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What to look for in a gaming laptop

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Buying a gaming desktop or laptop is a big commitment. However, if you get a machine powerful enough, it can provide years of entertainment. Desktops are cheaper and easier to upgrade so if you don’t need portability, you can get more machine for your money that way. No matter which route you go, the advice in this article is applicable for both systems.

Generally speaking, with gaming laptops, you have the classic 'pick two' rule: Power/Specs, Size/build quality, Affordability - pick two. The slimmer and lighter something is, the less powerful - unless you are willing to pay more for it. There are relatively affordable gaming laptops that are significantly less expensive than the thin and powerful variety, but they are usually an inch thicker or more. It's only on the very high end where no matter how much you spend it won't be thin (like SLI video cards and such).

All system types discussed herein are assumed to be Windows computers. Macs can play some games, as can Linux, but they are sadly limited. And while Linux can actually use much of the same hardware as Windows, so most of this guide still applies (with the caveat that OS and hardware support is all on your own), you are still limited on game selection (though you may learn other useful technology skills!). On Mac, you are limited to the maximum of a midrange gaming GPU - for their top of the line Macbook Pro prices. Typically, I would say that people who purchase Mac computers do not or should not choose them with primarily gaming in mind. This is something that Apple Corp. has simply chosen to ignore; they do have the power to fix it if they so choose. Instead, Apple has pre-chosen size and build quality as their sole focus, which is dandy, but they do not make gaming capable laptops, and what they do offer is extremely expensive.

The first step in purchasing a gaming machine is to determine your budget. Faster machines are more expensive and there is no way around that. Most laptops come with Intel graphics but if you want to do some serious gaming, you’ll have to pay a premium for AMD or Nvidia graphics. If you plan on doing VR with your system, you’re going to want a GeForce GTX 1060 at least. Anything faster is, you guessed it, more money.

Another thing to consider is current year vs. previous models. Generally the rule I follow is that it's okay with CPUs, but tread carefully when comparing last generation GPUs. While in principle older models are okay and a decent compromise if the price is right, realize that each new GPU model year, especially when there is a new process node or architecture, dramatically decreases power usage while simultaneously increasing performance. For example, the NVIDIA GTX 1060 6GB is in most cases more powerful than the GTX 980M - and uses far less power doing it, at a much better price to boot. The GTX 1070+ naturally blows the doors off of anything available in the mobile space before.

The best resource available, when comparing notebook graphics chips, is this tool from notebookcheck.net:

https://www.notebookcheck.net/Mobile-Graphics-Cards-Benchmark-List.844.0.html

As you can see, at the time of this publication, NVIDIA owns the high end space, and it's been that way for several years.

When it comes to the CPU, newer models are still better, but not nearly as dramatic as it is when comparing GPUs. For example, the Intel i7 6700HQ is only about 200-300MHz difference between that and the newer i7 7700HQ. There is a difference, but it's not worth spending a lot more for, though at similar prices, obviously get the newer one.

When it comes to gaming, the priorities are GPU first, then CPU, then RAM and storage. You would want no less than 8GB of RAM (and 16GB is better). More is not necessary. I highly recommend a SSD drive for the OS, but that can sometimes come later as an add-on if you are technical enough to clone it there, though it should be standard on any laptop >$1000. There are other considerations, like whether you hope to hook up the computer to external monitor(s) or not, or whether built-in speaker sound quality is important to you or not.

For the record, almost all gaming laptops lack a touchscreen.

Generally, the price to performance brackets go somewhat like this:

<$800: There are significant compromises. Typically you only find integrated video for less than $800, or last year's models of dedicated GPUs. AMD has the brand new Ryzen Mobile CPUs, and they are quite competitive. They seem like a good compromise platform for lower priced systems, though laptops with NVIDIA GTX 1050 GPUs would be slightly faster, if you can find one in this price range, though they often only have 2GB of video ram, which impacts higher resolution gaming. Intel integrated GPUs work okay these days, but are generally to be avoided for a primary gaming PC. (As a companion to a gaming desktop, they can be quite decent, however.) If they have a GPU at all, they will likely come equipped with an i5 CPU, which is a very reasonable compromise to reach that price point, and if this is your budget, go for that.

As a general rule, games will run:
Intel Integrated: low settings only.
AMD Integrated: low to medium settings
NVIDIA GTX 1050 2GB GPU: medium settings

These recommendations generally assume a 1080p resolution (1920x1080), though honestly, integrated video (both Intel and AMD) will have a much better experience with less than a 1080p resolution, as even some games at the lowest settings aren't playable at 1080p, or simply will not work at all on any resolution if the computational requirements are too high, especially on Intel. This is why, generally speaking,

$800-$1000: This is probably where the best price to performance gaming laptops are. Almost all have i7 CPUs (with the occasional i5), and most have NVIDIA GTX 1050s, 1050TIs, or the occasional 1060 on a good sale. For the record, I would choose an i5 CPU with a 1060 over an i7 with a 1050 (either version) any day of the week. AMD GPUs in this price range do exist, but are pretty rare. Most of the laptops with 1050s are a bit thinner, but not thin and light. If you want something with these GPUs that are thin(ner) and light, add several hundred dollars.

NVIDIA GTX 1050 4GB version: medium to high settings
NVIDIA GTX 1050 Ti 4GB: mostly high settings
NVIDIA GTX 1060 3GB version: mostly high settings (there is a case to be made for 1050Ti over 1060 3GB... and vice versa too)
NVIDIA GTX 1060 6GB version: high to ultra settings; performs well in VR.

$1000-$1300: This is pretty much the exclusive range of the i7 with NVIDIA GTX 1050 Ti or 1060 6GB. These should perform comfortably in most games at 1080p. They often come with a bit more 'bling' at this price range, with things like G-Sync screens and extra DisplayPort outs, for multiple monitors. These are the big and heavy gaming laptops, not the thin and svelte ones. Automatically add several hundred dollars if you want thin.

Up until this point, I have assumed that we are talking about playing games on the integrated 1080p screen. None of the above GPUs will work well at 4k, and only the GTX 1060 6GB is acceptable for entry level Virtual Reality (VR). Generally speaking, VR compatible gaming laptops demand much more from the system itself, the thermals, and naturally, the GPU. You may find switchable graphics on the 1050 model laptops; once you enter the VR ready space, this disappears, as VR requires a direct connection to the GPU, which switchable graphics, which tend to optimize for battery life, cannot provide.

Three USB 3 ports and an HDMI 1.4 (or DisplayPort 1.2+) connection are required for VR. Thunderbolt 3 is nice to have since that allows you to connect an external GPU to your laptop at some time in the future if you choose. Not all gaming laptops have these, even if they have USB 3.1 ports. Read the specs carefully!

From here, you have the higher end. If you plan on driving a 1440p external monitor, you can probably get away with a GTX 1060 6GB, but a GTX 1070 is much better here. If you are not going to enjoy VR with your laptop, and you only stick with a standard 1080p screen, then a GTX 1070 is almost certainly overkill. If you are going to play extensive VR or move up to a 4k screen, then a GTX 1070 is practically a bare minimum. 4k gaming is very taxing on the GPU.

$1300-$2000: This is typically NVIDIA GTX 1060 or 1070 territory. One of the only stores to buy a laptop with a GTX 1070 at less than $1500 is at a Micro Center. They currently are selling on one sale for $1299; suffice it to say I count my blessings being able to drive to one. (At our house we have two laptops with GTX 1070s inside thanks to our local Micro Center.)

NVIDIA GTX 1070 8GB: Can play anything at ultra settings at 1080p and 1440p. Medium to high settings at 4k. Performs excellently in VR.

$2000+: This is the high end, and prices can get pretty crazy. There is everything from thin and light notebooks with 1070s to huge fat SLI desktop replacements. These are no holds barred, but I have a hard time justifying the price personally (as at that point you can get a desktop and a 1060 gaming laptop and come out ahead).

NVIDIA GTX 1080 8GB: Can play anything at ultra settings at 1080p and 1440p. Mostly high settings at 4k, but not ultra. Performs excellently in VR.
NVIDIA GTX 1070/1080 SLI: Yup, it's fast.

Optical drives are not standard issue in laptops anymore. Since many games and applications are digital these days, chances are you won’t miss the DVD/Blu-ray drive that much. I do recommend picking up an external drive for the rare moments you’ll need it.

Depending on the size of the laptop you’ll be considering, there may be room for two hard drives. The ideal configuration is having an SSD for booting up your operating system and frequently used apps the fastest and a standard spinning drive for data storage. SSD drives are great but costly in comparison to mechanical ones. Thankfully, this is a pretty standard configuration for most gaming laptops over $1000.

If you want to use your laptop as a desktop replacement or only computer, consider how many video out ports there are. HDMI supports only a single monitor, so if you want two or three, that option will not work. If you would like more, look for laptops with either several video ports on the side, or ones that support DisplayPort MST, which allows you to daisy chain multiple monitors off of one DisplayPort connector. This can also be in the form of a USB 3.1 port, as long as DisplayPort (or Thunderbolt 3) is wired internally. This is how I run two monitors off of my laptop with only one cable.

There are some ways to save money on laptops. If you time it right, you can buy the previous model as they are being phased out by the latest and greatest. Another option is to buy an open box. Before spending any money, check the return policy. As gorgeous as some screens are, many may have some dead pixels. Thoroughly check your laptop for any defects before the return period is up. If possible, open up and power on your laptop at the store to spot any noticeable dead pixels or defects.

Once your machine is purchased, keep an eye on the price for any changes. Some stores will refund the price difference in your favor if it changes within fourteen days of purchase.

I find that the best way to get a great deal on a gaming laptop is to check out a local Micro Center if you have one, and/or check out slickdeals.net. At the time of this writing, there are some killer gaming laptops on sale, being the beginning of Christmas shopping season. If you are lucky or keep an eye out, you can often find fantastic deals.

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Solo Velocity Everyday Max Backpack Duffel

Specifications:
Body size: 21"x13"x8"
Weight: 2.40 lbs
Fully padded 17.3" laptop compartment
Internal tablet pocket
Separate shoe compartment
Large size zippered pockets
Padded carry handles
Padded back and backpack straps

Strong Points: Unique, well thought out design; looks very nice; lots of pockets, with a very large main duffel area; laptop pouch is extra large, and well padded
Weak Points: Small number of larger pouches; no location for pens or notepads (pens do fit in pockets though); no shoulder strap reinforcements

Thank you Solo for sending us this backpack to review!

I have always cared deeply about what kind of backpack I have used. I went through several cheaper ones before I finally settled upon one that has lasted – a Swiss Gear. The build quality was a huge step above the several cheap ones I used before that; despite the ~+50% price increase, it has been worth every penny, because it has lasted well on the order of ten years. Sometimes it's worth it to pay more, because it may last more than twice as long. But despite this, my excellent Swiss Gear is finally starting to show its age – flaking ends, the logo was lost years ago, and more signs that it needs to be retired soon. So, when I had the chance to review a new backpack, I jumped on it.

Now, it needs to be said that I am nowhere near as rough on backpacks as I used to be. I no longer regularly take the train to work, nor am I a college student any longer (thankfully). So, a bag that looks good, meets my basic needs, and holds my stuff is more than enough.

Having only really owned a school or work oriented backpack, I was more than a little shocked when I saw not only a well padded laptop compartment, but a place to put my shoes! While probably not important for many students, I was surprised how useful this could be.

solo duffel

In order to really put this backpack through its paces, I decided to bring it to work as fully packed as I could. I just so happened to have a scheduled ping pong tournament game at work, so I had a good excuse to bring my gym shoes along; I then filled up the shoe compartment with my size 12 shoes. I packed both my massive gaming laptop, along with the requisite power brick (large enough to be confused with a masonry brick), and my work MacBook Pro and power supply. I also included my fancy headphones and amp, as well as filled up the pockets with an umbrella, Wi-Fi hotspot (perk for being an on-call IT person), and various cables and adapters like I usually do.

The total weight was 20.5 pounds. I have to carry my backpack through a parking garage, up the stairs, up an elevator to the ninth floor, and over to my desk. Thankfully, the backpack not only held up well, but was comfortable to carry. It looks sharp, and believe it or not, it got complimented, as a few coworkers noticed me no longer carrying the company issued laptop bag that I have been using the last few years. I have used it since, and I am pleased with the performance since then.

The main color is a dark grayish blue, with a gray bottom. There are also black zippers along with yellow handles and other accents. I like the look. The front seems oddly flat at first, but the front zipper actually pops open to a central access door, as well as access to all of the uniquely located pockets lined along the opening on each side. It's an unusual design, but it works well. You can hold fairly large things in that main pouch, even if you decide to pack shoes also. If I had an overnight trip away from home, this would be the perfect thing to bring – you could easily pack shoes, a change of clothes, toiletries, and of course a computer, and be ready to rock. It even has a water bottle or umbrella holder on each side, and they are large enough to actually hold said things (unlike some other backpacks I've used with token worthless pockets on the side).

solo duffel

While there is indeed a lot to like about this backpack, and indeed I do like it, I have some nits to pick. First of all, there really isn't a good single larger pouch available for cables, adapters, or other miscellaneous things like most backpacks I have used. There isn't really a good place for a notepad either, as the laptop pouch doesn't have any dividers outside of the tablet pouch (which may be able to fit a notepad if you like). Thankfully, it's tall enough where I can sneak my power brick below the laptop without issue.

Without that large pouch, this one forces you to be organized, and take advantage of the many smaller pouches available. I have adjusted for the most part, but until I remember where everything is, it takes me a bit longer to find my things. Also, the tablet pouch is a bit thin, so if your case is a larger one with a keyboard, it may not be large enough for you. Finally, the shoulder straps are not reinforced like the toughest backpacks I have used. In cheaper packs, it's always the place where the shoulder strap joins with the body that breaks first. It's too early to tell if that will happen here, though they do seem firmly attached. The many handles on the top, sides, and even bottom are well made and very strong.

In the week or so that I have had this backpack, I have used it every day and really enjoy it so far. While I have had to adapt to its quirks, it can hold a lot, it's very comfortable, and it protects my things well. It looks nice, which is also important. If you are looking for a backpack that can double as a duffel bag, with a single, cavernous compartment, then I highly recommend checking out Solo's Everyday Max Backpack.

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Trimillennialism: Revelation 20 and the Final Judgment

Trimillennialism: Revelation 20 and the Final Judgment 
Author: Ritchie Way

Thank you Bohlsen Group for sending us this book to review!

In Revelation 20, there is a passage that has been debated for thousands of years. Here it is, in full:

"Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.

Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.

And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire."

Having read this, it's understandable that it would require significant study to truly understand what is being said here.  There are two major camps in Biblical scholarship around this passage: the Amillennialists and the Premillennialists. Premillennialists believe that it is literally describing a future event. Amillennialists believe that there will not be a literal future thousand years as described, but instead that it is symbolic of a current reality.  Both viewpoints have had major supporters, including whole denominations.  Ritchie Way believes that he has cracked this ages long issue in perhaps the simplest way possible:  

Why not both?

The author spends nearly half of the book making the case for amillennialism, explaining how the spiritual reality that we now live in very much mirrors the patterns set in Revelation 20.  After he has made his case, he goes on to explain why the more obvious reading that premillennialists believe is also true.  He then sums most of it up in this excerpt on page 154:

"Are the aillennialists right when they claim that Revelation 19 applies to this present era of gospel outreach into the entire world?  They certainly are!  Are premillennialists right when they claim that Revelation 19 "depicts the events of the consummation: the marriage of the Lamb, and the coming of Christ"?  Of course they are!  What they don't seem to realize is that their particular view does not necessarily exclude the other…"

He also covers related topics, including a few other examples of patterns in Scripture being duplicated in both other passages and in history.  He also goes on to explain his view of the ultimate destiny of the ungodly, which he believes is annihilation rather than eternal torment.

I feel that the title of this book does the author and his work a disservice.  Putting 'Tri' in the title because it's Trinitarian means that anyone else who has a similar idea would never find this book while doing research because it is not an obvious name given the subject matter.  So it will likely fall into obscurity, which is a shame.  Titles should reflect their content.  When I read this title, I wonder if the author thinks there are three millenniums, which is not the case here.

Despite this, the author does a decent job of making his case, and some of what he says has merit.  My major complaint is that there is a lot of filler and segues that make it difficult to follow at times.  He often uses these in an attempt to give God glory, and in that sense, I found the book inspiring.  But, at the same time, taking so long to get to the point means that I had many unplanned augmentations to my rest schedule.  As a result, it took me much longer to get through this relatively short 192 page book than I anticipated.


(Amazon Affiliate Link)

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Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl (3DS) Preview & Unboxing

Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl is a new game from Atlas in the hardcore Etrian Odyssey series.  This title is actually a remake of the first game, with a whole lot of enhancements.

For those new to the series (like I was before playing this game), it is a first person dungeon crawler RPG, similar to the rather old school Wizardry games from the 80s.  With a fair amount of modernization, and a Japanese flair.

One of the things those older games required was meticulously careful hand drawn maps.  To celebrate this, the Etrian Odyssey series uses the DS's bottom screen and requires you to draw your own.  It's rather ingenious, honestly.  For a hardcore RPG lover, it's a dream come true.

I am about half-way through this game, and I have done almost nothing else but play it non stop (besides work and family, of course) for about a month now.  It is just incredibly long, with a ton of content.  I would estimate at least 60 hours before I am done, at this rate.  It is also incredibly challenging at the higher difficulty levels.  (Picnic isn't for 'real' gamers.  ;))

This game is rated 'T', and I think it deserves that rating.  I have seen the use of the words 'D*mn' and 'H*ll' used in both text and voice-overs.  There is also alcohol and tobacco use, and the player can choose drink alcohol in certain story events.  There are also a few characters who wear revealing clothing, though thankfully not player characters.  The game even makes fun of the fact that female warriors would wear armor... by poking fun at a lady who joins you for a quest who wears skimpy outfits.  You have the option to ask her if she is cold.  :)  It's also somewhat of a repeating gag, as well.  I have enjoyed the banter of the characters quite a bit so far.

When you get the digital copy of the game, naturally, you only get the game, and cannot share.  This isn't as bad as it sounds, since the game has only one save slot, but that's still the case.  One thing to point out, though, is that digital 3DS games can backup their saves to SD card via the official firmware feature.  So that can actually be a pretty handy perk that makes the digital version worth considering.

On the other hand, the physical copy, especially for pre-orders and first-run purchasers, do get a pretty nice perk as well.  While I always enjoy having something I can hold in my hand when it comes to games (old fashioned, I know), they also give you a neat, if a bit short, picture book, and also an audio CD!  I have always been a huge fan of game music since I was a kid, and I still am.  My poor kids... anyway, I really enjoy the music in this game, and the samples included on the CD are really well done.  It's not a full OST, sadly, but what is included is all music I have enjoyed quite a bit from the game so far.

So, without further adieu, here are the pics:

Etrian Odyssey Untold box

 

Etrian Odyssey Untold opened

 

Etrian Odyssey Untold cd

There is a demo of this game on the 3DS eShop available, and any progress you make can be trransferred to the full game, so there is little risk checking it out.  If you are curious, I would say it is worth it!  I expect a full review to come sometime next month.

 

IBJamon

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My new Android phone

I recently got a new T-Mobile G2.  Any time I get a new gadget, I always investigate its gaming potential, whether it's intended by the device creators or otherwise.  I still remember writing a simple Final Fantasy-like game for my old calculator in High School.  I've also always installed solitaire on even the most basic cellphones when possible, because, well, you never know when you'll need it.

Fortunately, this device doesn't make gaming so hard.  In fact, with the fast CPU, capacitive touch screen, and physical keyboard and trackpad, it doesn't get too much better for a cellphone.  And the Android Market doesn't disappoint when it comes to variety.  And last but most certainly not least, it's not a closed system like an iPhone.  Closed off systems drive me nuts - I will only accept openness, and Android provides that in spades.  But that's perhaps for another blog post.

As for games themselves, I have downloaded around 30 so far, but I have mostly played just a few of them so far.  I have played Angry Birds the most by far.  I highly recommend it.  And since the Android version is ad supported freeware, there is no excuse - grab it now.

Other good ones include Frozen Bubble - which is a classic ported from desktop Linux.  Bonzai Blast is also high quality, as is PewPew.  My wife likes Glow Hockey, and of course I had to load the requisite Solitaire Free Pack.  OpenSudoku is also nice.  Please beware of violence and scantily clad ladies (only in the menus), but Gun Bros. is a very high quality game, which reminds me of Ikari Warriors somewhat.  But I'm not too thrilled with the menu 'decoration', so we'll see how long I keep it on my phone.

I could talk about others also, but suffice it to say that I don't need much more convincing on one point - Nintendo and Sony should definitely continue to make sure that they offer compelling portable gaming experiences that are worth bringing along another device for, because since getting this phone I've been trying game after game, and playing little else.

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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