Modern gaming is all about mobility, power, and affordability. While the spotlight often shines on behemoths like the Alienware Area 51M, there’s an undercurrent of budget laptops delivering exceptional performance.
How to Choose the Best Budget Gaming Laptop for You
Choosing the perfect budget gaming laptop isn’t easy, and there are several factors to consider when making your purchase. Before you proceed to checkout, you will want to make sure you have all the bases covered. To make your decision a bit easier, we’ve highlighted the main criteria you need to look out for.
Should I buy a laptop new or refurbished?
Budget gaming laptops are, as you would expect, cheaper to buy outright than high-end models, with prices starting as low as $300 or so. As a result, if you have the cash, we recommend you buy one new. You can then enjoy the full warranty and support from the manufacturer. If you don’t have the cash, you might need to consider a refurbished model, but make sure it comes with a warranty and that the refurbisher is reputable.
Which laptop operating system do I need?
With budget laptops, there isn’t much choice when it comes to operating systems. Almost every budget gaming laptop runs Microsoft’s OS, Windows. Rest assured, though: Windows is easy to use, whether you’re a first-time user or a seasoned gamer. Just check which Windows version the laptop is running as older versions may no longer be supported with regular security updates and lack essential features.
What should I look for in a laptop display?
While flagship laptops are fitted with the best, biggest, and highest-resolution screens, you can still find budget gaming laptops with high-quality displays. Cheap laptops usually have a minimum screen resolution of 720p, but some slightly more expensive alternatives offer Full HD (1,080p) resolution displays for sharper viewing.
The majority of budget gaming laptops we recommend use LCD panel technology, which is more than good enough for the price you’re paying. However, we’re starting to see OLED displays crop up at the lower end of the scale as well, which produce even better colors and a deeper black level. Read our full reviews if you want to know how good a laptop’s screen is.
Performance and Battery Life
Budget laptops aren’t equipped with top-end internals. But that’s not to say their performance is bad – far from it, with reasonably speedy chips often making an appearance in affordable laptops. To get an idea of what to expect from a laptop’s performance, look at the clock speed of the chip (measured in GHz) and how much RAM is inside (anything more than 8GB will do the job nicely).
Battery life is crucial, and each laptop’s stamina is different. When considering your next budget laptop, keep an eye out for the laptop’s battery capacity (listed in Wh) – the higher the number, the longer you can expect the battery to last on a single charge. If you’re stuck, we’ve rounded up the longest-lasting laptops in one place.
How much storage do I need?
It’s amazing how much storage you can eat through on a laptop with games, apps, and files. You will want at least 256GB of onboard storage and look out for laptops with an SSD, as they offer faster read and write speeds compared to traditional HDDs.
How We Test Budget Gaming Laptops
Budget gaming laptops are tested using a variety of in-house and publicly available benchmark methods. We test CPU and gaming performance using the Geekbench and GFXBench applications. Both of these apps provide us with performance scores, which can be used to directly compare against other laptops.
Display testing is performed using a colorimeter and the DisplayCal software. This test provides us with figures for overall color accuracy, as well as maximum brightness and contrast.
For battery life, we set the laptop’s screen to a standardized brightness, switch off all data connections, and play a 20-hour looped video. When the laptop switches off, we charge it up and record the timestamp.
When testing a laptop’s graphics, we always use a competitor laptop for direct comparison while running a variety of different gaming scenarios, including high-end and low-end games. Depending on the graphics card available, we may also capture frame rates, as well as testing any available resolution and settings in game recording.
Best Budget Gaming Laptops You Can Buy in 2023
1. Acer Aspire 5: Best Budget Gaming Laptop Overall
Acer has been consistent with its budget laptops, and its newest model is no different. The Acer Aspire 5 is far better than it has any right to be for a laptop that costs this little. With upgrades across the board, it’s an even more tantalizing option than ever before.
Yes, the laptop we would recommend above all other wallet-friendly options on the market is the Acer Aspire 5. This budget laptop is powered by a surprisingly speedy AMD Ryzen 3 processor, which in our tests produced speeds that easily matched laptops costing twice the price. Its display, which includes a Full HD resolution, is also remarkable for the price and the large 15.6in screen is a delight, too.
You might expect to see these sorts of high-level specs in a flagship laptop, so it’s a proper treat to see these features in a laptop that costs a fraction of the price. The Acer Aspire 5 is the very definition of a budget gaming laptop, setting the benchmark for affordable laptops to come. At this price, you can’t do much better.
2. Lenovo IdeaPad 3: The Most Affordable Budget Gaming Laptop
A $300 laptop used to bring about negative connotations, but the Lenovo IdeaPad 3 is far better than its bargain price suggests. Running a specially tweaked version of Windows that caters to low-powered devices, the Lenovo IdeaPad 3 exceeds all expectations for a laptop so cheap. Despite the comparatively weak hardware (it only has 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage), it runs surprisingly well and has a bright IPS display with a graphics that isn’t half bad for the price.
Its sturdy build materials and compact design should help it last the test of time and the battery life
lasted long enough in our tests as well. It may be lacking when it comes to raw processing speeds, and there are far better alternatives if your buying budget can stretch beyond $300, but when it comes down to sheer affordability, the Lenovo IdeaPad 3 is the undisputed champion.
Key specs – Processor: AMD Ryzen 3; Display: 14in 1,920 x 1,080; Storage: 256GB SSD; Graphics: AMD Radeon Vega 3; Operating system: Windows 10; Weight: 3.3 lbs
3. HP Pavilion Gaming 15: The Cheapest Gaming Laptop with Dedicated Graphics
It isn’t HP’s most up-to-date gaming laptop, but the HP Pavilion Gaming 15 is still a reliable purchase. If your budget can’t quite stretch to a brand-new gaming laptop, then the HP Pavilion Gaming 15, despite launching a year ago, will still serve you well.
The HP Pavilion Gaming 15’s build quality still holds up, as does its lovely-looking 15.6in Full HD display. Likewise, the AMD Ryzen 5 processor, while not quite a match for the latest gaming laptops, is still more than capable against a variety of intensive tasks. The HP Pavilion Gaming 15 also supports the newest version of Windows, if you were worried that you might be outdated on the software side of things.
If you want a gaming laptop on a budget and aren’t fussed about it being slightly outdated, then the HP Pavilion Gaming 15 is your best bet.
Key specs – Processor: AMD Ryzen 5; Display: 15.6in 1,920 x 1,080; Storage: 256GB SSD; Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650; Operating system: Windows 10; Weight: 4.37 lbs
4. Dell G3 15: Best Budget Gaming Laptop for Repairability
At first glance, the Dell G3 15 is a fairly standard budget gaming laptop, with the kind of specifications you’d expect for this price. The 15.6in display uses an IPS panel with a Full HD resolution, and while it’s not the brightest or crispest screen out there, it’s perfectly usable. Equally, the processor and graphics are far from perfect, but are competent enough to get by.
What sets the Dell G3 15 apart from the sea of similarly specced gaming laptops is that it has been designed to allow users to quickly and easily replace various parts – including batteries, screens, and SSDs – without having to go to a repair shop. The iFixit website has affordable replacement parts and tools for sale, as well as free step-by-step guides that can lead even first-time repairers through the process.
Repair times vary – a battery replacement can be done in around five minutes, with more complex procedures taking a little longer – but all are made easier by the accessible design of the Dell G3 15. Best of all, performing the repairs yourself won’t void the laptop’s warranty.
Key specs – Processor: Intel Core i5; Display: 15.6in 1,920 x 1,080; Storage: 256GB SSD; Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650; Operating system: Windows 10; Weight: 5.18 lbs
5. ASUS TUF FX505: Best-Value Gaming Laptop with High Refresh Rate
The ASUS TUF FX505 might be stretching the definition of a budget gaming laptop, but ASUS’s idea of what constitutes cheap isn’t exactly the same as everyone else’s. If you want a newer gaming laptop with a high refresh rate, then your best-value option is the ASUS TUF FX505.
Despite having the look and feel of a more expensive laptop, the ASUS TUF FX505 is a formidable gaming laptop that benefits from a 120Hz refresh rate display. That’s a feature usually found in much more expensive gaming laptops. The ASUS TUF FX505’s graphics card is also absolutely exceptional. The only downside is the slightly shorter battery life, but if you’re able to spend a bit more compared to other laptops on this list, then the ASUS TUF FX505 is well worth considering.
Key specs – Processor: AMD Ryzen 5; Display: 15.6in 1,920 x 1,080 120Hz; Storage: 256GB SSD; Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650; Operating system: Windows 10; Weight: 4.85 lbs
6. MSI GF63 Thin: Best Budget Gaming Laptop for Battery Life
The MSI GF63 Thin isn’t just the best budget gaming laptop for battery life, it has enough stamina to outlast laptops that cost much more. In our standardised test, the MSI GF63 Thin lasted for an outstanding 7 hours of continuous gaming, making it one of the best in its class.
The MSI GF63 Thin isn’t just a one-trick pony, either. Alongside that incredible stamina, the laptop has a large and vibrant 15.6in IPS display with a crisp Full HD resolution. Contrast levels are excellent, and the peak brightness is impressive for this price as well.
There are a couple areas of compromise – performance, while decent, isn’t class-leading by any stretch, and the storage is limited to 256GB SSD – but if you want the best battery life you can get for less than $500, no laptop can beat the MSI GF63 Thin.
Key specs – Processor: Intel Core i5; Display: 15.6in 1,920 x 1,080; Storage: 256GB SSD; Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 Max-Q; Operating system: Windows 10; Weight: 4.1 lbs
7. Acer Nitro 5: Best Budget Gaming Laptop with a Large SSD
Acer’s Nitro series has always been a favorite among budget gamers. The Acer Nitro 5 takes everything that made its predecessors great and adds a larger SSD, making it an excellent choice for those who need more storage without breaking the bank.
With a robust build, a 15.6-inch Full HD display, and a powerful Intel Core i5 processor paired with an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650, the Acer Nitro 5 offers a lot of bang for your buck. The standout feature, however, is its 512GB SSD, which is rare in this price range. This ensures faster load times for games and ample storage for all your files.
Key specs – Processor: Intel Core i5; Display: 15.6in 1,920 x 1,080; Storage: 512GB SSD; Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650; Operating system: Windows 10; Weight: 5.07 lbs
Conclusion: What are some of the best budget gaming laptops?
In 2023, the gaming laptop industry has seen a surge in high-quality, budget-friendly options. Brands like Acer, Lenovo, HP, Dell, ASUS, MSI, and Acer have stepped up their game, offering powerful machines at a fraction of the price of their high-end counterparts. Whether you’re looking for the best overall performance, the most storage, or the longest battery life, there’s a budget gaming laptop out there for you. And if you’re looking for a laptop that offers the best value for its price, the Acer Aspire 5 stands out as a top choice. With its impressive specs and affordable price tag, it’s a testament to how far budget gaming laptops have come in recent years.