The Evolution of Gaming Laptops

The Evolution of Gaming Laptops 

It’s been a good few years since gaming laptops really took off. What started as a very expensive novelty and status symbol has been refined over the years into powerful little machines perfect for gaming on the go.

Back when video games were in their infancy, they were just an extension of computing and programming machines. Developers wouldn’t have imagined gaming would become its own global industry that would call for dedicated machines in the home let alone while traveling.

Now CPU, GPU and RAM are built to be smaller and smaller so manufacturers can corner the market on laptops with the latest in computer technology. How did we get to this point? Let’s take a look back at some vital stepping stones in the history of portable computers as well as the technical capabilities of the latest gaming laptops.

Scaling Down - Gaming from desktop to laptop

While the history of video games and home computing is decades old, it’s pretty recent in the grand history of humans entertaining themselves on this tiny planet. Here are some of the milestones in getting gaming laptops where they are today.

1940: Humble (and hardly portable) beginnings

What was the first dedicated gaming machine? Many point towards the Nimatron machine designed by nuclear physicist, Edward Condon. It debuted at the New York World’s Fair in 1940 where attendants could play the game of Nim (an ancient mathematical strategy game) against the machine itself. The machine played 100,000 games against attendees and won about 90,000.

The Nimatron was 12-feet tall, only really appeared at this event and looked like something out of a H.G. Wells sci-fi novel. Hardly resembles anything we would call a portable gaming machine today. However it was at its core, a machine designed to play a game which makes it an important piece of technology in computer history.

1980s: Bringing the game home

Jumping a few decades ahead, the gaming industry was beginning to take off by the end of the 70s. Games had their own designated space in video arcades filled with game cabinets. Much like the old Nimatron, these machines could play only one game. However these games were decidedly more fun with colourful characters like Pac-Man and the iconic Space Invaders. The core of these machines was a printed circuit board (PCB) holding the data for the games to run which interfaced with a display output so players could see and actually play the games themselves.

It wasn’t until the early 90s when personal home computers became an affordable household appliance. In the UK, the big names were Sinclair, Amstrad, Commodore all producing microcomputers that could be plugged into a home TV. These machines had small circuit boards with even smaller microchips.

However the games were sold separately as cassette tapes or disks which interfaced with the computers in order to play. Many of these games were ports of arcade games with worse graphics. Some games were developed with microcomputers in mind, like Elite (1984) and Manic Miner (1982), ushering in gaming experiences tailored to home hardware. Not exactly portable but we’re getting close.

1990s: Getting smaller and smaller

Towards the end of the 80s is when the germ of the laptop began to grow. The Compaq Portable II released in 86, a computer with a built-in 9-inch display and keyboard but weighed 26 pounds, hardly portable by today's standards. While the early 90s saw products like the Apple Macintosh PowerBook and the IBM ThinkPad 755CD introducing the clamshell design that laptops would firmly stick by even to this day.

These first laptops weren’t really designed for gaming and more for work use. However the 90s saw desktop computers become the premiere place for cutting edge gaming. Graphics cards like the NVIDIA NV1 and the ATI Rage 1 powered huge PC only titles like Doom, Quake and Half Life with stunning 3D graphics. GPUs were big circuit boards so it was unthinkable at the time for these to be implemented into the range of laptops at the time.

Are gaming laptops built to last?

Throughout the 2000’s, laptops were more or less just for working professionals to work from home and on the go. This all changed in 2011 when Razer produced what many consider to be the first true gaming laptop with the Razer Blade. Equipped with an i7 CPU and a GT 555M GPU, it could handle the most taxing gaming experience like any desktop PC. This, and many first gen gaming laptops, had bad issues with overheating which caused random shut-downs and even degraded the console over time meaning you'd have to dump your fancy new tech within a few years. Has the lifespan of gaming laptops improved since then?

Since 2011, manufacturers like Alienware, MSI, Asus, Lenovo, Acer and Gigabyte have joined the gaming laptop scene. On the market now, Asus’s ROG Zephyrus sports a high powered RTX 3070 and a good 16GB of ram to boost frame rates. While products like Alienware’s Area-51m R2 sports a 10-core i9 CPU and a whopping 32GB of RAM, with other models letting you customize your specs like a desktop PC.

Overheating is also less of an issue now. Laptops come built in with safety measures and cooling systems that drop the overall temperature of the machine. While this may affect game performance, it ultimately ensures that your laptop can last for five years and even beyond.

What’s next?

Laptops have come a long way. They’re a fairly recent milestone in the general history of computer technology and have advanced a lot in such a short amount of time. In the 80s it was unthinkable that such a small machine could be capable of the photorealistic graphics of today.

Gaming laptops are becoming such powerful machines that they’re often used for video editing, graphic design and even developing games themselves. The latest laptops on the horizon are set to match the current ray tracing-enabled graphics cards to match the power seen on desktop PCs. If you’re looking for a powerful machine to take on the go, a gaming laptop is always a smart investment.

Author Bio: James Sayers has a passion for writing on media such as music, film and video games. He works at Tillison Consulting as an SEO Campaign Manager working on blog content and SEO improvements for clients.