Simply put: You won't find high-end dedicated graphics in gaming laptops under a grand. But times have changed, and lower-end graphics chips here in 2018 have caught up to most games and to the screen resolutions of most mainstream gaming laptops. With a little compromising, you can enjoy some very respectable gaming at 1080p in machines a notch or two down from the GeForce GTX 1070 and GTX 1080 elite, with models starting as low as $800. Budget-priced gaming laptops are now an established category, not outliers, and have been embraced by the major players. We've tested models from Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and MSI.
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:
Fortunately for anyone interested in acquiring a gaming laptop with decent battery autonomy, there are a number of models on the market that have highly optimized hardware configurations like the Asus ROG Strix Hero II (which has almost 5 hours of autonomy), the Acer Predator Helios 300 (approximately 6 hours 50 minutes of autonomy) or the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 (around 7 hours of autonomy). This last computer takes advantage of Nvidia’s Max-Q design in order to allow its GeForce GTX 1060 graphics chip to consume less power while remaining fully capable of gaming in Full HD. The Alienware 13 (OLED) also has a battery autonomy in excess of 7 hours (tested using office software).
Still, unless you're attempting to become a professional gamer or get ranked globally in a particular popular title, a 60Hz screen will suffice. Nearly all gamers are still "stuck" with 60Hz displays, after all. High-refresh panels aren't common in budget machines, but they are worth knowing about, as we expect them to trickle down into under-$1,000 machines soon.
Powerful hardware isn’t the only consideration. A gaming laptop’s processor and graphics card produce a lot of heat, and if the laptop doesn’t have an effective cooling system, it can overheat. The laptop also needs a good keyboard and solid build quality. Even though Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 1070 can run games on high settings at 4K resolution, we still recommend 1080p displays because 4K screens are currently too expensive for most of our readers.
The HP pavilion 17 1BQ14UA 17.3-inch has not received much criticism about its touchpad or keyboard, but one user did point out that the there is no light indicating when the Numpad is on, and their is no light indicating that the laptop is on, which one usually finds on the actual power button. The battery life of around 5 hours is average, so you will need to be near an outlet if you plan on using your laptop away from home. The speakers are also positioned at the bottom of the laptop, which is said to dull down the overall audio quality.
Without more overclocking, there is a noticeable distinction in notebooks, mainly because Kaby Lake models have clock of a few hundred MHz more than their Skylake equivalent. Although, for a price- performance causes, we don’t think you have mistaken with taking an older notebook. The GPU is the main factor in most of the games, and even the Core i7-6700HQ is more than enough for the coming few years.
You're essentially paying $30 more here for the wireless ability compared to the wired version of the G403 Prodigy, and that's the most important aspect to consider. While the $70 G403 stands out as one of Logitech's more affordable feature-focused mice, the wireless edition packages that same functionality with the added flexibility of using a USB dongle and ditching the wire. Rudimentary testing revealed very impressive response for a wireless mouse, so we think the added flexibility is worth it.
At the top of the gaming laptop pantheon are full-size "luggable" desktop replacement laptops. While these are still laptops in the strictest sense, they are essentially made to be portable desktops rather than lap computers or even a machine meant to be used away from mains power for an extended period of time. This allows them to use component choices you couldn't do in proper laptops, improving performance at the cost of weight.
These budget systems typically won't include a lot of gamer bling like customizable RGBs and multi-zone keyboard lighting. Many will cut necessary cost corners by using a plastic chassis instead of aluminum, and you won't see sexy thin bezels like those on the MateBook Pro or Dell XPS 13. You'll also get, at minimum, 3 USB ports, an HDMI output and standard headphone jacks.
All right, let's talk about higher-end affordable gaming laptops: Spending a little extra will give you two things: First, your gaming laptop will perform much better for high-end games on max settings. Second, your laptop will be much more future-proof so that you can enjoy games a few years down the line. In short, if you have a little extra budget, it's definitely a smart choice to get one of the higher-spec gaming laptops reviewed below. Let's talk details!
Cheaper gaming systems today are equipped with lower-tier cards like the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050, GTX 1050 Ti, or GTX 1060, but these modern budget cards are surprisingly effective. You'll be able to play smoothly in HD, just not at the very highest settings in newer games. These may be budget systems, but this generation of entry-level graphics chips is fairly capable, so don't be too worried that you won't be able to play most games moderately well. Virtual-reality gaming may be a stretch in this price range, but the GTX 1060 is the least expensive VR-capable card, so some laptops at the higher end of this price range will (just) get you in the door.
You'll see guides from 2017 or even from this year still recommending laptops with Nvidia's 900 series mobile GPUs, for example the 950M or 960M. Don't settle for these. Nvidia's Pascal architecture in its 10-Series graphics cards is a huge leap forward in performance and power efficiency. You may save $50 to $75 on these systems, but you won't save yourself a few years of disappointment.
Here’s the deal: You don’t need to spend a lot of money to play awesome games! But with hundreds of options, finding a powerful and affordable gaming laptop can be tricky. That’s why we’ve created this expert buying guide to show you the best cheap gaming laptops you can buy! We’ve researched over 40 new products and selected the top budget laptops. All of them offer a great mix of performance and value. Ready? Let’s do this!
Why a laptop right now? With both desktop graphics card and RAM prices still inflated well over MSRP, the notebook space has never looked more attractive. A year or two ago, the price gap between desktops and laptops with comparable performance was significant. That's changing, and now we're paying an almost insignificant convenience tax to have desktop performance in a portable form.
When it comes to GPUs, NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 10-series have made it possible for manufacturers to trim down the overall size of gaming laptops without sacrificing features like battery life, making them powerful and portable. AMD's also basically non-existent in the mobile space these days too, so if you're shopping for a cheap gaming laptop you're probably getting one with an Nvidia GPU under the hood.
"Love it!...Good Mouse...It's especially frustrating if you're using a laptop, like myself, which doesn't have very many usb ports to choose from....The up to 12,000 dpi sensor technology in the G series optical mice is impressive, and honestly I would recommend anyone who spends a decent amount of time in spreadsheets or especially diagramming using a mouse purchase a gaming mouse for those uses as well - the high quality sensors make those jobs much easier."
With their powerful components, colorful designs and premium prices, gaming laptops are a different beast than typical mainstream notebooks. And they need to be if you want to play demanding games like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Grand Theft Auto V, explore virtual worlds with either the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift and enjoy smooth gameplay on high frame rates. They're also a different beast when it comes to design, offering chassis with more aggressive lines and multicolor keyboards.
Minimal Portability (17 - 18 inches): If you plan to keep your laptop in your home and leave it on your desk or just move it between rooms, a system with a 17 or 18-inch display like the Alienware 17 should be fine. Laptops in this size range are usually the most powerful, because they have plenty of room for heat-generating components. However, they're heavy to carry, a tough fit for most bags and too power-hungry to use unplugged for very long.
Along with our quarterly laptop guide, near the end of every year we also like to take a look at the state of the gaming laptop market. With a much more cyclical upgrade cycle, gaming laptops tend to evolve in lockstep with the major components inside them. For the gaming laptop market, this includes not only more powerful CPUs, but also more unique (for a laptop) components like discrete video cards, mechanical keyboards, and perhaps an IPS panel or high-refresh TN display. All of which come together to make a breed of laptop that is very different from the kinds of machines that define the mainstream and professional markets.
The Acer Predator Helios 300 has Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 graphics and a 144 Hz high-refresh-rate display, but its WASD keys reached 110.2 °F, the hottest of any budget gaming laptop we tested this year, even with Acer’s Cooler Boost software enabled. Its fans sounded high pitched and a bit grating, it had a poor 3.5-hour showing in our battery life tests, and it comes with too much bloatware.
Ross Rubin of Fast Company featured insights from Andrew Coonrad regarding the mechanical gaming keyboard market in his feature article, “The Mechanical Keyboards Of Yesteryear Are Back - And Better Than Ever.” Ross shared, “while dozens of small keyboard makers make only mechanical keyboards aimed largely at the video game market, Logitech is a keyboard giant that caters to a market beyond purists.
Christopher Coke of PC Perspective published his review of the Logitech G PRO Gaming Headset, awarding it PC Perspective’s Gold Award. He shared, “with pro gamers now competing in million dollar tournaments and filling out stadiums of their own, PC gaming peripherals are going to the way of Nike, inextricably tying themselves to competitive gaming with marketing and team sponsorships."
The Lenovo Legion Y530 is the Porsche of budget gaming laptops. Its minimalist design and blackout color scheme give it a suave look you'd associate with tuxedo-clad, big-screen villains. Outside of its stately good looks, you get a gaming notebook that offers a wide range of ports and a solid graphics card. It's a very good choice for casual gamers who want a sub-$1,000 laptop with a button-up design that can blend in -- and even impress -- no matter the setting.