Gone are the days where you had to shell out thousands of dollars for a proper gaming rig. Thanks to smaller chips and lighter hardware, you can now buy a gaming powerhouse in laptop form for a grand or less. Not sure where to begin? Don’t sweat it. Whether you’re into mind-boggling puzzlers or first-person shooters, we’ve got you covered.
From graphics capabilities to battery life, we tested the best budget gaming laptops to figure out what’s worth the money. After hours of testing, the Lenovo Legion Y545(available at Lenovo) ended up nabbing the top spot. Comfortable, stylish, and shockingly powerful, getting your hands on the Legion for a grand or less is an absolute steal. And there are some other fantastic options, too. Whether you’re looking for the perfect all-purpose laptop or a dedicated gaming machine that won’t drain your budget, we’ve got you covered.
These are the best gaming laptops under $1,000 we tested ranked, in order:
With its elegant black-and-white color scheme, the Lenovo Legion Y545 is a gorgeous piece of hardware. It’s got a comfortable keyboard, the trackpad feels fantastic, and it delivers strong, reliable performance for something under a grand. It comes with the same 16 gigabytes of RAM and Intel Core i7-series processor you find in most of the laptops that cost twice as much. Another standout feature that may be a make-a-break proposition is the power supply, which plugs into the back center of the base, as opposed to the side. I found this to be more comfortable and convenient than most laptops, but for most users it will probably take some getting used to.
As for frame rates, the Legion Y545 stayed locked at a steady 60 frames per second the entire time I was playing Rise of the Tomb Raider—on low as well as high graphics settings—so hardcore enthusiasts who favor higher numbers over consistency may not be fully satisfied there. That said, for a budget machine, the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 4GB graphics card doesn’t disappoint. And at two and a half hours, battery life is fairly unremarkable, but this laptop’s a lot of fun to use. It’s the bang-for-buck choice for players on a budget.
I'm Florence Ion, a contributor here at Reviewed. Over a decade ago, I started my career interning for a PC magazine and benchmarking powerful machines. But gone are the days I used to put together my gaming rig. I've since switched over to laptops because they're more portable and they save me a ton of room in my tiny office. And gaming laptops, in particular, offer everything I need to run my business and engage in a bit of playtime when I'm not feeling particularly motivated.
I’m Alex Kane, a freelance contributor for Reviewed. Since early 2016, I’ve been writing about video games and culture for places like Polygon, Rolling Stone, and Variety. I’m also the author of Boss Fight Books’ Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. I come to gaming laptops looking for things like comfort, ease of use, and longevity. Whether I’m playing Fallout 4, Halo, or MTG Arena, I just want a machine that gets out of my way and makes gaming as joyous and headache-free as possible. But having enough power to run the latest blockbusters is equally important when you’re making this kind of investment.
To help determine a gaming laptop’s ability as a portable powerhouse, we first attempt to push each machine’s processor to its brink. These tests help us determine the responsiveness of the laptop and whether it’ll be able to handle streaming or running Google Chrome in the background with simultaneous gameplay. We then run a series of tests on the graphics card to figure out how fast graphics and images rendered on a particular machine, and whether your gameplay will run smoothly.
Since gaming laptops are smaller and thinner than full gaming rigs, we tested the heat output and fan noise of each machine during sustained gameplay. If you plan to use a gaming laptop for double-duty, you might find the sound of whirring fan blades to be a bit distracting.
Once that’s established, we run a battery test overnight. We unplug the laptop and set the display brightness to 200 nits and then we cycle through popular websites like Discord and Twitch until the battery dies. This is how we figure out how much action we can get on a single charge. The idea is to emulate daily tasks. Even if you’re buying this laptop solely to play Overwatch, you’ll also likely use it for web browsing.
Lastly, we consider the overall build quality like how sturdy the hinges feel and if there’s any flex to the display. We also take into account how light the machine is—under five pounds is ideal—and how many ports it offers.
What You Should Know About Budget Gaming Laptops
Under the Hood
When you start your search for gaming laptops, you’ll notice that there isn’t much variety when it comes to the internal hardware. The most popular graphics cards these days are made by Nvidia. Companies like AMD also manufacture high-performing graphics cards, but most of the laptops we tested have Nvidia hardware powering their insides.
The latest Nvidia graphics cards are the 10-series, 16-series, and 20-series. The 10-series includes 1060, 1070, and 1080 cards. These tend to be more budget-friendly and they’re capable of handling the latest games at high frame rates as well as virtual reality experiences (provided you have enough RAM). Like the other cards mentioned here, they’re also compatible with Nvidia proprietary G Sync, which helps manage smooth frame rates of up to 240Hz.
The 16-series includes the 1660 Ti and 1650 and are both based on newer architecture than the 10-series. They perform well at 1080p and 1440p resolutions and offer better memory bandwidth so that graphics continually render smoothly at high frame-rates. The only caveat of the 16-series is that they tend to ship with less virtual memory, which can become a future-proofing issue down the line.
The 20-series include the RTX 2060, 2070, and 2080, and they’re considered some of the best cards in their class. The RTX in their name stands for ray tracing, which helps generate interactive images that react to lighting, shadows, and reflections, contributing to more immersive gameplay. Games like Metro Exodus support this rendering technology. The 20-series are also able to facilitate gaming on a 4K monitor, which you might consider if you’re springing for our best all-around gaming laptop picks.
The processor inside your gaming laptop won’t directly affect your gaming prowess, though this part of the configuration matters for day-to-day tasks and simultaneous streaming. Most of what you’ll find on our list come with Intel Core i7 chips, either last generation’s 8750H variant or the ninth-generation 9750H. There isn’t a significant difference in performance between the two, and you can save some money by foregoing the upgrade.
If you’re looking at budget gaming machines, you’re likely to run into Intel’s Core i5 processors. They’re capable chips, but you will see a performance difference as you push the machine to its capacity.
The standard screen size for gaming laptops is 15.6-inches with 1080p resolution. It’s enough screen for partaking in action without carting around a laptop that’s breaking your back. There are 17-inch gaming laptops available, too, but if portability matters to you, you might want to avoid that much screen.
Refresh rates make the most significance on gaming laptops. You may have noticed that a majority of our picks include a 144Hz refresh rate, with machines like the MSI GS65 Stealth with RTX 2060 graphics clocking in at 240Hz. The higher frame rate effectively smooths out gameplay and leads to less stuttering issues than on a standard monitor with a 60Hz refresh rate.
It used to be impossible to find a competent gaming machine under a grand, but not anymore. Now you can find plenty of options starting with decent processors and enough graphics power to fuel your third playthrough of The Witcher 3.
Anything over a grand belongs in the mid-range category, though that label doesn’t necessarily refer to a laptop’s specifications. You’ll be able to find machines with current generation hardware, decent battery life, lots of memory, and plenty of storage space. Some last-generation gaming laptops may also appear at this price point.
Laptops that cost well over a grand are considered top performers because they’re equipped with top-tier specs. Machines in this category also tend to offer better display options, and in some instances, allow you to upgrade components down the line.
Other Budget Gaming Laptops We Tested
Asus Republic of Gamers Strix Scar Edition
Between the Intel Core i7-7700HQ processor and the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 graphics card, the Scar is powerful enough to run virtual reality experiences and video editing programs. It’s a gaming notebook, but who said you had to use it specifically for games? When it comes down to it, the guts really do matter, especially if you consider yourself a power user.
When we played Overwatch on high settings, it hovered around 60 frames-per-second, occasionally dropping to 40 or 50 frames-per-second (depending on activity). You’ll probably get the best performance out of AAA titles like League of Legends or Battlegrounds on medium settings, as they’re not as visually demanding as other games. While we love the performance and wide selection of ports, battery life leaves little to be desired and fan noise is a problem.
With great power comes disappointing battery life. When we ran our WiFi browsing test, which cycles through popular websites like Facebook and Amazon, it died in about two hours. You’ll definitely want to keep the power brick handy, as it’s not designed for long term off-the-charger use. The fans are pretty loud under demanding loads, too.
HP’s Pavilion 15 doesn’t look that impressive—its somewhat boring black design comes with either lime-green or white accents—but it’ll run games like Apex Legends or Metro Exodus, and the price tag is appealing. Like the Lenovo Legion, the Pavilion 15’s locked at 60 frames per second thanks to the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 4GB graphics card but manages some impressive benchmark scores in other areas. In the Geekbench CPU test, it actually outperformed HP’s own Omen 17 gaming laptop (earning a single core score of 5,049, as opposed to the Omen’s result of 3,709).
For a student or someone on a tight budget, this is a solid jack-of-all-trades PC in the ballpark of $750, depending on what configuration you choose. (There are at least three different graphics-card choices available, among other options). It’s got a soft, comfortable keyboard and most of the functionality you’d expect from a laptop marketed toward young people and gamers. It just doesn’t feel like the sort of hardware that would survive a lot of wear and tear from frequent use.
Just because you’re buying a gaming laptop on a strict budget doesn’t mean you have to skimp on the features. The Acer Nitro 7 is an excellent example of how to save money and equip yourself with the kind of hardware that will play your favorite games and help you get things done.
The Nitro 7 has the latest Intel Core i7-9750H processor along with an Nvidia GTX 1650 graphics card and 16GB of RAM. Like its pricier competition, it also offers a 15.6-inch Full HD display with 144Hz refresh rate, which means games run pretty smooth. It even managed to maintain high frame rates in visually-demanding games like Metro 2033 and Rise of the Tomb Raider. It boasts impeccable battery life, too, with up to four hours of continuous use before it requires a charge.
Perhaps the only caveat of the Nitro 7 is the same issue that plagues other gaming laptops. The lack of physical buttons on the trackpad makes it hard to play some games without an additional mouse.
With its unique tapered design and black plastic hood, the Lenovo Legion makes a strong first impression. The muted color scheme is a nice change of pace, especially if you’re not into that gaudy gaming aesthetic. While it’s obviously a gaming laptop, given its red-backlit keyboard and angular trackpad, the tamed-down aesthetic is a welcome departure from the usual script.
It’s a good option for the gaming enthusiast on a tight budget. In addition to the reasonable starting price, the Legion also packs a good amount of graphics power as well. You’ll get consistent performance out of the base model, so long as you don’t push it beyond its capabilities. While the Legion, with its subdued look and affordability, has a lot going for it, some compromises had to be made.
The Nvidia GPU is a big power-suck, so you’ll want to keep your eyes peeled for an outlet. The battery life is disappointing but, depending on your needs, it may or may not be a top priority. The angular trackpad is also awkward to use, as the odd shape makes it nearly impossible to work with. That said, you can always hook up to an external mouse and use that instead.
This laptop packs a lot of graphics power, that’s for sure. For just under a grand, you’re getting a powerful GPU plus a classy design that strays from the typical gaming aesthetic. The "New" models even offer Intel’s quad-core 8th-gen processors. So, not only is it light on the wallet, it’s powerful enough to run games like Overwatch on medium to high settings. But while there’s a lot we love about this laptop, we had a few gripes.
The display isn’t very bright or colorful and viewing angles are poor. This isn’t too surprising because it’s a budget gaming laptop, so sacrifices need to be made to keep the cost down. In addition to the disappointing screen, the laptop is bulky and awkward to handle—you’re not going to enjoy lugging it around. Nitpicks aside, we feel the Inspiron 15 is still a killer choice, as it’s a great laptop for work and play and you can’t beat the awesome price.
Florence Ion is a freelance journalist and prolific podcaster. She's written for Ars Technica, PC World, Android Central, The Verge, and Engadget. Her reviews and how-tos can usually be found on Lifehacker, Tom's Guide, and Reviewed. She can also be heard weekly on All About Android on the TWiT network and Material on Relay FM.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.