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.
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.
You'll see guides from 2017 or even from this year still recommending laptops with Nvidia's 900 series mobile GPUs, for example the 950M or 960M. Don't settle for these. Nvidia's Pascal architecture in its 10-Series graphics cards is a huge leap forward in performance and power efficiency. You may save $50 to $75 on these systems, but you won't save yourself a few years of disappointment.
It’s no secret that dedicated graphics cards offer far better performance than integrated graphics, however, this doesn’t mean that you can’t game on laptops without dedicated GPUs. This is due to the fact that Intel has come a long way with their integrated graphics and Blizzard have even mentioned that almost 25% of all Overwatch players are playing the game on a system with integrated graphics. While Overwatch is a newer title, don’t expect to play titles such as Mass Effect: Andromeda or Battlefield 1 on high settings or with great frame rates.
Kane Fulton of TechRadar featured the Logitech G513 Mechanical Gaming Keyboard in his list of the “Best Gaming Keyboard 2018: The Best Gaming Keyboards We've Tested.” He shared, “one of our biggest pet peeves with Cherry MX Red keys is that while they’re good for gaming, they’re not great for typing anything but your Steam credentials. And, that’s where the Logitech G513 and its Romer-G Linear switches outshine the rest of the competition. Add in the brushed metal finish that, miraculously, is all but immune to fingerprints, and you have a recipe for one of the best gaming keyboards you can buy today.”
Display: We focused on 15-inch models for this guide because they strike a good balance between screen size and relative portability, and they fit our budget. Our cheap gaming laptop pick needs a 1920×1080 screen—no exceptions. Lower resolutions look terrible, and higher resolutions aren’t affordable yet. (And our budget laptops’ GPUs can’t play games well at resolutions above 1080p anyway.) Very few laptops in this price range have high-refresh-rate (120 Hz or 144 Hz) panels, but it’s a nice bonus, especially for first-person games like Overwatch or Doom; the higher the refresh rate, the smoother animations appear, as long as the frame rate is also high. IPS screens tend to provide better viewing angles and color reproduction over TN panels, but they can also be more expensive, so we treat them as a preference but not a requirement.
The GTX 1060 Max-Q graphics processor of the HP Pavilion Gaming Laptop 15t is available only with 3 GB of VRAM rather than the 6 GB of the other contenders. We found that its display had a screen-door effect similar to that of the Omen—the two HP laptops are likely using the same panel—and its trackpad felt a bit rattly when we tapped it. The fans made an ominous buzzing noise during everyday work, too, and the GPU reached an alarming 203 °F (95 °C) after just 30 minutes of Overwatch on high settings. For comparison, the next-hottest laptop in the same test reached just 174 °F (79 °C). We’ve exchanged our Pavilion 15t with HP, and we will update here once we’ve retested it.
So far, the best Max-Q machines have been slim and much more travel-friendly than the average gaming laptop, while still allowing for gaming at 60fps or higher on high settings. There are, of course, tradeoffs: The Max-Q-tuned graphics cards are a bit less capable than the standard versions, pushing fewer frames per second while gaming. Also, these laptops tend to be a bit pricier. If you value portability and visual appeal, though, Max-Q is the most consistent method so far for relatively thin and light gaming laptops with top-tier power.
More important to look for is a suitable resolution range, measured in dots per inch (dpi), that allows for fine-grained (low dpi) and wide-sweep (high dpi) tracking. Just as crucial is a button or toggle that lets you adjust the setting easily on the fly—as opposed to only in software. Mouse resolution is mostly a marketing numbers game; you would use extreme dpi settings in the five-figure range only if you have one or more very high-pixel-count displays, such as 4K monitors, to mouse across. So don't put a whole lot of stock, say, in a 10,000dpi maximum setting versus a 12,000dpi one. Either will serve you well under most real-world circumstances.
The Acer Aspire E 15 E5-575-33BM is currently our top recommended gaming laptop under $500. It features integrated Intel HD Graphics 620 graphics powered by the latest Intel i3 Kaby Lake processor and next generation connectivity such as USB 3.1 Type-C and Bluetooth 4.1. Despite weak gaming performance for most modern games, it holds its own with an unbeatable price to performance ratio compared to its competitors, clocking in at a $100 or more cheaper than many similarly specced laptops such as the Inspiron I3567 and HP Pavilion 17 1BQ14UA below.
HP launched this updated Pavilion line in April to make a play for those who are maybe interested in gaming, but not willing to go all-in on a laptop from the PC maker's Omen brand. We haven't seen it in person yet, but HP's direct pricing is on par with the competition here. The entry-level configuration is skippable at $680, but you can configure it for $750 with a Core i5-8300H processor and a GeForce GTX 1050Ti or a six-core Intel Core i7-8750H processor and a 3GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 for $920.
The SteelSeries Sensei 310 is arguably the best gaming mouse for lefties, offering a comfortable design and intuitive thumb buttons, regardless of whether you game with your left or right hand. The Sensei 310's eight total buttons are highly customizable via SteelSeries' Engine 3 software, and the tweakable RGB backlighting is a nice added touch. Most importantly, the Sensei 310 is fast and responsive, making it easy to snipe enemies or command units no matter your dominant hand.
Dell Home, via its Member Purchase Program, offers its Dell 15.6" Laptop Gaming Backpack in Black/Red for $28.49 with free shipping. That's tied with our expired mention from four days ago as the lowest price we've seen for this bag. (It's the best deal we could find now by $20.) It accommodates laptops with up to 15.6" screens and features a shock-absorbent EVA molded front shield, adjustable shoulder straps, and a deployable rain cover.