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New processors from Intel and AMD paired with good entry-level graphics chips mean terrific performance for less money.

Joshua Goldman Aug. 13, 2021 4:00 a.m. PT
  • Dell G15 Jump to details $960 at Dell
  • Acer Nitro 5 Jump to details $720 at Best Buy
  • HP Pavilion Gaming 15 Jump to details $755 at Walmart
  • Lenovo Legion 5/5i Jump to details $1,100 at Lenovo

The microchip shortage has made it more difficult to get a good deal on a gaming laptop. Not that you can't find worthy gaming laptops between $700 and $1,000, just that stock is limited so really good bargains tend to disappear fast. The good news is that when you can find one, they're typically loaded with the latest Intel or AMD processors, newer entry-level discrete graphics and displays with faster refresh rates.  

That means that you're not limited to low-res gaming on these machines, so getting an immersive experience playing games like Apex Legends, CS: GO, PUBG, Fortnite and Minecraft won't be a problem. And while an affordable gaming laptop still costs a pretty penny, frugal gamers 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, Amazon, Micro Center and Woot. 

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To help you get your ideal gaming experience on 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 to help you do it. We'll update this list of the best cheap gaming laptop options as we review new products.

Dell G15

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 your 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.

$960 at Dell

Acer Nitro 5

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. Unfortunately, the larger screens aren't available at the moment.

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 makes 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.

 

$720 at Best Buy

HP Pavilion Gaming 15

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. You can find ready-to-ship options at Walmart and Best Buy, or configure your own at HP.com; however, the current shipping wait time is about a month.

Read our HP Pavilion Gaming 15 review.

 

$755 at Walmart

Just a bit above $1,000

These laptops' prices tend to fluctuate just around the $1,000 mark, occasionally dropping below it.

Lenovo Legion 5/5i

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 at not much over $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.

$1,100 at Lenovo

Buying tips for a cheap gaming laptop

Older laptops with Nvidia's GeForce GTX 20-series GPUs are still around, but the options aren't as good as they once were. A cheap gaming laptop with an entry-level GTX 1650 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 GTX 1650 Ti, a 1660 Ti or even an RTX 3050 or 3050 Ti for a better gaming experience.        

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 Nvidia 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 as you'll be able to play more demanding games now and later.        

Beyond the graphics chip, look for: 

  • A 10th- or 11th-gen Intel Core i5 or i7, or AMD Ryzen 4000 or 5000 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 128GB SSD storage and a 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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