Gaming can be an expensive hobby, and it’s easy to spend $1,000 or even $2,000 on a high-end gaming PC or laptop. However, you don’t need to spend that much to get a quality gaming experience anymore. Depending on what you want to play, you can actually have a decent gaming device for less than $500. Don’t expect to play Cyberpunk 2077 at 4K, but indie titles and older games will run fine on most modern devices regardless of how much you spend. Plus, with services like the Xbox GamePass and Google Stadia, you can play AAA games on subpar devices as long as they have a solid internet connection.
Here are six of the best gaming laptops you can get for under $500, perfect for wannabe gamers on a budget. For the best overall, we went with the entry-level Acer Aspire 5. It’s impressively capable for its price and makes the most of its hardware to deliver a solid gaming experience.
At a glance:
- Best gaming laptop under $500: Acer Aspire 5
- Runner Apple gaming “laptop” under $500: Apple iPad (2020)
- Best gaming laptop under $500 for streaming: Lenovo Flex 5
- Best gaming laptop under $500 with big storage: HP 14
- Best 2-in-1 gaming laptop under $500: Microsoft Surface Go 2
- Best budget gaming laptop under $500: Lenovo IdeaPad Duet
Best gaming laptop under $500: Acer Aspire 5
Why you should buy this: A new Ryzen chip and solid I/O make this budget Windows laptop offer a decent all-around gaming experience.
Who this is for: Users who want a solid and affordable computer that can be upgraded down the line.
Why we chose the Acer Aspire 5: Acer’s latest laptops offer impressive value, and that’s largely because of the Ryzen chips under the hood. The latest generation of AMD’s chips has shaken up the laptop processor scene, and they can deliver impressive results that are usually reserved for higher-priced machines. The Ryzen 3 3200U isn’t going to blow anyone away, but it is more than acceptable for indie games or older titles, and you can always upgrade it with an MX350 GPU for additional performance too.
The Aspire 5 also has solid I/O, including an HDMI output and an Ethernet jack, so users can take advantage of an external monitor and a wired connection for online gaming or streaming. The memory and SSD are a little low, but luckily users can upgrade both of these when their budget allows it.
Best Apple gaming “laptop” under $500: Apple iPad (2020)
Why you should buy this: The most versatile and high-quality computing experience in this price range, and games to boot.
Who this is for: People who want to maximize their purchase and get a quality portable experience.
Why we chose the Apple iPad (2020):
The iPad might not technically be a laptop, but with the keyboard accessory, it’s officially a 2-in-1. Considering the entry-level iPad is not only one of the best computing experience in this price range, but it also offers up some of the most diverse gaming content among any of our picks.
First, there is the App Store. Yes, there are your usual free-to-play games like Brawlhalla, Knighthood, and Mario Kart Tour. However, there are also plenty of paid titles that range from ports of classic games and indies to App Store exclusives like Battle Chasers: Nightwar. Not to mention Apple Arcade, which has its own host of exclusives as well as popular indie titles like The Pathless for a low monthly fee.
The iPad also supports game streaming services like Google Stadia and Xbox GamePass in the near future. This lets players play AAA titles on the best tablet around, and Stadia is one of the best ways to play intensive games like Cyberpunk 2077. Combine all of this with the fact that Apple now supports controllers from the Xbox and PlayStation, and the iPad is arguably one of the best gaming devices, period — and definitely one of the best below $500.
Best gaming laptop under $500 for streaming: Lenovo Flex 5
Why you should buy this: The Lenovo Flex 5 is a great Chromebook that is perfect for capitalizing on the Google Stadia experience.
Who this is for: Gamers who will primarily stream their games with a third-party service.
Why we chose the Lenovo Flex 5:
The Lenovo Flex 5 is one of the best Chromebooks you can buy. It has a sturdy design, a solid keyboard, and a 1080p display, and that’s what makes it perfect using Google Stadia. The game service works on just about every device, but anecdotal evidence seems to indicate the experience is marginally better in Google Chrome versus other browsers. That makes a Chromebook one of the best devices you can use with the service.
It doesn’t have an Ethernet port, but it has 2 Type-C connections that can easily be plugged into an adapter. If that isn’t a solution for you, the Flex 5 has Wi-Fi 6, which means you’ll get one of the fastest and most reliable wireless experiences available.
Combine Stadia with GamePass and Amazon’s upcoming streaming service, and the Flex 5 will serve you quite well as a game-streaming device.
Best gaming laptop under $500 with big storage: HP 14 with Ryzen 3
Why you should buy this: A 1TB HDD and a Ryzen 3 gives you plenty of room to store games.
Who this is for: People who have a lot of old games they still want to play.
Why we chose the HP 14 with Ryzen 3:
Not everyone is out to play the latest and greatest AAA titles. If you are more into old-school games, a laptop like the HP 14 with a decent Ryzen 3 processor and a roomy 1TB HDD is really all you need. There are literally hundreds of classic games out there to be experienced, and with services like Steam and GOG making them more widely available, you can get thousands of hours of game time on affordable machines like this, with plenty of space for everything you want to play.
The HP 14 has a 1366 x 768 display, which isn’t the best around but should be more than enough for any retro games you might be enjoying. It does have a USB-C port, which is nice for connecting an external SSD if you need even more space. If your big focus is on older games, the HP 14 should be more than enough for what you’re trying to do.
Best 2-in-1 gaming laptop under $500: Microsoft Surface Go 2
Why you should buy this: The Surface Go 2 is a full-fledged Windows device in an iPad-like size.
Who this is for: Anyone who wants a full-fledged laptop for Steam games but likes the 2-in-1 style.
Why we chose the Microsoft Surface Go 2:
Finding a decent Windows machine in this price range can be difficult, and budget devices also come packed with annoying bloatware that further bogs down the experience. That’s why it can be best to go straight to the source: Microsoft itself. The Surface Go 2 is a refinement of the previous Go generation, and this handy little tablet gives you all the power of a Windows machine with the added option of a robust tablet experience.
The Surface Go 2 isn’t a powerhouse machine, but it’s fine for indie titles, older games, or playing streaming services like Google Stadia. The biggest drawback is it doesn’t include the type cover, so you will have to purchase it separately or bring your own. However, it does sport a 1080p display, and playing Xbox GamePass is a breeze (as it is with any Windows machine).
Combine that with Steam, GOG, and a host of other options, and the Surface Go 2 is a great 2-in-1 for gaming.
Best budget gaming laptop under $500: Lenovo IdeaPad Duet
Why you should buy this: A fully functional 2-in-1 Chromebook for half the price of other devices.
Who this is for: Those who are on bare-bone budgets but still want a decent device.
Why we chose the Lenovo IdeaPad Duet:
Gaming can be expensive, but in 2021, it can also be exceedingly affordable. The Lenovo IdeaPad Duet is the prime example of that. At $300, it’s a compact 2-in-1 that actually includes the removable keyboard. As a Chromebook, it can play most of the games on the Google Play Store, and it can also be used with Stadia.
The MediaTek P60T is not an impressive processor, nor is its onboard GPU, but if you’re just playing Android games and Stadia, the IdeaPad Duet is a super affordable gaming laptop at well under $500. Its battery lasts for an age too, which you can really take advantage of if you’re streaming games as it’s far easier on the hardware than rendering everything locally.
With Wi-Fi 5 and Bluetooth 4.2 support, this is a versatile laptop that will handle all your work during the day, and a little gaming at night, at a very low price.