We all know about gaming computers: they are overpowered machines, the epitome of PC engineering, capable of running high-end games with all settings maxed out. We also know another thing about gaming computers: they are way too expensive for the average buyer. While the most expensive desktops can easily pass $10,000 or so (there are crazy $20,000 models), the most expensive laptops (practical models, not gold-plated stuff) can reach around $4-5000 as well. As such, we can see that if you’re not among the wealthy, you simply can’t afford to play the latest releases.
However, does that mean you should simply quit being a gamer? Not on our watch, no sir! In fact, we’re here to tell you that you can acquire a laptop capable of running a couple of the most popular releases of last year and even a couple of games that were launched this year as well. Of course, you can’t expect to play the latest Deus Ex with all settings maxed out. That’s something for actual gaming laptops, which go for $1500 or so. However, there are a couple of pretty good machines that can play Overwatch at ultra-high settings, as well as Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst, Mafia 3, Doom, and Hitman 2016 on medium settings, among other things. This should satisfy most of your needs until you can gather the money and buy an actual gaming rig. Speaking of gathering money, a gaming laptop doesn’t have to be limited to gaming. You can also use it for work, in which case you can get back everything you paid on it in no time. You can use it for literally every office application, as well as a couple of more demanding software such as Photoshop and the likes. Doing 4k video editing and such may prove to be a bit much, but other than that, there are plenty of things you can do with such a laptop. That’s also because these laptops are not necessarily gaming laptops, just suitable for gaming. As said above, actual gaming laptops, optimized for that particular purpose, start from around $800-1000 and can get as high as the owner can afford.
That’s about all you need to know about how to purchase a laptop for gaming, regardless of brand. We’d also like to give you a couple of actual recommendations, in case you want something more concrete. Here’s what we have in mind:
1. Acer Aspire E5-575G-57D4
This laptop is what you’d call a great budget all-rounder. This is a new 2016 model, and it features a couple of things which may surprise you from a laptop in this price range.
The heart of this laptop is the latest generation of Intel processors, an i5-7200U, dual-core, clocked at 2.6GHz, overclocked up to 3.1GHz. This is on par with many i7 processors of previous generations and will not disappoint when it comes to gaming. The graphics card is the mid-to-high-range nVidia GTX 950M, with 2GB GDDR5, which will perform excellently with the games mentioned in the introduction. It only has 8GB DDR4 RAM, but that’s upgradable to 16GB. It also features a 256 GB SSD and it’s true what programmers say: once you go SSD, you never go back.
2. Acer Aspire E 15 E5-575G-52RJ
While not designed for gaming per se, this model is also an excellent all-rounder, and pretty to boot.
Half of the price tag is the processor, an Intel i5-6200U dual-core, clocked at 2.3GHz, overclocked at 2.8GHz. While not amazing, it will do its job with games, as with everything else. The laptop also features an nVidia GeForce 940MX graphics card, with 2GB GDDR5 and DirectX 12 support, which is pretty neat. You also get 8GB of DDR4 RAM, the exact recommended amount, and you can upgrade it later anyway. Add that to a 1TB HDD, and you get a pretty satisfying laptop for gaming under $500.
3. Toshiba Qosmio X75-A7295
Now, we don’t want you to get excited and all, but this thing’s a real powerhouse for that budget. In fact, we were surprised ourselves to find something like that for the price. It’s a bit of an older model, from 2013, but it’s really neat if you can get one. At 17.3”, it’s the biggest one on the list.
This is a proper gaming laptop, and it probably cost a whole lot more back in 2013. It’s powered by an Intel i7-4700MQ, quad-core, clocked at 2.4GHz, overclocked up to 3.4GHz. The CPU is paired with a Nvidia GTX 770M with 3GB GDDR5, which is a lot. It has 16GB DDR3L RAM, which is amazing, and a dual 750GB HDD for a whole 1.5TB of storage.
Why is it only third? Well, as said above, it’s an older model and pretty hard to find and, what’s more, we don’t trust PC’s older than one year.
4. Lenovo IdeaPad 310 with AMD A12-9700P
The first Lenovo model here, it’s also the first to feature an AMD processor as well as an integrated AMD Radeon R5 GPU, which form together an AMD APU. In spite of being on a budget laptop, the CPU is quite great, apparently on par with the i7, and it’s clocked at 2.5GHz with a 3.4GHz top speed. It also has 12GB DDR3L RAM, which is more than enough. The 1TB HDD should suffice as well.
It may be a bit difficult for gamers to accept a computer with an integrated graphics card, but we can assure you that modern APU’s are nothing like previous generations. In fact, a good APU can even reach the performance of a mid-range dedicated graphics card.
5. HP 15-AY013NR
While HP laptops are more office-oriented than they are meant for gaming, they can still perform satisfyingly regardless. Another APU-based laptop (although Intel doesn’t want to use the term for their processors), this model features an Intel i5-6200U, just like our nr.2, and the Intel HD Graphics 520 integrated video chip. The 8GB DDR3L RAM is the recommended amount, and there’s a little surprise when you look at the storage: 128GB SSD, enough for playing a couple of games.
While picking a gaming laptop is more of a question of design and brand than actual capabilities, since they’re all very good, choosing among laptops with a $500 budget can be quite challenging. As such, we’ve compiled a list of things you should consider very well when you’re buying a laptop. Here they are:
Yes, the brand is indeed important. Not necessarily because of quality (though that may be an issue as well, honestly), but mostly because of their design and purpose peculiarities. While some companies are more oriented towards gaming, others go for business and traveling, some others for the stylish appearance, and others are all-rounders. It’s a very important thing to know – for instance, Apple produces some great laptops if you’re into slimness and Photoshop, but you can’t game on a MacBook. Here’s a list of the companies you’ll see most often when shopping for a laptop and what we think about them. Take everything with a grain of salt, but they’re good rules of thumb:
- Apple: see above.
- Alienware: THE gaming computer. However, no Alienware is $500 or less. For your safety, please don’t buy second-hand machines.
- ASUS: great all-rounders. They are even slightly inclined towards the gaming side, which is great, and have laptops in all price ranges, which is also great.
- Lenovo: see above.
- Toshiba: see above.
- Acer: the same, but a lot prettier (in our honest opinion). They also tend to have the new USB Type-C which you will probably need in the future for everything.
- Dell: not bad, really, but not particularly good for gaming. More like laptops for business and traveling.
- Samsung: see above.
- HP: see above.
- MSI: a new emergence on the laptop market. Produces great gaming laptops, although a bit on the expensive side.
2. The CPU/APU
As it is the very heart of your machine, the CPU is the first thing you need to look at when you’re buying a gaming laptop as well. Admittedly, the graphics card does most of the job when gaming, but nothing can happen without the CPU.
What’s an APU? Well, if your current computer has been produced in the last couple of years, your CPU is in fact an APU. The abbreviation comes from Accelerated Processing Unit, and it’s a CPU and GPU reunited – an integrated graphics card, for all practical purposes. Why is this important? Well, to be honest, not every laptop under $500 has a dedicated graphics card. If that’s the case, you will have to rely on your APU to do the task of both the CPU and the graphics card. An advantage of the APU is that it consumes way less battery than a dedicated graphics card.
What do we recommend? Well, Intel and AMD are close competitors when it comes to the CPU market. Apparently, nVidia has been producing some CPU’s as well, but those are exceedingly rare. If you want an Intel processor, you can get something like an i5 of the latest two generations (Skylake or Kaby Lake) such as the i5-7200U or 6700U and, if you’re lucky, an i7, though that’s unlikely. As far as AMD goes, you could also get a 5th or 6th generation processor from the A or FX-series, such as the quad-core FX-7500, which is pretty good.
3. The Graphics Card
This is a bit of an issue for budget laptops: it’s hard to find something with a good enough graphics card to satisfy the requirements of new games and practically impossible to find something good for high-end games. However, if you know what to look for, you can still find something pretty satisfying.
There’s a choice between nVidia and AMD again, although the latter are relatively less common. For that kind of money, you can get a nVidia GTX 950M, which is a mid-to-high-range device, with 2GB of GDDR5 VRAM. That’s honestly not half-bad, considering that two or three years ago you couldn’t get a video card at all for that kind of money. If you prefer AMD, you can find something like the Radeon R5 M430 or R7 M265, with the same amount of VRAM. While they’re not quite as good as the nVidia budget versions, they can still pack quite a punch nonetheless.
4. The RAM
Nothing much to say here: the more RAM, the better. Also, it matters whether it’s DDR2, DDR3, DDR4 and whatever other versions there are. DDR4 is best and fastest right now, so aim for that.
For gaming purposes, you need at least 4GB of RAM, with the possibility of ulterior upgrades. If you can get 8GB from the get-go, that’s great, but don’t settle for anything under 4GB.
5. The Storage
Long story short, you have a choice between a big HDD and a bigger HDD. Some of these laptops may have an SSD instead, which we completely recommend. If you can find an SSD with sufficient storage (say, 256GB), that will be enough for pretty much everything you need, as you can purchase a higher-capacity external HDD and use that for storing things while you use the SSD for the OS and actual gaming.
If you don’t find an SSD, try to look for a 7200RPM HDD. Under the same conditions, it’s slightly faster than the standard 5400RPM. Not by leaps and bounds, but still enough to be noticeable. Of course, the SSD is incomparably faster than either of them.
By this, we mean how many extra pieces of hardware your laptop can get along with. Try to get something that has both Wi-Fi and an RJ-45 (Ethernet) port; you never know when you’ll need the latter. Bluetooth 4.0 is the standard, so your laptop better have it too.
As far as ports are concerned, your laptop needs at least 3 USB’s, preferably 3.0. You will also need an HDMI, a VGA, and either a microphone/speakers combo 3.5mm jack or two separate jacks. These are the basics, but any other extra is quite welcome.
No, we don’t mean how pretty the laptop is, as that has nothing to do with gaming. The design is significant in that slimmer laptops suffer from cooling issues, which will unquestionably appear while you’re gaming. Check the reviews and look at how the “breathing holes” on the laptop look. It’s a really important thing if you don’t want your CPU to melt through your legs while you’re playing. Well, that’s probably not going to happen, but your laptop will shut down mid-game and components will take damage from the heat.
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