It's tax refund season (hopefully!) and you may be shopping for an affordable gaming laptop that can handle not just e-Sports and lightweight games, but demanding AAA titles as well. That system is easy to find when you throw more than $1000 at it, but lower your budget to $850 and the search becomes more challenging. The awesome news is that they're out there, and I've rounded up 4 that won't leave you with buyer's remorse.
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.
Well, the laptop offers much more than just the strong chassis. Starting with the display, it comes with the HD 15.6-inch display with touch support enabling users to play touch-based games on this laptop. However, the display isn’t the best in terms of color accuracy, and it also doesn’t get bright enough to use comfortably in direct sunlight. However, the laptop is a well-built machine which manages to resist everyday wears and tears.

For many years, the term “gaming laptop” referred to a highly powerful, exceedingly expensive, very large, and extravagant looking computer that usually had very limited battery autonomy. It was more or less equivalent to a high-end desktop computer that had the advantage of being portable (and which was generally used to showcase its manufacturer’s most advanced hardware).

On the AMD side of the fence, the on-chip graphics solutions in the company's A8-, A10-, and A12-series processors are pretty good (as integrated graphics go). As a result, you'll see almost no AMD-based laptops under $1,000 with dedicated graphics. That's because the presence of an AMD CPU, in the first place, is usually a low-price play by the laptop maker. Adding a GPU would just bump up the price.
But we assume you want to do more than harvest potato mines and pea-shooters—you have a Steam account, and you ache to play some of the latest AAA titles: the newest rev of the Battlefield series, the latest Tom Clancy-fest, the newest iteration of Tomb Raider or Far Cry. That's where a dedicated graphics chip comes in. It's the starting point for getting serious about gaming on a notebook.

The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 950M might be from the previous generation of NVIDIA GPUs, but don’t let this fool you, it is still capable of running some of the best games from 2017 on medium to high settings. While it might feature an older GPU, the same can’t be said about its new seventh generation Intel Core i5-7200U processor. You also get 8GB of DDR4 RAM which offers better performance than the older DDR3 RAM used by older laptops.
Storage: Hard drive or SSD? Why not both? Some budget gaming laptops will come with only a hard drive (usually 1TB), but the majority of gaming notebooks also include a small SSD to serve as a boot drive. It’s not uncommon to see a 128GB SSD and 1TB HDD working in tandem. If you can get a larger SSD you may see decreased loading times, but that will also cost you quite a bit more money. Make sure you get a faster, 7,200-rpm HDD as opposed to a 5,400-rpm HDD.
Best Portability (13 - 14 inches): If you're constantly on the move, you'll want to consider 13 or 14-inch laptops like the Razer Blade. Notebooks in this size range typically weigh under 5 pounds and tend to have longer battery lives with an average endurance of 7 hours and 38 minutes. However, 13 and 14-inch gaming laptops usually don't come with the most powerful CPU or GPU, because they just don't have enough space to dissipate all that heat.
Gaming laptops are special because of the performance they manage to pack in a small body. You not only have to consider how they perform now, but ensure they’re future-proofed for at least a couple of years. Unlike desktop PCs you can’t easily or cheaply upgrade the specification of a gaming laptop. Paying for that extra performance now is often sensible in the long term.
The Asus TUF Gaming FX504GM has Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 graphics and a high-refresh-rate 120 Hz display, and in our tests it kept its WASD keys cool enough. But we found that it suffered from a rattly trackpad, a poor three-hour battery life, and terrible speakers, and it’s much harder to upgrade than the Dell G7—you have to remove 11 screws and take off the whole underside of the chassis, as opposed to the G7’s single screw and convenient panel. The FX504GM also has poor build quality; the chassis felt hollow to us, and the keyboard deck and lid flexed easily under pressure. We also experienced some unexpectedly low performance across multiple games and benchmarks. We’ve reached out to Asus to investigate that issue, but for now, we can’t recommend the FX504GM.
"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."

The mouse, as the name suggest, does come with the RGB lighting that can be conveniently controlled through the Corsair’s customization software. The software itself is easy to use, although, it may require some learning curve, but that’s okay. You obviously get buttons to adjust the DPI to your liking, some customizable buttons, as well as a very, very handy weight tuning system that allows you remove some of the weights and put them away in order to make the mouse lighter. Now in case you are wondering, a lighter mouse means your hand will have an easier time gliding it, something a lot of FPS gamers are looking for.
We didn’t test any gaming laptops that failed to meet our specs requirements (see the How we picked section for more details), and we didn’t test any that were too expensive, since this is a budget guide. As a result, we eliminated any laptops with a GTX 1060 or GTX 1060 Max-Q GPU above $1,400, as well as any laptops with a GTX 1050 Ti above $950—at that price, it’s worth getting a more powerful graphics processor instead. Here’s everything we tested against our picks in 2018:
On the AMD side of the fence, the on-chip graphics solutions in the company's A8-, A10-, and A12-series processors are pretty good (as integrated graphics go). As a result, you'll see almost no AMD-based laptops under $1,000 with dedicated graphics. That's because the presence of an AMD CPU, in the first place, is usually a low-price play by the laptop maker. Adding a GPU would just bump up the price.
That you can get the same or better performance with the four-pound MSI GS65 Stealth Thin 8RE ($1,799 at Amazon) is a testament to just how far we’ve gone—and also proof of just how awesome this laptop is.On the outside, it’s sedate black aluminum with bronze edges. On the inside are state-of-the-art, gaming-grade components with enough performance to basically put anything made before it to shame.
Gaming laptops are a tough sell. To provide the power to play games at decent settings, they sacrifice portability, battery life, and value compared to non-gaming laptops. At the same time, a $2,000 gaming laptop is less powerful and less upgradeable than a $1,200 desktop gaming PC. And a $1,000 ultrabook will handle non-gaming tasks just as well at a third the weight and with four times the battery life, much better build quality, and a better keyboard and trackpad.

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.


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.)

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.
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
Look for Intel Core i5 processors in midrange systems, with Core i7 U, HQ, and HK processors in higher-end gaming laptops. The H-series processors are higher-power, and tend to show up in bigger, thicker laptop models, while the low-power U-series chips are designed for thinner, more portable machines. They are quite different, in terms of thermal profile, as well as overall performance potential; a U-series Core i7 processor may not even have the same number of processing cores as an H-series Core i7 chip.
Of course, the more a computer’s components heat up, the faster its fans will turn and the more noise it will generate. If you prefer to wear headphones when gaming this increased noise should not be much of a problem. However, if your computer’s temperature increases too much, a throttling mechanism will activate, reducing its CPU and GPU frequencies in order to protect them; this will reduce your computer’s performance in the process. This is one of the aspects that we pay the most attention to during our testing of gaming laptops.
Somewhat ridiculous name aside, we've got to hand our Best Value pick to Logitech's affordable, midrange 'Proteus Spectrum' gaming mouse. My first impressions of this mouse were very positive: despite how many buttons it has, it's quite intuitive. While you won't get the versatility of a wired/wireless combo here, the G502 delivers a lot of value for the very reasonable starting price of $80. What's more, it's widely available for $60 online, and as low as $40 in some instances. What a steal!
Like many other top cheap gaming laptops, the MSI GE62 includes the great Intel Core i5-6300HQ Quad Core processor. This CPU works perfect for current games and can easily be stepped up from 2.3 to 3.2GHz, using Intel's Turbo Boost technology. Unlike some other budget laptops we recommend, this one has a more powerful GPU though. You get the amazing NVIDIA Geforce GTX970M with 3G GDDR5. As you can see from the GPU's 3DMark score above, it's a very, very fast gaming graphics card with plenty of room for current games on high settings.
There are not all that many graphics chips to choose from (Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050, 1050 Ti, 1060, 1070 or 1080…). Your selection will depend on your particular needs and budget. A GTX 1070 or 1080 would probably be overkill for gamers interested in playing MMORPG games such as World Of Warcraft or Guild Wars 2 and would only prove useful when connecting to an external 4K display. Facing off against the GTX 1050 and 1060 can be found a few computers employing a Radeon RX 560, 570 or 580 graphics chip – but not all that many.
The laptop is powered by an 8th generation i7-8750H CPU that comes with a base clock speed of 2.2 GHz, although the turbo clock is a much more impressive 4.1 GHz. On the memory front, it combines an ample 16 GB of DDR4 RAM with a snappy 256 GB SSD. It is worth noting that there is also an empty 2.5-inch drive slot, in case that the SSD alone doesn’t offer enough storage for your needs.
Regardless of the low color accuracy (blue cast ex-works), the Full HD panel shows real potential, and the sound and picture quality are also very persuasive. The 120 Hz display refresh rate and the Nvidia’s G-Sync technology combo averts hard to watch tearing and offers much smoother picture. However, the 100% sRGB and 75% AdobeRGB are still kept for workstations and other professional devices only, very suited for design and photo editing.
Similarly, when it comes to storage space, your choices are rather limited. All gaming laptops are currently equipped with at least a 1 TB hard drive. That having been said, in order to boost your computer’s performance and reduce the loading time of games, you should choose a PC equipped with an SSD. Even a small 128 GB SSD would be good enough for storing your Windows operating system and your main applications. SSDs can reach 1 TB of storage capacity on the most high-end gaming computers.
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.
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.
The Dell G7 15 is a mid-size gaming laptop with middle-of-the-road GTX 1060 Max-Q graphics, middling battery life, and—you guessed it—a mid-range price tag. But this system boasts a stellar feature that sets it apart from the crowd: a six-core, benchmark-crushing Core i7 processor that’ll thrill content creators. Indeed, the G7 15’s overall performance is only a step or two behind that of our current top pick among 15-inch gaming laptops, the thinner and lighter MSI GS65 Stealth Thin 8RE—and it costs about $600 less. Despite a dim screen and an occasionally too-hot chassis, this is still a worthy contender.
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.
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.
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.
Last but not least, if you're a professional gamer looking to buy a gaming laptop that can keep you competitive, be prepared to brown-bag your lunches for a while. That kind of high-end performance can only come from top-of-the-line components, especially in a portable package, and they don't come cheap. Plus, an emerging trend among high-end machines is a high-refresh-rate screen built into the laptop, which allows for display of lofty frame rates in full to smooth out the perceived gameplay. Note, though, that you'll need a powerful graphics chip to leverage the benefits of a high-refresh panel with demanding games. You'll be able to identify machines like these by marketing lingo touting, say, a 120Hz or 144Hz screen. (A typical display on a laptop is a 60Hz panel.)
Regardless of the low color accuracy (blue cast ex-works), the Full HD panel shows real potential, and the sound and picture quality are also very persuasive. The 120 Hz display refresh rate and the Nvidia’s G-Sync technology combo averts hard to watch tearing and offers much smoother picture. However, the 100% sRGB and 75% AdobeRGB are still kept for workstations and other professional devices only, very suited for design and photo editing.

It features a large 15.6-inch display that delivers a crisp image, but its resolution is only HD at 1366 x 768, unlike our top pick, the ASUS Chromebook Flip C302CA-DHM4, which features a Full-HD 1080p display. The full-sized keyboard has received a solid thumbs up from most users, but some found that the touchpad is slightly too sensitive. One can, however, change the sensitivity settings in Windows, so we do not necessarily view a sensitive touchpad as a negative aspect.
We liked that this product offers a lot of pro features that you usually wouldn't find in a budget laptop. This includes a non-glare display, MSI's multi-monitor technology (powering up to three displays), and more. Nothing about this laptop feels cheap, except for the price (and that's a good thing)! MSI is known to make high-quality products and the CX62 is no exception.
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.
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.
Nvidia's G-Sync and AMD's FreeSync technologies are more down-to-earth. They help increase the quality of the gaming experience and smooth out frame rates by letting the laptop screen refresh at a variable rate that depends on the output of the GPU. Look for support for one of those technologies if you're a stickler for perfectly rendered visuals. They tend to be in pricier machines, though, and G-Sync is far more common.
The dedicated MX150 is Nvidias latest generation budget mobile GPU with improved performance over the previous generation 940MX.  Multitasking will also not be much of problem, as the RAM will allow you to run quite a few applications and browser windows at once, though an upgrade to 16GB of RAM is also possible. It comes with a somewhat small SSD, affording you only 256GB of storage, but you can always add an additional SSD or HDD if needed.
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.
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.
Many PC gamers rely on a high-tech gaming mouse for fast, precise aim in FPS and other games. These mice can also allow for more comfort than PC gaming controllers during extended game sessions, with less cramping in the hand and fingers, especially when paired with complementary gaming keyboards. And since a gamer mouse is, of course, a mouse, it can also perform double duty for everyday computing.
With that out of the way, that doesn’t mean that gaming mice are just gimmicky because they are not. Thanks to their high DPI, programmable buttons, customizable macros, and a lot of other features that are suitable for gamers. That’s why the market is so saturated with gaming mice, there are just too many options for the average gamer to choose from, and while it is certainly a good thing, it also makes a customer really, really confused.
But what seals the "best value" award for the G502 is that it includes a series of 3.6-gram weights to be added or removed from the body of the mouse, allowing users to increase/decrease the weight to find an optimal fit. While I love that the Mamba Tournament Edition is already weighted from the get-go, the option to add weight to the Proteus Spectrum—combined with its multiple buttons and adjustable wheel/DPI settings—grant it a very desirable amount of flexibility.
But if you want to play new games like Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey on ultra settings, you’re better off with a desktop or a gaming laptop with more powerful graphics. A $1,200 desktop is much more powerful, and you can easily upgrade it in the future. And if you opt for a higher-end gaming laptop, you’ll be able to crank up those graphics settings for years—rather than months—to come.
Acer’s Predator Helios 300 is a budget-oriented Predator model with great parts at an affordable price. It sports an Intel Core i7-7700HQ processor, GTX 1060 GPU, 16GB DDR4 memory, and a 15.6-inch full HD (1920 x 1080) 16:9 display. A laundry list of ports, including HDMI, will ensure you have enough room to plug any accessories or peripherals into the Predator.
Speaking about the design of the laptop, although it is not a very slim laptop available in the market, it is still one of the perfectly blended ones, when it comes to body, weight, and ergonomics. The laptop sports a 15.6-inch HD touchscreen display which makes playing games and watching movies fun on this laptop. The laptop is powered by the 8th Gen Intel Core i5 processor paired with a decent 8GB of RAM. The best part of buying this laptop is that its RAM can be upgraded up to 16GB to make it even more powerful.
If the refresh rate (which is measured in hertz, or Hz) is being called out as a feature on a given laptop, that means it's likely higher than the norm. Most laptop screens, including those in almost all budget models, stick to 60Hz, which means they redraw the onscreen image 60 times per second and thus can display up to 60 frames per second (fps) of in-game performance. (If your graphics chip can produce 90fps in a given game, you'll see only 60 of them.) Some notebook screens these days, though, can display at 75Hz, 120Hz, or more. These high refresh rates can be beneficial for some extremely fast-paced games, particularly titles played competitively online, such as Counterstrike: Global Offensive, DOTA 2, and Overwatch.
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