“where cheap is chic” — wisebread

Best Cheap Gaming Laptops

Not all powerful gaming PCs are wrapped up in large, bulky desktop cases. Gamers can opt for svelte gaming laptops instead.

Cheap gaming laptops aren't without their drawbacks, but they take up less room and they're much easier to transport. As with desktops, prices for gaming laptops vary considerably. For example, the Digital Storm xm15 starts at a relatively modest $889. Head over to Falcon Northwest, and a DRX gaming laptop starts at $3,642.

Gaming notebooks are available in a variety of sizes, from the 11.6-inch screen on the Alienware M11x (starting at $1,099) to the much larger 17.3-inch display on the Digital Storm x17 (starting at $1,495). These portable systems have many of the same features as desktop models. Most are equipped with an Intel Core i5 or i7 CPU. Cheap gaming laptops typically come with between 4GB and 8GB of RAM and have sizeable hard drives, although they start at 500GB, rather than the 1TB that's standard on cheap gaming desktops. Like desktops, cheap gaming laptops most often come with Windows 7 Home Premium.

Laptop buyers generally don't have as many hardware configuration options. You can choose the processor, the amount of memory, the size of the hard drive, and the optical drive (DVD-RW or Blu-ray), and that's usually about it. You might be able to choose a video card from a couple of options, but gaming desktops typically offer a much wider variety of choices. What's more, a full-size video card won't fit in a small laptop chassis, and full-size cards tend to be more powerful than their laptop counterparts.

While desktop buyers have the option to dramatically overclock a computer's CPU to squeeze more power out of the chip, doing so requires a hefty heat sink and fan to keep the machine from overheating. Some desktops even feature exotic liquid cooling systems. Cheap gaming laptops rely on Intel's Turbo Boost technology to pep up their CPUs when a game requires more processing power. This is better than nothing, of course, but doesn't deliver the same level of performance you can achieve with an overclocked desktop CPU and more powerful cooling hardware.

At first glance, the prices for cheap gaming laptops seem pretty competitive with those of budget desktop PCs. However, that money buys less powerful hardware in a laptop than a desktop. Compare the Alienware M17x laptop to the Alienware Aurora gaming PC. Both start at $1,499, but the Aurora desktop has a faster CPU, more memory, and a larger hard drive than the M17x. It also offers more video card options, including dual video cards.

So, what's the appeal of a gaming laptop? Size is certainly a factor. There's no bulky tower under your desk encroaching on your legroom. If you want the experience of a larger display, you can rest a laptop on a corner of your desk and plug it into a monitor. Portability is also a major selling point, especially for users who like to get together with friends at LAN parties for head-to-head gaming action. It's far less of a hassle to bring a laptop than to carry a full-size PC. There's also a certain cool factor that comes with packing enough power for gaming into such a small, sleek package.

Review continues below

For consumers who place a premium on desktop space and portability, a cheap gaming laptop is certainly worth considering. However, if you're looking to maximize the power and performance you get for the money and want more hardware options from which to choose, stick with a desktop.

email Sign up for our
Free Newsletter
Cheapism.com on Facebook