A gaming laptop is easy to snap open and use on the go. When you’re at home, though, you may want to take advantage of additional hardware, and have a more desktop-like experience.
With the right setup, you can immerse yourself in games with a bigger screen, enjoy more precise control using gaming peripherals, and use a Thunderbolt™ 3 cable to connect to a docking station that serves as a permanent anchor for all your accessories and screens.
In other words, you’ll get many of the advantages of a gaming desktop while still enjoying the portability that a gaming laptop provides.
The first step to building a laptop setup is finding the right laptop.
How to Select the Best Gaming Laptop: The Basics
Finding an appropriately balanced system is the main challenge when picking out a gaming laptop. You’ll want to take a close look at the hardware, the design, and the connectivity options to ensure your new system can provide the experience you want.
- Components. Choose a GPU and CPU that will provide the performance headroom you need. Keep in mind, you can’t easily replace these two critical components in most laptops. Look for a laptop with the components you need to play the games you want at the resolutions and frame rates you’re looking for.
- Connectivity. Make sure the system has enough ports, particularly flexible ports like the Thunderbolt™ 3 port, which can connect to external monitors and external storage. With data transfer rates of up to 40Gbps, the Thunderbolt™ 3 port is particularly useful when moving large files from an external drive. Not all laptops support Thunderbolt™ 3 ports, so be sure to consider this when choosing.
- Design. Look for design elements you like, such as a slim chassis, thin bezels (the border around the screen), and durable frame materials like aluminum. Laptops with larger screens (17 inches and up) take up more room than 13 inch or 15 inch models, but can provide greater immersion. Thanks to improvements in thermal design, even powerful laptops can be quite thin: some systems come in under 1” thick. While weight and price are still impacted by the components you select, it’s certainly possible to get a high-performance gaming laptop in a small chassis.
Choose Essential Accessories
The right peripherals can help turn a gaming laptop setup into a desktop equivalent when using it at home, but selecting the right space is a hugely important step in the process.
Use this opportunity to plan out a desk layout that doesn’t just meet your needs, but functions as a fun place to spend time. Choose a location you like, and plan ahead for considerations such as power placement, proximity to your router, and anything else unique to your living situation. When building your setup, make sure you’ve got space for accessories you want, such as large mouse pads or audio equipment.
Also, consider where you’ll be using your display. You’ll want to position your desk to avoid glare and reflections on the screen from windows or other light sources.
One simple way to upgrade your gaming experience is by moving from a laptop screen to a larger monitor. Hooking your gaming laptop up to a stand-alone display has a number of potential benefits:
- Split tasks between multiple screens. Play on one display while leaving your chat client, streaming software, or work open on the other.
- Center your monitor in an ergonomic position. By adjusting the height of your monitor so that the top sits at (or slightly below) your eye level, you can help maintain a comfortable viewing angle. This can help prevent neck strain that can result from tilting your head up or down when looking at a screen.
- Consider a higher resolution monitor. Upping the resolution to 1440p or 4K (if higher than your laptop’s native resolution) can provide a sharper image, as long as your laptop has the components necessary to play at these higher resolutions. Jumping from a 13”-17” laptop screen to a 27” monitor (or larger) can improve image clarity, and also allows for the option of higher refresh rates or adaptive sync solutions that can help prevent screen tearing.
- Follow fast-moving action easily with higher refresh rate monitors, such as 144Hz (or higher) models. Many laptops make use of high refresh rate screens, but not all, and upgrading to a larger screen that takes advantage of this technology can enhance your gaming experience.
- See more at once with ultrawide monitors that let you choose a wider field of view in games. Ultrawide monitors feature aspect ratios beyond standard 16:9 widescreen, such as 21:9 (which allows you to watch widescreen films without letterboxing) or even 32:9.
For more information about what to look for when selecting an external display, see our complete guide to choosing a monitor.
Gaming Mice and Keyboards
Gaming laptop touchpads and keyboards have improved dramatically over the years, with some models featuring full-size key layouts with numeric keypads, and customizable lighting. However, when you’re connected to your home setup, a specialized keyboard or mouse can change up your laptop gaming experience in some exciting ways.
A full-size mechanical keyboard offers a wealth of style options—computer-lab retro, neon backlights, or minimalist—as well as high-quality keycaps and a satisfying typing experience. Choose between switch styles to find the right feel and tactile experience. Different options require differing levels of force to actuate, and can vary in volume, so you’ll want to find the switch type that best suits you.
Laptop touchpads are excellent for some tasks, but a good gaming mouse is hard to beat when playing at home. Customizable buttons and sophisticated optical sensors can improve the gameplay experience substantially, and the wide selection of mouse options allow for an experience catered to just about every preference.
The right mouse pad can also help improve a gaming setup by providing a surface engineered specifically to work with a mouse’s sensor.
Mouse pads can allow for more precise cursor movement in games like Counter-Strike, where players often set their sensitivity low and move their hands farther to compensate. High thread counts and friction-reducing finishes can also impact precision, while textured backing can help keep things stable as the mouse moves.
As with most PC accessories, there is a huge variety of options available, from mouse pads with built-in wireless charging capabilities to specifically engineered texture and friction profiles designed to cover your entire desk.
Finding the input devices that cater to the gaming experience you want is one of the strengths of gaming on a PC, so exploring the available options is highly recommended.
External speakers and headsets can significantly enhance a gaming laptop’s built in audio options.
Speaker systems can provide theater-like surround sound. Some laptop designs have innovative ways to outperform the physical limitations of their smaller size, but sometimes there’s no substitute for surface area, especially for louder music or immersive soundscapes. Systems with a subwoofer and tweeters can provide deeper bass and clearer highs, and that can help with audio immersion.
Headsets allow for a detailed sound stage that can help pinpoint the sources of in-game noise, or adjust the balance of voice chat and game sound using physical controls. Adjustable mics can easily pick up voice chat while isolating it from background noises like keyboard clicks as well.
Most audio accessories connect via Bluetooth, USB, or the 3.5mm jack on a laptop.
Thunderbolt™ 3 Ports and Docking Stations
High-speed Thunderbolt™ 3 ports allow you to build impressive multi-monitor setups, connect to a multitude of USB devices, and transfer files to external storage at speeds up to 40Gbps. Another advantage of the Thunderbolt™ 3 port is that it allows for streamlined connection to a compatible docking station.
Here are a few more reasons to think about adding a dock with Thunderbolt™ 3 ports to your setup:
- Connect a docking station to your laptop with a single Thunderbolt™ 3 cable. The basic function of a docking station is to serve as an anchor that gives your laptop more ports—USB, DisplayPort, HDMI, audio, and Ethernet—and provides a painless and straightforward way to connect all of your accessories.
- Connect to multiple external monitors using the DisplayPort or HDMI ports on your docking station. This can allow for 4K displays or other advanced display features like higher refresh rates that your laptop might not natively support.
- Make use of a wired Ethernet connection through the docking station. Some users prefer using Ethernet connections for stability, but not all laptops have RJ-45 ports. The right docking station can mitigate this issue.
- Manage external storage drives by leaving them permanently connected to the dock, even if they are stored out of sight. When connected to the dock, you can take full advantage of the 40Gbps transfer speeds, without having to worry about cables or free ports. Some docks also feature built in additional storage options.
- Keep your setup organized by not having to unplug several cables when you disconnect your laptop. Disconnecting from a laptop dock is usually easier than manually removing every accessory, and can even save wear and tear on ports.
- Use a USB hub to solve port management issues if you don’t have a Thunderbolt™ 3 port available. Basic hubs can turn one USB port into many, or connect older USB-A connectors to a newer USB Type-C slot.
Upgrading Your Space
The final step in designing your laptop setup is to customize with the furniture and accessories that tie it all together.
- Pick the right chair, whether it’s a flashy racing-style gaming chair and or an ergonomic office chair with a flexible spine. If you plan on spending a lot of time in front of your setup, a quality chair is an excellent investment.
- Install monitor arms to easily adjust your monitor’s height and tilt to find an ergonomic setup. They can give your workspace a cleaner look than a default stand, especially when you have multiple screens in play.
- Use wall mounts for speakers or speaker stands to declutter your desk and leave more room for other elements, such as a lamp or headset stand.
- Install custom lighting like smart lights that pulse in time with in-game audio, ambient lights to illuminate the wall behind your monitor, or LED strips to add RGB flair to your space.
- Manage cables that stay on your desk by bundling them together with cable ties and routing them through raceways attached to the underside or back of your desk.
- Add personality with posters, small house plants, or collectibles that add a pop of color.
- Set up a surge protector so you can comfortably play with your laptop plugged in. Although laptop power bricks provide some protection against electrical surges, surge protectors can have higher joule ratings, and also help protect other devices that are plugged in. Attach it to the underside of your desk, rather than leaving it on the floor, for a tidier look.
- Choose how to connect: run an Ethernet cable from the desk to your router for extra stability, or reduce the amount of cables by using a Wi-Fi 6 connection.
Designing Your Dream Laptop Streaming Setup
If you’re planning to start streaming or editing gameplay videos, professional accessories can give your content the polish it needs to stand out.
- Consider an external mic to amp up your audio quality, reduce background noise, and eliminate distracting pops or distortion. Even if you don’t need a studio-quality device, a basic cardioid mic (which records sound from straight ahead) will likely be a big step up from your built-in mic.
- Pick up a 1080p or 4K webcam for a boost in picture quality and control over your image. On the higher end, webcams can record 60+ frames per second, feature built-in lighting, and can capture wider fields of view than the average laptop camera.
- Use an external hard drive to save highlight videos and gameplay without taking up onboard storage space.
Maximizing Your Laptop’s Potential
Building the right setup at home enables your gaming laptop to function as both a commuting machine and a desktop-like gaming station. Once you’ve designed the right space—complete with external monitors, a full-size keyboard, and useful accessories—all you need to do is plug in your gaming laptop to get lost in the latest titles.