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Budget gaming laptops are, naturally, quite alluring, but are they really worth it? How much are you really getting for your money’s worth? And, perhaps most importantly: are they even all that good at gaming given their subpar cooling solutions, mid-tier specs, horrendous displays, and, more often than not, shoddy build quality?
Those are some very important and, unfortunately, rather complex questions — it’d be great if we could answer them all in one fell swoop but, alas, that simply isn’t possible.
To get a gaming laptop to around a thousand dollars (or below), an OEM has to cut many corners. And, sadly, these omissions and downgrades tend to add up and, inevitably, diminish the entire user experience.
Which corners, one might ask or wonder? Let’s take a closer look.
Budget Gaming Laptops — Biggest Drawbacks
Budget products always come with a catch, and that’s true for laptops as much as it is for other types of technology and hardware. Gaming laptops, in that sense, are a weird mix. They’re often a fair bit more powerful than one would expect (given the asking price) but, unfortunately, still come with their own laundry list of limitations, flaws, and cut corners.
The following “areas” are often the most critical:
If you’re interested in buying a budget gaming laptop, you should not expect a top-notch display. In fact, you really ought to prepare for the absolute worst: an IPS panel with subpar viewing angles, 250 nits of maximum brightness (if not even less), sub-70% coverage of the sRGB color range and, depending on the model, wholly mediocre response times.
In other words: their displays leave a lot to be desired — an understatement if ever there was one.
That, of course, doesn’t stop OEMs from advertising them as “gaming-grade.” Marketing hogwash. Just because they refresh at, say, 144Hz, doesn’t mean they’re going to deliver or blow you away; their refresh rates — important though they are — are just a singular component of the entire experience.
Then again, if you have an external display, this problem can, to a certain degree, be alleviated.
Most budget laptops, be they for gaming or not, come with some truly subpar hinges. Some of them are too wobbly, others too stiff. Neither will generally affect the overall experience too much if the laptop is tethered to an external display, but it will leave a sour taste in your mouth nonetheless.
And, well, a badly engineered hinge is a potential point of failure — regardless of how well you might treat your hardware.
This heavily depends on the model but, in general, you shouldn’t expect a tremendous level of performance from a budget gaming laptop — it’s (relatively) affordable for a reason. They are a fair bit more capable than their looks or MSRPs would suggest, but there’s definitely a limit to what they can do and how many frames they can generate and muster.
Because they don’t feature any elaborate cooling assemblies or vapor chambers or precisely tuned fan profiles, their components tend to run hotter than expected which, by proxy, results in higher amounts of fan noise. This also means that, in some cases, they won’t be able to sustain their performance for prolonged periods of time due to thermal throttling.
OEMs often end up taking one of two routes when it comes to budget gaming laptops: either they “nerf” their performance which allows them to cheap out on the cooling — or, alternatively — they let the internals draw as much power as they can and, in doing so, make sacrifices in regards to both heat and noise.
You’d be hard-pressed to find an affordable laptop that offers a solid enough middle ground. They all have their own bespoke power profiles but they don’t always work as advertised.
Mediocre Build Quality
Plastic, plastic, and nothing but plastic. Certain models might have a bit of magnesium thrown in, but — other than slightly better chassis rigidity — that’s not going to improve things all that much.
A budget gaming laptop needs to deliver an acceptable level of performance. And so, more often than not, their spec sheets are quite impressive — especially for the asking price. What isn’t, however, is everything surrounding their internals. For a certain price to be met, a plastic enclosure needs to be employed and, sadly, that isn’t going to change any time soon (if ever).
Lack of Longevity
Budget gaming laptops aren’t designed or built to last for longer than, say, three-to-four years. That’s obviously no rule and, needless to say, if you take good care of yours (and perhaps use a cooling pad) you could, generally speaking, get it to last longer, but there are never any guarantees.
Something at some point is bound to give in and fail, be it a port, a hinge, a part of the keyboard, the entire trackpad, a singular component, or whatever else. You get what you pay for, essentially.
Now, these laptops have gotten a fair bit better over the last few years, and they’re not going to just implode or fall apart once you start using them, but they will show signs of wear and tear a lot sooner than most high-end alternatives.
Does Buying a Used Budget Gaming Laptop Make Sense?
It does, generally speaking, but only if it’s your absolute last resort. As already mentioned, these budget gaming laptops were never designed and built to last. Sooner or later, something is bound to malfunction.
And so, if you buy one that’s already been used — and, by the way, you don’t know how it’s been used and handled over the years — then it might not last for as long as you’d want it to.
Buying a used laptop is always a double-edged sword. That much is a fact. It’s not necessarily a dangerous endeavor, but you are exposing yourself to a higher risk of it failing or exhibiting some kind of issue in the not-so-distant future.
Are Expensive Gaming Laptops Worth It?
Up to a certain point. Spending more than, say, $1500-2000 on a gaming laptop just doesn’t make a lot of sense. There’s a very tangible point of diminishing returns performance- and overall quality-wise.
Moreover, they’re all faced with similar limitations, regardless of their price; some are affected by the size of their chassis, others with their cooling solutions (and cooling potential), and others still with numerous power constraints (if not all three). Just because a laptop has a high price tag doesn’t mean its manufacturer has managed to strike a fine balance.
The difference in price is mostly reflected in the quality of their displays, their internals (more money = more power), and their build quality as well. The remaining upgrades can, for the most part, be chalked up to creature comforts and “nice-to-haves.”
That’s why it’s best to search for a good middle ground price-wise. Most well-rounded laptops can often be found for up to $1500, like last year’s ASUS ROG Zephyrus G14. These older models might not feature the latest internals money can buy, but they’re still astonishingly powerful and will definitely deliver a spectacular gaming experience.
And that, finally, brings us to yet another wholly important point: buying last year’s offerings.
Last Year’s Gaming Laptops — The Best Possible Option
Buying last year’s products is, quite frankly, an ingenious option. The thing is, gaming laptops can’t get much better. And sure, newer CPUs and GPUs might be able to clock higher, their performance might be marginally better in certain workloads and scenarios, and they might be slightly more efficient, but that’s not going to be evident much (if at all) when it comes to gaming.
We’ve definitely hit a sweet spot a year or two ago as far as gaming laptops are concerned. These devices haven’t plateaued per se, but there’s very little to iterate and improve on.
And so, with the gap between last and this year’s models being so small and meager, why not save a few hundred dollars and go with a 2022 gaming laptop? We’re talking massive savings here, especially if you can snag your model of choice at a discount — which, by the way, shouldn’t be all that hard due to major retailers having to clear out old stock.
In that sense, a mid-tier gaming laptop from 2022 can easily be bought nowadays for a similar sum of money as a budget 2023 one — and yet there’s a tremendous difference in both performance and build quality. You would miss out on a few niceties like DLSS 3.0, but, if you can get a consistent and high enough frame rate, you probably won’t mind all that much.
Conclusion — Are Budget Gaming Laptops Worth It?
That really depends on what you’re after. They’re a great “gateway” into gaming as, more often than not, they come imbued with some truly respectable internals. It’s the rest of the equation that leaves people wanting: the build quality, the craftsmanship, brightness, color accuracy, and so on and so forth.
Still, the budget segment of the market has gotten a lot more competitive (and, by proxy, better) over the last few years, which means that a thousand dollars or euros gets you a lot more now than it did in the not-so-distant past.
With that being said, we’re still opposed to buying budget gaming laptops, no matter their price. They simply come with too many sacrifices and cut corners, all of which can heavily affect your gaming experience — regardless if you’re a casual gamer or someone set on climbing the ranked ladder.
Instead, try finding an adequate mid-tier model from 2022. It’ll cost about the same and yet deliver a much better overall experience.