Avram Piltch is Tom's Hardware's editor-in-chief. When he's not playing with the latest gadgets at work or putting on VR helmets at trade shows, you'll find him rooting his phone, taking apart his PC or coding plugins. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram developed many real-world benchmarks, including our laptop battery test.
Cheap gaming laptops are as mythical as unicorns in the eyes of most gamers and finding them online can be a real chore. We spend hours of research every week scouring the web for the best gaming laptops under $500 and list them right here for anyone on the hunt for a new mobile machine. Our top level guide to the best gaming laptops of 2017 /2018 also offers an overview of all budget netbook hardware if you need to compare specs for any laptop.
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.
With the specially designed island-style keyboard, equipped with red-backlit scissor-switch key, the ASUS FX502 offers the user a big 1.6 mm travel distance. The larger the distance, the better keystroke tactical feedback. Even more, for user suitability the WASD keys are also highlighted. Not only that this keyboard is a good choice for gamers, it also offers easy usage for college students and coding computer programmers.
Nvidia Max-Q Design - Nvidia has teamed with laptop manufacturers to create Max-Q, a new design specification which focuses on efficiency rather than performance. Essentially downclocking Nvidia GPUs can place a powerful 1080 GPU into the 0.5-inch thick Asus ROG Zephyrus. With less power being consumed, the system is producing less heat, which means the fans aren't being used as much. That means you get a system that's cooler and quieter than your typical gaming laptop and nearly as powerful. Max-Q designed GPUs will include the 1060, 1070 and 1080 GPUs.
At the mid-range we see laptops with either the NVIDIA GTX 1060, or for a bit more money, a GTX 1070, both of which are a powerful gaming GPU in a mobile form factor. ASUS offers the Republic of Gamers branding Strix lineup, and the GL504 model is their 15.6-inch range. Featuring the GTX 1060 in the GL504GM, and GTX 1070 in the GL504GS models, there's a wide range of performance here depending on budget. ASUS offers either the Intel Core i5-8300H quad-core, or the Core i7-8750H hex-core CPU, and up to 32 GB of DDR4 RAM support. There's a full range of SSD choices, and you can of course also fit it with a HDD for extra space.
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Take your PC gaming on the go with a laptop. A good gamer laptop will outpace the newest gaming consoles when it comes to sheer computing power, but you can also enjoy a great gaming experience with many low-to-mid-tier gaming laptops. A key element for the best PC gaming experience is computing power, so good gaming laptops are usually more powerful than standard laptops.
A laptop based around the next-step-up GeForce GTX 1060, meanwhile, is ideal for no-compromise 1080p gaming. We've seen GTX 1060-based gaming rigs priced anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000. The biggest values are likely to be found in this lot, and the GTX 1060 is the baseline for using your laptop with a virtual reality (VR) headset. (See our picks for the best laptops for VR.)
The G3 15 has its downsides, including a Full-HD display that isn’t as bright as we’d like, frame rates that struggle to reach 60 fps on top-tier games, and a weight exceeding five pounds (although it’s not as massive as some gaming laptops). But when we compared it to the Acer Nitro 5, another budget gaming laptop we like, with an even lower price point, there was no contest. The G3 15 posted stronger benchmarks and battery life. In particular, its GTX 1050 Ti graphics showed the limitations of the Nitro 5's mere GTX 1050. Nothing wrong with the Nitro 5, but if you can afford the G3 15 we tested, it's the better choice. Read our full review.
It includes one of the fastest graphics engines you can find anywhere in the mobile range and this implies that with the butter smooth FPS you can play any game. The Grant Theft Auto 5 performed ~60FPS when played at ultra settings while the Witcher 3 performed ~63FPS when played on the same settings. Its hardware delights the senses for the gaming experience.
Like the Dell G7, the Legion Y530 has a 15-inch 1920×1080 IPS display with a 60 Hz refresh rate. But the Y530’s small bezels set it apart from other cheap gaming laptops, making games feel more immersive and allowing the whole laptop to be smaller. The Y530’s display looked better than those of other laptops in its price range like the Dell G3 and Acer Nitro 5, which had green and blue color tints. The Y530’s screen was also among the brightest we tested at 266 nits, beaten only by the exceptionally bright screens of the more expensive Asus TUF Gaming FX504GM and Acer Predator Helios 300.
Know that the presence or absence of a dedicated control utility is a big differentiator between low-end and high-end gaming mice. Some cheap gaming mice will come with no software of their own. Without such a utility, you'll be able to customize mouse commands only within a game (via its in-game menus) or in Windows' own mouse settings. That's not necessarily a bad thing; just know what you are getting, or not getting.
Price: You can get a great budget gaming laptop for less than $1,300, but you do have to spend more than $800. As of late 2018, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 Max-Q graphics processor offers the best price-to-performance ratio. You can find this GPU in laptops under $1,300, and it will play many new games on high settings at 1080p. The GTX 1060 is only 10 to 15 percent faster, according to Nvidia, and most laptops with full GTX 1060 graphics were outside of our price range. The GTX 1050 Ti is a decent option in laptops under $900, but it’s 60 percent slower than the GTX 1060, according to Laptop Mag. Although you could save a few hundred dollars now by choosing the GTX 1050 Ti, it won’t play new games on high settings for as many years, and you’ll likely want to upgrade sooner. We recommend saving up for a laptop with a GTX 1060 Max-Q if possible. You can’t get a good gaming laptop for less than $800—the graphics processors they come with (Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 or worse) can’t handle current AAA games at high settings, let alone future games.
If the Dell G7 is unavailable, we recommend the very similar Dell G5 15 Gaming instead. It’s nearly identical to the G7, but the model we tested had a worse-looking screen with a greenish color tint, angled vents instead of rounded ones, and a red backlight on the keyboard instead of blue. Although we were able to test only the GTX 1050 Ti model, Dell confirmed to us that the G5 and G7 have identical thermal setups when configured with the same graphics card.
The Dell G7 had the loudest fans of the budget gaming laptops we tested (except for the nearly identical Dell G5), and their whooshing drowned out in-game dialogue, forcing me to crank up the volume or put on headphones to hear. But the fan noise was an issue only when I was playing games—the G7 was dead silent when I used it for a full day of work—so it shouldn’t be a problem while you’re taking notes during class or browsing the Web.
A guide to getting the best gaming laptop under $500 can be a little tricky because of the budget constraint. But thanks to our team of experts, it’s finally here. Irrespective of whether you are a student, a household, an employee, or a developer, there is one common aspect which everyone uses their laptop for. Any guesses? Well, it is undoubtedly the gaming caliber of a laptop of which every user aspires about. Not all the laptops out in the market can be justified as a gaming machine, and not everyone can afford the expensive gaming laptops. Therefore, we have brought you the best available budget laptops in the market which are ideal for gaming along with all other day-to-day activities.
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080: This is the card to beat. During our testing, gaming laptops outfitted with a 1080 GPU routinely top the category average on high-end games such as Rise of the Tomb Raider and Grand Theft Auto V with the special effects settings and resolution turned all the way up. And of course, Nvidia 1080 can easily support all your virtual-reality adventures. Just be prepared to shell out a pretty penny, since 1080s are only found in high-end systems like the Razer Blade Pro or the Acer Predator 17X.
RAM: Gaming can be RAM intensive, and 8GB is what we recommend for even average productivity tasks. If you can, you should go for 16GB on a gaming PC. A laptop with a GTX 1050 or 1050 Ti usually comes with 8GB. Once you get to a GTX 1060 or higher, some will come with 16GB of RAM. If you can’t get your laptop with 16GB of RAM now, consider upgrading it in the near future. Memory is upgradeable in many gaming laptops, so this is an area that you can consider boosting later if you’re handy with a screwdriver.
The connectivity, which is of various forms, is superb. The laptop has three USB 3.0 ports, a USB 3.1 Type C, a mini display port, a HDMI port, an Ethernet jack. It also has a mic-in, headphone and line out jacks, and an SD card reader. The system also comes with Bluetooth features and 802.11ac Wi-Fi features for connectivity and a 1.2MP HD camera.
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.
These affordable gaming laptops are all either currently on special or are serious bargains in their own right, offering some ball busting deals for the budget mobile gaming connoisseur. Although we’ve tried to keep all our options under the $500, in some cases saving up a bit more can lead to a serious boost in performance, and in these cases we’ve snuck in a few good gaming laptops under $600 to keep your options open if you want the best value for your money in terms of raw performance.
As you might expect, a $1,300 gaming laptop won’t perform as well as a top-of-the-line one—but not everyone has $2,000 to spend on a high-end gaming laptop. Our cheaper gaming laptop picks can still play many AAA games on high settings at 1920×1080 resolution, with exceptions for very new or demanding games such as Shadow of the Tomb Raider or Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. It’ll serve you well for classic games and less-demanding modern ones like Overwatch, Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds, or Doom (2016), and you can expect it to play most games on at least medium settings for the next few years.
The graphics card is the heart of your gaming experience and is one of the first and foremost things that you need to check out. If you intend to play high-end games at maximum resolution, then choosing a gaming laptop with a powerful graphics card is a necessity. If you don’t need top-of-the-line performance, an entry-level GPU will do the trick. It all comes down to personal preference and the type of games that you would be playing on your laptop. High-end games such as The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Watch Dogs 2, Mass Effect: Andromeda, Assassin's Creed: Origins, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and Battlefield 1 require an advanced and powerful graphics card to play them at maxed-out settings. It helps the laptop handle the intense frame-rate and rendering that such advanced games require. Game makers are constantly coming up with games that are better than the ones that came earlier. With the level of video games’ graphics constantly on the rise, it is essential to get a laptop with a good graphics card to make your games run seamlessly.