Desktop vs Laptop for game development

Aug 04, 2022 at 01:37 pm by nemirc

Desktop vs Laptop for game development
Desktop vs Laptop for game development

In the past, I’ve written about my experience using a MAINGEAR laptop for game development. In fact, not only has this laptop become my main system for game development; it became my only system since early 2021 when I got rid of my desktop computer. In the past, I’ve only used desktop computers but this year and a half has given me enough experience to compare the two.

So, the question is, would I recommend a laptop computer as the main system for game development? Seeing how I’ve been using one for a year and a half, obviously the answer is yes. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t specific things to consider.

As I mentioned in my original article, the reason I purchased a MAINGEAR laptop, not an ASUS or Dell/Alienware, or any other more recognizable brand was the price. However, that doesn’t mean low quality (except for the speakers). The case of the laptop is built the same as any other Windows laptop (meaning it uses plastic) and the keyboard and screen are very high quality. On top of that, the laptop I purchased has a 500Gb SSD, 16Gb of RAM and a Geforce RTX 2060 graphics card (not a “mobile” or “laptop” version of the card, but a “real” version of the card). Of course, the newer versions of this laptop have better specs, including a Geforce RTX 3000 series.

My point is, performance-wise the laptop is not “inferior” to a desktop counterpart. In other cases, the laptop offers lower performance because it uses a “mobile” CPU or a “mobile” graphics card. This is important because, if you are working on game development, video editing, or graphic design, you want performance. You can’t afford to have your system slow-down or even crash in the middle of a very intensive task.

Of course, a laptop cannot have the fancy liquid-cooling systems desktop computers have. My desktop system had liquid-cooling and that kept it at a very reasonable temperature all the time. A laptop only has fans and can get very hot. This laptop can get very hot when I am using Unreal Engine 5, and I even keep a tower fan next to me so the laptop is getting some cool air. A cooling pad works or works a lot, depending on the pad you can get (in my country, the pads you can get are so bad even blowing into the computer with your own mouth would do a better job). I’d say this is the main issue, but if you find a way to keep your computer cold, it’s not such a big issue (if you live in a place where you have air conditioning, you could even put the laptop next to the air conditioning vent to keep it cool, if you’re ok with getting cold air on you).

Another really important factor is power consumption, specially at this time when the economy is pretty bad. A PSU for a desktop computer provides 450W, 500W, or even 800W depending on the one you pick. The thing is, the higher the power it provides, the higher the power consumption. The power supply of my laptop consumes around 276W, which is a fraction of the electricity consumed by the lower PSU for a desktop computer (the PSU provides 180W to the laptop, so part of it is lost in heat).

Having been using this laptop for such a long time has really shown a decrease of my electricity bill. Electricity in my country is fairly cheap (although we do have low salaries here), but I’ve seen electric bills in the US and they are pretty high, so a system that uses less electricity is more than welcome.

If you’re using a laptop for your creative work, and you want to keep an eye on the system’s temperature, you can download a small application called HWMonitor This little app is free, and provides a lot of information about your system’s status, including temperature.

Another thing to consider is disk space. As I said, my laptop has a 500Gb SSD, and newer models can have up to 1Tb of storage. Unlike desktops, you can’t really just upgrade a laptop’s drive, or install a secondary drive, so you need to constantly keep an eye on your free space. Creative apps can take a lot of space, and so do creative projects (video projects and game development projects can take gigs of space). As a rule, I always keep backups of projects, but I also move old projects to external drives, so I can free up some space. Another thing you can do is rely more on external storage, especially since some laptops offer high-speed ports (like USB 3.0 or USB-C). Of course, there’s no point on having a laptop with a fast SSD drive, if you’re going to store your projects in a slow external mechanical hard drive, so external hard-drives should only be used to backup old projects unless it’s a fast external SSD.

Of course, if you don’t need portability, or you don’t mind the electricity bill difference, a desktop will be the way to go. Not having to work about overheating because you have a liquid-cooling system, and being able to just swap parts of the computer in just a few minutes has massive advantages. In my specific case, portability and saving on electricity has brought me benefits, although I wish I could stop worrying about a hot computer.

So, to answer the first question, yes, I’d recommend using a laptop as your main system for your creative work, but remember to keep these things in mind.

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