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6 gaming laptop features that matter most in 2024

MSI Titan designImage: IDG / Matthew Smith

Gaming laptops have gotten really, really good. It doesn’t take much looking to find models that promise high-performance parts, thin-and-light design, or sometimes both. It’s not too surprising to see gaming laptops coming at pretty surprising prices. But knowing what you’re actually going to get before you hit that buy button, and making sure you have your priorities sorted before you even start shopping can save you from a whole lot of fuss. 

Here, I’m going to break down some of the key features you should be paying attention to when you’re shopping for a new gaming laptop in 2024. The market has changed a lot, and making the right calls can make a big difference between getting a laptop that’s still kicking years from now and winding up with one that won’t even meet your demands today.

Looking to pick up a new gaming laptop? Check out PCWorld’s roundup of the best gaming laptops available today.

GPU is key

Unlike with desktop PC building, where you can pair just about whatever CPU you want with your choice of GPU, the gaming laptop manufacturers really take a lot of the choice out of the matter. Most, if not all, major gaming laptop makers are going to put extremely capable CPUs into their machines, and whether that’s a couple-generations-old Core i5 or the latest workstation-grade chip, it’s probably not going to make the biggest difference in your gaming experience on the laptop. If you’re hellbent on gaming at 1080p with low settings and a focus on raw frame rate, then you might be better served by maxing out the CPU, but in most other cases, you should be in good hands with whatever options you’ll have available. 

This means the GPU is by far the more important component to consider. First, it should be a discrete GPU. Integrated graphics have come a long way, but even an RTX 4050 is going to have the edge. Consider your target resolution, frame rates, and the types of games you want to play, and then choose a GPU from there. Bear in mind that laptop GPUs are much slower than their desktop counterparts overall, so don’t rely on desktop GPU benchmarks. If you can’t find a review of the laptop you’re looking at, check recent reviews of models using the same GPU to get a rough idea of the performance. Also keep a keen eye out for the “TGP,” or Total Graphics Power, of the GPU a laptop is offering. The TGP can vary greatly in laptops, and while a lower wattage may mean less heat and power draw, it also will mean lower performance. 

Finally, pay attention to the cooling the laptop includes for that GPU. This is where reviews will be especially helpful. Without proper cooling, a GPU’s performance can drop hard. I tested a poorly cooled RTX 4090 in one laptop that ran slower than a well-cooled RTX 4080 in another, much cheaper laptop.

Consider RAM capacity

A big, bold, and powerful top-line gaming laptop

MSI Raider GE78 HX 14VIG-600US

MSI Raider GE78 HX 14VIG-600USRead our reviewPrice When Reviewed:$3,799.99Best Prices Today:$3799 at B&H | $3799.99 at Newegg

You don’t get much choice in how fast or what type of RAM you’re going to get, but you absolutely should be paying attention to how much RAM you can get. The initial RAM capacity is one thing, but how much more you can add is perhaps even more important. You don’t want 8GB. That’s just not enough in 2024. Ideally, you can start out with 16GB of memory and upgrade down the line to 32GB or more as future games see increasing demands. 

If a laptop has only soldered-on memory, you’ll face a trickier decision. 16GB may be enough for some time, especially if you’re playing lighter games. But with many new AAA games calling for 16GB in their system requirements, I don’t think it’ll be too long before 32GB becomes the new normal. With that in mind, you may want to opt for the extra memory from the get-go so that you don’t end up with a laptop that would otherwise be perfectly capable if it weren’t stuck at a memory dead-end.

If you find a laptop with upgradeable memory, then there’s no harm in just getting 16GB today, as you can just upgrade later (and another stick of 16GB is probably going to be cheaper a year or two from now than it is today, especially when DDR6 drives down prices of older RAM).

Starting storage and upgrade options

Our favorite gaming laptop

Alienware m16 R2

Alienware m16 R2Read our reviewPrice When Reviewed:$1,849.99Best Prices Today:$1849.99 at Dell

After GPU and memory, storage should be your next consideration. Thankfully, the stakes are a little less dire. For the most part, storage is upgradeable. Even if you land on a system with room for only one drive, that can almost always be upgraded, even if it’s a hassle to do so. 

With that in mind, consider what games you play often, how much room you want for others, and just how much bigger modern games are getting. A 128GB drive will hardly hold a full system, and 256GB won’t offer up much extra room for even a single bigger game. If you have one main game you play, a 512GB drive might do the trick. If the laptop has an extra M.2 slot (you’re not likely to find 2.5-inch slots on laptops in 2024), you can certainly settle for a smaller boot drive and just pop in a bigger SSD to serve as a file and game repository. That empty M.2 slot also means you don’t have to settle for whatever drive the manufacturer will give you and can instead opt for one one of the best SSDs available whenever you upgrade.

A display to fit your needs

If you plan to just connect to a quality gaming monitor at home for most of your play and only rely on the laptop’s display when you’re on the go, then this might not matter. But if you plan to game on the built-in display, it’s worth making sure you’re getting a good one. 

Given that even the biggest laptops have, at most, 18-inch displays, you can get by with a 1080p display without too much pain. You can instead focus on color, panel type, and refresh rate. 

For a colorful monitor, you should be looking to see close to 90 to100 percent sRGB advertised, or go for 100 percent DCI-P3 for a gorgeous upgrade. If you see a laptop’s color only advertised as some percentage of NTSC (such as the common 45 percent NTSC), you’re going to end up with a very drab display that doesn’t bring your games to life.

If you don’t see a panel type listed with a product, it’s likely a basic LCD display with fairly low quality. IPS and UWVA display panels are roughly equal, and they can offer decent clarity. You’ll find plenty of laptops using these two panel technologies. OLED has a huge advantage for contrast and pixel response time, making for punchy and responsive gaming, but it usually comes with more battery life drain.

You can find 120- to 144Hz displays quite commonly among gaming laptops, while 165Hz and 240Hz are also becoming more common. The faster the refresh rate, the smoother your gameplay can look, though slower OLED displays can sometimes appear as smooth as faster LCDs.

Finally, a quick note on MUX switches in 2024. While you might find them and be able to see some benefit while gaming on the laptop’s internal display, the introduction of CASO means they’re far less essential for maximizing performance.

Ports are a big deal still

Regardless of whether you’re using your gaming laptop as a desktop replacement or gaming on the go with it, you’ll want to ensure you’ve got the right ports to help with the job. 

For external display connections, be on the lookout for HDMI 2.1 as well as USB-C ports that mention DisplayPort support (often listed as “DP Alt Mode”). USB4 and Thunderbolt 4 can also be extremely handy, as they not only let you connect out to hubs that multiply your port options, but they can also handle the display output at the same time. 

In 2024, USB-A ports aren’t always a given, but it can be very helpful to have a couple on deck for connecting mice and headphones. If you can avoid it, don’t rely on Bluetooth for connections to your gaming peripherals — the latency is just too high.

Battery life doesn’t have to be awful

A laptop should be portable, even if you only plan to use it lightly when you’re away from power outlets. Ultrabooks have made leaps and bounds in battery life, but gaming laptops still have a penchant for burning through their batteries in record time. That is, if the discrete GPU is enabled. Many gaming laptops give you the option to disable the discrete GPU, and that can be a boon to battery life. I’ve seen some laptops that might go two hours normally stretch closer to eight hours with the GPU turned off. Unfortunately, not all laptops handle battery savings equally, even if they have similar components and battery capacities, so be sure to check reviews for battery life measurements. 

Further reading: The best gaming laptops under $1,000

Recent stories by Mark Knapp:

Lenovo Yoga 7i review: A long-lasting 2-in-1 with tradeoffsDell XPS 14 (2024) review: Style and substance come at too high a priceAcer Aspire Go 15 review: A $300 laptop that’s worth your money

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