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We Are in a Gaming Laptop Displays Renaissance

Updated: Jul 28

A few factors influence the gaming laptop experience more than the display. Performance is first on the list – without a fast enough CPU and GPU, frame rates will suffer when you run your preferred games at the resolutions you want and with the desired features turned on. The keyboard is also important, given that it’s one of the most important tools for interacting with the gaming environment, and the mouse is just as important.

But without a quality display, the entire gaming experience can be ruined. Poor colors, low contrast and brightness, slow refresh rates – all can contribute to a disappointing experience no matter how fast the laptop. That’s why recent developments in display technology are so welcome.

There are several display technologies that have been used in gaming laptops over the years. Those include IPS, TN, and VA. More recently, we have OLED displays making a splash and even more recently mini-LED displays are the latest and greatest. A quick survey of the gaming laptop field shows that IPS, OLED, and mini-LED are the most popular and most important technologies, and so those are the ones we’re going to focus on here.

IPS: it just keeps getting better

In-plane switching (IPS) displays took over the laptop market in general years ago, and they’re the most popular among all kinds of machines. That includes gaming laptops, where their wide viewing angles, great colors, and potentially high refresh rates are great qualities for gaming. And IPS displays have been getting better over the last few years, with the average display having wider and more accurate colors, higher brightness, and better contrast.

The biggest improvement for gamers in IPS displays is in their refresh rates, which is important if you want tear-free and smooth gaming visuals. The higher the refresh rate, the more frames per second the display can show.

You can get up to a whopping 480Hz refresh rate on the Dell Alienware X17 R2 and M17 R5. Those are Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) panels at 17.3 inches, and so you’re trading sharpness for refresh rates, and 480Hz is overkill. But more meaningfully, you can easily find 240Hz displays at QHD+ (2,560 x 1,600) and higher resolutions. Given how demanding modern titles are, few laptops that will push even 240 frames per second, meaning a 240Hz display is plenty for the vast majority of gamers.

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Where IPS displays aren’t the best is in their response time, which usually ranges from between 1ms to 5ms or sometimes more. This matters most to competitive gamers where a slower response time can result in lag that can make a difference between winning and losing a battle.

OLED makes for beautiful colors and inky blacks

Organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays have become more popular in gaming laptops over the last couple of years. Unlike IPS displays, that use light emitting diodes (LEDs) to shine light through liquid crystals, each OLED pixel is its own light source. OLED displays offer spectacularly wide and accurate colors, incredibly deep contrast, and decent brightness (although not always as bright as IPS).

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As an example, while the average premium IPS display covers around 75% of the AdobeRGB color gamut, the typical OLED display is closer to 100%. And color accuracy is usually under a DeltaE of 1.0, which is the standard for excellence, compared to the typical IPS display that can be closer to 2.0 (which is still very good). OLED displays also do better with high dynamic range (HDR) content thanks to their contrast, showing off a ton of detail in darker scenes.

OLED panels are also available with fast refresh rates, up to 240Hz, with the Razer Blade 15 offering a QHD (2,560 x 1,440) OLED panel running at 240Hz. An additional advantage of OLED is that the technology provides for extremely fast response times, well under 1ms. The combination of high refresh rates and low response times makes for incredibly smooth, tear-free gaming.

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OLED displays use more power, and they can theoretically suffer from burn-in, where any static image that’s displayed on the screen can become a permanent fixture. But so far, it seems like burn-in hasn’t been a major problem with laptop displays.

Mini-LED brings incredibly high brightness

The most recent addition to the stable of gaming laptop displays is mini-LED, a technology that first appeared on Apple’s MacBook Pro. Like IPS displays, mini-LED panels also use LEDs to shine light through liquid crystals. The difference is that the LED lighting zones are much smaller and can be individually controlled. That allows for more contrast (deeper blacks) and mini-LED displays can also be a lot brighter, up to a theoretical 1,600 nits on the MacBook Pro compared to an average of 400 nits for premium IPS panels.

Mini-LED displays also offer wider colors than IPS but not as wide as OLED, and they’re also very accurate. Their contrast rivals that of OLED displays, but their brightness is much higher. That makes mini-LED great for HDR content, and the first gaming laptops with the technology were released just this year. Note that mini-LED displays don’t offer the fast response rates of OLED, coming in closer to IPS panels in this metric.

A great example is the Razer Blade 16, which has a 16-inch mini-LED dual-display panel that can run at UHD+ (3,840 x 2,400) and 120Hz or Full HD+ (1,920 x 1,200) at 240Hz. The Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 also offers a mini-LED display that runs at QHD+ and 240Hz, with a peak brightness of 1,100 nits and a response rate of 3ms. If you want to run modern games that offer HDR, then mini-LED is the best option.

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The future is bright

The only problem with the dramatic improvement in gaming laptop displays is making the choice between technologies. For the most part, consider IPS the “budget” option and the one that offers the absolute highest refresh rates, while OLED is great if you also want to use your gaming laptop for creative work. Mini-LED is the best option for HDR content and for anyone who simply wants the brightest display.

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