- Computers & Software»
- Computer Buying Guides
Affordable Gaming Laptops 2012
Finding a Cheap Gaming Laptop
Finding a gaming-capable laptop at a reasonable price is not that difficult if you know what to look for. However, if you want a dirt-cheap laptop for gaming you may have to forego some of the bells and whistles that come with the established gamer brands like Alienware.
If you don't have a problem with missing out on some of the cosmetics, i.e., flashy neon lights, backlit keyboards and so on, there are quite a few excellent bargains out there right now.
If are new to mobile gaming, there are some things that you should be aware of before making a purchase. In this article, we will go through precicely those things to help you make an informed desicion on an affordable gaming laptop.
It's All About the Graphics Card
When it comes to gaming on a laptop, no single component is more important than the graphics card (GPU). In fact, as long as you have a decent GPU, you can cut back liberally on most other features and add-ons.
What is usually considered the most important component in any computer, the processor (CPU), is indeed vital for the overall performance of your system, but 3D graphics calculations are almost exclusively performed by the GPU.
In other words: if the graphics card is not powerful enough it doesn't really matter if you have an extremely fast processor; your 3D games will remain unplayable.
Determining GPU Performance
The difficult part is knowing what graphics cards are more powerful than others. Nvidia and AMD - the two main competitors in gaming graphics - are not making it easier on us consumers by naming their GPUs in a way that doesn't exactly make perfect sense.
Both of the manufacturers have a nasty habit of updating the names of their GPUs every now and then, no matter if any major changes have been done. Therefore it's easy to be deceived by a newer and better-sounding model name, when an older laptop may actually have a much faster chip.
Without diving into too many details like GPU architectures, CUDA cores, stream processors and different types of video memory, it's easier to just list the names of some mobile graphics cards that will make your laptop capable of the latest games as of 2011. There's a great chart over at Notebookcheck.net to use as a reference when looking for gaming capability.
You should aim for about 30 FPS (frames per second) in all games to get an enjoyable gaming experience without stuttering. In cheaper laptops with mid-range graphics cards you may have to turn down the details or play at lower resolutions in the most demanding games.
But let's move on to the specifics as promised by the headline, namely the affordable gaming laptops!
Acer Aspire 7741
This is an amazingly affordable laptop from Acer with a high-resolution screen and Crysis-capable GPU: the Intel-based 17-inch AS7741G with a Mobility Radeon HD 6550M graphics card that plays all the latest games with medium or high detail settings.
A 1600x900 pixel, 17-inch panel gives you plenty of screen real estate and puts the laptop in the "desktop replacement" segment. In spite of being a larger laptop, however, Acer has managed to keep the weight down to just 7.3 pounds (3,3kg), which is lighter than some 15-inch laptops.
Other than a Mobility Radeon HD 6550M, the laptop is equipped with an Intel Core i5-480M (2.66GHz/2.93GHz Turbo Boost), 4GB of RAM (8 max) and a 640GB hard drive. All in all, this makes it one of the best deals available on a gaming-capable 17-inch laptop at present.
Gaming on the Acer 7741G
Acer TimelineX AS4820TG
The Aspire TimelineX 4820TG is an interesting laptop. Not only is it one of the smaller models in Acer's TimelineX series at a svelte 14 inches, but it has also been equipped with a dedicated Mobility Radeon HD 6550M.
The HD 6550 is the same GPU as the 17-inch version above and capable of playing Dragon Age 2 on the 'high details' setting (not maximum, but it looks great anyway). I know that not just because the specs say it can but because I've done it. Read more about it here.
It is also exceptionally affordable right now considering the overall specifications; not only does it come with dedicated graphics, but also an efficient 2.66GHz Intel Core i5 and a roomy 640GB hard drive. The dedicated card can be switched to integrated Intel graphics when it's not in use to save power and give the laptop a longer battery life.
If you want a no-compromise gaming laptop for a (comparatively) low price, the Asus Republic of Gamers G53SW is very hard to beat. You can find it for just below $1,000 right now, which is a very reasonable price for a full-featured portable gaming machine.
It comes with all high-end parts, including a quad-core Intel Core i7 CPU, 8GB of DDR3 RAM, a 500GB hard drive, and most importantly: a blazing fast Nvidia GTX 460M graphics card that will easily run any game at the display's native 1920x1080 resolution (Full HD).
Note that this GTX 460M is actually slightly faster than the GTX 560M offered in the new version, the G53SX, due to a smaller memory bus in the latter (128-bit vs. 192-bit).
HP dv6z Quad Edition
HP's AMD laptop is an attractive proposition in terms of what you get for the money. It starts at just $549, but gamers should definitely invest in the upgrade to the dedicated Radeon HD 7690M--an upper mid-range graphics card (and $75 upgrade) that will play any game available at this writing, but not necessarily with the highest settings.
AMD's processors are not comparable to Intel's in terms if performance. The quad-core AMD Fusion APUs (CPU with built-in graphics) are closer to the dual-core Intel Core i5 and Core i3. It is nevertheless an amazing amount of hardware for the money.
On top of the dedicated graphics card, AMD's integrated GPU can work in parallel with the dedicated GPU in Crossfire (dual graphics mode). However, this only works in newer DX10 and DX11 games for the time being.
Alienware M11x R1
The world's smallest gaming laptop--the 11.6-inch Alienware M11x--is currently available in a more expensive and powerful 3rd revision with the latest low-voltage Sandy Bridge CPUs from Intel. However, you can still find the R1 model from various online retailers and refurbished models below the $800 mark.
It is equipped with all the features you expect from an Alienware laptop, including the multi-color backlighting that Alienware laptops are famous for. The M11x R1 is by no means a sluggish gaming laptop either. The graphics card is an Nvidia GT 335M, which is fast enough to play Crysis or any other demanding game. Its processor is a low voltage Core 2 Duo, which is factory overclocked to 1.73GHz.
Dell XPS 15
Dell recently updated their XPS lineup with new 15.6-inch and 17-inch models, and also updated the hardware to the latest generation (Sandy Bridge) Intel processors.
It is also available on the cheap; used, refurbished models often go for less than $800. A Core i5 or Core i7 processor with Hyperthreading (essentially doubling the core count) guarantees great overall system performance and an NVIDIA GT 540M takes care of your gaming graphics. It's not as fast as the aforementioned 6770M, but still capable of playing recent titles with at least medium detail settings.
Asus' Republic of Gamers series look like stealth fighters and blow out almost as much hot air from their rear exhaust fans. Unfortunately they are also quite expensive. But there are also a few gems in Asus' other lines, such as this K53SV.
As the tagline says, it's indeed a "versatile entertainment laptop", and as it isn't branded as a gaming laptop, which means that it comes in at a very affordable price.
There is no lack of overall processing power in the K53SV thanks to an Intel Core i5 Sandy Bridge CPU. On the GPU side, it is equipped with a good mid-range NVIDIA GT 540M. This video card offers ample performance for most games at the laptop's native resolution.
Lenovo IdeaPad Y560
Just like HP and Dell, Lenovo ships all of their laptops in a wide variety of different configurations. The IdeaPad Y560 is available with both integrated and dedicated graphics--make sure you opt for the latter if you want gaming.
The more interesting variants of the Y560 is come with quad-core Intel Core i7 CPUs and dedicated Mobility Radeon HD 5730M GPUs with 1GB of video RAM. This chip is roughly on par with the HD 6550 only slightly faster. In other words it has no problems running the latest games at medium or in some cases high details.
It also comes with some proprietary Lenovo features including "Lenovo Enhanced Experience"(that supposedly improves boot times,) facial recognition and an ambient light sensor that adjusts the screen brightness to the surroundings.
Most affordable laptops that are capable of playing the latest games have had to make some cutbacks in other departments. One is the screen resolution--most of the laptops mentioned above have a relatively low-resolution panel. This is not good if you work with graphic design, but it may actually work to your advantage when playing games. You can usually run them at the laptop's native resolutions, which always looks better, and without sacrificing too much on the details.
If you want an even cheaper gaming laptop, there's also the option to look at refurbished/used laptops. You can find some good deals even on refurbished Alienware and Republic of Gamers laptops with good graphics cards, but that usually includes having to settle for a slower processor. There is quite a bit of difference between the Intel Core 2 Duo series and the Core i3, i5 and i7 CPUs. AMD processors are also an option, but they are unfortunately quite far behind their Intel counterparts at the moment and tend to run hot.
Thanks for reading this hub and come back later for the latest updates on affordable laptops.