How to choose a cheap gaming laptop you won't regret

MSI gaming laptops
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Not all of us have a huge budget sitting around to purchase the best gaming laptop with all the bells and whistles. For many people, it’s just as, or even more important, to find a gaming laptop that’s both affordable and can handle most of their PC library. And though this generation has seen a sharp increase in PC performance and prices, there are still plenty of lower-cost options available.

However, it’s not just about finding the best cheap gaming laptop at the right price. It’s vital to know what to look for in a cheaper gaming laptop, like specs, purchasing used versus new, battery life, and other aspects. While most retail listings are legitimate, there are some instances where a laptop is shown for a price that seems reasonable at first glance but upon investigating, the cracks will begin to show.

And that’s where we come in, to give you professional advice on what to look for when searching for the right gaming laptop at the right price. We can tell you all the tips and tricks, as well as what to avoid.

someone putting a coin into a jar labeled budget

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Establish a budget beforehand

Before you even start shopping around for the budget gaming laptop of your dreams, it’s important to actually establish a budget in the first place. And it doesn’t have to be an exact amount either. All you need to know are two prices: the general upper limit of what you can comfortably afford and the absolute highest price you’re willing to pay.

For the first one, this is the price that if you pay for a laptop it won’t break your bank account. This could be money you just received from a paycheck or what you saved up for this purchase. The second choice is more for those who find their dream machine and it’s $200 over budget. At this point you can either wait for a sale or, if that price fits into that second number you chose, go ahead and buy it.

Because you established these numbers beforehand, you are able to better filter out laptops that are way above your budget and only focus on the ones that fit within it. This narrows down your options, making it way easier for you to shop.

a nvidia gpu chip

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Choosing the right specs

After you’ve established your budget and narrowed down your options to laptops that fit within it, it’s time to look over specs. Before you decide on what specs you do need, there are several things that you can immediately rule out.

For instance, when it comes to a dedicated gaming machine the CPU is far less important than the GPU. Even if you’re looking for something that can double as a productivity laptop too, you can easily get by with either an Intel Core i5 or an AMD Ryzen 5. The Core i7 and Ryzen 7 are great but only if you can find a laptop at a reasonable price with it. Don’t even think about the Intel Core i9 or Ryzen 9 CPUs, as those are meant for more creative and editing task and they add on too much in costs. 

I also guarantee that you don’t need that 4K monitor, since most games look perfectly fine with a 1080p resolution display on a laptop and anything higher is for those with a fatter wallet.

Focusing on what’s most important to invest in, you need a future-proofed GPU since you need this laptop to last several years and you won’t be able to upgrade the GPU yourself. I would recommend at least an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 or AMD Radeon RX 6500 XT, as those are solid budget-level GPUs that are still able to play the best PC games on high settings, including the higher-end PC games.

As for RAM and storage, 8GB RAM for the former is ok for many games, but 16GB RAM is better if you can get it, while for the latter at least 512GB is enough for your needs. Anything higher is a bonus but don’t break the bank on them either.

Is it worth getting something used?

As for the age-old question – is new or used better – the answer is surprising. Unlike other products that can be safely purchased new due to lack of wear and tear, tech products have a finite lifespan before they begin to irrevocably degrade. You can extend this lifespan but eventually, your laptop will fail.

When you buy new, you can judge from the moment of purchase when roughly you’ll need to replace it. But even though buying used can save you some money, there are a lot of unknowns to consider as well. You don’t how long the previous owner had it which means it could end up dying in a year, and you don’t know the original condition the laptop was (or still is) in which means there could be an issue with it that will end up causing more trouble down the line.

Refurbished laptops are a safer option since that means the manufacturer serviced them before reselling. Though the lifespan is still less than a brand-new laptop, you can rest assured that any major issues have been fixed and won’t crop up during its lifetime.

a young person with a fist next to a laptop with low power

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Don’t worry about battery life

There’s one spec that has absolutely no bearing on quality is the battery life. Very few gaming laptops have a great battery life and the ones that do tend to be extremely expensive and not worth considering. 

Not to mention, it’s common knowledge that gaming laptops are to be always plugged in since you’ll get your best performance that way. Especially if you make sure to change your settings to maximize gaming performance and stability. Don’t even look at the battery life, simply make sure that the AC adapter works and fully charges your laptop.

Allisa James
Computing Staff Writer

Named by the CTA as a CES 2023 Media Trailblazer, Allisa is a Computing Staff Writer who covers breaking news and rumors in the computing industry, as well as reviews, hands-on previews, featured articles, and the latest deals and trends. In her spare time you can find her chatting it up on her two podcasts, Megaten Marathon and Combo Chain, as well as playing any JRPGs she can get her hands on.