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Best cheap gaming laptop under $1,000 for 2021

Good entry-level graphics chips mean terrific performance for less money.

You can find worthy gaming laptops between $700 and $1,000, but good bargains tend to disappear quickly due to limited stock as a result of the microchip shortage. Fortunately, when you can find a laptop, it's typically loaded with the latest AMD or Intel processors, newer entry-level discrete graphics and displays with faster refresh rates. 

That means that you're not limited to low-res gaming on these machines and can get an immersive experience playing games like FortniteMinecraftApex LegendsCS: GO and PUBG. It still costs a pretty penny to get what's considered an affordable gaming laptop, but frugal gamers can save even more money if they look for the best cheap laptop deals on a refurbished or open-box option from the likes of Best Buy, AmazonMicro Center and Woot

The recommendations below are based on our reviews and testing and aim to help you get your ideal gaming experience on a cheap laptop. And if you want to improve your gaming and work-from-home experience, you may want to look into some inexpensive gaming gear to help you do it. We'll update this list of the best cheap gaming laptop options as we review new products.

What should I look for in a cheap gaming laptop?

A cheap gaming laptop with an entry-level GTX 1650 normally starts around $700, though the current chip shortage has prices up and supplies low. That chip gives you enough graphics performance to play the newest demanding games at medium settings. Spending between $800 and $1,000 (or a little more) will get you a laptop with a GTX 1650 Ti, a 1660 Ti or even a 3050 Ti for a better gaming experience.

For the best gaming experience with a budget gaming laptop, 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 an Nvidia 1650 graphics card, which will give you good gaming performance on newer games at medium or high settings with cheap laptop prices starting down around $600. If you can afford to spend closer to $1,000, you'll be better off in the long run as you'll be able to play more demanding games now and later.

Beyond the graphics chip, look for: 

  • A 10th- or 11th-gen Intel Core i5 or i7, or AMD Ryzen 4000 or 5000 series processor.
  • At least 8GB of memory (aka RAM) and the capability to add more post-purchase.
  • At least a 512GB solid-state drive or a combo of a 256GB SSD storage and a larger hard drive.

Also read: What to look for in a cheap gaming laptop

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 gaming laptop options are worth the investment.

Dell

Dell streamlined its G-series gaming laptops, going from three models down to just one -- and it's all for the best. Instead of having to decode the various feature and quality differences between them, there's just one chassis available with a variety of configurations with an 11th-gen Intel processor or AMD Ryzen 5000 H-series processor. All of the processors can be paired with up to a 6GB Nvidia RTX 3060, 8GB RAM or 16GB RAM and 256 GB SSD or 512 GB SSD. They're basically a more budget-friendly version of those from its Alienware division, but still capable of playing the latest AAA titles. Prices have been up and down lately due to supply issues, so if you're a gamer on a budget you may have to wait to get the best deal.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Acer Nitro 5 comes in both 17.3- and 15.6-inch sizes. A 17-inch cheap gaming laptop is a rarity with entry-level gaming laptops; most sub-$1,000 gaming laptops have 15.6-inch displays, and the Acer's larger screen lets the gamer sink in and get lost in the chosen gaming world. Unfortunately, the larger screens are currently just above $1,000 at the moment.

On the other hand, you can get this budget gaming laptop Nitro 5 with a 15.6-inch display for as low as $750, including an Intel Core i5-11400H processor, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 graphics and a 144Hz FHD display. At this level, you'll be able to play current games at FHD resolution with the graphics settings at medium to high, depending on the game you're playing, of course. Still, Acer makes an affordable gaming laptop that packs in some nice extras like direct controls for power and cooling and upgrade access to memory and storage.

Sarah Tew/CNET

It's the bright screamin'-green backlit keyboard that really gives away that HP's 15.6-inch Pavilion Gaming laptop isn't just a normal midsize notebook. Sure, there are some pretty large rear fan vents, but otherwise the chassis is fairly tame and all black except for a slight green tint to the HP logo on the lid. Inside the gaming notebook is an excellent mix of components that are good for gaming as well as work. You can find ready-to-ship options at Walmart and Amazon, or configure your own at HP.com; however, the current shipping wait time is about a month.

Read our HP Pavilion Gaming 15 review.

 

Just a bit above $1,000

These laptops' prices tend to fluctuate just around the $1,000 mark, occasionally dropping below it.

Lenovo

The Legion 5 is an updated version of the Y540, which was one of our favorite gaming laptops for its design and best gaming laptop value. There are a few changes to this gaming machine's design, but mostly it's what's inside that's changed, including a choice between AMD (Legion 5) and Intel (Legion 5i) processors. Prices still start at not much over $1,000 for this affordable gaming laptop. If you are a gamer who needs to keep costs down, the company's budget gaming IdeaPad Gaming 3 laptop starts down around $699.