It seems like the laptop players suddenly have realized that, with almost all professional sports canceled, there is a sudden massive opportunity for gaming notebooks, so people stuck at home can safely compete. I’m wondering how many professional athletes have turned into couch potatoes and are learning that the geeks they used to make fun of are now perfectly capable of kicking their digital butts.
AMD launched its impressive integrated offering last month, and this week both Intel and NVIDIA responded with their remarkable efforts. Now with desktop machines, particularly for those of us who can build our own, we can mix and match components to create the custom rig we want (and some of the game systems builders like Falcon will do that for you), but with laptops, your choices are generally far more constrained.
Now the majority of the laptops from both launches look like regular thin and light laptops, which in and of itself is a fantastic accomplishment because, historically, a thin and light gaming notebook with good battery life was an unrealistic dream. Not anymore.
There was a clear outlier in both launches that stepped well away from convention in their design; that was Asus. While following the belief that you might want a stealth product that you could use once you had to go back to the office, Lenovo stood out as the global brand with the most robust stealth offering, based on both vendor’s offerings.
It is also interesting to note that while a small number of AMD-based Asus products have made it out to reviewers, we don’t yet have the blended Intel/NVIDIA offerings to review. So actual head-to-head comparisons will have to wait until that happens. Finally, the performance gains are unusually broad, with the Intel/NVIDIA offerings suggesting you should, as we do with workstations, follow the application—in this case, a game you use with the product that will perform the best.
Stealth or Non-stealth
I like innovative products, but I’ve had peers make fun of me when I bring one into the office or go to an event. You learn to be thick-skinned in this job, but that could be problematic if you don’t have an understanding boss or find yourself presenting to a rigid executive. The problem with the latter is that they may preserve the chain of command and not say anything to you, but what they think could end up unfavorably in your review anyway. Sadly, the same is true if you are a consultant, except you may not get a bad review; you simply may find that your contract doesn’t get renewed because they think you are screwing around.
So, of the lines that have both technologies, the Lenovo line is arguably the safest and most balanced. Both of their AMD– and Intel-based gaming offerings are well-priced and are similar in performance, and neither would attract unwanted attention on a user’s desk.
Now I have one caveat to this, and that is that the Asus Zephyrus G14 that uses the AMD solution has a cover-mounted LED display that can be turned off, and it vanishes when off. So it might work as a sleeper. (Some early reviews on this product are out, and performance numbers are strong, but it got dinged for the lack of a camera and poor keyboard lighting, which supports Lenovo having the more balanced offering.) I should add that one other thing makes the Asus Zephyrus G14 exciting, and that is that it both supports AMD FreeSync and uses an NVIDIA GPU.
Balls to the Wall
If you can afford to have a laptop just for gaming, that logic goes out the window, and you may want to consider the Asus line, which is over the top in terms of innovation.
The most exciting design connected to the Intel launch is the Asus ROG Zephrus Duo 15. It has dual screens, and it also has a similar keyboard design optimized for gaming with the TouchPad on the right. It does look like Asus took the Intel Dual-Screen laptop prototype design to heart with this one, and the result is fascinating. In both the HP and Asus designs, given that games typically don’t anticipate rare hardware configurations, the second screen is probably more useful for creators, because you can put your tools on that second screen, leaving the primary screen for your project. Asus is showcasing in their collateral that some games do use these displays for game controls, and that frees up the full screen for game content, which I think, if and when it works, could be handy.
Another impressive design is the Ezel and Ezel Pro concepts from Acer. This design has a cantilevered display, a design that has proved very useful for presentations (you can flip the screen over) and especially on planes for those sitting in those lovely tight seats because you can push the keyboard forward farther. It is also safer if the person in front of you reclines their seat.
Wrapping Up: Lenovo the Safest, but Asus the Most Interesting
Between the two platforms, I expect Lenovo will be the safest bet with a strong background in quality, designs that fit in with your practical needs and reliable performance with either Intel/NVIDIA or AMD/AMD solutions. Asus is the more exciting product line, and their choices are far more diverse. This result is because the Intel- and AMD-based offerings not only look very different from each other, but both have NVIDIA graphics, which should make for interesting benchmarking when reviewers finally get the products. But the Asus products are more fiddly, you may or may not like the gaming-oriented keyboards for work, and they will give you more attention, both good and bad.
The overall performance should be strong from AMD- and Intel-based offerings. Intel may have an advantage in terms of absolute performance, but AMD has an advantage on value, as that is how they traditionally segment. This time around, I’m expecting Intel/NVIDIA to be more aggressive on price (it is that kind of market, unfortunately), and AMD is already demonstrating significant performance gains.
As a result, once these are out, we may be choosing more on design than on platform this round because AMD, Intel and NVIDIA are all in this game to win it, and all of them brought their “A” game. Who wins? Well, you do. Choice is a good thing, although I’d hold off making it until products with both platforms are in the market and we can do some real head-to-head testing.
One final thought: Given that most of us hold on to our machines for three years, if you compare any of these systems to what you probably bought three years ago, you are going to see something like a 30% bump in performance, and you will undoubtedly notice that.
We’ll revisit this when systems become available but, until then, stay safe at home!
Rob Enderle is a principal at Enderle Group. He is a nationally recognized analyst and a longtime contributor to QuinStreet publications and Pund-IT.