John is PCMag's executive editor for hardware. A veteran of the popular tech site and magazine Computer Shopper from 1993 to 2017, he has covered just about every kind of computer gear—from the 386SX to 18-core processors—in his long tenure as an editor, a writer, and an advice columnist. He served as Computer Shopper’s editor in chief from 2008 to... See Full Bio
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.
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!
Gaming systems have higher-end components than run-of-the-mill consumer laptops, so their prices will be consequently higher, but the range across the category is huge: from under a grand to $5,000 and up. The best budget gaming laptops start at $800 and can go up to about $1,250. For that, you get a system that can play games at 1,366-by-768 resolution on high graphics quality settings, or at a full HD (1080p) resolution with the details turned down some. Storage may be a hard drive, or a modest-capacity solid-state drive (SSD).
In case you are wondering why this list is being made, well that’s because the market is saturated right now, and every other company is releasing a gaming peripheral including keyboards, headsets, and mice. While it may seem like a walk in the park for hardcore consumers, for people who don’t have a lot of knowledge about these gaming peripherals, things can somewhat difficult.
We were thoroughly surprised to see the inclusion of the Nvidia GTX 1050 card for a laptop priced just above $500. While it is an entry-level card, it can run current games on lower settings. The GPU is helped along by an equally impressive Intel i5-7300HQ and 8GB of RAM. The laptop is not only a solid choice for gamers, but for users looking to do video and photo editing, and development work, along with other tasks that demand a lot of the systems internal resources.
Of the GTX 1050 or 1050 Ti-powered laptops, the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming is the best-built we’ve seen so far, and it has the best battery life. It stands out in these important areas, and puts in decent gaming performances as well. It’ll manage the latest AAA games at Full HD at Medium settings, and older titles at High. Playing eSports games such as Overwatch? It won’t even break a sweat.
We recommend the $1,250 model with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 Max-Q graphics processor with 6 GB of dedicated memory, an Intel Core i7-8750H processor, 16 GB of RAM, a 128 GB solid-state drive, and a 1 TB hard drive. The G5 is available in black or red, and has a red-backlit keyboard in place of the G7’s blue-accented design. But because of the screen, we recommend the G5 only if the G7 is unavailable.
What’s more, some GeForce GTX 1060, 1070 and 1080 chips are labeled as “Max-Q”, meaning that they operate at a slightly lower frequency than “normal” graphics chips in order to reduce heat and facilitate their integration into thin and lightweight computers (which are not equipped with the same type of substantial cooling system as larger laptops). As a result, the performance of these chips is slightly lower (around 10% lower) than their non-Max-Q counterparts.
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.