If you're shopping for a gaming system on a limited budget (in this case, between roughly $800 and $1,200), you're going to need to make some sacrifices. Maximizing power while staying within a limited price range is the goal, but you'll have to accept that some of the components won't be comparable with the more expensive laptops you'll see while browsing. That said, $1,200 is a reasonable ceiling for what some buyers are ready to spend on a gaming laptop, and you can still get a solid system for that much or less.
Below we've sketched out what GPU and other specs you need in a cheap gaming laptop that will run games at surprisingly decent frame rates for at least a couple years. (Without breaking the bank, of course) The bottom line? Dell's last-generation Inspiron 15 7000 will run most current-gen games on low-med settings at 40-60 FPS (See it on Amazon) / (See it on Amazon UK), It's a great pick for a casual gaming + daily driving laptop. Read on for more!
The all new Razer Blade was relaunched this year as a 15-inch model, replacing the outgoing 14-inch version with a new thin-bezel design that is stunning. Razer has always offered one of the best looking gaming laptops around, featuring a fully CNC machined aluminun chassis, and a lot of performance in a thin and light form factor. The latest Razer Blade 15 is powered by a Core i7-8750H hex-core CPU and a GTX 1060 Max-Q GPU. The lowest cost configuration comes with a 128 GB SSD and 1 TB HDD, and you can go up from there. Currently it is available for $1600 with a 1920x1080 60 Hz display, and Razer has configurations with 144 Hz displays, as well as models bumping the GPU up to a GTX 1070 and a UHD display. There's also a limited edition Mercurty White color option on certain configuraitons.
Because they usually require dual GPUs for the smoothest gameplay at native resolution, 4K gaming laptops are still the exception, and still expensive. And keep this in mind: Only the most powerful graphics cards can render complex game animations at playable frame rates across the full screen at 4K, so a 1080p screen may actually be a better use of your money if all you do is play games.
After 20 hours of new research and testing—plus 150 hours over the past few years—we found that the Acer Predator 17 G9-793-79V5 is the best gaming laptop for most people because it has the best performance for the price without any major flaws. The Predator 17 stays cool, has a comfortable, responsive keyboard, and sports a great 17-inch 1080p IPS screen with G-sync. Its fans are loud, and that keyboard is ugly and looks cobbled together, but these flaws are worth the trade-off for excellent performance at a low price (for a gaming laptop, anyway). If you’re looking for a less expensive alternative, head over to our budget gaming laptop guide.
Before we forget, let's talk memory. In a gaming laptop, look for at least 8GB of RAM. (In practice, no self-respecting model will come with less.) That will give you some breathing room when switching back and forth between your gameplay window and your messaging app, but we'd save researching game tips for when you're not playing, as each successive browser window you open eats into your RAM allotment.
Asus: Branded under the company's Republic of Gamers series, the company's laptops have a sleek, stealth fighter design with an impressive set of specs. However, Asus doesn't offer much in the way of customization. As far as the warranty, the Taiwanese tech giant typically offers a 1-year international with accidental damage coverage and a 30-day zero-bright dot protection with 24/7 tech support.
If the Dell G7 is unavailable, we recommend the Dell G5 15 Gaming. 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 red backlighting on the keyboard instead of blue. Dell confirmed to us that the G5 and G7 have identical fan and heatsink setups when configured with the same graphics card. We recommend the G5 with Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 Max-Q graphics, an Intel Core i7-8750H processor, 16 GB of RAM, a 128 GB solid-state drive, and a 1 TB hard drive for around $1,200, but only if you can’t find the G7 at a good price.
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.
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.
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.
For increased comfort, some gaming mice allow you to customize their actual bodies to your hand. Removable weights, often resembling small steel pills, are common in better gaming mice. Adding or removing these weights from slots inside the mouse body will shift the overall feel and the amount of drag. Some models take this even further, letting you adjust the center of balance, or change the height and pitch of the palm rest.
Planning on spending hours upon hours handing out beatdowns in Fortnite or Call of Duty? Check out the Dell G3 15 Gaming laptop, which lasted an impressive 6 hours and 37 minutes on our battery test. Gamers also get a system capable of kicking out some solid frame rates and good sound, thanks to a GTX 1050 Ti GPU and some powerful speakers. And at 5.2 pounds and 0.9 inches thick, this is one of the thinnest entry-level gaming laptops available.