At the ending of the last year I decided to prepare for a digital nomad life. At this point I have no idea how long I want to travel, but I know that I’m leaving soon. My ultimate desktop which I started building seven years ago, and continued upgrading year by year, has served me well. And although I loved the flexibility of my six core Intel CPU, the raw power of the GTX 1070 FE and the freedom of having a fast SSD combined with 32 GB of RAM, soon enough I figured out that not even *one* laptop can reach that power, at least not in the year of the Rooster.
My boss got me a MacBook Pro in that year, the dual core 13″ version which is lacking every port imaginable. Now, I didn’t want to be an ungrateful employee, but honestly, this laptop had the combination of CPU and GPU power which could only serve me for re-starting my 90’s RPG journey, with Planescape Torment as my first choice, followed by the first Baldur’s Gate. Although I didn’t say it up-front, he probably saw the disappointment in my eyes and specifically mentioned that “every digital nomad is using one of these”, and that I should just ignore my power cravings and start the journey.
No. Not at this point. I just couldn’t leave my whole Steam library behind and I couldn’t leave my guys from CS:GO hanging, not for a half useful Mac. On top of that, I newly acquired a 144Hz IPS gaming monitor (more on that in the linked article) which was a whole new experience, and the pure thought of having to exclusively work on a 60hz laptop with no proper GPU and outdated ports just killed my mood.
“Then, my friend, you’re not a digital nomad” – said my boss.
Ok, I’m not, I’m going to create a new name to describe my needs, I’m going to be a “gaming nomad“. And I described it pretty well – It’s a person, individual, a gamer who wants to travel the world, without sacrificing the experience of using a powerful Desktop PC. So I decided to be patient, I started making my list of the gadgets and peripherals I needed, and I waited for the right moment, which finally came in April of 2018.
The laptop industry finally caught up, and I had my chance to form my final decision, which ended up in almost three months of researching, several review units, testing and preparing, and now I finally decided with which model to leave my country.
But, before I cover my own needs, I would like to focus on yours, this is why you’re here, right?
So to start the article, I’m going to go over the current trends which are on the market, the ones which you should follow and the ones which I would recommend to ignore. So let’s go over the basics first!
What downsides to expect from a laptop which will act as a desktop replacement?
With raw power comes great responsibility, right? It’s the same with a desktop replacement laptop, and although most of you out there are probably familiar with these facts, I’m still going to mention them in case you forgot about it or some of you are new within this industry:
- A true gaming laptop will not offer 10 hours of battery life. Cut that by a third, and even then don’t hold your hopes up. Expect from 2 to 4 hours of battery time, depending on the task you’re doing. Which, in my own experience, is more then enough to cover the regular travel time from one desk to another. So just keep in mind that these devices are not meant to act as a portable laptop, it’s a powerhouse, not an iPad.
- A true gaming laptop will be heavy. Expect from 8 till 10 pounds in your backpack. Again, these devices are topping the best graphics cards, the best motherboards and state of the art cooling solution. Just pump up your protein intake, get a dedicated backpack or travel case for it and you’re going to be fine. I expected my setup to be heavy, but again, not as heavy as carrying a full-tower PC and a 27″ monitor with me.
- A true gaming laptop will be expensive. Honestly, when was gaming NOT an expensive hobby? With that in mind, going portable will not make it cheaper. If you can’t afford it, go and work smarter. We’re a generation of internet entrepreneurs, you don’t need a Harvard diploma to earn $3000 within 6 months, just a few good keywords typed in to Google or Youtube.
- A true gaming laptop will scream back at you (for your own good). Gaming laptops are loud, just accept it. Although most of these devices have several software setups to ease the pain, like the “Quite” mode from Gigabyte, which downclocks the device for regular use, from my own experience I can tell you that the Bose QC 35 2 noise canceling headphones will be your best investment if you plan to go with a laptop of this caliber, and I recommend to pair it just for the sake of silence.
Now, for all of you who are not comfortable with the four points above, soon enough I will make an article covering the best portable gaming laptops, but these little fellas will feature motherboards which are maxed out with 16GB of RAM and, in the best case scenario, combined with a GTX 1060.
The four big myths surrounding gaming laptops in 2018
Ok, I covered the downsides which you should expect from a desktop replacement laptop, now I want to cover the myths which are surrounding them. As with all other gadgets, marketing is playing a huge role, and you shouldn’t fall for it. So let’s cover the newest trick first:
1.) The first biggest myth of 2018: Core i9 mobile is better then Core i7 mobile:
Without any further click-baiting: It’s not. Let me explain why – the Core i9 desktop series was introduced a while ago, and it presented the best of the best of Intel’s processors for the desktop users. To keep my explanation simple, it offered more cores and better clock rates then it’s older Core i7 brother, regardless of the generation. With heavy marketing behind it, Intel started seeing some interesting sales results within the last year, and they decided to push the name further, and expanded it to laptops – with one thing in mind, it’s NOT a full fledged Core i9, it’s basically a re-branded overclocked Core i7.
If you compare them through the Intel’s Compare feature, you’re going to see that the only benefit of going with Core i9-8950HK is a bit more Cache, and a Max Turbo Frequency of 4.80 GHz. Which sounds nice, but don’t let the price tag on the Intel’s site fool you, the upgrade from a Core i7 mobile to a Core i9 mobile costs around $400. Is it worth it? (Let me work it, I put my thing down, flip it and reverse it!). No, it’s not.
I’m a power hungry user, and through my research I decided to rather invest the $400 difference in to adding more RAM.
2.) The second biggest myth of 2018: You don’t need more then 8 GB RAM, 16 GB is already an overkill:
If you’re talking with a digital nomad who spent his life savings on a 13″ MacBook Pro with 8GB of RAM and a dual core processor in 2018., then of course he’s going to sell you the story on how your wishes are an overkill. Not only that, his job involves writing articles within WordPress and researching the web, sure, 8 GB of RAM and a dual core processor are an overkill for him.
But guys, we’re in 2018., Dual Core laptops with 8 GB RAM came out in 2011., it just doesn’t make sense to switch from a Desktop PC to a laptop and sacrificing 70% of your power. Especially nowadays when there are so many ultrabooks with six core + 16GB options.
I did some testing with 8 GB RAM, 16 GB RAM and compared it to the setup which I currently have – 32 GB RAM. But, before I continue, let me explain you what I do with my computer, and since I’m addressing a gaming laptop article, I’m sure that most of you share my work description.
- I’m a heavy gamer, I usually play two to three games within the same month/s, in most cases a role-playing game like Divinity Sin and a shooter like Unreal Tournament. Both of them are running in the background at the same time, because I hate starting them up. I want to use the full power of my setup and I just keep them running all the time. Once I want to play one, I just click on it in the taskbar and voila, I continue with the game where I left of last time. I also rarely restart my system. Not only because of the games, but also because of my Adobe programs. Which covers the next point:
- I’m a heavy Adobe user, I love creating videos, infographics, using Photoshop and all of the other great tools which can and will use all your six cores and 32 GB of RAM. Each program has up to 10 different projects running, together with the access to a huge library of files. Why would I restrict my flow to a lesser setup if it’s not needed? Same for you my friend, if you can afford going to 16 or 32 GB of RAM, go for it.
- I use two web browsers, and they are full with tabs. I’m a Firefox + Chrome guy, one is covering my private needs, bookmarks and multimedia, the other one is for business. In most days both of them have up to 30 different tabs open, they are running constantly in the background and I’m more then assured that my RAM will cover their hunger.
So with that said, if your workflow is within these tasks, you will appreciate 32GB of RAM.
3.) The third biggest myth of 2018: New mobile GPU’s are coming soon:
No, they are not. Nvidia, together with all the other manufacturers, finally succeeded in creating their Max Q technology, we got several new laptops on the market, it would be really stupid from all of them to present a new technology just two months after they presented the new line up. Expect the new GPU’s mid of next year, and even then your GTX 1070 and GTX 1080 will be more then enough to power up your favorite games. Don’t let the media fool you, go for the best option which you have right now.
4.) The last myth of 2018: You’re a gamer, right? Go for a TN 1080p gaming laptop:
If you went through my IPS monitor recommendation you already know that I’m not fond of TN panels. Same thing goes here, buying a TN 1080p monitor in 2018. is like shooting yourself in the leg. There are several downsides, you can’t work on that screen properly because there is not enough screen estate, you can’t edit images because the colors are just washed out, and last but not least, I just can’t get over the fact that the manufacturers are selling us the technology from 2010. for the price of today’s tech.
There are several better solutions, if you want the speed of the TN technology, but want to combine it with great color reproduction, there are TN+WVA combinations with an 144hz options, there are 1440p monitors, 4k ones and also great IPS + G-Sync solutions.
No worries, I will show you all of them in the next part of the article.
The best desktop replacement laptops for gaming in 2018, my own recommendations
To first explain how I did the testing and what influenced my decisions. When I go for an expensive piece of hardware, I don’t only check the overall quality of the product, I check the whole eco-system of that company. Why?
Well, if you already saw this years line up of gaming laptops, you probably figured out that most of them have the same “hardware base”, a combination of an Intel Core i7 or core i9 processor, a GTX 1070/1080 card and a stack of 32 GB of RAM. With those specs most of your hardware needs are covered, but what happens if your device fails you? How does the warranty work? Will the customer support answer immediately? What if you want to replace parts by yourself, can you do that? What if you want some cool gaming gear from the same company?
As you can see, it all adds up to the experience of owning a piece of expensive hardware, so this is why I included all of the above mentioned details in to my decision making, and in the end went with these three options:
The Alienware 17″ R5 as my first choice of the best desktop replacement option in 2018
It’s not a surprise that Alienware is holding the top when it comes to gaming hardware, and although their marketing campaign at the beginning of this year was a bit weird, the devices are still made of top rated hardware enclosed within high quality materials, and let me explain why I choose it as the number one spot.
Why I personally choose the Alienware 17″ R5 as my main machine: As I mentioned it above, before you actually buy your desktop replacement machine, the only thing which comes to your mind is the hardware setup, combined with the build quality and cooling solution. But once you bring the machine back home and start to live your life with it, you figure out that there is more to being a Gaming Nomad then you thought there is. Sure, we all know that Alienware is offering great machines, but what one forgets is that they built a whole lifestyle around it.
- You need a practical, stylish bag to go with your desktop replacement laptop, which also offers additional space for your peripherals, and it’s actually comfortable to wear? Alienware has you covered.
- You want to upgrade it by yourself with a new SSD or a new stack of RAM? Grab a screwdriver and upgrade it, you will not void any warranty with that move, and even if you never did it, just call their support and they will guide you through the process.
- You have software or hardware problems with your device? A 1 year premium support is included with your purchase, featuring 24/7 remote diagnostic and on-site support, just give them a call, regardless if you’re having internet connectivity or not, and it will be solved.
- You know you’re going to travel around and want to insure your device from accidents? It’s also included in the price for one whole year.
- You lost or broke your power adapter while traveling? There are several Dell stores around you, all the time, worldwide, and a solution is just $130 away from you.
- All machines can be configured to your liking, if you’re limited by a budget you can just opt for a 128gb SSD and 8 GB RAM machine and update it later in the year.
Why I think you would also like it: Alienware hardware is probably the only line of gaming tech which doesn’t look childish. They managed to create devices which have the aggressive approach of a gaming setup, but can also be used in the office for day to day work without screaming “I’m here to join a battlefield and win my wars, I’m a tool of destruction” – and all that other “for gamers” marketing cow feces. Not only that, once you observe the cool looking enclosure you will find several ports which can aid you in your daily life. Combine that with the raw strength of the machine, and you got yourself a winner.
From a gamers perspective:
- I always insist on playing my multiplayer games over LAN, and the R5 has a full sized Ethernet jack.
- I have a good headphone setup which features a cable with a separate Audio and Mic plug, bot of them can be plugged in to the R5.
- I love high quality panels, and the R5 features several options, like the 1440p 120Hz TN+WVA panel and the 4k 60Hz IPS panel, both featuring G-Sync.
- I want to be future proof, and the R5 features both ports which can make that happen, the Alienware Graphics Amplifier and a full speed USB type C port.
- The additional gear looks fantastic, just check the Vindicator backpack.
- It has two SSD slots, in my case one for the OS, and the other for my old 2TB Steam Library.
- The keyboard offers one of the best typing experiences on the market.
My specs recommendation:
- Ignore the Intel® Core™ i9-8950HK processor and go with the Intel® Core™ i7-8750H, why? Because it’s the same core count, just a bit overclocked, and it’s not worth the $500 upgrade.
- Go with the NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 1070 OC with 8GB GDDR5 if you’re looking for the best buy option, your temperatures will be lower then with the GTX 1080 OC, and you will sacrifice only 15% less performance.
- Upgrade to a Class 50 M.2 PCIe SSD, the 512 GB option, just because it’s cheap and fast.
- I went with the 1440p 120Hz TN+WVA monitor option, because my own Agon 271QG has the same resolution, featuring 144Hz, and my workflow is easier when I can plug in and plug out a laptop with the same resolution as the monitor, without sacrificing the refresh rate and the viewing angel quality. The TN+WVA panel is 30% better then the regular TN panels, so don’t expect your regular washed out angels, Alienware picked the right parts this time.
You can find the same model on their Official Amazon Store, so be sure to check it out.
The Gigabyte Aorus X9 DT as my second choice of the best desktop replacement gaming laptop in 2018
Gigabyte started off with their Aorus series of gaming hardware just a few years ago, first with GPU’s, now with laptops, and as of now I can tell you that their future is looking bright as a star. The hardware can be similar to the above mentioned Alienware, but it can also surpass it.
Why I think you would like it: The Aorus X9 DT is a phenomenal desktop replacement laptop, and although it comes with a pair of it’s own flaws, what makes him different from the rest of the 2018 line-up of gaming laptops are several factors, so let me go quickly through them.
- The X9 DT with his 8 pounds of weight is light, not as light as a MacBook Air, but still light. Most, if not all gaming laptops of this caliber, are quite heavy, usually at around 10 pounds or more.
- In comparison to other gaming laptops, there is only one power brick, but you still have the full connectivity options, including the faster USB 3.1. Gen 2 standards
- If you’re power hungry and are searching for the ultimate desktop replacement, you can upgrade to 64 GB of RAM and include up t o three separate SSD/HDD’s.
- A beatufiul 144Hz IPS screen awaits you, and although it’s a 1080p screen, it will not disappoint you.
- A mechanical keyboard which can stand side by side with the Alienware 17 R5.
- An international warranty which will last you 2 years
Why I personally didn’t like it and went with the Alienware 17 R5: If my job description would need 64GB of RAM, three separate places for my SSD and HDD’s together with the “I don’t care how much it costs” attitude, I would probably cash out the 4500 dollars and go with the X9 DT – but I don’t.
And this is where you come in – if you don’t care about the price point of your machine, and want to get a gaming laptop which will offer you the best tech of 2018. within a cool looking, stylish chassis, and secure you with an international 2 year warranty, then my friend – you got yourself a winner.
You can find the same model on their Amazon webshop under this link.
Why I left out other brands?
I tried over 10 different laptops, and although some of them impressed me in one way, they disappointed me with their cooling solutions, hardware setup, thermal throttling or display quality. If I want to invest this amount of money, I want to get the best possible option, not only for my travel, gaming and work needs, but also for my viewing, typing and transportation experience. So to sum it up why I left out other brands:
- Because of their own incompetence they are forcing us to carry two power bricks just to get the power we need
- They featured outdated low res TN panels
- The built quality and the keyboard wasn’t reflecting the price point
- They offered SLI solutions, which I think are not needed anymore and are just costing to much money
- They didn’t feature updated processors and sticked to 16gb of RAM
If you didn’t like my recommendations, and want to hunt for a completely different model, then I would leave you with these tips:
Ok, I get it, the above models are not your cup of tea, you want to do your own research, then by all means, go and pick the one which suits you the best. The only thing which I would like to do is leave you with a few tips, which are:
- If you’re buying a Dell computer, regardless if it’s an Alienware or anything else, they constantly have deals where you can get up to 15% off from the whole setup.
- If you’re buying a laptop with a GTX 1050 Ti or a GTX 1060, I would recommend to go with a model which has a full Thunderbolt 3 capable USB C output, so that in a year from now you can connect an eGPU to it and run a better card. Believe me, the time will come and it would be a pity to sell your computer just two years after you bought it.
- Always go with the laptop which has at least two RAM slots and is upgradable, regardless if you’re thinking of getting a 8GB, 16GB or 32 GB option.
- If possible, go with a screen which supports either G-Sync, Free Sync or has a refresh rate above 60Hz. If you’re already stuck with one laptop monitor for the next few years, pick the one with the newest technology already built in.
- Whichever device you choose, the trackpad *will* be bad, just don’t focus on it. This is why we invest in to high quality mice.
- If you plan to travel with it, be sure to get an extended worldwide warranty if you can, some manufacturers can add it to your device for less then $100.
- If possible, get a device which can hold two separate SSD’s, and as usual, keep your windows installations and programs on the smaller one, and your important files, games and movies on the larger one.
- Be sure to visit one of your offline stores around you and try the keyboard of the laptop of your choice. It’s always good to try it out in person, before committing to two+ years of constant agony.
- If you decide to go with a different model, which is not included on this list, be sure to check the reviews of each respectable brand, because almost 80% of the current generation of desktop replacement laptops suffers from poor display quality, I’m not only talking about TN panels, but also IPS panels which end up with a slight gray hue, and black does not look particularly rich on them.
That’s all from me folks, be sure to support us on Facebook and if you have any questions just send us a message!