I read your article about the best laptop for Minecraft – which is what I’m after – but unfortunately it is two years old, so I assume very out of date in the tech world. We have Minecraft on Xbox but I am told that “mods” (which my son is desperate for) are much simpler/more straightforward to download to a PC version. What would you recommend? Sandra
This is a frequently asked question, so I should probably schedule an annual update. Joakim from Sweden has also asked for a Windows laptop to replace a “quite old” Dell Inspiron 1525 running Minecraft.
One of the nice things about Minecraft is that it’s written in Java, so it runs on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. There is a special version for Microsoft Xbox and Sony PlayStation games consoles, plus Minecraft: Pocket Edition for smartphones, tablets and (free beta) Microsoft Windows 10. Minecraft is therefore available for a very wide range of systems, right down to the Raspberry Pi … though it runs best on powerful desktop PCs with good graphics cards. (See: What’s the best type of machine for playing Minecraft?)
Unfortunately, while most devices can run Minecraft, it’s not easy to run Minecraft well. Java is slow, so Minecraft really needs a powerful processor and plenty of memory. Although the graphics are intentionally blocky, things like viewing distance, textures, lighting effects and “mods” add to the challenge. When the computer doesn’t have enough power, Minecraft runs at a low frame-rate and can become “laggy”.
As a result, the real question is whether a PC will run Minecraft with an acceptable frame rate, given the screen resolution and graphical effects you want. A low-end laptop might run a bare-bones Minecraft with a screen resolution of 854 x 480 pixels at 10 frames per second, or less. A gaming laptop or desktop could run a fancy version at 1920 x 1080 pixels at 120fps or more. There are some benchmarks at the Minecraft Wiki.
In this case, we have a target. The Xbox 360 runs standard, single-player Minecraft in 1280 x 720 pixels at 60fps, which can drop to 30fps. A laptop that can’t provide 25-30fps at the same resolution is going to feel like a backward step. Of course, you need even more power to cope with better effects and mods.
What’s the spec?
If buying a laptop to run Minecraft well, I would aim for a recent Intel Core i5 processor with 4GB or preferably 8GB of memory and a dedicated Nvidia GeForce or AMD Radeon graphics card. A Core i7 should provide better performance, but perhaps not quite enough to justify the extra cost. A Core i3 will not perform as well as a Core i5, but should be more affordable.
Intel has just released Skylake, the sixth generation of Core iX processors, but the fifth-generation Broadwell versions are still worth buying, and fourth-gen Haswell chips may be worth a look. In other words, look for a Core i5-6xxx or Core i5-5xxx processor, if you can afford one, or get a Core i5-4xxx if it’s going cheap. However, avoid the ultra-low voltage Core M versions, including the new m5-6Y54 and m5-6Y57.
Intel has devoted most of its energy to reducing the power consumption of more recent chips, so they run cooler and fit into thinner laptops. As a result, newer chips may not always be much faster than older ones. However, Intel has also been improving its integrated graphics, and with Skylake’s Iris-branded graphics, there’s less reason to insist on a dedicated graphics card. From the specs, it looks as though Broadwell chips with Intel HD Graphics 5500 and, to a lesser extent, Haswell chips with HD 4600 graphics should be usable for Minecraft.
When you’ve come up a shortlist of laptops, search for the processor numbers on Notebookcheck’s Comparison of Mobile Processors (CPU Benchmarks) to see where they come. Higher is obviously better. Aim for the top 200.
The current HP Pavilion 15 looks like a decent entry-level system for running Minecraft on a 15.6in screen. It has a 2.5GHz dual-core Core i3-5157U processor with Iris Graphics 6100, 8GB of memory, a terabyte hard drive and Windows 10 for £379.99. The screen resolution is only 1366 x 768 pixels, but driving more pixels needs more power. (I’ve picked a red Pavilion 15 but other colours are available.)
There’s also a green “gaming” version of the HP Pavilion 15 with a very fast 2.3GHz quad-core Core i5-6300HQ and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 950M graphics card with its own 4GB of memory. It also has Full HD (high definition) screen showing 1920 x 1080 pixels, but the price jumps to £699.95.
Something like the Asus X555LA might be a reasonable compromise. This model has a 2.4GHz dual-core Core i7-5500U with integrated HD Graphics 5500 and 8GB of memory for £499.95. There’s also a slightly older version (May 2015) that comes with Windows 8. This older Asus X555LA has 4GB of memory and a dual-core Core i3-5005U for £320, or a faster dual-core i5-5200U for £399.97. Both these processors have integrated HD 5500 graphics.
Removing a panel on the X555LA’s base reveals a single slot where you can add more RAM. You can also swap the hard drive for an SSD, if you are brave enough to take the back off.
As is usual with Taiwanese suppliers, there are loads of Asus X555 Series laptops with minor variations at a confusing array of prices. However, it’s worth the hunt, because some of them have GeForce graphics cards, which are otherwise hard to find in budget laptops.
Just add this …
Personally, I’d want to play Minecraft with an external mouse and perhaps an external keyboard as well. You can plug accessories into laptop USB ports and raise the screen to a more ergonomic height.
Console gamers may prefer to use an Xbox 360 controller, and there are several ways of remapping the keyboard and mouse keys to use a controller with a laptop. Examples include Minecontrol and Keysticks.
One simple tip for running Minecraft is to avoid running anything else at the same time. Razer Cortex Game Booster takes this to extremes “by automatically shutting off unnecessary processes and applications when you’re gaming, and resuming them when you’re done”.
Magic Launcher for Minecraft lets you allocate more RAM to Java, as well as making it simpler to use mods. It also lets you set the window size smaller, to increase the frame rate.
Finally, there’s the well-known OptiFine mod, which tweaks Minecraft settings to increase the frame rate. This can make Minecraft playable even on older, slower computers.
Have you got another question for Jack? Email it to Ask.Jack@theguardian.com