Mobile Mavericks: The 6 Best Budget Gaming Laptops Under $500

It’s easy for the casual gamer to get overlooked when it comes to buying hardware. Sure, there’s a few hundred rigs that can be had for small fortunes which will appeal to the die-hard player, but not everyone needs that. There’s a large contingent of budget-minded gamers who like the occasional frag-fest, but really just like to unwind with some older or more basic games. They want a an affordable laptop┬áthat gives them power to play, but also versatility for more than just mayhem and slaughter.

When we explored the best gaming laptops under $1,000, we were hunting for the most bang for your buck. We wanted high specs that could slide in under the wire. Here, we’re still looking to give you plenty of power, solid benchmark specs, and a decent display, but meant for the abundance of games that don’t need to be run on ultra settings. Our goal is to trim away the fat so that you get an enjoyable experience with golden oldie games, indie titles, and mainstream stuff that you play for fun, not competition. For the gamers who like to spend their scratch on other things, here’s the 6 best gaming laptops for under $500.

Toshiba Satellite C55D-B5310

Toshiba Satellite C55D-B5310

Pro: Inexpensive
Con: Cheap, plastic feel to chassis

Bare Bones: You’re not a big gamer. Mostly you need a workhorse that can handle your job and give you the option of hopping on to a League of Legends match without being a laggy, buggy horror show. With a quad-core AMD A8-6410 processor under the hood that has been clocked at 2.4 GHz, you’ll have more than enough processing speed to do a bit of light gaming or dig into the plethora of older games that you missed. Graphics are run by the AMD Radeon R5 which can take on Skyrim or Dead Souls 2 at a reasonable clip, though it admittedly doesn’t like Windows 8. 4 GB of RAM will get you by, but it can’t be upgraded, so bear that in mind. [Purchase: $323]

HP TouchSmart 15-g014dx

HP TouchSmart 15-g014dx

Pro: Upgradable RAM
Con: Short battery life

It’s Got the Touch: Budget touchscreens are ordinarily a huge waste of money for a gimmick. That isn’t the case here. Even without the 15.6″ touchscreen with its 1366 x 768 resolution, the TouchSmart is a lovable piece of gear. The processor is an AMD Elite Quad-Core A8-5545M that runs similar to a Intel Core i3-310 and operates at 2.0 GHz, with a 2.4 GHz turbo capacity. Out of the box, it has 4GB DDR3L RAM as well as an open slot so that you can double down or upgrade easily. Titles from last year and earlier (we ran Bioshock: Infinite) operate at mid to low rates while some newer titles (Watch Dogs) get stuck at 20 fps even with everything bottomed out. That isn’t to say the AMD Radeon R5 graphics chip is a slouch. It cranks on par with most mid-grade Intel integrated graphics for a fraction of the price. [Purchase: $450]

Lenovo Z50

Lenovo Z50

Pro: Easy to install an SSD
Con: Integrated graphics chip

Most for the Money: Looking to squeeze your budget gaming laptop for every ounce? The Z50 is a nicely spec’d machine that makes the most out of each component. 8 GB of DDR3 RAM help it to hop along happily and keep both your productivity high and gaming capabilities respectable. Behind the 1366 x 768 HD display is a Radeon R6 Graphics from AMD that renders well and does the best it can with the somewhat disappointing resolution. Sound quality is smashing and the operation is generally very cool so you won’t be cooking anything in your lap. For best performance, dump Windows 8 and you’ll see miles of improvement. Generally speaking, games for the last generation of consoles (we used The Witcher 2) run well at medium to low specs, while online games (World of Warcraft) can take the high settings without too heavy a framerate drop. [Purchase: $450]

HP Pavilion 17-F023CL

HP Pavilion 17-F023CL

Pro: Large screen
Con: Washed out colors

Big and Bold: To get the price beneath the $500 mark, you’re going to need to settle on a certified refurbished model; but not getting it brand new is a small price to pay. First off, you get a 17-inch monitor with a 1600 x 900 resolution. That lovely screen is used by the AMD Radeon HD 8610G, which is a fairly weak GPU that works better for pre-2014 games, so just know that anything in the 2014/2015 era will assuredly run on low settings. Includes a touchscreen, 8 GB of DDR3 RAM, a 1 TB HDD that spins at 5,400 per minute, and a Beats Audio sound chipset. If you can find a model with a better GPU, then you’ll see how well the 2.10GHz AMD Quad-Core screams and sings. [Purchase: $480]

Acer Aspire E5-571G-38VF

Acer Aspire E5-571G-38VF

Pro: Dedicated graphics chip
Con: Hard to upgrade

Bombproof Foundation: The Acer Aspire line is generally the way to go if you’re looking for a hard working budget pick, since they have many of the best specs at the lowest prices. This is one of our favorites, though we did have to do a little digging to find it under our own self-imposed price point. A dedicated NVIDIA GeForce 820M graphics chip wails along, standing head and shoulders above many integrated systems. It really makes the 1366 x 768 seem like a toy rather than a real monitor. Our choice comes with an Intel Core i3 that runs at 1.8 GHz, but for about $100 more you can get it with an i5. Since you’re only starting with 4 GB DDR3L RAM, upgrading is very possible, but access to your hard-drive and RAM is under the keyboard, so it takes time and know-how. [Purchase: $490]

Acer Aspire E5-571-58CG

Acer Aspire E5-571-58CG

Pro: i5 processor
Con: Bad at 3-D rendering

Power Processor: The first thing to note here is that rather than going with a dedicated graphics chip, this Aspire uses an integrated Intel HD Graphics 5500. This isn’t truly a negative, but even low-end dedicated chips are going to be about 25% faster, especially when doing 3-D rendering. What you get instead is a 5th Gen Intel Core i5-5200U processor that can be turboed to 2.7 GHz for great application performance if you tend to work as hard as you play. 6 GB of DDR3L SDRAM help pad out its ability to whip through various screens, browsing, and give you superior action across the board. The dual-band Wi-Fi is a nice addition, as is the nearly 7 hours worth of battery life. You’ll need to keep most newer games on low settings, and even that won’t always be enough. Battlefield 4 is playable, while Thief is clocked at 20+: Tolerable, but only just. [Purchase: $499]

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