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Game Development Laptop

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What would be a good recent or upcoming laptop I could purchase for use in game develop. I mostly like to program, but in the future I want to deal with things like 3D graphics and animation. There are a lot of debates as to whether windows/linux/mac is the best development environment. I pretty much only ever used windows, but if there is something better out there I can easily cope to and learn it. Personally I want a laptop with really good build quality that won't easily overheat or get damaged. As for a price point, it doesn't really matter. Thanks to anyone that can offer me any help or suggestions.

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Depends on your priorities. If portability and battery life are important, the Razer Blade is a great choice. When I bought mine, they were expensive, now they are batshit insane expensive.

Im looking to replace mine shortly and I dont think I can justify the pricetag this time when so many other thin powerful laptops exist. Personally ill be looking at the Asus G50(?) and maybe an Acer Zenbook.

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With a laptop, you are paying more money for a weaker machine. Laptops are designed for portability first, performance second.

 

If you already understand that, good! Most people don't seem to understand that it's not merely a choice between Desktop X and Laptop Y, but that you're sacrificing power for portability. If you want real power and portability, you have to shell out double or triple the cost - cost that could've been re-invested in a more powerful desktop or a second monitor.

Portability is nice, but make sure you understand the tradeoff, because you don't get it for free - you pay for it by ending up with a weaker machine.

 

You might want to explicitly list out your priorities, and figure out how near the top or bottom 'portability' falls into that list.

 

For example:

  • "I want a laptop" -> Laptop
  • "with really good build quality" -> Desktop (assuming you meant "build speed"/compile-time)
  • "that won't easily overheat" -> Desktop
  • "or get damaged" -> Desktop

 

And I'd add in:

  • "permits later performances upgrades" -> Desktop (if you want to upgrade your videocard later)
  • "longer total lifetime" -> Desktop (lasts you 6+ years easily, verses laptop ~2-4 years average)
  • "capable of supporting alot of harddrives" -> Desktop (important if, by "animation" you meant video-editing)
  • "more screen real-estate" -> Desktop (important for any kind of work. You can plug in a second monitor to a laptop... not quite the same thing though)
  • "I want to lay on a couch while working" -> Laptop (not to be underestimated!)
  • "I need to bring my work to many different locations" -> Laptop

 

You said, "I want a laptop"

I answer: How much are you willing to sacrifice in other areas to gain portability?

 

</biased_desktop_user>

I fully understand where you are coming from and thanks for this comment because the only reason I wanted a laptop was solely for that ONE bullet point you mentioned, "I want to lay on a couch while working". I already own a desktop with two monitors. So I thought I might as well have a laptop, but I overlooked one very important reason for even having a desktop computer, which you also mentioned, "permits later performance upgrades". Although it would be godly to be able to start programming right as I wake up without having to leave my bed, maybe the money would be best spent on upgrades for my existing desktop setup. Especially after realizing a desktop suits most/more of my needs other than, of course, programming in my bed.

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I recently bought a 14" Gigabyte lappy.

Recent NVidia GPU, Intel i7 CPU, loads of RAM, SSD, 2TB HDD... Pretty close in power to my desktop (as long as the power cable is plugged in) biggrin.png

When actually using it without power (e.g. on the train), you can't really make use of the NVidia GPU or it will drain the battery in 10 minutes, so you want to let it fall back on the Intel integrated GPU.

 

We're in a weird situation now where the laptops with larger screens are actually cheaper! I went with the 14" (and paid extra for it), because I wanted one that I can actually comfortably carry with me every day. If you're not going to be carrying it, you may as well go bigger smile.png

 

I used to use a 12" netbook, which was amazing for portability, but was a bit cramped ergonomically. I find the keyboard and screen on the 14" to be perfectly usable, though 17" would be more of a near-desktop experience.

Edited by Hodgman

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The cost / performance ratio has shifted, as 10x more laptops or all in one desktops ( which are essentially laptops ) are sold, so economy of scale works in your favour.
You certainly have to make sacrafices but nowhere what it used to be.


Perhaps my info is outdated then, thanks for the intel!

I hadn't heard of portable desktops before now; interesting.
 

Really outside of hitting 60fps at 1080p+ in the latest AAA games, many desktop builds are stupendously overkill for most game devs.

I'm not one who cares much for high-fidelity graphics. I don't mind dropping resolution to play games.

What I do greatly care about, however, is application responsiveness (something OSX does better than Windows or Linux IMO, despite me being a Windows fan) and reduced compile-time. That last one is killer as a programmer, because having to pause for more than 30 seconds waiting for a project to incrementally compile leads to me getting distracted and ultimately less productive.
 
I'm not sure if the OP means skeletal animation or 3D video editing when he says "animation", but if he means 3D video editing and pre-rendering scenes, he'll likely want all the performance he can get.
 

I already own a desktop with two monitors. So I thought I might as well have a laptop,


 
Ah, well, if you can have your cake and eat it too, that's a different story! laugh.png Edited by Servant of the Lord

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I've a custom 11'' laptop for development with a dedicated GPU (really hard to find !) and it works great when not home, but it is not comparable to a desktop setup. It isn't really the power, but the missing screenspace. Using several tools concurrently on a single screen limits the usage of my laptop to some scripting or modelling. But the heavy works need to be done at my desktop PC wub.png .

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I use a 15" MBP retina.  At home I hook it up to a 27" display at work I connect it to a 5k display.  Macs are supposed to be more expensive than PCS but I've found that since making the switch it has cost me less.  My previous MBP lasted me for 5 years whilst my desktop would last me the same but due to the amount of upgrades or repairs I used to continually do to keep a cutting edge PC desktop it ended up costing easily double that of a MBP.

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Why are all "professional" / "corporate" marketed laptops dual-core processors? And expensive as hell for crappier hardware? Something like Asus Zenbook which is marketed more as a "gaming" laptop is both cheaper and outperforms many "professional" laptops...

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1) Why a laptop?

Do you plan to lug it around a lot (in this case get alight and small machine, which means sacrificing a lot of performance)?

Do you plan to work at different places around the house (In this case get a desktop replacement laptop, which means less sacrifice on performance, but a big and heavy machine you do not want to throw in your backpack)?

Do you plan to not move the machine from your desk and want to get a laptop just-in-case (in this case get a desktop, get full performance and save a lot of money)?

 

2) What are the performance requirements?

Do you want to build and test 2D casual games (in which case ANY machine will do most probably)?

Do you plan to do smaller, less complex 3D games (in which case you might want to get a discrete graphics card and not rely on an iGPU in the CPU)?

Do you want the biggest, fattest 3D Power you can get for Full HD (In which case you should start with a GTX 960 or R8 380 equivalent card)?

Do you want 4k at full details (in which case you need to plonk down 750$ just to game at 30 FPS today smile.png )?

 

3) Forget about "does not overheat"... the only laptop that doesn't overheat is one without a dedicated GPU. Now, this is grossly oversimplified, there are better GPUs in this regard than others (generally the smaller GPUs seem to fare better), but generally ALL dedicated Laptop GPUs seem to throttle to some degree. Throttling is only happening when the components start to overheat.

 

To give a little perspective: picking out one of the more attractive mobile GPUs (and actually one of the most powerful), the GTX970m, this card should actually beat a GTX960 (non-mobile) on paper. 256 more CUDA cores, more VRAM, more memory bandwidth. The lower clocks bring the card quite close to the GTX960 non-mobile again, but it should still be very hard for the non-mobile 2,3 TFLOPS card to flatout beat the 2.7 TFLOPS mobile card.

Yet if you look at benchmark websites, you see the GTX970m getting DESTROYED by the GTX960. With a 20% lead by the non-mobile card in some cases.

 

Now how can that be? There is only one explanation: throttling! The GTX970m must be constantly underclock because the cramped laptop cases just do not have the airflow. And given that these benchmark results get aggregated from thousands of benchmark results from a wide range of laptops, and yet the result is still so clear can only mean that most of the laptops equipped with GTX970m must be throttling to some degree.

 

Now this is just a single card from many, and a benchmark is hardly a realworld test. But it does indicate that laptop cases in general still are not up to the task of cooling all the heat the internal components can generate under full load.

 

 

My personal recommendation would be to really think long and hard if you NEED a laptop. You pay for the PC, the Keyboard, Mouse and Screen that are built into a laptop, AND a Premium for laptop components on top of that.

If you go for 3D gaming grade components, expect a 2000 bucks laptop to struggle to keep up with a self-built 750$ desktop. You might see a laptop with similar speed for 1300$, but then you will most probably have to compromise on screen and build quality).

 

That calculation changes of course if you also need a new screen, keyboard and mouse, but given that working with a touchpad is hardy ideal you will need to get a mouse anyway, and even though most gaming grade laptops have quite good chiclet keyboards, you might want to upgrade on that depending on your taste. That leaves the screen, but let me assure you, laptops with good screens are actually much more expensive than the ones with the crappy ones.

 

A Desktop will always give you more power for less money, leaving you with better upgrade possibilities down the road, and a more ergonomic work environment if you are happy to not be able to lug your rig around.

 

 

 

As for the OS selection... Mac OS if you want to develop for Mac/iOS exclusively (you need a test machine as close to your final target system as possible in the end), Windows for all other cases.

At the moment Windows is still THE Platform for PC gaming. You might also be able to make a Linux environment work, but prepare to invest more time into setting things up and finding tools that actually work on linux (or inside Wine, for that matter).

 

 

 

 

Why are all "professional" / "corporate" marketed laptops dual-core processors? And expensive as hell for crappier hardware? Something like Asus Zenbook which is marketed more as a "gaming" laptop is both cheaper and outperforms many "professional" laptops...

 

Generally everything with "business", "professional" or a similar monicker slapped on is a rip off. Big companies are able to pay big bucks for hard- and software, and if you need something for work, you are ready to pay more for it (hence the fantasy prices charged for the Quadro cards from Nvidia for example... same hardware as in the GTX range (save the ECC VRAM), different drivers = 5 times the Price... right, makes sense).

 

If I may guess though, the gaming laptops are to this day generally biggers and heavier than other laptops... companies start to sell ultrabooks as business hardware (some business people really start using iPads for work... now that is always a sight to behold (Masochists :) ))

Edited by Gian-Reto

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If you have the money, I would recommend a MacBook Pro. Not because they are particularly fantastic but because they can run Mac OS X. This means you can then test your code on pretty much every desktop platform without dealing with dodgy hacks to get it to run on a non-Apple hardware. Generally iPhone development via Xcode and compiling can only really be done on Mac OS X too. And unless you are dealing with Unity (which stupidly doesn't output iOS x86 binaries for the official simulator), the iPhone simulator is really handy (no faffing about with developer licenses, provisioning profiles and other types of DRM.

 

If you want to test your code on Linux or *BSD (even if you don't intend to support these platforms, it is still great for checking code quality / testing). I highly recommend a 2009 era IBM/Lenovo Thinkpad. Many open-source developers (especially from the OpenBSD camp) use this hardware so it is well tested.

 

BUT, you could actually pick up a powerful Windows laptop *AND* a cheap x61 Thinkpad (~£75) for Linux for about the same cost as a MacBook Pro if you really know you are not interested in supporting Apple products. Which is fair enough and quite common, many developers choose to use DirectX after all.

Edited by Karsten_

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If you have the money, I would recommend a MacBook Pro. Not because they are particularly fantastic but because they can run Mac OS X. This means you can then test your code on pretty much every desktop platform without dealing with dodgy hacks to get it to run on a non-Apple hardware. Generally iPhone development via Xcode and compiling can only really be done on Mac OS X too. And unless you are dealing with Unity (which stupidly doesn't output iOS x86 binaries for the official simulator), the iPhone simulator is really handy (no faffing about with developer licenses, provisioning profiles and other types of DRM.
 
If you want to test your code on Linux or *BSD (even if you don't intend to support these platforms, it is still great for checking code quality / testing). I highly recommend a 2009 era IBM/Lenovo Thinkpad. Many open-source developers (especially from the OpenBSD camp) use this hardware so it is well tested.
 
BUT, you could actually pick up a powerful Windows laptop *AND* a cheap x61 Thinkpad (~£75) for Linux for about the same cost as a MacBook Pro if you really know you are not interested in supporting Apple products. Which is fair enough and quite common, many developers choose to use DirectX after all.


I'd have gone the MBP route without a seconds thought... I already have a MacBook Air after all for my Mac needs and portability, so if I could get a powerful Mac capable of replacing both machines, win/win.

Thing is though, the available GPUs suck donkey nuts.

Until Apple fixes that, no sale for me.

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Are you planning to use your desktop for development as well?  If so what are the specs of your current desktop.  From the last time I looked at laptops I think you are looking at $1500 to $2000 minimum for a good build.  Something like this maybe: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16834152900

 

I personally like desktops as well, which is why I ask about your desktop.

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I switched away from desktops over 10 years ago and have not looked back, same reason as OP. I want to be able to slob on sofa etc and play/code, also my games rig is portable so can game/code wherever I might be. If you want screen real estate just dock at a desk and connect up your monitors.

 

The key tradeoff is that you pay more in the long run and GFX is weaker than you can get on the desktop. Hardware costs more and upgrade means new laptop, but I would still not go back to a desktop.

 

As long as you get a good mobile GFX (Go NVidia as better in the laptop space imho) and 8GB+ ram and a solid CPU you should be good for most needs, no matter the brand..

 

The other solution might be, as others have mentioned, get a cheap laptop and RDP into your desktop to push the workload there. A low end laptop will be far lighter and you don't need the grunt as its not doing the work. 

 

My only PCs now are a 15" HP which is my day to day games/coding rig and a Surface Pro 3.

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Are you planning to use your desktop for development as well?  If so what are the specs of your current desktop.  From the last time I looked at laptops I think you are looking at $1500 to $2000 minimum for a good build.  Something like this maybe: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16834152900

 

I personally like desktops as well, which is why I ask about your desktop.

The laptop you linked triumphs my desktop.. Lets just leave it at that lol. My desktop isn't anything super special, but that's why I posted earlier maybe the money would be better spent for upgrades to my desktop. Although I like the idea that others mentioned about buying a cheaper laptop than VPN my desktop. That way I can still lay on my bed and develop :)

 

AMD FX 6300 6 cores 3.5GHz

8GB Memory

GeForce GTX 750Ti

 

My desktop^ :/

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That way I can still lay on my bed and develop

30+" Monitor + wireless keyboard mouse?  Just an option.

 


AMD FX 6300 6 cores 3.5GHz
8GB Memory
GeForce GTX 750Ti

If you upgraded your RAM to 16 or more GB of RAM you could develop comfortably even though you're on the low end of GPU's.

What kind of games do you want to develop? 2D, 3D? RTS?

If possible you can alternate your purchases, buy a laptop for now.  New or upgrade desktop somewhere down the line. (Although you will most likely need to replace everything on the desktop if you want to upgrade.  Maybe not the case, is it really small?)  If you go with a Haswell CPU on a laptop you could probably save some money.

 


The laptop you linked triumphs my desktop.

Remember laptop part numbers aren't the same as there desktop counterparts.  For example the 970m isn't as powerful as a 970 desktop GPU.

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Remember laptop part numbers aren't the same as there desktop counterparts.  For example the 970m isn't as powerful as a 970 desktop GPU.

 

 

Yes, it is a little bit more powerful than a desktop GTX960 (which is nothing to sneeze at atm), and drops considerably below that level in most laptop cases when under load because of lacking ventilation.

 

So expect between GTX 950 and GTX 960 (desktop) level of performance in most cases. 

 

 

 

While I see why you want to work on the sofa (that is why I got my Wacom Companion 2 to be able to draw while watching TV with the GF in the evenings), what is so attractive with using your laptop/tablet in bed? Tried it, didn't found any way of using a laptop in bed that was near comfortable and wouldn't end in numb body parts, twisted shoulders or positions where I couldn't read the screen.

Came to the conclusion that actually, you are better off just working on your desk (or in the sofa thanks to my CC2), switching off the machine and heading to bed when getting sleepy and actually use the bed for its intended purpose (sleeping of course... smile.png )

 

But on the other hand, I am also unable to read for longer durations in bed without getting uncomfortable, yet most books must be read in bed worldwide, so it might just be me....

Edited by Gian-Reto

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Nobody mentioned the elephant in the room: your target audience's hardware.

I can safely assume that few,if any, of us modest indies will create AAA quality games so what good is it to have a monster gaming PC (other than build times obv) if your poorly optimised little game runs perfectly on that machine due to its monster performance making up for lack of good programming skills, but won't run smoothly on your user's Walmart promoted crappy laptop?

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It might not be what your looking for and a bit overkill but my cousin and I built a mini-itx PC which is pretty nice and very easy to take with you.

 

Now if we are starting to talk about "semi-mobile" solutions I just have to mention this:

 

http://www.amazon.com/ZOTAC-Barebones-dual-core-Bluetooth-ZBOX-EN970-U/dp/B015AD1Q04/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1443099427&sr=8-1&keywords=en970

 

 

Yes, its just a barebone without windows, RAM or Disk (though you can get a Plus version with RAM and Disk installed)... and yes, it costs 800$. But it might be the first SFF PC with a real gaming grade GPU. Not that intel iGPUs or Gtx x60m crap... it has a GTX970m builtin. *

 

Now I do know this is

1) More expensive than a small desktop assembled with desktop parts that would be cheaper and easier to upgrade, and would be faster for the same price

2) Less mobile than a laptop with the same components

 

But

1) It is MUCH smaller than any Mini-ITX build you could do on your own... if you do not need to chuck your rig in your bag that might not be showstopper, it is if you need to. Not so with this thing.

2) it costs half of what a laptop with similar components cost (save the weedy 15 watt CPU, but more on this later), all while giving you more power because of a better airflow and thus less throttling (at least for the GPU part)... and, to be honest, it is even smaller than your average laptop at 20cm x 20cm

 

 

The only real downer is the choice of CPU.... for a GPU this powerful a 45 watt class 4 core mobile CPU would have been great. Sadly you only get the two core 15 watt i5 5200U...

 

But: in about 1-2 months, Zotac will release a Steam machine based on the same barebone. They already revealed that this Steam Machine will have a quadcore Skylake CPU (which means 45/47 watt range), and will cost around 999$, about the same as the Plus version of the non-SM Barebone. Now THAT sounds like a powerhouse you can chuck in the bag (IF it still doesn't throttle outside of stress tests).

 

 

Disclaimer: I am not working for Zotac smile.png

I am just really excited about at least the steam machine version, and a little puzzled about the lukewarm reception both these machines received. I guess they fell in the large pricegap between laptops and selfbuilt Desktop rigs, to mediocre in power to compete with high-end desktops and to expensive to compete with the normel ones...

 

They might not be a costeffective steam console... but I am still tempted to buy the steam machine version, install Windows on it and use it as "Power Booster" for my Wacom Companion... which is good for drawing or office programs, but just not powerful enough for playing games, using engine editors or 3D modelling apps.

This little thing will add not much bulk to my bag, but would allow me to work on my game prototype everywhere where I find a power outlet to power this thing and enough desk space to set everything up.

 

I'll see if I have 1000$ to spend at Xmas... most propably not. Still, it is an option for people that do need a new machine.

 

 

 

* (Don't be fooled by amazon calling it a GTX960. Seems like Nvidia now forces all the system builders using mobile GPUs for non-mobile systems to rename the mobile chips to their next lower non-mobile counterpart. So the GTX960m will become a GTX950, the GTX980m becomes a GTX970, and the GTX970m becomes a GTX960. Makes kinda sense because these cards are roughly comparable, still makes things confusing when you suddenly have a "GTX 960 with 3G VRAM" smile.png )

Edited by Gian-Reto

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