10 Tips To Choose A Decent Gaming Laptop You Can Afford
Every laptop gamer always wants a top-of-the-line rig that’ll give them top performance for today’s titles — with enough power to handle the next generation of games too.
But computer companies know this, which is why it’s a chore to find a good gaming laptop that the average gamer can actually afford.
That’s why it pays to know your stuff when it comes to laptop parts. You don’t need to drop $5,000 on a high-performance machine when you know what you want from the get-go.
If you don’t know much about laptops, this is where you can start.
Here’s everything you need to find the perfect gaming laptop that won’t break your bank.
Part 1. Display — NVIDIA G-Sync
You can own the most powerful gaming laptop in the world. But if it doesn’t have the right display, your gaming rig will never reach its full potential.
If you want to hit your laptop’s full potential, we recommend NVIDIA G-Sync displays.
Specifically, one with these specs:
- 1920x1080 (4k is still expensive)
- 15.6” corner-to-corner
- 120 Hz (60 Hz is okay in a pinch)
- No NVIDIA Optimus
NVIDIA G-Sync displays are some of the most advanced, vibrant, and color-capable displays in the gaming business. In a nutshell, it’s the perfect complement to a gaming laptop since it actually shows you the performance output.
The difference lies in the refresh rate and advanced predictive software that goes into G-Sync. These displays have a refresh rate between 75 and 240 Hz, up to four times faster than the industry standard of 60 Hz.
This makes your image silky-smooth, showing you every single frame — sometimes faster than the human eye can consciously see!
But refresh rate is only the beginning. G-Sync displays also minimize the lag time between action input and action response. That means these high-grade displays are ideal for 99% of all gamers, even competitive StarCraft players who can top out above 400 actions per minute.
And who can forget the color? G-Sync displays absolutely rock when it comes to their available color palette. In fact, it combines with the display’s HDR to give a picture that’s better than most monitors (and even some televisions).
But hold on — what about NVIDIA Optimus?
With a dedicated graphics card, you don’t need Optimus. We’ll get to that a little later.
Part 2. Storage — 256GB SSD
A solid state drive (SSD) is the cutting edge in digital data storage.
SSD hard drives empower your laptop to retrieve information much more quickly than traditional hard drives. This pays off big time for gamers since load times shrink from a handful of seconds to near-instant.
But 256GB isn’t much for a gaming rig. Most of them come with terabytes of storage now, right?
Thankfully, you don’t need to shell out for that kind of storage when you have cloud storage available.
Google Drive, Dropbox, and other online storage services let you keep most of your non-essential files off of your hard drive for free.
That means 256 GB is plenty of space for most gamers’ libraries, even with high-end, current-gen games.
Part 3. Graphics — GTX 1050 (or Better)
What’s the point in a gaming rig if you can’t enjoy the visuals?
The GeForce GTX 1050 graphics card is another NVIDIA product that’s designed for high performance.
Compared to top-of-the-line graphics cards, the GTX 1050 is also relatively inexpensive.
The GTX 1050 also packs some decent specs into a small enough footprint to fit into a laptop:
- 3GB GDDR5 SDRAM
- 7GB/s memory speed
- 1518 MHz boost clock
The SDRAM is crucial to the high-performance requirements of the GTX 1050.
SDRAM empowers a GPU to start processing a task before it’s finished with another one. In a nutshell, that means you get a massive increase in productivity that’s evident in visual and system performance.
Plus, the 1518 MHz boost clock is always there for that extra performance when you want it. With a GTX 1050, it’s not likely that you’ll need it — but it’s nice to know that the boost is there.
Another benefit to the GTX 1050 is its running temperature. GPUs can pump out performance until they’ve literally started to melt. If you want to run Fortnite on max or Skyrim on ultra, you’re going to need a GPU that can keep its cool — literally.
Shoot for a standard operating temperature less than 120 degrees Fahrenheit (about 50 degrees Celsius). That could sound high already, but it’s nothing compared to how hot your GPU can get if you push it too far.
In fact, some laptops can reach an overall temperature nearing 200 degrees before anything fails in the hardware itself.
Take it from us — you don’t want that on your lap.
Part 4. RAM — 12GB of Memory
You’re going to need RAM with any kind of decent gaming laptop. We highly recommend you get 12GB right off the bat for one big reason.
With 12GB of RAM, you’ll never have to think about RAM again.
It’s borderline impossible to find any application — including a game — that requires more than 12GB of RAM at a time.
Plus, that much memory improves the everyday performance of your laptop as well by letting you multitask without bringing your laptop to a grinding halt.
It may cost a little more, and it’s possible that you could get by with 8GB of RAM. But it’s guaranteed that 8GB is on its way out in terms of industry power. If you want your laptop to be able to handle the games and applications of the future, you’re going to need 12GB to keep up with the latest triple-A titles.
Then again, if you’re not into triple-A titles, you may not have to get 12GB of RAM.
But still, who wants to be blocked from playing a game because of something as silly as RAM?
Just pick up 12GB. You’ll thank yourself in five years when you realize it’s the first time you’ve thought about RAM since you bought your laptop.
Part 5. Audio — 70dB Max (THX Certified Preferred)
You can’t enjoy a game on visuals alone — you need audio too!
That’s where a high-output speaker (and audio system, in general) comes in handy. We suggest looking for a sound system that’s been certified by THX because they’re on par with Bose in terms of their audio quality and expertise.
A good audio system for this gaming rig will top out around 70dB, but you can always go louder depending on what you want from your laptop.
We suggest 70dB because that’s loud enough for just about anyone on the planet — but diehards can always go to 80dB.
By the way, we highly recommend you don’t go beyond 80dB. Permanent hearing damage starts to occur around 85dB.
For reference, the average conversation tops out around 60dB. So think about 85dB (or higher) as if someone were standing right in your face and screaming at you as hard as they can.
That’s why 70dB is a good compromise. It’s not quite as bad as those screaming goat videos, but it has the power and excitement of Leroy Jenkins.
Part 6. Cooling — 40dBA Max
Every gaming laptop needs a fan. The upside is that it’ll keep your GPU from melting.
The downside is that it can be so loud that it’ll annoy anyone sitting near you.
Just like a good audio system can bump out 70dB at will, it’s important that your fan can’t get any louder than 40dBA.
That’ll keep people from looking over their shoulders at you while you’re waiting in an airport. It’ll also keep your computer from becoming blazingly loud when you’re working or streaming Netflix.
The cooling system is the only part of a gaming laptop that we recommend out of courtesy to people you may be around while you’re playing.
It may not be the craziest, highest-performing part of your laptop, but it doesn’t need to be. You can get by with a decent fan that won’t make a ton of noise.
And while the people around you may not recognize the sacrifice you’ve made in settling for a quieter laptop fan, they’ll definitely notice when you’ve gone all-out on the loudest model available.
Besides, most laptops don’t need the highest of the high when it comes to cooling performance. This is a decent gaming laptop that’ll let you enjoy your favorites with good image and sound.
Don’t ruin it with the loudest fan on the market.
Part 7. Connectivity — Ethernet Port, AC Wireless Adapter, & HDMI Port
Since the invention of Wi-Fi, Ethernet connectivity on a gaming laptop can sound quaint.
But the download/upload speeds on a wired connection will always beat the speeds on a wireless connection.
That’s why an RJ45 Ethernet port is a must-have on a gaming laptop, especially if you’re passionate about games with high reaction time requirements in the MOBA and RTS genre.
Plus, you’re way less likely to drop in the middle of a game when you have a hard-wired Internet connection.
It’s safer and faster all at the same time.
Still, laptops are computers made for convenience. You probably do more with a gaming laptop than just game.
That’s why we recommend getting an AC wireless adapter as well, one that’s 802.11AC compatible.
That’ll let you have the convenient connectivity you need to do work or watch Netflix when you’re not pwning n00bz.
Also, make sure your laptop comes with an HDMI port built-in. It’s always nice to have the option for a standalone monitor, and it makes your laptop more versatile for other tasks, like work presentations.
Part 8. Operating System — Windows 10 N
Linux purists and bleeding-heart Mac enthusiasts love to talk about the stuff that their laptops can do.
But let’s face facts — Windows is the king OS for gaming.
The list of computer games that aren’t Windows compatible is short enough to fit on a sticky note, while Linux and Mac “gamers” have to wait for compatible ports to their favorite OS.
And yes, Windows isn’t perfect. It has its flaws, and it may never hit the level of charm and usability of the classic Windows 98.
But it’s the prime OS for a gaming laptop. You get first dibs on new titles that get published, and you don’t have to constantly search for the “Mac Compatible” or “Linux Compatible” icons on Steam.
Getting Windows 10 as your OS is a similar situation to getting 12GB of RAM right off the bat. Once you have it, you’ll never have to ask yourself if a game is compatible with your OS.
The answer is “yes” 99% of the time!
Windows 10 N tends to be the best version of Windows for gaming laptops. It comes with a lot of the multimedia features pre-installed so you don’t have to worry about those either.
Overall, Windows 10 N just makes your life a little easier when you’re getting a solid gaming laptop.
Part 9. Physical Design — Casual & Thinner than 30mm
Your laptop’s style and appearance can say a lot about who you are.
But they can also make your gaming rig bulky and eye-catching — which makes it an easy target for theft.
We highly recommend getting a laptop that’s no thicker than 30mm with a simple, casual aesthetic.
Loud designs make your laptop stand out more. They’re intentionally distracting, and if you “distract” the wrong person in public, you might never see your laptop again!
Plus, thinner models are easier to carry and secure. Most messenger bags can handle a 30mm-thick laptop with a 15.6” display. In fact, you can probably find a few envelopes that can hold a laptop that size.
Regardless, 30mm is a solid measurement for the thickness of a laptop. It allows for enough space to prevent thermal buildup, and it’s convenient enough that you can haul your laptop anywhere.
It also ensures your laptop is ultra-lightweight, which is a nice bonus.
Any thinner than 30mm and you start to run into issues with internal case clearance, heat pockets, and uneven cooling. They may not make a big impact right away, but those issues can compound over time to really do some damage to your laptop.
So keep your laptop’s appearance muted, and make it as thin as you can. It’ll make life a little bit easier for you and you won’t have to worry about drawing the eye of someone looking to cash high-value tech in at a pawn shop.
Part 10. Price — $1,500 or Lower
This part is pretty self-explanatory. You can get all of this (and maybe more) for about $1,500.
Don’t go over that limit. Very few gaming laptops are worth their cost when you go beyond that threshold.
Besides, you can use all the money you save to catch up on Steam!
Laptops That Meet Our Specs
If you just want to buy a new laptop so you can just install Steam and go, here’s what you can get:
- Acer Predator 15 G9–593–72VT
- Acer Predator 15 G9–593–77WF
- ASUS ROG GL502VM
- ASUS ROG Strix GL502VS
- ASUS G701VI
One of those five options should work for you (and just about anyone else looking for a solid gaming laptop).
Like we said at the top of the article, these laptops can be a little pricey.
But when you get them up and running, they’ll be your favorite gaming rig — maybe ever.