As a reviewer who places high importance on the actual experience of using a machine over an algorithmic score of its various benchmark results, I’ve been wanting to write about the forgotten importance of user experience for quite some time. I recently happened upon a comment on Notebookcheck stating something to the effect of “I don’t know why people are still buying gaming laptops instead of a business laptop and eGPU” when I realized that this had been my preferred setup for almost two years now. My current setup is a ThinkPad X1 Extreme and Aorus Gaming Box (GTX 2070) eGPU (pictured at end of article).
Gaming Laptops Might Be Good Business, but Business Laptops Are a Better Game
Milled aluminium that’s probably being marketed as “aircraft-grade” material, RGB lighting, and designs that strive to inspire comparisons to luxury sports cars. We’re talking about modern gaming laptops, of course, and they’ve been the brightest spot in the computing industry for years.
And why not? Gaming is becoming bigger and bigger at the same time mobile technology is being commercialized at the expense of actual utility and value. Companies naturally are taking advantage of this by putting a lot of their money into R&D and marketing for slick new eye-catching designs to attract the attention of consumers, and those consumers are responding. Gaming laptops are top-sellers on Amazon, and consumer hardware associated with gaming is huge with the tech media, as well. They get clicks.
But unless you’re a professional e-sports competitor (kudos to you if you are), you’re probably doing a lot more on your laptop aside from gaming than you realize. Many are happy enough having laptop that functions without crashing or catching fire just because we haven’t experienced the difference between a consumer and a business laptop ourselves yet. But I’m telling you: once you’ve drunk the kool-aid of having a nice business laptop, it’s very hard to go back.
The forgotten benchmark of user experience
Gaming and consumer laptops might have eye-catching designs and the latest specs, but they drop the ball where it really counts: overall user experience, which includes ergonomics, stability, and support.
“But gaming laptops are much faster”, you might say. “Consumer laptops are cheaper and better looking.” Both those statements are mostly true, but specs and fashion appeal just aren’t as important as marketing has made us believe they are. As more work becomes digital and the simple paradigm of work-life that our parents and grandparents enjoyed fades, the devices that we use and the experience we have on them affect us more and more.
Today, computers are less and less an extravagant toy and more and more a combination of our commute vehicles and offices rolled into one.
If you were a professional driver, would you be happy driving a car with a sticky steering wheel and uncomfortable seat that forced you to hunch over? Would you be okay if your car crashed twice a day and you had to push it yourself to the repair shop when it did?
Last year, I compared two of the best ultrabooks to each other. I actually ended up electing the XPS 13 9370 the winner, but it was largely due to screen quality issues, battery life problems, and a terrible fingerprint sensor on the X1C Gen 6. Having spent more time with ThinkPads, the XPS line-up, and other laptops like the MSI GS65 since then, I am sure I wouldn’t have reached the same conclusion if I were to rewrite the article. The flat keys on the XPS 13 and 15 line-up mean your fingers often uncomfortably hit the edges of the keys when typing, the edge of the palm rest digs into your wrists sharply, and the lack of Trackpoint means productivity is affected (particularly when in tight spaces like a bus, train, or aircraft).
I’m telling you: once you’ve worked on a nice business laptop that is well constructed, has a great keyboard, multiple options for input, and is ergonomically comfortable, you will realize what you’ve been missing out on all this time. As someone who is on a laptop 5-7 hours a day while on the go, I just feel like I’m giving up so much when settling on today’s consumer laptops — even a fairly nice one.
But what about gaming performance?
That’s a good question, and there are two responses. Firstly, business laptops like the X1E Gen 2 and P1 Gen 2 are now coming equipped with quite decent GPUs like the Nvidia 1650 and T2000. These GPUs score 7000+ in Fire Strike and are very capable of running most modern games at 1080p on high or ultra settings. Of course, if you’re really MLG, you’re going to want the ability to push things a bit more, and that’s where an eGPU comes in. My Aorus Gaming Box isn’t as upgradable as larger eGPUs (it uses a custom mini-GTX 2070, whereas my Mantiz Venus could fit a full-sized card) but it is extremely portable. It even comes with its own carrying case, making it smaller in footprint than a shoe box. Able to supply up to 100W over the TB3 cable, you also have the option of bringing it on a trip with you as a (somewhat large) external power supply.
The GTX 2070 included in my eGPU isn’t as fast as a full-fat 2070 or even a 2070 Max-Q, but it’s still very capable of providing all the performance I need for the foreseeable future. Killing Floor 2, Prey, Doom, the Witcher 3, and every other game I’ve thrown at it run consistently above 60 fps maxed-out at 1080p. Really like 144Hz displays? There’s a ThinkPad mod for that, too! (That last suggestion is mostly a joke, but the fact that you can even do it is quite amazing to me.)
For myself and (I think) others, this kind of setup provides the flexibility and power we want while delivering the user experience we actually need.
I need to be honest though: No, you aren’t going to be getting the FPS-per-dollar you’d be getting with a gaming laptop or desktop setup, and I won’t claim that. If money is an issue, it’s a real issue. I’ve lived in Hong Kong for 7 years now so I definitely respect that. What I am trying to get at, though, is that gaming laptops are popular because they are much more heavily marketed by companies and promoted by media, but there’s a very good chance you may want to be looking at different or unconventional solutions based on your own usage.
I’m confident that even if you spend only a couple of hours a day on your laptop besides gaming, you should consider giving a business laptop like a ThinkPad, Latitude, Elitebook, or Lifebook a try. You just might realize that you’ve been putting up with an unpleasant daily user experience because you got sidetracked by flashy looks or high specs. And if you like the business laptop experience but mostly game at home, consider supplementing your set-up with an eGPU. You can always upgrade either component at a later date.
Have you drunk the kool-aid and switched from consumer to business laptops? Do you use a business laptop for gaming? With or without an eGPU? Let us know in the comments!