Best Gaming Laptops Under $500

Last Updated on by Nicholas Frost

There are times when the budget matters, you need to buy a laptop, and you have limited funds. You may have limited space as well as a small budget and need a gaming laptop for multiple uses. You want a notebook that will allow you to play games, either as your only machine or as a portable alternative to your console or desktop. The cheapest laptop with gaming optimization starts at the $800 mark, and you are not in that market today.

Is it possible to buy a laptop for less than $500 and be able to play your favorite games? It depends on what games you prefer to play. The power-hungry, graphics-heavy, multiplayer games will not perform well on a budget laptop. There’s no avoiding that fact, but you will be able to play most games to some level. The high-end games will need to be scaled down a bit, and you won’t get the same experience as playing on a gaming computer. But you can still play them. Traditional and older games will be ok and so will lighter graphics games.

You can buy a laptop under $500 and still enjoy gaming while you save up to build the gaming rig of your dreams. And, you can type up reports, check your emails and watch a few videos. We cover the features that are important to consider in this article, but if you want a quick guide to the crucial points, check out the quick tips.

Summary of Top Buying Tips

Processing power is key to performance.

In this price bracket, the best options are Intel Core i5 processors or Ryzen 5.

Graphics are your display quality.

In the low budget models, an NVIDIA GeForce MX150 is top of the range.

More RAM is almost always better.

You should aim for 8GB for gaming satisfaction.

Storage is absolutely necessary.

Look for a gaming laptop that provides both SDD and HDD storage.

You need a decent screen to display the content.

Screen sizes and resolution vary. Aim for a resolution of 1920 x 1080 and antiglare technology with a touch screen is a bonus.

Battery life lets you keep playing during those late night sessions.

Try not to buy a gaming laptop with less than 6 hours of battery life; gaming is a power-hungry activity.

Portable means you carry it.

If you need to carry a laptop, you want it to be as light as possible.

It’s a connected world.

Before committing to a laptop, make sure it has enough ports to suit your needs.

Appearance can be deceptive.

You might not like the look of a budget gaming laptop, but you can style it any way you want with an inexpensive skin.

Check the specifications carefully.

When making the purchase, if the laptop seems surprisingly cheap, check the specifications, especially the RAM – many models have the same name but variable options such as 4GB instead of 8GB.

A Great Buying Strategy

If you don’t have to go out and buy a laptop today, then take the time to put together your wish list of essential and desirable features. Then compile a list of the top three laptops that meet your list and budget and then look at two that are about $100 over your budget. Now you have your desired models keep an eye on your preferred retail sites – often, you will get lucky and be able to snap up a real bargain if you have patience and are prepared to wait for sale time.

The other option is to buy a used model. Remember that gaming makes a computer run hot, and the heat fries the circuits – be cautious. Some manufacturers and retailers offer approved refurbished machines with a warranty. This option may enable you to buy a higher spec gaming laptop at a price within your budget.

Finally, most manufacturers of laptops have sites where they sell direct. It’s worth checking those out, but often the better deals are obtainable from other retailers who need to shift older stock at certain times of the year. If you know what you need, then you are in the best position to spot and take advantage of a great deal.

Five Significant Components for Gaming Laptops

Central Processing Unit (CPU)

The CPU is the beating heart of the machine, and you want it to be as powerful as possible for smooth gameplay with no stuttering or freezing. For gaming, you at least an Intel Core i5 or Ryzen 5.

In Intel processors, i3, i5, and i7 all denote the speed of processing, i3 is the slowest. As well as the processing speed, the number of ‘threads’ available for multitasking helps power the calculations and in completing instructions. Most new laptops will have four cores (8 threads), but some of the cheaper models may only have two.

The best gaming CPUs from intel are the six core H series. You will not get this in a budget laptop, but you will get the four core U series. This series is not the best for gaming, but it is much better than dual-core.

Your CPU will perform better with a Solid State Drive (SDD) than with a straight hard drive. It will also perform better for gaming if there is a dedicated GPU to assist in image production.

RAM

We all know that RAM is Random Access Memory, but not all RAM is the best quality. The best of today’s laptops will use DDR4 or DDR4 SDRAM to give it its full name. In words – “double data rate fourth-generation synchronous dynamic random-access memory.” It is the preferred RAM for most applications, not just gaming because it is more efficient and works faster.

Although the voltage used has decreased, it has a fast transfer rate, which makes for smooth gameplay. The reduced need for power gives the added benefit of less drain on the battery, so the battery lasts longer, along with less heat. Also, the laptop manufacturer can use more powerful processing units because of the better transfer rate.

To play all the games, you need 16GB RAM. In a budget laptop, the best you can hope for is 8GB, and the lowest-priced models will only give you 4GB.

If you can use a screwdriver and you are familiar with the inside of a laptop, then you have the option of adding more RAM later. Bear in mind that if you add the cost of additional RAM to your budget, you could buy a laptop in the next price range with a better spec. Also, it doesn’t matter how much RAM you stuff into the computer, if the graphics card isn’t up to the processing needed, then there will be no improvement in gameplay.

When selecting a new laptop that you hope will also allow you to play games, check out the RAM. If it’s the older type (DDR3), then the machine will be cheaper but a bit slower. You want the most amount of RAM you can get in your budget, ideally 8GB, but this will mean paying near the $500 if not a little more.

Finally, remember that most laptops come with bloatware – preinstalled systems you don’t need or want that occupy memory and storage space. Careful removal of unwanted software will free up precious RAM for your desired applications.

Graphics Card

The Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) is the vehicle for showing all that fast and colorful in-game action. In a laptop, you are stuck with the GPU provided. There isn’t an option for upgrading it, so pay attention to the graphics card. The GPU produces the images, but it communicates with the CPU to achieve this.

Most games rely on GPU for their running, although some also make use of the CPU. A budget laptop is not going to come with a high-end graphics card. You are never going to be able to play a game like Fortnite or GTA-5 on a budget laptop with all the graphics, sound, and action. You will be able to play them with the graphics turned down and a low resolution but not with the quality experience provided by a dedicated gaming rig or premium gaming laptop.

In the budget laptops, you get a graphics card like NVIDIA GeForce MX150 in the better models. This GPU is for mobile applications like notebooks. It is not intended as a gaming graphics card and will never deliver at the 144 fps (frames per second) rate demanded by the top action games. You may be able to get 30fps, which will be adequate to enable you to play most games.

Some laptops have Intel UHD Graphics 620 as their GPU, for 8th generation processors. HD Graphics 620 is for the 7th generation. In a new notebook, you expect UHD Graphics 620. It has no memory and therefore uses the laptop memory to function. It’s a bonus if it appears with some additional memory dedicated to its use. This graphics card is adequate for casual gaming. High-end games will require you to lower the resolution for you to play them, and they won’t be as immersive as the designer intended.

AMD Radeon RX Vega 8 Graphics card quality falls midway between the NVIDIA GeForce MX150 and the UHD Graphics 620. They are a good option for light gaming (less visual and action intensive) and will run most PC games smoothly. Technically these are APUs (Accelerated Processing Units), and they are a combination of a CPU and a GPU. Hardcore gamers are always going to prefer a CPU and a graphics card for the best performance, but in terms of a budget laptop, an APU gives acceptable performance.

When selecting your budget gaming laptop, your preference will be NIVIDIA GeForce MX150 if available, but the other two graphics solutions will work.

Disk Drives

The ideal position is to have a combination of SSD (Solid State Drive) and HDD (Hard Disk Drive) inside your laptop. The SDD for starting and carrying out operations and the HDD for storage.

There are no moving parts in SSD, sometimes referred to as flash storage. This storage is small and occupies little space inside the laptop. The HDD storage is bulkier – made from magnetic tape and slower because it takes longer to read and write to this medium.

The main advantage of SSD in a laptop is the speed of booting up and performing. It is not as durable as HDD and will wear out quicker. The HDD is better for bulky storage – your games collection, for example.

Display

It doesn’t matter how powerful and quick your budget gaming laptop is, if you can’t see the action on the screen, you won’t enjoy your game time.

When it comes to screens, size matters, the screen size in a budget laptop can vary from a petite 14” to a luxurious 17”. The usual screen is 15 inches, and this is adequate for most applications.

After size, we are interested in resolution. A standard gaming monitor will have a resolution of 1920 x 1080. If the laptop has that, that’s pretty good, but the lower processing power will probably mean that your high-end game will not be able to take advantage of the full resolution. Lower resolution will give less detailed pictures.

Touch screen technology is becoming more standard but is not necessarily a must-have. A touch screen uses more power, which puts a drain on the battery, so if you don’t need or use it, you may prefer to look for other features. An anti-glare coating or technology that reduces the amount of blue light may be more desirable than a touch screen you don’t use.

Other Desirable Features

The top areas to check out when buying a gaming laptop for under $500 are the processing power (CPU and GPU), memory, storage, and the screen. When making a final choice, there are some other elements included that may make one machine a better option compared to another.

Weight

Laptops are attractive because of their portability, that means you will be carrying it. A lighter laptop is more comfortable to transport. You will want the notebook to be rigid and robust enough to stand up to use and the odd knock, but you don’t want to be carting about too much weight. Interestingly, lighter weight laptops tend to cost more. Lightweight materials like aluminum and high-tech plastics are more expensive than their weightier alternatives.

Battery Life

All laptops come with a charging option and can a cable, but you are going to want a decent battery life if you are traveling with your gaming laptop, especially as your computer is probably going to have to fulfill many tasks (checking emails, working). Using your notebook for gaming is going to use more power than light work usage, so if this is a portable gaming laptop, the more life in your battery, the better. You want a minimum of 6 hours.

Optical drives

Optical drives are the part that read and write to CD or DVD or Blu-ray disks. All software used to come on these media and the optical drives were essential. Times change, and we download and stream most products rather than needing a disk. Optical drives are bulky because they have set dimensions, leaving out an optical drive keeps the laptop slim and thin.

An optical drive is useful for accessing older media (photographs and games, for example) and for putting items into long term storage. The choice of a budget laptop does not hinge around an optical drive because providing the notebook has ports; you can buy an external optical drive to use as you need.

Operating System

Unless you are buying a Mac (and that is NOT a budget purchase), your new laptop will come equipped with Windows 10, and that is good enough for most PC games.

Keyboard

The keyboard is still the standard way of communicating with your laptop, regardless of touch screens and voice commands. If you are doing loads of typing, then the keyboard may help or hinder you.

The size of the keys will determine how accurately you can type. The human finger needs a big enough key even for touch typing. Remember fat finger syndrome? Well, a too-small keyboard gives us all fat fingers.

The design of keyboard buttons is optimized. Most have a concave shape that glides our finger to the center before we press the key. You need a key with a little resistance to being depressed. This tactile feedback lets your brain know you have pressed the key. Then you don’t double-tap and end up having to go back and check your spelling. There is a lot of science behind the simple laptop keyboard.

There are three types of a keyboard for your laptop: traditional, chiclet, and mechanical. A mechanical keyboard has mechanical switches under the keypads. You are unlikely to find this on a budget laptop. It needs more space. It is more expensive, and it provides excellent tactile feedback and is durable.

Chiclet and traditional keyboards use a membrane under the keypads. The traditional keyboard has the sloping buttons close together and provides an excellent surface area and a satisfying depression when you tap the key. A chicklet keyboard separates the keys with a space between them, and they are thinner. The chicklet keyboard is easier to clean because you can see dust particles between the keypads.

Almost every keyboard provided on a laptop is chiclet-style, so there isn’t much choice at this price point. You want a keyboard that has little flex and reasonable keys. A backlit keyboard is a nice feature but not essential for the keyboard to function well.

All laptops will come with a functional touchpad. The size and quality of the touchpad may matter to you if you need reasonable control over the cursor, but generally, you will have to accept the touchpad provided. Many gamers employ a wireless mouse for those broad sweeping movements that don’t translate well to a small touchpad.

Speakers

Games and videos present with sound as part of the experience. A lousy speaker irritates the ear. You will not get top ranking speakers in your budget gaming laptop, but you can expect and will get reasonable quality. If you have sensitive ears and insist on a perfect audio experience, you can invest in some high-quality external speakers.

Ports

All laptops, even budget ones, come with essential ports. You can expect a headphone/microphone jack and some USB ports. When using the laptop in your home base, you may wish to hook up lots of peripherals. It’s worth checking that the laptop has enough ports for your needs.

Appearance

Beauty may only be skin deep but looks matter. Your gaming laptop may come with a budget price, but you don’t want it to look cheap and tacky. Some of the budget laptops are available in a choice of bright colors, but most will be a classic black or a brushed metal appearance.

If the look of your laptop matters to you and you want to stand out from the crowd, then remember that you can personalize your laptop with a skin. They are inexpensive and straightforward to remove and replace. The skin serves a protective function as well. Choose your budget gaming laptop for its performance and then pimp it to your taste.

Ready to look for your best gaming laptop at a budget price?

Our review of the best gaming laptops under $500 on the market groups them by the manufacturer so you can compare similar models. One thing to watch for is the fact that a laptop comes with a range of options with its specifications. At the point of purchase double check, you are getting the exact specifications you think you are getting.

Acer Laptops

Acer produces both business and gaming laptops. Performance reviews are disappointing, but Acer is known for producing some of the best budget laptops and for having excellent technical support for their products. The company continues to research and develop their technologies, and this shows in their premium products. The research and innovation trickle down to their budget ranges, and they give you a lot for your money with their budget range.

Acer, like many other manufacturers, is known for including bloatware on their machines. Bloatware uses up precious memory space that you may need for other purposes. There is a number that can be safely removed to improve the performance of your machine.

Acer Aspire E15 – Best Budget Buy but Low Memory at a Lower Price

Technical Specification Summary

  • 8th Generation Intel Core i5-8250U Processor
  • NVIDIA GeForce MX150 graphics card (2GB of dedicated GDDRS VRAM)
  • Memory and Storage
  • RAM 4GB DDR4 or 8GB DDRA
  • 256GB SSD
  • Display
  • 15.6” Full HD Widescreen LED-Lit, IPS screen
  • Resolution of 1920×1080
  • Battery Life: Up to 15 hours
  • Weight: 5.27 pounds
  • Price: $350 (4GB) and $600 (8GB)

This budget buy contains an 8th generation Intel Core i5-8250U processor coupled with an NVIDIA GeForce MX150 graphics card. It comes with the standard Windows 10 Home operating system and will play PC games. At this price, you can’t expect a touch screen display, but you do get plenty of ports and adequate speakers for most purposes. It’s a weighty machine by comparison with its competitors, but it does feature a backlit keyboard.

It is more than adequate for gaming, but you can’t expect any budget laptop to cope with a game with the fastest action and detailed graphics. The budget buy at $350 has only 4GB Ram, and that will make a difference to the level of games you can play.

It may not be the absolute best machine out there, but it will fit the smallest budget and perform well and has excellent battery life.

Acer Aspire 5 – Screen blue light reduction technology.

This Acer machine offers a choice of 4GB or 8GB. Naturally less GB means a lower price, but less gaming power. The higher-priced laptop hovers around the $500 mark.

Technical Specification Summary

  • 8th Generation Intel Core i5-8250U quad-core Processor (Up to 3.4GHz)
  • NVIDIA GeForce MX150 graphics card with 2GB of dedicated GDDRS VRAM
  • Memory and Storage
  • RAM 4GB DDR4 or 8GB DDRA
  • 256GB SSD
  • Display
  • 15.6” Full HD Widescreen LED-Lit, IPS screen, thin bezels – 4GB Ram model
  • 16.5” screen with the 8GB Model.
  • Resolution of 1920×1080
  • Battery Life: Up to 8 hours (4GB) and 9 hours (8GB)
  • Weight: 3.9 pounds (4GB) or 2.6 pounds (8GB)
  • Price: $350 (4GB) and $500 (8GB)

The battery life is half that of the Acer Aspire E 15, but the laptops are lighter and more portable. This model has an excellent hinge, and the screens have the Acer Color Intelligence System, which minimizes the blue light to help reduce eyestrain with prolonged use. This laptop has a sound system for controlling heat, but the screens are not fantastic if looking at an angle. For a single-player, that is not a problem as you will be facing the screen. The thin bezels assist with the immersive experience, and the sound quality is adequate for most applications.

Lenovo IdeaPad

Lenovo prides itself on producing quality notebooks for gamers. Three of the Lenovo ranges meet our budget criteria – 300 series, S Series and C Series.

Lenovo IdeaPad S340

Summary of Technical Specifications

  • 8th Generation Intel Core i3-8145U
  • Intel UHD Graphics 620
  • Memory and Storage
  • 8GB DDR4 RAM
  • 1TB HDD
  • 256GB SSD
  • Display
  • 15.6” Anti-Glare HD screen with thin top and side bezels. TN screen.
  • 1920 x 1080 resolution.
  • Battery Life: Up to 8 hours
  • Weight: 3.96 pounds
  • Price: $450

This Lenovo IdeaPad has some excellent features like the camera shutter that covers your webcam until you want to use it and a backlit keyboard. The superb storage capacity ensures you can play games on this laptop with excellent loading time. It is an attractive slate grey color with Bluetooth and plenty of useful ports. The Dolby Audio makes the most of any music accompanying your game.

Lenovo IdeaPad 330 – Budget Friendly

Summary of Technical Specifications

  • 1.6 GHz Core i5 8250U
  • Intel UHD Graphics 620
  • Memory and Storage
  • 8GB DDR4 RAM
  • 1TB HDD
  • 16GB Intel Optane Memory
  • Display
  • 15.6” Anti-Glare HD screen with thin top and side bezels. TN screen.
  • 1366 x 768 resolution TN Panel or 1920 x 1080 IPS Panel
  • Battery Life: Up to 8 hours
  • Weight: 4.84 pounds
  • Price: $270

Rubber feet on the base improve the airflow around the laptop and help keep the heat down. This model is almost half the cost of the S340 because the screen is not quite as good, less memory, and it’s heavier. But the price is excellent, and it will cope with gaming and other applications for a pocket-friendly price.

Lenovo IdeaPad 320

You can buy this model for less than $250.

For the money, you get a lower specifications than the Lenovo IdeaPad 340. You get half the memory at 4GB, a little less processing power, and the screen is not as refined. But it is a decent budget machine. It won’t play the highest quality games, but if you already have a proper gaming rig and are looking at a portable computer, you could do a lot worse for the money.

HP Laptops

HP produces premium high specification laptops, but it also provides some reasonably priced budget models under $500. Typically, these will only give you 4GB RAM, which is barely adequate for gaming.

HP 17-by 1033dx

This laptop hovers around the $500 mark and is worth keeping an eye on. It benefits from a massive (for a laptop) 17.3” screen.

  • Summary of Technical Specifications
  • 8th Generation Intel Quad-Core i5-8265U processor
  • Integrated Intel UHD Graphics 620
  • Memory and Storage
  • 8GB DDR4 RAM
  • 1 TB hard drive
  • Display
  • 17.3” screen – bright view glossy screen for vivid color reproduction. WLED backlit.
  • 1600x 900 resolution.
  • Battery Life: Up to 6 hours
  • Weight: 5.4 pounds
  • Price: $475

You can play GTA-5 on this machine, but only with scaled-down graphics and resolution, but that is going to be true of any budget laptop.

HP Pavilion 15t

Summary of Technical Specifications

  • 6th Generation Intel Core i5 6200U Dual-Core Processor
  • Integrated Intel HD Graphics 520
  • Memory and Storage
  • 6GB DDR3L RAM
  • 1TB Hard Drive
  • Display
  • 15.6” LED screen with a resolution of 1366 x 768
  • Price: $250

This machine is a budget offering with slightly better amounts of RAM than the 4GB generally given with low-cost laptops. Bear in mind that this laptop uses older technology in terms of its processing and RAM. If you are a dedicated fan of the classic games, then this machine will fit the bill at a bargain-basement price. If you indulge in high-end multiplayer games, then you are not going to find a budget laptop to fit the bill.

ASUS

The ASUS company motto is “In Search of Incredible” and incredible experience is most gamer’s dream. They provide components for some of the best gaming rigs in the world. They also produce a range of Laptops. Most ASUS laptops start at $700 and are excellent machines. This laptop comes in at $50 above the $500 limit, but there is the option to buy a newly refurbished model with a warranty and excellent tech support. A refurbished model comes in our budget range.

ASUS VivoBook 15

  • AMD Quad-Core r5-3500u Processor (2M Cache, up to 3.6GHz.).
  • AMD Radeon RX Vega 8 Graphics card.
  • Memory and Storage
  • RAM 8GB DDR4
  • 256GB SSD
  • Display
  • 15.6” Anti-glare full HD widescreen with ASUS software enhancement.
  • 1920 x 1080 resolution.
  • Battery Life lasts up to 8 hours.
  • Weight: 3.5 pounds
  • Price $550 new, $500 refurbished

This thin and light laptop has a Nano Edge Bezel allows it to have an 88% screen to body ratio that is frankly incredible in this 14.1” laptop. The keyboard is an ergonomic backlit chiclet keyboard with a fingerprint reader.

A chiclet keyboard is a standard on most laptops and is known as an island-style – the keys are like little buttons, and you don’t have to press them very hard to get them to work. They are excellent in ultrathin designs such as this VivoBook. There is an option to have a 4GB laptop, which is cheaper but not as useful for gaming applications.

This ASUS laptop benefits from the technology developed for gaming machines and many other innovative devices. This budget-priced ASUS will not give you the quality gaming experience you would get on a premium ASUS gaming rig, but it will perform adequately.

Dell

Dell manufactures many computer products, and its laptops are at all price points. Unfortunately, their Gaming G-series start at the $800 level. These are optimal for gaming and portability but not for the smaller budget. The Alienware Gaming Laptops are also beyond the price level, but the Inspiron range is competitively priced.

You will pay at the top end for a Dell Inspiron with enough capacity for gaming – about $20 above and below the $500 mark.

Dell Inspiron 15 5000

  • AMD Quad-Core Ryzen 5 2500U Processor, 6MB Smart cache
  • Raedeon Vega8 Graphics integrated.
  • Memory and Storage
  • Options – 8GB DDR4 RAM, 512GB PCle SSD, 1TB HDD
  • Display
  • 15.6” Full HD widescreen True-life Display
  • 1920 x 1080 resolution
  • Battery Life is up to 5 hours
  • Weight: 6.5 pounds
  • Price: $520

This heavy laptop has a brushed metal look. The keyboard flexes a little under fast typing, which can be off-putting. The laptop comes with a one-year warranty. Dell produces robust gaming machines, but the Inspiron range primarily aims at the business and office users. You can play games on it, but it’s not for that purpose, and it shows.

The other models in the Inspiron range have similar specifications and come in a variety of prices below the $500 mark. The individual features vary a small amount – mainly in the size of the screen. A 14” screen is cheaper than a 15.6” screen.

Conclusion

Laptop models are always changing as new technology and materials become widely available. The very best gaming machines will still command a premium price, but you can get an adequate gaming laptop below $500 if you are clear on what features you need for the games you enjoy. Understanding why the elements such as the graphics card are essential will always enable you to select the best available model for your needs at a price you are willing to pay.

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