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Published Jun 22, 2022 1:30 PM

At their best, gaming laptops offer powerful specs, high-resolution displays, and fast refresh rate screens. Unfortunately, the absolute best gaming laptops cost thousands of dollars. If money is no object, you can pay a tremendous amount of money and get an incredible machine in return. However, most of us have to think more pragmatically and that’s where the best gaming laptops under $500 come in.

Many of us do not have the luxury of spending a lot of money on a new laptop. In the world of gaming laptops, spending less money means you have a shorter window of playing the latest AAA games at high specs before you’ll need to upgrade again. If you’re willing to put concerns about fidelity aside, though, you can get a perfectly good laptop that should play a decent number of PC games for as little as $500. Will they all look great and run well? Probably not, but they’re still fun to play. The best gaming laptops at this price point give you the most gaming power possible on a shoestring budget.

How we chose the best gaming laptops under $500

I’ve been booting up games on Steam for as long as I can remember, and have written about computers for more than a decade on sites like Popular Science, Gear Patrol, and CNN Underscored. I’ve tested all manner of PCs and laptops to find the latest and greatest devices. To find the best gaming laptops under $500, a challenging task, I researched what kind of hardware you may be able to purchase with such a budget. With that information in-hand, I selected the individual picks based on third-party reviews and consumer feedback.

Things to consider when shopping for the best gaming laptops under $500

The fact of the matter is, you can’t really get a new dedicated gaming laptop for $500. For reference, our list of the best cheap gaming laptops highlights strong systems that cost less than $1,000, and it often features models that are 1-2 years old. Most of our picks are budget productivity laptops that happen to provide decent processing power for their prices. Few, if any, feature a dedicated graphics card, which you’d need to play many of the biggest games. Those that work will only run on low or medium settings.

If you are purchasing this device specifically for gaming, there are many other devices that will offer you a much better experience for that same $500. Though they can be hard to find, we would recommend any of the current game consoles over these laptops, including the PS5, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, and Nintendo Switch. You might also consider the 2022 iPad Air, which provides access to an increasingly large library of games thanks to game streaming services like Xbox Game Pass. In the realm of PCs, you may be able to build a budget desktop gaming PC for around $500 using older and/or used parts. This may be more difficult than in the past due to pandemic-era supply constraints, but it is not outside the realm of possibility.

If you have your heart set on a laptop, or need a more holistic device, here are the basics of picking a laptop so you can make your own choice:

Processor

The central processing unit, or CPU, is the beating heart of any computer. It performs the computations your computer makes to run programs and perform various tasks, from word processing to editing photos. A computer’s true performance relies on a number of factors, but the two easiest ways to gauge the power of a CPU, specifically, are the chip’s computing cores and its clock speed. Clock speed, shown in Hz, measures the number of computations or “cycles” the processor can make each second. For example, a CPU with a clock speed of 2.8Ghz executes 2.8 billion cycles per second. 

Meanwhile, compute cores give your processor the ability to handle multiple tasks at the same time. Broadly speaking, more cores means better multitasking, especially with more processor-intensive tasks like encoding video.

When discussing the best, we expect modern Windows laptops to feature an 11th or 12th Generation Intel Core i5 or i7 processor with 6-8 processor cores, or an AMD Ryzen 5 processor with 6-8 cores. Since we’re looking at laptops with the tightest of cost constraints, you’re more likely to see the older version of the most basic processors available, such as a 10th-Generation Intel Core i3 processor, or something from AMD’s Ryzen 3000 series. If forced to choose, it never hurts to sacrifice bells and whistles for a basic laptop with a good CPU. The processor, more than any other component, determines how long your laptop will perform at its peak level.

Graphics

The graphics processing unit, or GPU, is an essential component in any gaming laptop and makes it possible to render graphics in 2D and 3D. If you’re working with high-resolution video and art, a GPU takes some of the strain off the CPU and makes rendering everything much faster.

Typically, gaming PCs feature dedicated graphics cards–a second processor to handle visual processing for games, video encoding, and other tasks with lots of … well, graphics. Two companies, Nvidia and AMD, make dedicated graphics cards for desktops and more compact versions for laptops. Occasionally, you will find a very large laptop with a “full-size” desktop graphics card. These laptops often weigh more than you should carry on your back every day.

For the purposes of this list, however, we will focus on integrated graphics, which is a small processing chip built into your laptop’s CPU. Integrated graphics are designed to perform basic graphics processing, such as web browsing and streaming video. They aren’t designed to handle new games or other GPU-intensive work. In the current gaming landscape, there are lots of games that can run acceptably well on integrated graphics, but no game will look as good or run without hiccups on integrated graphics, especially the integrated graphics on a low-end processor.

Memory

Random access memory, or RAM, gives your applications a place to temporarily store data, and quickly access it again if necessary. If your workflow involves using several applications at once, you’ll want a laptop that offers more RAM. Manufacturers generally allow consumers to upgrade their RAM before they make a purchase, and sometimes even after. 

For gaming, we recommend 16GB on a new machine, since you often cannot add RAM to a laptop. This will give you the space to run more intense games while performing other tasks, like running streaming software. Again, though, for $500 or less you’ll likely have to settle for 4GB or 8GB.

Display

As with dedicated gaming monitors, the best gaming laptops can make games look great with sharp, vibrant displays. Gamers may want a larger screen, as it helps build immersion, especially in a temporary space. If we had to highlight one size in particular, it would be 15 inches. At this size, the screen is large enough for a comfortable gaming experience, but it doesn’t make your laptop too big to carry all day. Some gaming laptops offer 17-inch displays, but that’s only a good size if your laptop spends most of its time on a desk.

Whatever size you land upon, chances are it will feature a 1080p (Full HD) screen. A 1080p display will make your games look sharp enough and ensure your computer doesn’t buckle under the strain. If you want a display that’s 1440p (Quad HD) or 4K (Ultra-High Definition) and offers a high refresh rate, you’ll have to look at a more expensive gaming laptop with a more powerful GPU.

Battery life

People buy gaming laptops so they can play games anywhere, but the PC battery life can limit that promise substantially. The hard truth is that gaming laptops don’t offer the best battery life. Even the best, most expensive models won’t get through a full day of heavy use.

With our current picks, which don’t have dedicated graphics cards, you may actually see better battery life than a great gaming laptop—a small bright spot. That said, your laptops will burn through battery much faster when playing games than other tasks, so you should be strategic about how much you play. Keep one eye on your battery indicator and the other on the lookout for available outlets.

The best gaming laptops under $500: Reviews & Recommendations

Finding a good laptop for under $500, let alone one capable of playing games, is a serious challenge. As you’ll see, most of our picks fall well under the basic standards we set for gaming laptops. Make no mistake: These are compromise picks to help you make the best of a less than ideal situation. With $500, we’d recommend people purchase a console for gaming, an iPad for general computing, or hold out for a major sale like Prime Day or Black Friday in the hopes of getting a rare deal on a more expensive gaming laptop.

Best overall: Acer Aspire 5 Slim

Buy it used or refurbished: eBay

Why it made the cut: The Aspire 5 Slim’s Ryzen 3 3350U will ensure you can play many of the industry’s most popular games on low settings.

Specs

  • Processor: AMD Ryzen 3 3350U
  • GPU: Radeon Vega 6
  • RAM: 8GB
  • Storage: 256GB SSD
  • Screen size: 15.6-inch FHD (1920 x 1080)
  • Dimensions: 14.31 x 9.74 x 0.71 inches
  • Weight: 3.97 pounds
  • Connectivity: USB-C 3.1 Gen 1, USB-A 3.1 Gen 1 x 2; HDMI 1.4b, Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.1

Pros

  • Expansive 15.6-inch FHD display
  • Decent port selection
  • 8GB of RAM

Cons

  • Plastic build

The newest version of the Acer Aspire 5 Slim features an expansive 15.6-inch Full HD IPS display, AMD Ryzen 3 3350U quad-core processor, and 8GB of RAM. (For $40 more, you can bump that up to 12GB of RAM.) The laptop also features Radeon Vega 6 graphics and a 256GB SSD, so games should run and load quickly. There is also a spacious trackpad, a full keyboard with a row of number keys, and a numeric keypad on the right.

Additionally, the Acer Aspire features a USB-C 3.1 Gen 1 port, an HDMI port with HDCP support, Wi-Fi 6, and up to 8 hours of battery life. It’s a good mix of specs, battery life, and price—and should be enough to run games like Fortnite and Minecraft.

Best for video editing: Asus Vivobook 15

Buy it used or refurbished: eBay

Why it made the cut: The Vivobook 15’s combination of the Intel i3, UHD graphics, and 8GB is enough to edit memorable family vacation videos.

Specs

  • Processor: Intel i3-10054G1
  • GPU: Intel UHD
  • RAM: 8GB
  • Storage: 128GB SSD
  • Screen size: 15.6-inch FHD (1920 x 1080)
  • Dimensions: 14.1 x 9.1 x 0.78 inches
  • Weight: 3.75 pounds
  • Connectivity: USB-C 3.2, USB-A 3.2, USB-A 2.0 x 2, HDMI, microSD, WiFi, Bluetooth

Pros

  • Decent port selection
  • 8GB of RAM
  • Fingerprint sensor

Cons

  • Small trackpad

Video editing on an affordable laptop isn’t ideal, but the Asus Vivobook 15 provides users with a decently-powerful experience. The laptop features a 15.6-inch Full HD display, an Intel Core i3-1005G1 processor, an Intel UHD GPU, and 8GB of RAM. That’s good enough for basic video editing and color correction of short clips for social media—just don’t expect to edit any video other than Full HD or lower.

The Asus Vivobook 15 also features a 128GB SSD, a touchpad and keyboard, and USB-C 3.2, so you can quickly transfer video files to and from external devices. You also get an HDMI port, USB-A 3.2, and USB-A 2.0 for connecting additional peripherals.

Best for school: Dell Inspiron 15

Buy it used or refurbished: eBay

Why it made the cut: The Dell Inspiron 15’s simple design is great for schoolwork, and can play a game or two between study sessions.

Specs

  • Processor: Intel i3-1115G4
  • GPU: Intel UHD
  • RAM: 8GB
  • Storage: 256GB SSD
  • Screen size: 15.6-inch FHD (1920 x 1080)
  • Dimensions: 14.11 x 9.27 x 0.74 inches
  • Weight: 3.82 pounds
  • Connectivity: USB-A 3.0 x 2, USB-A 2.0, HDMI, SD card, WiFi, Bluetooth

Pros

  • Big, comfortable 15.6-inch display
  • Decent size SSD
  • SD card slot

Cons

  • Limited port selection

If you need something simple to power through note-taking, research papers, and presentations, the Dell Inspiron 15 (3511) is an excellent option. Of course, you’ll want to take breaks—and there’s no better way to unwind than with video games. Dell’s affordable laptop features an Intel Core i3 processor, UHD graphics, and 8GB of RAM to power through games like Rocket League and Counter-Strike: GO. The Inspiron 15 also features a 256SSD, giving you plenty of storage to save those vital school projects and download your favorite titles from Steam.

Best for streaming: Lenovo IdeaPad 3i

Lenovo

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Buy it used or refurbished: eBay

Why it made the cut: The Lenovo IdeaPad 3i features Intel Iris Xe graphics, 512GB SSD, and 8GB of RAM, making it a powerful option for gaming and streaming.

Specs

  • Processor: Intel i3-1115G4
  • GPU: Intel Iris Xe
  • RAM: 8GB
  • Storage: 512GB SSD
  • Screen size: 15.6-inch FHD (1920 x 1080)
  • Dimensions: 14.26 x 9.98 x 0.78 inches
  • Weight: 3.75 pounds
  • Connectivity: USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 x 2, USB-A 2.0, HDMI 1.4, SD card, WiFi 5, Bluetooth

Pros

  • Screen can fold flat
  • 512GB SSD
  • Intel Iris Xe

Cons

  • Thick bezels

The Lenovo IdeaPad 3i is still nowhere near one of the best gaming laptops available but it provides fairly impressive performance for its extremely affordable price. It  features an Intel Core i3 processor, Intel Iris Xe graphics, and 8GB of RAM, giving you the components necessary to broadcast your games to the world. It may not be the smoothest experience, but you must start somewhere. The IdeaPad 3i also features a 512GB SSD, HDMI, two USB-A 3.2, and a 45Wh battery, which should get you through a full day of usage with light to medium use.

Best 2-in-1: Dell Inspiron 14

Buy it used or refurbished: eBay

Why it made the cut: Dell’s Inspiron 14 packs in decently powerful specs for the price in an attractive 2-in-1 design.

Specs

  • Processor: Intel i3-1115G4
  • GPU: Intel UHD
  • RAM: 8GB
  • Storage: 256GB SSD
  • Screen size: 14-inch FHD (1366 x 768)
  • Dimensions: 12.77 x 8.77 x 0.75 inches
  • Weight: 3.58 pounds
  • Connectivity: USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 x 2, USB-C 3.2 Gen 1, HDMI 1.4b, SD card, WiFi 6, Bluetooth 5.1

Pros

  • 2-in-1 design
  • Small, portable design
  • USB-C and SD card

Cons

  • Lower resolution display

For just a smidge over our $500 budget, the Inspiron 14 2-in-1 features a 14-inch HD touchscreen display, an Intel Core i3 processor, Intel UHD graphics, and 8GB of RAM. That’s enough power to run multiple applications and browser tabs smoothly. More importantly, it’s good enough to give us our gaming fix—and the 256GB SSD is plenty big to download free-to-play and other popular titles. The Inspiron 14 also features a USB-C 3.2 Gen 1 port for power delivery and data transfer and two USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 ports. It also features an SD card slot, rounding out one of the sleeker, more sophisticated options on our list.

FAQs

Q: Can a $500 laptop run Fortnite?

The easiest way to confirm your laptop can play Fortnite is to check the game’s minimum required specs. The Battle Royale is generally friendly to a wide variety of computers, so if you own something older or less powerful, you should be fine on lower settings. 

Here are the recommended and minimum system requirements for Fortnite:

Recommended System Requirements
Video Card: Nvidia GTX 960, AMD R9 280, or equivalent DX11 GPU
Video Memory: 2 GB VRAM
Processor: Core i5-7300U 3.5 GHz, AMD Ryzen 3 3300U, or equivalent
Memory: 8 GB RAM or higher
OS: Windows 10 64-bit

Minimum System Requirements
Video Card: Intel HD 4000 on PC; Intel Iris Pro 5200
Processor: Core i3-3225 3.3 GHz
Memory: 4GB RAM
OS: Windows 7/8/10 64-bit or Mac OS Mojave 10.14.6

Q: Is a gaming laptop good for students?

While gaming laptops can handle everyday tasks, they aren’t necessarily the best option for students. Gaming laptops tend to be larger and heavier than laptops made for work, making them a burden to lug around campus. Students who carry their computer from class to class may not get enough battery life on a single charge to make it through a full day of school. They can also get uncomfortably hot after extended use, so you may not be able to use them on your lap in specific situations.

Q: Can you use a “normal” laptop for gaming?

Broadly speaking? Sure. Really, it depends on what you want to play. A productivity laptop made for work and general computing, like the picks above, is usually capable of playing some games using its discrete graphics chip. They will only play some games, and often on lower settings, though.

Many of today’s top AAA titles require more powerful CPUs, GPUs, and a certain amount of RAM. If you own an older machine, your laptop may not meet that game’s minimum requirements. You will probably not have a good time playing a Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed game on the average work laptop. That said, there are plenty of great indie games that don’t require a ton of graphics processing power.

We recommend buying a laptop specifically for gaming if that’s something you plan to do every day. As we mentioned, gaming-specific laptops are perfectly capable of performing other tasks, like word processing and web browsing. However, not all standard laptops, particularly models on the lower end of the spectrum, are capable of playing the newest games.

Final thoughts on the best gaming laptops under $500

The good news is that modern processors with integrated GPUs are becoming more powerful every year, making it possible to play games like Fortnite, Minecraft, and Roblox on a wide range of machines. That said, the best gaming hardware you can buy for $500 is not a laptop. It’s a console or a tablet. If you want a gaming laptop that will make your games sing, you’ll have to spend substantially more. 

If you’d like to know more about buying a gaming laptop that delivers great performance and value, check out some of our other explainers on the topic, including the best gaming laptops and the best cheap gaming laptops. They may be expensive, but a great laptop will last five years or more, while you may only get a couple of good years out of these recommendations.

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