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Published Oct. 28, 2021

Gaming on the go has a unique appeal, especially if you’re a student or a gamer who travels a lot for work. This year, gaming laptops got a shot in the arm with brand new graphics cards from Nvidia and AMD, bringing them closer than ever to desktop levels of gaming performance. The most powerful machines come with hefty price tags, but you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy portable PC gaming. Whether you’re a competitive player looking for the best FPS you can afford, a mobile content creator looking for a cost-efficient work machine, or just a student looking to play a few games between classes, we’ve rounded up a list of the best cheap gaming laptops to help you get your game on for less.

How we selected the best cheap gaming laptops 

As a longtime technology critic specializing in gaming PCs and PC components, I’ve had the rare opportunity to test-drive many, many gaming PCs and have become intimately familiar with what components matter most. I’ve tested everything from high-end machines costing thousands of dollars to budget-conscious laptops that could stealthily fit right in to an average office or school setting. For this round-up, I’ve researched dozens of models that are available for purchase now at major retailers, looking closely at their key components, screens, and synergies that might exist between them. In cases where it looked like there might have been a tie, I turned to reports from real customers to get a sense of which laptops have left their users satisfied.

Things to consider before buying the best cheap gaming laptop

Buying a cheap gaming laptop can be a marketing minefield. More often than not, the product pages are littered with lofty promises that don’t line up with how your new laptop will actually perform when you boot up a game. It’s not as if those numbers are made up, though: There is useful information out there if you know how to find it.

Processor

There are two major players making computer processors (CPUs) for laptops: AMD and Intel. Each brand breaks its CPUs into different performance tiers. For Intel gaming laptops, the most common are Core i3, Core i5, Core i7, and Core i9. The higher the number, the higher the performance. For AMD’s most recent CPUs, those tiers are represented as Ryzen 3, Ryzen 5, Ryzen 7, and Ryzen 9 processors. In both cases, for gaming, we recommend sticking to Intel Core i5 and Ryzen 5 CPUs and above.

When looking for a gaming CPU, the first thing to consider is how many cores you’ll need. For just gaming, we recommend at least a quad-core CPU. If you plan to stream, stretching your budget to six or eight cores will help ensure that both your stream and your gameplay remain smooth. While Ryzen 3000 and 5000 series processors are highly competitive with Intel’s Core CPUs, if you’re considering a machine that’s more than two generations old, Intel’s CPUs tend to offer better gaming performance.

The second thing to consider is how fast that CPU runs. A processor’s speed, measured in Gigahertz (GHz), refers to how many compute cycles it completes per second. A 5GHz processor is capable of completing five billion cycles a second, though this is also impacted by the task it’s attempting to complete and the adjoining hardware. Most games benefit from faster clock speeds, so a faster processor can lead to higher frame rates. For gaming, choose a processor that’s as close to 5GHz (or higher) as possible but, generally, anything over 4GHz is considered “fast enough” for gaming on modern CPUs. Newer processors often feature design improvements that also lead to higher frame rates. As a rule, settle on the number of cores you need, then look for the newest, fastest CPU that fits your budget.

Graphics card

For gaming, specifically, a laptop’s ability to render 3D graphics is even more important than its core processor. This is controlled by a component called a graphics card or GPU. Depending on the type of machine, your PC may have a discrete standalone component or a chipset built directly into the CPU (an integrated graphics card). Having a large, discrete GPU is the defining feature of a gaming PC, versus a powerful productivity-focused machine. In general, it’s always worth investing in the best GPU you can afford.

Like processors, graphics cards are primarily produced by two brands, AMD and Nvidia, and are broken into different performance tiers indicated by number. AMD names its Radeon line of GPUs with a four-digit number. The first digit corresponds to the generation of the card and the last three mark the specific card and its position in the line. For example, the latest set of laptop cards are the RX 6600M, 6700M, and 6800M. Nvidia’s naming convention is similar. The first two digits indicate the generation and the last two represent the individual card, i.e., RTX 3050, 3060, 3070, and 3080. Nvidia also includes middle steps between some levels, indicated by “Ti.”

Because heat can impact gaming performance, it can be difficult to tell the difference between two similarly priced laptops by name alone. It’s always worth reading reviews before hitting that Add to Cart button. 

Memory

Memory (or DRAM) is another critical component in a gaming laptop. Memory is where the laptop will store the data it needs the fastest access to and is directly tied to gaming performance. For gaming and streaming, we recommend having at least 16GB of RAM with 8GB being the bare minimum for gaming alone. Anything less will severely limit your ability to multitask or have other apps open alongside your game.

When producing a cheap gaming laptop, manufacturers tend to cut costs by providing less memory. As a result, most of the laptops in this round-up (and under $1,000 in general) will only have 8GB of RAM. Thankfully, many laptops allow you to add additional RAM sticks to increase total capacity over time. Upgradable memory isn’t a given, though, so check to make sure that’s a possibility before you buy in.

Screen

While there’s less variety than full-size desktop monitors, not all laptop displays are created equal. When scrutinizing a laptop display, consider its screen size and refresh rate. Full-size laptops typically come with 15.6- or 17.3-inch screens. A 17-inch screen is great for gaming but makes the laptop heavier and more difficult to carry around. Smaller screen sizes are available and enhance portability but quickly begin limiting your field of view. To maintain portability, a 15-inch screen is usually the safer bet.

Gaming laptops offer an incredible range of frame rates, from 60Hz all the way to 300Hz. Higher refresh rates allow games to run more smoothly and increase motion clarity but drain the battery more quickly. The fastest refresh rates can also be prohibitively expensive. For gaming, we recommend looking for a laptop that runs between 120Hz and 144Hz. This speed represents a good balance between price and performance and is noticeably smoother than a standard 60Hz monitor.  

Battery

The lifespan of the battery is an important consideration for any notebook but is especially so for a gaming laptop. High-performance parts use a lot of power and some manufacturers even limit performance when running on battery alone, so it’s always advisable to plug in before you load up your favorite game. That’s not always possible, however, so we suggest scouting out a laptop that offers a minimum of 50wHr. Even so, some laptops will struggle to last more than an hour while gaming, so keep that AC adapter handy. 

Connectivity

Do you like to plug in extra peripherals? Maybe a monitor or an external hard drive? If so, you should check how many USB, video, and audio ports each laptop offers and compare that to what you would like to connect. The ports on laptops vary widely from model to model and, while gaming laptops tend to have more, they aren’t all the same.

Weight

A laptop is made to be portable, but not every laptop is meant to travel with you everywhere you go. Many modern laptops have embraced the mantra of “thin and light,” but gaming laptops still tend to be on the heavier side. This is especially true as you look for higher performance or shop older designs.

If you are looking for a gaming laptop that you carry to work or school every day, finding something low-weight should be a top priority. A 6-pound laptop might not seem like much on paper, but when carried in a bag over a full day, it can become a pain in the neck. Literally. Take the time to find a laptop that balances performance and portability. Your future self will thank you.

The best cheap gaming laptops: Reviews & Recommendations

Every laptop on this list costs less than $1,000. In that price range, every option has strengths and a couple of notable weaknesses. For this round-up, we’ve broken the choices out into several popular categories, including a Best All-Around Cheap Gaming Laptop, featuring options that emphasize battery life, refresh rate, and other factors. Choosing what features mean the most to you should help guide you to the right choice.

Best cheap gaming laptop for most people: ASUS TUF Gaming F17 (2021)

Best Bang For Your Buck

The Asus TUF Gaming F17 offers the most well-rounded specs you can get for less than $1,000.

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Why it made the cut: The ASUS TUF Gaming (2021) balances great gaming specs with a reasonable price.

Specs

  • Display: 17.3-inch, 1080p, 144Hz
  • CPU: Intel Core i5-11260H
  • GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti
  • Memory: 8GB
  • Storage: 512GB 
ProsCons
Fast, 6-core processor Somewhat expensive, given the specs
Powerful mid-range GPU Heavy
Large, high refresh rate screen

Given its sub-$1,000 price, the ASUS TUF Gaming (2021) is the best cheap gaming laptop for most people. It features an 11th generation Intel Core i5 processor with 6 cores and 12 threads. While a core is the most important aspect of the CPU, acting as its own little processing unit, threads can be thought of as virtual cores: not quite as good as the real thing but an improvement over cores alone. The max turbo speed of its processor peaks at 4.4GHz, which is great for gaming performance. This CPU is powerful enough to open the door to streaming and content creation, making it a good fit for budding creators.

Even more importantly, it has an Nvidia RTX 3050 Ti graphics card, which can handle running most games in 1080p at moderate settings. Having a modern GPU also allows gamers to take advantage of cutting-edge features like ray tracing, which simulates natural lighting, and Deep Learning Super Sampling, which can take a lower resolution image and upscale it with the power of AI to improve FPS on any PC. 

The screen is another high point. It’s big and bold at 17.3 inches, but the real standout feature is its refresh rate. Clocking in at 144Hz, it’s able to provide ultra-smooth gameplay at high frame rates.

All of this performance leaves the price relatively high, at least among our picks, but the Asus Tuf Gaming F17 frequently goes on sale, so you may be able to grab it on sale, getting a genuinely strong gaming laptop at a very low price.

Best cheap gaming laptop for esports: ASUS TUF Gaming F17 (2020)

Fast And Furious

It may be a generation old, but the 2020 version of the Asus TUF Gaming F17 still holds up thanks to the display’s high refresh rate.

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Why it made the cut: Last year’s F17 isn’t as powerful as our top pick but it’s cheaper, has the same display, and good-for-the-price components make it a good choice for esports fans.

Specs

  • Display: 17.3-inch, 1080p, 144Hz
  • CPU: Intel Core i5-10300H
  • GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Ti
  • Memory: 8GB
  • Storage: 512GB 
ProsCons
An esports-worthy refresh rate Not as cutting edge as the 2021 model
Reliably affordable  Heavy
Solid components to run eSports at high framerate

Last year’s ASUS TUF Gaming F17 brings many of the same highlights as this year’s version: a big 17-inch screen with a rapid 144Hz refresh rate, a customizable RGB keyboard, a fast CPU, and 8GB of DRAM. The components aren’t quite as cutting edge as the 2021 version, but it’s the best cheap gaming laptop for esports. 

The highlight here remains that fast 17.3-inch screen. Picking out enemies won’t be as difficult due to the larger screen size. The rapid refresh rate will reduce motion blur for better flick shots and decrease input lag so your shots will feel just as instantaneous as they should. 

Stepping back to this version does mean a scaled-back CPU and GPU. The 2020 version of the F17 features a quad-core 10th generation processor instead of Intel’s newer hexacores, so streaming may be more difficult. It also features an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 graphics card, which means you won’t have access to ray tracing and DLSS. Still, it has the horsepower to deliver the high frame rates for most esports, which is generally the priority for competitive players.

Best cheap gaming laptop for streaming and content creation: Lenovo Legion 5 15 

Powerful Specs For Less

The Lenovo Legion 5 15 is the cheap laptop you want if you plan to cut videos and play games.

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Why it made the cut: The Lenovo Legion 5 15 is an unassuming powerhouse equally prepared for gaming, streaming, and editing 1080p videos.

Specs

  • Display: 15.6-inch, 1080p
  • CPU: AMD Ryzen 7 5800H
  • GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti
  • Memory: 16GB
  • Storage: 512GB
ProsCons
8-core/16-thread CPU Small SSD for video editing
Fast, ray tracing ready GPU relatively expensive
16GB of DDR4 memory All-plastic body
Extra SSD slot for memory expansion

The Lenovo Legion 5 15 pushes the boundaries of what we consider a “cheap” gaming laptop, but it’s definitely still very affordable for what it offers, given the components inside. Inside this small, 5.29 lb body lies a cutting-edge AMD Ryzen 7 5800H processor. The processor features 8 cores, the highest core count of this round-up, and 16 threads, making it a worthy contender for best cheap gaming laptop for streaming and content creation.

The highlights don’t end there. Lenovo has paired that CPU with an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 Ti GPU and 16GB of fast DDR4 memory, so you can game with perks like ray tracing and DLSS while also keeping a tab open to mind your stream chat. When you’re done, this combination will translate seamlessly into video editors like Adobe Premiere Pro. 

The Legion 5 15’s only major flaw is a small 512GB pre-installed SSD. If you’re capturing video clips and also installing games, that space is likely to fill up quickly. That said, it features an empty second SSD slot so users can install more storage when and if they need it.

Best cheap gaming laptop for long battery life: Acer Nitro 5 (2020)

Last The Day

Last year’s Acer Nitro 5 won’t win any spec competitions, but its battery lasts a full day and that counts for a lot.

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Why it made the cut: With a 10-hour battery, the 2020 model of the Acer Nitro 5 can carry you through an entire workday and beyond.

Specs

  • Display: 15.6-inch, 1080p
  • CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 4600H
  • GPU: Nvidia GeForce 1650
  • Memory: 8GB
  • Storage: 256GB
ProsCons
6-core/12-thread processor Poor screen brightness
Extended battery life  Low storage and memory
Thin bezels maximize screen real estate

The 2020 Acer Nitro 5 is the best cheap gaming laptop for long battery life that can get you through an entire day of work or school. It can run for 10 hours when using the laptop’s power-saving modes and medium screen brightness, much longer than you can generally expect of an affordable gaming laptop. You’ll still want to plug in when loading up your favorite game, but for mixed-use? It’s a winner.

That battery life comes at a cost, though. The older GeForce GTX 1650 graphics card doesn’t offer great frame rates in modern games without playing on low or medium settings. The storage and memory on its most affordable configurations are both low, as well. Acer offers upgrades to both, but the higher price may not seem quite so affordable. According to Laptop, the screen also isn’t as bright as the competition, peaking at only 255 nits. If you’re looking for a good all-day laptop that’s also good for gaming, though, this is a great choice.

Best cheap gaming laptop for work and school: Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming 3 

Low-Key Gaming

The IdeaPad Gaming 3’s professional exterior makes it great for gamers who prefer a more subtle laptop design.

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Why it made the cut: The subdued design of the Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming 3 makes it the perfect gaming laptop to bring to work.

Specs

  • Display: 15.6-inch, FHD, 120Hz
  • CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 5600H
  • GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650
  • Memory: 8GB
  • Storage: 512GB
ProsCons
20Hz, 1080p screen Underpowered GPU
Great processor Middling screen brightness
Chassis design won’t betray it’s made for gaming

Gaming laptops don’t have to have flashy RGB and attention-grabbing designs. The Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming 3 is equally at home in a boardroom as a gaming den. Unlike many gaming laptops, its thin, light aluminum body doesn’t make a scene with a bold (or gaudy) design, making it the best cheap gaming laptop for work and school.

Under the hood, it features an impressive 6-core, 12-thread Ryzen 5 5600H processor, so you can multitask with ease. The screen also runs at an impressive 120Hz, which isn’t quite as smooth as the 144Hz on our top pick but still offers a very smooth gaming experience. 

The trade-off comes with the underpowered GeForce GTX 1650 GPU, which will likely need to run modern AAA games at low-mid settings. This is a common issue among our picks and a general drawback to getting a cheap gaming laptop. That said, you’re still going to be able to play many more games than you would using a laptop with integrated graphics.

Best cheap gaming laptop under $1,000: MSI GF63 Thin

Best on a Tight Budget

The MSI GF63 Thin manages is extraordinarily affordable, and the most portable cheap gaming laptop we recommend.

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Why it made the cut: The MSI GF63 Thin is a dedicated gaming rig that runs games as well as possible with very limited hardware capabilities.

Specs

  • Display: 15.6-inch, 1080p
  • CPU: Intel Core i5-10300H
  • GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650
  • Memory: 8GB
  • Storage: 256GB
ProsCons
Affordable Underpowered graphics card 
Dedicated GPU Only a quad-core processor
Thin and light for easy portability

When cost matters most, the MSI GF63 Thin comes to the rescue. Coming in at only $649, it’s one of the best cheap gaming laptops under $1,000. with components that are only one generation old. It features a dedicated GeForce GTX 1650 GPU and a quad-core Intel Core i5 10300H processor. That won’t be enough to play the latest games at high settings, but will still outperform laptops relying on integrated graphics and will look good doing it.

Apart from price, the GF63 Thin also manages to be one of the most portable laptops in this round-up. Weighing only 4.1 pounds and measuring 0.85 inches (22mm) thin, it’s easily able to slide into most backpacks and won’t leave your back aching at the end of the day.

Of course, you can’t expect top-tier performance or storage at this price. With a 256GB hard drive, you’ll only be able to store a handful of games before needing to delete something to make room for the next. The 10th generation processor is no slouch for gaming, but won’t do much for streaming. While it may not be able to do everything, the GF63 delivers a lot more than you could reasonably expect out of a laptop at this price.

FAQs

Q: Is an Intel Core i5 processor good for gaming?

Intel’s Core i5 processors have long been regarded as good choices for gamers on a budget. Since Intel’s 8th generation of laptop processors, Core i5 CPUs have featured at least four cores and eight threads of performance which is perfectly sufficient for gaming. While older generations (such as the 8th generation and earlier) may show their age in frame rate compared to newer CPUs, Intel Core i5 processors are a great choice for gaming PC buyers looking at less expensive machines.

Q: Is 8GB RAM enough for gaming?

If you only need memory specifically for playing games, 8GB of RAM should be sufficient at the settings most cheap gaming laptops can handle. Most budget laptops, including many in this list, only ship with 8GB to keep costs down but often (not always) feature replaceable memory so you can upgrade your memory capacity over time. That may be necessary if you plan to multitask, stream to Twitch or YouTube, or push the envelope with graphics settings. Once your memory becomes full, you may experience slowdowns, stutters, or even crashing.

This may not be the case for much longer, though. The Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 feature 16GB of RAM. It’s a safe bet that this will be the target for game developers going forward. A laptop with 8GB may not be run to the latest and greatest games in 2-3 years. If you want your laptop to last, you will likely want to spend a little extra and upgrade to 16GB of RAM. Short of that, take the time to consider whether it can be upgraded over time should this prove too limited.

Q: Does RAM affect lag?

RAM has a direct impact on gaming performance. It will not impact network lag in online games, but can absolutely limit or reduce the FPS your laptop is able to achieve. If there is too little RAM installed in your system, it will quickly become full and cause the game to stutter or even crash. RAM speed can also impact gaming performance but isn’t likely to cause the same stuttering behavior. Instead, upgrading to faster RAM can increase your maximum frame rate. 

Final thoughts on the best cheap gaming laptops

Choosing a cheap gaming laptop can feel like a balancing act. There are no perfect options at these prices and you need to accept that you will be getting a laptop with at least a couple of serious flaws. When you go to buy a cheap gaming laptop, keep your top priorities in mind and think through how you actually plan to use it. This should drive your decision-making, allowing you to make the hard choices about the trade-offs you have to make. For most people, focusing on getting the best graphics card and processor you can afford should yield the best overall gaming performance.

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