Before we dive into our list of the best cheap gaming laptops, let’s go over what to look for in a gaming laptop. After all, just because a device is affordable and has “Gaming” in its name doesn’t mean it’s going to get the job done for everyone. The main features to consider when shopping for a cheap gaming laptop are its GPU, display resolution, amount and kind of storage, and even portability are things you should keep in mind when shopping for an inexpensive gaming laptop.
The Dell G7 15 Gaming is the best gaming laptop for people on a budget. It has an excellent price-to-performance ratio, and its Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 Max-Q graphics will play games on high to medium settings for years. The G7 keeps its most-touched surfaces and innards cool enough that the laptop stays comfortable to use during extended gaming sessions, and its screen, keyboard, and trackpad are all solid. It has impressive battery life (for a gaming laptop) too. But the G7 is a bit heavier than the competition, and its fans get distractingly loud during gaming sessions, so plan to use headphones.
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.
We recommend the $1,250 model with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 Max-Q graphics processor with 6 GB of dedicated memory, an Intel Core i7-8750H processor, 16 GB of RAM, a 128 GB solid-state drive, and a 1 TB hard drive. The G5 is available in black or red, and has a red-backlit keyboard in place of the G7’s blue-accented design. But because of the screen, we recommend the G5 only if the G7 is unavailable.
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:
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.
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.