If you can’t spend more than $1,000 but still want a laptop that can play games, get the Lenovo Legion Y530. It won’t play new games as well for as long as our top pick, but it keeps cool and has a bright screen, a comfortable keyboard, and a responsive trackpad. The Y530 is also about a pound lighter and significantly more compact than the Dell G7 and G5, but it’s more of a pain to upgrade yourself.
OLED: Described as the future of display, an OLED (organic light-emitting diode) panel is comprised of a film of organic compounds that produce light when an electric current is introduced. The technology allows for thinner, more power-efficient panels that deliver incredibly rich color and contrast. The Alienware 13 R3 OLED is currently the only laptop to feature this technology.
The Legion Y530 has plenty of ports, but they’re placed unconventionally. It has one USB 3.0 Type-A port and a headphone/microphone combo jack on the left side, and one USB 3.0 Type-A port on the right side. At the back, the Y530 has a USB-C port that can carry data and a video signal but can’t charge the laptop; there you’ll also find one Mini DisplayPort 1.4 port, a third USB 3.0 Type-A port, an HDMI 2.0 port, a Gigabit Ethernet port, a charging port, and a Kensington Lock slot. Lenovo includes a one-year limited warranty.
Fortunately for anyone interested in acquiring a gaming laptop with decent battery autonomy, there are a number of models on the market that have highly optimized hardware configurations like the Asus ROG Strix Hero II (which has almost 5 hours of autonomy), the Acer Predator Helios 300 (approximately 6 hours 50 minutes of autonomy) or the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 (around 7 hours of autonomy). This last computer takes advantage of Nvidia’s Max-Q design in order to allow its GeForce GTX 1060 graphics chip to consume less power while remaining fully capable of gaming in Full HD. The Alienware 13 (OLED) also has a battery autonomy in excess of 7 hours (tested using office software).
It features a large 15.6-inch display that delivers a crisp image, but its resolution is only HD at 1366 x 768, unlike our top pick, the ASUS Chromebook Flip C302CA-DHM4, which features a Full-HD 1080p display. The full-sized keyboard has received a solid thumbs up from most users, but some found that the touchpad is slightly too sensitive. One can, however, change the sensitivity settings in Windows, so we do not necessarily view a sensitive touchpad as a negative aspect.
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.
Several of the cheap gaming laptops we tested in 2018 couldn’t keep their WASD keys cool enough for comfortable gameplay. Note: We tested the Dell G5 with a GTX 1050 Ti, but we recommend the GTX 1060 Max-Q configuration. We confirmed with Dell that the G7 and G5 have identical fan and heatsink setups when configured with the same graphics processor.
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.
The Acer Nitro 5 Spin delivers solid multitasking power, good battery life, a comfortable keyboard and oodles of versatility thanks to its easily convertible design. A Nvidia GTX 1050 GPU means that you can play most games at low or medium settings. It's a solid choice for games looking for an affordable gaming system that does more than play games.