Powerful, Long-lasting, Portable Gaming PC?

The main reason why I wrote this is because of this: Is it unreasonable to expect any laptop to simultaneously be a good gaming machine and have portability and good battery life?

Have you heard about this infamous triangle of college life? Pick 2!

Pick 2 College Life

Reality of College Student

Now, we are living in a world where gamers want to play their games anywhere (if possible). Back then, we need special device connected to TV or display monitor to play games. Now, say, you can play games in your phone, tablet, or laptop. As a PC gamer who usually spend my day outside (not in home), I need my games to be playable in anywhere when I have free time. I believe many people have the same vision with me, that’s why we have manufacturers who make gaming laptops.

However, no matter how strong gaming laptops are, they are still dwarfed by the real gaming PCs, though the margin has been decreased as the time passes by. So, let’s say that we live in world where gaming laptops are powerful enough to run most demanding games at reasonably high graphical settings (not ultra-high for videophile). So, laptop, which is a portable computer with its thin body and limited battery life, has enough performance to run games. Seems legitimate.

Now is for the interesting moment, Pick 2!

Reality of Gaming Laptop

Reality of Gaming Laptop

 

See above? At the moment, no gaming laptop is ever free from the clutch of Performance-Portability-Battery Life triangle. Why is that? Let’s get real.

What makes computer (not laptop) powerful to run games? Of course it is because of the combination of high-performance CPU, GPU, RAM, and the power it needed to run those power hungry components. CPU and GPU are power hungry components. That’s why when computer is quite idle, the clockrate is turned down and other cores are powered off. If your computer needs to render lightweight graphics, it turned off the GPU (via NVIDIA Optimus or AMD Enduro) so the power is not dissipated to the GPU and the render workload is shifted to the integrated GPU (Intel HD/Iris).

When a demanding process needs extra horsepower, your computer throttles the clockrate of CPU, and turn on the GPU if needed. To do the throttle, it needs extra voltage. Extra voltage means extra power means Power Supply Unit (PSU) must support bigger power drain.

When the throttle occurs, do you realize that your computer is noisier than when it’s idle? The noise come from the fans which needed to cool down the CPU and GPU.

Typical Cooling Fan

Typical cooling fan

 

If both components get too hot, your computer might explode or melt. The hotter the components, the faster the fans spinning, and louder the sound they emit. FYI, sometimes using fan is not enough, so here comes Water Cooling. Water dissipates heat better than air, so computer running with water cooling will substantially cooler and quieter than mere cooling fan. Here’s the catch: It needs extra space for the hose and the radiator.

A simple water cooling for PC

A simple water cooling for PC

 

“In short: ultimate powerhouse needs both power and space.”

Laptop is a portable PC, with limited battery, but needs to deliver that kind of performance. We live in a world of trade-offs. You can’t maximize every single variables, but you can still optimize the result. That’s why we know about linear programming in math. Extra power means more battery drain, which leads to shorter battery life. To achieve portability, laptop needs to be thin and very limited motherboard real-estate, it is still impossible to fit in a water cooling inside a laptop chassis.

In the end, I can only give a simple answer examples of the pick 2 solution.

The answers

The answers

 

Macbook Air

(Performance -, Battery Life +, Portability +)

Thin, sleek, and lightweight, this is most people preferred laptop. Yes, the most expensive one can give you the performance needed to run Adobe Photoshop or iMovie but it doesn’t have enough horsepower to run demanding games. I know that Witcher 2 was ported for Mac, but not for this one, because it has no dGPU.

Don’t even think this can run Battlefield 4 (if one is ever made for Mac). I bet now you’re imagining it running Battlefield 4. Don’t. Even. Think. Period.

Razer Blade 2014

(Performance +, Battery Life -, Portability +)

This one is a 14′ thin laptop which can run most games at almost 4K resolution (3200 x 1800, almost 3840 x 2160). It’s quite powerful for a laptop (please don’t compare it to most gaming PC) but the main drawback is the battery only lasted 3 hours, all thanks to its high resolution display.

Thin and sleek, who knows that it holds such performance.

Thin and sleek, who knows that it holds such performance.

 

Large Pixel Collider

(Performance +, Battery Life +, Portability -)

Okay, this is not laptop at all. For the sake of ultimate performance and endless battery life (not really, just endless stream of electricity), this powerful PC needs a lot of space and A LOT of money. Cost as much as $10k, this uncomfortable power hungry PC consists of Intel Quad-core i7-4960X (X=Extreme), 4x NVIDIA GTX Titan in quad-SLI, 64 GB of RAM, water cooling, and an uncomfortable 1200W PSU. What can it do? Run Battlefield 4 in 7680 x 1440 ultra-high settings (3 monitors setup).

LPC

See how big it is?

 

To see some demo in action: Battlefield 4, Titanfall

Conclusion

At the moment, it is still impossible to maximize the three axis of Performance-Portability-Battery Life. It’s just the time has yet to come. Although, I always though this: by the time laptop can fit in water cooling and 12-core CPU, the PC would have been leapt too far.

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Do you think surround headset/home theatre is worth it for gaming? Why or why not?

Answer by Max Loh:

Yes, surround is worth it for gaming, if you are that type of person which appreciates sound (and judging by the fact you are asking this question in the first place, you probably are).

Rather than surround sound headset, use emulated surround on headphones by a good algorithm/soundcard. I use X-Fi’s CMSS-3D for headphones. The algorithm is very good and sounds are very believably behind you. I remember the first time I tried it on, I looked behind me expecting there to be a speaker when there wasn’t.

Don’t do what Kevin Kappel did and use a no-name emulation algorithm that sucks balls. Don’t do what Daniel Super does and use the game’s emulation algorithm (which also sucks balls). Proof that soundcard emulation still provides industry-leading realistic/immersive 3D in headphones can be found in this Youtube video (CMSS-3D and THX are clearly superior, Dolby Headphone is good, and software rendering is so bad it sounds like vanilla stereo). USE HEADPHONES when listening:


Now keep in mind that there are a lot of complaints about Creative’s X-fi brands of cards for having horrendous customer support. But their sound is very good — if it works. I’ve been lucky enough that my card is still working without flaws after all these years. However, other brands might have sound cards that also emulate 3D on headphones very well. For example ASUS cards use “Dolby Headphone” (as in video above), which in my opinion doesn’t sound as great, and even adds room reflections for no reason, but is still decent.

Most people who have compared the two agree that the emulated 3D with a dedicated card is better than actual cumbersome surround speakers built into the headphones.

When playing a sound-heavy competitive game such as counter-strike, it is essential to have surround sound because often you hear someone coming from your left, but it could be left-front or left-behind. With emulated surround in headphones it is extremely easy to pinpoint their location. In fact it is much easier than in real life, since they don’t model reflections off of walls. There is a location in a particular map where if I stand, I can know where the whole team is headed and call out to my team “they’re going through apartments” or “they’re going through tunnels”. When I only use stereo, it is almost impossible to tell the difference between the two.

For immersion and cinematic quality, real 5.1 or more speakers is probably best, but for pinpointing location in competitive games, nothing beats headphones with emulated surround.

Do you think surround headset/home theatre is worth it for gaming? Why or why not?