October 9, 2020

If you don’t have time to read the whole article and just want to know which one is the best gaming laptop under 500 dollars, it’s the Lenovo Ideapad S145.

To say that finding a gaming laptop under $500 is hard, would be a massive understatement. We did all the research, so you don’t have to wrangle your head around all the technical jargon and confusing specifications.

If you want a more detailed rundown of how we select these laptops, check out our comprehensive gaming laptop buying guide.

Here is our list of the 5 best gaming laptops under 500 dollars:

Lenovo never ceases to surprise us with their consistently amazing build quality across the entire product stack, whether it be a super cheap 200-dollar netbook, or an expensive 1000-dollar gaming laptop. For the price, you always get your money’s worth when you purchase a Lenovo machine.

And we are also big fans of the keyboards on budget Lenovo laptops. This one is no exception, the Ideapad S145 is an excellent choice if you’re a college student who’s looking for a cheap laptop to type out papers. It has got a keyboard that feels crisp, with no flex in the deck, and a trackpad that anyone can get used to within 5 minutes.

The performance isn’t half bad either, thanks to a SSD and 8GB of RAM. The Core i3 1005G1 might seem a bit anemic if you’re doing anything other than word processing or casual gaming. Then again, who purchases a sub-500 dollar laptop expecting to do serious work on it?

All things considered, the Ideapad S145 is simply the best gaming laptop under 500 bucks right now. It’s slim enough to slide into your backpack for a quick ride in the metro. And you can stroll around with it in your hands without feeling the weight.

Plus, the battery life ensures you can get through at least half a day of work without needing a recharge.

If you want more storage, you can always pop in a larger M.2 SSD (Lenovo makes the process of upgrading your RAM and SSD very easy). The full-size keyboard means this laptop is also a good choice for those who regularly find themselves filling forms or working on spreadsheets.

The S145 even has a proper SD card reader, not one of those little micro SD slots.

You can take this laptop around with you as a makeshift editing device for the photos you capture on your camera. However, the TN (twisted nematic) display on this laptop doesn’t really do a good job with color accuracy or brightness. Which is why we don’t recommend it as a proper photo or video editing machine.

Which Games Can I Play On This Laptop?

  • Far Cry 3
  • Battlefield 1942
  • Medal of Honor: Warfighter
  • DOOM (2016)
  • League of Legends
  • Minecraft

Pros

  • Excellent form factor
  • Thick ABS plastic construction, feels rigid enough for daily usage
  • Good keyboard and trackpad
  • 7 to 8hr battery life with low brightness (browsing and word processing, not gaming)
  • Ample selection of ports- 2x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0, HDMI out, USB Type C, SD card reader

Cons

  • TN panel has lower color accuracy when compared to IPS panels found in similarly priced laptops
  • No RJ45 Ethernet port
  • Power button is integrated into the keyboard, Home, End, Page Up/ Down are placed in awkward spots

If you’re a gamer on a tight budget, HP is definitely one of the brands you should check out. Their low to mid-tier offerings in the sub 700 dollar range pack incredible value for money by delivering ample performance in combination with good build quality and attractive features.

However, we aren’t talking about laptops in the sub-700 dollar range today. We’re going even lower than that. And the HP Laptop 14 is one incredible machine, for it manages to do nearly everything the average computer user could possibly want, for less than 500 bucks.

At the heart of this 14-inch HP lies a 10th generation Ice Lake chip with Intel UHD graphics. It is no multithreaded performance champ with its measly 2 cores and 4 threads (thanks Intel for enabling hyperthreading across the entire product stack this generation).

But this new processor generation has an ace up its sleeve. Or two.

Firstly, this chip isn’t based on the same Skylake architecture that Intel has been regurgitating with a couple tweaks since 2015. It has higher IPC than any Intel mobile generation before it, which enables it to execute more instructions at the same clock speed.

On top of that, this is one of the few processors that uses Intel’s new 10nm process (which has been delayed on desktop chips for over 2 years now). That 10nm process results in really efficient CPUs and higher all-core turbo speeds. It also supports higher RAM speeds, and we know that iGPU performance is directly correlated to laptop RAM frequency.

The new 10th gen Core series processors are equipped with the new Intel UHD G1 graphics with 32 execution units (and a clock range of 300 to 900MHz).

Thanks to this, you’ve got a laptop for under 500 bucks that can comfortably run esports titles such as CS: GO or Fortnite at 720p and 30+ fps.

Which Games Can I Play On This Laptop?

  • CS: GO
  • Fortnite
  • Dota 2
  • League of Legends
  • GTA V
  • Overwatch

Pros

  • Intel 10th gen Core i3 processor has great single threaded performance for daily tasks like browsing, voice chat, downloads, word processing, casual gaming, etc.
  • The new UHD G1 iGPU is faster than a UHD 620 and can play older AAA games or esports titles at 60fps on 720p resolution settings
  • You get 8GB of DDR4 RAM, which should be plenty for multitasking and gaming
  • 256GB PCIe SSD ensures super fast load times and quick bootup
  • Thin bezel FHD IPS display, has good viewing angles
  • Decent top-firing stereo speakers
  • Backlit keyboard

Cons

  • Comes with Windows 10 in S-mode by default (you can switch out of S mode by following this guide)
  • The 256GB SSD can be a bit limiting if you like to download movies and store photos
  • Webcam is mediocre at best

If you want strong multithreaded performance for applications such as Photoshop, Premiere Pro, Blender, Solidworks, etc. along with a large selection of ports, get the Lenovo V330. What it lacks in single core performance, it more than makes up for with superb build quality and multithreaded muscle.

All that multithreaded performance comes from a Ryzen 5 2500u processor. This 1st generation Ryzen mobile chip might be a little old as of now, but it still packs a wallop with 4 cores and 8 threads.

Not to mention, the excellent Vega 8 iGPU which is on par if not better, than the UHD G1 graphics in 10th gen Intel i3 chips.

So why didn’t we declare the V330 as the best gaming laptop under 500 bucks if it has such good integrated graphics and a strong CPU? Well, this laptop just seems better suited for content creators and professionals rather than college students or casual gamers. Of course, you could use it in any role you want.

As we’ve mentioned before, there’s no such as a “gaming laptop” in the true sense of the word. Any laptop can be designated a gaming laptop if you use it for gaming, it’s just that manufacturers advertise a certain type of laptop towards the gamer demographic. Laptops with powerful graphics and fast CPUs, with less focus placed on portability and display or trackpad quality.

The laptop looks fairly industrial, with thick bezels and a dull color scheme. It also has a fingerprint reader alongside a wide selection of ports.

If functionality and multithreaded performance are what matter the most, this is the laptop for you. It can also game very well, thanks to the Vega 8 iGPU.

Which Games Can I Play On This Laptop?

  • Fortnite
  • League of Legends
  • Hearthstone
  • Dota 2
  • Dota Underlords

Pros

  • Excellent processor for running applications like Premiere Pro, Solidworks, Blender, etc. which scale with more cores (you can even stream your gameplay live)
  • Vega 8 iGPU is on par with new 10th gen Intel integrated graphics, even better in some instances
  • 8GB of RAM in a dual channel configuration
  • Super I/O and lots of ports- USB Type A, Type C, HDMI out, SD card reader, RJ45 Ethernet, and VGA (yes, it even has a VGA port)
  • Antiglare FHD 14” display with 180° tilt
  • Ergonomic keyboard with large keycaps and ample spacing between keys for fast paced typing
  • Large, accurate trackpad
  • Fingerprint sensor
  • Privacy shutter on webcam
  • TPM (trusted platform module) security chip for hardware level data encryption and intrusion detection
  • Windows 10 Pro preinstalled

Cons

  • Mediocre battery life, probably due to the relatively small 39Wh 3-cell Li Ion battery
  • Poor webcam quality
  • Not the best colors due to its use of a TN panel

Sleek, stylish, and efficient- the ASUS VivoBook F512JA-AS34 is one of our favorite sub-500 dollar notebooks. It’s really light at just 3.75lbs and has what ASUS calls a NanoEdge bezel display, allowing for a stunning 88% screen to body ratio.

Unfortunately, the actual display itself isn’t all that impressive since this is a TN panel and not an IPS one. Which means colors seem muted and contrast isn’t all that great. However, viewing angles are actually not bad by TN standards.

In fact, ASUS boasts an impressive 178° viewing angle which means you and your friends can enjoy movies on this 15.6” screen. That is, as long as all of you are facing the laptop screen at a vertical angle close to 90°.

While the horizontal viewing angles are pretty good, the vertical viewing angle is extremely shallow. You’ll be reminded instantly that this is a TN panel as soon as you tilt the screen backwards or forwards.

The keyboard is honestly one of the best things about this laptop. It is a backlit full-size keyboard, and the keys have just the right amount of travel along with a faint but perceivable tactility to them.

The trackpad is large, and positioned in a favorable spot that reduces the chance of accidental cursor activation while typing. It even has a built-in fingerprint sensor.

Which Games Can I Play On This Laptop?

  • Call of Duty Modern Warfare (2007)
  • CS: GO
  • World of Tanks
  • GTA V
  • Fortnite
  • Assassin’s Creed 2

Pros:

  • Good processor in the 10th gen Intel Core i3 1005G1, excels in everyday tasks such as word processing/ light photo editing/ browsing/ casual gaming
  • 8GB of RAM should be enough for light multitasking and gaming
  • Full-size backlit keyboard
  • Thin bezel display looks modern and stylish
  • ErgoLift hinge adds 2° of tilt to the chassis for a better typing experience
  • Fans aren’t too noisy, even while gaming
  • Trackpad has a built-in fingerprint sensor

Cons:

  • TN panel instead of IPS
  • Bad webcam
  • Poor audio quality from built-in speakers
  • Power button is integrated into the keyboard

This is the best all-rounder under 500 bucks. It has everything- an IPS display with vibrant colors and good contrast, a full-sized keyboard that’s comfortable to type on, fast storage in the form of an SSD, and a good processor in the Ryzen 3 3200.

If there’s one area where the Aspire 5 is lacking, it would be the measly 4GB of RAM. But that’s not a deal-breaker since you can easily find a 4GB stick of laptop RAM under 20 bucks these days. And then, you’ve got 8GB of dual channel.

Just make sure you match the speed of the RAM you purchase with the RAM kit that’s already installed by Acer. The brand doesn’t have to be the same, but the speeds should match. And you should buy a SODIMM, not a DIMM (desktop ram is different from laptop ram).

You could also argue that the 128GB SSD on this laptop is a bit too small for modern users, after all games these days frequently cross the 20GB mark.

But this laptop is not intended for heavier AAA titles. It is meant to play stuff like Rocket League or League of Legends. And you can use an external hard drive for mass storage. Or, slot in a M.2 SSD of your choice.

Think of the Aspire 5 as a well-rounded platform into which you can insert more RAM and storage in the future. It has everything else you need, such as a good display, keyboard, chassis, etc.

Which Games Can I Play On This Laptop?

  • Rocket League
  • Kerbal Space Program
  • Portal 2
  • Left 4 Dead 2
  • GTA San Andreas
  • Age of Empires 3
  • Battlefield 2
  • Company of Heroes 2
  • FIFA 07 and 08
  • F1 2010

Pros

  • Excellent display- it has good colors, viewing angles, and contrast (you can use it for light video and photo editing)
  • Good processor for the price- Ryzen 3 3200u with 2 cores and 4 threads
  • Decent iGPU in the Vega 3
  • Backlit keyboard has ample key spacing, a nice texture on the keycaps, and rests on a rigid deck which doesn’t flex too much
  • Good trackpad that is precise and responsive
  • Decent selection of ports- Ethernet, USB 3.1 Gen 1, USB 2.0, HDMI out, 3.5mm
  • Aluminum top cover gives this laptop a premium feel, even though the rest of the body is plastic

Cons

  • No Type C port (really Acer?)
  • Middle of the pack battery life
  • Only 4GB of RAM in default configuration (you can add more)

THINGS TO TAKE INTO CONSIDERATION


Should You Buy New Or Used/ Refurbished?

Let’s say you have a budget of 500 dollars to purchase a gaming laptop. It’s not much, but you certainly don’t need a small fortune to enjoy gaming. 

You can always go with the used route, or buy refurbished. But laptops in this price range are cheaply built to begin with, and it’s quite hard to predict if that 2-year-old used machine you just purchased will last.

Gaming does put more stress on the hardware than simple tasks like browsing the web or working with spreadsheets.

If you aren’t comfortable with taking the laptop apart and replacing thermal paste or cleaning fans, you’re better off just buying a new one.

The peace of mind that comes with having a fresh warranty and brand-new parts is definitely worth the extra price.

How To Select The Right Laptop Under $500?

At this price point, a lot of laptops have similar specs. It’s either Core i3s, or AMD A-series APUs for the processor.

Do you get Intel HD graphics, or AMD R5/ R7 graphics? How much memory do you need?

Here are the major components you need to look out for- CPU, Graphics, RAM, Display, Storage, and Battery Life.

And you should prioritize them in exactly that order.

A faster CPU will net you higher framerates in games, more RAM allows you to load modern AAA games and run multiple programs at the same time.

A quad core CPU with 8 threads like the Ryzen 5 2500U/ 3500U will absolutely crush an Intel 8th gen i3 in multitasking and productivity workloads.

We don’t recommend buying laptop models with AMD A-series APUs (A8, A12) in 2019.

They are far too slow despite being quad-cores, since the IPC and clock speed is lacking compared to their Intel counterparts.

Get an AMD Ryzen 5 powered laptop instead.

Mechanical Hard Disk Drive Or SSD?

Go with a 1TB mechanical hard drive instead of a 128GB PCIe SSD if you want to store all your media and games inside the laptop without requiring an external HDD.

But be warned, a 5400RPM HDD will make booting up and loading programs feel extremely slow compared to literally any SSD.

Even browsing through your hard drive in Windows will feel faster with an SSD. Note that SSDs don’t really affect game performance all that much, i.e. your average framerate will stay pretty much the same with an SSD.

But you will load much faster, and if your laptop is short on RAM it may help prevent stuttering in levels of the game that have large open-world environments.

How Well Is It Designed?

Build quality definitely matters, for instance a laptop with a plastic frame and TN panel isn’t going to be as well built as one with an IPS display and aluminum frame.

The keyboard quality can also vary greatly between brands, so you need to consider how often you’ll be using the laptop’s built-in keyboard for gaming.

From our experience, Lenovo laptops have the best keyboards if you’re going the budget route (under 500 dollars). Their trackpads are quite precise too, and the buttons last for a long time even under regular usage.

Keeping Your Gaming Laptop Cool

Cooling is another factor you must take into consideration. Gaming will put a lot of stress on your CPU and GPU.

Without adequate cooling they will heat up and throttle (automatically decrease clock speeds), which can affect performance while simultaneously reducing the lifespan of your laptop.

If you notice your laptop starting to heat up after a couple hours of gaming, you can purchase a laptop cooling pad like this Cooler Master NotePal X-Slim

Thinner laptops will tend to run hotter, since there’s less room to dissipate heat being generated by the processor and graphics unit.


Conclusion


We chose the Lenovo Ideapad S145 as our overall winner, i.e. it is the best gaming laptop under 500 dollars.

Even though it uses a 2 core, 4-thread Core i3-1005G1 instead of the 4 core, 8-thread Ryzen 5 2500U found in the Lenovo V330, gaming performance is quite similar between the two.

The Ryzen 5 2500u has more cores and threads, allowing for higher multithreaded performance. This comes in handy if you’re working with applications like BlenderPremier ProSolidWorks, etc. We recommend the Lenovo V330 for small business, and creative professionals on a budget.

If you want the best display under 500 bucks, get the Acer Aspire 5 which has a FHD IPS display. Or, you can also check out the XIDU Tour Pro which costs less than 400 dollars and has a 1440p IPS display.

The Acer Aspire 5 has a slightly slower processor and less RAM compared to the two Lenovo laptops, so it is slightly worse at gaming.

Both the Lenovo S145 and V330 lead this pack in terms of build quality and have excellent keyboards. But the ASUS VivoBook 15 offers a better overall typing experience thanks to its ErgoLift hinge and perfect balance of key travel with tactile feedback.

About the author 

Saurav Rath

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