Cheap Gaming Laptop Roundup - 2012
The Best Budget Gaming Laptops of 2012
These days there are lots of laptops on the market that are both capable of gaming and come with a reasonable price tag. If you can make do without all the extras that come with a branded gaming laptop, i.e., Alienware, ASUS Republic of Gamers and a few others, there are plenty of good bargains to be found. While the large, dedicated gaming rigs start at around $1,500 all the way up to an arm and a leg, there's really no reason to pay that kind of money for a good portable gaming machine.
As long as you know what to look for there are even laptops that are not called "gaming laptops", but are still capable of gaming for as little as $500 hundred dollars, especially if you are willing to look into the refurbished/recertified market. The performance of an average mainstream laptop continues to increase while prices keep dropping. Of course there is also the quality factor and what features you expect from it, but even so, powerful laptops have never been more affordable than they are today.
There is still a small price hike when you want gaming capability, so when we talk about cheap gaming laptops here then we have to start at the bare minimum $500 mark. Let's have a look at the following subclasses and see where we end up:
* Less than $500
* Less than $800
* Less than $1000
Gaming Laptops Under $500
Most laptops below the $500 mark come with fairly meager specifications and usually an integrated graphics card (such as Intel's GMA), which is useless for gaming. If you take are willing to take a look at the used/refurbished market, however, there are some great deals to be found. (I would personally prefer refurbished/recertified to get some sort of warranty.)
To find a new gaming laptop for less than $500 is a bit more difficult. You will usually have to look at AMD-based laptops and lower your expectations a little in terms of what kind of graphics performance you can squeeze out of it. However, AMD laptops are a decent compromise because they usually come with Radeon integrated (or sometimes dedicated) graphics, which are faster than Intel's counterpart.
Dell Inspiron M5030
The Dell Inspiron M5030 is one such laptop; with an AMD processor accompanied by the integrated Mobility Radeon HD 4250 graphics chip. It doesn't provide enough performance to play any recent game at high detail settings, but you will be able to play less demanding games like World of Warcraft with decent frame rates as well as some newer games with low detail settings.
The enticingly named Acer AS5253-BZ602 is another variant built on an AMD platform from the ground up and an with extremely attractive price tag. The most important part for gaming is the Radeon HD 6310, which lets you play games--again, not with high details and resolutions--but older games will run just fine and some new games will run in low detail settings (this one is marginally more powerful than the HD 4250). An Amazon customer reports that it runs Fallout: New Vegas and Left 4 Dead 2 with no lag.
Here is another 15-inch AMD-based Acer with a HD 4250, but better overall system specifications. It is equipped with a triple-core AMD Phenom II clocked at 2.1GHz. It also has a 1366MHz system bus and DDR3 RAM, which should provide some boost to the integrated graphics, and as a consequence, gaming performance.
A processor having three cores sounds out of the ordinary, and it is. In fact it is a quad core processor with one core disabled--probably because it wasn't working properly. Hence, triple-core CPUs end up in more affordable offerings such as this one. Three core are nevertheless better than two, obviously.
Gaming Laptops Under $800
With an $800 budget, you have a much better chance at landing a "real" gaming laptop that can play the latest games without breaking sweat and offer much better overall system performance. In fact, I would go as far as to say that you get a lot more value for money if you aim at around $800. In this price range you will start to find vastly more competent laptops that offer more than enough performance to replace your old desktop PC.
Those extra $200 to $300 will let you get your hands on an Intel Core i3 or Core i5-based laptop and what you should be looking for and make absolutely certain if you want to play games on it is that it comes with a decent dedicated graphics from either Nvidia or AMD/ATI. Although an $800 budget won't get you the fastest GPU and CPU combination, it is enough to get a graphics card that has no problems playing any of the latest games, whether it's Crysis 2 or Civilization V in native resolution and high detail settings.
Acer AS 7741 G
Now we are getting somewhere! The 7741 is an exceptionally affordable 17-inch desktop replacement with a dual-core (4 threads/virtual cores) Intel Core i5 480M clocked at 2.55GHz (2.93GHz with Turbo Boost), which puts it far beyond its closest AMD counterparts.
The graphics card, however, is a dedicated one from AMD: a Mobility Radeon HD 6550M--a good mid-range card that can handle any current game even if it can't always play them at the highest settings.
Other than that, the 7741 is well equipped in other areas as well. A roomy 640GB hard drive is included, as well as 4GB of DDR3 RAM and a multi-touch track pad. For less than $800, this is a fantastic deal, and as a bonus it's very slim for a 17-inch laptop.
ASUS G51VX Refurbished
If having the latest generation hardware isn't a big deal for you, there are lost of refurbished gems available that still have more than enough gaming performance. This refurbished ASUS Republic of Gamers G51 is a good example.
It comes with a 2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, which isn't a high-end processor anymore, but for gaming it is more important to look at the GPU, and on the graphics side this laptop is equipped with a decidedly high-end Nvidia GTX 260, which has no problems whatsoever running all the latest games.For less than $700, this is excellent value for money.
Alienware M11x R1
The M11x has now been updated twice since the first revision, but the original release is still highly popular. Not least thanks to its low price--you can currently find one for $799--it is also powerful enough to play any game thanks to an Nvidia GT 335M GPU. Another obvious advantage is of course that it's small and convenient at just 11.6 inches.
It comes with a low-voltage Intel Core 2 Duo CPU running at 1.73GHz (factory overclocked), 4GB of DDR3 RAM and a fast 7,200rpm 320GB hard drive. Other than the hardware it has all the cool features associated with Alienware laptop, including back-lighting in different colors over different zones and the neat alien head logo.
Gaming Laptops Under $1000
With a $1,000 budget, you can get a really powerful machine with the latest hardware. One that will last for many years and is guaranteed to offer enough performance to play really demanding games at fluid frame rates.
Even at this price range, it might be worth a look at refurbished laptops. You can almost certainly find a monster gaming laptop that went for hundreds more just a few years ago. On the other hand, there are also powerful brand new models below $1,000 for those who don't want to compromise on the warranty aspect.
ASUS Republic of Gamers G51JX
The Republic of Gamers series consists of high quality laptops with illuminated keyboards and only high-end graphics cards. Most of them are quite expensive, but it is possible to find one such as this one refurbished/used below $1,000.
This particular specimen is equipped with a quad-core Core i7 processor (8 threads) and a GTS 360M GPU from Nvidia with 1GB of GDDR5 video RAM. Needless to say, these specs allow you to play nearly all current games with maximum detail settings. RoG laptops are also bundles with an optical gaming mouse and a form-fitted backpack.
HP Pavilion dv6t Quad Edition
This is a personal favorite of mine. Although it doesn't look like a gaming laptop, the quad-core version of HP's dv6t is a real performance beast. It comes with a choice of the latest quad-core "Sandy Bridge" CPU offerings from Intel, with improved Turbo Boost functionality and exceptional overall system performance.
It starts at $999 from HP, but I would highly recommended that you get the Mobility Radeon HD 6770M GPU instead of the HD 6490. The 6770 is a $25 upgrade that makes it considerably faster in terms of gaming performance. This obviously puts it above the promised $1,000 mark, but you can get it for less if you find the right coupon.
Alienware M11x R3
As mentioned previously, the 1st revision of the smallest Alienware, the M11x, is still in demand, but if you are willing to pay a little more for much better performance, the R3 version is the one to get if you want a small gaming laptop that doesn't compromise on performance.
It has been upgraded with the latest low-voltage 2nd-generation Core i5 and Core i7 CPUs that offer much better overall system performance, and in the graphics department it has been equipped with a powerful Nvidia GT 540M GPU.
The base model ($999), which can be found on Dell's Alienware page, includes a Core i5 2532M running at 1.4GHz/2.3GHz with Turbo Boost, 4GB of 1333MHz DDR3 RAM, a 320GB 7,200rpm hard drive, and last but not least an Nvidia GT 540M with 1GB of DDR3 video memory.