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:
First of all, you have a quad-core Intel Core i7 7700HQ instead of a Core i5. This means those of you into streaming your gameplay have a leg up over the rest of the systems here. The standard 8GB of memory is present, though it is DDR3 and not DDR4. You also get dual drives -- a 128GB SSD + 1TB hybrid drive handles snappy OS duties and offers plenty of deep storage for games and video. Nvidia's GTX 1050 Ti is on board as well as an excellent Steelseries keyboard featuring red lighting. I've used this exact keyboard before and it's a joy to type and game on.
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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 choice of CPU is also important. All the laptops on this list come equipped with quad-core Intel Core i5 or i7 processors with ‘HQ’ or ‘HK’ at the end of their model names, but you’ll find some cheaper models on the market that only have a ‘U’ suffix. This denotes a much lower-power, dual-core processor that can prove to be a huge bottleneck in games if you have a high-end graphics card.
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.
Measurements performed by our colleagues at the Laptopmag website show that the MSI Titan achieves a maximum temperature of 59 degrees after 15 minutes of gameplay – which is not too bad. The Asus ROG Zephyrus has a maximum temperature of 67 degrees – which is still OK. However, the MSI GS65 Stealth’s maximum temperature of 90 degrees is likely to be problematic for some users.
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 Precision Touchpad was responsive for us, and although it felt small at first, we quickly adjusted. Unlike with most laptops nowadays, the Y530’s trackpad has dedicated left- and right-click buttons. Those buttons are noisy in a quiet room or a library, but tap to click is both effective and silent. Lenovo’s included Vantage software automatically disables the trackpad and Windows key when you launch a game with a mouse connected. (You can disable this setting.) This is a nice touch for gaming, though it didn’t work every time we launched a game.
Resolution: The minimum resolution for any gaming laptop is 1920 x 1080 — anything less and you're asking for muddy graphics. Laptops with QHD (2560 x 1440) or 4K (3840 x 2160) panels are becoming increasingly popular, praised for their striking details and color. There are some gamers that swear by 1366 x 768 because of the increased frame rates, but I implore you to love yourself more and aim a bit higher.
You're essentially paying $30 more here for the wireless ability compared to the wired version of the G403 Prodigy, and that's the most important aspect to consider. While the $70 G403 stands out as one of Logitech's more affordable feature-focused mice, the wireless edition packages that same functionality with the added flexibility of using a USB dongle and ditching the wire. Rudimentary testing revealed very impressive response for a wireless mouse, so we think the added flexibility is worth it.
Almost all gaming laptops have a backlit keyboard in order to allow users to game in low-light conditions. Entry-level gaming PCs tend to offer variable intensity red or white backlighting while more expensive computers are generally equipped with RGB keyboards. An RGB keyboard gives greater control over the color of its keys (which can usually be adjusted via an application). For example, the Asus ROG Zephyrus allows users to assign different colors to different keyboard zones whereas some MSI computers and the Gigabyte Aorus X7 allow users to set a different color for each individual key.
It looks good, too. With an RGB-backlit keyboard and attractive orange highlights, there’s no mistaking the fact that this machine is pitched at gamers, not everyday users. There are more expensive models available, but of the range we reckon this is one of the best value options. If you want to pay more, consider the higher-spec Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming with its 4K , IPS panel.
With a gamer laptop, you'll usually get a powerful processor, plus a beefy graphics card to provide visually stunning gaming experiences. You'll need to make sure these components stay cool, so consider using a laptop cooling pad for the optimum experience. With so much power, your best laptop for gaming might be larger and heavier than a traditional laptop used for word processing and Internet surfing. The intense processing power can drain your battery faster than if you're just surfing the Internet. You'll need to balance power with portability to find the best gaming laptop for your needs. For a comfortable gaming experience, pick up a pair of gaming glasses to help minimize symptoms like dry eyes, headaches, blurry vision, tired eyes, insomnia and long-term effects of blue light exposure.
As far as storage is concerned, hard drive prices have come down compared with solid-state drives, so finding large capacities isn't too much trouble. 1TB of storage and maybe even a small SSD alongside are common in budget laptops. The display will almost certainly be 1080p (1,920-by-1,080 resolution), as 720p is now reserved only for cheap non-gaming systems and increasingly uncommon. The RAM will likely top off at 8GB in budget laptops, but you will find some (more ideal) 16GB laptops in this range.
For a high-end system, we recommend 16GB, so you can have more than one gaming session, your messaging app, several websites, a webcam program, and your video streaming program open simultaneously. A midrange gaming laptop should function fine with 8GB of memory, but be aware that many new laptops are not upgradable. You may be stuck with the amount of memory you order.
If you want AAA performance and have a little money to spend, consider the (now previous-gen) $1,800 Razer Blade, which brings the literal heat — as in, consider a cooling pad. With an Intel Core i7-7700HQ and 16GB of RAM, and at just over 4 pounds, it's less than half the weight of the Alienware 17 R5. The downside: Razer's unsubtle snake logo screams, "I'm not doing work!"
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
"No lag...Love it...On the laptops the mouse was smooth and fast....Feel: For a wireless mouse of this price point I would have expected the plastics to be brushed or feel a little more lux than they do, but it has a standard issue mouse feel The optional weight gives it some heft which is nice, and without it it's VERY easy to almost send skittering across your desk."
The three most important hardware components of this laptop (namely CPU, GPU, and RAM) work well together to deliver excellent budget gaming performance. The 2.6 GHz Intel Core i7-4720HQ quad-core processor actually clocks in at over 10,000 points in GeekBench, which is a great score for this price. You also get 8GB of DDR3 RAM, plus Nvidia's acclaimed GeForce GTX 960M with 2 GB GDDR5 VRAM. It's a very good combination, in our opinion, allowing you to run a lot of current games on high to very high settings with steadily high FPS.
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.
Here’s the deal: You don’t need to spend a lot of money to play awesome games! But with hundreds of options, finding a powerful and affordable gaming laptop can be tricky. That’s why we’ve created this expert buying guide to show you the best cheap gaming laptops you can buy! We’ve researched over 40 new products and selected the top budget laptops. All of them offer a great mix of performance and value. Ready? Let’s do this!
When it comes to GPUs, NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 10-series have made it possible for manufacturers to trim down the overall size of gaming laptops without sacrificing features like battery life, making them powerful and portable. AMD's also basically non-existent in the mobile space these days too, so if you're shopping for a cheap gaming laptop you're probably getting one with an Nvidia GPU under the hood.
For many years, the speakers built into gaming laptops did not provide sufficiently good audio quality to take full advantage of a video game’s sound effects and in-game music. Nowadays, some gaming laptops integrate a very sophisticated audio system capable of offering advanced performance, deep bass tones, and adequate power (some examples include the Asus Rog Zephyrus and the MSI GS65 Stealth). For lower-end computers, there is always the possibility of connecting external Bluetooth/WiFi speakers or a good pair of headphones.
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.