Wanting to have a convertible 2-in-1 laptop that can handle heavy-duty gaming is like taking your bike to a highway. It’s as if you’re trying to pull the direct opposites of the most portable and the most performant laptops and hoping you’ll get something good in the middle. If these words still didn’t discourage you from searching for the best 2-in-1 laptop gaming laptop – you’re a mad man and I like it.
In this laptop guide, I’ll go through what seems to be a search for an answer to what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. God help us.
But in all seriousness, I’ll cover what we should expect when we’re handling this tricky topic. And at the second half of the article, I’ll drop a list of my recommendations for the best 2-in-1 laptops for gaming as of now (October 2016).
How we’re searching for the Best 2 in 1 laptops for Gaming?
To make sure we’re on the same page, I’ll start with letting you know that I’ll be using a generous definition of a convertible laptop. If it turns, twists or flips – it’s a convertible! If the keyboard can be detached or covered by the display – it’s a 2-in-1! Simple enough.
Since we got this out of our way, I’ll start going through the requirements for this monstrosity and what we should expect out of each spec.
We are looking to find best 2 in 1 laptops for gaming, so our CPU has to be at least i5, but i7 is recommended. But even then we face a problem. 2-in-1 laptops are designed with battery life in mind which leaves them with low-end power efficient CPUs. That’s why in most cases we can only expect i7-6500U tops. If we want to play the latest releases on high settings – this will not be enough. We’ll need an i7 HQ/HK processor (or in very rare circumstances – Intel Xeon). Therefore, i7-6700HQ is the best we can get in our quest for 2-in-1 gaming machine.
Most i7 processors include latest iGPUs (integrated video cards) which can improve your gaming experience by allowing you to run casual games smoothly. Sadly, finding a dedicated GPU for gamer-grade in 2 in 1 convertible laptop is difficult, because GPUs need a good cooling system and they are detrimental to the battery life. That usually goes contrary to the main goal of 2-in-1 convertible laptop – being a ultra portable device.
In short, there are barely any hybrid laptops that can be used for “serious gaming” but there are quite a few that can play latest games on low settings. Something like League of Legends can be run on an integrated graphics chip, so no Nvidia/AMD graphics are needed.
SSDs are not critical to gaming performance (with maybe a few seconds shaved when loading new maps or buffering new areas in-game). But an SSD is very important when it comes to the general experience using a laptop. No matter how fast the CPU is – some applications will take their time to respond if they’re limited by a slow HDD.
The main 4 reasons why an SSD should be used are:
- SSDs are a lot faster and they do not suffer from degrading performance over time
- SSDs are less likely to be damaged in case the laptop falls to the group
- SSDs are silent, cool and power-efficient
- 2-in-1 laptops cannot be upgraded with an SSD down the road
Due to size limitations, we shouldn’t expect an SSD + HDD setup. That means that if you’re going for an SSD – it will need to satisfy all your file storage needs unless you’re OK with using an external drive. And going for a large SSD setup can drive up the price very quickly.
RAM shouldn’t be a problem because most of the convertible laptops include 8 GB RAM already, but if you ever find a cheaper convertible laptop which has 4 GB RAM, keep in mind that for gaming at least 8 GB is recommended.
These days, I’m starting to advocate going for a 16 GB setup if you’re using the laptop for gaming AND heavyweight software (photo/video/audio editing, 3D modeling, etc). For everyone else – 8 GB will be just enough.
By now you should have accepted the idea that trying to have the best of the both worlds is not fully possible. And when it comes to battery life, that means that you can forget about 10-hour battery runtimes if you want a gaming machine.
For a 2-in-1 laptop with upper-class hardware, you can expect no more than 8 hours of juice while running on battery. And that gets severely cut down to ~2-3 hours if you’re using that time for gaming as video games are some of the absolute “best” battery killers.
Best 2 in 1 Laptops for Gaming
This is a really nice deal if you want a large convertible laptop. There even aren’t any tablets like that – 17.3 inches! This is more like a convertible between a laptop and a touch-sensitive table.
All jokes aside, it’s a well-balanced model. It comes with an upper mid-range i7 processor, 12 GB of memory and even a discrete Nvidia graphics card. 940MX is not fast enough to play games on high visual settings but it’s a solid choice for casual gaming. And you should already know that right now there isn’t anything much better than that in the 2-in-1 notebook market.
So why it’s only priced at $900? Slow storage drive. It shouldn’t bother you if you’re in a game, but a slow 5400RPM HDD means you’ll need a minute or two to boot up the laptop as if you’re in 2008. Also, in time, you’ll need to start defragmenting the disk regularly to minimize the eventual slowdown that comes with all hard disks.
There are some configurations you can find that come with an SSD but they’re more expensive and then you might want to consider the next laptop on the list.
For those that don’t know – VAIO used to be a Sony brand. But Sony was having limited success with the laptops and it couldn’t afford the continous investment in the VAIO brand. Japan Industrial Partners bought the VAIO brand.
Now they produce niche high-end laptops. And this time, they have a laptop just for our needs.
If you’d compare all the 2-in-1 laptops – VAIO has the best CPU, by far, of all the convertibles. Intel Core i7-4770HQ is faster than i7-6700HQ and it’s almost as performant as i7-6820HK (without overclocking). In fact, there are no laptops, at the time I’m writing, that are cheaper and have a better processor than this VAIO Z Canvas.
Of course, CPU alone is not enough. It comes with high-end integrated video chip – Intel Iris Pro 5200. But frankly, a high-end aGPU can only be compared to a low/mid-range discrete GPUs. Iris Pro 5200 is very similar to 930MX in performance. That’s underwhelming for a gaming PC. But that’s still OK for a convertible 2-in-1 laptop.
It has a decent battery life, great IPS display (medium brightness, good contrast, very good color space). There are multiple variations and you could get the one with a larger SSD but for many, even 250 GB is enough. And overall, the 250 GB version is a steal. Just remember, it won’t be able to run latest AAA grade games.
Microsoft Surface Book has a dedicated GPU, which allows to even play games at medium settings. So is this the one magic convertible unicorn that can replace your gaming rig? Sorry, no. It’s a bit better at gaming compared VAIO Z Canvas due to a better CPU/GPU balance.
Surface Book has a large and fast PCI-Express SSD, a long battery life, plenty of RA. Also, the display is one of the best in the market.
Just remember not to use the full 3000×2000 resolution for gaming – just go for 1920×1080 or 1600×900.
I’m sorry if you’ve expected to find the ultimate gaming convertible – there aren’t any on the market at the moment. But the 3 I’ve listed are the best.