Gaming laptops running Nvidia's neware now readily available. But, unless you're prepared to spend at least $1,500, you've got a bit of a wait ahead of you before prices drop below $1,000.
The good news is the prices on older laptops with Nvidia's GeForce GTX 10-series GPUs started dropping long ago and you can get a well-configured 15.6-inch laptop for $1,000. And their graphics hardware isn't their only good quality, either.
Prices for models with an entry-level GTX 1050 card start around $600, which gives you enough graphics performance to play the newest demanding games at low-to-medium settings. Spending $1,000 or a little more will get you a laptop with an upper-midrange Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060. Plus, with the 6GB version of the card, you canavailable with RTX cards. In between those is the 1050 Ti GPU that can be found in laptops for less than $800 and can handle medium-to-high settings depending on the game.
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Best overall mainstream gaming laptop
Dell G5 15Sarah Tew/CNET
Dell's G-series gaming laptops are cheaper than those from its Alienware division, but still capable of playing the latest AAA titles. There are three separate models -- the G3, G5 and G7 -- available in 15- and 17-inch sizes. The G3 15, which starts at $700, is most like a typical slim mainstream Inspiron, while the G5 and G7 look more like gaming laptops.
The midrange G5 15 hits the mark with an excellent price-to-performance ratio, build quality and design. The entry model is $800 with a 4GB GTX 1050, but you can find it for $1,000 with a 6GB GTX 1060. And if you're willing to go to $1,200, you can get it with a new RTX 2060.Read CNET's review
Lenovo Legion Y530Sarah Tew/CNET
Lenovo's Legion Y530, Y730 and Y7000 gaming laptops can all be found for $1,000 or less, so it really comes down to what components and design features you want in it. The Y7000's chassis (pictured) looks a bit more like a gaming laptop, while the Y530 can be found with higher-performance components for the money and the Y730 has more gaming extras like an RGB-backlit keyboard with a row of assignable macro keys.
The Legion Y530 is currently the best deal when it comes to performance since it's available for $920 with a GTX 1060 with 6GB of memory and a quad-core Intel Core i5 processor.Read CNET's review
Acer Predator Helios 300Sarah Tew/CNET
Acer announced a new Predator Helios 300 that'll be available later in April with ninth-gen Intel processors and Nvidia RTX graphics and a smaller, thinner body. The two-year-old Helios 300 is available in the meantime with a 15.6-inch full-HD IPS display with a 144Hz refresh rate, an Intel Core i7-8750H CPU, Nvidia GTX 1060 GPU with 6GB of memory, 16GB of system RAM and a 256GB NVMe SSD on Amazon for an incredible $999.
The company's mainstream Nitro 5 is also getting a refresh, but like the Helios, the old models are still around. It isn't as polished as Dell's or Lenovo's offerings and Acer doesn't offer it with a GTX 1060 GPU. But $650 gets you one with GTX 1050 graphics or with a 1050 Ti for $800.Read CNET's review
HP Pavilion Gaming 15t
HP's Pavilion Gaming Laptop is similar to Dell's G series, giving you a mainstream option instead of shelling out for a pricier PC from its Omen gaming brand. An interesting vent design and green backlit keyboard and accents are the only real giveaways that its not your average laptop. Prices start at $780 on HP's site with Nvidia's 2GB GeForce GTX 1050, but an Amazon exclusive config with a 4GB GeForce GTX 1050 Ti and a six-core Intel Core i7-8750H processor is available for $999 and its performance didn't disappoint.Read CNET's review
Asus TUF Gaming FX504Sarah Tew/CNET
The TUF comes in multiple configurations, but all of them have a cushy keyboard for long gaming sessions and Asus says it's extra durable, lasting for up to 20 million key presses. The cheapest configuration's display is poor quality and overall is not a good deal. You can, however, get it with a better IPS-level display, a 4GB 1050 Ti, a fast 256GB SSD and a quad-core Intel Core i5-8300H for $680. Or go up to $1,100 and you'll get a six-core Core i7, GTX 1060 with 6GB RAM and a 120Hz 15.6-inch display.Read CNET's review
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 at 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, 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 15Sarah Tew/CNET
For $600, the E 15 is an absolute bargain for a desktop replacement. Along with the MX150 graphics and an eighth-gen 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.Read CNET's review
Asus ZenBook 13Sarah Tew/CNET
While all the other laptops here are big 15.6-inch models and weigh around 5 pounds each, the $899 ZenBook 13 is a gorgeous 13.3-inch ultraportable. In fact, when it launched it was 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.Read CNET's review
Buying tips for cheap gaming laptops
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 1050 Ti 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 with 3GB or 6GB of memory.
Beyond the graphics chip, look for:
- Seventh- or eighth-gen 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)
Most if not all gaming 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.
Originally published June 29, 2018.
Update, April 15: Adds HP Pavilion Gaming Laptop and current pricing.