You can game on the go for much less than you think with the best budget gaming laptops
Gaming laptops: too big, too expensive and too brash? Well, up to a point. These days you can pick up a pretty decent budget gaming laptop for around £1,000 that doesn’t weigh a ton, doesn’t look like a cast-off from a cheap sci-fi movie and makes a decent fist of even the most demanding AAA titles.
Here we round up five of the best that will let you game like a good-un without needing to get a second mortgage to buy it or hit the gym to carry the thing.
Before we look at the contenders it is worth asking what makes a decent gaming laptop.
How to buy the best budget gaming laptop for you
What makes a good budget gaming laptop?
A discrete GPU (graphics processing unit) is the obvious thing to look for, although the latest integrated Intel Iris Xe graphic chips no longer make that the absolute requirement it once was.
As long as you are prepared to knock back the display resolution in search of that magic 60fps frame rate, you can quite happily game on a laptop with integrated Iris XE Graphics.
A discrete GPU is still essential, however, if you want to play AAA titles at smoother frame rates and higher levels of detail.
Which GPU is best?
As it stands, you won’t see anything other than Nvidia’s GPUs on gaming laptops so the choice will be between which series to opt for and which particular model to choose within that series.
RTX-series GPUs are the most powerful and can handle the latest RTX or Ray Tracing technology. The lesser GTX-series GPUs either can’t handle ray tracing or take a big performance hit, but tend to feature in more affordable machines.
Nvidia’s MX-series GPUs are sometimes found in hybrid productivity/gaming laptops but performance tends to be on a par with the best integrated graphics and won’t be for serious gamers.
What this boils down to is that you want to be looking at the following GPU series, which I’ve listed in descending performance order:
The best mobile gaming GPUs:
- Nvidia GeForce 30-series: 3080, 3070, 3060
- Nvidia GeForce RTX 20-series: RTX 2080, RTX 2070, RTX 2060
- Nvidia GeForce GTX series: GTX 1660 Ti, GTX 1650 Ti, GTX 1650
What about the RAM and CPU?
The CPU and amount of RAM is important, too, but with most games relying more heavily on the GPU than the CPU these days, it isn’t as critical as you might think. Typically, a budget gaming laptop can get away with 8GB of RAM and many favour cheaper CPUs over the more expensive, higher-performance parts.
Having said that, a more powerful CPU will make a difference if your gaming fix leans towards MMO titles or intensive strategy games such as Total War: Warhammer 2.
In this case, you want to look out for CPUs from the manufacturers’ high-performance series – normally denoted by an “H” or “HK” suffix – instead of low-power CPUs designed for longer battery life, which are indicated by a “U” or a “Y” suffix.
In this case, go for laptops from the most recent generation or two. With Intel laptops, that’s currently the 12th-gen and 11th-gen chips (eg the Intel Core i7-i5-12600H). With AMD, that’s currently the Ryzen 5, 7 and 9 6000 or 5000 series chips (eg the Intel Ryzen 5 5600H). Expect laptops with more recent CPUs inside to cost more.
What type of screen do you need?
With budget laptops, you want to keep the load on the GPU to a minimum to ensure you keep your frame rates as high as possible and that means keeping the resolution to a maximum of 1080p, no matter the size of the display.
A high screen-refresh rate is also worth having on a gaming laptop. Most regular laptop displays top out at 59 or 60Hz but thoroughbred gaming machines push that to 144Hz, 165Hz or even 240Hz. Having a fire-breathing GPU that can generate 120fps is pointless if your display can only output half that.
Remember, Hz refers to the number of times a display can output an image per second, so a 60Hz display can only output games at 60fps, no matter the performance level of the GPU.
What other features should you look for?
A keyboard optimised for the unique demands of gaming is another feature to contemplate. I’ll leave you to ponder the worth of a keyboard that lights up with all the colours of the rainbow but a design that highlights the old faithful WASD movement keys, has a solid foundation and a decent amount of key travel is certainly worth having.
You might want to consider the cooling system too: games can drive a laptop hard so you don’t want to run into any issues with thermal throttling or end up with a machine so hot you can fry an egg on the palm rest. Most gaming laptops have bespoke control panels that let you boost the fan speed to keep things cool.
Lastly, you’ll need a decent amount of storage. You can fill up a 256GB SSD with less than half a dozen AAA games so you really need at least 512GB and ideally 1TB with the option to install more capacity as and when required.
How we test budget gaming laptops
A budget gaming laptop isn’t all that much different from more expensive machines – the choice of components and quality of screen tend to veer towards the low end but they’re designed to do the same thing. So, the core of our testing stays the same.
To assess general performance, we test using a mix of our own benchmarking suite and a selection of third-party software and we combine that with display testing and using an X-rite colorimeter. We test battery life by playing a low res video on loop in VLC with the screen set to 170cd/2 and the laptop in flight mode.
As these are gaming machines, we also run a series of gaming benchmark tests. Our core test titles are Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Serious Sam 4, Metro Exodus, Wolfenstein: Youngblood, Cyberpunk 2077, Returnal, and Hitman 2 but we also run GFXBench’s Car Chase test so we can compare results cross-platform.
Of course, we also use each laptop to play whatever titles we’re into at the time; this way we can assess how good other aspects are, such as the keyboard and the touchpad, the speakers and webcam, plus other features such as RGB keyboard backlighting.
READ NEXT: The best laptops for students
The best budget gaming laptops to buy in 2023
1. MSI Vector GP66: Best high-end gaming laptop on a budget
Price: £2,099 | Buy now from Currys
Okay, so it might not be as “budget” as some of the other “budget” options on this list. But for the power and parts you get in this machine, this laptop is obscenely cheap. Featuring an Intel Core i9 processor, RTX 3080 GPU, and 1TB of SSD, there’s no alternate reality where you’ll find this laptop cheaper. Even “entry level” RTX 3080 laptops, like the Razer Blade 15 or Alienware’s x17 R2, will cost some two or three hundred pounds more.
In our review, we dubbed the Vector GP66 the “muscle car” of gaming laptops and, from its specs alone, it’s easy to see why. The most impressive thing we found was its display – although it’s available with a QHD or Full HD panel, we were lucky enough to try out the 1440p version and it smashed our in-house tests, delivering 334cd/m2 brightness level and up to 95.9% of the DCI-p3 colour gamut. There may not be a multiplexer switch, but at this price we suppose we can accept that there has to be some drawbacks.
In terms of pure power, frame rate, and value, you’ll struggle to find better than this on the shelves. If you’re looking for a gaming laptop that will compete with the absolute best you can find, but you can’t quite stretch to their lofty prices, the MSI Vector is begging to be bought.
Read our full MSI Vector GP66 review for details
Key specs – Processor: Intel Core i9 12900H; GPU: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080 8GB; Screen: 15.6in, 2,560 x 1,440 or 1,920 x 1,080; RAM: 16GB; Total storage: 1TB SSD; Weight: 2.38kg
2. Lenovo Legion 5 AMD Advantage Edition: The best budget gaming laptop
Price: From £999 | Buy now from Currys
For a long time, the only budget gaming laptops worth buying were based on Nvidia RTX GPUs but no longer. The latest Lenovo Legion 5 combines an AMD Ryzen CPU with an AMD Radeon RX 6600M GPU and the result is the finest sub-£1,000 gaming portable around.
The difference between this laptop’s AMD GPU and price-equivalent RTX 3050 or 3050 Ti gaming machines is that it comes with double the amount of dedicated VRAM, ensuring far fewer of those “out of video memory” errors. Performance is decent, too, and coupled with a MUX switch, ensuring you get the most out of the GPU and a 144Hz, 1080p display, the Legion 5 makes a superb all-rounder at a very attractive price.
Key specs – Processor: Octa-core AMD Ryzen 7 5800H or Ryzen 5 5 5600H; GPU: AMD RX 6600M with 8GB VRAM; Screen: 15.6in, 144Hz, 1,920 x 1,080; RAM: 16GB; Total storage: 512GB SSD; Weight: 2.4kg
3. Medion Erazer Crawler E10: The cheapest gaming laptop worth buying
Price: £700 | Buy now from Ebuyer
There may be a slight whiff of the Aldi centre aisle about the Medion brand, but at only £700 the Erazer E10 is one of the cheapest gaming notebooks on sale in the UK and offers a discrete Nvidia GPU wrapped up in a reasonably solid and stylish case.
Some elements of the package are perhaps a little too bargain basement; the speakers are very poor while the IPS display is dull and drab and only refreshes at 59Hz. But the keyboard boasts a numeric keypad and is mechanically impressive plus there are plenty of options to upgrade after you have made your purchase. With only 256GB of storage on offer, an extra SSD should be top of your list.
To keep the price down, Medion has used a tenth-generation Core i5 processor, but that still has the cojones to execute basic productivity tasks with reasonable speed and efficiency, while the GeForce 1650Ti GPU keeps the majority of AAA games running smoothly. Battery life isn’t too bad either.
Key specs – Processor: Intel Core i5 10300H; GPU: Nvidia GeForce 1650Ti; Screen: 15.6in, 1,920 x 1,080; RAM: 8GB; Total storage: 256GB SSD; Dimensions: 360 x 240 x 23mm; Weight: 2.2kg
4. Acer Nitro 5: Best budget gaming laptop with RTX
Price: £1,099 | Buy now from Acer
Long a cornerstone of the affordable gaming laptop market, the Nitro 5 has received a mild external, but more far-reaching internal overhaul, with the introduction of 12th generation Intel Core-i processors and Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 3050Ti and RTX 3070Ti GPUs to accompany the existing RTX 3060. Naturally, using a Core i7 processor and RTX 3070Ti isn’t a recipe for a cheap laptop, so while the entry-level RTX 3050Ti model costs a reasonable £829 the top-end model that we were sent to review will set you back £1,699. It’s a testament to the quality of the new Nitro 5 that even at that price it’s solid value.
Externally the Nitro 5 has been refreshed rather than redesigned with extra vents and exhausts and a new lid pattern. Some of the 2021 model’s cheap-looking red plastic applique has been dispensed with too. It’s still made from plastic but it now feels rather more solid and well-made than previous models. The 165Hz screen is both colourful and colour accurate and the large, expansive keyboard is a gem, complete with a numeric keypad, dedicated media keys and highlights around the WASD, Nitrosense and arrow keys. I’ll easily forgive the absence of per-key RGB lighting.
Of course, it’s the performance that counts and when it comes to 1080p gaming the new Nitro 5 really shines. Even with video details set to the highest, ray tracing turned up to 11 and DLSS disengaged the Nitro still hit three-figure frame rates in games like Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Wolfenstein: Youngblood. Tested it as the Ulta setting the Metro Exodus benchmark scored 74fs. That will do very nicely. Add the package a MUX switch and a battery life that wasn’t quite as horrible as I feared (5 hours from less than 58Whs) and you have a very compelling proposition.
Read our full Acer Nitro 5 review for details
Key specs – Processor: 14-core Intel Core i7 12700H; GPU: Nvidia RTX 3070Ti 8GB dedicated memory; Screen: 15.6in, 1,920 x 1,080; RAM: 8GB; Total storage: 1TB SSD; Weight: 2.5kg
5. HP Omen 15 (2020) review: Best all-rounder
Price: £1,000 | Buy now from HP
Thanks to an AMD Ryzen 7 4800H processor, 8GB of RAM and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660Ti GPU, the HP Omen 15 packs quite a punch for a laptop costing only £1,099. It’s a stylish machine, too, the aluminium palm rest and keyboard surround offsetting the otherwise plastic construction.
We were also impressed by the amount of detail the Bang & Olufsen-branded speaker system produced and by the range of ports and connectors the Omen boasts. And the display is pretty decent too; bright, if a little lacking in colour representation. The keyboard is solid and stylish with four-zone RGB lighting effects but there’s quite a lot of wasted space on the right.
Battery life was a little disappointing considering the 70.9Wh capacity, and the fans are rather loud when they’re running at full tilt, but those are the only real criticisms we can make of a machine that manages to be both a funky, capable gaming machine and a smart, powerful productivity laptop at the same time.
Key specs – Processor: AMD Ryzen 7 4800H; GPU: Nvidia GeForce 1660Ti; Screen: 15.6in, 1,920 x 1,080; RAM: 8GB; Total storage: 512GB SSD; Dimensions: 358 x 240 x 22.5mm; Weight: 2.3kg