By Kimber Streams
This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, Wirecutter and Engadget may earn affiliate commission. Read the full cheap gaming laptop guide here.
After spending more than 40 hours researching and testing 10 budget gaming laptops in late 2018, we found that the Dell G7 15 Gaming is the best one you can get. It’s an excellent value, and its Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 Max-Q graphics card will play games on high to medium settings for years. It keeps its most-touched surfaces and components cool enough during long gaming sessions, and it has no dealbreaking flaws.
The 15-inch 60 Hz 1920×1080 IPS display, the blue-backlit keyboard, and the trackpad are all solid performers. The Dell G7 15 Gaming has impressive battery life for a gaming laptop, but it’s a bit heavier than the competition and its fans get distractingly loud during gaming sessions. We recommend the model with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 Max-Q graphics processor with 6 GB of dedicated memory, an Intel Core i7-8750H processor, 8 GB of RAM, and a 256 GB solid-state drive for around $1,200.
If the Dell G7 is unavailable, we recommend the Dell G5 15 Gaming. It’s nearly identical to the G7, but the model we tested had a worse-looking screen with a greenish color tint, angled vents instead of rounded ones, and red backlighting on the keyboard instead of blue. Dell confirmed to us that the G5 and G7 have identical fan and heatsink setups when configured with the same graphics card. We recommend the G5 with Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 Max-Q graphics, an Intel Core i7-8750H processor, 16 GB of RAM, a 128 GB solid-state drive, and a 1 TB hard drive for around $1,200, but only if you can’t find the G7 at a good price.
If you want a gaming laptop for less than $1,000, get the Lenovo Legion Y530. Because of its lower-powered graphics card, the Y530 won’t play demanding games as well for as many years to come as our top pick, but it keeps cool and has a bright screen, a comfortable keyboard, and a responsive trackpad. The Y530 is also about a pound lighter and significantly more compact than the Dell G7 and G5, but it’s a pain to upgrade. We recommend the model with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti graphics processor with 4 GB of dedicated memory, an Intel Core i5-8300H processor, 8 GB of RAM, a 128 GB solid-state drive, and a 1 TB hard drive. But if the Y530 costs more than $900 at the time you’re shopping, we recommend saving up for our top pick and its more powerful graphics processor instead.
Why you should trust us
Wirecutter has spent more than 200 hours over the past five years researching and testing dozens of gaming laptops, and our PC team has more than 37 years of combined experience covering laptops. I’ve personally tested, lived with, and reviewed hundreds of laptops, and I’ve spent hands-on time with countless other models while covering the CES trade show, attending events, and visiting stores. I’ve reviewed most gaming laptops—both budget and high-end—released in the past six years, and I’ve spent thousands of hours gaming on laptops since high school.
Who this is for
As you might expect, a $1,300 gaming laptop won’t perform as well as a top-of-the-line one—but not everyone has $2,000 to spend on a high-end gaming laptop. Our cheaper gaming laptop picks can still play many AAA games on high settings at 1920×1080 resolution, with exceptions for very new or demanding games such as Shadow of the Tomb Raider or Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. It’ll serve you well for classic games and less-demanding modern ones like Overwatch, Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds, or Doom (2016), and you can expect it to play most games on at least medium settings for the next few years.
If your top priority isn’t playing the newest games at the highest graphics settings, or if you want to play games but also need to carry a laptop for school or work, these picks are for you. Even though these cheap gaming laptops won’t play games as well for as many years, they tend to have longer battery life than high-end gaming laptops, and you’ll save a lot of money.
But if you want to play new games like Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey on ultra settings, you’re better off with a desktop or a gaming laptop with more powerful graphics. A $1,200 desktop is much more powerful, and you can easily upgrade it in the future. And if you opt for a higher-end gaming laptop, you’ll be able to crank up those graphics settings for years—rather than months—to come.
A gaming laptop is constrained by its graphics processor; that’s the component that has the biggest impact on gaming performance, and you can’t upgrade it. Many cheap gaming laptops also lack either a solid-state drive or a roomy hard drive for storage, so you may have to pay extra to upgrade that later. You’ll need to put more money into keeping a budget laptop relevant in the long run—through storage and memory upgrades—than you would for a high-end gaming laptop that already has a solid-state drive and at least 16 GB of RAM (not to mention better graphics). A cheap gaming laptop is a temporary fix for a couple of years if you can’t invest in a desktop or a more expensive laptop (or if you need something that’s moderately portable).
Whether you’re getting a gaming laptop for the first time or replacing an older model that doesn’t play games as well anymore, you should take a look at what games you can and can’t play (and on which settings) using Notebookcheck’s useful “Computer Games on Laptop Graphic Cards” chart. Our pick has VR-ready Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 Max-Q graphics, and our budget pick has a GTX 1050 Ti GPU.
How we picked
Budget gaming laptops have to make trade-offs to keep their prices low, but here’s what to look for, in order of importance:
- Price: You can get a great budget gaming laptop for less than $1,300, but you do have to spend more than $800. As of late 2018, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 Max-Q graphics processor offers the best price-to-performance ratio. You can find this GPU in laptops under $1,300, and it will play many new games on high settings at 1080p. The GTX 1060 is only 10 to 15 percent faster, according to Nvidia, and most laptops with full GTX 1060 graphics were outside of our price range. The GTX 1050 Ti is a decent option in laptops under $900, but it’s 60 percent slower than the GTX 1060, according to Laptop Mag. Although you could save a few hundred dollars now by choosing the GTX 1050 Ti, it won’t play new games on high settings for as many years, and you’ll likely want to upgrade sooner. We recommend saving up for a laptop with a GTX 1060 Max-Q if possible. You can’t get a good gaming laptop for less than $800—the graphics processors they come with (Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 or worse) can’t handle current AAA games at high settings, let alone future games.
- Graphics: You can’t upgrade your laptop’s graphics processor, and if you cut corners you’ll have to shell out for a new computer sooner to keep playing new games. (Trust me, I’ve made this mistake.) Notebookcheck’s tests show the GTX 1060 and the GTX 1060 Max-Q near the 60 fps threshold in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Shadow of the Tomb Raider on high settings, while the GTX 1050 Ti barely scrapes by at 31 fps. But all three GPUs hit at least 60 fps in Overwatch on “epic” settings at 1080p. The GTX 1060 and its Max-Q counterpart support VR, while the GTX 1050 Ti has extremely limited VR support.
- Video memory: Another spec to consider is VRAM—a graphics processor’s dedicated video memory. The GTX 1060 and GTX 1060 Max-Q both come in two versions: one with 3 GB of VRAM, the other with 6 GB. (The GTX 1050 Ti appears to have only one version with 4 GB.) How much VRAM you need depends on the resolution you’re using (1080p in this case), the games you play, and the settings you play them at. Most games don’t need more than 4 GB of VRAM at 1080p, but some games do—and the list has doubtless grown since this 2015 TweakTown article published. Since the lower-VRAM options don’t often cost less, we focused on laptops with 4 GB or 6 GB of VRAM; they’ll play more games at higher settings for longer.
- Processor: Your laptop needs a processor that’s powerful enough to avoid bottlenecking the GPU. All of the contenders in our test group have a quad-core Intel Core i5-8300H or hexa-core Intel Core i7-8750H processor or better. The extra cores in that line of i7 processors don’t yet have a significant impact on gaming, so both options are good enough.
- Memory: A great budget gaming laptop should also have at least 8 GB of RAM—plenty for most games—but 16 GB (or room to add more) is even better, especially if you also live-stream.
- Solid-state drive: A solid-state drive speeds up boot times and reduces loading times in games, so all of our recommendations have SSDs. Some gaming laptops in this price range have 1 TB of hard drive storage and no SSD, but in those cases we recommend adding one yourself. We prefer at least a 250 GB solid-state drive because 128 GB won’t hold more than your operating system and a couple of games.
- Heat: A gaming laptop’s GPU and CPU produce a lot of heat. Without an effective cooling system, the machine will overheat, which can slow gaming performance, shorten the laptop’s lifespan, or even burn you. No gaming laptop can keep completely cool—all that heat has to go somewhere. But it needs to keep its internals, the WASD keys (the most-used section of the keyboard for gamers, as those four keys often control in-game movement), and the left palm rest (where your left hand rests while using the WASD keys) cool. It’s a bit more forgivable for the laptop to get hot in areas with less direct contact with your skin, such as the underside and the strip above the keyboard.
- Noise: Ideally, a gaming laptop can keep high-contact areas cool without drowning out the speakers with loud fans, but noisy fans are a reasonable trade-off for a cool laptop.
- Keyboard: The keyboard is the most important interface, as you use it for the majority of game inputs.
- Display: We focused on 15-inch models for this guide because they strike a good balance between screen size and relative portability, and they fit our budget. Our cheap gaming laptop pick needs a 1920×1080 screen—no exceptions. Lower resolutions look terrible, and higher resolutions aren’t affordable yet. (And our budget laptops’ GPUs can’t play games well at resolutions above 1080p anyway.) Very few laptops in this price range have high-refresh-rate (120 Hz or 144 Hz) panels, but it’s a nice bonus, especially for first-person games like Overwatch or Doom; the higher the refresh rate, the smoother animations appear, as long as the frame rate is also high. IPS screens tend to provide better viewing angles and color reproduction over TN panels, but they can also be more expensive, so we treat them as a preference but not a requirement.
- Trackpad: You’ll probably use a mouse while gaming, but a decent trackpad still matters for Web browsing and everyday tasks.
- Battery life: People on a budget tend to use their gaming laptop as their everyday laptop for school or work too. For that reason, battery life, size, and weight are more important in this category than for traditional gaming laptops.
Although the items above are the most important, a few other features are nice to have if you can get them:
- Upgradability: Not everyone wants (or needs) to upgrade the storage or memory in their gaming laptop, but it’s a plus if the drives and memory slots are easy to access for those who do—especially because budget gaming laptops tend to include less storage and memory to keep prices low.
- Build quality: Good build quality is important, but rare in budget gaming laptops. Many cheap laptops flex and creak under light pressure, sound hollow or plasticky, and have wobbly lids. A well-made laptop will hold up better over years of use (and occasional abuse) but also costs more.
- Speakers: Poor speakers are disappointing but easily remedied with a pair of headphones or external speakers.
After picking our hardware criteria, we scoured the websites of major gaming laptop manufacturers like Acer, Alienware, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, MSI, Razer, and Samsung. We also browsed boutique makers such as Clevo, Digital Storm, iBuypower, Origin PC, and Xotic PC, but few of those sell configurations that meet our hardware criteria and budget; selecting every component can get very expensive very fast, so customizing isn’t ideal for buyers on a tight budget.
We found 10 models worth testing in late 2018: the Acer Nitro 5, Acer Predator Helios 300, Asus TUF Gaming FX504GE, Asus TUF Gaming FX504GM, Dell G3 15 Gaming, Dell G5 15 Gaming, Dell G7 15 Gaming, HP Omen 15t Gaming, HP Pavilion Gaming Laptop 15t, and Lenovo Legion Y530.
How we tested
We put the contenders through much of the same rigorous testing as we do with our best gaming laptops. We tested each by playing half an hour of Overwatch on high settings—a popular game, but not too taxing—and then tested our finalists with a more graphically demanding game by playing 30 minutes of The Witcher 3 on ultra with VSync off. We also played Overwatch and Doom extensively to test how our finalists held up during longer gaming sessions.
We measured the laptops’ internal temperature using HWMonitor and measured the surface temperature at various points on the keyboard and underside using an IR thermometer. We tested each laptop’s screen using some of the Lagom LCD monitor test pages, and we used each of the finalists for several workdays to get a feel for the keyboard, trackpad, screen, and speakers.
Using a Spyder4Pro colorimeter, we set our finalists’ screen backlights to 150 nits (or candelas per square meter, cd/m²) and ran a Web-browsing battery test that cycled through Web pages, email, Google docs, and video. Because we set each laptop to the same brightness, the results were directly comparable.
Our pick: Dell G7 15 Gaming
The Dell G7 15 Gaming is the best gaming laptop for people on a budget. It has an excellent price-to-performance ratio, and its Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 Max-Q graphics will play games on high to medium settings for years. The G7 keeps its most-touched surfaces and innards cool enough that the laptop stays comfortable to use during extended gaming sessions, and its screen, keyboard, and trackpad are all solid. It has impressive battery life (for a gaming laptop) too. But the G7 is a bit heavier than the competition, and its fans get distractingly loud during gaming sessions, so plan to use headphones.
We recommend the model with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 Max-Q graphics processor with 6 GB of dedicated memory, an Intel Core i7-8750H processor, 8 GB of RAM, and a 256 GB solid-state drive. This configuration usually costs around $1,200, in line with the other laptops we considered with similar specs. The G7 is available in black or white; we prefer black because the white lid on our unit scuffed a bit during our testing, but they cost the same, so follow your heart.
In our tests, the G7’s WASD keys—the ones that control movement in most games, and the ones you touch the most—hit 103 °F (39 °C) after half an hour of Overwatch. Those temperatures felt warm and could induce sweating, but they weren’t uncomfortable to touch like the Acer Predator Helios 300’s too-toasty 110 °F (43 °C) in the same test. The Asus TUF Gaming FX504GE, which we tested with less powerful GTX 1050 Ti graphics, was the only budget gaming laptop we tested this year that kept its WASD cluster comfortably cool at 94 °F (34 °C).
We do not recommend playing games with the Dell G7—or any gaming laptop—on your lap. Although this Dell model had the coolest underside after half an hour of Overwatch at 113 °F (45 °C), that’s still too hot to safely use in your lap, even for short or less-demanding gaming sessions.
The G7—along with the Dell G5, Dell G3, and Lenovo Y530—kept its GPU among the coolest, measuring 162 °F (72 °C) during both our Overwatch test and the more demanding Witcher 3 test. Both Asus TUF Gaming laptops kept their CPUs the coolest at around 183 °F (84 °C), but the Dell G7’s was still on the lower end of the models we tested (and within expected range) at 203 °F (95 °C). The trade-off for these cool temperatures, however, is significantly loud fans. We’ll address this topic more in the following section.
Most gaming laptops—including budget machines—have comfortable, deep-travel keyboards that cushion your fingers during long gaming sessions. This Dell model’s blue-backlit keyboard felt crisp, snappy, and responsive but a bit shallow to us, so it was not as comfortable after a few hours of gaming or typing as some of the other laptops we tested. This isn’t a dealbreaker, but we do prefer the feel of the keyboards on the Lenovo Y530 and Asus TUF Gaming FX504GM.
The Precision Touchpad was responsive and worked well for standard gestures in our tests, but the G7, like its predecessors, lacks an easy way to disable the trackpad. Every other gaming laptop we’ve tested—except for the Dell G5 and Dell G3—has this feature because pressing the trackpad with your palm while gaming can cause accidental clicks and in-game deaths. We spent hours playing games on the G7 and found that the trackpad’s palm rejection was superb and didn’t cause any accidental clicks. (My hands run cold and rarely sweat, though, so your mileage may vary.) It’s possible (but inconvenient) to disable the trackpad by going into the Device Manager, selecting Human Interface Devices, right-clicking HID-compliant touch pad,and selecting Disable. (Dell, please add an easily accessible toggle to the next iteration.)
The G7’s 60 Hz 1920×1080 IPS display was neither the best we tested nor the worst. It made games look good, and the G7’s display looked noticeably better than the G5’s and G3’s screens, which both had a sickly greenish tint. We found that the G7’s screen couldn’t get as bright as those of the other budget gaming laptops we tested, maxing out at 228 nits compared with the Lenovo Y530’s 266 nits and the Asus TUF Gaming FX504GM’s above-average 317 nits. And although it’s not a requirement, we’d love to see a higher-refresh-rate panel available on the Dell G7, since that would make first-person games smoother and more enjoyable.
Gaming laptops aren’t known for long battery life, but the G7 lasted an above-average 5 hours, 40 minutes in our Web-browsing battery test. That isn’t long enough for it to survive a full day of classes or work, and it certainly won’t last that many hours while playing games, but the G7 ran longer than almost all the other options.
At 6.3 pounds, the G7 is the heaviest budget gaming laptop we tested this year, but several others came close, weighing between 5 and 6 pounds. The G7 measures 15.3 inches wide, 10.8 inches deep, and 1 inch thick; its deep fans can make it difficult to fit into some backpacks, but the size and weight are unfortunately necessary trade-offs for a laptop that can both play games well and keep cool. The G7 isn’t unreasonably large for a 15-inch gaming laptop—most of the other contenders have similar dimensions.
The G7 is super easy to upgrade—just remove one screw, pop off the bottom panel, and you have access to all the drive and memory slots. Our recommended configuration comes with an M.2 solid-state drive installed, a connector for a 2.5-inch SATA drive, and two RAM slots, both of which are occupied in our recommended config. Inside the laptop, Dell even includes friendly instructions for installing a hard drive and a reminder on top of the battery to remove it before working on any internal components. And the single screw stays attached to the access panel, so you couldn’t lose it if you tried.
The Dell G7 has all the ports you’ll likely need for the next few years, plus 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0 support. It has one Thunderbolt 3 port, three USB 3.0 Type-A ports, an HDMI 2.0 port, a headphone/microphone combo jack, an SD slot, a Gigabit Ethernet port, and a Noble Lock slot. Dell includes a one-year limited warranty.
The speakers are located on the front edge of the palm rest, and they sound decent—notably fuller and with more bass than the Lenovo Y530’s speakers. No laptop has great speakers, though, so we recommend a gaming headset or a decent pair of headphones.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
The Dell G7 had the loudest fans of the budget gaming laptops we tested (except for the nearly identical Dell G5), and their whooshing drowned out in-game dialogue, forcing me to crank up the volume or put on headphones to hear. But the fan noise was an issue only when I was playing games—the G7 was dead silent when I used it for a full day of work—so it shouldn’t be a problem while you’re taking notes during class or browsing the Web.
Runner-up: Dell G5 15 Gaming
If the Dell G7 is unavailable, we recommend the very similar Dell G5 15 Gaming instead. It’s nearly identical to the G7, but the model we tested had a worse-looking screen with a greenish color tint, angled vents instead of rounded ones, and a red backlight on the keyboard instead of blue. Although we were able to test only the GTX 1050 Ti model, Dell confirmed to us that the G5 and G7 have identical thermal setups when configured with the same graphics card.
We recommend the $1,250 model with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 Max-Q graphics processor with 6 GB of dedicated memory, an Intel Core i7-8750H processor, 16 GB of RAM, a 128 GB solid-state drive, and a 1 TB hard drive. The G5 is available in black or red, and has a red-backlit keyboard in place of the G7’s blue-accented design. But because of the screen, we recommend the G5 only if the G7 is unavailable.
Budget pick: Lenovo Legion Y530
If you can’t spend more than $1,000 but still want a laptop that can play games, get the Lenovo Legion Y530. It won’t play new games as well for as long as our top pick, but it keeps cool and has a bright screen, a comfortable keyboard, and a responsive trackpad. The Y530 is also about a pound lighter and significantly more compact than the Dell G7 and G5, but it’s more of a pain to upgrade yourself.
We recommend the model with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti graphics processor with 4 GB of dedicated memory, an Intel Core i5-8300H processor, 8 GB of RAM, a 128 GB solid-state drive, and a 1 TB hard drive. This configuration usually costs around $900; if it’s any more expensive when you’re shopping, we recommend saving up for our top pick with more powerful graphics instead.
In our tests, the Legion Y530 kept its WASD keys on the cooler side at 101 °F (38 °C) after half an hour of Overwatch. The Asus TUF Gaming FX504GE-ES72 kept its WASD keys coolest at 94°F (34 °C), but the Y530’s keys didn’t feel uncomfortable for long gaming sessions, just a bit warm. The area where my palm rested near the trackpad reached 105 °F (41 °C); that’s a bit warmer than we’d like, but it wasn’t uncomfortable.
The underside of the Y530 hit 125 °F (52 °C). That’s too hot to use on your lap, but it’s in line with most of the budget gaming laptops we tested this year. And it wasn’t as hot as the Acer Predator Helios 300, which hit 136 °F (58 °C).
The Y530 kept its GPU among the coolest, along with our other picks, at 160°F (71 °C) after 30 minutes of Overwatch and 163 °F (73 °C) after the same time playing The Witcher 3. Its CPU hit 207 °F (97 °C) in both tests, which is about average and what we expect to see in this category. (That may seem extremely hot, but it’s not cause for alarm for these processors.)
During everyday work, the Legion Y530’s fans ramped up more frequently than the Dell G7’s, so this laptop may be more distracting during class or in a quiet library or coffee shop. But its fans are effective at keeping components and surfaces cool, and they’re not as deafening during games as the G7’s loud, constantly whooshing fans.
The Y530’s keyboard is comfortable to type on and responsive thanks to its deep, snappy keys, and its white backlight and perfectly ordinary font are the most tasteful we’ve seen on a gaming laptop. We also appreciate the inclusion of full-size arrow keys rather than the typical half-size ones manufacturers cram in, as on the Dell G7. This does mean that the number pad is farther back and a bit awkward to reach, but most people who play games will use the arrow keys more frequently.
The Precision Touchpad was responsive for us, and although it felt small at first, we quickly adjusted. Unlike with most laptops nowadays, the Y530’s trackpad has dedicated left- and right-click buttons. Those buttons are noisy in a quiet room or a library, but tap to click is both effective and silent. Lenovo’s included Vantage software automatically disables the trackpad and Windows key when you launch a game with a mouse connected. (You can disable this setting.) This is a nice touch for gaming, though it didn’t work every time we launched a game.
Like the Dell G7, the Legion Y530 has a 15-inch 1920×1080 IPS display with a 60 Hz refresh rate. But the Y530’s small bezels set it apart from other cheap gaming laptops, making games feel more immersive and allowing the whole laptop to be smaller. The Y530’s display looked better than those of other laptops in its price range like the Dell G3 and Acer Nitro 5, which had green and blue color tints. The Y530’s screen was also among the brightest we tested at 266 nits, beaten only by the exceptionally bright screens of the more expensive Asus TUF Gaming FX504GM and Acer Predator Helios 300.
The Lenovo Legion Y530 lasted 5 hours, 4 minutes in our Web-browsing battery test—about half an hour short of the Dell G7, Dell G5, and HP Pavilion 15t, but longer than any other contenders. That isn’t long enough for the Y530 to survive a full day of work or classes, but gaming laptops aren’t known for their battery life, and the Y530 is still one of the most portable options.
Measuring 14.4 by 10.2 by 1 inches and weighing just 5.1 pounds, the Legion Y530 is one of the lightest and most compact gaming laptops we tested this year; it weighs more than a pound less than the Dell G7. The thin bezels surrounding the screen allow for a smaller laptop overall, and the Y530 is by far the most convenient model to slip into a bag and use on the go of all the options we considered. We also appreciate its all-black, understated design—no flashy colors, edgy angles, or ugly prints—and the comfortable matte-black material covering the palm rest.
The storage and memory in the Y530 are upgradable, but it’s a pain in the butt to do so. In contrast to the Dell G7’s and G5’s convenient access panel held in by a single screw, the Y530’s design requires you to remove 11 screws and the entire bottom of the chassis to get inside. And although it’s possible to wedge a small flathead screwdriver into the seam, spudgers will likely make the job easier and reduce the risk of your gouging the laptop. Once inside, you can replace the M.2 PCIe drive or the 2.5-inch hard drive, or add another stick of RAM. The memory is hidden beneath a tiny metal house; our recommended config comes with one 8 GB DIMM and one open slot.
The Legion Y530 has plenty of ports, but they’re placed unconventionally. It has one USB 3.0 Type-A port and a headphone/microphone combo jack on the left side, and one USB 3.0 Type-A port on the right side. At the back, the Y530 has a USB-C port that can carry data and a video signal but can’t charge the laptop; there you’ll also find one Mini DisplayPort 1.4 port, a third USB 3.0 Type-A port, an HDMI 2.0 port, a Gigabit Ethernet port, a charging port, and a Kensington Lock slot. Lenovo includes a one-year limited warranty.
We didn’t test any gaming laptops that failed to meet our specs requirements (see the How we picked section for more details), and we didn’t test any that were too expensive, since this is a budget guide. As a result, we eliminated any laptops with a GTX 1060 or GTX 1060 Max-Q GPU above $1,400, as well as any laptops with a GTX 1050 Ti above $950—at that price, it’s worth getting a more powerful graphics processor instead. Here’s everything we tested against our picks in 2018:
The Asus TUF Gaming FX504GM has Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 graphics and a high-refresh-rate 120 Hz display, and in our tests it kept its WASD keys cool enough. But we found that it suffered from a rattly trackpad, a poor three-hour battery life, and terrible speakers, and it’s much harder to upgrade than the Dell G7—you have to remove 11 screws and take off the whole underside of the chassis, as opposed to the G7’s single screw and convenient panel. The FX504GM also has poor build quality; the chassis felt hollow to us, and the keyboard deck and lid flexed easily under pressure. We also experienced some unexpectedly low performance across multiple games and benchmarks. We’ve reached out to Asus to investigate that issue, but for now, we can’t recommend the FX504GM.
The HP Omen 15t Gaming is the most expensive option we tested, around $200 more than the G7 to meet our recommended specs. Its WASD keys reached 109.5 °F after just 30 minutes of Overwatch on high settings, and its underside got hottest (122 °F) exactly where my right thigh touched the laptop (though we don’t recommend anyone use any of these models on their lap). Its display also had a noticeable screen-door effect, a slightly visible grid that we didn’t see on any of the other laptops, and the Omen had roughly an hour less battery life compared with the Dell G7 and G5.
The GTX 1060 Max-Q graphics processor of the HP Pavilion Gaming Laptop 15t is available only with 3 GB of VRAM rather than the 6 GB of the other contenders. We found that its display had a screen-door effect similar to that of the Omen—the two HP laptops are likely using the same panel—and its trackpad felt a bit rattly when we tapped it. The fans made an ominous buzzing noise during everyday work, too, and the GPU reached an alarming 203 °F (95 °C) after just 30 minutes of Overwatch on high settings. For comparison, the next-hottest laptop in the same test reached just 174 °F (79 °C). We’ve exchanged our Pavilion 15t with HP, and we will update here once we’ve retested it.
The Acer Predator Helios 300 has Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 graphics and a 144 Hz high-refresh-rate display, but its WASD keys reached 110.2 °F, the hottest of any budget gaming laptop we tested this year, even with Acer’s Cooler Boost software enabled. Its fans sounded high pitched and a bit grating, it had a poor 3.5-hour showing in our battery life tests, and it comes with too much bloatware.
The Asus TUF Gaming FX504GE had the coolest WASD keys of any laptop we tested this year. But it has poor build quality like the FX504GM, and its trackpad felt loose in the chassis and rattled when we tapped. It’s also about ¾ inch wider than the Lenovo Y530.
In our tests, the WASD keys of the Acer Nitro 5 were among the warmest after 30 minutes of Overwatch. Its display had a bluish tint, as well. It’s a full inch wider and nearly a pound heavier than the Lenovo Y530, and it comes with too much bloatware.
Compared with the Dell G7 and G5, the Dell G3 15 Gaming didn’t keep as cool; it also has a plasticky, cheap-feeling chassis, and it lacks a convenient access panel for upgrades. And against the Lenovo Y530, the G3 ran hotter in our tests, had a dimmer screen with a greenish tint, and suffered from loud fans and a bulkier chassis.
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