The Best Cheap Gaming Laptops for 2021


For us—as well as for the sellers of We don’t consider a laptop to be a true gaming machine unless it has a dedicated graphics chip (also known as a “GPU”), rather than integrated graphics in the PC’s main processor. How do you determine what constitutes a “true” gaming laptop?

—that’s the dividing line between a gamer and a pretender.

If you roll back the screen-resolution and graphical-detail settings far enough, current general-use laptops with Intel’s 9th, 10th, or (more recently) 11th Generation Core i5 and Core i7 CPUs can play basic games passably. Almost any recent notebook PC can be used as a gaming laptop to some extent. These chips include modest graphics acceleration, which is sufficient for casual or Web-based games. Even so, depending on the games you play and how picky you are, a laptop may not need to pretend. The most effective Here comes Plants vs. Zombies.

11th Generation “Tiger Lake” CPUs have tinkered with the equation a little, as they have notably. improved integrated graphics They, too, fall far short of the performance of a discrete GPU in the end. and is capable of running real-world games at low-to-moderate settings

A True GPU Is the Difference-Maker

We’re assuming you want to do more than harvest potato mines and pea-shooters, or play games on low settings—you’ve got a Steam account, and you’re itching to play some of the latest AAA titles in their entirety: the most recent Battlefield iteration, the most recent Tom Clancy-fest, the most recent iteration ofTomb Raideror the game Far Cry. Or perhaps you want to play the most popular online games right now—FortniteApex Legends, Valorant—at the highest frame rate supported by your gaming laptop’s panel. It’s a good place to start if you want to get serious about notebook gaming. A dedicated graphics chip can help with this.

(Photo: Zlata Ivleva)

If you’re truly Nvidia’s GeForce graphics card That kind of high-end future-proofing necessitates high-end graphics silicon: If you’re serious about playing your games at the highest possible detail settings and screen resolution (for most laptops, that’s 1,920 by 1,080 pixels, assuming you’re playing on the laptop’s screen rather than an external display), you’ll have to spend some money, especially if you want that laptop to stay game-viable at those settings for more than a couple of years. RTX 2070 Super or RTX 2080 Super By the end of 2020, they would be the latest and greatest, and the mighty RTX 3070 and 3080 At this price point, the GTX 16-Series or the newer RTX 3050 family are more likely to be found—more on this in the GPU section below. Getting one of those GPUs, however, requires a significant investment, and at current prices, $1,500 or more is out of reach. In early 2021, it will be released on laptops.

With a little sacrificing, you can get some very respectable 1080p gaming in machines that are a step or two below the GeForce RTX elite, with models starting at $800. Take heart, however, in the fact that times have changed. For good gaming performance, you don’t need one of the top-tier GPUs (in 2021, that means a GeForce RTX-branded GPU). There are even a few that RTX 2060 laptop options Budget gaming laptops are no longer outliers, but rather a well-established category that has been embraced by the major players. We put Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and MSI laptops to the test. as low as $999 (see the GPU section below for more information).

Here’s how to decipher their parts and get the most bang for your buck.

What to Look for in a Budget Gaming Laptop, Part by Part

That may come at the expense of a few other features, such as less storage or a Core i5 processor rather than a Core i7. If gaming is your main priority and your budget is strictly limited to $1,000, get the best GPU you can for the money and let the rest fall into place. What’s our first piece of advice?

Notebooks, on the other hand, are only upgradeable in terms of primary system memory (RAM, not to be confused with graphics memory) and, in some cases, storage. If you can stretch your budget a little to get a component from the next tier up, it will pay off in terms of usable life. You’ll have to live with the screen, graphics chip, and processor you choose right now, so choose wisely.

Yes, the processor is important, but don’t overspend.

Some modern games, particularly those in the MMORPG and real-time strategy (RTS) genres, hammer the processor. Dual-core processors are no longer available in new gaming notebooks, and with good reason: Some AAA games specify quad-core CPUs as a minimum requirement.

So, if you can, get a Core i5 or i7 chip with four true cores; a six-core chip is nice to have. A Core i7 of the same generation is a powerful six-core or eight-core processor that, in our opinion, is overkill for casual gamers on a budget. Even Core i5 CPUs will have plenty of power with the 10th Generation Intel CPUs that currently dominate budget gaming laptops. However, a fully loaded Core i7 or Core i9 CPU is more important for processor-intensive tasks like video editing and media-file production work than it is for gaming.

(Photo: Zlata Ivleva)

Currently, Intel’s 10th Generation “Comet Lake” mobile processors ‘The’ In 2021 models, Intel’s 11th Generation “Tiger Lake” processors will take their place. Tiger Lake-H processors You can often get those chips in laptops starting at around $1,200, but then you’re no longer in budget territory. In the meantime, many new machines still use Comet Lake Core-H processors from the 10th generation. have also debuted in higher-end gaming laptops, but are only now beginning to make their way down to laptops under $1,000.

With the release of laptop chips based on the company’s Zen 2 microarchitecture in 2020, this began to change across all price tiers. Even back then, there weren’t a lot of laptops with AMD processors. Meanwhile, things are looking up big time on the AMD side of the fence. The Zen 2 processors are similar to the Zen 2 processors. AMD processors and GPUs were previously uncommon in midrange and high-end laptops, but they were a good fit for budget laptops (due to the components’ low cost of entry). did on desktop, these Zen 2-based “Renoir” processors challenged Intel on laptopThat’s a higher-end chip, so it’s less relevant here, but other Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 7 CPUs, such as the Ryzen 7 4800H in the budget laptops, are available. in the year 2020 The Ryzen 9 4900HS was the first chip we tested, and it proved to be a great performer as well as a good value. Dell G5 15 SE (2020).

With the release of the Zen 3-based processor in 2021, AMD continues to up the ante. Ryzen 5000 mobile CPUsAs the year 2021 draws to a close, expect to see more of these CPUs in a variety of laptops. So far, we’ve only tested a few laptops with these processors, but we’ve been pleasantly surprised by their performance. ..

System Memory: In This Range, Go Eight

(It’s been a while since we’ve seen a machine with dedicated graphics with less than 8GB of main system memory.) Most sub-$1,000 dedicated graphics machines won’t go any higher, but that’s plenty for most moderate use and mainstream gaming. The occasional low-cost gaming laptop now comes with 16GB of RAM, but this is still the exception rather than the rule in this price range. If you have a budget of around $1,000, 8GB of RAM is the bare minimum.

(Photo: Zlata Ivleva)

Even if you can upgrade the memory, the laptop might come with memory modules in both slots, which means you’ll have to replace them both if you upgrade later. It’s also worth looking into whether the laptop’s RAM can be upgraded later on and what the ceiling is. It’s best to get everything you require up front.

Storage: SSDs Rule, But a Mix Is Better

(It’s worth noting that most budget gaming laptops under $1,000 are 15.6-inchers.) Although this is more common with 17-inch laptops, some 15.6-inch models may include a small-capacity SSD boot drive alongside a secondary-storage platter hard drive. In laptops under $1,000, you’ll find both traditional hard drives and faster (but smaller-capacity) solid-state drives (SSDs).

If you can find and afford it, go with this dual-drive setup. That may be the most cost-effective option, as 2.5-inch hard drives with significant capacity can be found for under $100. The operating system and a few favorite games would reside on the smaller SSD, while the rest of your games and other programs that don’t require quick loading times would reside on the larger, more cost-effective hard drive. (You can split your Steam and other game libraries across multiple drives.) Some low-cost gaming laptops allow you to install a second drive in an empty internal 2.5-inch bay.

It’s especially important in massively multiplayer online role-playing games, where huge environments are loaded in real time. In a gaming laptop, a combination of SSD and hard drive offers the best of both worlds in terms of storage. This is especially important given how large modern game installations have grown, sometimes exceeding 100GB. Your small SSD will quickly fill up. You should, in our opinion. As a result, having at least some SSD-based storage is preferable. The storage subsystem has an impact on game load times and in-game level changes in terms of gaming performance. onlyAt this time, an SSD boot drive is the best option. The performance “feel” of a hard drive versus an SSD boot drive is far too significant to ignore.See our picks for the fastest SSDs.)

Optical drives are almost non-existent on gaming models these days, regardless of screen size. Even if you have a lot of disc games, you can always use an external USB DVD/CD drive in a pinch, and they’re only about $20.

Display Details, Part One: Size and Resolution

When looking at the display panel of a gaming laptop, keep four things in mind: the screen size, native resolution, refresh rate, and panel type.

Many of these notebooks weigh six pounds or more, and even the lightest ones aren’t cheap. As previously stated, most gaming laptops under $1,000 have a screen size of 15.6 inches. However, if you’ve ever tried carrying one of these machines or looked for a laptop bag that can accommodate both it and its massive power adapter, you might reconsider. This size is a good compromise in terms of more than just cost. Gaming on the largest laptop screen possible—with a few exceptions, that’s the 17-inch class—is sometimes the best option.

Even though a 15-inch gamer isn’t ideal for daily use, most of them are much more manageable than their larger counterparts. We’ve seen a few hit six hours or more of battery life, but only in everyday productivity or video playback; gaming will drastically reduce that number. Furthermore, today’s 15-inch gaming rigs are better suited for true mobile use—that is, off an AC power plug—than previous generations. ( ) Check out our top picks forthe laptops with the best battery life.)

(Photo: Zlata Ivleva)

Not only are such screens more expensive and drain more battery life, but the graphics chips found in under-$1,000 gaming rigs aren’t powerful enough to run games on them. The native resolution of the screen is now 1,920 by 1,080 pixels (commonly referred to as 1080p) in both budget and mainstream gaming machines. (At the 15-inch size, screens with resolutions much higher than 1080p tend to look small and squinty anyway.) The more pixels you need to push, the more graphics power you’ll need, and a wise gaming laptop manufacturer won’t include a screen with a native resolution that the GPU can’t handle. It’s no coincidence that higher-than-HD screens are scarce in budget gaming machines.

Part Two of the Display Details: Refresh Rate and Panel Type

Like the native resolution, the refresh rate of the panel should be noted, even if it is often the same—60Hz—across older budget models these days.

Most laptop screens, including those in most non-gaming budget models, operate at 60Hz, which means they redraw the onscreen image 60 times per second and can display up to 60 frames per second (fps) of in-game action. If a laptop’s refresh rate (measured in hertz, or Hz) is mentioned as a feature, it’s likely higher than average. (In other words, if your graphics chip can produce 90 frames per second in a game, you’ll only see 60.) These high refresh rates can be beneficial for some extremely fast-paced games, especially those that are played competitively online, such as CS:GO and other stalwarts. However, some notebook screens these days can display at 75Hz, 120Hz, or even higher. DOTA 2, and OverwatchFortnite, Apex Legends, and Call of Duty: Warzone are the most recent additions to the list.

(Photo: Zlata Ivleva)

A 60Hz screen will suffice unless you’re attempting to become a professional gamer or achieve global rankings in a popular game. Even in budget gaming machines, high-refresh panels are becoming the norm, and the lack of one now indicates an older model you should avoid. After all, if they haven’t purchased a new PC in the last few years, nearly all gamers are still “stuck” with 60Hz displays.

TN panels have a slight advantage in terms of response time. Some gamers opt for cheaper twisted nematic (TN) panels, which result in narrower viewing angles—but since you’re almost certainly seated directly in front of the screen, this isn’t an issue. If at all possible, choose an in-plane switching (IPS) panel, as these provide the best off-center viewing angles and colors. Another thing to look for is the type of panel.

Finally, a word about touch input. Despite the undeniable convenience of touch screens for Windows, they aren’t common on gaming machines, and we’re not aware of any GeForce- or Radeon RX-based gaming models with touch in the sub-$1,000 range.Check out our top picks for touch-screen laptops..)

Here’s Where to Put Your Money on the Graphics Processor

Any gaming computer’s backbone is its dedicated graphics chip. Nvidia’s GeForce GTX line dominates the budget gaming machine market, and the most recent chips are part of the company’s GeForce GTX 1600 series, or “Turing” family, which debuted in April 2019 in mobile versions of the GeForce GTX 1650 and GTX 1660 Ti. In April 2020, a GeForce GTX 1650 Ti was added to the family, slotting in between the two.

Only laptops at the very top of the “budget” price range (around $1,000) will have the RTX 2060, and even then, only a few models will be available. Nonetheless, it technically adds the RTX line to this category, with its signature ray-tracing capabilities. Nvidia lowered the starting price for laptops with its RTX 2060 GPU to just $999 when it released the GTX 1650 Ti (and the aforementioned high-end RTX Super GPUs) in April 2020. This means that gaming on an entry-level laptop at high settings (or even maximum, depending on the game) is now more accessible than ever. However, due to some changes in Nvidia’s stack, this price isn’t just about GTX.

Meanwhile, this spring, Nvidia rolled out the GeForce RTX 3050 and RTX 3050 Ti are two new mainstream GeForce RTX graphics cards. So far, they’ve only just made it into sub-$1,000 laptops; we’ve only seen a few RTX 3050-based machines starting at around $999. Graphics processing units (GPUs) for gaming laptops.

(Photo: Zlata Ivleva)

The GeForce GTX 1650 is now the most affordable new gaming laptop’s main offering, and it’s a better performer. Until 2019, the “Pascal”-based GeForce GTX 1050 was the go-to entry-level gaming chip, with models starting around $700 to $800. While the GTX 1050 can play most modern games at 1080p resolution with medium to high settings, it will no longer be sold in modern laptops.

The older GTX 1060 is still recommended for use with a virtual reality (VR) headset on a laptop. (Here are some of our favorites.) These can be found in laptops ranging in price from $899 to $1,200, depending on the other components they’re paired with. The GTX 1650 and GTX 1660 Ti (and the newer GTX 1650 Ti) have completely dominated the budget tier. If you have a little more money, the GTX 1650 Ti will comfortably boost you above 30 frames per second (and possibly to 60 frames per second depending on the game), whereas the GTX 1660 Ti is a true 60fps performer. the best laptops for VR.) However, keep in mind that the GTX 1660 Ti is the newer equivalent in this regard, and it will only improve performance. As 2021 draws to a close, expect the RTX 3050 line to begin encroaching on the GTX 1660 Ti’s territory, but component shortages will keep prices high.

The RTX 2070, 2080, and (as of early 2021) the RTX 3070 and 3080 are superior for performing this technique, but the RTX 2060 (and presumably the RTX 3050s, as they make their way into cheaper machines) is capable. As previously stated, the RTX 2060 is now available in a few laptops for as little as $999, which should tempt budget shoppers. Ray tracing is a sophisticated lighting technique that can only be performed by GPUs with the RTX moniker. This is especially true in relation to DLSS 2.0Even if RTX isn’t yet a budget staple, being able to pull this off on budget laptops is an impressive feat, and shows how this category is healthier than ever. , a visual feature from Nvidia that improves performance in a few games.

Although desktop GPUs continue to have an advantage, older generations only saw 70% to 80% of desktop performance. It’s worth noting that the Pascal and Turing mobile GPUs are much closer to their desktop counterparts than previous generations. ( ) Check out our top picks forthe best graphics cards for 1080p gaming on a desktop(Most people do.) .) Turing and Pascal mobile chips deliver performance that is nearly identical to their desktop counterparts of the same name, assuming they are used in machines with a complementary CPU and designs that account for the GPU’s thermal requirements.

As previously stated, the pricing of those GPUs means they won’t be dominating budget gaming laptops for a while, but we have more information on them. The “Ampere” RTX 30-Series GPUs, on the other hand, deviate from their desktop counterparts once more. complicated performance nuances if you want to read more.

(Photo: Zlata Ivleva)

Nvidia introduced a technology called Turing in 2017 to further muddy the performance waters.Max-Q DesignIf maximum portability—not a characteristic usually associated with gaming laptops!—is important to you, you might be interested in a Max-Q rig. Because Max-Q is typically found in thin, high-end machines, it’s rarely a consideration for the under-$1,000 crowd. However, knowing what it is is useful in case you come across the term while shopping. This allows a slightly detuned GeForce chip to fit into thinner and lighter notebooks than would otherwise be possible, but at the cost of 10% to 15% of the chip’s performance. (A few models above the one-grand line have the technology.)

(Photo: Zlata Ivleva)

However, its most recent GPU efforts are gaining traction faster than previous ones. It was only recently introduced (We haven’t looked at enough of them yet to draw any firm conclusions.) The Radeon RX 5500M and RX 5600M have appeared in a few late-model laptops we’ve reviewed, and you’ll want to read our individual reviews to see how these new Radeon GPUs compare. Dedicated graphics chips from Nvidia’s competitor AMD are less common in budget gaming laptops (or higher-cost ones, for that matter), despite AMD’s Ryzen processor success against Intel. Radeon RX 6000M Series GPUs For the time being, are unlikely to play a significant role in low-cost laptops.

Don’t Forget the Keyboard: Lighting and Layouts

More elaborate backlighting goes hand-in-hand with higher prices and a higher general level of other components, and this varies a lot from model to model. A colorful, backlit keyboard is one of the features that distinguishes a gaming laptop.

Only high-end machines have keyboards with individually programmable lighting for each key. Lighting that can be controlled by zone, with three or four blocks of the keyboard individually customizable in different colors, is the next step up, but this is not common in budget machines. To keep costs down, almost all budget gaming laptops will use single-color backlighting (usually red or white).

(Photo: Zlata Ivleva)

Check for a dedicated number pad to the right of the main key area, if you prefer one—or not, for that matter—because most budget gaming laptops are 15.6-inch models. (A 17-inch laptop, on the other hand, almost always will.) Take a look at the key layout as well. Some machines with this size screen will have one, while others will not. In our opinion, models with an isolated cluster of arrow keys or well-defined WASD keys earn bonus points.

So, Which Cheap Gaming Laptop to Buy?

However, our reviews should give you a good idea of the screen, build, and input quality of the various laptops. Also, keep in mind that the majority of these models are just one version of a machine from a different line. It’s worth noting that a few of the configurations sent to us for testing were slightly more than $1,000; some remain that way, while others have since dropped below the $1,000 mark. If key components were downgraded to keep the price below $1,000, you might not get quite the same level of performance as we did. When evaluating each laptop family, use the linked reviews as guidelines rather than absolutes. We’ve mapped out our top-rated models to investigate at the top of this article and below.

Using the price filters at a reseller like Newegg.com can help you see different configurations at different price points, in addition to reading our reviews and visiting the vendors’ websites. Some manufacturers provide a variety of weighted versions of the same laptop (for example, more storage in one configuration, a better GPU in another). Playing around with the filters on these sites can be a fun game of give-and-take.

Do you want to enhance your PC gaming experience? Also, take a look at our top picks for thebest gaming mice and top gaming headsets, as well as our picks for the best gaming laptops overall, price aside.