Ultrabooks: should gamers consider buying one?
This is a guest post from Matt Powell who writes on behalf of Broadband Genie, the consumer advice site
for finding the best laptop deals.
Portable gaming has always been about compromises. A game-capable laptop can go anywhere, but
the weight and low battery life of high-end laptops is a limiting factor.
Ultrabooks offer an intriguing alternative for those looking at a portable gaming PC because they’re
much lighter and have superior battery life, but are they suitable for gaming?
A couple of years back ultrabooks were definitely not recommended for gamers as they lacked
dedicated NVIDIA or AMD graphics chipsets, but there’s a new breed of more powerful ultrabook
which may well hit that sweet spot between power and portability.
If you want to properly enjoy games on an ultrabook you’ll need to look for a system which
includes discrete graphics. This means it has dedicated hardware for graphics processing, as opposed
to integrated graphics which share resources with the system and offer much weaker performance
as a result.
You’ll also need to do a little bit of hunting around to find an ultrabook with a discrete GPU as
they’re not all that common, particularly if you’re more interested in the ‘ultra’ part of an ultrabook.
The smaller you go the harder it is find a system with discrete graphics. It’s far easier to find a 14 or
15 inch model with proper GPU, but then you’re really pushing it into full size laptop territory.
And don’t go in expecting the same performance as a desktop or a larger gaming laptop. The low
power, low heat setup of an ultrabook means that they lack the raw processing oomph to drive
modern games at high settings.
To make things even more confusing the leading consumer GPU manufacturers – NVIDIA and AMD -
have a huge list of parts with model names which sound similar to existing desktop GPUs, and often
they’re older parts given new branding.
To save the headaches we highly recommend bookmarking http://www.notebookcheck.net. It has a huge
database of components including detailed specifications and performance numbers for laptop
graphics cards so you can quickly check and compare system setups.
Laptops often use screens with resolutions around 1366 x 768 but we urge you to go for 1080p
(1920 x 1080) if at all possible. It makes for a sharper image and is far more practical for general
If you’re looking at ultrabook which doesn’t appear to offer 1080p, shop around, it’s frequently an
optional extra and there are systems as small as 11 or 13 inches with these HD displays now.
The downside is that higher resolution means more strain on the graphics card, but this is an
acceptable trade-off in our opinion. Even if you have to tone down some extra settings the gaming
image quality can still remain high thanks to the superior screen resolution.
Storage and connectivity
Ultrabooks are meant to be as thin as possible and while that doesn’t mean you’ll be missing out on
USB and network ports of Wi-Fi support (these are always included) there are two important things
First is that ultrabooks do not usually come with optical disc drives so you can’t install software from
CD/DVD. This matters a lot less for gamers now that Steam, GOG.com and other digital download
services are so popular, just be prepared to have to download all your games.
It’s also common for ultrabooks to use Solid State Drives (SSD). They’re more durable than normal
hard disks and incredibly fast, but capacity is much lower. 128GB is common, 256GB or more can get
Since you can’t stuff the drive with loads of files or games you may want to have a high capacity flash
drive or portable hard disk to hand for storing other data, and frequently uninstall games to make
way for new releases.
Is an ultrabook right for you?
Lightweight and portable
Long battery life
Models with discrete graphics are readily available
Graphics slower than either a desktop PC or full size gaming laptop
Limited choice of displays and graphics hardware
Can be expensive
So, should gamers consider buying an ultrabook? Absolutely. The extreme portability they offer is
not to be ignored so they’re brilliant for students and commuters. But as we mentioned portable
gaming is all about compromising. If a large part of your enjoyment comes from seeing games at
ultra-high detail and resolution the need to fiddle with settings to get an acceptable framerate on an
ultrabook might be a step too far.