It is possible to game on the cheap.
Traditionally gaming laptops have been three things: big, heavy, and expensive. That isn’t always the case any longer, as components have gotten smaller and more portable, and increased competition has caused prices to fall quite a bit as well. You still generally get what you pay for in terms of performance and portability, but you can get a great portable 1080p machine these days for less than $1,000, which was rarely the case just one generation of hardware ago.
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 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.
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Below we’ve sketched out what GPU and other specs you need in a lower-end 1080p laptop that will run games at surprisingly decent frame rates for at least a couple years. Without breaking the bank, of course The bottom line? Dell’s last-generation Inspiron 15 7000 will run most current-gen games on low-med settings at 40-60 FPS, all for $800. It’s a great pick for a casual gaming + daily driving laptop. Read on for more!
When it comes to GPUs, NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 10-series have made it possible for manufacturers to trim down the overall size of 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 gaming laptop you’re probably getting one with an Nvidia GPU under the hood.
For screen resolution, a 1080p display hits the sweet spot between price and required GPU beefiness. It is typically the only option for a value-oriented gaming laptop. Even if you could score a laptop with a high-resolution 4k panel, chances are the GPU inside won’t be able to run games at that resolution, so prepare yourself for 1080 gaming.
When it comes to storage, try to steer clear of laptops with a lone 128GB SSD. Heck, even a model with a 256GB SSD offers barely enough space to keep multiple games installed and at the ready, so you might be stuck getting a system with a slower, yet much more spacious, spinning hard drive.
You can also get a sweet deal by going back in time and looking at laptops with previous-gen CPUs, as they are usually available at fire sale prices and there’s not a huge difference in performance between Skylake and Kaby Lake for gaming. You won’t be quite as future-proof, but you’ll still get several years of great 1080p gaming at a low price. Let’s dive into the this:
Priced under $800, the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 boasts previous generation hardware, but don’t let that deter you. In January 2016, this model earned an Editor’s Choice award for entry level gaming laptops from our sister pub PCMag.
Boasting a full HD 15.6-inch 1080p display, 256GB SSD, and an Nvidia GTX 960M GPU, the Inspiron 15 7000 is capable enough for a casual PC gamer that wants both a gaming machine and a laptop for school. Dell says it has a battery life of over 10 hours on this particular model, with all its hardware tucked into a flashy design that’s just one inch thick. At close to 6-pounds you’ll notice when it’s in a bag or backpack. Beyond its older specs, the only drawback is its 256GB of storage, but again, if you’re mostly looking for a daily driver and also want to do some casual gaming, this is a very good option.
This year’s model of the Inspiron 15 7000 is a little more expensive (although still sub-$1000) and a little more capable than last year’s, so it’s also a good deal. The current model features a seventh-generation Core i7 processor, and an Nvidia GTX 1050 GPU, so it has a high-end CPU and a lower-end GPU. Additionally, it comes with 12GB of DDR4 memory, a 128GB SSD, and a 1TB HDD. Dell stuck with the same 15.6-inch full HD 1080p anti-glare LED-backlit display. The 1050 GPU inside will run most 2017 games at 40+ FPS at medium settings, which is a great bang for your buck.
It’s a rather unassuming piece of kit, with a black exterior and red highlights above the keyboard and around the touchpad — much like the Acer Predator, in fact. This particular model is the typical entry-level gaming PC, both in terms of pricing and specifications. In other words, you can’t really go wrong with this pick.
Sitting just under the psychologically painful four-figure price point, the MSI GL72M is nearly identical on the spec sheet to our last pick, the Dell Inspiron 15 7000. The biggest difference between the two is its 17.3-inch FHD non-reflective display, and that is has only 8GB of memory.
Still, it’s packing some serious technology including a SteelSeries gaming keyboard with a bright red backlight, an Intel Core i7-7700HQ processor, GTX 1050 GPU, 128GB SSD, and a 1TB HDD. It’s a tad heavier and thicker than most laptops in this class, weighing in at exactly 6-pounds and 1.2-inches thick.
If you’re looking to save a bit more money, you can move down to a 15.6-inch model, which happens to be our next pick.
The GL62M offers a 15.6-inch display and an Intel Core i5-7300HQ processor. At just under $800, the Gl62M should power through nearly anything you throw at it at medium detail levels without sacrificing much in terms of performance. Rounding out the performance specs is the GTX 1050, 8 GB DDR4 memory, and a 256 GB SSD.
And because it was a smaller display than its bigger brother, the weight has dropped down to 5.29-pounds. The thickness, however, is over the 1-inch mark (1.06, to be exact).
As far as ports are concerned, you get a USB Type-C, 2x USB 3.0 ports, a lowly USB 2.0 port, HDMI, LAN, and a Mini-Display Port. Not a bad loadout considering its price.
Acer’s Aspire VX 15 is part of the company’s newer line of affordable gaming machines, designed for those who don’t have the budget for a Predator model. It offers a respectable balance of performance and price thanks to its GTX 1050 Ti GPU, Intel Core i5-7300HQ processor, 16 GB DDR4 memory and a 256GB SSD sitting below the “Red Hot” backlit keyboard. Red accents surround the WASD keys for easy visibility.
What sets the Acer apart from the competition is its Dolby Audio Premium sound, which should sound crisp when you’re watching a video, jamming out to some tunes, or gaming. The Acer Aspire XV 15 is about as much computer you can squeeze out of a budget under $1,000.
Ultra-lightweight and ultra-portable, with a sharp and high-res display shouldn’t be something we are talking about when it comes to cheap gaming laptops, but here we are. The Razer Blade Stealth is a 12.5-inch ultrabook with a quad-HD (2560×1440) display, and ok… it’s not a true gaming laptop, as it doesn’t have a discrete GPU but rather Intel HD Graphics 620, but it’s enough for very light gaming. Plus, this thing just looks cool. And if you really wanted to use it as a more serious gaming setup, you can pick up a refurbished Razer Core for $399. All in, that’s around $1,300 according to my horrible math — it’s the best of both worlds!
At just 0.5-inches thin and weighing 2.8-pounds, Razer has created a device that’s better fit for classrooms or cubicles than a gaming setup. Yet, the Razer Blade Stealth has some features synonymous with the company’s name, such as a 16.8 million color Chroma keyboard. The only real drawback worth mentioning, aside from the aforementioned integrated graphics, is the fact that it comes with a lone 128 GB SSD.
To be very clear, unlike every other machine recommended here, the Razer Blade does not feature very respectable gaming performance. But we’re including it for someone looking for a new day-to-day laptop that might also have some mild interest in catching up on older games.
We set a limit of $1,200 as the high end of what we consider a “cheap” gaming laptop, and the Asus FX502 just barely sneaks under that subjective limit — but, oh boy, is it loaded. Ot offers a 7th generation Core i7-7700HQ processor, GTX 1060 GPU, 16GB DDR4 memory, 128GB SSD, and 1TB HDD so it’s at the higher end of “cheap” but you can see why.
Its 15.6-inch 1920×1080 full-HD display has a 160-degree viewing angle, which is a little less than some of its competitors, but nothing to scoff at. Compared to the rest of our picks, the FX502 and the Predator (more on it in a minute) are the only two devices to feature an i7 and a GTX 1060 in one package, so they’re the best for 60fps 1080p gaming with details maxed.
If you have a little bit more budget, and you’re a gamer, the FX502 is money well spent.
Acer’s Predator Helios 300 is a budget-oriented Predator model with great parts at an affordable price. It sports an Intel Core i7-7700HQ processor, GTX 1060 GPU, 16GB DDR4 memory, and a 15.6-inch full HD (1920 x 1080) 16:9 display. A laundry list of ports, including HDMI, will ensure you have enough room to plug any accessories or peripherals into the Predator.
And with up to seven hours of claimed battery life, the Helios could actually double as a work machine, or at least make flights a bit less boring.