Bring on the neon! Gaming laptops are gaudy for a reason

Lenovo Legion Y520
Lenovo Legion Y520

Gaudy gaming laptops exist for a reason — performance, not fashion, is what gamers want.

Nvidia’s decision to unveil the GTX 1050 and 1050 Ti for mobile at CES 2017 ensured we’d see a few new gaming laptops from a number of manufacturers. Asus, Dell, and Samsung led the charge, each with new or revised notebooks aimed straight at the mainstream market.

As usual, these laptops are not subtle. The Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming, arguably the most discrete, looks like an economy car with a spoiler stuck on it. Samsung’s Odyssey 15, meanwhile, is an in-your-face festival of lights.

This has caused some flak from those who’d like to see more refined systems. I can certainly understand the urge for slimmer, lighter, slicker systems. But when it comes to gaming, gaudy is not all bad — and some gamers want it for a reason.

Oh my god, my thighs are on fire!

For gaming laptops, “gaudy” starts with size. While modern general-use laptops often weigh under five pounds and come in under an inch thick, a serious gaming rig will usually weigh six to eight pounds and be over an inch in girth. Many gaming laptops are in-your-face because their size doesn’t give them another choice.

Every laptop has to obey the laws of physics. Power consumed must be exhausted as heat

This is where the Razer Blade enters the conversation. Unlike its peers, the 14-inch Blade is only .7 inches thick and weighs barely over four pounds. Its size and weight is very similar to the last generation MacBook Pro 13, and it looks a bit like what a Mac would, if Apple got serious about gaming.

That’s all great. We love the Blade, and have reviewed it well in the past. But the Blade is not perfect, and all of its flaws are related to its size.

Every laptop has to obey the laws of physics. Power consumed must be exhausted as heat, and a smaller laptop has smaller fans and heatsinks to handle that heat. Which, of course, means the Blade becomes rather hot at full load. The last model we reviewed hit external temperatures of up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit.  That’ll bring your thighs to a crispy, golden brown.

Larger laptops like the Acer Predator 15 or Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming, on the other hand, usually don’t warm above 100 degrees. A few manages to stay under 90 degrees. And they often do it while maintaining noise levels that are reasonable. The Razer Blade can sound like a typhoon under load.

The lights aren’t just a show

Aside from size, the gaudiness comes from the light show every modern laptop offers. You’re not really in the game unless you at least offer red backlit keys, and if you’re serious, you’ll have full RGB (red, blue, and green) LEDs.

These can look a bit tacky, sure. But people enjoy them. And why not? Personally, I’ve always liked that RGB keyboards can be customized, so I can choose the color of backlight I like. I prefer red or orange, which reminds me of the dash in my uncle’s old BMW.

Razer, often cited as the peak of elegance in gaming, is ironically at the cutting edge of RGBLED. Its Chroma system allows unparalleled customization, and lets gamers coordinate color schemes between devices. The company even announced an expansion of that at CES 2017, by opening Chroma up to third-party devices. You can now use smart lightbulb, so your entire room strobes in tune with your keyboard.

Yes, these backlit keyboards look tacky and stupid when you see them flashing rapidly on the show floor, or at Best Buy. But like a HDTV kicked up to maximum brightness, that doesn’t represent how the laptop is really used. It’s just a demo, a gimmick to catch your eye. If you’re ashamed of your gaming habit and you’re afraid you’ll be labeled a geek by passerby, no problem. Just turn the LEDs off, and you’ll attract less attention. You can turn them back on when it’s safe.

The price of design

Even if the LEDs were ripped from every gaming laptop, the third pillar of laptop gaudiness would remain. Design.

Contrary to what Silicon Valley might want you to think, most people don’t think their laptop a fashion statement.

Modern gaming laptops don’t embrace the quality advancements found elsewhere. There’s no carbon fiber. No magnesium. Aluminum is available in a few, but often just as body cladding.

That’s too bad, but the reasons are obvious. Gaming laptops are huge and, lest we forget, performance is the priority. A GTX 1080 video card is $650 on its own. If you want that stuffed in a laptop, and you’re not willing to pay north of $2,000 for it, then you’re getting plastic.

And you know what? Plastic is fine. There’s still some bad examples out there, but the gaming laptops most people buy – from Acer, Asus, Alienware, Dell, and Razer – usually aren’t a problem. We’ve noted in multiple recent reviews that big gaming laptops from major builders lack the creaky quality that used to plague them.

Let’s keep gaming laptops for gamers

Carbon fiber would look awesome. But you’re not going to be able to afford a gaming laptop made from it. Which brings us to the final point in favor of the gaudy – affordability. 

Razer’s wonderful, 14-inch blade starts at $1,800. For that, you get a quad-core Intel processor and a GTX 1060 graphics chip. And there’s the problem. You can purchase an Acer Predator 15 with the same for $1,500. An Asus ROG Strix GL702VM with that hardware is just $1,360 on Amazon.

Razer Blade 2016
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Are these laptops sleek, elegant, and sexy? Nah. And who cares? That’s not the point. The point is to play games well, and gaming laptops largely accomplish that.

In fact, CES 2017 was a great show for broke gamers. Dell’s Inspiron Gaming 15 7000 and Acer’s Aspire VX 15 are both $800. For that, you get a Core i5 quad-core, and a GTX 1050 graphics card. They’re good enough for 1080p in most games, and they’re among the best values we’ve seen in years. Lenovo’s Y520 Legion is affordable too, at $900 for an upgrade to the GTX 1050 Ti. 

Sure, these laptops don’t look great. But contrary to what Silicon Valley might want you to think, most people don’t think their laptop a fashion statement.

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