Excitedly anticipating ARM-powered gaming laptops.

Cyberpunk 2077 running on the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

Indeed, it sounds absurd. Ridiculous. Contradictory.

Apple certainly won’t manufacture a gaming notebook, and the current variety of Windows laptops running on Qualcomm aren’t exactly high performers.

However, after engaging in some gaming on a MacBook Pro, I can’t help but imagine how exceptional ARM-based gaming notebooks could be — and how exasperating the current technology is at present. It may be a couple of years away, but one can surely daydream, can’t they?

The issue with gaming notebooks

The power adapter plugged into the Razer Blade 14.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

Gaming notebooks have made significant progress in just the recent few years. Spearheaded by offerings like the Razer Blade, we’ve witnessed the emergence of a fresh category of gaming notebooks — devices that are compact, premium, and potent. Consider the ROG Zephyrus G14, for instance. It boasts an OLED display, an all-aluminum construction, and exceptional performance — despite being more compact than a MacBook Pro. That’s remarkable. And it’s not an exception either.

As remarkable as notebooks like these are, they come with inevitable shortcomings when compared to other notebooks. From my standpoint, there are three significant ones: warmth, fan noise, and battery life. As gaming notebooks have become slimmer and more compact, it has impacted surface temperatures. Nothing is more unpleasant and vexing than an overly warm keyboard and palm rest during gaming. Sure, you can always connect an external keyboard, but then, you’re hardly utilizing the device as a notebook.

One of the best instances of a gaming notebook that figured out how to bypass this issue is the ROG Flow Z13. It’s a 2-in-1 akin to the Surface Pro, implying that all the internals of the computer are located behind the display, not under the keyboard. It’s a distinctive solution, no doubt, but it underscores how challenging of a problem it is to resolve in the conventional clamshell design.

Halo Infinite being played on the ROG Flow Z13.
Digital Trends

However, even in that scenario, you encounter the second two issues of irritating fan noise and unsatisfactory battery life. Battery life has been a concern with x86 notebooks compared to ARM notebooks for years, and it’s an even more significant concern for gaming notebooks. In truth, battery performance stands out as one of the key accomplishments of MacBooks in their current era. Not only do they endure forever, but you don’t have to worry whether your game or application is running at half-speed when away from the outlet.

Nevertheless, fan noise might be the most aggravating of all these concerns. You don’t want your new notebook to feel like it’s on the brink of a meltdown. Forget about gaming in public venues or even without headphones. I suppose I’d choose loud fans over hot surface temperatures (or poor performance), but it would certainly lead to a more enjoyable gaming experience.

One of the most vivid instances of this came up recently as I attempted to play Fortnite on a MacBook Air. While the performance wasn’t outstanding, being able to actually play the game on a completely silent notebook was eye-opening for me. Paired with the impressive speakers on the MacBook Air, I ended up relishing the gaming experience without headphones entirely. That stands in stark contrast to the experience on gaming notebooks presently.

Addressing these issues with the current hardware is unattainable. It’s a physics quandary that can’t be unraveled. It’s a challenge that only a significant advancement in efficiency can resolve — something on the scale of transitioning to ARM processors. But is that even feasible?

More than an improbable idea

A laptop and a camera on a table with a Qualcomm logo on the screen.
Qualcomm

In 2021, reports surfaced regarding the potential of ARM gaming PCs. MediaTek, one of the largest consumers of ARM-based chips, issued a peculiar statement to the media about how all of this could come to fruition.

“MediaTek is the world’s largest provider of ARM chips, used to power a variety of devices such as smartphones, Chromebooks, and smart TVs,” mentioned MediaTek CEO, Rick Tsai, in an interview with Engadget. “We are excited to apply our technology and collaborate with Nvidia to bring the power of GPUs to the ARM PC platform for gaming, content creation, and more. GPU acceleration will be a significant enhancement for the entire ARM ecosystem.”

However, circumstances were different in 2021. Since then, Nvidia’s attempted acquisition of ARM failed to materialize, and subsequent to that, the topic has gone quiet. Not a single ARM notebook has been released with a discrete GPU. MediaTek hasn’t made significant inroads into higher-tier Windows PCs either. In actuality, very few ARM notebooks have been launched since that time.

Meanwhile, Apple has continued to escalate its own ARM MacBooks, highlighted most notably by the M3 Max this past year. The commendable GPU performance, in particular, made gaming AAA games like Baldur’s Gate 3 or Lies of P not just viable — but satisfying. Despite an array of native games not being available yet, performance is no longer the primary obstacle. It was achieving something with Windows notebooks that MacBooks were never able to, prompting me to question if Microsoft will ever catch up.

Halo running on a MacBook Pro.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

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