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!
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
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
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
“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.
(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.
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).
See how big it is?
To see some demo in action: Battlefield 4, Titanfall
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.