Gaming laptops can be expensive beasts, with premium models easily costing upwards of $2000 or more. But here’s the good news – you don’t need to spend a fortune to get a capable gaming machine. There are plenty of budget-friendly gaming laptops out there that deliver solid performance and immersive gameplay, as long as you make the right choice.
This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know to find the best cheap gaming laptop that fits your budget and needs. We’ll cover the top recommendations, what specs to look for, and frequently asked questions to help ensure you get the right affordable gaming rig. Ready to get your game on without breaking the bank? Let’s dive in.
Top 5 Budget-Friendly Gaming Laptops
You can get a surprisingly powerful gaming laptop these days without having to completely drain your bank account. Here are 5 of the best options under $1000 that offer great performance for the price.
Acer Nitro 5
The Acer Nitro 5 hits the sweet spot between price and performance, making it one of the most popular budget gaming laptops around.
- Intel Core i5-10300H Processor
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 GPU
- 15.6” 1080p display
- 8GB DDR4 RAM
- 256GB SSD
- Strong overall performance for the price
- Decent build quality with backlit keyboard
- Upgradeable RAM and storage
- Battery life is subpar
- Runs hot under heavy loads
The Nitro 5 is a workhorse that handles esports titles like Fortnite and Apex Legends at 60+ fps, along with supporting AAA games at medium settings. For this price point, it delivers great value.
Dell G15 5515
Dell’s G series focuses on budget gaming, with the G15 offering premium design and performance.
- AMD Ryzen 5 5600H Processor
- NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3050 GPU
- 15.6” 1080p 120Hz display
- 16GB DDR4 RAM
- 512GB SSD
- Sleek all-black design and thin bezels
- Fast 120Hz display
- Powerful 6-core AMD processor
- Dim display with average color accuracy
- Significant bloatware pre-installed
For just under $1000, the Dell G15 5515 lets you experience ray traced gaming with its RTX 3050 GPU. The AMD CPU also breezes through everyday multitasking.
MSI GF65 Thin
The MSI GF65 Thin gaming laptop delivers solid 1080p performance if portability is a priority.
- Intel Core i5-10500H Processor
- NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 GPU
- 15.6” 1080p 144Hz display
- 16GB DDR4 RAM
- 512GB SSD
- Impressively thin and light chassis
- 144Hz high refresh rate display
- Capable of 1440p gaming
- Gets hot when gaming
- Subpar battery life
- No webcam
Packing RTX 3060 graphics into a 0.9” thin profile is excellent engineering by MSI. The GF65 Thin is very portable for a gaming laptop while still delivering high frame rates.
ASUS TUF Gaming A15
The ASUS TUF A15 lives up to its name as a durable budget gaming laptop.
- AMD Ryzen 7 4800H Processor
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1660 Ti GPU
- 15.6” 1080p 144Hz display
- 16GB DDR4 RAM
- 512GB SSD
- Great CPU performance
- MIL-STD-810H military certification
- Effective cooling system
- Lackluster battery life
- Screen could be brighter
With its 8-core Ryzen 7 processor, the ASUS TUF A15 dominates when it comes to CPU-intensive tasks like video editing and 3D modeling. It also stands up well to rough use and travel.
HP Victus 16
The HP Victus 16 delivers fantastic value with its 16” display and latest components.
- Intel Core i7-12700H Processor
- NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3050 Ti GPU
- 16.1” 1080p 144Hz display
- 16GB DDR5 RAM
- 512GB SSD
- 16” screen great for immersion
- Latest 12th gen Intel CPU
- Stylish design with thin bezels
- Gets loud when gaming
- No webcam
Among budget gaming laptops, the Victus 16 is hard to beat when it comes to raw performance. The 12th gen Intel CPU chews through heavy workloads with ease. Large screen real estate also helps you get lost in the game.
How to Choose the Right Budget Gaming Laptop
Beyond just looking at price, there are several factors that come into play when choosing a cheap gaming laptop that fits your needs. Let’s explore the key components and features to consider when buying a budget gaming machine.
Determine Your Budget
First and foremost, set a budget cap for yourself. Gaming laptops under $500 exist, but they often cut too many corners. For a better experience, try to spend at least $600-$800. The sweet spot for price and performance is around $900-$1100 – here you can get a powerful gaming laptop with decent future-proofing that will last several years.
Once you set your budget, it will help narrow down the choices and guide your priorities for the components below.
Consider the Graphics Card (GPU)
The graphics card plays the biggest role when it comes to gaming performance. For a budget gaming laptop, these are the main GPUs to look for ordered from lowest to highest performance:
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650/1650 Ti – Entry-level 1080p gaming at 40-60 fps
- NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3050/3050 Ti – Step up to ray tracing and DLSS support
- NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060 – The sweet spot for 60+ fps 1080p gaming
- AMD Radeon RX 6600M – Excellent mid-range performer comparable to RTX 3060
Ideally, get at least an RTX 3050 Ti or AMD RX 6600M to provide a great gaming experience for years to come. Pay attention to video memory as well – 4GB is minimum, but 6GB or 8GB is preferred.
When choosing a GPU, also consider whether you prefer NVIDIA or AMD. NVIDIA GPUs currently have more robust ray tracing and upscaling support with DLSS. But AMD offers great value, plus Smart Access Memory to further boost performance when paired with an AMD CPU.
Evaluate the Processor (CPU)
Don’t neglect the importance of the CPU – it handles critical background processes while you game. For gaming laptops, focus on these CPU specifications:
- Core count – Higher core count means better multitasking. Aim for at least 4 cores, but 6 cores is ideal for heavier games.
- Clock speed – Measured in gigahertz (GHz), the clock speed determines overall processing power. Look for at least 2.5 GHz base clock.
- Efficiency – 10nm processors and beyond are more power efficient than older 14nm models.
Here are common processors you’ll find in budget gaming laptops ordered from lowest to highest performance:
- Intel Core i3 – Entry-level, avoid 11th gen or older
- Intel Core i5 – Minimum recommended, get 10th gen or newer
- Intel Core i7 – Sweet spot for high-end gaming
- AMD Ryzen 5 – Excellent mid-range performance for the price
- AMD Ryzen 7 – Top-tier productivity and gaming performance
At minimum, get a 10th generation or newer Intel Core i5, or AMD Ryzen 5. But if your budget allows, a Ryzen 7 or Core i7 will give you more headroom for gaming and streaming.
Assess the RAM
Having enough RAM keeps your games running smoothly, especially with multiple programs and browser tabs open. For budget gaming laptops:
- 8GB – The bare minimum amount of RAM required
- 16GB – The ideal amount for smooth gaming with no slowdowns
- DDR4-3200 – Faster RAM speeds improve Ryzen performance
There should also be open RAM slots to allow upgrading in the future. Since RAM is one of the cheaper laptop components to upgrade, a laptop with 8GB RAM can potentially be a smart budget choice that you can improve later.
For storage, you’ll typically see:
- Hard disk drives (HDD) – Very slow, only useful for extra storage
- Solid state drives (SSD) – Way faster than HDDs for load times
- M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD – The latest standard, delivers blazing speeds
SSD is a must for your main drive. Aim for at least a 256GB SSD, but 512GB or 1TB is even better to store multiple games. Also consider a secondary HDD if you need extra space for media files and documents.
Here are the key factors for a gaming laptop display:
- Resolution – 1080p (Full HD) is the gaming standard at this budget. Higher resolutions strain cheaper GPUs.
- Refresh rate – 60Hz is common but 120Hz or 144Hz results in smoother motion and response.
- Panel type – IPS displays have the best color reproduction and viewing angles. TN panels can look washed out.
At minimum, get a 60Hz 1080p display with an IPS panel. 120Hz+ refresh rates offer a more responsive, fluid gaming experience. G-Sync and FreeSync provide even smoother variable refresh rates when supported by the GPU.
Avoid displays labeled only as “LED” – these use low-quality TN panels with poor viewing angles.
Gaming laptops get hot, but good cooling makes a big difference in maintaining high performance and longevity. Prioritize laptops with:
- Vents on the back/sides for better airflow
- Multiple fans and heat pipes to distribute heat
- Adjustable fan speeds in software for more control
Thin gaming laptops sacrifice thermals for portability, so expect to see higher temperatures. Undervolting or a cooling pad can help maximize performance in small chassis.
One tradeoff of gaming laptops is weaker battery life, especially when gaming unplugged. Realistically, expect 2-5 hours of general use depending on power settings.
For budget gaming laptops, battery life takes a back seat to performance. Focus on raw power while plugged in, and reduce settings like screen brightness when mobile. External batteries can also extend time away from an outlet.
Weight & Portability
Bulkier laptops allow for better cooling, while thin and light models prioritize mobility. Decide if you want a desktop replacement or more frequent travel companion.
15” laptops keep weight manageable while still offering an immersive display. 17” models provide a desktop-like experience but lose portability. Anything under 5 pounds is considered highly portable for a gaming laptop.
Even inexpensive gaming laptops will benefit from good peripherals for a complete setup:
- Gaming mouse – Precise sensors and customizable buttons
- Mechanical keyboard – Satisfying feel with quick actuations
- Headset – Immersive audio and clear microphone
For a desktop-like experience, connect your laptop to a monitor or TV with HDMI. This allows gaming on a larger screen.
Stick to established brands like ASUS, Acer, Dell, HP, Lenovo, MSI and Gigabyte for your budget pick. While boutique builders like Maingear offer compelling options, great support and build quality from big brands provides peace of mind.
Research reliability and customer service ratings before purchasing. And beware very cheap laptops from off-brands – poor components and support often lead to a frustrating ownership experience.
Frequently Asked Questions About Budget Gaming Laptops
What graphics card do I need for casual gaming?
If you stick to esports, MOBAs, indie titles and older AAA games, you can get by with an entry-level GPU like the NVIDIA GTX 1650 or AMD Radeon RX 5500M. The GTX 1660 Ti also provides solid 1080p gameplay in most titles.
Can I game on an integrated graphics card?
Integrated graphics like Intel UHD are designed for general use, not gaming. Esports games may be playable on minimum settings, but any graphically intensive games will perform poorly. Discreet GPUs like NVIDIA GeForce deliver a much better experience.
How much RAM do I need in a budget gaming laptop?
8GB of RAM is the bare minimum for smooth gaming, but more demanding titles may use up this capacity quickly. 16GB is strongly recommended and delivers plenty of headroom, keeping your games running well for years to come.
Is a 4-core or 6-core CPU better for gaming?
4-core processors like the Ryzen 5 and Core i5 are the minimum now recommended for gaming. 6-core CPUs like the Ryzen 7 and Core i7 allow better multitasking while gaming and streaming. If your budget allows, 6 cores provides more future-proofing.
Do I need a solid state drive (SSD) in my gaming laptop?
An SSD is strongly recommended since it drastically improves game and level load times compared to a hard disk drive. Boot times also benefit. Aim for at least a 256GB SSD as your primary drive for the operating system and games.
What display specs should I look for in a budget gaming laptop?
Look for a 1920 x 1080 resolution IPS display with at least a 60Hz refresh rate. 120Hz or 144Hz is even better for smoother gaming. Avoid less expensive TN panel displays which have poor viewing angles.
Can I play AAA games on a budget gaming laptop?
Yes, budget gaming laptops with mid-range GPUs like the RTX 3050 or RX 6600M can handle AAA games on medium to high settings at 40-60 fps. You may need to tweak some settings downward on more demanding titles.
How can I extend my gaming laptop’s battery life?
Lower screen brightness, enable battery saver mode in Windows, and close any unneeded apps. Stop all gaming and limit video streaming. Avoid using WiFi and stick to offline games or documents to maximize battery away from an outlet. An external battery pack also helps.
Should I get a gaming mouse for my laptop?
A dedicated gaming mouse is highly recommended for first-person shooters and competitive multiplayer titles. The increased precision and customizable buttons give you an advantage over a standard laptop trackpad. They are well worth the investment for serious gaming.
Is a cooling pad worth it for a budget gaming laptop?
Cooling pads with built-in fans can help keep temperatures down and maintain performance in gaming laptops. They are not essential, but provide a decent upgrade around $25-$50. Larger dual fan models work best for thicker gaming rigs that tend to run hot when stressed.
Finding the right cheap gaming laptop comes down to setting your budget and weighing your performance priorities. Once you settle on the right balance of specs and components for the price, you can enjoy immersive gaming even without breaking the bank.
Focus first on the graphics card, processor and display when comparing budget gaming laptop options – these have the biggest impact. GPUs like the RTX 3050 / 3050 Ti deliver strong 1080p gameplay that will satisfy most gamers. And capable CPUs like the Ryzen 5 and Core i5 prevent bottlenecks.
Reviewing benchmark results for the laptops you’re considering helps quantify expected gaming performance. But on a budget, aim for at least 60fps on high settings in your target titles, then adjust from there.
The good news is competitive gaming is more accessible than ever thanks to budget gaming laptops. With the right choice, cheap doesn’t have to mean underpowered. So get out there and game on!