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Help with specs for laptop

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Hi all,

Incredibly new to the world of game design, but I have been thinking about getting into it for awhile now. I've been reading a lot and watching tutorials, and I want to start looking at laptops. I have a desktop PC, but with my two kids it's hard to get down to the basement for more than 45 minutes at a time. I'd like to get a laptop because I know I'd be able to work on the game a lot more.

The games I'm mostly interested in creating are more of the retro style. Maybe a top down or side scrolling shooter, and rpg, ect. I'm interested also in recording my own music for the games as well and I do hope to create my own sprites and images. I'm not an overly computer savvy person as is, so as I've started to look for laptops I'm having a hard time figuring out what a good but not crazy expensive system would be.

Any help and advice is greatly appreciated!

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If we are not talking about 3D development, then practically every laptop will do...

 

Granted, the "netbooks" of 2015 like the Surface 3 (which has a quadcore Atom CPU) might need special care to make sure you are not overloading the CPU, but even these might do the job.

As long as it will start your image editor, your browser (to download stuff), and your code editor or 2D game engine editor, you are good. Which you can get to work on practically every machine out there.

From all the things you listed, recording music might be the biggest hit on the Hardware (or not, depending if you want to go with a big DAW or just a small Midi Editor to create 8bit era Sound)... And if you try to use a modern 3D engine to create your 2D game like many do nowadays with Unity for example, you should also factor in some extra horsepower.

 

 

So, questions:

 

- what is your budget?

- do you already have apps in mind, or already posses licenses (Photoshop for example)? Might make a big difference if you use Photoshop versus a less hardware demanding art tool.

- how big/small does the laptop has to be? How long should the battery last, or will you only use it on a power outlet?

- Do you want the cheapest machine possible? Does it have to be a Mac/Windows/Linux machine?

- Do you also want to draw on the machine (there are some fantastic mobile machines coming out with styluses lately, and prices of these have coming down a lot)?

- Do you intend to use the machine for something else (office work, Gaming, lugging around) besides working on small 2D games?

- Do you want it to be "scalable" (so if you want to move up to more demanding 3D development, should be able to at least handle basic 3D development)?

Edited by Gian-Reto

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Hey, thanks for responding.

I'd like to keep my budget for a system under 500. As for programs and licenses, for now I'm just going to use free ones until I get the hang on of it and want to do more. i don't have to be able to draw. My artistic abilities are probably better with a mouse lol. I will likely have a few games uploaded on to it, low end stuff probably. Couple emulators maybe, other than that probably just web browsing, but primarily for game design. I don't foresee getting into any crazy 3D, but if a scalable unit is not overly expensive then I would prefer a unit that I could grow with. Especially if using a 3D engine yields good results for 2D games.

The music will be recorded but I would also very much like to do some retro midi stuff as well.

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Hey, thanks for responding.

I'd like to keep my budget for a system under 500. As for programs and licenses, for now I'm just going to use free ones until I get the hang on of it and want to do more. i don't have to be able to draw. My artistic abilities are probably better with a mouse lol. I will likely have a few games uploaded on to it, low end stuff probably. Couple emulators maybe, other than that probably just web browsing, but primarily for game design. I don't foresee getting into any crazy 3D, but if a scalable unit is not overly expensive then I would prefer a unit that I could grow with. Especially if using a 3D engine yields good results for 2D games.

The music will be recorded but I would also very much like to do some retro midi stuff as well.

 

Well sounds like pretty much every laptop should fit your needs.

 

 

Rather than telling you what to get, I will just note some catchphrases and things to look out for and possibly avoid:

 

- On the Intel side, take an i3 at the minium as CPU. The Core i-something series is basically the mainstream intel CPU series and should provide you with enough oomph for everyday work, as well as some additional oomph for more. Ideally you want an i5 chip as this is usually the power/prices sweetspot... i7 chips give you yet more power, but not nearly as much as the higher price might make you think.

There are cheaper CPUs available from intel, namely the Celerons and Atom CPUs...

Celerons are Core i processor that had some functions deactivated (most probably damaged core i chips that could be salvaged) and are much cheaper, but also somewhat slower because of that. You might find quite a good deal amongst them, but you NEED to compare it to faster chips to make sure what you are getting is still fast enough.

Atoms are a different CPU architecture that has been designed to use even less power than the ultralow power core CPUs. The newest generation has come a long way from their netbook roots and is actually usable enough for everyday work like webbrowsing, wordprocessing and stuff like that (the x7 Atom chip is at least)... but I wouldn't use it even for 2D development to be honest, even if their powerdraw seems to be pretty low.

 

Be aware that i-3 =/= i-3... Intel uses the same "name" for desktop, mobile and ultralow-voltage mobile chips. A chip in a big laptop is maybe 50-70% as powerful as the desktop variant... the ultralow power chip in small ultrabooks might half that power again. You need to take the exact model number into account when comparing  CPUs (for example "5200U", which is a mobile i-5 CPU from the last generation). 

 

- On the AMD side I am less sure what is currently available... but given that almost no Laptop is outfitted with their chips at the current point in time, it doesn't matter too much. AMD Chips are somewhat cheaper than Intel chips and their integrated GPUs are somewhat faster still, but they have much less efficient architectures still so the CPU is slower even if it is clocked higher.

 

- You don't REALLY need a discrete GPU in your Laptop. All current mobile CPUs come with an integrated GPU that is sufficient for 2D Desktop mode, and some basic 3D use. If you don't expect to be able to play the latest AAA games on full settings, you might even be able to do some light 3D gaming on them.

Each CPU has a slightly different iGPU, but as none of them is fast enough for a real gaming machine, yet all of them are fast enough for basic 2D Desktop mode I wouldn't pay too much attention to it.

Suffice to say, for you a dedicated GPU might only make sense if you want to do more than just casual 3D Gaming (or playing very old games) on your new laptop.

 

- See that you get at least 4 Gigs of RAM with your machine. 8 Gigs are better. More is most probably overkill.

Your machine will not work faster with more RAM, but if you have not enough in the system, it will slow down to a crawl (Paging).

 

- Pay attention to the screen. Resolution doesn't matter so much (if you can live with a lower resolution that is) as is screen tech and colou accuray. If you can, do NOT buy a laptop with TN screen... these are the cheap fast screens perfectly suited for gaming. But not much else. Colours are horribly off, and viewing angles are very narrow.

 

As an example, I have a cheap Dell laptop from some years ago with a crappy TN screen. Machine is pretty good still besides the screen... but the screen makes it impossible to even shop clothes in the internet. You can never tell how the colors ACTUALLY look because they are so off on the screen, and WORST OF ALL, depending on the vertical angle of the screen, can be completly different as colors change with vertical viewing angle A LOT! If the images show a light color on a white background, you struggle to see anything at all.

Problem is that most TN screens only have 6bit color displays that simulate an 8bit one with dithering, and the described Problem of colors changing with just a slight change in the viewing angle are also pretty common. 

 

Instead, do yourself a favor and get an IPS 8bit color panel. IPS Screens are said to have an irritating screen coating at times, and are much slower to react to moving pictures, but colours will be spot on and viewing angles are extremly good. You will certainly have a better time developing games if you use an IPS Panel vs. a TN Panel.

 

 

- Minor things to look out for are Keyboard quality and Overheating. You will most probably only get this information by consulting Online Reviews for the Laptops that catch your interest, so make sure you read the reviews before you buy.

There are very good, and very bad keyboards built into cheap laptops. Make sure you get one with a non crappy one. At the price point you are aiming at, neither a good screen nor a good keyboard is a given.

Also be aware that most probably 95% of laptops on the market are struggling with overheating problems today. They might not be the overheating problems from yesteryear where a laptop got too hot to touch, it just means the laptops hardware will throttle down a lot... and run slower than it should. Again, only a review by an expert normally looks into this (apart from the obvious cases where even normal consumers will notice overheating).

 

 

I found Dell hardware usually good for the price (apart from the apalling screen on my laptop), though most of my other laptop related hardware expierience goes WAY back when Acer was still an Asian based crapware company (my first laptop from the was HORRIBLE... and bit the dust after only a year).

 

I would shop around and see what you could get for under 500$... look out for standout features (like what I listed above)... then look at online reviews for all the machines left in your shopping list.

Edited by Gian-Reto

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Hey, thanks for responding.
I'd like to keep my budget for a system under 500. As for programs and licenses, for now I'm just going to use free ones until I get the hang on of it and want to do more. i don't have to be able to draw. My artistic abilities are probably better with a mouse lol. I will likely have a few games uploaded on to it, low end stuff probably. Couple emulators maybe, other than that probably just web browsing, but primarily for game design. I don't foresee getting into any crazy 3D, but if a scalable unit is not overly expensive then I would prefer a unit that I could grow with. Especially if using a 3D engine yields good results for 2D games.
The music will be recorded but I would also very much like to do some retro midi stuff as well.

 
Well sounds like pretty much every laptop should fit your needs.
 
 
Rather than telling you what to get, I will just note some catchphrases and things to look out for and possibly avoid:
 
- On the Intel side, take an i3 at the minium as CPU. The Core i-something series is basically the mainstream intel CPU series and should provide you with enough oomph for everyday work, as well as some additional oomph for more. Ideally you want an i5 chip as this is usually the power/prices sweetspot... i7 chips give you yet more power, but not nearly as much as the higher price might make you think.
There are cheaper CPUs available from intel, namely the Celerons and Atom CPUs...
Celerons are Core i processor that had some functions deactivated (most probably damaged core i chips that could be salvaged) and are much cheaper, but also somewhat slower because of that. You might find quite a good deal amongst them, but you NEED to compare it to faster chips to make sure what you are getting is still fast enough.
Atoms are a different CPU architecture that has been designed to use even less power than the ultralow power core CPUs. The newest generation has come a long way from their netbook roots and is actually usable enough for everyday work like webbrowsing, wordprocessing and stuff like that (the x7 Atom chip is at least)... but I wouldn't use it even for 2D development to be honest, even if their powerdraw seems to be pretty low.
 
Be aware that i-3 =/= i-3... Intel uses the same "name" for desktop, mobile and ultralow-voltage mobile chips. A chip in a big laptop is maybe 50-70% as powerful as the desktop variant... the ultralow power chip in small ultrabooks might half that power again. You need to take the exact model number into account when comparing  CPUs (for example "5200U", which is a mobile i-5 CPU from the last generation). 
 
- On the AMD side I am less sure what is currently available... but given that almost no Laptop is outfitted with their chips at the current point in time, it doesn't matter too much. AMD Chips are somewhat cheaper than Intel chips and their integrated GPUs are somewhat faster still, but they have much less efficient architectures still so the CPU is slower even if it is clocked higher.
 
- You don't REALLY need a discrete GPU in your Laptop. All current mobile CPUs come with an integrated GPU that is sufficient for 2D Desktop mode, and some basic 3D use. If you don't expect to be able to play the latest AAA games on full settings, you might even be able to do some light 3D gaming on them.
Each CPU has a slightly different iGPU, but as none of them is fast enough for a real gaming machine, yet all of them are fast enough for basic 2D Desktop mode I wouldn't pay too much attention to it.
Suffice to say, for you a dedicated GPU might only make sense if you want to do more than just casual 3D Gaming (or playing very old games) on your new laptop.
 
- See that you get at least 4 Gigs of RAM with your machine. 8 Gigs are better. More is most probably overkill.
Your machine will not work faster with more RAM, but if you have not enough in the system, it will slow down to a crawl (Paging).
 
- Pay attention to the screen. Resolution doesn't matter so much (if you can live with a lower resolution that is) as is screen tech and colou accuray. If you can, do NOT buy a laptop with TN screen... these are the cheap fast screens perfectly suited for gaming. But not much else. Colours are horribly off, and viewing angles are very narrow.
 
As an example, I have a cheap Dell laptop from some years ago with a crappy TN screen. Machine is pretty good still besides the screen... but the screen makes it impossible to even shop clothes in the internet. You can never tell how the colors ACTUALLY look because they are so off on the screen, and WORST OF ALL, depending on the vertical angle of the screen, can be completly different as colors change with vertical viewing angle A LOT! If the images show a light color on a white background, you struggle to see anything at all.
Problem is that most TN screens only have 6bit color displays that simulate an 8bit one with dithering, and the described Problem of colors changing with just a slight change in the viewing angle are also pretty common. 
 
Instead, do yourself a favor and get an IPS 8bit color panel. IPS Screens are said to have an irritating screen coating at times, and are much slower to react to moving pictures, but colours will be spot on and viewing angles are extremly good. You will certainly have a better time developing games if you use an IPS Panel vs. a TN Panel.
 
 
- Minor things to look out for are Keyboard quality and Overheating. You will most probably only get this information by consulting Online Reviews for the Laptops that catch your interest, so make sure you read the reviews before you buy.
There are very good, and very bad keyboards built into cheap laptops. Make sure you get one with a non crappy one. At the price point you are aiming at, neither a good screen nor a good keyboard is a given.
Also be aware that most probably 95% of laptops on the market are struggling with overheating problems today. They might not be the overheating problems from yesteryear where a laptop got too hot to touch, it just means the laptops hardware will throttle down a lot... and run slower than it should. Again, only a review by an expert normally looks into this (apart from the obvious cases where even normal consumers will notice overheating).
 
 
I found Dell hardware usually good for the price (apart from the apalling screen on my laptop), though most of my other laptop related hardware expierience goes WAY back when Acer was still an Asian based crapware company (my first laptop from the was HORRIBLE... and bit the dust after only a year).
 
I would shop around and see what you could get for under 500$... look out for standout features (like what I listed above)... then look at online reviews for all the machines left in your shopping list.
Thank you so much, Gian! This is a massive help, I really appreciate your advice!

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Watch out on the intel side of things, laptop CPU's differ from their desktop counterparts.  For example on the desktop side an i3 is dual core with hyperthreading (2 core 4 threads), an i5 is 4 cores, an i7 is 4 cores (usually but more on there more expensive i7's) with hyperthreading (4 core 8 thread).  On the other hand on the laptop side there are i5's that are 2 core 4 thread.  So be careful, however I do suggest a intel CPU and I suggest it be either Broadwell or Skylake.  Something like this http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16834315167 maybe.  Also 8gig minimum, and if you plan on developing and multitasking at the same time 16gigs will serve you well.  If you up your budget to approx 650 you can get a small discrete gpu.

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Multimedia.

Under 500.

 

Intel chips.

 

Are you guys on Intel Payroll? Or just talking shit?

i3 are absolutely far beyond what a starter needs.

 

I strongly suggest to take a look at AMD Carrizo laptops.

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I actually recommend an older laptop (i.e a Thinkpad X61, Thinkpad X200). These will be fine of pretty much any 2D game (software or hardware rendered) and have the benefit of being very compatible with most operating systems, including Linux and BSD if you wanted to prepare yourself for future platforms such as Steam OS etc...

They also provide a very smooth way of developing (development libraries as part of the package manager) and additional tools such as Valgrind which is fantastic for memory debugging when dealing with native languages like C or C++.

 

Another alternative I might also suggest is a cheaper / older MacBook so you can test your game out on all 3 of the main platforms, Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. Installing Mac OS X on a non Apple machine is touch and go... Especially for laptops.

 

Plus older laptops which are less performant are a good way to test your games on slower machines... They also dont overheat your crotch when using it as an actual "laptop" ;)

 

You can pick up an older Thinkpad for about £70

Edited by Karsten_

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As long as you stay away from Atom and Celeron, you are good to go. Celeron is a "broken" chip that still works well enough to be sold at lower price (manufacturers can selectively disable broken components). It's acceptable if you can't afford something better. Still, I prefer having a "real, working" CPU.

 

Atom, on the other hand, is just abysmal. My Odroid XU4 (not so much a laptop, but a credit-card sized mini computer) which is about 1/10 the price of my Atom netbook (and 1/10 the size and 1/2 the power consumption, too), performs approximately equivalently to a 3-4 year old desktop computer (you can tell the difference from whether a full rebuild takes 5 minutes or 50 minutes!). The Atom performs about the same as a 15 year old computer. I so totally regret ever buying one. May the guys who designed Atom rot in hell forever.

 

Any laptop with any other kind of CPU will do fine for "general stuff" which isn't precisely 3D graphics development, provided that you have at least 2GB of memory (but 8GB laptops are very affordable nowadays, don't be cheap trying to save two pence there! Get 8GB if you can). Builtin graphics is almost certainly sufficient for "generaly purpose" too.

Edited by samoth

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I think the most important thing to not cheap out on is to get a newest generation CPU and graphics chip, because you will curse yourself in a year or two if you can not test properly as your computer does not support a newer version of graphics API or instruction set you want to use.

An extra graphics chip is nice cause Intel is the fastest to stop supporting older chips with the drivers, AMD and NVidia often support a higher OpenGL or DirectX version than Intel and its nice if you can test 2 of the 3 vendors implementations on a single machine. Watch out if you buy an i3 or i5 that sellers often just advertise that and forget to tell you they put an old i5 3xxx inside.

You can always live with having a slower CPU/GPU/HDD or having not a huge amount of memory to save on money, but you might want to check if there is a free slot when buying a 4GB computer (which is still ok atm).

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