March 17, 2023 at 7:00:00 PM
By definition, what is a gaming laptop? On the outside, gaming laptops usually have an ostentatious aesthetic like RGB lighting, huge jet exhaust fans, and funky designs; the Gigabyte Aorus is a prime example of what a gaming laptop looks like. Other gaming laptops take on a more mainstream look, like the Razer Blade 16, which sports a cohesive design that resembles a more standard laptop aesthetic.
Beneath the exterior, gaming machines typically employ powerful CPUs and discrete graphics cards and enhanced airflow and cooling features built into the design. Gaming laptops tend to have a thicker build in order to accommodate the cooling and are heavier as a result.
What is a creative laptop?
Creative laptops or creative workstations are a different class of laptop—but one that bears a strong resemblance to a gaming laptop. Creative workstations have become more popular over the last several years and come in mainstream and commercial varieties configured with fast CPUs and GPUs with special attention to airflow and thermal performance.
Two examples are the MSI Creator Z16, a mainstream laptop geared towards creators, and the Lenovo ThinkPad P15v Gen 3, which is considered a portable workstation.
The drivers make a difference
Those laptops tend to come with special driver versions, like Nvidia’s Studio GPU drivers, that are optimized for reliable, fast performance in creative applications like Adobe’s Creative Suite and engineering and design applications like AutoCAD. Those drivers tend to perform worse in games than a GPU’s standard drivers, which are usually optimized for gaming performance. In the case of Nvidia’s drivers, it’s relatively easy to switch back and forth between Studio and Game Ready drivers, so that’s something to keep in mind.
In terms of hardware specifications there can be a fortunate overlap between gaming and creative laptops. For our purposes, we’ll set aside commercial machines, which are typically purchased by corporations, and focus on mainstream creative laptops targeted toward consumers.
Here, you’ll find that many gaming laptops can meet the needs of both gamers and most creators. They can provide the power to churn through demanding video editing processes while achieving high frame rates in modern gaming titles with advanced features like ray tracing and high dynamic range (HDR) turned on. But there are some important criteria to keep in mind when choosing a gaming laptop for content creation.
You’ll want a configuring the fastest CPU you can afford. CPU performance is actually more important for creative apps than games. As of this writing, the fastest CPUs include Intel’s 13th-gen 55-watt Core i9-13950HX, which has 24 cores (eight Performance and 16 Efficient) and 32 threads and can run its Performance cores at up to 5.5GHz. Comparably, the 55-watt Ryzen 9 7945HX has 16 cores and 32 threads running up to 5.4GHz.
If you’re using your laptop solely for gaming, those CPUs are overkill. CPU clock speed is an important factor for gaming performance, but games usually do not take advantage of all those cores and threads: these are features more attuned for content creation applications.
It seems logical that gamers would be more concerned about GPU power, given that graphical performance is the name of the game for achieving high frame rates. The GPU plays an important role in many creative applications as well. Adobe Creative Suite can use the GPU to speed up intensive tasks like video encoding, for example.
Here’s where you need to be most careful in selecting your gaming laptop if you have serious creative work in mind. The needs of gamers and creators are different when it comes to displays, but there are laptops that can meet both needs if you’re careful in your selection.
Gamers want a display that will match up well with the CPU and GPU combination to achieve the fastest refresh rates. That means a display that’s not higher resolution than it needs to be and with a fast refresh rate to avoid tearing and other artifacts while gaming. Certainly, the standard 60Hz refresh rate in most laptop displays isn’t good enough. Gamers also want plenty of brightness and contrast to make for the best image possible.
What gamers aren’t as concerned about is color. They don’t need the widest colors, measured in terms of gamuts like sRGB and AdobeRGB, and they don’t need the most accurate colors. Creators, on the other hand, need the widest color gamuts they can get and the highest accuracy. That means, for example, achieving 95% or higher of the AdobeRGB gamut with a color accuracy of DeltaE 1.0 or less. Gamers can get by with a 75% AdobeRGB and a DeltaE of 2.0 or less and still thoroughly enjoy their gaming experience.
Most gaming laptops that use IPS displays won’t provide the kinds of colors that creators are looking for. Today, your best bet is a laptop using an OLED or mini-LED panel. Both can provide very wide and accurate colors, and they also provide deep contrast. And mini-LED in particular put out tons of brightness. Creators want those attributes as well.
The MSI GE Series OLED is an example of a gaming laptop with fast components and an OLED display that runs with a refresh rate up to 240Hz. If you want the highest brightness you can get, which is great for HDR content, then mini-LED is your best bet. The Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 will give you just that, with a mini-LED display that also runs at up to a 240Hz refresh rate.
And that’s not all
You’ll also want to make sure that the gaming laptop has a comfortable keyboard that’s good for long-term typing sessions and not just mashing keys while gaming. And the size and look will also be important. But what we’ve covered here are the most important considerations, and there are numerous gaming laptops available that can please the gamer inside you while allowing you to get your creative juices flowing.
Mark Coppock is a Los Angeles-based writer who explores how technology makes us more productive in our professional and personal lives.