October 9, 2020

Looking for a gaming laptop under 400 bucks? Well, you’ve come to the right place.

This is our list for the 5 best gaming laptops under 400 dollars. We chose models based on their specifications, features, build quality, and verified customer reviews.

Each one of you reading this article will have different needs, so choose whatever suits you best. Also, refer to our comprehensive gaming laptop buying guide article.

In our opinion, the HP 14-dk0022wm Slim wins this race. It’s an all-rounder, and blends portability with performance at a very reasonable price.

Here is our list of the 5 best gaming laptops under 400 dollars:

This is the best laptop for gaming under 400 dollars, and that’s because of two things- firstly, it has a Ryzen 3 3200u processor. Secondly, the laptop supports dual channel memory unlike the ASUS VivoBook 15 which has the same processor but only one SODIMM slot.

What advantage do you get with dual channel memory?

Well, the iGPU relies on system RAM to process graphics data. It doesn’t have its own dedicated high speed VRAM. So system RAM speed and bandwidth highly influence the performance of an iGPU. The exact same iGPU can perform 50 percent faster if you give it faster RAM in a dual-channel configuration, as opposed to single-channel.

The HP 14-dk0022wm comes with 4GB of RAM in a single slot by default, you can easily purchase a second 4GB 2400MHz RAM stick for cheap and slot it into the free SODIMM slot.

Make sure to purchase laptop RAM, not desktop RAM. There is a difference in pin count and form factor between laptop DDR4, and desktop DDR4.

You also get a nice 128GB SSD, although it’s SATA III and not NVMe. Still, this boosts game load times and bootup speeds significantly, resulting in a snappier computing experience.

Which Games Can I Play On This Laptop?

  • CS: GO
  • Left 4 Dead 2
  • Portal
  • Half Life 2
  • GTA V
  • Rocket League
  • Skyrim (original, not special edition)

Pros

  • Ryzen 2nd gen mobile chip with 2 cores and 4 threads, capable of casual gaming and light productivity
  • Vega 3 integrated graphics with 3 Vega cores that have a max boost clock of 1200MHz
  • RAM is user upgradable (you can go from 4GB DDR4 2400MHz single channel to dual channel 8GB)
  • 45Wh battery combined with a highly efficient processor results in above average battery life
  • Nice top firing stereo speakers which can get quite loud (although you will lose clarity at higher volumes)
  • A healthy selection of ports, including a full sized SD card slot and USB Type 

Cons

  • Terrible webcam
  • No charging via Type C port
  • Display resolution of just 1366x768

The VivoBook 15 F512DA-WH31 uses the same Ryzen 3 3200u processor as the HP 14-dk0022wm Slim. However, it loses in gaming performance because of a single channel memory configuration which significantly gimps the Vega 3 iGPU’s speed. Other than that, the laptop is a solid performer across all tasks.

A nice thing about this laptop is its incredible keyboard- there are few keyboards at this price which feel so good. Not only is this a full-sized keyboard with a numpad, but it’s also backlit so you can use it in low light conditions. The screen is fairly bright, but still not something we would recommend for continuous outdoor usage during daytime.

The build quality feels robust and you can see a slightly grainy textured finish on the palmrest + keyboard deck. This finish doesn’t attract a lot of dust or fingerprints, and it doesn’t feel rough to the touch.

The materials used feel tough, and the entire chassis is constructed from thick ABS plastic with metal reinforcements underneath.

We feel this laptop functions best as an everyday carry for students and business professionals who don’t need a lot of raw power but value security, ergonomics, and portability.

Weighing in at just 1.75kg (3.85lbs) with the battery, this is one of the lightest and slimmest 15” notebooks out there. Plus, it even has a fingerprint sensor built into the trackpad.

Which Games Can I Play On This Laptop?

  • Dauntless
  • Paladins
  • Overwatch
  • COD: Modern Warfare 2
  • Mega Man 11
  • Resident Evil 2 (remake)
  • PUBG Lite
  • Pro Evolution Soccer 2019

Pros

  • Ryzen 3 3200u dual core APU with Vega 3 graphics can play games and do tasks like photo/ video editing (not intended for serious gaming/ productivity, but casual use only)
  • Full-sized backlit keyboard with decent key travel and a slightly clicky feeling
  • Build quality feels good enough to use this laptop daily, whether at home or in school/ office
  • Decently responsive and accurate trackpad with a built-in fingerprint reader
  • It has all the ports you need- MicroSD, USB 3.1 Type A, USB Type C, and HDMI output
  • ErgoLift hinge adds a 2° tilt, it makes typing more comfortable and improves laptop cooling on a flat surface

Cons

  • Bottom firing speakers sound muffled if you’re using the notebook on your lap, or on the bed (these speakers work fine on a flat surface like a desk)
  • Single channel RAM, only one SODIMM slot (this heavily gimps the Vega 3 iGPU’s performance)
  • Vertical viewing angle is quite limited, colors start washing out if you move the display back far enough

A basic, but functional 14 inch notebook from HP. The Pavilion 14-DK1004DX is targeted at housewives and students who want a daily driver laptop that doesn’t burn a hole in their pockets. It sports a Jet Black finish on the chassis and display, with a slightly textured matte layer on the palmrest and keyboard deck.

The back of the display is a fingerprint magnet, so we suggest you keep a wipe handy if you’re using this laptop in a professional setting (like a presentation in front of your colleagues).

It isn’t intended to be used as a business machine, but it does handle Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations quite well.

The dual core Athlon chip in this notebook is no award winner in terms of performance, but it’s more than enough for the target audience of this 14” notebook.

The Athlon 3050u can play a game or two every now and then, and it feels pretty snappy in Windows desktop and browsers thanks to the 128GB SSD.

Which Games Can I Play On This Laptop?

  • League of Legends
  • Dota 2
  • CS: GO
  • Half Life 2
  • Portal
  • Skyrim

Pros

  • Good spacing between keys, the keyboard doesn’t feel cramped and is one of the better ones at this price
  • You get a nice selection of ports- RJ45 Ethernet, HDMI out, SD card slot, two USB 3.0 Type As, and a USB 3.0 Type C
  •  The stereo speakers on this laptop aren’t completely terrible as is the case with most other laptops under 400 bucks
  • Chassis feels like it can take a drop or two without splitting in half
  • Comes with Windows 10 Home preinstalled

Cons

  • The webcam is really bad
  • Display resolution of 1366x768 is considered sub-par these days (although the Vega 2 iGPU doesn’t have the muscle to game at 1080p)
  • Battery life is mediocre even though the Athlon 3050u isn’t a power hungry chip (thanks to the low capacity battery installed in this laptop)

CHUWI is a rather obscure Chinese laptop manufacturer who popped up recently in the ultra-thin notebook market. Their AeroBook line is extremely good value for money, and we even reviewed one in our list of top gaming laptops under 600 dollars

With the LapBook Pro, you’re getting a slightly weaker processor and sacrificing the 4k 15.6” IPS display for one that’s 14.1 inches and 1080p.

But you’re also shaving off nearly 200 dollars from the price tag, which makes this laptop an excellent choice for college students on a budget who don’t want to rack up those massive student loans.  

It is built very well, as is characteristic of all CHUWI notebooks. The laptop has a light silver finish with a very clean exterior- no tacky logos or lines that don’t belong.

The lid barely has any flex to it, even when you’re pressing down with all five fingers. The keycaps have a matte finish, with ample spacing between each key and a nice, easy to read font. The trackpad is really large, responsive, and there is zero flex in the palmrest or keyboard deck while typing.

One unfortunate design choice is the inclusion of the power button right next to the Delete key. They should have separated it from the rest of the keys, or at least given it a distinctive look so you don’t accidentally shut down your laptop while typing.

It’s not that big a deal once you get used to the keyboard layout, but can be mildly annoying for new users.

The display has really thin side bezels, and the panel goes up to 300 nits of brightness.

One more thing we noticed was that the BIOS is limited in terms of how far you can push the little quad core Celeron chip. There is no option to modify the default TDP setting in the BIOS, some higher-end notebooks provide you with the choice to fully unlock the power limits on the chip for additional performance at the expense of heating and lower battery life.

Such an option is needed if you’re interested in gaming. However you can still  increase chip TDP through software.

On the left side of the laptop, you’ll find a USB Type C port that supports both data transfer and charging (power in only).

This Type C port doesn’t work as a display output. Plus, the charging speeds are not faster than what you would get with the regular barrel port charger.

The right of the laptop has a single USB Type A port which is slightly disappointing, there is also no SD card slot or ethernet port.

Which Games Can I Play On This Laptop?

  • Devil May Cry 4
  • Need For Speed Underground
  • Fortnite
  • CS: GO
  • Far Cry 2
  • Thief: Deadly Shadows
  • Tom Clancy’s Rainbow 6: Vegas

Pros

  • Excellent FHD IPS display with super thin bezels that give a 90% screen to body ratio
  • Backlit keyboard
  • Just 0.58cm thick and weighs 1.3kg or 2.86lbs
  • Superb build quality, the chassis is made from an aluminum-magnesium alloy
  • 8GB of LPDDR4 RAM and a 256GB M.2 SATA III SSD
  • Dual Band 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4
  • USB Type C port and Micro SD card reader

Cons

  • Relatively limited battery capacity of 37 Wh (battery life is still decent because of how little power the Celeron N4100 uses)
  • The 1MP webcam doesn’t perform well in either video or photo mode (to be expected from a laptop this cheap)
  • The Celeron N4100 is slightly on the slower side in terms of gaming performance (what else can you expect from a 6W TDP quad core?)
  • No micro SD card slot, and just one Type A port

Just like CHUWI, XIDU is another Chinese newcomer to the market of ultra-thin and light laptops. Competing against the likes of ASUS, Dell, and Acer, what does the XIDU Tour Pro have to offer?

Quite a lot actually, especially in the display department where this little 12.5” notebook sports an incredible 2560 x 1440 resolution.

Images, text, and videos look insanely sharp on the little 12.5” screen, thanks to the combination of a high resolution and really good colors. Viewing angles are excellent, which is to be expected from any decent quality IPS panel.

Brightness and contrast isn’t bad either, making this our recommendation for creative professionals who are looking for an ultraportable device to do their photo/ video editing on the go.

It can also game, although that depends on what kind of games you are playing. You should always stick to 720p if you want playable framerates, because this laptop uses an Intel Celeron 3867u processor which is a slow dual core chip with Intel HD 610 graphics.

Which Games Can I Play On This Laptop?

  • GRID 2
  • NFS Most Wanted (2005)
  • Burnout Paradise
  • GTA Vice City
  • League of Legends
  • Hearthstone
  • Dota Underlords
  • Rocket League

Pros

  • Excellent design that looks both modern and high-end, even though this is a really cheap laptop
  • The build quality is top notch, it is just 14mm thick and has a magnesium-aluminum alloy finish
  • Weighs just 1.2kg or 2.64lbs
  • Excellent display resolution of 2560 x 1440, and the display uses a touch panel
  • You get a solid 8GB of LPDDR3 RAM
  • Dual band 802.11ac Wi-Fi
  • Power button has a fingerprint sensor built-in

Cons

  • Fans can get a bit noisy when you’re playing games
  • Battery life is just 4.5 to 6 hours, even on low brightness
  • The webcam is sub-par (a common trend in these super cheap laptops)

THINGS TO TAKE INTO CONSIDERATION

Explaining SSD Terminology- PCIe, NVMe, Etc.

By now, we all know that SSDs are exponentially faster than their spinning disk mechanical counterparts when it comes to data read/ write speeds.

Once you go SSD, you can never look back. But even within SSDs, there can be a ton of variance when it comes to things like form factors and transfer speeds.

For instance, SATA SSDs in the 2.5” form factor are the cheapest type of SSD you can buy these days.

Like this PCIe, it will make any old laptop from 3 to 4 years ago seem extremely snappy when booting up or loading programs. Even web pages are going to load faster with an SSD.

But you will often see “PCIe NVMe SSD” used in specs sheets for modern laptops. What does this mean?

Well, PCIe refers to the type of bus used by a storage device. PCIe or PCI express can transfer data at a much faster rate compared to SATA, and is used for dedicated graphics cards or expansion cards.

And “M.2” is the 2nd iteration of mini SATA, a type of connector. M.2 form factor SSDs are physically much smaller than their 2.5” SATA counterparts.

NVMe or Non Volatile Memory express is a data transfer protocol used by software to interface with the storage device, and is capable of bringing out the maximum potential of SSDs.

You see, SSDs have gotten much faster over the years with new advances in NAND memory tech and more powerful memory controllers.

But for a long time, they were limited to the very same SATA bus as the HDDs. And they used AHCI, a data transfer protocol which dates all the way back to 2004 and isn’t really optimized for SSDs.

The new NVMe protocol in combination with PCIe allows SSDs to transfer data at speeds of up to 3500MBps read, and 2500MBps write.

SATA has an upper limit of 600MB/s, so PCIe NVMe SSDs are more than 5 times as fast. The downside? They are expensive.

For example, this 500GB Samsung 970 Evo costs almost as much as a 1TB 2.5” SATA SSD.

Intel UHD Vs AMD R-Series Integrated Graphics

Both Intel’s UHD graphics and AMD’s R-series of iGPUs (integrated graphics processing unit) borrow system memory (RAM) to run games.

But, Intel’s UHD lineup of graphics cannot compete with AMD’s offering in terms of gaming performance.

It is a reoccurring theme, one that has been going on for several years. Ever since AMD bought ATI, they have integrated components of their dedicated desktop GPUs into mobile graphics for laptops.

AMD’s integrated GPUs have far higher clocks, much more transistors, higher computer performance, and are just better overall unless you use specific features like Intel Quick Sync.

Which Graphics Settings You Should Turn Down To Play At A Smoother Framerate?

The first thing you should do if you have a budget laptop, is turn down graphics settings to get a framerate of at least 30fps.

This will ensure that you’re playing a game, not watching a slideshow.

Integrated graphics aren’t very good at gaming, since they lack dedicated VRAM and simply aren’t equipped with the same amount of power as dedicated graphics.

So, you have to compensate by turning down things like resolution, shadows, texture quality, and anti aliasing.

Also turn off feature such as PhysX, tessellation, and TressFX or HairWorks.

The Importance Of A Laptop Cooling Pad

While gaming, you put high amounts of load on the CPU and GPU for long periods of time.

This causes them to run at close to maximum speed, which increases power consumption and that in turn results in more heat generated.

This heat will affect performance unless you have a nice cooling system in the laptop, which most budget laptops lack.

Once the CPU or GPU reaches a “throttle” temp, it will start reducing clock speeds drastically to keep itself under the critical threshold.

Too much heat can damage the silicon, and the chips have built-in countermeasures.

Sensors detect the temperatures and adjust clock speeds dynamically. You know a CPU has base and boost clock? That boost clock won’t last for more than a few seconds unless your processor is well cooled.

So by reducing temperatures, you are telling the processor that it can run higher clock speeds on average, for a longer period of time.

This results in more gaming performance, and a longer lifespan for your laptop. A cooling pad augments the built-in cooler of your laptop by blowing fresh cold air straight into the intake vents of your laptop.

A lot of them also act as air filters, since they will catch any debris before it enters your laptop.

 And, you get a free stand to angle your laptop for a more comfortable typing experience.

The Havit HV-F2068 is an excellent cooling pad- it has 5 powerful fans, anti-slip baffles, and is height adjustable.

What’s The Sweet Spot For Purchasing A Gaming Laptop?

Around 900 to 1100 dollars, here is where you get 6-core Intel 8th and 9th gen Core i7 processors.

These will handle any modern AAA game at high settings, and you can easily stream gameplay to Twitch via OBS with zero frame drops on viewer side.

You even get features like a 144Hz high refresh-rate IPS display around the 1000-dollar price point, this is awesome if you’re interested in playing competitive online shooters.

There should be plenty of RAM to last you another 4 or 5 years, since most laptops in this range are equipped with 16GB of DDR4.

As for graphics, you can get a GTX 1660ti around this price which performs just a hair shy of the GTX 1070 from last gen.

Things do get better after the 1100 dollar price point, but you start getting less for your money.

It isn’t a linear increase in performance for every dollar you spend, the improvements will eventually taper off and you’re mostly paying for luxury features at that point.

If you can’t quite afford to spend over 1000 dollars on a gaming laptop, check out our review of the 5 best gaming laptops under 800 dollars.

Conclusion

Even when you’re shopping for a budget gaming laptop under 400 dollars, you need to be on the lookout for basic features that are an absolute necessity in 2020.

Like USB Type C which is required to charge phones, transfer data, or power external displays.

Or 802.11 ac Wi-Fi which is around 3 times faster than the old n standard.

Dual- band ac Wi-Fi is a must-have, since most modern routers support that feature and it allows a ton of wireless devices to communicate with the router without causing major interference or jamming the network.

The HP 14-dk0022wm Slim has all the above mentioned features, and thanks to a 2nd gen Ryzen APU, it’s equipped to deal with most games that aren’t AAA. You should be good, as long as you turn down the graphics to lowest presets (and resolution to 720p.

About the author 

Saurav Rath

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