We live in “the exponential era.” In simpler words, this means that technology is evolving at such a rapid pace that it’s becoming increasingly hard, even for those of us who are at the forefront of said evolution, to keep up with all the discoveries and development in their field. This applies particularly to those who work in IT, and most of all those who deal with computer science and engineering. After all, computers seem to be the future, after having drastically transformed the world in their relatively short history.
The problem is that all these things cost money. Evolution costs money, new things cost money, and old things still cost money as well. This is particularly true for IT and, if you want to keep up with the latest trends, you better be prepared to dish out a good pile of cash. If you’re a gamer, for instance, you certainly know the pain of not being able to play the latest releases until two years after they were released because your computer is simply not up to the task. Let’s be honest: not all those who love gaming can afford getting a $5000 Alienware or something like that. In fact, most of them don’t, while some people who think that Deus Ex is just a bunch of Latin words play Candy Crush all day on rigs that could host Google and YouTube no problem.
In case you want to see some practical application of what you just read, take a look at the recommendations listed below. Who knows, you may just find your next gaming soul mate:
1. ASUS ROG GL752VW-DH71
We’re starting big with one big laptop. At 17.3”, this model reaches the very limit of laptop size and we can assure you that Asus regrets nothing. If you’re one of those who prefers gaming experience rather than portability, you won’t mind this laptop being slightly overweight at 6.6lbs either.
This monster is powered by an Intel i7-6700HQ. This is the same CPU you can find on high-end Alienware, and it features four physical cores and eight threads, clocked at 2.6GHz, overclocked at 3.5GHz. The HD1080p screen is taken care of by the nVidia GTX 960M, with 2GB GDDR5, which is again as much as you can expect from a laptop within this price range, and the 16GB DDR4 are all the RAM you need right now, with the possibility to upgrade still open. It has a 1TB HDD, although an SSD would have been nicer, it’s open to upgrades as well. As far as connectivity is concerned, it has all you need, including the future-proof USB Type-C 3.1.
2. MSI GL62 6QF-893
As stated above, MSI is rather well-known for their great motherboards. However, their “intrusion” into the gaming laptop market proved to be quite an inspired idea. Their high-end rigs are truly comparable to what Asus and Alienware have to offer, and they even have great mid-rangers, one of which is the GL62.
Just like the Asus model above, the GL62 is powered by the same CPU and graphics card. In fact, MSI is well-known for using the latest model of graphics board available, as proven with the premiere use of the GTX 1080M as soon as it appeared. In this case, the GTX 960M card powers a 1920×1080 15.6” screen, so the pixel density is better than the previous one. It doesn’t have as much RAM, at only 12GB, but that’s enough for all practical purposes, and you can upgrade it anyway if you consider it insufficient. The advantage it holds over the ROG GL752VW is that besides the 1TB HDD, it also has a 128GB SSD. Plenty of room for games, basically, and super-speed loading for the OS. The connectivity is the same, with the USB Type-C 3.1 professedly able to handle dual 4k monitors.
In all respects, this laptop is as good as our number 1. The only choice is between 17.3” and 15.6”, nothing more.
3. Alienware 13
We just had to bring up an Alienware, didn’t we? If it’s a battle of sizes, then it’s only fair to offer the smaller one a chance as well. The Alienware 13 is named so because of its 13” size, being the smallest one on this list and, honestly, a bit smaller than what we’d accept as a gaming laptop. But then again, size is a matter of preference.
There are four Alienware 13 models. We are interested in this model since it’s the same price as our #1 and #2. This model is powered by the same graphics card as the other two, but it has a 1366×768 13” screen. The CPU is an i7-6500U – not quite as powerful as the others, as it is clocked at 2.5GHz with a 3.1GHz max. It also features the minimum 8GB RAM, upgradable to 16GB for some extra cash. It has hybrid storage, with a 500GB HDD / 8GB SSD combo, which is not bad. It also has a great design for gaming, amazing sound, and it’s optimized for gaming. As such, while it’s not as powerful as the others, it’s the best alternative if you want a smaller laptop.
4. Lenovo IdeaPad Y700-14ISK 14″
In the same battle of sizes, we just have to bring a 14” laptop, because we need something between 13” and 15.6”. This laptop is the cheapest in this list, but that doesn’t reflect the quality, which is just as good as our top 3.
It also features the same CPU as our top choices, an i7-6700HQ, clocked at the same speed. A surprise, however, comes from the GPU side, as Lenovo apparently chose to pair Intel with AMD this time around. It’s not a very pleasant surprise, as the Radeon R9 M375 is apparently on par with the older GTX 760M model, but it’s still good for all practical purposes. Especially since, unlike any other laptop on this list, it has 4GB VRAM. It’s also great regarding storage, as it has the usual 1TB HDD paired with a 128GB SSD – same as our #2.
5. Acer Aspire V15 Nitro Black Edition VN7-591G-70RT
Acer laptops are known for their really hot design, and this laptop makes no exception. Come on; it’s called “Nitro Black Edition,” right? This model is the slimmest around here, but this appears not to be an issue. It’s also the classiest by far, which is nice if you want to take it to the office with you. And it has a back-lit keyboard, which is pretty neat for a gaming laptop.
The CPU is not as advanced as the others, belonging to the Haswell generation (22nm micro-architecture) Intel i7-4720HQ quad-core. It is, however, clocked at 2.6GHz with a maximum of 3.6GHz. The video part is the same as always, with the good old GTX 960M powering the same 1920×1080 15.6” screen as our MSI model. It only has 8GB DDR3L RAM, but that’s upgradable if you want.
The quick advancement of technology brings some good news. When an innovation is implemented, the previous models can drop quite a lot in price. You can notice this, for instance, with every new Intel CPU and nVidia graphics card: when a new architecture is launched, the one before becomes cheaper without being much weaker at all. Such is the charm of novelty. At any rate, computers that were way beyond the financial means of many are now well within the limits of decency. For $1000 or less, you can purchase a computer that five years ago would have cost three times that, and you’d be surprised just how many games you could play on such a computer. Yes, we know, this sounds a bit too good to be true, especially considering the prices of high-end gaming computers, but trust us on this one. You CAN get a mid-to-high range laptop, optimized for gaming, for a price between $700-1000. It will probably not play the latest Tomb Raider on max settings, but other than that, it should do just fine with whatever gaming companies can throw at it.
Consider this too: are you seriously planning to play computer games all day, all night? In this case, you’re better off saving money ‘til you can afford a high-end build. However, this type of computers is way too expensive and overpowered, and consequently, it’s only useful for high-spec games, 4k video rendering, and things like that. Mid-to-high-range laptops are way better all-rounders than high-end ones. They are way more portable, more pro-looking (seriously, gaming laptops look like LEGO x alien mother ship) and perform everything well enough. In fact, unless you’re planning to play all the latest releases, there’s not a single reason why you’d spend the $1500-2000 on a high-end platform. Instead, if you choose to spend your money wisely on a $700-1000 laptop, that laptop could get the money back within weeks if you use it for work as well.
Of course, just like with super-expensive stuff, mid-to-high-range laptops are also not particularly easy to choose from. In fact, the $500-1000 price range comprises an astonishing number of machines, with relatively similar specs for the same price. How do you choose? That is the question. There are many things you should take into account, and this article will introduce you to the basics of picking one good laptop out of many good and bad laptops. Here’s what you need to look at:
Yes, yes. The old story of paying for the brand name. That’s true to an extent: you pay a whole lot for the marketing. However, all myths start from a basic truth, and that includes myths about computers. Brand does matter, as the specific design and components used to make the difference a lot more when it comes to laptops than desktop computers – just think about weight and cooling capability. Anyway, here’s what we think about various brands. You shouldn’t take it as a law, but rather as a rule of thumb. Always look for reviews on the particular brand and model you think you want.
- Apple: seriously? We are talking about gaming here. MacBooks are great, reliable and all that, but they are utterly incapable of offering a good gaming experience. Get one if you’re doing Photoshop, office stuff, and things like that, but not for gaming.
- Alienware: mother of all gaming rigs. Built and optimized for gaming. The only problem with Alienware is that they are more on the expensive side, which is the problem with Apple as well, for that matter.
- ASUS: finally, something. They have a solid build, perform well, cover all price ranges, and have great reviews. And yes, you can and you will play games on them, and it will be great. Looks are a matter of preference.
- Lenovo: see above.
- Toshiba: see above.
- Acer: pretty much the same. They place a bit more emphasis on looks and portability, though. Also, the latest Acer laptops all have the USB Type-C, which is great.
- Dell: pretty neat, but more on the Apple side. Pretty design, slim and functional, but not suited to gaming. More like the type of laptop you bring with you to watch movies on a road trip.
- Samsung: see above.
- HP: once the greatest, apparently has started to decline. It doesn’t have the amazing reviews it used to have. However, it’s pretty good on the convertible laptop/tablet side. Just not for gaming, which is a shame.
- MSI: surprisingly good. Renowned for their motherboards, they switched to laptop production, and it was a good decision. While on the bit more expensive side, they are excellent for gaming.
- The CPU
In all seriousness, mother of all computers. You can’t even open the computer without a processor, let alone play Witcher. At any rate, while the graphics processor, a.k.a. GPU, does most of the job when gaming, a good CPU is nonetheless essential to gaming as it is to everything. Also, games with high requirements can max out your CPU in no time, which is why the overclocking function exists. The rule of thumb: the newer and bigger the processor is, the better. Of course, it’s also more expensive, but you can afford something pretty decent within the $1000 limit.
Normally, the CPU battle is between Intel and AMD, enemies since the beginning of ever. However, the thing is that not very many computers feature an AMD processor, although AMD advertises plenty of gaming possibilities. It’s not that Intel processors are radically better or anything. To put it simply, Intel prefers a lower number of CPU cores with more power, which makes them more appropriate for one big task. In the meantime, AMD processors usually feature more cores with better multitasking, but lesser individual clocking speed, which makes them better for… you guessed: multitasking.
For that price range, you can get an Intel i7 of the 6th generation (Skylake), clocked at 2.6GHz, overclocked at 3.5GHz. For instance, if you can get an i7-6700, 6500 and so on, get it. If you don’t find one, a Broadwell i7 works too – all’s good as long as it’s above 2.3 GHz with the corresponding overclock speed. An i5 of the latest generations may work pretty well too, but we advise you find an i7 within the limit of possibilities. As far as AMD goes, the 6th and 7th generations of A-series and FX-series processors are good for gaming. Examples are the AMD FX9800P, the A12-9700P, or the A12-9600P.
- The Graphics Card
The core of every gaming computer is a discrete (dedicated) graphics card. While it’s a simplistic approach, you could say that every visual function of the computer is performed by it. Usually, the GPU of a graphics card has to process immense numbers of calculations in parallel and thus has an ungodly number of physical cores and threads compared to a CPU. In fact, nVidia cards have 100-500 cores, while AMD goes overboard once more with some 1500 cores. The VRAM also matters: while the GPU is the heart, the VRAM is the circulatory system. You can’t have an overpowered GPU with too little VRAM. The more, the better. Just make sure, for a gaming laptop, that it’s not below 2GB.
And here we have them: the two main competitors on the graphics card market. Yet again, the story repeats: it’s not that nVidia cards are immensely superior; they are simply more common than AMD (actually ATI, but still AMD) cards. Usually, an AMD processor will be paired with an AMD graphics card.
While the super-high-end cards such as the nVidia GTX 1080M will not be available for something below $1500, the mid-to-high-range GTX 950M does a pretty good job. You may even find a 960M, 965M, or 970M if you’re lucky. That for nVidia. You can often find AMD Radeon R6 and R7 in laptops under $1000, but they’re not quite the thing for you. On the other hand, the RX 470M and 460M are equivalent to the nVidia models here, and they’re not half bad, according to their respective reviews.
- The Storage
Unlike in the earlier days, you have a choice this time around. Rather than HDD vs. HDD, or even 5400RPM HDD vs. 7200 RPM HDD, you can now choose between a huge HDD and a not so huge SSD. What’s the catch?
HDD’s are still the biggest and most reliable things around. However, that’s only because SSD is only blooming these days. Usually, you’ll get at most a 512GB SSD in a laptop under $1000, while you can get a 1TB HDD even with a $400 laptop. They also have a longer theoretical life than SSD’s, which have a limited number of uses.
However, this is where the HDD stops. Not only are SSD’s incredibly fast, but they can also become smaller and smaller, while there’s a size limit for HDD’s. They also have no moving parts, which makes them more shock-resistant. As about the relatively short life span… well, that’s only relative to HDD’s. An SSD with the TRIM technology can work perfectly up to 6 years, which is more than the laptop itself will last anyway.
If you have a choice, get an SSD. Trust us. Also, you can get an external HDD at any time, and most SSD laptops also have an open HDD slot.
- The RAM
The more, the better. Period. Also the bigger the number after DDR…, the better. 8GB DDR4 is good, 16GB is better. You can’t get more than that for $1000, but don’t be satisfied with anything less than 8GB. In an emergency, get a 4GB laptop, but one that can support up to 32GB or so. You’ll thank us later.
- The Screen
No new game is good if your screen makes it look like the first Prince of Persia. The best graphics card is also useless of your screen refresh rate is 30Hz. As such, you need to get something with a good screen. At a price up to $1000, HD 1080p is the least you can expect, with additional perks such as anti-glare and so on.
- The Motherboard
When we say “the motherboard,” what we mean is “what else can you add on the motherboard that isn’t there already or replace what there is.” In short, the possibilities. That means:
- Maximum RAM
- Maximum storage (also extra SSD/HDD)
- CPU compatibility
- Graphics card compatibility
Also, check your Ethernet and Wi-Fi capabilities. The newer the standard, the better.
- The Design
Although many people will rush and say “it’s the performance that matters,” it’s particularly true in the case of laptops that design heavily influences performance. For instance, a slim and light laptop is great for traveling, but it will not be good for gaming. Why? Let’s see what we have to say about the design:
- Yes, it does matter. If you want something more portable, get something smaller. If you want better gaming experience, get something bigger, as bigger screen size automatically translates into bigger body size.
- Cooling: why slim laptops are no good. A powerful CPU and graphics board require equally good cooling, liquid if possible. You can’t get that on a sub-$1000 laptop, but please take a look at the venting holes anyway. If they’re large enough and properly positioned, then it’s OK. A very slim laptop can’t have a big enough cooler. No problem when doing office tasks, but real trouble if you play games.
- The more and newer, the better. You need at least 3 USB ports, an HDMI, an RJ-45 (Ethernet), and an audio port, to say the least. USB Type-C is also welcome.
These are the basics for buying a gaming laptop under $1000. Of course, you can apply all this vast knowledge to any laptop, especially since the sub-$1000 models are basically the most commonly used.
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