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Why your gaming laptop’s GPU doesn’t matter as much as you think

Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming (Late 2017) review open angle
Mike Epstein/Digital Trends

Quick question: What’s the most important component in a good gaming laptop? Let’s set aside subjective elements like design — and those all important LED lighting features — and focus on what makes for a great gaming experience.

The first thing that comes to mind is your GPU, right? It does all the heavy lifting, and it can compensate for  just about any other shortcoming your system has. Processor, RAM, hard drive speed — these can all bottleneck your GPU and hit your FPS a fair bit, but a powerful graphics card can compensate for any of them. With an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 purring away under the hood, you could even be gaming on an Intel Core i3 and still see decent performance.

But there’s one commonly overlooked element that can absolutely spoil that experience, no matter how quick your GPU is: Your display.

As we’re fond of pointing out, gaming laptops — especially budget gaming laptops — tend to skimp on display quality. Even big manufacturers like Dell are guilty of slapping cheap TN displays on otherwise great gaming laptops.

The display is the most important bottleneck for your games. A gaming laptop’s display is literally your window into the game world and as such, it’s one component that can literally color your experience.

Sure you might get 120FPS on Ultra settings with a powerful enough graphics card, but what do those extra details matter if they’re washed out and lifeless? That’s a question we faced during our most recent Inspiron 15 Gaming review.

This $900 laptop is a scrappy little thing. On paper, it runs games just as well as the latest Razer Blade, a laptop more than double the starting price of the Inspiron 15. That’s impressive, until you actually take a look at the Inspiron 15’s display.

Colors are drab, crushed to death by a substandard display panel likely chosen for its cost effectiveness over its visual fidelity. It completely ruins an otherwise great gaming laptop, and subverts the work the GPU puts in.

In the 21st century, it’s unacceptable to roll out a product like the Inspiron 15 with a 1080p display that’s incapable of rendering more than 61 percent of the sRGB color space. That kind of color accuracy means the Inspiron 15’s capable GTX 1060 renders colors you won’t even be able to see on the Inspiron’s stock display. What good is being able to games at high graphics settings when you’re going to have trouble even seeing them?

To be fair, the Inspiron 15 isn’t the worst offender, it’s simply the latest in a long line of budget and even high end gaming laptops which show an utter disregard for display quality. There’s just no reason for it, a great display can make up for mediocre graphical performance but even the most powerful GPU in the world can be hamstrung by a poor quality display.

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Jayce Wagner
Former Digital Trends Contributor
A staff writer for the Computing section, Jayce covers a little bit of everything -- hardware, gaming, and occasionally VR.
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