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How to Get a Desktop Experience from a Gaming Laptop

Updated: Jul 28, 2023

Sure, you can put your new gaming laptop on a desktop, maybe add a nice gaming mouse, and get to playing your favorite titles. You’ll probably spend some time tweaking the settings, overclocking where you can and making sure all drivers are up to date. After all, the whole point of that gaming machine is to get the highest possible framerates with all the exotic features turned on.

Then again, maybe that’s a limited perspective. As we wrote about in an earlier article, gaming laptops can be used for a lot more than just gaming. Their sheer power lends itself to the most demanding productivity tasks and even professional-level creative workflows. There’s no good reason to let all that performance go to waste if you have real work that needs to be done.

So, the question then becomes, how can you make a gaming laptop the center of your computing experience? The good thing is, it’s no harder to do than with any other laptop, and in fact it might even be easier in some respects. And much of what we talk about here will apply to most laptops and not just gaming machines, so if you have a thin and light laptop that you’d like to use as your primary PC, read on.

Lots of ports

One thing that tends to differentiate gaming laptops from some other classes, particularly thin and light machines, is that they come stocked with tons of ports. That’s particularly true of larger gaming laptops, say 16-inches or more, that have big chassis with lots of rooms for expansion.

As an example, the Lenovo Legion Pro 7i is a 16-inch laptop that can be configured with a superfast CPU and GPU and that provides awesome gaming and creative performance. It’s a fine example of a laptop that both play games and do real work, and it’s jam-packed with ports. You’ll find four USB-A ports for legacy peripherals, two USB-C ports (one with Thunderbolt 4 support), an HDMI 2.1 port for connecting an external display, and an RJ-45 Ethernet port for a hardwired network connection.

That’s as many ports as some desktop PCs, and it means that you can connect every possible peripheral you might need in your primary PC setup. Gamers sometimes like to use wired mice and keyboards to eliminate the latency and connection issues the sometimes pop up with wireless devices, and the Legion Pro 7i has you covered with plenty of USB-A ports. If you want to connect multiple displays, then you’re fine there two, with the ability to attach up to three 4K displays thanks to the two USB-C ports and HDMI. And if you want the fastest internet connection, then you can use the Ethernet port to connect directly to your router and avoid wireless latency.

Some smaller gaming machines don’t have quite as many ports, and the same goes for some that are thinner and lighter. The Razer Blade 16, for example, has a decent selection of ports but it’s not quite as diverse. There’s no Ethernet port, for example, meaning you’re limited to wireless connectivity unless you add an USB ethernet adapter. Go even smaller, thinner, and lighter, and you’ll find yourself running into issues getting everything setup.

Docking stations to the rescue

That’s where docking stations come in. They’re devices that provide one connection to a PC, usually a laptop, and then a host of ports for attaching additional peripherals. They can support multiple monitors, a handful of USB-A devices, Ethernet, and more. The most functional and powerful docking stations use Thunderbolt 4, a connection that’s increasingly common and one you’ll find on just about every recently introduced gaming laptop.

One solid example of a Thunderbolt 4 docking station is the $310 Kensington SD5700T, which connects to the PC with a single Thunderbolt 4 cable that can also pass up to 90 watts of power to the laptop. That’s more than enough for most thin and light machines, but for gaming laptops you’ll want to keep using your proprietary charger – many of which provide 300 watts of power or more.

The Kensington SD5700T offers a wide range of ports, including four USB-A ports, four USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 4 support (three downstream and one upstream), an RJ-45 Ethernet connection, a 3.5mm audio jack for external audio support, and an SD Card reader. It will support up to two 4K displays at 60Hz, along with all of the same peripherals that you’ll get from connecting directly to the Legion Pro 7i.

The docking station has one huge advantage over connecting natively, and that’s that it provides a single connection to plug and unplug as you move your gaming laptop around. It’s tedious to disconnect and reconnect multiple cables every time you want to take your laptop on the road or return to your office, and the docking station’s single cable avoids that inconvenience.

The disadvantage of a docking station can be performance. There’s a limit to how much bandwidth you can pass over a single Thunderbolt 4 connection, and depending on your gaming laptop you might get better performance by connecting directly. For example, the Legion Pro 7i’s HDMI 2.1 port is more likely to support external monitors with higher refresh rates, which will be important if you want to connect a gaming monitor that supports more than 60Hz. By default, HDMI 2.1 supports up to 120Hz at 4K and up to 240Hz with lower resolutions (where many gamers tend to play anyway).

Either way, it’s easy enough

Whether you go with a gaming laptop’s built-in ports or add a docking station, it’s easy enough to turn it into the centerpiece of your computing experience. By far the most productivity- and gaming-enhancing aspect is the ability to connect multiple monitors, which gives you more screen real estate to work and play with. Overall, you’ll likely find yourself the envy of your desktop PC gaming friends who are tied to one location.

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