Theoretically, you may find a gaming laptop with an Intel Core i3 or one of AMD's CPUs installed, but those are uncommon: Systems with Intel Core i3 and comparable entry-level AMD processors are certainly capable of playing many games, but why limit yourself from square one? That said, if you have to make the choice between a high-end CPU and a high-end GPU, go for the graphics. For example, we'd recommend getting a Core i5 CPU over a Core i7 if the money saved could then go toward an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 GPU instead of a GTX 1050. Spending the money on the GPU makes more sense than spending it on the CPU if gaming is your main concern.
Wirecutter has spent more than 200 hours over the past five years researching and testing dozens of gaming laptops, and our PC team has more than 37 years of combined experience covering laptops. I’ve personally tested, lived with, and reviewed hundreds of laptops, and I’ve spent hands-on time with countless other models while covering the CES trade show, attending events, and visiting stores. I’ve reviewed most gaming laptops—both budget and high-end—released in the past six years, and I’ve spent thousands of hours gaming on laptops since high school.
One of the typical features that sets apart a gaming laptop is a colorful, backlit keyboard. These vary quite a bit from model to model, with more elaborate backlighting going hand-in-hand with higher prices and a higher general level of other components. Almost all budget gaming laptops will employ single-color backlighting (most often, red or white) to keep costs down. The next step up is lighting programmable by zone, with three or four blocks of the keyboard independently customizable in different colors, but this is not common in budget machines. Keyboards with per-key, individually programmable lighting are the province of high-end machines only.
You can also get a sweet deal by going back in time and looking at laptops with previous-gen CPUs, as they are usually available at fire sale prices and there's not a huge difference in performance between Skylake and Kaby Lake for gaming. You won't be quite as future-proof, but you'll still get several years of great 1080p gaming at a low price. Let's dive into the top picks a cheap gaming laptop:
The ASUS ROG GL502VS-DB71 is a midrange laptop that’s powered by the GTX 1070. It is designed offer an incredible gaming experience to users, although its slight overclocking tendency limits its optimum performance. Since Nvidia’s introduction of the GeForce GTX 10-range GPUs for laptops, they have been gaining positive grounds even with gaming desktops. The ROG GL502VS is among the newest entrants, and it features, alongside the GTX 1070 GPU with Pascal style; a sixth-generation Intel Core i7 processor and 16GB system memory.
Updated Nov. 25 at 5:45 a.m. ET: You can snag some inexpensive gaming laptops for great prices through Cyber Monday. The Lenovo Legion Y530 is on sale for $100 off from Best Buy, while the 15.6-inch Dell G3 can be had for $649 from Walmart — a savings of $350. The Dell G5 is also on sale for $899 from Walmart ($400 off!) A sale at eBay knocks the MSI GL63 down to $969, for a savings of $229. Check out our Cyber Monday hub for more fantastic deals.