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.
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.
Thankfully, to make things easier for the consumers, as well as for everyone who is reading this article, the choice of gaming mice should help them pick the one they want. That’s why we went ahead and used mice from every single price group, as well as gaming mice that were tailored to specific people or genre of games like the Razer Naga Hex V2 that is built specifically for the MOBA gamers.
This price range has some reliable standards. You'll get a 15-inch 1920 x 1080 display (in many cases a crisp IPS one), an Intel Core-5 CPU, a 1TB hard drive, medium- sized SSD, or a hybrid 1TB drive. Graphics card choices will be mostly limited to an Nvidia GTX 1050 or GTX 1050 Ti; the latter represents a 15 to 20 percent performance uplift over Nvidia's entry-level GTX 1050 and AMD's Radeon RX 560. It's worth the extra money if you're willing to spend it. All GTX 1050 Ti cards also includes a satisfactory 4GB of VRAM versus the normal 2GB present in most GTX 1050s.
In an effort to produce sleeker, more portable gaming laptops, Nvidia launched an initiative in 2017 named Max-Q, a term borrowed from the aeronautics industry. In that scenario, it describes the maximum amount of aerodynamic stress an aircraft can sustain. Here, it refers to a combination of hardware and software modifications that allow higher-end graphics cards to fit into thinner chassis than traditionally possible. By limiting the power ceiling of cards like the GTX 1080 and GTX 1070, less heat is produced, meaning less room is needed for cooling and heat dissipation.
The G7’s 60 Hz 1920×1080 IPS display was neither the best we tested nor the worst. It made games look good, and the G7’s display looked noticeably better than the G5’s and G3’s screens, which both had a sickly greenish tint. We found that the G7’s screen couldn’t get as bright as those of the other budget gaming laptops we tested, maxing out at 228 nits compared with the Lenovo Y530’s 266 nits and the Asus TUF Gaming FX504GM’s above-average 317 nits. And although it’s not a requirement, we’d love to see a higher-refresh-rate panel available on the Dell G7, since that would make first-person games smoother and more enjoyable.
The storage and memory in the Y530 are upgradable, but it’s a pain in the butt to do so. In contrast to the Dell G7’s and G5’s convenient access panel held in by a single screw, the Y530’s design requires you to remove 11 screws and the entire bottom of the chassis to get inside. And although it’s possible to wedge a small flathead screwdriver into the seam, spudgers will likely make the job easier and reduce the risk of your gouging the laptop. Once inside, you can replace the M.2 PCIe drive or the 2.5-inch hard drive, or add another stick of RAM. The memory is hidden beneath a tiny metal house; our recommended config comes with one 8 GB DIMM and one open slot.
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:
So what hardware is inside? Well, you get the popular Intel Core i7-4720HQ 2.6 GHz processor, capable of handling current games on high settings. The CPU is paired with the excellent and highly-recommended NVIDIA GTX 960M GPU. It's an amazing graphics card that offers high gaming performance at a great price. All that is combined with a very fast 256GB solid-state drive and a high-quality screen. The HP OMEN delivers a very good hardware combination for the price.
The Precision Touchpad was responsive and worked well for standard gestures in our tests, but the G7, like its predecessors, lacks an easy way to disable the trackpad. Every other gaming laptop we’ve tested—except for the Dell G5 and Dell G3—has this feature because pressing the trackpad with your palm while gaming can cause accidental clicks and in-game deaths. We spent hours playing games on the G7 and found that the trackpad’s palm rejection was superb and didn’t cause any accidental clicks. (My hands run cold and rarely sweat, though, so your mileage may vary.) It’s possible (but inconvenient) to disable the trackpad by going into the Device Manager, selecting Human Interface Devices, right-clicking HID-compliant touch pad, and selecting Disable. (Dell, please add an easily accessible toggle to the next iteration.)
So, what’s good about the Chaos Spectrum? Well, there are a lot of things, for starters, you can go from 200 to 12,000 DPI on the fly, and that’s really impressive, do keep in mind that this isn’t just software increase, and the DPI is effectively changed across the board, you get the Spectrum lighting, something that is Logitech’s own version of RGB lighting, and you get the legendary software suite that Logitech is known and loved for. The Chaos Spectrum can be used wirelessly and wired, and just like the Ouroborus, does come with an ambidextrous design.
I just upgraded an older Z170 chipset P870DM3 (which Sager calls the 9873) with 9900K. +100% CPU power upgrade over 6700K. Ran a bench at 4.9ghz allcore this morning. Others have demonstrated the current Z370 P870TM model with >5ghz 9900K. (This same model was DAILYING 8700K at 5Ghz for 6 months before laptop coffeelake came along and boy it was a huge deal when ONE or TWO of the BGA i9's completed a short bench at 5ghz!). Utter beastly pieces of engineering, that make everything BGA else look puny by comparison. For sure they suck at portability, but if you don't place such a high importance on that, and you're talking best performance, this is it
Once you've come back down to earth, consider Dell's Alienware 17 R5. It's widely regarded as one of the highest-performing gaming laptops on the market, and you can spec it out with an Intel Core i9 processor, a GTX 1080 graphics card, and a staggering 32GB of RAM. The laptop weighs in at nearly 10 pounds, and at max specs, it'll cost you a comparatively reasonable $3,500.
Unfortunately, like a lot of gaming mouse out there, the Pro is a great starter pick, but doesn't have any overt strengths. It won't let you down, but it isn't specialized for a particular genre of game, nor is it particularly reliable-feeling or weighty and durable. Even still, if you just want something simple to get started, this is a good choice.
Matte or Glossy: How do you like your displays, glossy or matte? This is more a matter of preference than anything else, but there are die-hard fans for both camps. Team Glossy swears by the vibrant colors, but that shiny surface is very susceptible to annoying glare. Fans of a matte panel don't have to worry about distracting reflections, but some users complain about washed out color and detail.
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