Earlier this year I bought a new PC. It wasn’t through choice but both my existing PCs finally gave up the ghost after years of long and faithful service. I’d been using a custom-built desktop for most of my creative work for many years which had served me well enough. But a combination of a hard disk failure a few years ago, coupled with an emerging problem with the GPU (and possibly the motherboard) left the PC incredibly unstable.
It’s age didn’t help to be honest. When it came to creating content for our YouTube channel, it was taking around an hour to render even the shortest of game reviews and our longer convention footage videos had to be left running overnight. So I definitely needed something with more of a kick in terms of performance as well.
When that PC finally became unusable, I reverted to “Plan B”… an old MSI GX700 gaming laptop I’d owned since around 2009. Back then it was one of the most powerful PCs on the market. And it should have been for the price, costing me the better part of £2,000 at the time. But despite not being able to cope with our YouTube needs, meaning that we had to have a forced break from working on the channel, it was more than up to the task of letting me carry on with working on all our written projects. In fact, I don’t think anyone noticed the difference! However in early 2021 that too started to fail after 12 years of faithful service.
Laptop Or Desktop
I had a difficult choice ahead of me. While I’ve got a mancave where I’ve done some creative work and where I keep my console and games collection, it’s also used temporarily as a storeroom. At the same time, I do a lot of work downstairs and have done so for a while using my old laptop so I had a tough choice. If I went for a new desktop I would be limited to working in the cave as and when I could get time in there. Opting for a high-end laptop however, would fit in better with my role as a carer, and allow me to work anywhere in the house and still hopefully give me the performance I needed. The laptop won.
After a few failed attempts to buy a new MSI laptop (thanks to the current global chip shortages), I went for an Asus ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 SE. To say that this was something of a beast would be an understatement. With a Ryzen 9 5900 processor at the heart of it, 32Gb of RAM, backed up with a 16Gb Radeon GeForce 3080 GPU it was no slouch! I wanted to put it to the test in a real world setting for what work I do here so I tried it for rendering a video I created a while ago… and what took me over an hour before was done in a couple of minutes. It may have been the most expensive computer I’ve ever purchased, but I know it’s going to last a long time.
Now, I’ve said elsewhere that I’ve never really been bothered about gaming on the PC. I’ve got some PC games in the collection, although these are mainly Star Trek and Star Wars and the odd RPG but they were seldom used. So when I got the new laptop I thought I’d give it a go again. I hadn’t really bothered with new consoles for a while, keeping to the PS3, PS Vita and Switch Lite so this was going to give me a chance to dive in to all the latest games if I wanted to with ease and not having to worry if my PC could cope.
In part I think it helped that I already had a few games already linked to my Steam account that I had free with my old PC, as well as a few titles I’d received as review codes for our sites and YouTube. With developers moving away from the PS Vita as well, that gave me an added incentive to keep up with their work as well, either on the PC or Switch. So my mind was made up. But it wasn’t quite as smooth sailing as I’d hoped…
I’m still a console and old school gamer at heart, but if I was going to play anything on the laptop I was going to need a controller. Compatability wasn’t a problem but it did mean getting one that was designed for Windows and/or the XBox One. And sadly, that’s the one controller configuration I really don’t get on with! While some swear by it, personally I find it the least comfortable. Maybe it’s because I didn’t really have any interest in console gaming until the CD32 and then the original PlayStation so I’m more suited to Sony’s controller layout, but regardless I just can’t get to grips with them!
So armed with a controller, my Steam account topped up and a slowly building wish list, and 2Tb of storage, I was ready to dive in. It didn’t take long for problems to kick in though. I didn’t have to worry about performance as the laptop handled everything I threw at it with ease, other than the odd quirk with the dual-screen needing disabling. At that point I thought everything would be fine… how wrong I was.
What I forgot was the form factor differences when it came to using a laptop over a desktop. For me, the importance of portability and small footprint were important in my choice in going for a gaming PC (and obviously it’s performance), but that’s also its downfall for some games. I don’t have space to plug in a regular keyboard or mouse so I have to use the touchpad and that’s where the problems start.
Menu selections in games are fine with a touchpad if a little slower than using a mouse – I can live with that. But if you want to play a first person shooter you can forget it unless you’re happy with using a controller. Personally I’m fine with that as it’s how I prefer to play games anyway. But what about anything that needs the numeric keypad? Not all laptops have one because of physical space. Fortunately mine does – in a fashion – but it’s swappable between the touchpad so you can’t use both simultaneously!
Gaming With A Mouse
Navigating menus is all well and good, but what about games that need a mouse to be played? I first noticed a problem when I tried some of the free games over on Plays.org. Some of the games that I tried that should have been great fun to play, despite their simplicity such as Teen Titans Go: One-On-One and Star Wars: X-Wing Fighter that really needed a mouse to be responsive in the way they’re controlled.
It’s not just free games that cause problems. I’ve been enjoying the arcade simulator Arcade Tycoon over on Steam a lot lately and while that’s been immense fun to play even that’s been frustrating. A few minutes into the tutorial and it asked me to use the scroll wheel on the mouse to zoom in and out on the screen. What scroll wheel?! Fortunately it’s something the developers are looking to address in a future update and I was able to bypass the tutorial, but it’s frustrating.
Still Having Fun
Don’t get me wrong, after all of that I’m still enjoying using my laptop for gaming but I am having to think about the controls and what I play. Not everything can use a controller and not all free games are keyboard or mobile friendly (my backup plan). But with so much to choose from either way, I don’t think I’m going to struggle to find enough to play and enjoy for a long time to come…