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Looking for Budget Laptop for 3D Game Development

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Last response: in Laptop Tech Support
April 9, 2013 8:06:46 PM

I have recently gotten into game design, and over the past few months, have come to the realization that I will need more powerful hardware than the basic family PCs I have been trying to use (I get about 6-8 fps when running a UDK game, which is only marginally preferable to having my teeth pulled with a pair of rusty pliers). As it is my first laptop, and no one in my family has ever owned anything other than a mid-range computer ($750-ish), I am somewhat at a loss. Compounding this is the lack of saved funds for such a purchase, so whatever option I go with I have to figure out how to pay for (a payment plan would be nice). I have filled out the FAQs below. Purchase recommendations or general advice (for instance, do I want a workstation or gaming laptop/graphics card?) would be much appreciated.

1. What is your budget?

Ideally $1,200-1,500; however, I understand that may be optimistic. A payment plan would be nice, as my parents will be loaning me the cost, and would prefer it not go on the credit card.

2. What is the size of the notebook that you are considering?

I would prefer 17-18 inches; 15 is my absolute minimum. Weight isn't an issue.

3. What screen resolution do you want?

Probably 1920 x 1080, but I'm not set on it. If you think a different resolution would be better for my needs, by all means, recommend it. I'm just going based on what I've seen whilst browsing; I really don't know what that translates to.

4. Do you need a portable or desktop replacement laptop?

Desktop replacement. Most of what I'm doing will require an external three-button mouse anyways. I'm also used to carrying around a decent load of textbooks (say, twenty-five to thirty pounds) and willing to lug the thing around if I really need to take it anywhere. Weight is a non-issue, as long as it's under twenty pounds (which I believe virtually all laptops this side of 2000 generally are).

5. How much battery life do you need?

The more, the better. It will usually be plugged in, but I want at least two hours for when I have to take it on the road. More would be nicer, and I'd be willing to use an external battery, especially if it's removable.

6. Do you want to play games with your laptop? If so then please list the games that you want to with the settings that you want for these games. (Low,Medium or High)?

Yes - No specific titles, but its primary purpose will be 3D game design (which I'm currently doing with UDK). I understand that a new version of Unreal Engine is coming out, and it would be nice if it could handle games running UE4.

7. What other tasks do you want to do with your laptop? (Photo/Video editing, Etc.)

I intend to do 3D solid modeling and animation (for game design), and although I will primarily use Blender, I may potentially be running Autodesk if I need it for a course.

8. How much storage (Hard Drive capacity) do you need?

A minimum of 128GB; I would vastly prefer at least 256GB, and 512GB makes me all happy inside. I would prefer SSD, but it isn't make-or-break.

9. If you are considering specific sites to buy from, please post their links.

I have been looking at cdw.com, since a friend of my dad's works there and might be able to make me a deal for a bit below the sticker price.

10. How long do you want to keep your laptop?

At least two years, probably closer to three. I would love to keep it for 4-5 years, but I'm not sure if I can afford sufficiently forward-compatible components at my budget, and even if I could, it may become obsolete anyway.

11. What kind of Optical drive do you need? DVD ROM/Writer,Bluray ROM/Writer,Etc ?

I would prefer Blu-Ray Read/Write, but those are pretty expensive. At a bare minimum, it should be able to both read and write DVDs; however, I could use an external (USB) optical drive if I absolutely had to. It wouldn't be ideal, but I could make it work.

12. Please tell us about the brands that you prefer to buy from them and the brands that you don't like and explain the reasons.

I have acquired the vague impression that NVIDIA is better for PhysX, which Unreal Engine (and hence UDK) makes use of. I would prefer an Intel processor, but neither is really a strong preference. As long as it works, right?

13. What country do you live in?

United States.

14. Please tell us any additional information if needed.

I intend to use this laptop quite a bit, for extended periods of as much as 6-8 hours. I can put it on a cooling pad with a fan, but it will still need to run below melting/frying point after that length of time (which may well include a significant percentage of time for which the GPU and CPU are running in a major way, e.g., for rebuilding levels and lighting and play-testing them at length).

More about : budget laptop game development

a b D Laptop
April 9, 2013 8:26:21 PM

Is this for combined school and design work?

You would be much, much better off getting a netbook for school, and using the remaining money to build a desktop which will give you more power - around the order of a magnitude.
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April 10, 2013 3:50:08 PM

DarkSable said:
Is this for combined school and design work?

You would be much, much better off getting a netbook for school, and using the remaining money to build a desktop which will give you more power - around the order of a magnitude.


I had planned to use it that way, yes. I didn't realize there was that much difference. If I were to go the desktop route, would I be buying or building, and would I need to go full tower? I personally do prefer desktops to laptops; the reason I was looking at laptops is because I anticipate it having to travel to and from college with me. I expect that it might be required to have a competent laptop, as I'm intending to go into computer science.
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a b D Laptop
April 10, 2013 3:56:13 PM

Donald Bronson said:
I had planned to use it that way, yes. I didn't realize there was that much difference. If I were to go the desktop route, would I be buying or building, and would I need to go full tower? I personally do prefer desktops to laptops; the reason I was looking at laptops is because I anticipate it having to travel to and from college with me. I expect that it might be required to have a competent laptop, as I'm intending to go into computer science.


I perhaps exaggerated slightly when saying it was an order of a magnitude, but it'll be roughly twice as fast.

You'd be building (don't worry - it's easy!), and you could make it pretty dang small. I also attend college and haul my computer around a fair bit, but mine is small enough to fit into a duffel bag. (The computer itself is easy to transport - the 24" monitor, not as much - so I've got a smaller, lower resolution monitor at home.)

As for a competent computer, even a netbook will be plenty for basic programming, and for anything requiring significant power, they'll let you use their piles anyways, if they're of any decent size whatsoever. (My school, for example, is a tiny liberal arts place that doesn't even have one data cruncher.)
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April 11, 2013 11:20:52 AM

DarkSable said:
Donald Bronson said:
I had planned to use it that way, yes. I didn't realize there was that much difference. If I were to go the desktop route, would I be buying or building, and would I need to go full tower? I personally do prefer desktops to laptops; the reason I was looking at laptops is because I anticipate it having to travel to and from college with me. I expect that it might be required to have a competent laptop, as I'm intending to go into computer science.


I perhaps exaggerated slightly when saying it was an order of a magnitude, but it'll be roughly twice as fast.

You'd be building (don't worry - it's easy!), and you could make it pretty dang small. I also attend college and haul my computer around a fair bit, but mine is small enough to fit into a duffel bag. (The computer itself is easy to transport - the 24" monitor, not as much - so I've got a smaller, lower resolution monitor at home.)

As for a competent computer, even a netbook will be plenty for basic programming, and for anything requiring significant power, they'll let you use their piles anyways, if they're of any decent size whatsoever. (My school, for example, is a tiny liberal arts place that doesn't even have one data cruncher.)


Thanks DarkSable. I will definately look into building, based on your recommendations. I had sort of wanted to try it anyway, but was hesitant about the lack of portability. What you say about using the university's computers makes sense, especially given that I'm looking at places rated in the top fifty for computer science worldwide (like UI Champagne-Urbana). I'll definately keep an open mind moving forward.
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a b D Laptop
April 11, 2013 1:09:26 PM

Of course! It's certainly up to you, but I much prefer having a powerful desktop which makes it a lot easier to do work with, and then a netbook to do in-class stuff on. As for portability, like I said, it's not that bad, depending on how you build your computer. (I mean, just look at the Tiki, for god's sake)
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a c 317 D Laptop
April 11, 2013 4:16:42 PM

There are some awfully capable laptops out there, but to second what DarkSable said: you will get more power out of a desktop. The components have higher TDP and there is better cooling in a desktop environment. Laptop components are usually denoted with a "M" after their model number/name, to denote that they have a lower TDP, which results in less heat output, at the trade off of performance.

I know Clevo produces one laptop that uses a desktop CPU, but it still utilizes MXM graphics cards. If you're going to be doing heavy 3D rendering, you might want to look into the Quadro cards when/if you build your own system. Although the GeForce cards are generally more capable and don't cost quite as much, the Quadro cards have firmware optimized for that sort of thing (though I haven't heard any gripes with doing major rendering on a GeForce card either).
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a b D Laptop
April 11, 2013 4:32:14 PM

there is little to no point buying a desktop for greater cpu performance in rendering as any mobile i7 performs as well as a desktop i5-3570k in heavily threaded apps. The main concern is gpu power.

Stay AWAY from netbooks. cheap pieces of crap that are really slow and full of problems. You will want to chuck that thing at the wall if you have to code for longer than 15 minutes on a ten inch screen. Just buy a cheap laptop instead.
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