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Gaming laptops - what are they good for?

Laptop gaming is a niche pursuit, as most dedicated PC gamers shun notebooks believing them to be inferior to desktops. After playing around with an Alienware M17x for the past few weeks, a gaming laptop regarded by many as being an industry standard, I’m not sure I disagree with that belief.

Now I’m not saying that the M17x is a bad bit of gear as, for the most part, I’ve found it to be a well executed piece of hardware - much like we found with the larger Alienware M18x. Sporting a Radeon HD 7970M mobile graphics processor, which boasts enough power to run high-end DirectX 11 titles at full spec, the M17x can effortlessly produce finely detailed in-game resolutions that are rendered at high frame-rates on its 17.3in, 1,920 x 1,080 LED LCD display.

I enjoyed myself quite a bit with this laptop, blasting through recent releases like Dishonored with utter abandon, as the controls' responsiveness was as impressive as the laptop's graphical output. Moreover, comparing my playthrough to the PlayStation 3 edition of the game, I was left in no doubt which one was the technically superior machine. Still, the M17x couldn’t distract me from my personal PC rig for too long.

Why did I keep going back to my desktop? Well simply it’s an issue of immersion. Maybe I’ve been spoilt by the now ubiquitous use of bigger HD displays connected to the modern desktop rig, the size of which dwarf the M17x’s screen.

It might also be a consequence of getting used to audio setups that produce a dynamic soundstage which even the most capable of laptops find hard to replicate. Or maybe it’s a combination of both.

Then there's the price. The £1,000 plus price tag attached to most gaming laptops - with this M17x build setting you back £1,089 - is a significant outlay compared to cheaper and typically more comprehensive desktop machines (especially if you're prepared to build one yourself).

My current rig, priced at around £600, consists of an Intel Core i5 2500K CPU which powers an EVGA GeForce GTX 560 graphics card, all of which are hooked up to a 32in Samsung HD TV and a Jamo B004OSGV0W speaker arrangement. Granted, the PC itself may not be as powerful as the Alienware offering, but the cumulative effect of this patchwork of devices ensures I'm fully sucked into whatever game I’m playing.

There’s also the issue of portability; a major selling point for most laptops but one that's not very applicable to the M17x. Weighing in at 4.4kg and sporting bag-busting dimensions, (410 x 304.3 x 44.5mm), this is not the answer for gaming on the go - look to the forthcoming Nvidia Shield and Razer Edge tablet to provide more elegant solutions for that. Also, the battery life is not the greatest, producing around 130 minutes of power that will no doubt drop if a processor-heavy game is in operation.

So what are gaming laptops good for? Well, they're probably best described as 'portable desktop PCs' - systems powerful enough for gaming that can 'occasionally' be carried to another location and plugged into the mains there - LAN party anyone? Yet even at those, more and more local gaming clans prefer to use desktops or to rent out PC gaming suites rather than use a notebook for competitive purposes.

It would seem, then, that the negatives outweigh the positives. However, let's not lose sight of the fact that gaming laptops like the M17x are 'convenient' machines, powerful enough to not only run games at maximum settings, but also other resource-hungry applications. And what if you're a keen gamer who hasn't the space for a full-size PC nor the inclination (or knowledge) to build that custom PC? Well here's a machine that, although costing more, works straight out of the box, plays all your games (and runs everything else too), and is also portable..just about.