Many of us do not have the luxury of spending a lot of money on a new laptop. In the world of gaming laptops, spending less money means you have a shorter window of playing the latest AAA games at high specs before you’ll need to upgrade again. If you’re willing to put concerns about fidelity aside, though, you can get a perfectly good laptop that should play a decent number of PC games for as little as $500. Will they all look great and run well? Probably not, but they’re still fun to play. The best gaming laptops at this price point give you the most gaming power possible on a shoestring budget.
The finest gaming laptops come with potent hardware, sharp displays, and quick refresh rates. Sadly, the best gaming laptops can set you back hundreds of dollars. If money is no object, you can spend a sizable sum of money and obtain an amazing equipment. The best gaming laptops under $500 are ideal for those of us who must, however, consider more practically.
The fact of the matter is, you can’t really get a new dedicated gaming laptop for $500. For reference, our list of the best cheap gaming laptops highlights strong systems that cost less than $1,000, and it often features models that are 1-2 years old. Most of our picks are budget productivity laptops that happen to provide decent processing power for their prices. Few, if any, feature a dedicated graphics card, which you’d need to play many of the biggest games. Those that work will only run on low or medium settings.
I’ve been booting up games on Steam for as long as I can remember, and have written about computers for more than a decade on sites like Popular Science, Gear Patrol, and CNN Underscored. I’ve tested all manner of PCs and laptops to find the latest and greatest devices. To find the best gaming laptops under $500, a challenging task, I researched what kind of hardware you may be able to purchase with such a budget. With that information in-hand, I selected the individual picks based on third-party reviews and consumer feedback.
If you have your heart set on a laptop, or need a more holistic device, here are the basics of picking a laptop so you can make your own choice: The central processing unit, or CPU, is the beating heart of any computer. It performs the computations your computer makes to run programs and perform various tasks, from word processing to editing photos. A computer’s true performance relies on a number of factors, but the two easiest ways to gauge the power of a CPU, specifically, are the chip’s computing cores and its clock speed. Clock speed, shown in Hz, measures the number of computations or “cycles” the processor can make each second. For example, a CPU with a clock speed of 2.8Ghz executes 2.8 billion cycles per second.
If you are purchasing this device specifically for gaming, there are many other devices that will offer you a much better experience for that same $500. Though they can be hard to find, we would recommend any of the current game consoles over these laptops, including the PS5, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, and Nintendo Switch. You might also consider the 2022 iPad Air, which provides access to an increasingly large library of games thanks to game streaming services like Xbox Game Pass. In the realm of PCs, you may be able to build a budget desktop gaming PC for around $500 using older and/or used parts. This may be more difficult than in the past due to pandemic-era supply constraints, but it is not outside the realm of possibility.
Meanwhile, compute cores give your processor the ability to handle multiple tasks at the same time. Broadly speaking, more cores means better multitasking, especially with more processor-intensive tasks like encoding video.
When discussing the best, we expect modern Windows laptops to feature an 11th or 12th Generation Intel Core i5 or i7 processor with 6-8 processor cores, or an AMD Ryzen 5 processor with 6-8 cores. Since we’re looking at laptops with the tightest of cost constraints, you’re more likely to see the older version of the most basic processors available, such as a 10th-Generation Intel Core i3 processor, or something from AMD’s Ryzen 3000 series. If forced to choose, it never hurts to sacrifice bells and whistles for a basic laptop with a good CPU. The processor, more than any other component, determines how long your laptop will perform at its peak level.
The graphics processing unit, or GPU, is an essential component in any gaming laptop and makes it possible to render graphics in 2D and 3D. If you’re working with high-resolution video and art, a GPU takes some of the strain off the CPU and makes rendering everything much faster.