjustable settings – turning down the graphical fidelity (more on that later) helps less powerful laptops play advanced games by making them look much less realistic, less shiny and with fewer special effects such as explosions and dust, for example.
This doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot to get what you need, but you should realise that spending less might result in a laptop that doesn’t do everything you want it to do. With that in mind, read on to learn some general rules of thumb on what to look for, and after that we’ll dive into a few very popular games and provide some checklists of what to look for when buying a brand-new laptop.
In brief: Don’t rely on recommended and minimum specifications – they don’t tell you the whole story
If you’re buying a laptop for a specific game, it’s often suggested that you should search the web for a game’s ‘recommended system requirements’, which is usually a list including Ram and storage space as well as a graphics card and a CPU (processor). But this is only useful if you’re quite familiar with computers not just of today, but of several years ago. These lists normally only mention one example of each, leaving you to figure out whether the CPU you’re looking at is newer and more powerful.
Even worse, the difference between ‘recommended’ and ‘minimum’ is enormous; a game running on the bare minimum of specifications won’t be pleasant to look at and it probably won’t be all that much fun to play. Plus, if you’re going to be buying more games in the future, games released at a later date almost certainly won’t run very well.
The most important factor that decides whether a game will work is the graphics card. It’s responsible for calculating and creating the images you see on screen in 3D games. For most games it’s a safe bet to look for what’s known as a ‘dedicated’ graphics card rather than one that’s ‘integrated’. The pros/cons list below gives you the basic pros and cons, then we'll go into a bit more detail.
In short: Look for dedicated graphics from AMD and Nvidia for a better chance at great gaming performance.
To get the best gaming experience, you should pay careful attention to the graphics capabilities of any laptop you consider buying. It'll have either dedicated or integrated graphics.
Cheaper, take up less space inside the laptop, and your laptop should run cooler
Can play advanced 3D games, lets you to plug in higher-resolution monitors
Won't be able to play advanced 3D games
Makes laptops more expensive, reduces battery life
Dedicated cards are a separate piece of kit inside your computer solely responsible for creating graphics to display on screen. This makes games perform better than on an integrated model (see below) and also means your laptop is more likely to be able to play games in the future, as games get harder for laptops to run as time goes on.
Integrated graphics are part of your computer’s CPU and has to share resources such as cooling fans and Ram with the processor. That’s not to say integrated chips should be avoided. Simple games such as Minecraft, and old games will play just fine.
If you have a particular game in mind and are choosing between dedicated and integrated graphics, look at videos of a game on YouTube to understand how advanced it is. The better and more realistic it looks, the more likely it is you’ll want to pick a laptop with a dedicated graphics card.
If you see Intel graphics, this means it’s an integrated graphics chip – performance will be far lower here than with dedicated chips from AMD and Nvidia. This doesn’t mean you can’t play more advanced-looking 3D games such as Fortnite at all, but you’ll have to use the game’s Options Menu to turn various ‘Graphics Settings’ to ‘Low’, and also turn down the resolution the game runs at to something like 1,280 x 768. Every game is different, but almost all have adjustable options to help run games on almost any computer.
AMD makes both integrated and dedicated graphics chips. Look for ‘AMD Radeon RX’, if you want dedicated graphics. Those labelled with things like ‘Vega’ 6 and 8 are integrated. These are generally faster than Intel’s own integrated graphics, but will still limit you to playing more advanced 3D games at lower settings.
Nvidia only makes dedicated graphics cards. The latest models you’ll find in laptops are branded GeForce, then the letters GTX or RTX, then either the numbers 10 or 20 followed by two more numbers (such as GeForce GTX 1060). As a general rule, the higher the numbers go, the more powerful they are. The most expensive top-end graphics cards can be found in laptops costing in excess of £2,000.
Low-end Nvidia graphics: GeForce MX150, MX250
Mid-range Nvidia graphics: GTX 1050, 1050 Ti, 1060, 1660 Ti
High-end Nvidia graphics: GTX 1070, 1070 Ti, 1080, 1080 Ti, RTX 2070, 2080
The following settings are the most commonly-found in 3D games. Here's what they do and how to use them to improve performance if your laptop is struggling.
In short: For the best value, shop for a gaming laptop that’s at least three months old.
Laptops for gaming drop in price more significantly than any other type of laptop, especially once they’ve been on the market for a few months. It’s almost never worth buying a gaming laptop when it first launches.
This is particularly true when a laptop is showcasing new technology such as a recently-launched graphics card. There’s often a premium on picking one of these models in the first few months of it going on sale. It’s also always worth scouting the market to get used to how much laptops cost so you can better spot a deal when they come around.
Most of the biggest laptop companies operate gaming-specific brands, and there are some niche players as well. Here are the names you should be watching for:
Yes, but it depends on the laptop and the game. Newer MacBook Pro models only have integrated Intel graphics, aside from the very top-end 15-inch models that cost upwards of £2,000. You can add an external graphics card by using an ‘eGPU’ dock, but these are very expensive.
There are plenty of Mac-compatible titles on the online games store Steam, but the selection is far smaller than what you can find on Windows.
You can install Windows 10 on a MacBook using Boot Camp, which is Apple’s official tool for installing other operating systems alongside its own MacOS. But that won’t solve your problem of the low-performance graphics hardware, so be aware of its limitations.