Not everyone needs an NVIDIA RTX 4080, or a blazing fast 500Hz screen. These days, you can find plenty of affordable gaming notebooks that can easily hit decent frame rates in modern games. Cheaper machines are ideal for high school or college students who don’t need the absolute best performance, but still want a solid gaming experience. And they’re also great options for younger gamers, who, in our view, may not be ready for the responsibility of a premium, $2,000 notebook.
What is a budget gaming laptop?
To get a high-end gaming experience, you can easily spend $5,000 on a fully tricked-out notebook like the Razer Blade 18. But when it comes to the best budget gaming laptops, we’re focusing on the other end of the pricing spectrum: laptops under $1,000. It used to be tough to find a decent gaming option at that price point but, as PC prices have fallen, they no longer seem like unicorns.
Stepping up a bit to systems between $1,000 and $2,000 puts you firmly in mid-range territory, which is beyond the scope of this guide. Still, it’s worth keeping an eye out for sales that can push those PCs below $1,000. Be sure to check out our guide to the best gaming laptops for a general overview of what to look out for in these more expensive systems.
Are budget gaming laptops worth it?
Cheap gaming laptops are definitely worth it if you’re trying to save money and are being realistic about what you can get at this price range. You can expect to find Intel and AMD’s latest (but not greatest) CPUs, as well as entry-level GPUs like NVIDIA’s RTX 3050. Budget models are also typically paired with 1080p screens running at 120Hz or beyond. There are some exceptions though: Dell’s G16 (currently discounted to $900) is notable for its 16-inch quad HD+ screen.
Many cheap gaming laptops also skimp on specs like RAM and storage. We’d recommend getting at least 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. Modern games need a decent chunk of memory to run, and they also tend to be large, so you wouldn’t be able to fit much alongside Windows 11 on a 256B SSD. You might be tempted to jump on one of those dirt-cheap gaming laptop deals from Walmart or Best Buy, but it’s just not worth it if you’re stuck with 8GB of RAM or a tiny SSD.
As for build quality, expect to find more plastic than metal on budget systems. Still, the best cheap gaming laptops we’re recommending should be sturdy enough to last a few years. Affordable systems will also be heavier and thicker than mid-range and premium models, and they typically don’t have great battery life. These are worthwhile trade offs if you’re looking to save money, though, and even the priciest gaming laptops struggle with battery life.
Best overall: Dell G15
Dell was one of the first PC makers to combine a decent amount of gaming power in a sub-$1,000 system. The latest G15 builds on that experience. It starts at $800 with Intel’s 13th-gen i5-13450HX, an RTX 3050 GPU and 8GB of RAM. We’d recommend bumping up to the $1,000 model with 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD and a 165Hz 1080p screen with NVIDIA’s G-SYNC technology.
While it’s no Alienware, the G15 carries over some of that premium brand’s design cues with a sharp, angular case and LED-backlit keys. There’s a distinct lack of gamer bling, which for some may also be a plus. If you’re looking for something larger, consider the 16-inch screen version mentioned above (which, funny enough, is also slightly lighter than the G15).
Runner-up: Acer Nitro 5
The Acer Nitro 5 is another great option, though we’ve yet to see it get Intel’s 13th-gen chips. Still, the 12th-gen model is no slouch: It’s equipped with 16GB of RAM, NVIDIA’s RTX 3050 and 512GB of storage. (At the time of writing, it’s also on sale for $800 at Best Buy, though it typically sells for $1,000.)
Just like Dell, Acer has plenty of experience building gaming laptops, so this will likely survive years of extreme play. The Nitro 5’s multi-colored backlit keyboard and rear red accents also give off a stronger gamer vibe than the G15. Side note: Acer’s Nitro 16 may also be worth considering if it dips below $1,000, since it features newer CPUs and GPUs.
A more understated option: HP Victus 15
The HP Victus 15 is the ideal gaming laptop for someone who doesn’t want to be seen with a gaming laptop. Its all-black design is wonderfully understated, and its edge-to-edge screen is impressive for such an affordable system. It also has enough power to handle today’s games, including an AMD Ryzen 7 CPU, NVIDIA’s RTX 3050 Ti graphics, 16GB of RAM and a 144Hz 1080p display. And best of all, it’s almost always on sale somewhere. In fact, at the time of writing, it’s $828 on Amazon.