With Black Friday happening this week and several sales already on the go, you may be on the look out for a gaming notebook.

A quick glance at what’s currently on offer in the gaming notebook department will reveal a few things right off of the bat. Firstly, all gaming notebooks look similar, secondly, they are all rather expensive.

While a lot of the cost of a notebook can be drummed up to the components within it, there is an awful amount of research and development that goes into manufacturing a gaming notebook.

Lenovo South Africa consumer lead, Yugen Naidoo.

To find out more about that aspect of gaming notebooks we spoke with consumer lead for Lenovo South Africa, Yugen Naidoo.

Of course, our first question was about the physical appearance of gaming notebooks and how that is shifting from sharp angles and red lighting to something a bit more, understated.

“The design mentality is indeed changing, moving towards more ‘subtle’ designs. With our research on gamers two distinct design language concepts were born: we called them Ultimate Utilitarian and Magical Minimalism,” Naidoo told us.

“The former emphasises strength, durability and power, while the latter sought to bring a new design language to the gaming space – call it a more modern simplicity without as many ‘sci-fi’ elements that are traditionally associated with gaming hardware,” Naidoo added.

Lenovo’s newer range of desktops and gaming notebooks strike a balance between the aforementioned concepts while still retaining utility such as carry handles and RGB lighting. Yes, RGB lighting is very much an aesthetic but have you tried typing in the dark?

A lot of this change in the design language is being inspired by how folks use their gaming notebooks. Powerful processors, hefty graphics cards and oodles of RAM combine to make a machine that’s not just good for gaming but other compute intensive tasks as well.

“Most gamers use their laptops or desktops for a lot more than just gaming – that includes work, study, video editing, web browsing, watching movies and TV series – the list goes on. Most of all, our research told us there is no ‘typical’ gamer. Gamers are everyday people like airline workers, lawyers, retail managers or assistants, IT professionals, etc. I think society – and Lenovo too – is chipping away at the stereotype about what gamers are,” explains Naidoo.

“Our customers are not looking for something super flashy on the exterior, they often want something that looks like a modern PC or laptop – but with the interior power to play high-end games.”

Decisions, decisions

With design out of the way we need to consider how a firm such as Lenovo decides what is important in budget gaming notebooks and high-end gaming notebooks.

For both sorts of user Lenovo has identified five pain points that have to be addressed in future gaming notebooks, namely:

  • Poor thermal design
  • Washed out or colour inaccurate displays
  • Mushy keyboards
  • Low battery life
  • Sub-optimal design

From a tech perspective Lenovo tries to find a balance for both enthusiast and budget gamers.

“For the more serious and high-end games performance is very important and from a tech perspective we make sure they have the best products to serve their needs. For the lower end and more “mainstream” gamer we make sure we give them the best experience within the constraints of their budget,” says Naidoo.

While we’d assume that overclocking is a big part of what informs the design of a notebook’s internals, it actually isn’t, at least for Lenovo according to Naidoo.

“We consider mostly the overall balance between performance and features that means something to end users. Most gaming processors have already overclocked features embedded, but you can have the most powerful gaming PC on the market if the overall design has not been optimised, you will end up having throttling issues and your laptop will not perform the way you need it to be,” the consumer lead told us.

So that doesn’t mean that Lenovo notebooks can’t be overclocked but rather that it’s not necessarily a consideration made during the design process. This makes sense because while everybody would like a R40 000 gaming notebook, not everybody has the acumen needed for overclocking. Some may argue that giving folks the room to overclock should be a consideration but laptops are small and Lenovo already spends a lot of time on cooling systems.

“Poor thermal design will end up affecting the consumer and they will have a very bad experience. Lenovo developed the Coldfront technology which is a fusion of hardware and software that allows for more thermal efficiency, better airflow and lower system temperatures for full throttle performance. Like a famous tyre company was highlighting with their motto: ‘Performance is nothing without Control’, this could also apply in gaming PCs and is the number one rule to follow,” says Naidoo.

Brick by power brick

Balancing the amount of power a notebook draws is a tad more complicated thanks to the battery it uses while not attached to the wall, and erm, while it’s attached to the wall as well.

This is why some gaming notebooks ship with two power bricks.

“These type of setups only exists on very demanding laptops for two main reasons. The first one is linked to the graphic card used which are demanding in term of power supply. Graphic cards such as Nvidia GTX 1080/RTX 2080 need at least a 600W power supply unit. Since this type of PSU does not exist on the market, some manufacturers were combining two power bricks of 330W,” says Naidoo.

“If you keep only one PSU, the power requested by the GPU is so high, that your laptop even connected to the wall will get its battery drained and will affect the overall performance of the laptop. The trade-off solution is to have two heavy power bricks to be able to run 100% power to the GPUs and avoid using the battery during this period of time while you need full performance,” the Lenovo lead told us.

As for putting the secondary brick into the notebook itself, well that would take space which is already at a premium.

Components are changing in this regard however. Nvidia’s Max-Q design allows for smaller, more compact notebook designs which doesn’t require a heavy power brick, much less two.

“Only on the non-Max-q design, which is the regular model available, you may still need two power bricks to fully get the laptop to run smoothly. According to us, the best option for gamers, providing the best balance between performance and design, is the Max-q solution from Nvidia,” Naidoo tells us.

While a lot of this seems obvious when it comes to designing a gaming notebook, it’s only because hours and millions were spent on research and development.

So when you’re shopping for a gaming notebook, consider the components within it, but consider the amount of time spent on making sure it doesn’t only look great but works well too.