Best Cheap Gaming Laptop 2021: eSports on a Budget

Gaming laptops are often the most expensive but there are some decent options if you’re on a tight budget and don’t mind some compromise. Here we review and rank the best cheap gaming laptops.

There are various reasons that a lot of gaming laptops are eye-wateringly expensive but they don’t have to cost the earth. While you are paying for high-end components like the processor and graphics card, you might also be paying for a brand name or things like wafer-thin design. 

Don’t fret though. These affordable models might not be the most eye-catching or featherweight but, sacrifice is necessary. What they will do is provide you with the performance to enjoy gaming, while still leaving you with enough dosh left over to buy some games. 

We’re setting our price cap at £1,000/US$1,000 here but some will be available for a lot less than that. Under £500/US$500 is desirable but unlikely as the key components like a proper graphics card are just too expensive. We may also include the odd laptop that goes beyond the limit if it’s only just over. 

If you really are strapped for cash and looking for the best gaming laptop under £500/US$500 then check out our budget laptop chart, which has that exact price limit, and look for models with a discrete graphics card like an Nvidia MX. They will be able to handle some less demanding games. 

All laptops here have been reviewed by our expert team and put through a rigorous set of benchmarks, plus we also use them as if they were our own to get real-world experience. Find out more about how we test laptops. 

Below are the best cheap gaming laptops we’ve reviewed and ranked. See below that for detailed buying advice if you need some more guidance. 

Best cheap gaming laptops 2021

1

Acer Nitro 5 (A517) – Best 17in

Acer Nitro 5 (A517-51)

  • Pros
    • Large 120Hz screen
    • Powerful components
  • Cons
    • Display lacks colour
    • Small SSD

Just squeezing in under our price limit, the Acer Nitro 5 is a great choice if you want performance and don’t mind so much about portability.

We’ve tested the 17in model here which is something of a desktop replacement, but will fit in a large backpack if you do need to take it somewhere. You can also look out for the 15in A515.

The highlights here are up to an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 along with a 120Hz refresh rate giving you smooth gaming performance.

Just bear in mind that the screen doesn’t have the best colour performance and there’s only a 256GB SSD to store games.

Read our full Acer Nitro 5 (A517-51) review

2

Asus TUF Gaming A15 – Best Value

Asus TUF A15 (FA506)

  • Pros
    • 144Hz refresh rate
    • Solid CPU/GPU
    • Colourful design
  • Cons
    • Limited memory
    • Display lacks colour

The Asus TUF laptops have been a great go-to for budget gaming for a long time and the A15 is no exception.

It might not have the best overall score due to colour of the screen but that’s common for budget gaming laptops. It’s Full HD and 144Hz and is importantly backed up by excellent components for not much money.

You can get an AMD Ryzen 5 and Nvidia GTX 1650 for just £699 making it great value, with a Ti model not much more than that. You just need to be ok with fairly basic specs elsewhere, unless you’re in the US.

It’s also got more design flare than rivals in this blue colour.

Read our full Asus TUF A15 (FA506) review

3

Dell G5 15 Gaming – Best Battery Life

Dell G5 15 Gaming 5500

  • Pros
    • Impressive battery life
    • 144Hz refresh rate
    • Solid CPU/GPU
  • Cons
    • Chunky design
    • Display lacks colour
    • Poor keyboard & trackpad

Alienware laptops are too expensive to appear in this list but Dell does have affordable gaming laptops in the rest of its lineup.

The G5 isn’t flawless but makes the most sense for the cheaper models. We tested a Core i7 model with an RTX 2060 but you can get an AMD Ryzen 5 with a Radeon RX 5600M for a very reasonable price.

Like others, the screen is a bit washed out but has a 144Hz refresh rate and other components are solid, too. Plus battery life is decent for a change.

A chunky design is acceptable but we would prefer the keyboard and trackpad to be better.

Read our full Dell G5 15 Gaming 5500 review

4

Acer Nitro 5 (AN515) – Best Performance

Acer Nitro 5 (2021)

  • Pros
    • Impressive 1080p gaming
    • Solid keyboard
    • 144Hz refresh rate
  • Cons
    • Mediocre battery life
    • Display lacks colour

The Acer Nitro 5 is one of the most affordable gaming laptops around, and it has great components despite that price.

The Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 is a top-notch mainstream graphics card that’ll handle anything at 1080p, and the AMD Ryzen 7 5800H is a great CPU for multi-tasking and work. The keyboard is comfortable and the laptop is cool and quiet.

Of course, the low price does mean compromise elsewhere. The screen, although 144Hz, is washed-out and the battery life is poor. You don’t get many extra features either. But if you want an affordable gaming laptop with good core performance, this is a good choice.

Read our full Acer Nitro 5 (2021) review

5

Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming 3i – Best Keyboard

Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming 3i

  • Pros
    • Attractive design
    • Great keyboard
    • 120Hz refresh rate
  • Cons
    • Limited ports
    • Small SSD
    • Display lacks colour

The IdeaPad goes gaming and Lenovo’s cheapest model is the best starting with a GTX 1650 for enough graphics grunt and a Core i5 that’s good enough for daily use.

It’s also impressive how nice the 3i looks and it’s also quiet with a decent keyboard, too.

There’s a lot to like including a 120Hz refresh rate but the usual compromises are found here such as a pallid display, single-channel memory and a small SSD.

Generally, these are acceptable downsides so the IdeaPad Gaming 3i is a good choice if you can’t afford anything more expensive.

Read our full Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming 3i review

6

HP Omen 15 – Best Processor

HP Omen 15 (2020)

  • Pros
    • Full-fat GPU
    • Large SSD
    • Dual-channel memory
  • Cons
    • Display lacks colour
    • Soft keyboard
    • Mediocre battery life

It’s a tad over our price cap but only just and well worth considering if your budget will stretch.

Apart from its new design, the HP Omen 15 is very powerful with a brilliant AMD Ryzen 7 processor and Nvidia’s GTX 1660 Ti graphics card that not even a cut down Max-Q version.

That’s a lot of performance for your money and, furthermore, you get dual-channel RAM, a huge 1TB SSD and other specs like Wi-Fi 6. 

We’d like a better screen as it’s a little bit washed out but does offer a 144Hz refresh rate so the Omen 15 is still a solid choice at this price point.

Read our full HP Omen 15 (2020) review

How to choose a cheap gaming laptop 

Laptops are complex machines so there’s a lot to think about when buying one and even more so with a dedicated gaming laptop. Here are the key things to look out for and consider before hitting the buy button. 

Graphics card 

For gaming, the graphics card is a key component in your laptop as it’s doing most of the work when you’re playing a game. 

Better graphics card = better performance (more frames per second) so as a rule of thumb, buy the best graphics card you can afford. 

There are lots to choose from, from both Nvidia and AMD, but don’t expect too much from a cheap gaming laptop. A GeForce GTX model is likely, although you might get something like an RTX 2060/3060 if you have more to spend, and so gain ray-tracing. 

Typically, these will be laptop versions of the same full-on desktop cards. They’re not all created equal, as some devices include lower power versions of cards – once branded as Max-Q for Nvidia, but the firm has taken that system away now, so sometimes you’ll have to dig into specs or read reviews to know exactly what’s inside. 

One trap you want to avoid is integrated graphics, where the GPU is simply a part of the main processor. While these can be decent enough to game on if you buy the right CPU, they’re not suitable for demanding gaming performance so it’s unlikely we will feature one here. 

Asus TUF gaming laptops

Processor 

While the GPU is doing most of the grunt, it’s still important to get a powerful CPU for gaming – and if you want to also use the laptop for work when you’re not gaming. 

At the moment, AMD is king of the castle with its Ryzen processors but Intel-powered laptops are still good if you find a model you particularly like. 

As per graphics cards, get the best one you can find and check our full reviews for our benchmark tests to see how well they perform. 

Read our CPU buying guide for more information.

Screens 

In the cheap gaming laptop market, you’re unlikely to find a 4K or even Quad HD screen resolution. However, Full HD is fine for laptop display sizes and the modest resolution will help you get fast frame rates despite not having the most powerful components. 

Something to look out for is a high refresh rate as many budget gaming laptops offer 120Hz or 144Hz – that’s at least double the traditional 60Hz refresh rate, resulting in smooth motion and higher potential frame rates. Not only does it look better but it can give you an advantage over other players. 

These displays are typically a little underwhelming when it comes to performance areas such as colour, though. It’s just part of the sacrifice to get a cheaper gaming laptop.

Still confused? Read our do I need a high refresh rate laptop guide.

Lenovo IdeaPad gaming 3

Memory and storage 

It’s easy to forget about these two when the processor and graphics card are the heroes. Sadly that means it can be an area where laptop makers make subtle cost-cutting downgrades you might not notice. For example, RAM might be a slower speed or single- rather than dual- channel. 

It’s an acceptable way of hitting these budget prices to an extent but do check the specs of the specific model you are buying.

As with other components, the more the better for both RAM and storage – especially if you want to download lots of big games that take up many GBs. SSDs are faster but you might not get much capacity. 

Keyboard, battery life and the rest 

While the GPU, CPU and screen are the holy trinity of gaming, you should also check our reviews to see what else the laptops offer. 

The keyboard is probably the next most important element – assuming you will plug in a gaming mouse rather than using the trackpad – and they are not all created equal. 

Cheap budget laptops have a couple of potential advantages over top-end models due to their thicker chassis. The chunkier design means more space for various ports, meaning connectivity is often better than more expensive options. 

It also means more space for a battery and, combined with lower power components and Full HD displays, could offer longer battery life. Check our reviews to see how many hours they can last away from mains power. 

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