It is possible to game on the cheap.
Last updated: April 2018
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 (See it on Amazon). 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.
The GL62M offers a 15.6-inch display and an Intel Core i7-7700HQ processor. At just around $850, 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 1050Ti, 8 GB DDR4 memory, a 128GB SSD and a 1TB HDD.
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).
It also has MSI Cooler Boost 4, which is just a fancy, marketing-way of saying it works well to keep the laptop from getting too hot under heavy load.
This affordable Omen is only packing a GTX 1050 GPU, but it’s fairly loaded otherwise, and is also available in several different configurations too. Its storage in particular is pretty great, with a 256GB PCIe SSE for your OS and a 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive for data and games. It’s sporting a sufficient 12GB of RAM, and a very decent Intel Core i7-7700HQ Quad Core Processor. You may or may not be a fan of its “faux carbon fiber” trim, but the red backlight on the keyboard is pretty slick. Also, if you ditch the SSD and can live with 8GB of RAM, it’s only $900.
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. It 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.