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Best cheap gaming laptops under $1,000 for 2021

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

While there's no such thing as a "cheap" gaming laptop, these niche devices are becoming more and more affordable. And while an affordable gaming laptop will still run between $700 and $1,000, the good news is that a gamer can actually get decent gaming performance at these prices, and they're lighter and thinner and have a more powerful GPU and higher refresh rate than gaming laptops offered just a few years ago. 

That means that you're not limited to light gaming on these machines -- you can play big games that take up a lot of memory and have integrated graphics like Apex LegendsCS: GOPUBGFortnite and Minecraft and it won't be a problem. And while an affordable gaming laptop still costs a pretty penny, a frugal gamer can save even more money if they look for laptop deals on a refurbished or open-box gaming laptop from the likes of Best Buy, AmazonMicro Center and Woot

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

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 or 16GB of memory and up to 1TB of storage. 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 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 you sink in and get lost in whatever world you're playing in.  

On the other hand, you can get this budget gaming laptop Nitro 5 with a 15.6-inch display for as low as $720, including an AMD Ryzen 5 4600H processor and Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 graphics. 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 is an affordable gaming laptop that packs in some nice extras like direct controls for power and cooling and upgrade access to memory and storage.

Read our Acer Nitro 5 review.

 

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.

Read our HP Pavilion Gaming 15 review.

 

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Aspire 7 isn't a "gaming" laptop but is a great budget gaming option if you're a gamer looking for a home office laptop that's also good for gaming. Along with an Nvidia GTX 1650 graphics card and a 10th-gen Intel Core i5 processor, you get a good 15.6-inch full-HD display and a bevy of ports for $800. 

The Aspire 7 is a little chunky, though. For those who prefer something slimmer and lighter, the Aspire 5 hits the mark for a good gaming experience and is available with an MX250 graphics card for under $1,000.

Read our Acer Aspire 7 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 just under $1,000 for this affordable gaming laptop. If you need to keep costs down, the company's budget gaming IdeaPad Gaming 3 laptop starts down around $749.

Sarah Tew/CNET

While the G5 is still our go-to best cheap gaming laptop pick, the G3 is available with many of the same components, including CPUs and graphics chips, but for less money. The other features and build quality aren't as nice as the G5's, but the G3 is thinner and lighter. It's a good pick if you're looking for a school or home office laptop that can also handle playing the latest games.

Read our Dell G3 15 Gaming Laptop review.

 

Buying tips for a cheap gaming laptop

Older laptops with Nvidia's GeForce GTX 10-series GPUs are still around, but the laptop deal options aren't as good as they once were. A cheap gaming laptop with an entry-level GTX 1050 Ti card normally starts around $700 if you can find one. That chip gives you enough graphics performance to play the newest demanding games at low-to-medium settings. Spending between $800 and $1,000 (or a little more) will get you a laptop with a newer GTX 1650, 1650 Ti or 1660 Ti or an older upper-midrange Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 for a great gaming experience. Plus, with the 6GB version of the GTX 1060, you can experience a little of the ray-tracing effects available with the pricier RTX cards.   

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 older Nvidia Geforce GTX 1050 Ti or newer 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, getting a laptop with an older Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 with 6GB of memory or newer 1660 Ti. 

Beyond the graphics chip, look for: 

  • A ninth- or 10th-gen Intel Core i5 or i7, or AMD Ryzen 4000 series processor
  • At least 8GB of memory (aka RAM) and the capability to add more post-purchase
  • At least a 256GB solid-state drive, a combo of a 128GB SSD storage and hard drive or a large solid-state hybrid drive

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.

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