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Laptop Computer for Game development

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Hey Everyone! I'm starting game development. However, the computer I have is about 5 years old, and though it is pretty good for just normal programming, it's having a problem with graphics. Most games are not as high detailed as they're supposed to be. So, I'm thinking about getting a laptop. I'm guessing that the best laptops for programming games are gaming laptops. Only problem is that there are hundreds of gaming notebooks out there. Which one would you reccommend for programming games? In fact, if it isn't a gaming notebook, post it anyway. Thanks!

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Dell makes some pretty nice laptops, The Inspiron 9300 comes to mind, I just set my brother up with one last month and he really likes it. He's on-base with the military and plays battlefield 2 on his down time. Basically the 9300 is Dell's XPS gaming laptop in a different shell, basically the exact same save the cosmetics. Graphics options range from an ATI mobility x300 with shared memory, to Geforce 6800go's with 256mb of dedicated memory.

You can save some money by going through ebay, you can find new-in-box units under warranty for signifigantly cheaper than Dell's website. I purchased both my last desktop and last notebook, both Dells, this way.

Here's a good example, but by all means shop around and find a config/price that suits you, and remember: not jumping on the first thing that comes along will usually save you a signifigant amount of cash on Ebay.

Ebay link

Also, don't worry about the processor sounding a little slow, the Pentium M is a really fast little chip. The 1.6ghz pentium M in my lappy matches or exceeds the 3.0ghz pentium 4 in my desktop 80% of the time, and never falls far behind. Part of that is due to the more efficient arcitechture (much like how an Athlon is faster than a p4 clock-fo-clock,) part is due to the shorter pipeline (which mitigates the impact of branch misses) and yet another part is due the the 2megs of on-die level 2 cache. Any p-M in the 1.6ghz+ range will be more than addiquate.

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This is a topic i shall keep an eye on, i also may be needing a decent laptop for developing on as i may be spending a few nights a week away from home so it would give me something to do

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*note: some information may be dated, I last looked at laptops seriously a few months ago and things change quickly

Let me start out by saying, compiling programs and running them is probably not going to bog down your system if you aren't doing any really complex graphics stuff or memory intensive tasks. I very much doubt you'll be doing anything like this if you're just getting into games development unless you start making models with your laptop in which case a lot of ram and a good graphics card are what you want.

You have to figure out what will benefit you more, walking around with your computer or going home and working on it there. Honestly, it totally depends on how important mobility is to you because it makes no sense to buy a laptop and leave it sitting at home alone. They do cost more.

Now, read this lengthy discussion:

When shopping around remember, it's usually better to build your own computer by shopping for deals on parts you want than to buy a packaged one if you know what you're doing. You can save quite a bit of money on stuff by doing it yourself but this is not always an option if you're a hardware nub ;)

Now I'll talk about the difference between my laptop and my pc to give you some things to think about. Now, I won't say that this is something to base a decision off of, I am saying you should understand what it is that you need to use it for before you spend over a thousand dollars on a computer.

If you have a current desktop with a good working monitor, keep the monitor. If you have good speakers, keep those too. Mouse, keyboard? Keep them. Case and power supply (provided the power supply is still good)? That's more money you don't have to spend if you're part shopping. Chances are, with a 5 year old computer you'll be looking at upgrading these parts: Motherboard, CPU, Graphics Card and Ram. You can probably get away with spending under $700 if you just upgrade those parts (more if you want a bangin' system.) With a laptop though, you'll be buying all new parts (monitor, keyboard, powersupply, speakers... These things are all built in and add to the cost of the machine) which means you'll need to factor that in when looking at how much things cost. Laptops exist with varying qualitys of everything and it totally depends on the brand. Research what you're buying before you do.

The main thing is that most laptops in the mid range do not offer high quality graphics cards (usually) which means that you'll be looking at a mid-upper range laptop instead of a low range one. Also, watch out for ram. I usually look for a gigabyte rather than 512 megs. If it does come with 512 megs, make sure the ram is in one stick instead of two 256 meg sticks which means you can upgrade later without throwing out a 256 meg chip or starting from scratch. Also, hard drive speed is important. Make sure it's not at 5200 rpm or slower.

If you need portable, laptops are great and can be very useful. If you don't need to bring it with you then a desktop is almost definitly better bang for your buck.

I built my current desktop:
Mainboard: $195
Graphics Card: $200
Processor: $325
Total: $720

I'm running an Athlon 3500+ venice, a good but not garish mainboard (can't remember the make), and a GeForce 6600 GT.

I was able to recycle my case, 1 gig of DDR 3200 ram, and my 19" monitor which (if factored in) would be:

ram $70 x 2: $140
monitor: $340
case+power supply: $50

Total (with everything): $1,250
and then, with some awesome 5.1 surround sound headphones: $125

Total: $1,375

This total bought me something which can play Halflife 2 at full graphics settings (75+fps), and Doom3 at mostly full. I can play Black and White 2 maxed out as well. I'm talking maxed out effects at 1024x768, but only 2x antialiasing for all of these which still looks good.

You would be hard pressed to find a laptop which can do the same for you for that price. My current laptop was purchased 8 months ago and cost me $1,599 (it was originally $1,899 but I got 300 dollars off because I used to work at staples and it was staff discount day.)

My laptop is widescreen and has a centrino chipset which means it's better on batteries than your average laptop. It's only clocked at 1500 mhz, but it's a very solid processor anyway and will outperform many 3 ghz machines. Don't get too caught up in the processor speed, just don't buy an inferior chip (ie: a duron or a celleron.) It can also run halflife 2 at decent settings, but certainly doesn't have the power in the graphics card department. It's only running a radeon 9200 with 64 mb of video memory which is where you notice the most difference in 3d games. It won't run Doom3 without turning everything down.

This isn't a great comparison because of the vastly different designs that go behind the two. My laptop was built for battery life and heat considerations, my PC I built for gaming. That said, you will be hard pressed to find a laptop for under $2000 that performs as well as my desktop does for games.

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One thing you should take note on is how you will get driver updates. I use an HP nw8000 for work with an ATI 128mb fireGL graphics card. It is a reasonable card for a laptop, but there is a gotcha: I can't just download the latest ATI drivers off of their website - I need to get my graphics drivers from HP. And HP is not exactly inclined to pump out updated drivers. It seems to be more a problem with laptop OEMs in general, and not just HP, as they are responsible for supporting their embedded graphics cards (not ATI).

This recently became a thorn in my side when I went to my display properties to tweak my OpenGL preferences only to find that there was not an OpenGL preferences tab (only DirectX). And considering I'm running the latest and greatest drivers, there is not much hope unless I use modded drivers.

-D

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Desdemona
Not to stray off-topic, but, have you tried installing the ATI drivers? Many resellers say you have to use their custom drivers (even pci/pci-e/agp cards) - but more often than not the default drivers work just fine.
This is because the gpu itself is still usually purchased from/manufactured by ati or nvidia themselves. This has been the case with 6 different brand grpahics cards (both desktop and laptop, add-in and on board) I've dealt with. Then again, HP isn't exactly known for their great drivers, so maybe this is an exception... (just like the hp printer "driver" I had to install for a customer today - minimal install size: 236mb - minimum ram required: 96mb. Granted then I was just able to share that printer from the first computer and every other computer just installed 1 mb driver... but the fact still remains; hp drivers are evil)

As to the original topic of the thread. I'm just curious about your current skill level and experience with game programming. For example: You're never going to be able to create a game (a reasonable game) by yourself which maxes out the capabilities of todays latest and greatest hardware. I've got a 1.8ghz amd athlon, and a 128mb geforce4 4400 desktop machine - which plays quake4 and doom3 at very good framerates (albeit at 800x600 with medium quality textures)... this computer plays the games I currently develop myself at well over 900fps =P.
So, while I do suggest you get a great machine if you're an avid gamer, it might be more reasonable to get a gamer's desktop, for less than half the price of a gamers laptop - and then just get an "ok" laptop so you can develop games anywhere - 2 machines and you'll still be able to come in under the cost of a gaming laptop. This is the route I've repeatedly taken with my computer needs, and I can safely say I could count the number of times a gaming laptop would have been useful to me on one hand.
If you're a high school or college student that may be a different story ;) but, at least in my opinion, it's almost always too much hassle to get things set up to play a game wherever you happen to be when you find free time, and even more so: Those few times you do manage to squeek in 45 minutes of mobile gaming are going to be far outweighed by having to carry a 7, or even 10 pound laptop (plus 2-4 pound ac adapter), versus a "regular" laptop's 1-3 pounds.

Anyways, if you are set on a gaming laptop, I agree with Ravyne - dell's gaming laptops are the creme of the crop (they beat alienware & falcon & voodoo in price and performance). The only thing you miss by going with the Inspiron 9300 versus the XPS are: XPS customers are treated like gods by dell. They have an entire seperate customer service system than the rest of dell's products - there's almost never waiting on hold for 5-15 minutes, you get a representative assigned to you so you can direct dial their extension, and, most importantly, they're not from india and didn't learn english in 15 minutes! I've had some experience dealing with XPS customer service, and lots and lots of experience with Dell Business customer service - and while they're usually both great compared to other customer service systems, the XPS experience seems slightly better than the dell business experience.

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Quote:
Original post by Desdemona
One thing you should take note on is how you will get driver updates. I use an HP nw8000 for work with an ATI 128mb fireGL graphics card. It is a reasonable card for a laptop, but there is a gotcha: I can't just download the latest ATI drivers off of their website - I need to get my graphics drivers from HP. And HP is not exactly inclined to pump out updated drivers. It seems to be more a problem with laptop OEMs in general, and not just HP, as they are responsible for supporting their embedded graphics cards (not ATI).

This recently became a thorn in my side when I went to my display properties to tweak my OpenGL preferences only to find that there was not an OpenGL preferences tab (only DirectX). And considering I'm running the latest and greatest drivers, there is not much hope unless I use modded drivers.

-D


Odd.

I have a HP ZD7010CA (GF4 MX448GO) myself, and it's drivers are procured straight from nvidia using the unified forceware (the same package my desktop uses).



Regardless of what laptop you choose, just make sure it supports whatever shader model you plan on working with. You have no idea how much it ticked me off to find that my particular laptop had no support for any pixel shader version whatsoever (I was dumber back then). Though, I got it at a right price and use it now to run the server portion [wink]


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