Gaming on a laptop used to be a prohibitively expensive hobby, as laptops require more thoughtful design for cooling down the high-end hardware inside. Nowadays, you can nab reliable processing and graphics performance for under $1,000. But if you’re not sure where to begin your quest, you’ve come to the right place. Here at PCWorld we put together a list of our best picks. These rigs have been carefully assessed based on their graphics performance, typing experience, and so on. While you may need to scale back the graphics a bit, most should be able to hit 60fps, which is a good baseline as far as budget laptops are concerned. Read on to learn more.
Note that laptop prices can fluctuate and there might be times when the price of one of our picks hovers over $1,000.
Why you should trust us: Hey, it’s in our name! PCWorld prides itself on laptop experience and expertise. We’ve been covering PCs since 1983, and we now review more than 70 laptops every year. All of the picks below have been personally tested and vetted by our experts, who’ve applied not only performance benchmarks but rigorous usability standards. We’re also committed to reviewing PC laptops at every price point to help you find a machine that matches your budget.
Note 12/05/2023: If you’re interested in another good budget gaming machine, check out the recently reviewed Acer Nitro V 15. It’s pretty comparable to the MSI Thin below in terms of power, but with a 13th-gen Intel Core processor and some additional connectivity options. The MSI Thin still excels in portability, which is why the Nitro V 15 doesn’t supplant it on the list.
Asus TUF Gaming A16 Advantage Edition – Best overall
Outstanding all day battery life
Gorgeous and smooth FHD+ 16:10 display
Robust chassis with US military grade certification
Left-side port orientation won’t suit left handers
Keys feel a bit soft and fatiguing
The 720p HD camera isn’t the best
Price When Reviewed:
The Asus TUF Gaming A16 Advantage Edition is a real standout in terms of performance, battery life, and so on. In fact, gaming laptops aren’t known for having the best battery life and gaming while unplugged can drain your battery. This makes it difficult to game on the go without being tethered to the nearest outlet. However, that’s not the case with this rig.
This machine comes armed with a massive 90 watt-hour battery, which lasted a staggering 11 hours during our testing. Of course, intensive gaming will reduce this significantly, but you can still expect to get in the neighborhood of seven hours of continuous 1080p gaming without having to plug-into an AC outlet. That’s an amazing result considering most gaming laptops only muster between three to six hours. The robust chassis and sturdy overall design means it can also take the occasional accidental bump or knock while out and about.
It’s no slouch when it comes to performance, either. It expertly handles 1080p gaming due to its combo of a Ryzen 7 processor and AMD Radeon RX 7600S graphics card. During out tests, it scored very well in our Shadow of the Tomb Raider game benchmark tests, outpacing more expensive competitors. This all combines to make the A16 an excellent option for 1080p gamers who want to enjoy untethered gaming on the go.
If you’re looking to pick up a portable gaming laptop that can easily handle 1080p gaming, the MSI Thin GF63 is your best bet. For a gaming laptop, it’s actually pretty lightweight at just over four pounds, which is good news if you like to game on-the-go. As for the internal components, it’s packing a good amount of power for a budget gaming machine. Let’s get into it.
The MSI Thin GF63 is rocking an Intel Core i7-12650H CPU, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 4050 GPU, 8GB of RAM, and 512GB of SSD storage. Given the hardware, you should be able to run most games on the Medium or High graphics preset. For more intensive titles where speed is everything, we’d recommend scaling things back a bit. The 15.6-inch display has a resolution of 1920×1080 and a refresh rate of 144Hz. Although it manages just 300 nits of brightness (which is common for a budget gaming laptop), gameplay should be relatively smooth thanks to the high refresh rate. It’s not the most vibrant or color-accurate screen we’ve ever seen, but it’s passable, especially for under $1,000. If you can live with some of the compromises, then the MSI Thin GF63 is a great budget option for most people.
The Dell G16 is a fantastic laptop for work or play. It crushed the competition in the processor department. In other words, it has plenty of power for everyday tasks like office productivity, video chatting, checking e-mail, and more. It also managed 131 FPS while running the Rise of the Tomb Raider benchmark. For hardware, it features an Intel Core i7-12700H CPU, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 GPU, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB of PCIe NVMe SSD storage. The G16 is a little plain in the looks department, but it gets the basics right and that’s what really matters. If you’re on the hunt for a laptop that you can work and play on, there’s no better option than the G16.
Dell Inspiron 16 Plus – If you’re willing to spend a little more…
Great performance for a wide array of tasks
Big, high res, fast refreshing screen
Good quality metal build
Convenient, fast fingerprint reader
Good battery life
Skimps on ports
Gets warm to the touch and loud under load
Heavy, big power brick needed for high performance scenarios
Price When Reviewed:
If you’re willing to stretch your budget another $200 or so, the Dell Inspiron Plus 16 7630 is worth considering, as it’s something of a sleeper hit. You’re getting solid battery life, a rugged build, a high refresh-rate display, and reliable performance. This machine is rocking an Intel Core i7-13700H CPU and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 4060 GPU. That’s a definite boost in power. It can handle everything from multimedia applications and day-to-day productivity as well as some gaming. In fact, it turned out 109 frames-per-second during our Shadow of the Tomb Raider benchmark, which is nothing to sneeze at. We don’t have many negatives to say about this device, but it’s a little light on the port selection and it gets loud and warm under heavier loads. Nitpicks aside, it’s a solid gaming laptop for the price.
The PCWorld team puts each and every Windows laptop through a series of benchmarks that test GPU and CPU performance, battery life, and so on. The idea is to push the laptop to its limits and then compare it against others we’ve tested. Below, you’ll find a breakdown of each test and the reasons why we run them.
PCMark 10: PCMark 10 is how we determine how well the laptop handles lighter tasks like web browsing, word processing, spreadsheets, and so on.
HandBrake: HandBrake is more intensive than PCMark 10. It basically measures how long a laptop’s CPU takes to encode a hefty 30GB file.
Cinebench: Cinebench is a brief stress test of the CPU cores. It does this by rendering a 2D scene over a short period of time.
3DMark: 3DMark checks if 3D performance remains consistent over time by running graphic-intensive clips.
Gaming tests: We benchmark each gaming laptop using several titles.
Video rundown test: To gauge battery life, we loop a 4K video using Windows 10’s Movies & TV app until the laptop dies.
What you should look for in a budget gaming laptop
When it comes to picking the right gaming laptop, it really depends on what you want to do with it. Do you plan on playing lightweight indie titles like Stardew Valley (no shade, I love this game) or something more visually demanding like Cyberpunk 2077? Are you going to use the machine for work as well as play? It’s possible to get reliable performance out of a gaming laptop that costs under a grand, but you’ll need to take a hard look at the individual components. You don’t need a powerful GPU for something like Fortnite. You can run even most of the newest games very well at 1080p resolution with even entry level graphics cards if you don’t mind dialing down the in-game visual settings from Ultra to more-reasonable High to Medium settings. You’ll almost certainly need to do so to hit 60 frames per second in modern games on a gaming laptop under $1,000, but the good news is they should still look good, especially on a laptop display.
GPU: The thing about the GPU is that it can’t be swapped out and upgraded later, so you need to be real choosy about which one you pick, as this component will determine how well your machine runs games. Luckily, you don’t need the best of the best to get reliable gaming performance. The GTX 1650 is an entry-level GPU that’s affordable and good enough for 1080p gaming with mid-to-high graphics settings. That said, expect lower frame rates on newer titles. If you’re looking for a bit more power, the more modern RTX 3050 and 3050 Ti are preferred options, and commonly found in gaming laptops under $1,000. You may occasionally find a deal on an RTX 3060-powered laptop under $1,000, but they’re relatively rare.
CPU: Like the GPU, the processor can’t be upgraded either, so you’ll want to be selective. For Intel, we’d recommend an 11th-gen Intel Core i5 or i7. For AMD, you’ll want to spring for a Ryzen 4000 or 5000. A processor with at least four cores is good, but six cores or more is better.
RAM: You’ll want at least 8GB of RAM. If you can afford 16GB of RAM, go for it. Memory is normally upgradable, so you can always swap it out and add more later on.
Storage: Storage impacts how many games and applications you can install on your laptop. Like RAM, storage is often upgradable and can be swapped out later. However, you should aim for at least 512GB of SSD storage plus a hard drive, as AAA titles tend to eat up a lot of space. SSDs load games faster, as data is stored on chips rather than spinning disks.
Display: 1080p is what you can expect at this price range, either with a 60Hz or 144Hz (preferred) refresh rate. Budget gaming laptops don’t always have the best displays, as that’s where manufacturers tend to cut corners to keep the cost low. If you’ve got a dim display, you can always pick up an external monitor to plug into it.
Battery life: Generally speaking, gaming laptops are known for having poor battery life. That’s because they use a ton of power. They also tend to be heavier than other laptops because they need more space for heatsinks and other cooling components. Depending on the use, most will last anywhere from four to six hours on a single charge. That said, there are a few exceptions. The HP Envy 14 (featured above), for example, hit the 15 hour mark during our battery test.
Are Chromebooks good gaming laptops?
This will depend on the type of gaming you want to do. But frankly, no they don’t make good gaming laptops in a general sense. Chromebooks can handle web games and Android games just fine. But a Chromebook won’t cut it if you’re looking to play the latest high-powered AAA games. This comes down to two factors, they don’t run Windows and they likely don’t have sufficient graphics power.
With that said, Google is trying to bring cloud gaming to Chromebooks and it will likely be available in the future. Cloud gaming services use a remote PC or console to play games streamed through the cloud onto the Chromebook. Until that service is up and running though, Chromebooks will not be able to compete in the gaming arena.
Can you game with integrated graphics?
Nowadays, the latest processors with integrated graphics can run a faire amount of modern PC games at reasonable settings. Intel’s newer Iris Xe line of processors with integrated graphics, for example, have been shown to run some of the latest games at 1080p and 30fps. You should know though that not all integrated graphics are capable of the same things.
Intel and AMD’s integrated graphics have made huge leaps in recent years with regard to gaming performance. If you’re on a budget or looking for an ultra thin laptop with integrated graphics you can still enjoy some light gaming as well. Check out our article about Intel’s Core 12th-gen Iris Xe and AMD’s brand new Ryzen 6000 RDNA 2 for more detailed info.
What size laptop is best?
This will come down to personal preference and intended use. If you plan to travel a lot with your laptop, then a small ultraportable size in the neighborhood of 13 to 14 inches is best. However, if want to use it as a gaming machine, then something in the 15- to 17-inch range would be ideal. Also, don’t forget to check the weight of the laptop before you buy it. Ultra thin laptops can weigh a featherlight 2 pounds while beefy gaming computers top the scales at three or four times that.