If you’re looking for a gaming laptop but you’re worried you don’t have a big enough budget, don’t sweat it, there are still great options available at affordable prices. Whether you’re a hardcore FPS player or a fan of story-rich RPGs, these inexpensive machines are still plenty powerful enough to get the job done. That being said, if you’re working on a strict budget, you will need to make some sacrifices and we are here to help make sure you don’t compromise where it counts.
Every laptop on this list has been personally vetted by the PCWorld team, and our favorite, the Asus VivoBook Pro 15 OLED, nabbed our top spot because of its solid GPU performance and gorgeous display. If that isn’t your cup of tea, we also included a range of other recommendations including laptops with larger screens and an option in case you are able to stretch your budget in order to take advantage of even more performance gains.
Also, it’s back-to-school time for a few more weeks and that means you have the chance to score a gaming laptop for even cheaper. Check out our curated list of back-to-school deals, featuring the best sales on laptops, Chromebooks, Macbooks, and more this season. Similarly you can take a look at our ongoing list of the best laptop deals of 2022 highlighting the best available bargains all year round.
Asus VivoBook Pro 15 OLED Ultra Slim Laptop – Best overall
- Good productivity performance
- Superb display
- Rugged design
- Great battery life
- Boring aesthetics
- Unimpressive 720p webcam
- Unreliable fingerprint scanner
- Poor port selection
Looking for a reliable mid-range laptop? The Asus VivoBook Pro 15 OLED is a fantastic option. According to our tester, this laptop is great for “gaming, streaming, and day-to-day productivity.” Thanks to the AMD Ryzen 7 5800H CPU and the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 (4GB GDDR6) GPU, we were able to hit 60 frames-per-second at 1080p on high graphics during the Shadow of the Tomb Raider benchmark. Plus, the OLED display is absolutely beautiful and battery life is surprisingly good. There are a few minor shortcomings, however. The overall design is a little plain and the port selection is limited, and you’ll need to drop down to Medium or High graphics in strenuous modern AAA games on the RTX 3050. Nitpicks aside, if you’re looking for reliable performance on a gorgeous OLED screen, the VivoBook Pro 15 is where the party’s at.
Read our full
ASUS VivoBook Pro 15 OLED Ultra Slim Laptop review
MSI Katana GF76 – Runner up
- Decent CPU performance
- Interesting design with plenty of flair
- Comfortable keyboard and trackpad
- Lackluster GPU performance
- The display lacks brightness
- Audio produces less-than-stellar bass
The MSI Katana GF76 offers lightning fast CPU performance at an inexpensive price point. That’s because it’s equipped with the latest 12-gen Intel processor. Not only can you expect reliable performance out of this machine, but the trackpad and keyboard are comfortable to use for long periods of time. Battery life isn’t too shabby, either. The laptop died at the five hour mark during our test, which is about average for a gaming rig. There are a number of few trade-offs to be aware of, though. The display isn’t very bright and the Nvidia RTX 3050 Ti graphics struggle a bit at times, especially with demanding AAA titles. That said, if you dial down the graphics, you can expect more consistent performance. So long as you have realistic expectations of a budget laptop’s hardware, the MSI Katana is a respectful option.
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MSI Katana GF76 review
HP Victus 16 (16-d0097nr) – Best 16-inch display
- Very good value
- Surprisingly comfortable keyboard
- Large 16-inch 1080p screen with a high 144Hz refresh rate
- Budget RTX GPU
- Audio doesn’t feel quite right
- Display hinge is a bit flimsy
When it comes to the HP Victus 16, you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck. The 16-inch 1080p display has a high refresh rate of 144Hz, the keyboard is surprisingly comfortable, and there are a wide range of configuration options. Although the laptop’s GeForce RTX 3050 Ti GPU falls on the lower end of the spectrum, it still delivers solid 1080p gaming performance. Plus, the subtle design makes it a suitable choice for either work or play.
We tested the top-tier configuration, which is still relatively affordable at $1,250. However, as we mention in our review, these models can go as low as $730. The cheaper models use the older GTX 1650 GPUs, which lack DLSS and Ray Tracing support. With that being said, these laptops should still provide decent gaming performance with lower graphics settings.
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HP Victus 16 (16-d0097nr) review
Asus ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition – Best if you can stretch your budget
- Outclasses every CPU in competing laptops
- Radeon RX GPU outclasses similarly-priced GeForce GPUs in conventional gaming.
- Surprisingly good audio quality
- No webcam
- Very bulky 280-watt power brick
- Nvidia GPUs outclass Radeon in ray tracing and content creation.
The Asus ROG Strix G15 Advanced Edition is an all-AMD laptop that delivers fast CPU and GPU performance at a reasonable price point. It’s packing an AMD Ryzen 5900HX processor, an AMD Radeon RX 6800M GPU (with 12GB of GDDR6), 16GB of RAM, and 512GB of SSD storage. According to our review, the GPU “doesn’t outpace higher-wattage RTX 3080 laptop GPUs, but it’s a worthy competitor for conventional gaming tasks.” Unsurprisingly, the Strix G15 is one chunky machine, measuring 28mm at its thickest part. Although the additional thickness allows more space for cooling components, it’s not very portable. That said, so long as you don’t plan on taking this laptop everywhere with you, it’s a powerful gaming rig that’s well worth the money.
We understand that the $1,650 price tag isn’t “cheap” in the traditional sense, but this all-AMD laptop costs significantly less than comparable laptops in power. If you look on Best Buy or Nvidia’s website for 3080 machines, they cost upwards of $2,200 to $3,000.
Read our full
Asus ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition review
How we tested
The PCWorld team puts each and every Windows laptop through a series of benchmarks that test GPU and CPU performance, battery life, and so on. The idea is to push the laptop to its limits and then compare it against others we’ve tested. Below, you’ll find a breakdown of each test and the reasons why we run them.
- PCMark 10: PCMark 10 is how we determine how well the laptop handles lighter tasks like web browsing, word processing, spreadsheets, and so on.
- HandBrake: HandBrake is more intensive than PCMark 10. It basically measures how long a laptop’s CPU takes to encode a beefy 30GB file.
- Cinebench: Cinebench is a brief stress test of the CPU cores. It does this by rendering a 2D scene over a short period of time.
- 3DMark: 3DMark checks if 3D performance remains consistent over time by running graphic-intensive clips.
- Video rundown test: To gauge battery life, we loop a 4K video using Windows 10’s Movies & TV app until the laptop dies.
What you should look for in a budget gaming laptop
When it comes to picking the right gaming laptop, it really depends on what you want to do with it. Do you plan on playing lightweight indie titles like Stardew Valley (no shade, I love this game) or something more visually demanding like Metro Exodus? Are you going to use the machine for work as well as play? It’s possible to get reliable performance out of a gaming laptop that costs under a grand, but you’ll need to take a hard look at the individual components. You don’t need a powerful GPU for something like Fortnite. The guts, my friends. That’s what matters.
- GPU: The thing about the GPU is that it can’t be swapped out and upgraded later, so you need to be real choosy about which one you pick, as this component will determine how well your machine runs games. Luckily, you don’t need the best of the best to get reliable gaming performance. The GTX 1650 is an entry-level GPU that’s affordable and good enough for 1080p gaming with mid-to-high graphics settings. That said, expect lower frame rates on newer titles, especially since it’s been replaced by the newer RTX 3050. If you’re looking for a bit more power, we recommend opting for an RTX 3050 Ti or higher.
- CPU: Like the GPU, the processor can’t be upgraded either, so you’ll want to be selective. For Intel, we recommend an 11th-gen Intel Core i5 or i7. For AMD, you’ll want to spring for a Ryzen 5 or 7. A processor with at least four cores is good, but six cores or more is better.
- RAM: You’ll want at least 8GB of RAM. If you can afford 16GB of RAM, go for it. Memory is normally upgradable, so you can always swap it out and add more later on.
- Storage: Storage impacts how many games and applications you can install on your laptop. Like RAM, storage is upgradable and can be swapped out later. However, you should aim for at least 512GB of SSD storage plus a hard drive, as AAA titles tend to eat up a lot of space. SSDs load games faster, as data is stored on chips rather than spinning disks.
- Display: 1080p is what you can expect at this price range. Budget gaming laptops don’t always have the best displays, as that’s where manufacturers tend to cut corners to keep the cost low. If you’ve got a dim display, you can always pick up an external monitor to plug into.
- Battery life: Generally speaking, gaming laptops are known for having poor battery life. That’s because they use a ton of power. They also tend to be heavier than other laptops because they need more space for heatsinks and other cooling components. Depending on the use, most will last anywhere from four to six hours on a single charge. That said, there are a few exceptions. The HP Envy 14 (featured above), for example, hit the 15-hour mark during our battery test.
Do Chromebooks make good gaming laptops?
The short answer is no, but it mostly has to do with the type of gaming you intend to do. Chromebooks are great for web games and Android games. But they won’t be able to play the latest graphics-intensive 3D games. This is mainly due to the fact that Chromebooks don’t run Windows and they usually lack the necessary graphics power.
All that said, Google is trying to bring cloud gaming to Chrome OS machines. So gaming on a Chromebook might be in the cards for the future. Cloud gaming essentially uses a remote server to play games on and then livestreams through the cloud back to a Chromebook. That said, there is still some ways to go before Chromebooks can compete in the gaming arena.
Can you play games with integrated graphics?
Long gone are the days when integrated graphics would keep you from your favorite games. Nowadays, the latest integrated graphics can run most modern PC games at decent settings. We’ve even seen AMD’s 6000 RDNA 2 and Intel’s latest Iris Xe line of processors with integrated graphics run games such as Horizon Zero Dawn and Cyberpunk 2077 at 1080p and 30fps. A word of warning though: not all integrated graphics are built the same.
Intel and AMD’s integrated graphics in particular have made huge leaps recently with regard to gaming performance. So if you’re on a budget and can only afford a laptop with integrated graphics, we say, “game on!” For more details, check out Intel’s Core 12th-gen Iris Xe or AMD’s brand new Ryzen 6000 RDNA 2.