Should You Buy a Budget Gaming Laptop, a High-End Laptop or an eGPU?

  • MORE

If you want to consistently update your gaming rig, odds are, you're going to want a good gaming desktop. But a desktop machine isn't an option for some people, either because of a lack of space or a desktop's relative immobility. If you need reliable gaming specs crammed into a laptop-sized package, there are a few options.


Reader crawford.fergus needs a long-term gaming laptop and is deciding among three options: 1) Buy a budget laptop and replace it once in a while, 2) Go with a future-proof, hard-core gaming laptop or 3) Invest in an eGPU enclosure to supplement an affordable laptop with a killer CPU and weak GPU.

Right away, let's discard the eGPU enclosure option. While it sounds good on paper, given that built-in laptop GPUs are often the primary force behind sky-high gaming-laptop prices, the reality is that an external graphics processing unit (eGPU) enclosure can run you hundreds of dollars by itself and, oftentimes, won't include a built-in GPU. With just the cost of those two components, you'll likely rack up a bill close to that of a decent gaming laptop, which defeats the point of the eGPU method.

In addition, most eGPU enclosures are pretty bulky and can occasionally experience enclosure-specific performance issues. You might as well go with a small desktop and monitor if you have the space, mobility and cash for an eGPU. This route is best for those who have a nongaming machine and want to add more power only when they're home.

MORE: Which GPU is Right For You?

Deciding between a future-proof laptop and a budget one, however, is a trick question. That's why we recommend selecting a laptop somewhere between those two options. The term "future proof" is a bit of a misnomer, because as hardware evolves and new product lines come out, prices tend to stay consistent (or even dip) over generations (even though new hardware power exponentially increases). This means today's Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 can run circles around a first-generation GTX Titan, even though the former cost thousands of dollars only a few years ago, whereas the latter costs only a couple hundred today.

Though all gaming machines are expensive, and prices are inflated across the board when it comes to the laptop gaming scene, the ratios still hold true. Therefore, it's definitely not best to go with a "cheap" budget gaming laptop; it won't last you more than a year, given the constant escalation of game requirements. But it's also hard to justify shelling out a month's paycheck for a top-of-the-line monster when you can't upgrade it.

So, crawford.fergus, we recommend going for a solid upper-midrange laptop that'll give you a few years of medium-to-high-settings gaming at 60 frames per second. One such option, if you're lucky enough to find it in stock, is the PowerSpec 1510. For less than $1,500, you get an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 and an impressively crisp display.

We'd also recommend looking at slightly less-expensive laptops with Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 (a competent midrange GPU) graphics. The GTX 1060 is not as graphically powerful as the GTX 1070 in the PowerSpec, but it is VR-ready. When you need to buy a replacement in three to five years to stay competitive with modern gaming, the net replacement cost will still pale in comparison to the massive amount of money you'd be down had you went through either multiple budget laptops or a single top-tier gaming laptop.

Credit: Laptop Mag

Add a comment
11 comments
  • crawford.fergus Says:

    Having now completed my research I think that the current eGPU offerings to run external graphics on a laptop screen are weaker than I first thought. There is evidence that the bandwidth of a Thunderbolt 3 eGPU is only really sufficient to get the equivalent performance of a GTX 1070 or so... Basically you can only throw so much data down the Thunderbolt 3 interface which has to go through the motherboard and is likely to bottleneck at that point as the interface is shared and not graphics dedicated.
    What I am unsure of is whether an epgu is worth it for ease of replacement reasons when the laptop graphics card dies (at about 3 to 3.5 years generally). I suspect not.

    Thus I think if the above is true the the eGPU is a dead duck for my purposes unless they introduce a Thunderbolt 4 that has significantly more bandwidth...

  • crawford.fergus Says:

    I think that you slightly misrepresented my question... which is what is the best long term strategy for continuous laptop gaming.

    I am inclined to agree with the comments that you rather dismissed an eGPU out of hand, especially as I stated in the original thread that it was an option for me.

    However the critical element that you have not adequately covered is the one of cost over time to maintain decent gaming performance. To do this we need to consider 3 things:
    1. How long will a given system remain effective (i.e. be able to play the latest games at a reasonable level)
    2. How long will the system continue to work without failure, especially if being "pushed"... noting that the graphics cards are normally the component that fails
    3. How much cost differential is there between systems and specs.
    We will call these playtime, system-life and cost.

    So looking at a budget system (GTX1050 Ti or lower), this comes out at:
    Playtime: approx. 1 year by your estimates
    System-life: maybe 3-5 years
    Cost: approx. $600
    Cost over time: $ 600 /year

    A midrange system (GTX1060):
    Playtime: approx. 2-3 years by your estimates
    System-life: maybe 3-5 years
    Cost: approx. $1000
    Cost over time: $333 to $500/year

    An upper-midrange system (GTX1070):
    Playtime: approx. 3-5 years by your estimates
    System-life: maybe 3-5 years
    Cost: approx. $1500
    Cost over time: $500 to $300/year

    An high end system (GTX1080):
    Playtime: approx. 5 years by your estimates
    System-life: maybe 3-5 years
    Cost: approx. $2000+
    Cost over time: $666 to $400/year

    So your logic appears to be correct regarding the GTX1070 based system.
    However if we include the eGPU then things change...

    Initial eGPU cost: approx. $300
    High-spec graphics card cost: approx. $500
    Playtime: approx. 5 years by your estimates
    System-life: maybe 8years
    Cost: approx. $800
    Cost over time: $200/year

    Naturally this is added to the original cost of the laptop - but the basic cost equation for the laptop is changed to be non-gpu system-life related and cpu playtime based - for which I have no stats. So now the limiting factor is the cpu and how long that can last (assuming that your egpu can cope with future bandwidth requirements). So how does the overall equation change?
    Should I actually buy a high spec cpu laptop with an egpu or an upper-mid range laptop?

  • Superguy Says:

    Here's another thing to add into the mix - what about cloud based streaming services, like one that Nvidia - GeForce NOW? I've messed with it a little bit on my ultrabook and it holds some promise. It requires a beefy internet connection though (>25Mb), so it may not be viable in places like hotels, coffeeshops. etc, where public WiFi is generally slower.

    So if we factor in a service like that, how does that change the recommendations?

  • Yuri Predborski Says:

    I like the eGPU option, same as many commenters, but it introduces three important constraints: 1. It is "external", not "mobile". It requires a power outlet, so forget gaming on the go. Taking it with you on a trip is not recommended due to weight. 2. It requires a rather powerful gpu to provide better performance compared to built-in video card like 1070. 1080ti will certainly run laps around 1070 max-q, but the price of such setup would be rather high. 3. I tried to find a laptop that supports eGPU recently just to find out the selection is very limited. Most laptops that come with a thunderbolt and support eGPU already have at least 1060 inside, which is enough for some light gaming at 60 fps.
    My conclusion: grab a mini desktop like Acer Predator G1 - I'm not very happy with their laptops but according to reviews G1 is a decent piece of hardware. There are other mini desktops with powerful hardware, but I don't remember the names. The benefit - it is a full powered desktop, it will have better performance compared to egpu + laptop, at a similar price. It can also be used in parallel to laptop, so you get two devices, not one. If space is limited, go with powerful laptop like razer or Dell or Asus with at least 1060 inside.

  • Yuri Predborski Says:

    I like the eGPU option, same as many commenters, but it introduces three important constraints: 1. It is "external", not "mobile". It requires a power outlet, so forget gaming on the go. Taking it with you on a trip is not recommended due to weight. 2. It requires a rather powerful gpu to provide better performance compared to built-in video card like 1070. 1080ti will certainly run laps around 1070 max-q, but the price of such setup would be rather high. 3. I tried to find a laptop that supports eGPU recently just to find out the selection is very limited. Most laptops that come with a thunderbolt and support eGPU already have at least 1060 inside, which is enough for some light gaming at 60 fps.
    My conclusion: grab a mini desktop like Acer Predator G1 - I'm not very happy with their laptops but according to reviews G1 is a decent piece of hardware. There are other mini desktops with powerful hardware, but I don't remember the names. The benefit - it is a full powered desktop, it will have better performance compared to egpu + laptop, at a similar price. It can also be used in parallel to laptop, so you get two devices, not one. If space is limited, go with powerful laptop like razer or Dell or Asus with at least 1060 inside.

  • Kinfolkbarre Says:

    I was that about getting a GPU enclosures. It look like from the other comments. They are a good use. And the tech channel's I go on youtube. They say they are faster then on the labtop. Then the pc.

  • Corey Says:

    Terrible article. Dismissed the sexiest option out of hand with no background. Having actually find the research, as long as you are trying to push high resolution, eGPU is outstanding.
    Personally tested all three options and have found eGPU was better than the other two. Portable when I need to go somewhere, and a 1080 ti at home. Don't even need an amazing CPU if you opt to stress the card more with higher resolution.
    Do some research next time.

  • Ace Triggerton Says:

    Here's the thing though. If you get an eGPU setup, you'll have the ability to upgrade your GPU AND your laptop down the road, but not be forced to do so at the same time. Also, without a crazy gaming gaming card built into the laptop, you can expect lower temps and power draw when not gaming as well as an almost certainly lighter and slimmer design. Most importantly though, you can get a classy looking piece of kit that has none of the embarrassing "gaming" aesthetic.

  • Lucas Says:

    I agree with Chris' point of view. This article dismisses the idea of an eGPU without even considering that a larger cost upfront will allow subsequent upgrading of the GPU, thus increasing the lifespan of the laptop by 2 to 4 years while costing a lot less than changing the laptop itself. I own an Alienware with a Graphics Amplifier loaded with a 1080Ti and couldn't be happier, since the Amplifier provides a PCIe lane directly to the CPU, no sharing with other stuff (so faster than other eGPU solutions). It also costed 150 bucks...that's not too much.

  • Curtis Says:

    I have been running an eGpu for 1.5-2 yrs, and it has been a great option when a desktop was not a good fit. And that was me jumping in without having bought my laptop with an eGpu in mind.

  • Chris Says:

    Thus was a terrible answer. You immediately discard the eGPU idea with little more than a wave of a hand. I clicked lookeing for a well-researched comparison of options. This is just some opinions with little real data to back up your claims. I'm not mad, just disappointed in you.

Back to top