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.


OLED's return and a phalanx of Nvidia-powered notebooks defined laptops at CES

CES 2019 offered a lot of surprises and news from some of the biggest names in laptop makers. Here are the major themes in laptops from this year's show.

From Chromebooks to MacBooks, here are the best laptop deals for January 2019

Whether you need a new laptop for school or work or you're just doing some post-holiday shopping, we've got you covered: These are the best laptop deals going right now, from discounted MacBooks to on-the-go gaming PCs.

Microsoft CEO says Project xCloud is the ‘Netflix for games’

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella referred to the company's Project xCloud game streaming service as "Netflix for games." The service will let users play Xbox and PC games on a variety of devices.

Here are 20 portable tech gadgets you’ll want to use every day

If you're looking for portable tech to keep you charged up while on the go (or for some great small gift ideas), we've rounded up 20 must-have gadgets. You'll find everything from a mini gaming controller to a folding Bluetooth keyboard.

Faster new PCIe 5.0 standard leapfrogs the best feature of AMD’s Ryzen 3

PCIe 5.0 will bring even faster data transfers, but it may only be found on HPCs and servers initially. The standard is four times faster than your current PC at transferring data, and new devices could appear later this year.

Keep your laptop battery in tip-top condition with these handy tips

Learn how to care for your laptop's battery, how it works, and what you can do to make sure yours last for years and retains its charge. Check out our handy guide for valuable tips, no matter what type of laptop you have.
Product Review

LG Gram 14 proves 2-in-1 laptops don’t need to sacrifice battery for light weight

The LG Gram 14 2-in-1 aims to be very light for a laptop that converts to a tablet. And it is. But it doesn’t skimp on the battery, and so it lasts a very long time on a charge.

Protect your expensive new laptop with the best Macbook cases

If you recently picked up a new MacBook, you’ll want something to protect its gorgeous exterior. Here, we've gathered the best MacBook cases and covers, whether you're looking for style or protection.

Watch out for these top-10 mistakes people make when buying a laptop

Buying a new laptop is exciting, but you need to watch your footing. There are a number of pitfalls you need to avoid and we're here to help. Check out these top-10 laptop buying mistakes and how to avoid them.

Don't spend a fortune on a PC. These are the best laptops under $300

Buying a laptop needn't mean spending a fortune. If you're just looking to browse the internet, answer emails, and watch Netflix, you can pick up a great laptop at a great price. These are the best laptops under $300.

Dell XPS 13 vs. Asus Zenbook 13: In battle of champions, who will be the victor?

The ZenBook 13 UX333 continues Asus's tradition of offering great budget-oriented 13-inch laptop offerings. Does this affordable machine offer enough value to compete with the excellent Dell XPS 13?

Take a trip to a new virtual world with one of these awesome HTC Vive games

So you’re considering an HTC Vive, but don't know which games to get? Our list of 25 of the best HTC Vive games will help you out, whether you're into rhythm-based gaming, interstellar dogfights, or something else entirely.

The Asus ZenBook 13 offers more value and performance than Apple's MacBook Air

The Asus ZenBook 13 UX333 is the latest in that company's excellent "budget" laptop line, and it looks and feels better than ever. How does it compare to Apple's latest MacBook Air?

AMD Radeon VII will support DLSS-like upscaling developed by Microsoft

AMD's Radeon VII has shown promise with early tests of an open DLSS-like technology developed by Microsoft called DirectML. It would provide similar upscale features, but none of the locks on hardware choice.