Best gaming laptops under $1000 in 2021

At a casual glance, $1000 can get you an entry-level gaming laptop powered by the GTX 1650 or 1650Ti. But the reality is that, if you dig deeper, Amazon hides some excellent sub $1000 gaming notebooks. Depending on your priorities, you could either end up with a powerful gaming machine rocking an RTX 3060 that lacks other departments or a great all-rounder rocking an RTX 3050/3050Ti. But before we dive into the best gaming laptops under $1000, let’s talk about some stuff you should focus on, as well as what to expect from a sub $1000 portable gaming machine.

1. Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming 3: Gaming laptop under $1000 with best GPU

Screen
15.6-inch 1080p
CPU
AMD Ryzen 5-5600H
GPU
GTX 1650
RAM
8 GB

The Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming 3 laptop equipped with the Ryzen 5 5600H and 90W RTX 3060 is the best gaming laptop deal on the market right now. RTX 3060 at 90W should offer about 70 percent improvement over the RTX 3050Ti in its most powerful, 80W version since the 115W RTX 3060 is 90 percent faster than the 80W RTX 3050Ti. In Control, the RTX 3060 90W achieves around 75-78fps with High preset, Ray Tracing, and DLSS turned on. This is a massive improvement over the RTX 3050Ti.

The CPU used on this laptop is the Ryzen 5 5600H. A six-core SKU with 45W TDP is a pretty fast mobile CPU. Overall, an excellent CPU choice. You also get a 512GB SSD with an extra M.2 slot, which is another plus. The biggest downside of this device is only 8GB of memory. But since the board packs two SO-DIMM slots, you can upgrade to 16GB in dual-channel mode, which we strongly recommend doing. Ports include 2 USB 3.2 gen1 ports, one USB-C port, full-sized HDMI, and an RJ45 (LAN) port. You also get a combo audio jack, which you can find on every other laptop featured on this list.

The screen is a 1080p 120Hz IPS panel with mediocre colors and brightness and is on the dimmer side (250 nits max brightness). Not great, but far from being disappointing. Especially if you look at the rest of the hardware, you get for the price. Build quality is satisfactory, the body is plastic, the keyboard’s fantastic, the webcam is passable, and the average battery life. The speakers are trash, and the laptop features Advanced Optimus as well as AMD Freesync Premium. Overall, this is a superb gaming package and if you have only $1000 to spend on a gaming laptop, get this one along with an extra stick of RAM.

2. Lenovo Legion 5: Gaming laptop under $1000 with best overall package

Screen
15.6-inch 1080p
CPU
AMD Ryzen 7-5800H
GPU
RTX 3050 Ti
RAM
16 GB

Next, we have the best overall package in the form of the Lenovo Legion 5, the RTX 3050Ti version. The RTX 3050Ti is far from RTX 3060 for gaming performance, but aside from the GPU, the Legion 5 is a clear upgrade over the IdeaPad Gaming 3. First of all, you have the Ryzen 7 5800H, one of the fastest mobile CPUs you can get at the moment. Next, the device packs 16GB of memory coupled with a 512GB SSD and an extra M.2 slot. The screen here is much better than on the IdeaPad Gaming 3. We’re looking at an IPS panel with a 165Hz refresh rate, near 100% of the sRGB color space coverage, and 350 nits max brightness. The laptop supports Advanced Optimus.

The build quality is also much better than on the IdeaPad Gaming 3. The Legion 5 features an all-plastic body, but this time, there are no creaks, very little flex, and a firm screen hinge. The full-sized RGB keyboard is excellent for typing, and we can say the same about the touchpad. It’s precise and smooth but made of plastic and relatively small. The cooling system is pretty good (CPU averages about 80C while the GPU hovers around 70C). The battery life is about six and a half hours while watching YouTube. The webcam and speakers are, like on most other entry-level gaming laptops, passable at best.

When it comes to connectivity, the device comes with 4 USB-A ports, two USB-C ports (one supports DP 1.4, the other power delivery), a full-sized HDMI 2.1 port, and an RJ45 port. Overall, the Lenovo Legion 5 is a lovely good-budget gaming laptop. The RTX 3050Ti is a decent GPU, but only 4GB of memory doesn’t do it any favors. We would like to see a Legion 5 with the 5600H and RTX 3060 combo. In combination with a great screen, that would hit a bullseye for budget gaming laptops.

As for the alternatives, you can get the HP Victus 16 packing the Ryzen 5600H and RTX 3050, which is a bit slower than the Ti version. Next, we have the ASUS ROG Strix G15 powered by the Ryzen 7 4800H and, again, an RTX 3050. These devices pack only 8GB of memory, an apparent downside compared to the Legion 5. Finally, we have an older Lenovo Legion Y540 with a ninth-gen Core i7 CPU and a GTX 1660Ti GPU. The 1660Ti offers almost the same gaming performance as the RTX 3050Ti but comes with 6GB of VRAM, a clear improvement over 4GB of video memory found on the RTX 3050Ti.

3. Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming 3: Cheapest gaming laptop under $1000

Screen
15.6-inch 1080p
CPU
AMD Ryzen 5 5600H
GPU
GTX 1650
RAM
8 GB

We recommend getting the Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming 3 equipped with the Ryzen 5 5600H and a GTX 1650 GPU if you’re on a tight budget. This isn’t the best gaming combo on the market, but it’s good enough for multiplayer shooters and a 60Hz AAA experience with medium-low or 30-40fps experience with high settings. Older AAA titles should work at or near 60fps even with high visual settings. On the other hand, the 5600H is a beast of a CPU at this price. Everyone looking for a cheap yet powerful convertible device for work coupled with a decent GPU for occasional gaming should check this one.

Aside from the 256GB SSD, all other specs are the same as the IdeaPad Gaming 3 equipped with the RTX 3060. That means 8GB of memory with an empty RAM slot for an easy upgrade as well as an extra M.2 slot. Average build quality and 1080p 120Hz screen, passable webcam and speakers, and a pretty good keyboard. The ports are also the same. And you also get Advanced Optimus support. The main competition to this version of the IdeaPad Gaming 3 is the Acer Nitro 5.

It offers a slightly better GPU in the form of the GTX 1650Ti but also a slower CPU (Core i5-10300H). Also, the Nitro 5 has worse build quality and a 1080p 144Hz screen with worse colors than the Lenovo. It’s also noticeably pricier. The MSI GL65 has the same CPU as the Nitro 5 along with a GTX 1650. It comes with 16GB of memory instead of 8GB and a larger, 512GB SSD. Again, the GL65 has a noticeably higher price than the IdeaPad Gaming 3.

4. ASUS TUF Dash 15: Best gaming laptop under $1000 with Intel CPU

Screen
15.6-inch 1080p
CPU
Intel Core i7-11370H
GPU
RTX 3050 Ti
RAM
8 GB

As you have probably noticed, all of our recommendations feature Ryzen CPUs. Intel mobile CPUs are pricier than their AMD counterparts and are usually found on upper-tier devices. You can generally stumble upon Core i5 models in the budget segment, but the ASUS TUF Dash 15 does pack the four-core Core i7-11370H. This CPU is slower than both the i7-10870H and Core i5-11400H. With that said, it won’t be a bottleneck for the humble RTX 3050Ti, which usually runs at about 65W TDP. Even at 65W, the GPU should offer a 60fps gaming experience when playing older AAA titles. On the flip side, it looks like the TUF Dash 15 doesn’t have a MUX switch or Advanced Optimus support.

Other downsides include an average display (1080p IPS, 144Hz, 62% sRGB, 300 nits), and only 8GB of memory, albeit with an extra RAM slot. The device also comes with a 512GB SSD with a different M.2 slot. The keyboard’s pretty good, the touchpad is pretty big and precise, and the design is slick and subdued, which we like. Ports include three USB-A 3.2 gen2 ports, one Thunderbolt 4, an RJ45, and a full-sized HDMI port. Battery life is pretty good for a budget laptop, clocking in at around eight hours of light usage. The cooling system is great. The CPU reaches 80 degrees Celsius while the GPU hovers around 70C.

Overall, the ASUS TUF Dash 15 is a well-rounded budget gaming laptop based on an Intel CPU. The CPU is slower than its Ryzen counterparts, but you do get Thunderbolt support. When it comes to gaming performance, the i7-11370H is an excellent fit for the RTX 3050Ti. The best alternative for the TUF Dash 15 is the Lenovo Legion 5 version that packs a Core i7-10750H (six cores, faster than the i7-11370H) and a slower GTX 1650Ti. The Lenovo also comes with 16GB of memory. The Acer Nitro 5 powered by the six-core i5-11400H (six cores, an excellent mobile CPU faster than the 11370H) is cheaper, comes with 16GB of memory, but it only packs the GTX 1650. Finally, there’s the Asus TUF 15 featuring the Core i5-10300H, 16GB of memory, 1TB SSD, and a GTX 1650Ti.

5. Acer Swift X: Best ultraportable gaming laptop under $1000

Screen
14-inch 1080p
CPU
AMD Ryzen 7-5800U
GPU
RTX 3050 Ti
RAM
16 GB

Just a few years ago, ultraportable laptops and gaming were two different worlds. Nowadays, a slim device like the Acer Swift X can provide a 60fps gaming experience in AAA games with medium to high settings, depending on the game. The laptop features a slick design, and it’s a proper ultraportable device made for working on the go. The 5800U is an excellent low-power CPU that packs a surprisingly strong punch and is fast enough for serious work. It’s also great for gaming. The RTX 3050Ti, 40W version isn’t as fast as its 85W and 75W cousins, but, as we already said, it can achieve 60 frames per second@1080p resolution in most AAA games.

The rest of the specs include 16GB of memory, 512GB SSD (with an extra M.2 slot), an excellent 1080p IPS screen with a 60Hz refresh rate, 100% sRGB coverage, and a max brightness of 370 nits. Overall, aside from the 60Hz refresh rate, you’re getting impressive hardware for the price. The metal and plastic body has excellent build quality, noticeably higher than on regular gaming laptops featured on this list. The keyboard’s perfect for typing, but its form factor has some downsides (lack of numeric keypad and awkward placing of certain keys). The touchpad is precise but relatively small. Webcam and speakers are passable, while the battery offers up to 12 hours of video playback.

IO includes two USB 3.2, one USB-C, and a full-sized HDMI port. No SD or MicroSD card reader here, which can be a deal-breaker for some users. At least you get a fingerprint reader. The device supports Optimus, but it doesn’t have a MUX switch. Overall, the Acer Swift X is an excellent device for professionals looking for a powerful ultraportable that they can also use for serious gaming. Its closest competitor is the ROG Zephyrus G from ASUS. This is an ultralight gaming laptop that features a more powerful GTX 1660Ti and an older Ryzen 7 3750H CPU and only 8GB of memory. Its screen is also not as bright or colorful.

6. MSI GF75: Best 17-inch gaming laptop under $1000

Screen
17.3-inch 1080p
CPU
Intel Core i5-10300H
GPU
GTX 1650
RAM
8 GB

Last but not least, we have a sub $1000 17-inch gaming laptop pick. 17-inch gaming laptops are usually reserved for higher price tiers, but there are a few decent models down in the budget section of the market. The MSI GF75 is one of the best, and it packs a Core i5-10300H and GTX 1650Ti combo. You also get 16GB of dual-channel memory and a 512GB SSD. The 1080p IPS screen has a 144Hz refresh rate and average colors and brightness. The battery life (51Whr) is, again, the average for a gaming laptop. Connectivity options are pretty solid. The device comes with three USB-A 3.2 ports, one USB-C, a full-sized HDMI, and an RJ45 port.

Webcam and speakers are only passable, while the keyboard is more than decent for an entry-level gaming laptop. The touchpad is tiny for a 17-inch device but responsive and relatively precise. Overall, the MSI GF75 is one of the rare 17-inch budget gaming laptops, and while it doesn’t have exciting specs, it’s a pretty good deal for everyone looking for a 17-inch device. The ASUS TUF F17 is cheaper while packing the same CPU+GPU combo and SSD capacity. It comes with only 8GB of memory and can get rather hot under heavy loads. On the flip side, it’s noticeably cheaper than this particular version of the GF75.

RTX 3000 TDP and Nvidia Optimus – What you should know

RTX 3000 Series TDP

Before the RTX 3000 mobile GPU lineup came out, Nvidia used Max-Q and Max-P brandings for their mobile GPUs. Nvidia designed the former for ultrabook devices that don’t pack cooling solutions powerful enough to cool the power-hungry Max-P (P for performance) GPUs. Finding out which GPU version you could find on a laptop you planned on getting was relatively easy. Models equipped with Max-Q GPUs were usually clearly labeled on manufacturers’ sites, allowing users to quickly find out which GPU they would get if they bought a particular laptop. This changed with the arrival of the RTX 3000 mobile GPU series.

Nvidia dropped Max-P branding and instead allowed laptop manufacturers to freely scale the power and frequency of the RTX 3000 GPUs, which created massive confusion among consumers. For instance, after Nvidia launched the mobile versions of RTX 3060, 3070, and 3080 GPUs instead of six SKUs (Max-Q and Max-P flavor for each GPU), we received 28(!) GPU versions, with massive differences in TGP (total graphics power) and frequencies. Luckily, most manufacturers started to clearly label the wattage of GPUs found in different laptop models after many tech sites talked about the issue. But still, if you aren’t careful, you might get a device with a less powerful graphics chip without knowing.

So, to be sure, always check the manufacturer’s website for detailed specs of the laptop you’re interested in and, if possible, look for professional reviews. Further, to make matters worse, Nvidia also has a feature known as Dynamic Boost that dynamically switches available power between the CPU and GPU. In theory, Dynamic Boost could further increase the GPU TGP/TDP when the CPU isn’t fully loaded. But, in practice, this usually isn’t the case. For instance, while the RTX 3070 found on the Zephyrus M16 is rated at up to 100W with Dynamic Boost, reviews show that the GPU barely goes over its base 80W TDP.

Optimus, MUX Switch, and Advanced Optimus

Next, we have another technology by Nvidia called Optimus. Optimus allows laptops to use integrated GPUs found in mobile CPUs for tasks that aren’t GPU-heavy to prolong battery life. Once you start gaming, Optimus automatically switches to the discrete GPU to deliver full graphical power. Suppose a laptop doesn’t have the MUX switch; the video signal always has to pass through the iGPU before it reaches the display. This addition increases latency and leads to slightly lower gaming performance.

With the MUX switch, you can disable the iGPU and remove it from the video signal pipeline. This method increases gaming performance by six to almost twenty percent, depending on the game and visual settings. The second way to pull the iGPU off the pipeline is a feature called Advanced Optimus. This feature automatically disables the iGPU once you start gaming or doing any other GPU-heavy task. In any case, when looking for a gaming laptop, try getting a device that either has a MUX switch or an Advanced Optimus feature.

Most manufacturers list Optimus-related features in detailed specs for their devices, so you don’t have to scour the web for reviews to see whether the device you’re interested in can disable its iGPU. And if your laptop doesn’t have the MUX switch or Advanced Optimus, you can increase performance by connecting the laptop to an external monitor. In that case, the signal passes only through the discrete GPU.

What to expect from a $1000 gaming laptop

First of all, most budget gaming laptops come with a plastic body and less than ideal build quality. Don’t expect superb build quality paired with chassis made of aluminum or magnesium. Next, while most models have average screens that don’t cover 100 percent of the sRGB color space, there are sub $1000 gaming laptops out there that feature quality panels with 100 percent sRGB coverage. Most models feature high refresh rate screens that range from 100 to 144Hz.

Most panels used are IPS which equals wide viewing angles but also average contrast, at best. Finally, screens found on budget gaming laptops tend to be on the dimmer side, so don’t expect to use them outside. Keyboards are a mixed bag. For instance, even budget Lenovo laptops tend to have pretty good keyboards, but that isn’t the case for all brands. Battery life is average at best, but that is something you should expect even on high-end gaming devices.

As for the hardware, cheaper devices come with 8GB of memory, while the ones closing in on the $1000 mark pack 16GB of (usually) dual-channel RAM. Luckily, most gaming laptops come with at least one free SO-DIMM slot, allowing you to upgrade the memory and run it in dual-channel mode. As for the storage, expect either 256GB or 512GB SSDs, but, again, most devices come with two M.2 slots, allowing for an upgrade.

CPUs found on gaming laptops have higher TDP and are noticeably more potent than those found in ultrabooks. The good news is that even budget gaming laptops tend to have powerful CPUs from AMD and Intel; make sure you’re getting Ryzen 4000 and 5000 and Intel 10th or 11th gen CPUs. Finally, when it comes to GPUs, expect at least the GTX 1650. Okay, now let’s check out the best sub $1000 gaming laptops. We’re starting with the model that offers the fastest GPU, the most critical part of any gaming machine.