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sanmk4890

Minimum specs for a game dev laptop

30 posts in this topic

Hi, I'm planning to buy a new laptop and I'd like to know the minimum specifications to look for, so that I can comfortably develop games. By comfortably, I mean that the hardware shouldn't be a bottleneck at any point. (I know a desktop is a better choice for the screen size, but that's not an option here for me).

 

I'm just a hobbyist game developer, but I don't want the option of developing graphically intensive games pre-emptively taken away from me by having bought the wrong laptop.

 

My budget is at $1000. I looked at some 4GB RAM laptops. Then I read some reviews which said that with 4GB RAM , rendering tasks do take much longer time.

A friend finally suggested that if I need a laptop which gives me room for any kind of gamedev work, then the minimum config should be this:

 

1. Minimum 8GB DDR3 memory

2. Intel i7 (4th gen)

3. Nvidia/AMD GPU

4. 15 Inch screen with 1920 x 1080 resolution

5. 512 GB HDD

 

All laptops with the above  configs weigh easily more than 2.5 kgs.

 

My question: Are the above configs really necessary? Is there a way to drop some of them and thus have a lighter weight laptop?

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Yes. Look for smaller screen sizes.

 

With that budget, you can have an entry/mid-level GPU, and 8gb of memory. It won't be enough for next-gen, but then again, you might not need next-gen. However, I don't think you can find one that's under 15 inch that easily.

 

If you do insist on sub-15inch though, all you'll get is entry-level GPU.

 

Maybe a cheap Asus RoG? I haven't looked at their current ranges, but they had some nice systems last I checked (which was in 2010-2011 I think...).

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Pay special attention to the GPU used in the laptop, they are typically the weak link. Typically a small laptop won't come with a high end (mobile) GPU.

 

Cheers!

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probably the best thing to do is determine the system requirements of the games you want to make, then buy the best value in a light weight laptop that meets those specs.

 

that way you don't over buy or under buy.

 

as mentioned above, graphics (gpu and monitor) will be the weak link in a laptop, perhaps making a system that meets your specs a bit more pricey for the nice graphics you'll want for higher end game graphics development.

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Something ive seen mentioned a lot is to get a laptop with a good full size keyboard. It might not be very nice to develop on a keyboard where some buttons are weird sized and placements and others are completely missing. Especially if you want to optimize your game for people with normal keyboards.

 

You can often replace the RAM/HDD yourself, so dont ignore laptops that dont have 8 GB (check if you can replace it). An SSD would probably be useful if you can afford it (some laptops have some weird SSD caches, not sure if those are useful). Not many laptops have these things so youll end up paying more if you dont add them yourself as well as being restricted in your options.

Edited by Waterlimon
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Personally, I prefer developing on the lowest-end hardware (cheapest) because I know that if I can make something run awesome on that, then my game will be playable by everybody, and not just those who can afford a high end machine. I'm not saying that this is the right way, I just thought I'd share my strategy.

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Two most important things for me are RAM and solid state drive. The RAM is by far the most important though. Basically any GPU works well enough for all the things I do. If you want to work with the latest OpenGL features or whatever then a more modern GPU should be on your priority list. Otherwise I feel that any dedicated GPU will be fine, so you can get a pretty cheap one.

 

4 GB of RAM is not enough for a 64bit OS, imo. You'll want at least 8, but you can always replace these yourself if you find some laptops with only 4. The SSD is extremely nice for compiling and just turning on the machine in general. Right now I'm stuck with a laptop that has a nice GPU but only 4 GB of ram. Even though I have a nice SSD for the OS, the RAM shortage causes constant hard drive thrashing and it's just ridiculous.

 

I spent around 900 on my laptop about 2 years ago, so I'm sure you can find what you need for 1k.

Edited by Randy Gaul
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There's no definitive answer.

For example, for the kind of work I do, laptops don't cut it. Game development requires fast iteration time:

You need a fast CPU for compilation time. Specially if you do C++ work. Even in Unity (which uses C#) you need CPU power to compress/process your assets. Preferrably >= 4 cores.

You need a fast GPU so you can push the boundaries of your game as much as you can, unless you're doing casual. Driver quality is also very important.

You need a lot of RAM. A lot. >= 8GB in 64-bit OSes.

SSDs help a lot, but haven't tried myself. Personally by using a RAM-drive I've managed to speed up those operations that require an SSD (Visual Studio 2012's intellisense, I'm looking at you)


All of this while your laptop doesn't overheat. ASUS is really good on that aspect (Avoid HP). While you may find an uber laptop that doesn't overheat, a desktop system that matches these requirements are easier to get and probably more within your budget, and may be even get a second monitor.
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A friend finally suggested that if I need a laptop which gives me room for any kind of gamedev work, then the minimum config should be this:

 

Sorry but this is complete nonsense. I'm currently working on a 2D/OpenGL game in C++ on a 2008' thinkpad with 2gig ram and a core2 duo cpu. Absolutely no issues here. Drawing/Spriting also works very well. If you work with C/C++ you can speed up the debug-cycle using makefiles (or equivalent) so you automatically only compile to the object file(s) you actually work on. It's not suitable for making 3D games with high polycount though.

 

So the answer is as always "it depends".

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. I'm currently working on a 2D/OpenGL game in C++ on a 2008' thinkpad with 2gig ram and a core2 duo cpu. Absolutely no issues here.

I go back and forth between a GTX 560 Ti and a ION 2 (GT218 GPU, 16 "CUDA" cores) to do my 3D OpenGL coding. I think the ION 2 might be less powerful than an old GeForce 8600 GT. I just need it to be spec compliant (supports up to OpenGL 3.3 with a couple of nice extensions), not top of the line.

 

So my recommendation: Grab something new, not necessarily powerful. You need many open doors, not just bigger doors.That means, OpenGL 4.4/D3D 11.2 if you delve into 3D graphics and current techniques further down the line, and on the CPU side, something with AVX2 in the case you ever want to do some manually vectorized core in the future. Just to keep possibilities open.

Edited by TheChubu
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You can subdivide the requirements into target platform (on which hardware should your game run) and development hardware (which hardware makes it easier to develop with).

 

- The GPU is more or less only target platform dependent. If you make a 2d game, you dont need the best GPU, if you make a 3d game, consider a lower-end GPU to develop under more realistic conditions.

 

- A good CPU helps a lot. It should contain atleast 4 cores, because often you work with different tools concurrently while debugging your game , and often the debug mode of your game will be very CPU demanding. A low-end CPU will result in very low performance while debugging, and believe me, debugging a game with 5 fps is not funny at all.

 

- Memory is important too, because you will have many tools opened concurrently. Modelling tools, painting tools, text-editors, IDEs, browser, your game etc. All will demand some degree memory.

 

- The hdd isn't that important in my opinion. A large HDD is often unnecessary (you need to fill this HDD with development related content, which is very hard smile.png  ) and a fast hdd (eg SSD) will speed up the compiling of some large projects, but it often will not help you much when developing or creating content. So, a good HDD is kind of luxury.

 

PS:

a secondary monitor helps a lot. If you have the option to place a secondry monitor and plug your laptop into it, it will help you a lot. Just get some old, cheap, used monitor too.

Edited by Ashaman73
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As the specs of a development machine have absolutely nothing to do with the code-writing forum this was in, moving it to the lounge.



Can you run the major commercial games you enjoy playing on it? Then it is good enough in my view.

You wrote that you are a hobby game developer. You are planning to run a few simple things on it. You are not trying to write Doom 4 or Titanfall with graphics turned up from medium or normal all the way up to "make my eyes bleed". As a hobby developer you are going to push maybe a million or so polygons if you use a good existing engine and some nice models. Your programs absolutely should not make a mid-spec laptop be stressed.

As a hobby developer if your code DOES stress out a modern laptop it means your code is bad and should be rewritten.

Seriously think about it. That box as described is about 8x the hardware of the PS3/X360 generation. Is your hobby game that complex? Because if it is, you aren't making a hobby game any more.

What you described is more than enough to run your IDE or engine, all the shaders you want, plus more to spare. I'm guessing you could run virtual machines on that system specs and have two or more copies of the operating system running, copies of your editors and game running simultaneously, maybe even three or four copies of the entire system, without the machine being stressed.
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Personally, I value RAM and screen size above all else.  Fancy GPUs are only important if you're interested in cutting-edge graphics programming.  SSDs are nice, but no single upgrade has afftected me more than going above my old 4GB RAM.  When chrome, android studio, and an android emulator make you page just by themselves, the writing is on the wall.

 

Screen size is a bit limiting on laptops no matter what you do, but you'll find that every inch counts.  Everywhere I've ever worked gives their programmers at least 2 monitors, and there's a good reason for it.  Obviously you're not going to get desktop-level real estate, but take what you can.

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To be honest I agree with Frob are you looking for a portable desktop replacement gaming maching or a laptop for developing games.  If it is for developing games then any mid range consumer model is going to be more than enough. 

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Thank you all for your inputs! From the replies, I've cumulated that RAM (8 at least) and the GPU are key things to look for.

So I can compromise a bit on my screen size and HDD , and buy an additional bigger monitor later if needed .

 

Two most important things for me are RAM and solid state drive. The RAM is by far the most important though. Basically any GPU works well enough for all the things I do. If you want to work with the latest OpenGL features or whatever then a more modern GPU should be on your priority list. Otherwise I feel that any dedicated GPU will be fine, so you can get a pretty cheap one.

 

4 GB of RAM is not enough for a 64bit OS, imo. You'll want at least 8, but you can always replace these yourself if you find some laptops with only 4. The SSD is extremely nice for compiling and just turning on the machine in general. Right now I'm stuck with a laptop that has a nice GPU but only 4 GB of ram. Even though I have a nice SSD for the OS, the RAM shortage causes constant hard drive thrashing and it's just ridiculous.

 

I spent around 900 on my laptop about 2 years ago, so I'm sure you can find what you need for 1k.

 

 

Thanks Randy for adding clarity on this!

 

 

A friend finally suggested that if I need a laptop which gives me room for any kind of gamedev work, then the minimum config should be this:

 

Sorry but this is complete nonsense. I'm currently working on a 2D/OpenGL game in C++ on a 2008' thinkpad with 2gig ram and a core2 duo cpu. Absolutely no issues here. Drawing/Spriting also works very well. If you work with C/C++ you can speed up the debug-cycle using makefiles (or equivalent) so you automatically only compile to the object file(s) you actually work on. It's not suitable for making 3D games with high polycount though.

 

So the answer is as always "it depends".

 

 

I agree with you here, but the key thing is that this would be a once in 5-7 years purchase for me. And during this time, my laptop should not hold me back from developing commercial heavy-on-graphics games. I don't have immediate plans as such, but I definitely wouldn't want the option to be taken away..

 

 

As the specs of a development machine have absolutely nothing to do with the code-writing forum this was in, moving it to the lounge.



Can you run the major commercial games you enjoy playing on it? Then it is good enough in my view.

You wrote that you are a hobby game developer. You are planning to run a few simple things on it. You are not trying to write Doom 4 or Titanfall with graphics turned up from medium or normal all the way up to "make my eyes bleed". As a hobby developer you are going to push maybe a million or so polygons if you use a good existing engine and some nice models. Your programs absolutely should not make a mid-spec laptop be stressed.

As a hobby developer if your code DOES stress out a modern laptop it means your code is bad and should be rewritten.

Seriously think about it. That box as described is about 8x the hardware of the PS3/X360 generation. Is your hobby game that complex? Because if it is, you aren't making a hobby game any more.

What you described is more than enough to run your IDE or engine, all the shaders you want, plus more to spare. I'm guessing you could run virtual machines on that system specs and have two or more copies of the operating system running, copies of your editors and game running simultaneously, maybe even three or four copies of the entire system, without the machine being stressed.

 

Thanks frob! As mentioned, instead of looking for the best fit for my case, I'd go for one that allows me to grow into a commercial developer in the coming decade or so.

Hence the exaggerated configs. 

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I highly recommend SSD for anyone working with their computer.

After getting 8GB of ram, it's the single most cost effective upgrade you can get.

Much more important then a powerful CPU. Most of the time you wait on your PC, you are held back by your HDD.

 

It just makes everything run so much smoother, which help you keep your flow up.

 

Not even having to reboot your computer is any issue anymore, you just do it and is up running again 10-15 seconds later.

Edited by Olof Hedman
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You don't need an i7 for gamedev. You only need a decent GPU for gamedev if you're making a graphics-intensive game . 8Gb RAM is not essential but it's probably worthwhile considering the cost. I really don't see you need more than 8 for developing games although your game might need more to run, depending what game it is. The whole "64bit OS need >8Gb" argument is tosh. We were all running 64bit OS before 8Gb or more became the norm!

 

I'd suggest you think SSD.

 

But which tools you're using will be a factor too - some development tools are resource hungry and others are not. If you were coding in GCC and some minimal IDE would be different from using VS2013 or (ugh) Eclipse. Then again, compiling C++ is slow compared to Java or C#. But if you need to use Photoshop or Maya, ouch!

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When I bought my last laptop, I was thinking the same thing. I wanted something that would give me room to comfortably develop and ended up spending around $1400. I still haven't made anything that comes close to pushing the limits of the machine and it wasn't all that powerful. The extra power has been nice for gaming though :)

 

I guess my point is that you don't need a very powerful machine for game development. In fact, if you plan on distributing your games you would be better off making sure your games can run fine on a lower end machine making a less powerful machine more valuable for development.

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A few recommendations:

  • For a strict $1000, pro-grade laptops -- Boutique manufacturers, Clevos, Sagers, and Lenovo's professional line are likely out of range.
  • Look at 14"-15.6" screens, 1080p minimum. I have a 15.6" 1080p screen that I like a lot. Physical screen-size is important at highish resolutions, 15.6" is fine, but I personally would have taken the same laptop in 14" if it was an option, just to be slightly less bulky.
  • 8GB RAM minimum, and try to pick one you can expand to 16GB. 4GB is dead-minimum today for light duty, 8 is minimum for "real work" and 16GB is better. I've got 32 in my laptop, mostly so that I can run a large VM or two comfortably.
  • If you can find one, try to get an Intel laptop with a Geforce 850m -- That gives you Optimus, saving battery life, and the 850m is a great performer at your price-range, and is also nVidia's newest Maxwell architecture, its very low-power, and supports the latest versions of OpenGL, Direct3D (11.2) and Cuda.
  • Get an SSD -- but a 512GB SSD is going to eat about a third of your budget by itself. Go for 256GB or even ~120GB, and augment it with a 500GB mechanical or hybrid disk. I've got 256GB in my laptop for windows, 128GB for linux.
  • Try to get an i7, if you can, but perhaps counter-intuitively, the CPU is probably the first place you should look to save a couple-hundred bucks, if need be. Also beware that i3, i5, i7 don't mean the same for laptops as they do for desktops. Only the highest-end mobile i7s are quad-core + hyperthreading, some of the ultra-low-power i7s are even dual-core + hyperhthreading. mobile i5s are almost exclusively 2 core + hyperhtreading. Try to get 4 physical cores, but its a stretch at your price range; as long as you get a higher-end mobile i5 or non ULP mobile i7 you should be fine, though.

Don't underestimate what you need for game development, but don't over-estimate either. You basically can't upgrade anything outside RAM and storage, and by the time the machine is too slow for your needs it'll be too slow for many other people's too and you won't be able to recoup much cost by selling it unless you got a killer deal to begin with -- Point is, a laptop is basically a sunk cost. In the long run you'll be happiest if you get what you need and want and never look back, but you'll end up regretting it if you overpay, underspec, or place too much priority on the wrong component.

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IMO, the a big screen size is the most important spec for a game dev laptop. Having lots of room to spread out multiple coding windows, a console, and file explorer is important for a good workflow. I don't know about the mobile chips, but the integrated graphics in my haswell i5 isn't bad.

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A thousand dollar lightweight machine will be a dinosaur in five years, let alone seven. Just be aware of that.

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I find that screen size and keyboard ergonomics tend to be pretty unimportant, honestly. You can always plug your laptop into a giant monitor, keyboard and mouse when you are at home/work.
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Personally, I use a Surface Pro 2 when I want to program on the go. However, if you go that route, I wouldn't suggest the Type Cover. I use a bluetooth keyboard that works well with it. Plus a mini bluetooth mouse if I ever find the need to use it. It might not be the fastest machine, but it works for indie projects. Plus the touch screen/pen combo is great if you make your own art resources. So far, my Surface Pro 2 can play most modern games at medium to high settings so developing on it shouldn't really be a problem. It's worked for me thus far.

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my laptop should not hold me back from developing commercial heavy-on-graphics games.
Point is, your laptop isn't what will hold you back there, but not having a 300 people team. You just don't do "commercial heavy-on-graphics games" without a ton of artists and a dozen of gfx coders (on both shader and low level GPU coding ends)
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my laptop should not hold me back from developing commercial heavy-on-graphics games.
Point is, your laptop isn't what will hold you back there, but not having a 300 people team. You just don't do "commercial heavy-on-graphics games" without a ton of artists and a dozen of gfx coders (on both shader and low level GPU coding ends)

 

The "commercial heavy-on-graphics games" guys are using workstations with 16-32 GB of memory, top of the line Intel i7s (which are faster than anything laptops have, and sometimes in dual CPU configurations), top of the line GPUs (again, way faster than mobile chips and frequently in SLI/Crossfire), SSDs and/or RAID arrays, and software that makes all of that necessary. One friend told me his new work machine was dual Xeons, 64 GB of memory, and 2x GTX Titans. Be realistic.

Edited by Promit
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