Gaming laptops have a reputation for being some of the most expensive computers available today, and there’s some truth to that. The specs necessary to run the latest and greatest games can easily cost you a lot of money, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t get a decent gaming laptop for under $500. But doing so requires an understanding of computer specs that verges on the professional.
If you want to get yourself a good gaming laptop without having to school yourself in the fundamentals of computer building, that’s what this guide is for. You’ll find 10 contenders for the best gaming laptop under $500 in 2020 as well as helpful advice for understanding the important specs and features in layman’s terms.
- 10 Best Gaming Laptops under $500
- Gaming Laptop Under $500 Buyer’s Guide
10 Best Gaming Laptops under $500
1. Acer Aspire E 15
The Acer Aspire E 15 isn't going to play the latest Call of Duty, but if you're looking for something that can run vintage, casual, and indie games without concerns, the Intel Core i3 processor will be up to the task. This gaming laptop under $500 includes a respectable six gigabytes of dual channel memory as well as a decent 1TB hard drive. That might not be much if you're trying to install the latest AAA games, but it should be more than enough to handle vintage and indie games.
But while the Acer Aspire E 15 may be lacking a bit in terms of power, its battery life is truly killer. It can run for a solid 13 and a half hours on a single charge, so it's a great choice if you regularly find yourself on the go and looking for something to do.
2. Microsoft Surface Go
The Microsoft Surface is one of the coolest laptop designs to come around in years, and the Go edition presents a gaming laptop that takes all the best design fundamentals of the Surface while offering a price that hovers right around $500. You may have to wait on a sale to drop beneath that price ceiling, but it will be worth the wait. The ability to shift between tablet and laptop mode makes it one of the best choices around for shifting between traditional computer games and the touchscreen heavy mobile-focused alternatives.
And this is one of the most lightweight gaming laptops you'll find anywhere. It's razor thin and weighs in at just 1.15 pounds, meaning you can take it just about anywhere. And in its best conditions, it can run for a solid nine hours on just a single charge of its battery.
3. Lenovo IdeaPad 15.6″ HD Laptop PC
A lot of the gaming laptops under $500 on our list really press against that price point, but the Lenovo IdeaPad accomplishes the remarkable task of clocking in at less than half that price. And despite all odds, this is a laptop that offers pretty respectable specs. The quad core central processor is built off of AMD's seventh generation architecture, and it similarly utilizes an AMD Radeon that ensures decent graphical performance that's very complementary to the power level of the CPU.
This laptop also includes a spacious 15.6 inch screen for better immersion when playing your favorite games, and it employs an SSD for faster loading times and less chance of damage if your laptop gets banged around. It's not the beefiest laptop around, but the amount of value for its price is frankly astonishing, arguably making the best budget laptop for playing games on our entire list.
4. HP 2020 14″ Laptop
The image quality on this HP laptop are surprisingly vivid, and that goes a long way towards making the modest resolution imagery on this laptop under $500 really pop. Beyond that, the specs are pretty standard for what you can expect to find from a laptop on this list: an Intel Core i3 (seventh generation in this case), an integrated graphics card rather than a discrete unit, and a small but fast solid state drive.
But just because this is a laptop largely in step with its contemporaries doesn't mean it's not worth paying attention to. There's a nice sense of balance across all of its major qualities, but the most tantalizing aspect of this laptop is how cheap it is. With a standard retail price of less than $350, you won't even have to wait for a sale to get a great machine on a budget.
5. Dell Inspiron 15.6″ HD Laptop
Dell's been getting more value out of budget laptops for a long time now, so when you see an Inspiron that costs almost $500, you can be sure that you'll be getting some great performance for your price. That's apparent right from the top of the spec list. Dell's budget laptop packs in a quad Core i5, a significant improvement above the lesser i3 that allows you to move beyond casual and indie games and into more serious AAA territory.
In addition, there's a solid 8GB of RAM that can help juice up the brain power on this laptop, cutting down on your loading times and providing smoother overall performance for when you play games. A smaller but cool addition is the inclusion of Bluetooth 4.0 integration that can be used to easily sync your laptop with speakers or a range of other peripherals like a dedicated mouse or keyboard.
6. ASUS VivoBook F510UA
The ASUS VivoBook is one of the more expensive gaming laptops on our list, but it's also one of the most capable. The most obvious and important component here is the seventh gen i5 quad core processor that can produce some solid looking visuals, but this is a good looking laptop on the outside as well. The razor thin design is a stunner, and it's also one of the most lightweight and portable laptops we've found for budget gaming. It makes the most of its real estate as well with its incredibly thin bezel.
But despite its small size, this is a highly functional laptop. USB 3.1 and USB Type-C support is included, so you can rest easy knowing that you'll have compatible with your most important devices and be future proofed for a long time to come. And HDMI port is also included for connecting to external displays.
7. Acer Aspire 5 Laptop
The Acer Aspire 5 stands head and shoulders above most of the laptops in our list in terms of raw performance thanks in large part to one major factor: the investment in an eighth generation Intel processor. This i5 CPU is leaps and bounds ahead of what the seventh generation can offer, and it's well worth the extra cost if you're serious about playing the latest and greatest new games on the market.
Apart from that, it occupies pretty comparable specs to many of its contemporaries. The 8GB DDR4 RAM complements the beefier quad core CPU well, and the IPS display offers clear and crisp Full HD resolution that looks good from a wide variety of different angles. That's accentuated by the Acer Color Intelligence which provides a brighter and more vibrant range of colors and the BlueLightShield which can minimize your eye strain during marathon gaming sessions.
8. Dell Inspiron 15 5000 15″ FHD Laptop
This Dell Inspiron laptop is pushing hard against our $500 price range, but it's an impressive piece of machinery that shares a lot in common with the aforementioned Aspire. Most notable is the presence of an eighth generation Intel processor, but it distinguishes itself from its competition with the presence of a high-quality touchscreen that's perfect for traditional navigation and more casual gaming experiences. Otherwise, the specs are largely neck and neck with the Acer Aspire 5.
The sound quality here deserves special attention though. This Dell Inspiron laptop utilizes Waves MaxxAudio for some of the best performance you'll find from a laptop in this price range, and the webcam and microphone are both top notch, so you can even use this laptop to stream your favorite games over Twitch. The HD TrueLife display offers a dramatic difference in how blacks and whites display for some truly stellar visual quality.
9. HP Onyx Blizzard Ci5 15.6″ FHD Gaming Laptop
If you're trying to keep your spending under $500, you're going to have to wait for this gaming laptop to go on sale. It normally retails for about $650, but we're of the opinion that it's worth every penny. That extra spending has allowed HP to pack in a discreet graphics card to complement their seventh generation i5 processor, and while we generally recommend that gamers not concern themselves too much with the GPU, the upgrade here is certainly noticeable.
This is also the only gaming laptop on our list to include a full 12 GB of RAM. That's an exceptional level of performance right out of the box that can help you get a little more juice out of the slightly aged quad core central processor. A solid webcam with dual microphones helps round out what's easily one of the best laptops on our list.
10. Lenovo Ideapad 330 15.6″ Laptop
The Lenovo Ideapad 330 doesn't do any one thing that one of the other laptops on our list doesn't, but it does deserve your attention for combining some of the best components into a single package. 8GB DDR4 RAM works really well in conjunction with the 8th generation Intel processor, and the 1TB hard drive should provide you with most of the space you need to store your games locally. This version of the Ideapad clocks in at just over $500, but you can knock some price off of it by trading in the traditional HDD for a 128GB SSD.
This is also a touchscreen model with an HD screen that offers users up to an FHD resolution to work with. The speakers are decent, but if you're seeking out a more immersive soundscape, the Bluetooth 4.1 connectivity offers a simple way to connect to Bluetooth speakers or headphones.
Gaming Laptop Under $500 Buyer’s Guide
Let’s set your expectations right off the bat. If you’re looking for a gaming laptop that’s going to allow you to play games like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Black Ops 4 smoothly and effectively, you can expect to pay more than $500. Investing in a gaming laptop under $500 means recognizing that you have to be judicious with the most important specs and make sacrifices to find a machine that can play the type of games you prefer.
Price may be an issue, but you can find a gaming laptop for your needs. Our list offers a great place to start, but if you really want to find the best gaming laptop for your needs, you’ll want at least a casual understanding of the key specs and features. We’ll outline them below so that you can shop smarter and get something great within your budget.
You can think of the central processor as the brain of your computer. While gamers often have a tendency to fixate on the latest graphical advancements, the central processor is actually more important than the graphical processor when shopping for a gaming laptop. That’s especially true when you’re gaming on a budget. A graphics card can only work effectively if the CPU can keep up, so it’s going to be better to have a good CPU than an over-performing graphics card.
Intel is recognized for manufacturing what are arguably the best central processors on the market, but if you’re looking for a laptop under $500, AMD might actually be the best way to go. They offer more bang for your buck in terms of cheap and mid-grade processors, and that’s going to be a necessity if you’re seeking out gaming laptops under $500. Whatever manufacturer you go with, newer generation CPUs are typically going to outperform older models, and the last couple of generations have seen advancements leaps and bounds past the prior models.
It may be a surprising choice to some gamers, but we actually recommend that you don’t worry about your GPU when looking for the best gaming laptop on a budget. Are there plenty of great graphics cards out there? Absolutely, but a top shelf NVIDIA processor is going to end up costing you a small fortune. Packing a good graphics card into a laptop under $500 would mean leaving little room for any other worthwhile components, and a GPU won’t do you much good if you don’t have the other specs to really let it shine.
A gaming laptop in this price range is almost always going to make use of an integrated GPU rather than a discreet processor. Don’t sweat it. Temper your expectations and focus your attention on the features that you have more control over. In the grand scheme of things, the GPU isn’t going to be nearly as important as your CPU when trying to configure a solid gaming experience.
One of the features you do have a decent amount of control over is the display. And the simple fact is that at this price range, an HD screen is going to have a far greater impact on how good your favorite games look than the graphics processor will. Both the size and resolution are factors you should take into consideration when shopping for the best gaming laptop.
Naturally, a bigger display is going to give you a more immersive gaming experience than a smaller screen, but you have a lot of options to look at here. The displays on our list range in size from the 10″ Microsoft Surface to the standard sized 15.6″ monitor. If you find yourself doing a lot of casual gaming and want the convenience of the tablet style touch screen, the 10″ model might be the right choice for you. But for most gamers, we recommend the biggest laptops possible in terms of screen size.
Resolution is the other key factor here. Budget gaming laptops are going to come in FHD 1080p (1920 x 1080) or something approximating 720p (1366 x 768). The former is going to offer you significantly better visual acuity, but these tend to edge a lot closer to the $500 price ceiling we established. A number of laptops also come with proprietary technology that can build even more on the visual quality by providing more vibrant colors independent of the laptop’s native resolution.
Random access memory (RAM) isn’t going to be a make or break component when shopping for a gaming laptop, but it’s certainly a nice factor to take into consideration. If the CPU is the core brain of your computer, the RAM is its short term memory. When there are tasks that need to be repeated regularly, the RAM will hold this in its storage, shortening the time it takes for your central processor to receive that data and improving your overall speed. That’s especially useful when dealing with load times and games with a high number of assets.
8GB RAM is generally the sweet spot for a gaming experience, but casual gamers should be able to get by with 4, and the HP Onyx Blizzard actually features an impressive 12 GB of RAM. It’s a nice consideration but not one you need to stress over too much. In most computers, you can add more RAM without too much fuss.
What’s the right storage solution for you? That’s going to come down to a matter of personal preference. Modern gamers can choose between a traditional hard drive or a solid state drive. Each offers their own distinct advantages.
Laptops with a traditional HDD will typically include a 1TB hard drive. These are an older form of technology, and as such, they tend to offer more storage capacity for a cheaper price than solid state drives. A laptop with a 1TB hard drive in all likelihood is able to offer a better range of features than a contemporaneous laptop with an SSD, but the hard drive itself will run slower; and since it has finicky moving parts, it’s more prone to damage, a particular issue if you want to be mobile with your gaming laptop.
The alternative is a solid state drive. An SSD offers incredible speed. For gamers, that translates into quicker startup, faster loading times, and generally better performance. Of course, an SSD is going to cost you more. Most gaming laptops in this price range will offer a 127GB or 256GB solid state drive. It’s undoubtedly the better experience in terms of raw performance, but you need to ask yourself how much storage space you need for you favorite games.
At HotRate, many of the products we review are serious investments – and for that reason, we often suggest thinking about your investment in terms of what you’ll need further along down the road. Fortunately, just because yo invest in a gaming laptop under $500 doesn’t mean that you’re stuck with the specs that come built in.
While the CPU and GPU are going to be difficult to change out on a laptop, many gaming laptops under $500 do come with the ability to upgrade the RAM and hard drive. These aren’t going to have a drastic impact on your performance directly, but they can create a more smooth gaming experience overall. Consider both the maximum capacity that a laptop offers for their RAM and hard drive as well as how easy it is to upgrade. Many laptops come with easily accessible compartments that can just be popped open so that you can exchange the parts. In cases like these, you need almost no technical experience to complete the task.
Keyboard and Trackpad
A good keyboard and mouse is one of the best peripherals you can invest in as a gamer, but you aren’t going to find gaming laptops under $500 that offer you a top shelf mechanical keyboard built in. But that’s not a situation unique to a budget gaming laptop. We highly recommend that you don’t make the keyboard or trackpad a top priority when shopping for a cheap gaming laptop.
For one, high-quality built-in keyboards suited to the needs of gamers are hard to find in a laptop. For another, peripherals are one of the easiest things to replace. And when buying a budget product, components that can be replaced or upgraded should be the lowest priority. For that reason, don’t sweat about the quality of your built-in peripherals and consider investing in a wireless keyboard and mouse sometime in the future.
The unfortunate truth is that you aren’t going to find a Macbook that offers a worthwhile gaming experience for under $500, but that’s not as big of an oversight as it might seem. The less proprietary approach of Windows means that most game developers prioritize their development for Windows machines first. You’ll find games that run on Windows but not Mac, but you’d have to search far and wide for games that run on Mac but not Windows. And many games will flat out run better on a Windows machine.
Any modern computer is going to run on Windows 10. This could include either the traditional Home Edition or Windows Home S. The latter is a simplified version of the standard OS that limits you to apps that can be found on the Windows store. While it can protect you better against malware and provide slightly better running speed, it’s not really the best choice for gamers. Fortunately, you can opt out of the S version as soon as you finish setting up your laptop, and that will allow you access to any third party games that run in Windows.
The final operating system to consider is Linux. Linux, unfortunately, offers less compatibility with games than both Mac and Windows, so we don’t recommend you use it as your primary operating system. But if you like the level of customization that you get from a Linux distribution, you can always run a dual boot system with Windows that can provide you with the best of both worlds. Many distributions of Linux can be launched from a flash drive without needing to install it on your laptop directly.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Are Good Cheap Gaming Laptops?
Despite some common misconceptions, a cheap gaming laptop isn’t an oxymoron. There are too many models with too many spec variants to identify specific models as the best, but you should look for a laptop with an Intel Core i5 and preferably 8GB RAM. These will provide you with decent AAA performance for under $500. If you’ve got a bit more budget to play with, we recommend taking a look at our guide on the best gaming laptops under $1000.
What is a Good Laptop For Gaming?
A good laptop for gaming is one that prioritizes the central processor and offers decent performance with the graphical processor. Any other factors you might need to worry about like RAM, peripherals, or the hard drive can be improved later on, but good overall performance out of the box is critical.
Can you get a good laptop for under 500?
You absolutely can. While they won’t be able to run the best AAA games at the highest settings, you can find a good gaming laptop for right around $500. And if you plan on focusing mostly on indie or casual games, you can find a decent laptop suited to your needs for roughly half that.
There was a time when gaming laptops under $500 were practically unicorns, but the great thing about technology is how quickly it develops. While you aren’t going to find a top of the line gaming laptop for less than $500, you do have a lot of options available to you. We hope our guide can provide you with the speed and performance you need. And if you’re looking to broaden your budget a bit, check out our guide to the best gaming laptops of 2020. We’ve loaded out list down with some powerful and high speed machines that can provide you with the best gaming experience available today.