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Gaming With a Business Laptop

By Douglas Black , last updated on October 12, 2019

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).

The GS65 looked great in pictures, but it took me less than 4 hours to realize I hated working on it.

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.

The downsides

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.

Conclusion

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!

My setup at home (Plumbus not included).

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Based in Hong Kong, Douglas Black is a veteran editor of Notebookcheck, university lecturer, researcher, and writer.

23 Comments

  1. LHPSU

    September 15, 2019 at 4:29 pm

    I use a Gigabyte Aero 15 X9 and I'm very happy with how it performs at work; better than I liked my previous ThinkPad E585, in fact, because it has a much better screen in addition to being faster. I actually prefer the slightly softer touch on the Gigabyte compared to the ThinkPad. The Aero also has a backlit keyboard, while the E585 didn't.

    Now I know the Aero is more than twice as expensive than the entry-level E585, but I researched the ThinkPad X1 Extreme, and I don't think I would have been happier if I picked that. I'll also grant that I work mostly at home and not on the road, for which I usually carry my Surface 6 Pro.

    The thing with eGPU, for me, isn't money, but space. I simply don't have room to put a eGPU + external monitor anywhere, and I've gotten so used to notebook keyboards that I simply won't be able to go back to an external one.

    • Douglas Black

      September 15, 2019 at 4:56 pm

      Thanks for the comment, it's good to hear an opposing viewpoint! It's funny how things like "feel" are quite subjective at the end of the day. One person might like the feel of the Gigabyte Aero, another the feel of the ThinkPad, and another an XPS 15, etc.

      Have you had the chance to try a "big screen" home gaming setup, yet?

      • LHPSU

        September 15, 2019 at 5:44 pm

        No, there's just no space for that.

  2. hey

    September 15, 2019 at 5:53 pm

    What about the Dell Inspiron 7590? Nice business laptop, what's your opinion?

    My 2 cents, gaming laptops usually sacrifice screens and battery (and weight), two things that usually are mandatory, and if you don't want to lose that you need to heavily increase your budget

    • Douglas Black

      September 15, 2019 at 6:27 pm

      Dear Hey :)

      The inspiron line is for consumers and students mostly, I'd say. Latitude would be Dell's proper business line (some Precisions as well).

      You're right about the screens and battery being sacrificed (as well as subtlety). I would add to that: support options, longevity, and ergonomics.

  3. xpclient

    September 15, 2019 at 9:37 pm

    What about video editing, playback, encoding? For intense video work, would you recommend a business laptop with a mid-range NVIDIA GPU, or gaming laptop? I'm certainly not a professional content creator plus I do game and I do run a small business. Quadro is not for me but I do encode, play, edit a lot of 4K video. Will a business laptop bought today be able to effortlessly play and edit, say, an AV1 encoded 4K HDR 10-bit video without any issues, just as well as a gaming laptop?

    Another issue I have with business laptops is the missing numeric keypad and the cramped keyboard layout or the unusual non-standard arrangement often for arrow keys, Home, End, Page Up, Page Down which are very important to me – even though the other keys are usually fine.

    Third point is cooling. If you choose the highest end Intel Core i9 CPU, cooling becomes very important. Overall cooling is often better in gaming laptops vs business laptops for the same CPU chip because the GPU is beefier.

    What I do love about business laptops is that almost all of them come with a fingerprint reader+face unlock – something that companies think gamers don't need after spending upwards of $2000 on a laptop. Gaming laptops should come with Hello integration too but not all do yet.

    • Douglas Black

      September 16, 2019 at 5:21 am

      I quite liked using my P1 w/ p2000 quadro for a combination of work and gaming. It worked for games just about as well as a 1050Ti, and I would guess the T2000 is similarly comparable to the 1650 (if not better, I hear). I like my X1E G2, but I think I'd be just as happy with the P1 Gen 2. I think if you have a quadro GPU, you can expect nearly the same performance as the equivalent GTX these days.

      Regarding keyboard layouts, this will be very much up to personal taste. I love the classic 7-row thinkpad keyboard most, but that just is not an option anymore. If you like having a numpad and dGPU, I think a ThinkPad P53 would be a very good option for you.

      Cooling should be better in a gaming laptop, you're right. They tend to have separate cooling (rather than shared) heatpipes, but this isn't always true. Something to consider related to cooling is that it seems like many OEMs these days don't care about longevity of their products when it comes to gaming (see Dell lately, for example. Their M15 ran extremely hot, the G-series are plagued with throttling issues of various kinds). Business laptops you can at least trust they should have undergone significant stability testing to ensure they can run under load for quite a long time.

      I agree with you completely on the lack of biometrics on gaming laptops. It really bothered me about the Aero series and Razer laptops (among other things).

      • xpclient

        September 16, 2019 at 12:11 pm

        Yes but there's a reason the keyboard layout used to be fairly standard before all the manufacturers started fooling around and reinventing it, only making it worse. The original standard layout had evolved from the typewriter+IBM PC's additional computing keys. For 17 inch laptops, I like having such a layout only: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3a/Qwerty.svg

        Any "improvements" to this layout make me mad. This kind of keyboard you can now get only in simple wired desktop keyboards; it is impossible to find it in any laptop. They are all reinvented to "improve" your experience. The closest I could find was on Gigabyte Aero 17 XA HDR: https://www.notebookcheck.net/fileadmin/_processed_/d/f/csm_MG_6116_ede5995074.jpg

        At least it has ALL the important and frequently accessed keys accessible by 1 direct keystroke on this Gigabyte Aero keyboard. The Fn key will be required only for top Function key non-standard functions. I hate pressing Fn+arrow keys for Home/End/Page Up/Page Down. It even has Menu key and Pause/Break. I hope laptop manufacturers get the message loud and clear that reinvented keyboard layouts are nothing but a perversion. Any diversion from the standard layout is not welcome.

  4. xpclient

    September 15, 2019 at 9:42 pm

    Speaking of user experience even for non-gaming purposes, dedicated clicky/physical touchpad buttons separate from the touch area make a world of difference. Most business laptops are beginning to eliminate them like consumer ultrabooks. But most gaming models retain them.

    • Douglas Black

      September 16, 2019 at 5:16 am

      Yes, this is huge! It's made worse by Microsoft's decision to disable the setting for "touchpad delay after typing", which means that you won't be able to use the touchpad within a few ms of pressing a key. Very strange decision.

  5. dwick

    September 16, 2019 at 8:16 am

    Timely article as I'm in the market for a new laptop. I'd had a series of new and used Thinkpads over the years until 2014 when I bought a new 13" Inspiron 7000 2-in-1. The Inspiron has generally been a good machine but I'm not a 'touch' kind of guy and I've grinded my teeth about the glossy screen since Day 1. So I've been looking for something with anti-glare/matte display – had been considering HP ProBook (nice price but dim display) or EliteBook (more than I wanted to spend) Now think I'm going to go with Latitude 5300 @ $1100. Not a gamer so think it will suit me fine – display specs/quality seems 'just right' and love the compact size.

    • LHPSU

      September 16, 2019 at 10:15 am

      You're pretty much always stuck with glossy if you go touchscreen, unfortunately.

      • Douglas Black

        September 16, 2019 at 11:06 am

        X1C6 had a matte touchscreen (I think G7 does also?) but I was not a fan.

      • dwick

        September 17, 2019 at 12:18 am

        Actually, not anymore… some of the 2-in-1 convertible variants of higher-end business laptops are offering anti-glare/matte touchscreens – they're pricey though, of course. HP is offering some sort of fancy 'etched glass' anti-glare touch display on their EliteBook 800 and 1000 series 2-in-1s. I think Lenovo offers something similar on their X1 Carbon 2-in-1.

  6. Covan Rei

    September 16, 2019 at 10:46 am

    for years, I've used at least 6 different x-series ThinkpPads, video game on the go is more like a having a portable device or mobile phone/table game to me. not that I don't like a gaming laptop, but most of them are bulky and not suitable to present at some sort environment (mean no disrespect to gaming, but I do have some funny clients)

    when I saw the X1E last years, already a bit lean toward to, should I go ahead upgrade my laptop last year? (I usually get a new one when my ThinkPad 3 years warranty is up) but due to the new product cycle I've seemed from ThinkPad last few years, I kind of knew there's gonna be a Gen2 for the X1E product line and there it was !! I placed the order when its announce, also happy to see it has so much self-upgrade space, and when I received the X1E.2, its amaze me the laptop didn't ruin the key point of X-series ThinkPad product line. it's so thin and light, yet the dedicate GPU is quite powerful that can push current-gen game so well, I threw away with the idea like the author mentioned he carried an eGPU around. because this X1E is capable to do more than I'm hoping for in the need for gaming.

    Anyway, there's a online game I dropped a few years back, just because its hard for me to play while I'm traveling, but for past few weeks, I was quite happy to log on while my plane delay and kill few things during the waiting time with the sword and shield other than blew up some colorful gem.

  7. Sam John

    September 17, 2019 at 9:06 am

    Hello,
    after using my laptop for 6 years I have decided to buy a new one since it is getting old and the laptop has too many problems to fix. I'm looking into the market for a laptop that is under $1400, is 13-15 inches, has dedicated graphics (AMD and NVIDIA) with core i5/Ryzen 5 or above. I want the display to be good, battery life to be good and I'm using the laptop for school, personal and gaming. I have already researched myself and I believe that the Dell XPS 15 and 2019 G3 15, Lenovo T series, Acer Swift Series 2019, ASUS Zenbook Series, HP Envy 13 (2019), Huawei Matebook 14 or X Pro, Razer Blade Stealth are good. I still have to look into MSI, Apple, and Microsoft. Any recommendations?

    Thanks

    • Douglas Black

      September 17, 2019 at 9:25 am

      This is a situation I would actually recommend an i5 (or i7 if you can get it) FHD XPS 15 7590. With the 97whr battery if possible.

      • sam john

        September 17, 2019 at 12:45 pm

        Thank you. Also it's ok if you don't do this but can you please clarify why you recommend the XPS 15 over other laptops such as the Lenovo T Series, Acer Swift Series (2019), ASUS Zenbook Series, HP Envy 13 (2019), Huawei Matebook Series, Razer Blade Stealth, Microsoft, MSI and Apple. Also, can you please inform me to say whether there are ANY other laptops you recommend just so I have a wide variety of choice.

        Thanks again.

        • Douglas Black

          September 17, 2019 at 1:38 pm

          Sure! Better gpu (1650) and 6 core CPU instead of 4 on t-series. Asus could be another option but you lose the on site service and it may not be as high in build quality. HP I'm not a big fan of designs and their reputation isn't great.

          The others just don't have good enough build quality or input options (MSI) or are just imo shady in operation (razer). Just imo though

          • sam john

            September 17, 2019 at 1:47 pm

            Thank you so much. So XPS 15 it is.

          • Douglas Black

            September 17, 2019 at 1:53 pm

            Best of luck!

  8. Benjamin

    September 17, 2019 at 12:40 pm

    This is the best article I’ve read on laptops for a long time.

    I’m in the market for a new laptop, always had a business laptop, but this time I want to do some gaming. So I got a couple of these new thin gaming laptops. they’re all terrible when you actually need to take them on work trips and stuff. Especially the GS65! In the end I got a thinkpad X1E gen 2, it was amazing, my favourite laptop ever, but then I had to send it back because of some manufacturing defects.

    Reconsidered due the too high price of the X1E. Now I’m still looking. But your reviews will be my nr. 1 source. Thanks!

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