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28. September 2019

 

Back in 2016 I did my first guide to Choosing a Game Development Laptop, then did a follow up edition the beginning of 2018. A fair bit has changed since then, so here is the 2019 edition.  There is a video version of this guide embedded below.

 

What has changed?

If you read or watched the prior guides, you are probably most interested in what has changed in the technology surrounding game development and laptops in general. The biggest new change is the introduction of Real-Time Raytracing, or RTX technology, that we will talk about in more detail later. Additionally, AMD released a new embedded mobile graphics chipset that appeared in some lower cost laptops, bringing low-mid range GPU to a few popular laptop models. Intel and AMD released a new generation of GPUs, with AMD making huge progress on the desktop but somewhat limited in mobile chips although rumours suggest something big from AMD coming soon. Intel chips are just incremental improvements on the previous gen, with several of their newest processors running into thermal issues. Finally, the thin and light laptop has become nearly universal, with all manufacturers making something. Oh, and prices went up for the most part… so it isn’t all great news.

 

What Kind of Game Development Are You Intending to Do?

Game Development is a BROAD subject and the kind of machine you need is entirely determined by what you are doing with it. Different tasks have different requirements, but here is a VERY vague summery.

2D Pixel Art

If you are looking to do mostly drawing and pixel art creation on your machine… good news! This isn’t a particularly demanding task. A touch screen and good color calibrate monitor are probably the most important traits in this case.

3D MODELLING and ANIMATION

If you are a 3D artist, especially if you are working with higher polygon count scenes or real-time sculpting, the GPU is the most important thing, followed by RAM and CPU.

Programmer

If you are mostly compiling large volumes of code the CPU is probably the most important part, but you want to avoid any bottlenecks, such as running out of RAM. Most importantly, you absolutely NEED to have an SSD. The difference an SSD drive makes to compiling code is staggering.

VR DEVELOPER

If you are intending to work with VR, you have some fixed limits, minimum requirements to run an HTC Vive, Oculus Rift or Microsoft Mixed Reality device. Generally, this means at least a 1060+ or better GPU. This is because VR is basically running two screens, one per eye, and each screen needs to run at a minimum framerate (often @ 90) or it will cause sickness or headaches.

 

Why no Apple Laptops this year?

To be honest, it’s just getting harder and harder to recommend getting a MacBook since 2016 for several reasons. First off, they removed the F-row of function keys and replaced it with a touchbar, and this is horrible for programmers who rely heavily on function keys in just about every single application. Additionally, this change makes it work even worse if you need to boot into Windows software.

Additionally, this generation has been absolutely plagued with quality issues. It started with heavy thermal throttling on any i9 based Mac and got worse from there. The failure rate on this generation of MacBook’s keyboard is off the chart. Finally, they have implemented a security chip, which coupled with anti-repair policies, makes repairing a MacBook more problematic and expensive than ever. If you want a MacBook Pro for development, I personally would highly recommend a 2016 MacBook Pro or earlier, used or refurbed, at least until the MBP gets a engineering overhaul.

 

My minimum spec recommendations?

There are a few things I consider mandatory if buying a laptop in 2019.

SSD (Solid State Drive)

This is hands down my biggest non-negotiable recommendation. Having your operating system on an SSD improves performance of just about everything… massively. Want to take a few seconds, or nearly a minute to boot or wake your laptop? That is the difference an SSD makes! They are more expensive and often systems will have a smaller SSD for the OS partition and larger cheaper SATA drive for storage.

8GB of RAM

You can buy systems with 4GB of RAM… this is not enough. 8GB is the realistic minimum, while I would personally go no lower than 16GB. Anything over 32GB is mostly a waste for most users. 16GB still seems to be the sweet spot.

I5, i7 or i9 Processor

Be careful will any other processor options. Low powered options like the Intel Atom aren’t powerful enough for most game development tasks. An i3 may be enough for you, but I would recommend an i5 or higher. If you are on the higher end, be careful with purchasing an i9 machine, many of the first gen of i9 laptops are having trouble dealing with the extra heat and are a waste of money as a result.

GPU

I personally wouldn’t buy a machine without a dedicated GPU, which is pretty much a must if you want to do any 3D work or play modern games. Using integrated graphics, you can often play modern games on lowest settings at lower resolutions. In terms of what GPU… that’s is a bit trickier. The new generation of 2060/2070 and 2080 Nvidia GPUs are strongly focused on RTX, or real time raytracing. They are also quite expensive. Later on, Nvidia released the 1650, a value priced slower GPU without RTX with a much lower price tag. Of course, if RTX isn’t important to you, several last generation GPUs are still very viable, especially the 1070 and 1080 cards.

BATTERY

Battery is important but limited. To legally fly on an airplane with a battery the limit for a laptop is just under 100 watts/hour, so this is the upper limit of what a battery can be. Generally the bigger the battery the longer it lasts, but the more battery sucking features you put in there (GPU, Processor, 4K or high refresh rate display, etc) the more draw they put on the battery.

SIZE/WEIGHT/THERMALS

Laptops are generally available in 13”, 14”, 15” and 17” models, with the unit being measured diagonally across the screen. Weight is pretty self explanatory… and with modern laptops, anything over 5lbs is started to get a bit heavy and you will notice it in a backpack if you are doing a fair bit of traveling. The final challenge designers face is thermals… that is, keeping everything cool. With modern hardware if it gets to hot it slows down or throttles. This is why machines like the new i9 MacBooks or XPS 15 machines from DELL don’t live up to the hardware they put into them. Doesn’t make sense to put an i9 and a 2080 GPU into a machine if they get throttled to speeds slower than competing hardware with lesser specs. Thermals are important and sadly harder to determine without reading user reviews.

DISPLAY

There are many different things to consider, the type of panel (Matte,TN, IPS, OLED), the resolution 1080p vs 4K and the refresh rate ( 60hz, 120 +). The panel determines how colors and blacks will look, as well as how glossy the display will be in daylight. A lot of it comes down to personal opinion. Refresh rate is important if you are interested in real-time games and want your game to be as responsive as possible. That said, you need to be able to push framerates to match the refresh rate to take advantage of it. There is a hybrid approach with monitors enabling a variable refresh rate called GSync and FreeSync. Personally I would go for a 4K/60hz display but I don’t do a lot of twitch gaming.

 

Recommendations

The following is a list of game dev suitable laptops from the major providers at a variety of price points.  If you purchase through our provided links on Amazon, GFS makes a small commission (and thank you!)

 

 

Acer Helios 300

 

For around $1,000 you can get a 1660 GPU with a 6 core Intel CPU, 16GB of RAM and more.  There are a few dozen specs available in this range to fit your need.  Weighs in at 5lbs with a reported 6-hour battery life (which is optimistic…).  A classic entry level line with good gaming credentials.

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Acer Triton 500

 

A step up in both price and power from the Helios, the Triton line contains a 2070 Max-Q GPU and a 144hz display for a price range of 1600 – 2000 (1600 for a 2060 equipped model).  It is also lighter, thinner and supports a longer lasting battery than the Helios.

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Asus Strix G

 

The Strix G is available in several different configurations, with the 1650 equipped model starting around the 1K USD mark.  It has impressive internals in a 5.2lb form factor and impressively comes with a 1GB SSD drive.  It is sadly let down by poor real-world battery life.

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Asus ROG Zephyrus

 

The Zephyrus line is a series of high-end laptops, with up to a 2080 card, 6 core Intel GPU all in a 0.6” slim design, weighting about 4.5lbs.  The keyboard is at the front of the case however, something that can take some getting used to. 

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Dell XPS 15

 

The Dell XPS line are stunning, thin and of a build quality.  You pay a premium, for a XPS with a 1650 GPU costing almost $1700.  I have trouble recommending this years XPS as the case design seems to struggle with heat, making thermal throttling a common complaint, meaning you wont get full use of the hardware you’ve paid for.

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Alienware M15

 

Dell has owned Alienware for a number of years, but only recently have they started releasing laptops that are actually portable, instead of gigantic desktop replacements.  The M15 model is now 4.75 lbs and 0.8” thick, much easier to throw in a backpack.  Available in a number of configs, this M15 has a 2060 GPU, i7-9750 CPU, 16GB of RAM, 512GB SSD for $1850. 

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Dell G5

 

The G5 is Dell’s dedicated gamer series of laptops.  You will get better thermal performance at a lower price than the XPS line.  The trade-off is louder fans, a nearly 1” thick laptop and close to 6lbs, making it one of the heavier laptops on this list.  You can however get a 1650 GPU, 6 core Intel processor, 16GB of RAM, great battery life and an SSD for just over $1100, making it a solid value if you can handle the size.

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Gigabyte Aero 15

 

A powerhouse laptop with a powerhouse pricetag.  Available with up to a 2080 GPU, i9 9980 CPU one of the largest batteries you can legally put in a laptop, all in a 0.75” thick 4.5lb design.  There are a huge number of configurations available in this highly portable long lasting laptop, including a rare OLED screen option.

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Gigabyte AORUS

 

Much of the same power as the Aero 15, in a big, cheaper package, that describes the AORUS.   At 5.3lbs and nearly 1” thick, it’s certainly bigger and heavier.  It also is about 50% cheaper!  Unfortunately you don’t also get the monster battery of the more expensive Aero.  Available in a range of GPUs from the 1650 to the 2070.

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HP Omen

 

The HP Omen line is HP’s gaming series and is available in a wide range of configurations for prices ranging from $1100 to $2000.  Battery life is reviewed as fair, chassis is 5.2lbs and 0.83” thick.  In many ways you can look at the Omen line as incredibly average.

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Lenovo Legion

 

One of the best values on the list.  Coming in at around $1000 USD with a 1650 GPU, 6 core i7-9750 CPU, 512GB SSD in a decent package.  The only major downside is the anemic 45 WHr battery and 5.2lb weight.

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A refresh of the Surface lineup is expected in the next few weeks.  Microsoft’s machines are unique and of a high build quality, but only a few offer a GPU.  Rumour has it the next generation will be AMD powered.

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MSI GS65 Stealth

 

MSI have far too many brands, but the good news is almost all models are capable game development laptops, even though choosing the right version can be tricky.  My personal choice is a the Stealth GS line, which is a good combination of power and portability and a reasonable price.

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Razer Blade

 

Razer started the thin and light high-end laptop craze and they continue to be one of the best… and most expensive.  They have however split their line into 2 different products, the Blade and the Advanced.  The Blade is limited to a 2060 GPU but also supports a lower price tag.  Both machines sport the same processor and RAM, although oddly this model has better storage options.  This model is 4.6lbs and 0.78” thick.

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Razer Blade Advanced

 

The Razer Blade advanced is slightly thinner and heavier than the Blade.  It also ships with your choice of a 2070 or 2080 GPU and more display options, including a 4K display.  Plus, it’s got a hefty price tag attached.  This model is 4.83lbs and 0.7” thick.

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Razer Blade Stealth

 

The Razer Blade stealth is the only ultra book with a GPU.  If you are looking for a 13” laptop with an all-day battery, but a decent GPU, the Stealth is a one of a kind machine.  Unfortunately, the version linked here is last years MX150 based model, as the newly announced 1650 version has not shipped yet. 

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Too Rich For My Blood

I wont lie, this generation is expensive and in many cases isn’t a huge upgrade on the previous generation. If you find the above machines too expensive but need to purchase a machine, I would highly recommend looking for a model from the previous year on clearance. If you aren’t interested in raytracing, you can easily get by with a laptop from the previous generation. The 1070 and 1080 GPUs are plenty fast and capable of handling raytracing and most AAA games at high settings, while the CPU is rarely a bottleneck, so a last generation higher end i5 or i7 CPU should be more than enough.

Personally, I am skipping this generation and will wait till next year when the second generation of RTX hardware is released at which point RTX will be more prevalent (or a fading fad). If I didn’t already have a decent laptop however, I would personally pick up the Razer Blade Stealth with a 1650 GPU. Small form factor, long battery life, quality build and an OK (but unmatched in the 13” form factor) GPU is a hard to beat combination.

 

 

Art Design General Programming


22. November 2018


As has become a tradition here on GameFromScratch, every year we track down and present the best Black Friday deals of interest for game developers.  This year is no imageexception, so here they are!  Although it is becoming less and less of a thing, this page will also track applicable Cyber Monday deals as well.  If you know of a missing deal, let me know in the comments down below and I will do my best to add it.



3D Coat (Store Link)

3D Coat is a 3D sculpting, paintings and PBR texturing application that is currently $100 off during Black Friday, valid through Nov 26th.


Adobe (Store Link)

Adobe are offering 25% off their entire creative suite annual subscription service.  This includes seminal products such as Photoshop, Illustrator, Animate and more.


APress (Store Link)

Any aPress published ebook for $7.


Affinity Paint/Designer (Store Link)

All Serif products are currently 30% off for Black Friday, including Affinity Designer, Painter and Painter for iOS.  If you want to learn more about Affinity Designer, check out our recent video.

Allegorithmic (Substance) (Store Link)

Save 33% on annual subscriptions for their Substance Suite of PBR texturing tools (Painter, Designer, B2M).  For more information on Substance Painter, check out our recent hands on video.


A Sound Effect (Store Link)

Having a sale on hundreds of sound effect libraries, as well as a one month free subscription and 112 free sounds with any purchase.


Amazon

Amazon is always heavily involved in Black Friday and sell a wealth of software and hardware that’s useful for game developers.  I will be updating this category as deals come online.

Asus GX501 15” Ultra Portable GeForce 1070 Laptop $400 Off

Corel Draw 30% Off

Corel Painter 2019 33% Off

CyberPowerPC PC Towers – @20% Off

Dell XPS 15 Laptop with 1050 Geforce $200 Off

Gigabyte Aero 15x 1070 Thin Laptop $550 Off

Google PixelBook 19% Off

MacBook Pro 13” $100 Off

MSI GS63VR Stealth $350 Off

Microsoft Surface Go 10% Off

Logitech MX Master 50% Off

Oculus Rift $50 Off

Razer Blade Stealth $200 Off

Samsung Monitors @25% Off

Samsung Tablets 33-44% Off

Smith Micro Software (Anime Studio, MoHo, Poser, etc) – Moho 30% off


CGTrader (Store Link)

CG Trader are offering up to 50% discount on 3D models this Black Friday.


ClipPaint Studio (Store Link)

ClipPaint Studio (the successor to Manga Studio) is an anime style painting application that is currently 50% off for Black Friday.


The Foundry (Store Link)

The Foundry are offering 30% discounts to Modo subscriptions and 15% off maintenance.


Humble Bundle RPG Game Dev Bundle (Store Link)

Technically not a Black Friday sale, but the Humble RPG Game Dev Bundle is going on during the same period.  Now with an improved license, you can get a ton of RPG related graphics, music and icons for a low price while helping charity.  I got hands-on with the bundle in this video.


Huion (Store Link)

Huion are offering their tablet devices for between 20-25% off.


Kitbash3D (Store Link)

Kitbash are offering 50% off their 3D model kits for Black Friday.


Marmoset (Store Link)

Save up to 50% on all Marmoset Software, such as Toolbag, Viewer and Hexels.  See Hexels in action in this video.


Marvellous Designer (Store Link)

Marvellous Designer is offering up to 50% off their virtual clothing design software, on both subscription and perpetual licenses.


Microsoft Store (Store Link)

The Microsoft store is an ecceletic mix of software, computers and devices, with a variety of items on sale during Black Friday such as laptops, tablets and VR headsets.


PluralSight (Store Link)

Pluralsight offer online training and courses.  Their Black Friday sale includes 33% off on subscriptions.


Packt Books (Store Link)

All eBooks and videos from Packt Publishing are available for $10 during the sale.


Quixel (Store Link)

Quixel’s sale doesn’t actually start until Black Friday.  Generally its a discount of their texturing software as well as their texture resources.


RealAllusion (Store Link)

Save over 50% on Character Creator, Crazy Talk Animator, iClone and more.


Safari Books Online (Store Link)

Safari Books is O’Reilly Press’ online book repository, offering full access to thousands of computer related books.  This sale, good through Monday, is good for 50% off an annual subscriptions, a $200 value.


SketchFab (Store Link)

SketchFab are offering models for 25% off using the code BLACKFRIDAY.


Smith Micro (Store Link)

Smith Micro are offering their suite of products for 30% off including Poser, Moho and more.  The same deal is available on Amazon if you prefer that store.


Syntorial (Store Link)

Syntorial is offering 50% off their audio synthesis hands-on tutorial system.


Steam Autumn Sale (Store Link)

Steam is also having their annual autumn sale with tons of game development software available at discounted pricing.


TurboSquid (Store Link)

TurboSquid is offering select 3D models from their catalog for up to 40% off.


Voxengo (Store Link)

Voxengo are offering subscriptions and individual VST/AAX/AU plugins for 25% off.


Udemy (Store Link)

Udemy is offering most of their thousands of online courses for $10 each.


Unity Asset Store (Store Link)

There are sales across the entire Unity Asset Store for Black Friday, generally 50% off or better.  Pretty much all kinds of assets are currently on sale, models, plugins, tools, you name it.  They have also organized several discounted bundles specifically for Black Friday.

Unity Essentials Bundle – 55% Off

Unity World Building Bundle – 55% Off

Unity Ultimate Characters Bundle – 55% Off

Unity Quick Prototyping Bundle – 55% Off


Unreal Engine Marketplace (Store Link)

Unreal Engine aren’t having a Black Friday sale… they are having a “Fall Sale”.  Same thing, different label.  Save up to 90% off on 3,100 items in their online asset store.  The “totally not a Black Friday” sale ends on November 27th.


YoYo Games (Store Link)

YoYoGames are offering 20% off all licenses for all GameMaker products.



Some of the above links contain affiliate codes, meaning if you make a purchase through a link on this site you help GameFromScratch.

GameDev News


26. June 2018


We’ve been running a series called Five Great Game Development Websites for some time now, currently up to Volume 6.  This post is intended to bring those 30+ site recommendations together in one place!  The top most link is a link to the video itself, followed by the 5 recommended sites in that video.


Volume 1:

Volume 2:

Volume 3:

Volume 4:

Volume 5:

Volume 6:


Series YouTube playlist available here.

Art Design General Programming


21. June 2018


Once again, Steam’s annual summer sale is upon us, and of course loads of software of interest for game developers are on offer.  This guide highlights some of the items on sale.  Many of these programs we’ve covered in the pass.  In those cases, click the Learn More link to… learn more.



GameDev News


6. February 2018


Today on /r/gamedev a new online tool for generating procedural 2D sprites was just released.  I did a quick video of Spritify in action you can check out here on embedded below.  Spritify is a free browser based tool for generating procedural sprites.   The tool is quite simple but could certainly use some improved documentation ( or… any documentatio for that matter! ) but it is certainly usable now.


Essentially you start by painting on a fat grid pixel display using these controls

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Draw the contour and your shape, fill the body accordingly with optional mirroring like so:

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Various controls are available about how your sprites should be generated:

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And at the bottom of the screen, several different procedural sprites will be generated:

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Pretty cool tool over all.


Art


AppGameKit Studio

See More Tutorials on DevGa.me!

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