Wirecutter has spent more than 200 hours over the past five years researching and testing dozens of gaming laptops, and our PC team has more than 37 years of combined experience covering laptops. I’ve personally tested, lived with, and reviewed hundreds of laptops, and I’ve spent hands-on time with countless other models while covering the CES trade show, attending events, and visiting stores. I’ve reviewed most gaming laptops—both budget and high-end—released in the past six years, and I’ve spent thousands of hours gaming on laptops since high school.
Display: We focused on 15-inch models for this guide because they strike a good balance between screen size and relative portability, and they fit our budget. Our cheap gaming laptop pick needs a 1920×1080 screen—no exceptions. Lower resolutions look terrible, and higher resolutions aren’t affordable yet. (And our budget laptops’ GPUs can’t play games well at resolutions above 1080p anyway.) Very few laptops in this price range have high-refresh-rate (120 Hz or 144 Hz) panels, but it’s a nice bonus, especially for first-person games like Overwatch or Doom; the higher the refresh rate, the smoother animations appear, as long as the frame rate is also high. IPS screens tend to provide better viewing angles and color reproduction over TN panels, but they can also be more expensive, so we treat them as a preference but not a requirement.
With a sleek, ergonomic design, three convenient thumb buttons and gorgeous RGB options, the SteelSeries Rival 600 provides everything you need to excel at an RTS or MOBA, and nothing you don't. You can use the mouse as-is out of the box, or tweak the options with the robust SteelSeries Engine software. The Rival 600 earns its accolades as our best RTS/MOBA mouse.

Resolution: Never get anything less than a 1920 x 1080 display. It’s rare to find one with a lesser resolution, but if you do, run. If you have a GTX 1070 or GTX 1080, you may want to consider a 2560 x 1440 display. 4K (3840 x 2160) screens are an option on some gaming laptop, but it’s rare you’ll be able to both get enough graphical fidelity at that resolution while also maintaining a smooth frame rate.


Such high product churn means there isn’t really a best time of the year to buy a gaming laptop, but here are some things that might be worth looking forward to: Intel’s first eighth-generation Core processor and quad-core ultrabook chips, Nvidia’s Max-Q approach to designing thinner and quieter laptops, MSI’s new gaming laptops, Lenovo’s Legion Y920 laptop, Acer’s Predator Triton 700 laptop, and Samsung’s Notebook Odyssey laptop.
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 Predator Helios 300 boasts a rather aggressive exterior, replete with red highlights and conspicuous geometric details. And much like the MSI GV62, the keyboard comes with a red LED backlight. This clearly establishes its identity as a gaming laptop at the very first glance, though what’s under the hood doesn’t disappoint either – and we should hope so, considering the price tag.
So far, the best Max-Q machines have been slim and much more travel-friendly than the average gaming laptop, while still allowing for gaming at 60fps or higher on high settings. There are, of course, tradeoffs: The Max-Q-tuned graphics cards are a bit less capable than the standard versions, pushing fewer frames per second while gaming. Also, these laptops tend to be a bit pricier. If you value portability and visual appeal, though, Max-Q is the most consistent method so far for relatively thin and light gaming laptops with top-tier power.
Display: We focused on 15-inch models for this guide because they strike a good balance between screen size and relative portability, and they fit our budget. Our cheap gaming laptop pick needs a 1920×1080 screen—no exceptions. Lower resolutions look terrible, and higher resolutions aren’t affordable yet. (And our budget laptops’ GPUs can’t play games well at resolutions above 1080p anyway.) Very few laptops in this price range have high-refresh-rate (120 Hz or 144 Hz) panels, but it’s a nice bonus, especially for first-person games like Overwatch or Doom; the higher the refresh rate, the smoother animations appear, as long as the frame rate is also high. IPS screens tend to provide better viewing angles and color reproduction over TN panels, but they can also be more expensive, so we treat them as a preference but not a requirement.
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.
This big, loud, no-holds-barred system delivers a much different value proposition than most gaming laptops do. If you’re doing heavy-duty work that can take advantage of the desktop Core i7-8700K’s abundant threads and high clock rate, no other laptop we’ve tested is even in the same ballpark as Origin’s beast. If you want a best-in-class gaming experience that pushes frame rates as high as possible in a self-contained, portable (enough) form factor, the EON17-X can’t be beat. Jump on this notebook if you’re looking for a true high-end desktop replacement rather than a powerful laptop that lets you game on the road.
Sizing up the current state of the gaming laptop market, 8th Generation CPUs for notebooks are still the default, although we've seen at least one laptop with the Core i9-9900K. NVIDIA has launched their desktop GPU refresh with the Turing based GeForce RTX lineup, but as of yet has not done the same for their laptop chips, so Pascal based GeForce GTX still rules the roost. On the AMD side, mobile Vega was not dead, as some feared, but is currently only available in the latest MacBook Pro, and not yet in gaming laptops.
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.
At this point, the major mouse makers' software packages have been through generations of refinement, so they are slick. Logitech Gaming System (LGS), Corsair Utility Engine (CUE), and Razer Synapse are three of the best-regarded mouse- and keyboard-control utilities that cater to gamers. All offer advanced tweakability, with CUE regarded by many users and reviewers as the deepest, but also the trickiest to master in-depth.

With a comfortable shape, textured grips and 11 big, programmable buttons in a convenient layout, the Logitech G502 Proteus Spectrum (an updated version of the excellent G502 Proteus Core) has a great feel and stellar performance, and is the best overall gaming mouse on the market today. The device isn't specialized for any one genre, but it handles FPS, RTS, MMO or anything in between with grace and aplomb. Users can adjust the Proteus Spectrum's weight and set its scroll wheel to feel either resistant or almost frictionless. The Logitech Gaming Software can even scan your computer for games, automatically create profiles to fit them and customize the mouse's illumination with full RGB backlighting.


In our chart at the top of this article and in our list below, we've mapped out our top-rated models to investigate. Note that a few of the configurations sent to us for testing were a bit above $1,000; some remain so, while others have fallen below the one-grand line since. Also, note that most of these models are a single version of a machine in a varied line. So use the linked reviews as guidelines, not absolutes, when assessing each laptop family. You may not get quite the level of performance we did, if key components were downgraded in the march below $1,000. But you should get a solid idea of the laptops' screen, build, and input quality from our reviews.

Like the Dell G7, the Legion Y530 has a 15-inch 1920×1080 IPS display with a 60 Hz refresh rate. But the Y530’s small bezels set it apart from other cheap gaming laptops, making games feel more immersive and allowing the whole laptop to be smaller. The Y530’s display looked better than those of other laptops in its price range like the Dell G3 and Acer Nitro 5, which had green and blue color tints. The Y530’s screen was also among the brightest we tested at 266 nits, beaten only by the exceptionally bright screens of the more expensive Asus TUF Gaming FX504GM and Acer Predator Helios 300.

Compete in game tournaments or simply experience fast responsiveness with this Logitech Chaos Spectrum gaming mouse. The optical sensor delivers on-time tracking to keep up with even high-action sequences, and you can tune the sensor to your surface. This Logitech Chaos Spectrum gaming mouse is lightweight for easy movement without compromising on stability.
The Naga Hex V2 comes with your traditional features that you can expect in a top of the line Razer mouse; you do get an excellent optical sensor capable of delivering a whopping 16,000 DPI. You also get the much revered Chroma RGB lighting that can be controlled and tweaked through the excellent Razer Synapse 2.0. Oh, yes, there’s more, you can even tweak all the present physical buttons on the mouse, and tailor them according to your own need, keeping in mind that all the buttons can be fully programmed. It’s certainly a big advantage for users who want to make sure they get the most out of this mouse. With that said, we are going to take a look at some of the benefits of the Razer Naga Hex V2, and why is it such a good gaming mouse for MOBA gamers.
$3,000 or more: This is where things get crazy. With this kind of budget you can get a high-res display, custom paint job, up to four SSDs in RAID configuration and a maximum of 64GB of RAM from manufacturers like OriginPC and Maingear. Depending on the notebook, you can get two 1080 GPUs in SLI configuration with each card sporting 8GB of VRAM. Not only can you play any game without worry of low frame rates, you can use VR headsets like the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive.
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.
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