Welcome to our laptop buying guide. We’ve broken things down by price category so you can easily see approximately what sort of specs you’ll get in that particular price range. Though many gamers will build their own rigs or buy desktops, there is a growing number who are choosing to go the laptop route. It is hard to put a price on mobility. As manufacturers keep finding ways to bring down costs and fit more power into thinner laptops, gaming laptops are starting to make a lot more sense from an economic point of view. Plus being able to get a game of Hearthstone whenever and wherever on a pixel packed 17+ inch screen is pretty nice too.
In this best of article, we are going to check out laptop price categories and what you can get for the money. The sub $500 category of cheap gaming laptops, the $500-$1000 budget laptop range, and lastly gaming laptops that fall between the $1000-1500 price point. Our readers will also find a discussion on the state of gaming laptops and why many gamers are opting for a laptop over a desktop. We will be covering the top gaming laptop brands and which ones to keep an eye out for when shopping for your next laptop as well.
General Thoughts on Gaming Laptops
Why purchase a gaming laptop? Well, unless you have mad soldering iron skills and a laptop tool building kit you’ll probably want to buy rather than build a gaming laptop. Whereas a desktop rig is much easier to build yourself, laptops are simply too difficult and require too much special equipment to reasonably put together on your own. With a desktop, you can purchase a computer tower that acts as the shell of your new system. Then you can freely shop around for PC components and double-check that everything will be compatible before making final purchases. The process is significantly more complicated with building a laptop. With laptop chassis kit alone starting at around $300, it just doesn’t make sense to even go down that road. Even if you start by buying a barebones notebook, aka a barebook, you have to check socket types, DDR style, motherboard, and a list of other things before buying components.
There are a number of reasons sales of gaming type laptops are on the climb. Obviously, the leading market for gaming laptops are the gamers who plain and simple want to be able to play their games wherever they go and not be tied to a desk. They desire a decent frame rate and graphics performance, something that most run of the mill laptops cannot provide with their limited integrated graphics chipsets. Another reason gaming laptop sales are rising is that people are realizing they are overpaying for brand names. A commonly discussed example are the Macbooks from Apple. They sport a decent aesthetic and build quality and start around $1500-2000. However, for that cost you’ll get a model with integrated graphics. For the same price range of 1500 to 2000, a gaming laptop from a company like MSI or Lenovo will get you way better hardware/specs, including a discrete graphics card to power demanding games and applications. Another common reason people buy gaming laptops is to use them for both productivity and gaming. For example, a college student may not have the money to buy a gaming desktop as well as a laptop for class. In this case, they purchase a gaming laptop for both, then maybe down the road they’ll buy a nice monitor to plug it into for serious gaming at home.
Benefits of a Gaming Laptop:
- Discrete GPU
- Play games anywhere
- More power for less money when compared to other types of laptops
- Doubles as a productivity tool
- Can be plugged into an external monitor(s) for gaming at a desk
- Casual gamers can get an affordable option to play older games or newer games at medium graphics settings
Drawbacks of a Gaming Laptop:
- Need a decent mouse to play demanding games
- Relatively smaller display
- Costly when compared to desktops with similar specs
- Cannot easily upgrade components
- Easier to damage or break
What to Expect from each Price Category
You should certainly have different expectations when your on the hunt for a gaming laptop under 500 bucks as opposed to one over 1000. Here are some general things to expect at these price points.
There’s no two ways around it, in the under 500 category you are scraping around the bottom of the barrel. You’ll find dated models, Windows 7 and 8, Chrome OS (which is fine for productivity but limited to games in the Chrome Web Store) and lower specs across the board. Nevertheless, for those who are committed and willing to spend some time searching, there are still some decent deals to be found. These cheap gaming laptops are rare creatures and one must be careful not to spook them away by trampling too heavily in the woods. For under $500 you’re mostly going to be looking at 15.6 inch screens and smaller. Resolution wise the most commonly found is 1366 x 768 pixels or the 1600 x 900, but there 1920 x 1080 displays slowing making their way into the cheap gaming laptop category. You may have to compromise on other specs to get that 1080p, but it can be done. The average performance specs is about an i5 processor with a Nvidia GT 940m or Radeon M370 (DDR3ish). That means low gaming performance on most current games, and perhaps maximum settings on some of the golden oldies as well as the current indie titles.
In this price range, you get some great bang for your buck. Nowadays in the year 2016, you find some surprisingly high specs at this price level. You can expect a decent display of at least 1920 x 1080 pixels. On top of that, you can get a 17.3 inch or larger screen. You’ll find these models have pretty powerful discrete GPUs such as the Nvidia Geforce GTX950M as well as fast processors like the Intel Core i7-5500U 2.4GHz. It will be more difficult to find a GPU over 2-3GB in this price range, but it is still doable if you can find the right deal. As far as storage goes, you’ll find a mix of SSD (with less capacity) and 7200 RPM HDD (with more capacity) options. Battery life won’t be tremendous, but if you are doing serious gaming you’ll probably have it plugged in anyway.
Once you get up over $1000 you start to see some pretty rad machines. You don’t have to compromise on too much and you’ll be able to play most games at high settings. You’ll get an i7 processor of at least 2.4GHz, around 1TB of space, 8GB of RAM, 4GB graphics card, 17.3 inch screen size, and 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution. Other things that will come into play are lithium ion batteries, USB 3.0 compatibility, VGA ports, and Blu-Ray capable drives. You’ll start to see the Alienware name more commonly here, one of the gold standards in gaming performance rigs.