For anyone who’s ever been tempted to dip a toe into the waters of PC gaming, Black Friday represents an incredible opportunity. Laptops and tower PCs are all going to be dropping in price, so it’s a great time to dive in. But should you buy a laptop or a desktop PC on Black Friday? There are advantages to both.
Check out our guide to all the Black Friday game deals coming in November.
Grabbing one of the best gaming PC desktops is the easiest way to get the most powerful components at the lowest price, and you should expect loads of Black Friday gaming PC deals in November. All the fastest CPUs and GPUs are ‘desktop’ parts, often with bulky air or liquid cooling attached. There’s a reason the tower case has retained its popularity: the sheer size of something like a Geforce 2080Ti with its full triple-fan cooler attached might surprise some people, it’s the size of a games console or small PC on its own, and a tower case is all it will fit in. Tower PCs containing last year’s chips - the AMD Ryzen 2000 series CPUs, or the GeForce RTX GPUs released before this year’s ‘Super’ product refresh - should make for particular bargains this Black Friday, as both have recently been replaced.
AMD has been aggressively pricing its CPUs to undercut Intel equivalents, and while many argue that the absolute best CPU for gaming, it comes with an ‘i’ on the box, the Ryzen rivals are almost as good for less money. In fact, many in the 3000 series are - whisper it - better than their Intel counterparts. A PC built with an AMD CPU and an Nvidia non-Super GPU will be almost as good, but cost less, than one with an Intel CPU and Nvidia Super card. Keeping an eye on which brands are inside your new PC can be the key to getting a bargain - AMD makes GPUs too, but has just released a new range that’s less likely to see discounts on Black Friday.
Laptops were once thought unsuited to gaming, but the emergence of mobile graphics processing chips and energy-efficient multi-core processors has changed all that. Expect to pay more for a laptop version of a chip than for its desktop counterpart, however. Portable computers appeal to those who don’t have the room or desk space for a full-size tower case, keyboard, mouse and monitor.
Slim and light ultrabooks tend to be less useful for gaming, as they depend on integrated graphics more suited to pushing spreadsheets than a gaming workload, so many are bulky, and almost certainly made of black plastic, sporting a very disappointing battery life. Some of the best gaming laptops walk the line between slim and powerful; the likes of the Razer Blade (recently updated, so look out for bargains on the old models) Asus ROG Zephyrus, and MSI Stealth, which are more aesthetically pleasing, and will allow you to take the PC gaming experience on the road with you (at the cost of getting rather warm on your lap).
The gaming laptop is such a competitive sector that it sees new models released quite frequently. This means 2018 models should be available for a decent discount, if there are still some around. Look out for the amount of RAM in an older machine, however. It should be no less than 8GB, and really you need 16GB for a snappier experience and some future proofing. Having four gigabytes of memory might be a bargain, and it will certainly work, but it’s not a good investment.
This last point is perhaps the greatest benefit of a tower PC over a laptop - they can be upgraded. There’s nothing to stop you slapping a bit more RAM, some more storage or an entire new GPU into a tower if you’re feeling confident, saving you money in the long term as you don’t need to buy a whole new PC. Laptops tend to come as a soldered unit, so you can’t access important parts to keep it fully upgraded.
PC gaming has been on a high recently, with PC ports of console games coming with additional modes, ultra-high-res textures and more. Just look at the PC port of Red Dead Redemption 2. No slouch on the consoles, the PC version boasts improved lighting, reflections and shadows, plus ‘improved’ grass and fur textures, 4K HDR support and an unlocked framerate. This comes at a price, of course - you’ll need a beastly graphics card to push all those HDR ultra-textured pixels around, and a fat internet pipe to slurp the whole 175GB installation onto your hard drive.
Elsewhere, the suite of PC exclusives is broad and deep. The Total War series of strategy games have released their best instalment for some time - Three Kingdoms - this year, and last year’s Total War: Warhammer 2 remains the closest thing you’ll get to tabletop Warhammer Fantasy Battles on a computer. There’s upcoming giant robot action in Mechwarrior 5, and strategy games from Firaxis, which produced Xcom 2, and the father of the Xcom franchise himself, Julian Gollop, too.
And the best thing about a PC? Whether you choose a laptop or desktop, they let you pretend you’re doing some proper work when your boss is looking.