Best cheap gaming laptops under $1,000 for 2021 – CNET

Thanks to the components required to run the latest games, gaming laptops can cost an arm and a leg. Even cheap gaming laptop options typically run between $700 and $1,000. But the good news is that you can actually get decent gaming performance at these prices, and they’re lighter and thinner than gaming laptops were even just a few years ago. Playing Apex LegendsCS: GOPUBGFortnite, and Minecraft won’t be a problem for these machines. You can save even more money if you look for laptop deals on a refurbished or open-box gaming laptop from the likes of Best Buy, AmazonMicro Center and Woot

To help you get your ideal gaming experience, our recommendations are 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 laptop deals to help you do it. We’ll update this list of the best cheap gaming laptop options as we review new products.

Dell

Dell’s G-series gaming laptops are cheaper than those from its Alienware division, but still capable of playing the latest AAA titles. There are three separate models — the G3, G5 and G7 — available in 15- and 17-inch sizes. The midrange G5 15 hits the mark with an excellent price-to-performance ratio, build quality and design. The newest versions of this budget laptop start around $900 and is one of the best cheap gaming laptop deals. We reviewed the special edition version that starts at about $825 with AMD’s impressive Ryzen 5 4600H processor and Radeon RX5600M graphics.

Read our Dell G5 15 (2020) review.


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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.  

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 is 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 CNET’s review of the 17.3-inch Acer Nitro 5..

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 just under $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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

While the G5 is still our go-to best cheap gaming laptop pick, the G3 is available with many of the same components, including CPUs and graphics chips, but for less money. The other features and build quality aren’t as nice as the G5’s, but the G3 is thinner and lighter. It’s a good pick if you’re looking for a school or home office laptop that can also handle playing the latest games.

Read our Dell G3 15 Gaming Laptop review.

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.

Read our HP Pavilion Gaming 15 review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Aspire 7 isn’t a “gaming” laptop but is a great budget gaming option if you’re a gamer looking for a home office laptop that’s also good for gaming. Along with an Nvidia GTX 1650 graphics card and a 10th-gen Intel Core i5 processor, you get a good 15.6-inch full-HD display and a bevy of ports for $800. 

The Aspire 7 is a little chunky, though. For those who prefer something slimmer and lighter, the Aspire 5 hits the mark for a good gaming experience and is available with an MX250 graphics card for under $1,000.

Read our Acer Aspire 7 review.

Buying tips for a cheap gaming laptop

Older laptops with Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 10-series GPUs are still around, but the laptop deal options aren’t as good as they once were. A cheap gaming laptop with an entry-level GTX 1050 Ti card 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 newer GTX 1650, 1650 Ti or 1660 Ti or an older upper-midrange Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 for a great gaming experience. Plus, with the 6GB version of the GTX 1060, you can experience a little of the ray-tracing effects available with the pricier RTX cards.   

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 older Nvidia Geforce GTX 1050 Ti or newer 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, getting a laptop with an older Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 with 6GB of memory or newer 1660 Ti. 

Beyond the graphics chip, look for: 

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