There has never been a better time to be a cash-strapped PC gamer in need of a new laptop. Just about every PC maker has a model for $1,000 or less and they can do more than play old games at low quality settings.
You'll want to make sure you get the most graphics power you can afford from the start since this can't be upgraded later, unlike memory or storage. If you're on a strict budget, go with one of Nvidia's Geforce GTX 1050 or 1050Ti graphics cards, which will give you good performance on newer games at medium or high settings with prices starting down around $600. If you can afford to spend closer to $1,000, you'll be better off in the long run getting a laptop with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 Max Q with 6GB of memory.
Beyond the graphics chip, look for:
- Seventh- or eighth-generation Intel Core i5 or i7 processor
- At least 8GB of memory (RAM)
- At least a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD), a combo of a 128GB SSD and hard drive or a large solid-state hybrid drive (SSHD)
All of these entry-level laptops let you easily expand or upgrade your memory and storage, so again, it's best to put your cash into the GPU and processor. Sure, you'll get more for your money with a gaming desktop, but if you don't have room for one or you must have mobility, these budget-friendly laptops are worth the investment.
Disclaimer: CNET may get a share of revenue from the sale of the products featured on this page.
Dell Inspiron 15 7000/G5 15
Back in April, Dell unveiled its, which essentially takes 2017's Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming laptop and breaks it into three separate models -- the G3, G5 and G7. The G3 15 is most like a typical slim mainstream Inspiron, while the G5 and G7 look more like gaming laptops.
All of this is a long way of saying both old and new models are out there. The Dell G3 15 Gaming starts at less than $700 with an Nvidia GTX 1050 GPU, but with a GTX 1060 Max Q it's right at $999. The can be found with a similar configuration for around $930.Available at Amazon
Acer Nitro 5
The Nitro 5 isn't as polished as Dell's offerings and Acer doesn't currently offer it with a GTX 1060 GPU. But it starts as low as $650 with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 or $730 with 1050Ti graphics. That's some beefy performance for not much money (as gaming laptops go, anyway) and while there are a few cut corners, you still come out ahead overall.Available at Best Buy
Asus TUF Gaming FX504GD
The TUF comes in four different configurations that are similar to the Acer Nitro 5, but has a better keyboard that's cushy for long gaming sessions and Asus says is extra durable, lasting for up to 20 million key presses. However, we found the cheapest configuration's display disappointing with poor off-angle performance and at $699 with a GTX 1050, it was pricier than the Acer, too. Bumping up to its $899 configuration gets you a better display, a 1050Ti, dual storage drives and a six-core Intel Core i7-8750H.Available at B&H
Lenovo Legion Y530
Lenovo dialed back the design on Legion Y530 starts at $750 with a GTX 1050 or $840 with a 1050Ti. Unfortunately, there currently isn't an option for a 6GB GeForce GTX 1060 GPU, but if you're willing to step back to its Y520 predecessor you can get one in that model for $1,099.to help them compete with , but without the higher prices. The Available from Best Buy
HP Gaming Pavilion 15
HP's direct pricing is on par with the competition here. The entry-level configuration is skippable at $680, but you can configure it for $750 with a Core i5-8300H processor and a GeForce GTX 1050Ti or a six-core Intel Core i7-8750H processor and a 3GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 for $920.to make a play for those who are maybe interested in gaming, but not willing to go all-in on a laptop from the PC maker's Omen brand. We haven't seen it in person yet, but Available on HP.com
Gaming laptops in disguise
Between the integrated graphics you find in most nongaming laptops and the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 are Nvidia's MX family of discrete graphics processors, with the MX150 being the top of the line.
Frame rates aren't going to be fast enough for enjoyable play on high detail settings with newer graphically demanding games. In our tests, however, older games such as Bioshock Infinite were playable on high, as were popular online games such asand . Below are a couple of our favorites, but if you're a casual gamer keep an eye out for the MX150 elsewhere.
Acer Aspire E 15
For $600, Intel Core i5 processor, you get a good 15.6-inch full-HD display, a bevy of ports -- new and old -- and even a DVD burner for those still working in the world of physical media.for a desktop replacement. Along with the MX150 graphics and an eighth-gen Available on Amazon
Asus ZenBook 13
While all the other laptops here are big 15.6-inch models and weigh around 5 pounds each, the $988is a gorgeous 13.3-inch ultraportable. In fact, it's the world's thinnest 13-inch laptop with discrete graphics, making it a good choice for a little light gaming on the go in between meetings or classes. Available on Amazon