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 anymore, especially as components have gotten smaller, notebooks have become thinner, and increased competition has caused companies to fight it out with lower prices. You still generally get what you pay for in terms of performance and portability, but you can get a great portable 1080p gaming machine these days for right around $1,000—sometimes, even less—which was rarely the case with the previous generation of hardware.
Below I’ve picked out the best gaming laptops equipped with the graphics cards and other specs you’ll need to run games at surprisingly decent frame rates for at least a couple years. (Without breaking the bank, of course.) And with the recent mobile release of Nvidia’s GTX 16-series GPUs, the performance of these budget machines has only improved while keeping prices down.
The bottom line? We suggest going with one of the GTX 1650 picks below, as it’s newer tech and likely to keep up with your gaming needs for longer. However, there really isn’t a bad choice on this list of the best.
TL; DR – These are the Best Budget Gaming Laptops:
1. MSI GF63 Thin
The Turing-based GTX 1650 debuted as a low price yet high-performance mobile GPU, and MSI’s GF63 Thin delivers on that promise. Priced at about $800, the GF63 Thin comes with an Intel Core i5-8300H, GTX 1650, 8GB of memory, 256GB SSD, and a 15.6-inch 1080p display. Naturally, the MSI GF63 Thin has the same tried-and-true look that MSI’s gaming laptops are known for: A black housing, sharp edges, bright red highlights and a bright red keyboard. Oh, and this one weighs in at a fairly light 4.1 pounds.
2. Asus TUF FX505
The Asus TUF Gaming Laptop is another GTX 1650-equipped laptop that currently sits below $900. Instead of Intel inside, you’re looking at AMD’s Ryzen 7 3750H, 8GB of memory, and a 512 GB SSD. All of those components power the 15.6-inch 120Hz 1080p display that sits just above a military-grade keyboard that should take any abuse you can throw at it. Guess it had to earn its “TUF” name somehow, right? You shouldn’t have any issues hitting 120 fps to match the display’s refresh rate on this gaming laptop.
3. Acer Nitro 5
The Acer Nitro 5 is configurable with AMD and Intel processors, but we really like the Intel variants. Specifically, the (normally) $830 model strikes a good balance of affordability and performance. At that price you get an i5-9300H, a GTX 1650, 8GB of memory, 128GB SSD and a 1TB HDD in a housing that fits a 15.6-inch display. It’s just over 5.5 pounds, so it’s not the most portable laptop on this list, but you’re still able to throw it in a bag and take it wherever you go.
4. HP Omen 15t
Another gaming laptop with a GTX 1650 is the HP Omen 15t. Currently listed at $850, it checks off all the boxes to make our list. There’s an Intel Core i5-9300H inside powering 8GB of memory, a 1TB 7200 RPM hard drive, and a 15.6-inch 1080p display.
For an extra $70, you can bump up to a 144Hz panel and stay under the a grand. Avid Fortnite players will appreciate the free 2,000 V-Bucks, outfit, glider, pickaxe and back bling that is included when you purchase the Omen 15t right now.
5. Asus ROG Zephyrus G GA502
Okay, I’m might be breaking my own rule here by picking out this $1,200 gaming laptop, but it’s still on helluva machine even if it costs over a grand. For your money, you’re getting a machine with a high-end AMD Ryzen 7 3750H CPU, Nvidia GTX 1660 Ti graphics, 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage.
With these specs it blows any other budget gaming laptop on this out of the water—as well it should for the $200-400 premium you’re paying here. Best of all, the Asus ROG Zephyrus G GA502 has a rated 7 hours of battery life to get you through school and your other everyday tasks when you’re not gaming.
6. HP Pavillion Gaming Laptop
This was the absolute cheapest gaming laptop on this list last year, and we’ve held it over this year for much of the same reason. Its components are still capable of keeping up with medium gamers, and it’s an incredible value. You get a 1050 Ti, which is basically the bare minimum graphics card you need to still hit acceptable performance levels in gaming.
It’s worth the small extra cost over the vanilla GTX 1050 that’s available in the base model. But on top of that, it comes with an i5-8300H, 8GB of RAM and a 1TB 7200 rpm hard drive. Better still, it looks the part of a gaming laptop with a green, backlit keyboard and sharp, aggressive angles. This is the ultimate budget gaming laptop, and its hardware tradeoffs are a minor price to pay for such affordability.
7. Lenovo Ideapad L340 Gaming
Lenovo’s Ideapad L340 Gaming was recently upgraded to include an Nvidia GTX 1650 alongside an up to 9th generation Intel Core i7 processor. Like most gaming laptops you can find the L340 gaming in 15- and 17-inch models, however, it won’t cost you a single extra dime to get the big version of this machine.
Both models—yes, that includes the 17-inch model—are available at a $950 starting price (we picked out a higher-end model that’s actually in stock right now). So, if a little extra screen real estate without the guilt is what you’re looking for, the 17-inch Ideapad L340 might just be what you’re looking for.
8. Dell G3 15 Gaming
Dell’s G3 15 Gaming laptop pushes right up against $1,000, but you’re squeezing out extra power with the combination of an i7-8750H and a GTX 1050 Ti. Dell claims you’ll get over 100 fps in Fortnite with this system, likely on Medium graphics settings. Included at this price is 16GB of memory, a 256GB SSD, and a 15.6-inch 1080p display. Dell also offers the G3 15 for $750 if you want to save even more, as long as you’re OK using a regular 1050 and an i5-8300H, the combination of which should still provide decent frame rates.
9. Lenovo Legion Y530
Lenovo’s high-end gaming laptops are thought out and well done. The same approach trickles down to the Y530 with its 15.6-inch 1080p display, 16GB of memory, and a 1TB hard drive i7-8750H, and GTX 1050 Ti for $917. The black housing isn’t the most exciting, but the with the overall design itself is unique. Instead of cramming all the ports on either side of the laptop, Lenovo puts them behind the hinge. Despite its unique hinge design, the Y530 maxes out at only 1-inch thick. Really, it’s pretty slick.
10. Acer Predator Helios 300
Arguably, Acer’s Predator Helios 300 will get you the best performance when compared to the rest of the laptops on this list. It’s a budget-oriented Predator model with great parts at just shy of $1,000. It sports an Intel Core i7-87500HQ processor, GTX 1060 GPU, 16GB DDR4 memory, and a 15.6-inch Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) 144Hz 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, this cheap gaming laptop could actually double as a work machine, or at least make flights a bit less boring.
What to Look for in a Budget Gaming Laptop
Below I’ve sketched out which graphics card and what other specs you need in a cheap gaming laptop. I also go over the main features to consider when shopping for a cheap gaming notebook.
For screen resolution, a 1080p display hits the sweet spot between price and required GPU beefiness. It is really the only option for a value-oriented gaming laptop. Even if you could score a cheap laptop with a high-resolution 4k panel, the GPU inside won’t be able to run games at that resolution, so prepare yourself for 1080p gaming.
When it comes to storage, try to steer clear of laptops with a lone solid-state drive. 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 processors, as they are usually available at fire sale prices and there’s not a huge difference in performance between 8th Gen Coffee Lake and 9th Gen Coffee Lake Refresh for gaming. You won’t be quite as future-proof, but you’ll still enjoy several years of solid 1080p gaming at a low price.
One more thing: just because it’s a laptop doesn’t mean you need to take its name literally. The best experience with a laptop usually isn’t on your lap, but on a desk. Do yourself a favor and check out my guide to the best computer desks to find one to suit your needs—and perhaps a laptop cooling pad to boost your performance—and don’t forget to check out the best gaming chairs to sit in with your new laptop.