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.
Computers in the GT series are very high-end; they are also exceedingly expensive, large, and heavy. Some of the computers in this series distinguish themselves from the competition by their mechanical keyboard and the very high quality of their display (120 Hz G-Sync compatible, for example – see LaptopMag’s test of the GT75 Titan). The MSI GT83 Titan features an enormous 18.4-inch display in addition to dual GeForce GTX 1080 graphics chips connected via SLI.
If you are wondering, the Proteus Spectrum is just an updated version of the bestselling Logitech Proteus Core, the only difference is the inclusion of Spectrum lighting; Logitech’s version of RGB lighting. Where the G900 Chaos Spectrum is built for the enthusiasts who like to fire on all fours, the Proteus Spectrum is aimed at users who don’t want to spend an awful lot of money but still get the best of both worlds.
The Precision Touchpad was responsive and worked well for standard gestures in our tests, but the G7, like its predecessors, lacks an easy way to disable the trackpad. Every other gaming laptop we’ve tested—except for the Dell G5 and Dell G3—has this feature because pressing the trackpad with your palm while gaming can cause accidental clicks and in-game deaths. We spent hours playing games on the G7 and found that the trackpad’s palm rejection was superb and didn’t cause any accidental clicks. (My hands run cold and rarely sweat, though, so your mileage may vary.) It’s possible (but inconvenient) to disable the trackpad by going into the Device Manager, selecting Human Interface Devices, right-clicking HID-compliant touch pad, and selecting Disable. (Dell, please add an easily accessible toggle to the next iteration.)
Powered by a 7th generation Intel Core i3-7100U CPU and 4GB of DDR4 RAM, the Acer Aspire E 15 E5-575-33BM will easily cope with basic tasks such as video streaming, web browsing and word processing. Although most gamers will prefer at least 8GB of RAM for the best performance, luckily Acer have fitted the laptop with an access panel that makes upgrading the RAM a breeze. We recommend installing a second 4GB RAM module which can be done cheaply without much hassle.
Gaming laptops need to have the necessary processing power to run high-end games. Laptops with good processing speed help run your games seamlessly without any lag. When it comes to a CPU, the important elements to be considered are the number of cores it contains and its processing speed. A laptop with a powerful CPU ensures a lag-free gaming experience.
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.
All of the major (and some of the minor) gaming-gear manufacturers have developed their own mouse-control customization software, which usually encompasses advanced macro programming. Often, the software also enables you to control and customize a gaming keyboard of the same brand. In addition to recording macro commands, these software dashboards let you activate premade, game-specific profiles; create your own profiles; and adjust any on-mouse lighting/LED bling. Many also offer presets for non-gaming use, letting you leverage your mouse's programmability in Excel or Photoshop when you're not blowing up starships or hapless zombies.
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.
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.
Nailing down a high-quality mouse sensor is tricky without getting hands-on time with a given mouse. The two key sensor types are "optical" and "laser" sensors, but you can't apply absolutes when judging them. Your best bet is to try out a mouse in person, or to rely on formal reviews like ours, as well as online forums, for the skinny on how a mouse feels in specific play situations.
If an SSD is out of your budget, we highly recommend purchasing, at least, a 1TB hard drive with a 7,200-rpm speed. However, instead of an either/or situation, we recommend choosing a configuration that has both an SSD and a hard drive. That way you can load your games and important files on the speedy SSD and have plenty of room left for everything else.
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.
Graphics: You can’t upgrade your laptop’s graphics processor, and if you cut corners you’ll have to shell out for a new computer sooner to keep playing new games. (Trust me, I’ve made this mistake.) Notebookcheck’s tests show the GTX 1060 and the GTX 1060 Max-Q near the 60 fps threshold in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Shadow of the Tomb Raider on high settings, while the GTX 1050 Ti barely scrapes by at 31 fps. But all three GPUs hit at least 60 fps in Overwatch on “epic” settings at 1080p. The GTX 1060 and its Max-Q counterpart support VR, while the GTX 1050 Ti has extremely limited VR support.
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.
Let's take a look under the hood: The new ASUS Metal is an amazing choice for gaming. It runs all PC games we threw at it flawlessly at medium settings. The laptop is powered by Intel's 6th-generation Core i7-6500U. Of course, you can tune the CPU from 2.5GHz up to 3.1GHz with Intel's TurboBoost for even more performance. The laptop's GPU is a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M. There's a good reason why most budget gaming laptops include this card: It offers a great price-to-performance balance and very long lifespan. The laptop's specs are topped off with 8GB of RAM and a generous 512GB SSD storage. It's a solid combination that runs games well.
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.
A word of warning: in order to reduce cost, some of the graphics chips used in gaming laptops have a reduced amount of memory (2 GB instead of 4 GB for the GTX 1050 Ti, 3 GB instead of 6 GB for the GTX 1060). This can cause complications for playing highly sophisticated games (for example, not being able to run the game with its highest graphics settings due to the lack of storage space for in-game textures).
Although priced slightly higher than $500, the Aspire E 15 E5-575G-57D4 has earned our top pick in the budget gaming category thanks to its dedicated NVIDIA GeForce 940MX graphics card which offers more than twice the performance of competing laptops with only integrated graphics units. The Aspire E 15 will run titles such as Overwatch, Battlefield 1 and Titanfall 2 on low to medium settings with graphics performance more than double than competing integrated graphics based laptops below.
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.)
As for the screen's native resolution, 1,920 by 1,080 pixels (commonly called 1080p) is now the norm in budget-priced and mainstream gaming machines. The more pixels you need to push, the more graphics power you need, and a savvy maker of gaming laptops won't outfit a laptop with a screen whose native resolution the GPU can't do justice. So the absence of higher-than-HD screens in budget gaming machines is no accident. Not only do such screens cost more and sap more battery life, but the graphics chips found in under-$1,000 gaming rigs wouldn't power gameplay on them very well. (Screens with resolutions higher than 1080p tend to look small and squinty at the 15-inch size, anyway.)
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.
Although the E15 comes with a Full-HD IPS display, some have noted that it is fairly dim compared to higher end displays. Regardless, you will get decent viewing angles and the matte finish will prevent any potential glare. It has a solid battery life of around 8 hours and 30 minutes, with Acer even claiming up to 15 hours of battery life, though heavier applications and games will drain its battery life a lot faster. The NVIDIA GeForce MX150 is by no means a beast compared to higher end cards, and most modern AAA titles will struggle somewhat, but lowering the graphics will afford you some playability even on next-gen titles.
With that said, while the M65 Pro was largely focused on the FPS gamers, the Corsair Scimitar is company’s attempt at making a great gaming mouse for the MOBA/MMO community. With that out of the way, the mouse comes with a total of 17 programmable buttons, 12 of which are conveniently sitting on a slider on the left side of the mouse, and are mechanical.
Gaming laptops can put a serious dent in your wallet, with some of the fancier models costing upward of $3,000. But who says that the right rig has to cost an arm, a leg and the soul of your firstborn? Fortunately for the fiscally conscious gamer, there are some sub-$1,000 notebooks that can run graphically taxing games like Destiny 2 and Shadow of the Tomb Raider at solid frame rates.