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.
After spending more than 40 hours researching and testing 10 budget gaming laptops in late 2018, we found that the Dell G7 15 Gaming is the best one you can get. It’s an excellent value, and its Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 Max-Q graphics card will play games on high to medium settings for years. It keeps its most-touched surfaces and components cool enough during long gaming sessions, and it has no dealbreaking flaws.
Most gaming laptops—including budget machines—have comfortable, deep-travel keyboards that cushion your fingers during long gaming sessions. This Dell model’s blue-backlit keyboard felt crisp, snappy, and responsive but a bit shallow to us, so it was not as comfortable after a few hours of gaming or typing as some of the other laptops we tested. This isn’t a dealbreaker, but we do prefer the feel of the keyboards on the Lenovo Y530 and Asus TUF Gaming FX504GM.
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.
Measuring 14.4 by 10.2 by 1 inches and weighing just 5.1 pounds, the Legion Y530 is one of the lightest and most compact gaming laptops we tested this year; it weighs more than a pound less than the Dell G7. The thin bezels surrounding the screen allow for a smaller laptop overall, and the Y530 is by far the most convenient model to slip into a bag and use on the go of all the options we considered. We also appreciate its all-black, understated design—no flashy colors, edgy angles, or ugly prints—and the comfortable matte-black material covering the palm rest.
Less-expensive mice tend to have optical sensors, which offer good tracking sensitivity and tend to map well on a variety of surfaces, including textured ones such as cloth. Laser sensors, on the other hand, map onto the same or more kinds of surfaces (including some smooth or glossy ones that may give optical sensors fits), but they can be more finicky about rough surface textures. That said, we wouldn't let one kind or the other be the main reason you choose a mouse. Likewise, some vendors market branded versions of sensors that track, say, on glass or reflective surfaces. Don't take them too seriously, as you can solve any challenging mousing surface with...a $2 mousepad.
Know that the presence or absence of a dedicated control utility is a big differentiator between low-end and high-end gaming mice. Some cheap gaming mice will come with no software of their own. Without such a utility, you'll be able to customize mouse commands only within a game (via its in-game menus) or in Windows' own mouse settings. That's not necessarily a bad thing; just know what you are getting, or not getting.
Budget systems usually reach their attractive prices not just through the balance of build quality and components, but also from bloatware. Having junk like Norton trials and eBay apps pre-installed translates to revenue in the PC maker's pocket, allowing them to hit aggressive prices. So, know going in that you may need to do some uninstalling once you've unboxed it and fired it up.
And thanks to Nvidia's 1050 Ti GPUs, you can hook up an Oculus Rift and jump into the virtual realm. However, some companies like Dell and Gigabyte are outfitting their rigs with Nvidia GTX 1060 Max-Q GPUs so fans of the HTC Vive can also get in on the fun. Or if you're not ready to make such a big financial or space commitment, you can hook up one of Microsoft's new MR headsets like the Acer Windows Mixed Reality AH101 headset, which has the added bonus of working with either discrete or integrated graphics. Best of all, you can use all that money you just saved to splurge on a top-notching gaming keyboard or mouse.