Searching for budget gaming laptops can be really difficult because it is virtually impossible to find a portable computer that offers decent gaming performance for sub-800 dollar prices. But what if you are limited to just 400 bucks on your budget for a new laptop? Does it mean you have to give up on gaming altogether? Fortunately not, because we managed to find some of the best price-performance laptops for less than 400 dollars, that can offer decent frame rates with low-medium settings on most last generation games as well as certain lightweight modern titles. However, don’t expect to run Battlefield 1 or GTA V on these at 60 fps since they are geared towards the casual gamer, or for someone who is more concerned with specific E-sports titles such as DOTA 2, LOL, WOW, CS GO, etc. Remember that nothing is without compromises, even on high end enthusiast grade stuff. With these laptops you’ll be trading away graphical quality and high frame rates for portability, and a low price tag. We’ll take a look at different aspects of each of the 6 budget laptops, namely – display quality, CPU + GPU combo, gaming performance, multitasking abilities, battery life, and build quality. None of these are great gaming machines, but we guarantee that you won’t find a better deal at this price range for a brand new laptop in 2016. Alright, so let’s get started!
The Lenovo laptop we have over here is one of the several variants of its famous G50 lineup, a series of laptops geared towards everyday PC users. It packs a 15.6” LED backlit LCD screen, with a resolution of 1366 x 768. Now, this is a pretty low resolution for a 15.6” laptop display, considering the fact that even chromebooks are beginning to offer 1080p screens these days. However, 768p used to be the standard resolution for sub-500 dollar laptops until a couple of years ago, and still is a really nice resolution for a budget machine. What matters is the fact that the colors on this Lenovo laptops display are crisp and the overall brightness is great for daily usage. Viewing angles are a little limited since this is a TN panel, but nothing to sweat over. The build quality is decent for a sub-400 dollar machine and the lid feels okay even though some of the plastic panels do flex if you apply pressure with your fingers while opening the laptop. There is a 720p built-in webcam with a microphone right next to it on top of the display. As long as you’re okay with Skype calls and occasional Google Hangout chats, you’ll be fine. Just don’t expect to conduct business meetings with this webcam and microphone.
Keyboard is pretty standard, although the island style layout of Lenovo keyboards allows for sufficient typing space and the keys don’t feel too cramped or mushy unlike those on some Dell and HP models. You get decent stereo audio from the speakers mounted beneath the screen, and the audio quality is actually surprisingly good for such a cheap laptop. Loudness is not very impressive as some phones have built-in speakers that are louder than our Lenovo laptop over here. Windows 10 comes preinstalled, and the battery life is a solid 5-6 hours during light usage (movies, browsing, songs, spreadsheets, MS Word, etc.). While gaming, don’t expect the battery to last any more than 1.5 or 2 hours. Talking of gaming, you should be able to achieve a steady 40-50 fps in titles such as CS GO, LOL, DOTA 2, etc. thanks to the 4 GB of memory and a AMD A8 6410 APU that runs at 2 GHz. The APU comprises of a Radeon R5 GPU unit running at 800 MHz, with performance similar to that of a Radeon HD 7470M or an Intel HD 4200. Boost speed is 2.4 GHz, and you can always add in an extra 4 GB of RAM to be more future proof. One of the coolest things about this sub-400 dollar machine is the fact that it comes with a 1 TB hard drive (5400 rpm). The APU contains a dual-core CPU with 2 MB of L2 cache and no hyper threading, so expect mediocre multitasking performance.
While the Lenovo laptop that we discussed previously came with an AMD A8 chip, this Acer E15 laptop packs an Intel Pentium N3700 CPU, along with Intel HD graphics. The Pentium name might make this CPU sound old and outdated, because that is one of Intel’s oldest lineup of CPU’s and has been around since like the early 90’s. However, this is a CPU that sports the latest 14 nm manufacturing process, packs 4 cores, runs at a base clock of 1.6 GHz, and can turbo up to 2.4 GHz. The TDP is a mere 6 W, which basically means that it barely sips on battery life. For your reference, a standard Intel 6th generation desktop i5 has a TDP of nearly 91 W, and theoretically consumes anywhere between 14-16 times the power, and generates much more heat. Needless to say, you will get amazing battery life on this Acer laptop, and it will easily last 6 hours under light loads such as movies, browsing, MS Office, etc.
Multitasking is decent, definitely better than what you had on the AMD dual core A8 6410 in the Lenovo 80E301Y6US G50. However the graphical performance lags behind that of the aforementioned AMD APU, which means that the gaming performance will take a hit. Where the AMD APU delivered 40-50 fps, the Intel HD Graphics will deliver 30-40 fps. Can your eyes notice that change? At this fps range, probably yes. However, you should still be fine with older titles and games like Counter Strike, DOTA 2, etc. If you love the superb battery life and are willing to cede a bit of fps, then by all means get this Acer laptop. It too packs a 15.6 HD 768p screen like the Lenovo G50, and comes with a 1 TB hard drive and 4 GB of RAM. Windows 10 is preinstalled.
This is one of the only two laptops on this list to contain an Intel Core series processor, the other one being the Acer Aspire E5-575-33BM. What this means for you as a consumer, is increased performance, better battery life, and most importantly- superior gaming on a budget. The CPU in this Dell Inspiron machine is a Core i3-5015U, which sports a base clock of 2.1 GHz, along with 3MB of cache. The Intel HD graphics 5500 onboard GPU is more than sufficient for running games in 1366 x 768 which is the resolution of the 15.6” LCD display on our Dell laptop. Everything falls in line thereafter, with 4 gigs of DDR3 RAM and a 1TB 5400 rpm hard drive. In terms of wireless connectivity, you’re getting Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11 a/c next generation Wi-Fi. The audio is designed by MaxxAudio and is definitely much better than the standard stereo audio systems installed on regular sub-400 dollar laptops. In terms of ports and I/O, there are two USB 2.0 ports, a single USB 3.0 port, an Ethernet ports (RJ 45), a HDMI output, a VGA port, and a card reader (SD, SDHC, SDXC). The keyboard is full-size, with a numpad. Windows 10 64-bit comes preinstalled, and you can always upgrade the 4 GB of RAM to 8 GB whenever you feel the need for it. Everything that we listed above would have cost more than 500 dollars a year ago, but thanks to the changes in laptop design and advancements in technology, it is now possible to cram all the connectivity and I/O of a large full-size laptop into such a compact and affordable machine. And yes, it also packs a 720p webcam with built-in microphone. The Intel HD 5500 graphics performance is superior to the AMD R5 integrated graphics on the A8 6410 APU, and can run stuff like Age of Empires, CS GO, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 1 and 2, LOL, WOW, DOTA 2, etc. on acceptable framerates with medium graphics settings.
Let’s just make one thing clear over here- if you want the absolute latest hardware and the most amazing performance possible for less than 400 dollars with a new laptop, then stop thinking and buy this one. Why? Well, it has an Intel Core i3-7100U processor in it, along with a FULL HD 15.6” display. That’s right, full HD. Not 1366 x 768, but 1920 x 1080. Just to clarify things a little further, the CPU on this laptop is by far the best we have seen on any laptop in this price range. It is actually an Intel 7th generation chip, and is due to be released for desktops in 2017. Yes, you are using technology that hasn’t even been released to the desktop market right now. It is that new! The 7th generation Intel chips pack increased performance, reduced power consumption, and generate less heat. All of those are features we desire in laptops, right? And you can’t go wrong with 4 GB of DDR4 along with a 1 TB 5400 rpm HDD. Windows 10 comes preinstalled, and the battery life is a whopping 12 hours. Don’t believe us? Well you’re free to look up other review sites and benchmarking databases, as well as Youtube videos of any laptop that packs an Intel 7th generation “U” series chip. These things barely sip on the battery and deliver great gaming performance (for the money of course). You’re getting the full assortment of I/O ports, namely – an RJ 45 Ethernet port, Bluetooth 4.1, 802.11 a/c dual-band Wi-Fi, USB Type C, USB 3.0, USB 2.0, a DVD R/W drive, and a SD card reader. What more could you possibly want at this price? We are truly impressed. And yes- the Intel HD graphics 520 that is built into the motherboard of this machine is capable of handling most current generation games on low to medium settings at playable frame rates.
Despite having a slightly smaller display than other laptops on this list at just 14”, this HP laptop surpasses all of them in terms of visual quality. This is a Full HD IPS UVWA display, and has a resolution of 1920 x 1080. Since this is an IPS display, it easily beats every other laptop display on this list in terms of viewing angles and color saturation. The color accuracy of this laptop screen is truly spectacular, and we would definitely recommend this laptop over any other laptop in this list if you want something for watching movies as well as gaming. For a compact and cheap portable Home Theater PC (HTPC), this is one of the best choices you can make. Hook this up to your 2.1 channel audio system and enjoy pristine life like colors in your movies. Or you can sync it with your DSLR camera and import all of your photos to view them in all of their glory, possibly even make a few edits in Photoshop.
The AMD E2 7110 QC processor inside this machine does not win any awards for performance, but excels in terms of efficiency. This is a quad-core 1.8 GHz processor, and is paired with a 4 GB module of DDR3 RAM that you can upgrade to 8 GB whenever you feel the need for it. Windows 10 comes preinstalled and you even get a 32 GB SSD drive. That is a truly amazing feature, and you can swap it out with a larger 256 or 512 GB SSD in the future to boost the overall performance even further. Multitasking performance is decent, and last generation games will run fine, although you can still play some newer games on minimal graphics settings with close to 30 fps.
Dell has created a well balanced budget laptop in the Inspiron i5555, one that delivers great multitasking performance while also maintaining a solid battery life of 7 hours. It has a slightly underwhelming 1366 x 768 TN panel display, but we are saying so only because we have been spoilt by the HP 14-an013nr and Acer Aspire E 15 E5-575-33BM. Those laptops delivered surprisingly good full HD displays for sub-400 dollar prices, and that is something which we really liked. The sub-par graphics chips on those machines might not be sufficient for running newer games at a resolution of 1080p, but you can still enjoy movies and photos with the extra resolution. What really makes this Dell Inspiron laptop different though, is the fact that it comes with a whopping 6GB RAM (4GB + 2GB). The hard drive capacity takes a hit though, and is a mere 500 GB. For a machine that barely costs 300 bucks, you’re surely getting a lot. It weighs 5.4 pounds, and comes with a 4-cell Li-Ion battery pack that gives this laptop a runtime of nearly 7 hours as long as you are running light applications. For connectivity you have Bluetooth 4.0, 802.11 a/c Wi-Fi, along with the standard assortment of an SD card reader, USB 3.0 and 2.0 ports, and a RJ-45 Ethernet port.
In spite of being cheap, all of the above laptops are capable of delivering playable experiences on most old games as well as some current generation titles, as long as you turn down the eye candy. Handling games like GTA V and Call of Duty is not what these machines were designed to do, so don’t have high expectations. However they are capable of running any indie titles/ MOBA games such as DOTA 2 and LOL. Since performance will not differ between any two machines priced within 20-50 dollars of each other, you might want to take a look at the other features if you’re confused between two machines that are priced closely to each other. For example, take the display quality into account- what is the resolution, and does it have good colors, brightness, etc. Also consider overall construction, screen size, build quality, battery life, etc. In the end, get the product that you feel suits your needs the best, i.e. do you want portability over performance, or do you want a full HD display for your movies. Perhaps you’re content with a simple machine that will be used for playing some ultra-lightweight games and will be used for web browsing/ spreadsheets/ MS Office, etc. Whatever your choice, make sure that its specifications suit YOUR particular needs and preferences.