It wasn’t so long ago that gaming laptops were the worst way to get into PC gaming. Sure, they afforded you some level of portability, but at their core, they were a terrible value. Even half a decade ago, gaming laptops were heavy and bulky, sacrificing battery life for mobile GPUs that couldn’t hold a candle to their desktop siblings. Their designs would get you laughed out of any board room or business meeting, and the price tag often meant paying twice as much for half the performance of prebuilt gaming desktops—to say nothing of building your own.
Since 2017, however, gaming laptops have slowly become a great option for anyone who needs the portability of a laptop with the power of a desktop PC. Their design language has become far more neutral, with metallic blacks and accent colors instead of the extreme greens and reds of last year. Battery life isn’t quite as solid as you might find on an ultrabook, but in the best gaming PCs, you’re now able to squeeze out up to five or six hours of regular use, helping to make a gaming laptop actually feel like a laptop. Most importantly, mobile GPUs aren’t the laughingstock of PC gaming anymore. Nvidia’s Max-Q line of GPUs come close to rivaling their full-fledged counterparts, while some cards even reach desktop status without the requirement for throttling.
The price of gaming laptops has also changed, and it’s now possible to find a great gaming PC for well under $1,000. You shouldn’t expect 4K, ultra-high settings on these laptops, but for anyone looking to play modern PC games at 1080p, we’ve got you covered. Check out our guide to the best gaming laptops under $1,000.
If you want the best all-around budget gaming laptop, there’s no better option than Acer’s Nitro 7. For under $1,000, this is a serious gaming beast, offering gamers the best performance to dollar ratio on this list. Acer’s no stranger to PC gaming—our runner up laptop below is another Acer selection as well—but with the Nitro 7, we think they really hit it out of the park.
Design and Display
Let’s get the shortcomings out of the way first: the design of the Nitro 7 is far from the best on this list. Though it’s not quite as outrageous as some gaming laptops from just three years ago, the Nitro’s angled corners and red highlights aren’t quite as business-friendly as we’d like. The front of the laptop is covered in a metallic black sheen, but the interior of the laptop features red key outlines that just look a bit too “gamer-y” for our tastes. Still, it’s a far cry from previous gaming laptops, and the reduced bezels compared to the last-generation Nitro 7 look much better. We would’ve liked to have seen Acer follow the lead of companies like Razer and Dell in more neutral design language, but the thin and angular body of the Nitro 7 looks pleasant enough to look at.
As we mentioned, the bezel surrounding the display has been reduced, especially along the left and right of the screen. The webcam remains on top of the display, avoiding the nose-cam trap that so many other laptops find themselves facing when attempting to reduce bezel. The display is a 15.6″ 1080p IPS panel with a refresh rate of 60Hz and a max brightness of 300 nits. It’s an average panel, but for under $1000, this is one of the best displays you’ll find, with decent color accuracy and an 800:1 contrast ratio.
Along the sides of the laptop, you’ll find a decent selection of ports for a gaming laptop. The gigabit Ethernet port remains on the left side, along with two USB 3.0 ports, a USB-C port (without Thunderbolt support) and an HDMI-out port. On the right side is a USB 2.0 port, headphone jack, and the power input. Outside of Thunderbolt support and possibly making that third USB port capable of 3.0 speeds, the Nitro 7 fulfills our basic expectations for IO on gaming laptops.
Specs and Performance
Here’s where we get into the good stuff. For under $900, the Nitro 7 delivers truly powerful performance, offering a 9th-generation Intel i7-9750H, an Nvidia GTX 1650, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB NVMe M.2 SSD for ultra-fast storage. You absolutely cannot beat this for the price, with the Nitro 7 offering a level of performance that, on paper, would’ve cost nearly double the price of this laptop just a few years ago.
There is some level of thermal throttling in the Nitro 7, as you could expect from any gaming laptop that features a thinner chassis. That shouldn’t stop you from enjoying basically any modern AAA game at 1080p and 60FPS, though you may need to reduce your settings to high or even medium, depending on the graphical fidelity of the game. From exploring the vast fields and wildlands in The Witcher 3 to surviving the relentless assault of the Empire in Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, the Nitro 7 can handle everything you throw its way.
That’s to say nothing of competitive gaming, where games like Overwatch and Rainbow Six: Siege can run well over 60FPS. Without the screen technology to bump your display up past 60Hz, this won’t make much of an impact on your actual day to day gaming, but if you happen to have an external monitor capable of 90 or 120Hz, you’ll be able to make use of that screen technology while keeping the cost of your laptop below $1,000.
Keyboard and Trackpad
Unfortunately, there’s nothing to write home about when it comes to the keyboard. It’s a solid set of keys that feels adequate to type on, but that’s about it. There’s a bit of flex in the keyboard deck—to be expected on budget gaming laptops—but the keys manage to avoid feeling too mushy or soft when typing. If you’re really serious about your keyboard feel when gaming, however, you’ve probably already upgraded to an external mechanical keyboard. For everyone else, the important takeaway is, while you won’t hate the keyboard when staying up late at night to finish that final paper before Christmas break, you might not love it either.
Same goes for the trackpad, which thankfully uses Windows Precision drivers in lieu of something from Synaptics or Elan. Like with the keyboard, the palm rests around the trackpad have a fair bit of flex to them, so clicking down may result in a bit of a mushy, soft feeling. Again, if you’re buying this laptop for gaming, you almost certainly have a gaming mouse ready to go, so as long as the trackpad is responsive and accurate—which it is—we think it gets a pass.
Speakers and Battery Life
The Nitro 7 features bottom-firing speakers below the left and right corners of the laptop, and though we prefer speaker grills or other solutions that present the sound towards the user, they actually sound fairly decent. They won’t replace dedicated speakers if you’re serious about sound quality, but for watching Netflix or YouTube videos late at night, they’re basically all you’ll need.
With a 58Wh battery, the Nitro 7 simply can’t compete with some of the more premium gaming laptops on the market today that offer batteries in the 90 to 100Wh range, with 100Wh being the maximum legal limit for carrying batteries on flights. That said, if you control the brightness of your display and keyboard and ensure you’re using Intel’s integrated graphics, you can probably get through a few classes or a large chunk of the work day before having to recharge the laptop. It’s certainly better than laptops at this price range just a few years ago, even if it can’t quite compete with lower-powered ultrabooks.
All in all, the Acer Nitro 7 is one of the best gaming laptops you can buy on the market, and for around $950, it’s an absolute steal. It’s well-rounded, with a solid processor and graphics card combination and one of the better displays we’ve seen on any budget gaming laptop. If you’re looking for the best laptop money can buy, this isn’t it. But for well under $1,000, we have no qualms about recommending Acer’s Nitro 7 as the must-have laptop for gaming on a budget.
- Great display
- Plays AAA games without issue
- NVMe M.2 drive
- Keyboard and trackpad are merely fine
- Some thermal throttling
- Average battery life
If you’re willing to spend just a bit more cash, Acer’s Predator Helios 300 offers a better experience over the Nitro 7 without breaking the bank. The two laptops are oddly similar, with the same angular design language last seen on the Nitro 7 popping up once more on the Helios 300. That said, when it comes to design, the Helios 300 wins out easily. The red accents we complained about with the Nitro 7 are nowhere to be seen, replaced with cool blue streaks along the lid of the device and white backlighting along the keys. The Helios 300 doesn’t quite match the clean aluminum designs seen in the Razer Blades or MacBooks of the world, but it’ll blend into an office much better than the Nitro 7.
The general specs here are identical to the Nitro 7, with the same 9th-generation Intel i7-9750H, an Nvidia GTX 1660 Ti, and 16GB of RAM. Unfortunately, the storage drops to a single 256GB NVMe M.2 drive, but a second slot is available underneath the removable bottom cover for upgradable storage. However, once you have your machine up and running, the advantage offered by upgrading to the Helios 300 becomes clear. Though this device is still using a 15.6″ 1080p IPS display, the refresh rate has been bumped to 120Hz, which takes full advantage of the performance you can get from that GTX 1660 Ti. While we’d still recommend aiming for 60FPS in the most demanding of AAA games, competitive games like Overwatch and League of Legends can really benefit from this improved display.
Otherwise, almost everything said about the Nitro 7—from its speaker quality to the mediocre feeling of its mouse and trackpad—can be applied to the Helios 300. The down-firing speakers are still solid, if capable, while the battery life takes a hit thanks to the 120Hz screen (you can, of course, reduce your refresh rate in settings). Still, as long as you get it on sale, the Helios 300 is a solid upgrade for anyone looking at the Nitro 7 but hoping for a higher refresh rate. If you don’t have an external monitor and you’re looking to play games at 120FPS, the Helios 300 is the way to go. Though its MSRP starts at $1,199, we’ve seen this drop as low as $999 on sale. If your budget ends at $1,000
- 120Hz display
- Improved design
- Better fan flow
- Can be expensive when not on sale
- Smaller SSD
- Battery life takes a toll
Asus has long been one of our favorite PC manufacturers, and their ROG line is one of the best ways to buy into PC gaming today. When it comes to gaming on a budget, however, you’ll want to take a long look at the G531GT, a fantastic alternative to Acer’s Nitro 7. Though the laptop also uses red highlights, they’re reserved solely for the keyboard, with the lid using a clean black design that looks professional without completely losing its own identity. The screen—a 15.6″ 1080p panel with a 60Hz refresh rate—features minimal bezels along the top and sides of the display, though unfortunately, there’s no webcam here at all. It’s a curious omission, though you could always throw an external webcam in your bag for when you require one.
Specs-wise, the G531GT isn’t far off from what the Nitro 7 offers, with the same combination of a 9th-generation Intel i7-9750H, an Nvidia GTX 1650, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB NVMe M.2 SSD for storing your games and other files. The speakers sound fine, albeit unexceptional, while the keyboard and trackpad both offer small improvements based on what we’ve previously seen from the Nitro 7 (RGB lighting for the keyboard, dedicated mouse buttons for the trackpad). Unfortunately, the 48Wh battery is much smaller than the one found in the Nitro 7. Even in the best of conditions, you’re unlikely to get more than four hours of life out of the G531GT. Still, at just $999 (with sale prices often dropping below the $900 mark), Asus’ entry into the budget gaming field is a worthy entry, even if it doesn’t quite hit the highs of either of Acer’s models.
- Good design
- RGB keyboard
- Minimal bezels
- Not the GTX 1660 Ti found in the Nitro 7
- Weak battery life
- No webcam
Dell’s budget gaming lineup has been a favorite of our for several years now, and while the G7 is typically our recommended model, the Dell G3 is a great laptop that comes in well under $800. The design of the laptop is utilitarian, lacking any of the gaming design trends we highlighted in our picks above. Unfortunately, with its plastic build and large display bezels, this laptop does look like something straight out of Best Buy circa 2012, but when it comes to gaming, its power that matters, not appearances. The 15.6″ 1080p display looks great, but as you might imagine for this price point, it doesn’t offer a high refresh rate or perfect color reproduction.
Powering the laptop is an 8th generation Intel Core i5-8300H, along with 16GB of DDR4 memory and an Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti. That’s a bit of a drop-off from the 1660 Ti in the Nitro 7, but if you’re fine with playing most games on medium settings as opposed to high, it’s a great way to keep gaming while saving $200. You do get a bump in storage, with the G3 offering both a terabyte HDD and a 512GB SSD. That’s not an NVMe M.2 drive however, so expect slower read and write speeds compared to the Nitro 7 or Helios 300. The keyboard feels surprisingly sturdy in regular use, but unfortunately, the trackpad is pretty small for a 15″ laptop. Battery life is, as you might expect, abysmal, offering three hours of life in the best of conditions. Still, if you don’t mind the dated design and you’re cool with throwing the charger in your bag everyday, Dell’s G3 offers a solid gaming experience for just over $700. It won’t give you flagship performance, but for the price, it’s an absolute steal.
- Good mix of specs and storage
- Good keyboard
- Dated design
- Slower SSD
- Poor battery life
If you’re looking for the absolute cheapest option for mobile gaming, HP’s got you covered. With a price that comes in just under Dell’s G3, HP has made a capable gaming laptop that allows anyone with $700 in their pocket to start gaming on the go. That low price comes with some drawbacks, of course. You’ll have to put up with one of the chunkiest designs on this list, along with a black and green design that pales in comparison to how Razer handles their iconic color scheme. Frankly, it looks bad here, with the sharp angles along the lid not helping matters in the slightest. The bezels along the 15″ display do look better than Dell’s, however, and the addition of a USB-C port is great to see.
Specs-wise, HP’s offering goes head to head with Dell’s G3, but unfortunately walks away with a black eye. While the same 8th generation Intel Core i5-8300H and Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti powers HP’s gaming laptop, the 1TB hard drive lacks any kind of SSD companion, and the 8GB of RAM feel downright paltry on a gaming laptop in 2020. You’ll likely want to upgrade both your storage and memory if you pick this one up, which puts it ahead of the G3 in pricing. Still, if you’re looking to save as much money as possible right now while leaving the door open down the road to add storage and memory, HP’s gaming laptop is a decent offering, Just make sure you’re aware of the limits before slapping $700 down on the counter.
- Incredibly cheap
- Decent specs
- Limited RAM
- No SSD
- Design screams "gamer"