You'll see both ordinary hard drives and swifter (but lesser-capacity) solid-state drives (SSDs) in under-$1,000 laptops. The occasional 15.6-inch-screen model might offer a small-capacity SSD boot drive alongside a secondary-storage platter hard drive, though this is more common with 17-inch laptops. Opt for this dual-drive approach if you can find it and afford it. The smaller SSD would be home to the operating system and a few favorite games, and the larger, more economical hard drive would host the rest of your games and other programs that don't need quick loading times. (It's indeed possible to split your Steam game library across drives.)
Heat: A gaming laptop’s GPU and CPU produce a lot of heat. Without an effective cooling system, the machine will overheat, which can slow gaming performance, shorten the laptop’s lifespan, or even burn you.1 No gaming laptop can keep completely cool—all that heat has to go somewhere. But it needs to keep its internals, the WASD keys (the most-used section of the keyboard for gamers, as those four keys often control in-game movement), and the left palm rest (where your left hand rests while using the WASD keys) cool. It’s a bit more forgivable for the laptop to get hot in areas with less direct contact with your skin, such as the underside and the strip above the keyboard.
The keyboard is said to have quite a bit of flex, taking away from the VivoBook F510UA-AH51’s premium feel. ASUS have fitted the laptop with a 1920 X 1080 IPS NanoEdge display, which has an awesome 80 percent screen-to-body ratio. ASUS have cut some corners with the storage, opting for a slow 1TB 5400RPM HDD as opposed to an SSD. This is going to make applications and boot times rather slow and tedious sadly, but the other hardware does compensate for this.
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.
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060: Laptops with 1060 cards can play taxing games like Mass Effect: Andromeda or Witcher 3 without sacrificing some of the cooler visual eye candy, including water reflections and natural-looking hair at 1920 x 1080. You might have to tweak the settings a bit at 4K, but not too much. Even better, you can hook up your Rift or Vive headset up for a mobile plug-and-play VR experience.
We also liked that the laptop, despite its very thin 0.8 inches, features a lot of connectivity. You get two USB 2.0, two USB 3.0, a LAN jack, HDMI, plus a card reader. It's a great setup, leaving no modern ports left to be desired. Speaking of modern, the ASUS Metal also sports a very good anti-glare display, plus dual fan cooling to keep the laptop running smooth during gaming sessions.
This affordable Omen is only packing a GTX 1050 GPU, but it's fairly loaded otherwise, and is also available in several different configurations too. Its storage in particular is pretty great, with a 256GB PCIe SSE for your OS and a 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive for data and games. It's sporting a sufficient 12GB of RAM, and a very decent Intel Core i7-7700HQ Quad Core Processor. You may or may not be a fan of its "faux carbon fiber" trim, but the red backlight on the keyboard is pretty slick. Also, if you ditch the SSD and can live with 8GB of RAM, it's even cheaper.
MSI - MSI’s gaming laptops are often big, black and red, though the company’s recent Stealth Thin showed it can do something more subdued as well. Of course, you’ll always notice the trademark dragon logo. MSI includes its Dragon Center software, which recently went through a redesign. It allows for system monitoring, multiple performance profiles, controlling the fans and customizing keyboard backlighting.
We recommend the model with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 Max-Q graphics processor with 6 GB of dedicated memory, an Intel Core i7-8750H processor, 8 GB of RAM, and a 256 GB solid-state drive. This configuration usually costs around $1,200, in line with the other laptops we considered with similar specs. The G7 is available in black or white; we prefer black because the white lid on our unit scuffed a bit during our testing, but they cost the same, so follow your heart.
The Y530 kept its GPU among the coolest, along with our other picks, at 160°F (71 °C) after 30 minutes of Overwatch and 163 °F (73 °C) after the same time playing The Witcher 3. Its CPU hit 207 °F (97 °C) in both tests, which is about average and what we expect to see in this category. (That may seem extremely hot, but it’s not cause for alarm for these processors.)
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.
That said, a maxed-out Core i7 CPU is less crucial for gaming than it is for processor-intensive tasks such as video editing and media-file production work. With current-generation Intel CPUs, you'll get plenty of pep even from a four-core "Coffee Lake"/8th Generation Core i5. A Core i7 of the same generation is actually a hefty six-core/12-thread processor that, we'd argue, is overkill for casual gamers who need to mind what they spend. So, our bottom line: Opt for a Core i5 or i7 chip with four true cores if you can; a six-core chip is gravy.
When buying a gaming notebook, get one that will last you for a few years. If you can afford it, get at least an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 for basic VR support. That choice is more important than RAM and the CPU, though you should pay attention to those as well. Storage is the most likely to be upgradeable, but more is better, as games take up a lot of space. Decide if you prefer high resolutions or faster displays and consider what software will be helpful to you, but realize that you won’t get great battery life. How all of those work together determines just how well a gaming notebook does on the Tom’s Hardware test bench.
After spending more than 40 hours researching and testing 10 budget gaming laptops in late 2018, we found that the Dell G7 15 Gaming is the best one you can get. It’s an excellent value, and its Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 Max-Q graphics card will play games on high to medium settings for years. It keeps its most-touched surfaces and components cool enough during long gaming sessions, and it has no dealbreaking flaws.
At the moment, the most widely used display panel technology is IPS, which offers better color rendition and better viewing angles than TN display panels. Moreover, while the vast majority of displays operate at 60 Hz, there are a few displays – like the one on the Acer Helios 500 – which operate at 120 to 144 Hz. Some displays are even G-Sync compatible, making them immune to “tearing” effects.
As with every product that we review, we put these PC peripherals through their paces with lots of real-world testing. In other words, we locked ourselves away in a cool, dark room with a sufficient supply of snacks and caffeine drinks and played all kinds of games – strategy, FPS, RPG and beyond – until our fingers were little more than withered stumps.
The large 5400 RPM mechanical hard drive is slow, but with 1TB of storage space you will be able to save tons of movies, music and files. It comes with two USB 3.1 ports and one USB 2.0 port, and it has a moderate battery life of around 6 hours. The keyboard is not backlit, but most have noted that it is comfortable to use at least. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about the touchpad, with many stating a mouse is a must.
As we noted earlier, 15.6 inches is the general size rule for most under-$1,000 gaming laptops. This size is a good compromise in ways that extend beyond cost. Sometimes, gaming on the biggest laptop screen possible—and with a few exotic exceptions, that's the 17-inch class—is the way to go. But if you've ever tried carrying one of these machines, or shopped for a laptop bag that can fit both it and its gigantic power adapter, you may have second thoughts. Most of these notebooks weigh eight pounds or more.
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.
That's because the Asus ROG Strix GL502 comes packing a brilliant and vibrant 1,920 x 1,080 IPS screen and then pairs it with some superb, top-tier gaming hardware. An Intel Core i7 processor and Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070, along with 16GB of DDR4 RAM makes short work of any title at that resolution (and often consistently surpass 60fps!) and makes playing games a totally stress-free experience in terms of performance.
Also look at the key layout. Models with an isolated cluster of arrow keys or well-defined WASD keys get bonus points, in our book. Also, because most budget gaming laptops are 15.6-inch models, check for a dedicated number pad to the right of the main key area, if you prefer to have one—or not, for that matter. Some machines of this screen size will have one, some won't. (A 17-inch laptop almost invariably will, however.)
We tested the laptops using BioShock Infinite’s benchmarking mode and by playing half an hour of The Witcher 3 on ultra with VSync off. We measured the laptops’ internal temperature using HWMonitor and measured the surface temperature at various points on the keyboard and underside using an IR thermometer. We tested each laptop’s screen using some of the Lagom LCD monitor test pages, and used each for several workdays to get a feel for its keyboard, trackpad, screen, and speakers.
The SteelSeries Rival 700 isn’t your average gaming mouse. While you’ll find an accurate 16,000 DPI sensor, a comfortable design and RGB lighting, the Rival is actually equipped with a vibrating motor and OLED screen. This allows the Rival 700 to integrate with games such as Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, providing feedback to the user that may otherwise go unnoticed.
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:
Of course, this is an entry-level gaming laptop and you should expect that some games have to be played on medium settings. However, you can expand this laptop later. For example, it has a second RAM slot for additional memory and an m.2 slot for a solid-state drive. Overall, this is a very good budget laptop with plenty of features at a great price point.
The E 15 offers a max resolution of 1920×1080, although this will need to be set to 1366 x 768 to retain a frame rate of over 30fps when playing more demanding games. The NVIDIA GeForce 940MX offers slightly better performance than a 940M card and, unlike some of its competitors, the Aspire E 15 E5-575G-57D4 features faster GDDR5 video memory instead of GDDR3. Acer have also fitted the Aspire E 15 E5-575G-57D4 with the latest generation Intel Core i5-7200U processor, which is powerful enough to handle more hardware intensive apps and games.
In our tests, the Legion Y530 kept its WASD keys on the cooler side at 101 °F (38 °C) after half an hour of Overwatch. The Asus TUF Gaming FX504GE-ES72 kept its WASD keys coolest at 94°F (34 °C), but the Y530’s keys didn’t feel uncomfortable for long gaming sessions, just a bit warm. The area where my palm rested near the trackpad reached 105 °F (41 °C); that’s a bit warmer than we’d like, but it wasn’t uncomfortable.
Video memory: Another spec to consider is VRAM—a graphics processor’s dedicated video memory. The GTX 1060 and GTX 1060 Max-Q both come in two versions: one with 3 GB of VRAM, the other with 6 GB. (The GTX 1050 Ti appears to have only one version with 4 GB.) How much VRAM you need depends on the resolution you’re using (1080p in this case), the games you play, and the settings you play them at. Most games don’t need more than 4 GB of VRAM at 1080p, but some games do—and the list has doubtless grown since this 2015 TweakTown article published. Since the lower-VRAM options don’t often cost less, we focused on laptops with 4 GB or 6 GB of VRAM; they’ll play more games at higher settings for longer.
Dell recently phased out its entry-level gaming-laptop series in favor of something more exciting and powerful. Meet the G7 15. Visually, the G7 15 is cut from a different cloth than either the Inspiron or the Alienware brands, giving the laptop an identity of its own. And it offers solid overall performance for all your multitasking needs. But more importantly, thanks to its Max-Q GTX 1060, you can expect good frame rates on AAA titles on medium to high settings.