Ask LH: Can I Find A Cheap Gaming Laptop?

Hey Lifehacker, I have a bit of a problem. My old tank of a laptop (Latitude E4300) is crapping out. The fan is going so fast every hour it overheats! I'm in the market for a new laptop for up to $1000 (money is tight, I'm a student on Subway pay), and I need it to perform well with games. I know that laptops aren't made for gaming but I need the portability. Is there a laptop that can play games, running at maybe medium settings, for under $1000? Thanks, Game For Anything

Dear GFA,

Once upon a time you needed to spend in excess of $2500 to get a decent mobile gaming fix. Thankfully, today's laptop technology has become a lot more powerful and affordable.

For $1000, you should be able to get a respectable gaming laptop boasting an Intel Core i7 or i5 processor, up to 8GB of RAM and a dedicated graphics card (look for 'NVIDIA GeForce' or 'AMD Radeon' in the specifications list). This will be more than capable of handling most PC games at medium settings along with other demanding tasks such as HD video editing.

You can currently score some great savings on previous-generation laptops which are still perfectly acceptable for gaming. Retail stores like JB Hi-Fi are still in the process of clearing old stock to free up shelf space for the shiny new gadgets announced at Computex. Tell the sales rep you're only interested in models that are around a year old and you should be able to find some significant discounts.

Just look for something with similar specs to those mentioned above and be prepared to go a little north of $1000. Also try to avoid sleek and shiny models from the big manufacturers -- unless you're paying top dollar, there's usually a trade-off between aesthetics and performance (i.e. -- you want a work horse, not a show pony.)

You might also want to consider a refurbished model. I just did a quick skim online and found a Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E530 for just $750 which comes with a 15.6in screen, an Intel Core i7-3612QM CPU, a NVIDIA GeForce GT 630M graphics card, 6GB of RAM and a 1TB hard drive.

Alternatively, it might be possible to tease a bit more life out of your existing laptop by going down the upgrade path, which will cost you a lot less than $1000. The first step is to check that you have the latest video card drivers installed for your laptop's GPU -- sometimes new updates get released that can provide a significant boost to performance.

If your laptop has an ExpressCard slot you may be able to connect a desktop graphics card to it via an external dock. (Read how it's done here.) Many laptop models, including the Latitude E4300, also come with expandable memory. You might be able to get some decent speed gains by adding a few sticks of RAM which is very affordable.

Finally, it could be worth your while downloading a gaming optimisation app such as Game Booster. This is a software tool specifically designed for gamers that turns off background applications and system tray utilities to free up additional resources.

As for the overheating issue, some possible DIY fixes include fan lubrication, cleaning your laptop's interior, tweaking fan speed settings and keeping background applications to a minimum.

If any readers have a laptop upgrade tip or a specific model that they'd like to recommend, please let GFA know in the comments section below.

See also: Boost Your Gaming Performance | Why Is My Laptop So Hot, And What Can I Do About It? | Give Your Old Laptop An Extreme Makeover

Cheers Lifehacker

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    GFA, you should consider taking a look at the following websites assuming you are in Australia:

    Take a look at their Clevo ranges - excellent specifications and not that pricey.

    Hmm there really no such thing as a "cheap" Gaming laptop.

    let me clarify that I aint no Apple fanboy.

    I myself use a Macbook Pro running windows 7 for "LAN/mobile" gaming. Reason being is that it's pretty durable given they I lug it around everywhere without a bag, also cooling is a major factor being in an aluminium casing means that it does get hot however it has more than enough cooling for it to run perfectly throughout the duration of a hardcore session of gaming, I have dropped it a few times and even the odd spill but it still seems to run as if it were new.

    tl;dr I bought a macbook for the durability in parts and longevity quality.

    In the past I have owned a few Toshiba, hp and Asus Laptops for the purpose of gaming but I found that they don't last very long with the general wear and tear type environment that they get, The last one I owned was a Toshiba satellite which I ended up throwing down my friends driveway since it would overheat and shut off after 20 minutes of gaming (post dust cleaning ect..).

    They ended up costing me in the long run since I'd have to replace them prematurely, these were high end machines 2k - 2.5k

    Also depends on what games you want to use it for - I play Dota 2, LoL, BF3 and Warthunder on my mac perfectly fine.

    Gaming Laptop = For social lan gaming at your mates place/s (If you do it frequently)
    Gaming Computer = High end gaming at home or the odd major Lan event ect...

    Just throwing this out there, but what about a surface pro?

      I can't imagine using that keyboard for gaming (either type). While it's fine for typing, gaming on it would be horrid.

      The surface pro is also underpowered compared to similar-priced laptops.

    If we are talking about Lenovo, forget the ThinkPads and go for the "multimedia" IdeaPad range. They are pretty good for around $1000. MY IdeaPad Y580 has a GTX660M video card and runs most games on high settings @ 1920x1080 without a problem. MSI's GT range at the same price point are good as well.

    As for overheating, I use a Cooler Master Notepal cooler that keeps temps down a few degrees and an external USB keyboard to avoid the uncomfortable hot chassis. I have never had an overheating related crash and I live in a hot climate!

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