Looking for really dirt cheap laptop is not a problem as there are many that go for less than $300 when new, but none of them are gaming laptops. If you are looking to play the most demanding RPG and FSP games of 2009 even at the lowest game settings, laptops in the price range simply can’t do the job with their APUs mostly integrated with Intel HD Graphic 300 GPU.
It has been our observation that laptops using the Intel HD Graphics 4000 are the starting point for a gaming laptop. Even then, many of the games released in 2011 and earlier will play but only at the lowest possible game settings and graphics card resolution. Battlefield 3, however will not play .Crysis 3 released this year will not play, neither will earlier games like Hitman: Absolution, Assassin’s Creed III, Max Payne 3, Dishonored and Elder Scrolls V.
Having said that, we look at laptops just around the $400 price point and found a few models that sport the Intel HD Graphics 4000 at the very least. They should be able to satisfy the most budget conscious casual gamers and those who don’t mind playing 2011 games at their lower settings.
Gaming laptops are easily the top-of- the-line models in every computer brand. But for the really budget-challenged casual gamers, the fact that there are laptops below the $400 price point can be quite tempting to consider them as possibly proving a rewarding casual gaming experience. Sadly, over the long term, most laptops below this price point would not be able to satisfy a casual gamer who will not bother playing a Pacman, Digger or a Poker game.
The defining threshold for us are laptops powered by the Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU which is a low-tier Class 3 category GPU often used by newly released budget laptops in the $500 to $900 price range and integrated with several dual and quad core Intel CPUs. They can play some demanding games in the low-to-medium game settings and often with reduced HD resolution at their lowest possible point (1366 x 768). Class 3 category GPUs that can be found in some laptops in the $400 to $500 price ranges are shown highlighted in the Table 1.
Table 1: Laptop graphics cards in the Class 3 category above the Intel HD Graphics 4000 Threshold.
Highlighted rows indicate models of graphics cards some of which can be found in affordable including those at the $800 price point.
A closer look at the gaming laptop markets reveal that laptops below the $400 price point generally use the much lower Intel HD Graphics 3000, 2500, 2000 or, in the case of Asus, mostly Intel GMA graphics and generic Intel HD graphics for Sandy and Ivy bridge CPUS. They can hardly play any of the demanding FSP and RPG games released as late as 2011even at low game settings, except Fifa 12 and 11, World of Warcraft, Sims 3, Resident Evil 5, Half-Life 2 Counter-Strike Source and StarCraft 2 which play respectably at low game settings. On the other hand, our threshold GPU and equivalent discrete graphics engines can be found in a few laptops in the $400 to $500 range with most models heavily discounted as old inventory or as previously owned or used.
Now what exactly can a laptop in this price range play? Table 2 puts a snapshot of what most laptops can play using this GPU. These are just indicative and have been averaged out in benchmarks using several laptops as some models may be able to play or not play the games indicated depending on CPU and GPU configuration.
Table 2: Gaming abilities of laptops using the Intel HG Graphics 4000 in terms of FPS (Frames per second) for select game titles
It is clear from Table 2 that the minimum Intel HD Graphics 4000 can play several of the most demanding games at low to medium game detail settings. The older games typically from 2011 and earlier fare better. For purposes of this listing of reasonably competent laptops around the $400 price point, we looked only at those using the Intel HD Graphics 4000 or better graphics cards. There are many that use lower graphics card, so unless you don’t mind playing any of the games in Table 2 above, they can be good options for a casual gamer. In addition, while we would think that budget laptops with the Intel HD Graphics 4000 may have smaller screens, we were surprised that most laptops in this price range have 15-inch display. Here are a few samples of what we’ve found so far:
Some of the best laptops under or around $400
This Lenovo is powered by a 3rd generation Intel i5-3230M with 3MB cache and clocked at 2,6GHz with 4GB DDR3 system RAM. Its 15.6 inch LED backlit screen with the lowest HD resolution (1366 x 768) is powered by our minimum Intel HD 4000 Graphics 4000 integrated with the CPU and qualifies as a gaming laptop for casual gamers. You can play many several sophisticated RPG and FSP games at low game settings such as Tomb Raider, StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, and older games like Diablo 3, and Anno 2070 at the default resolution. Even games like Dawn of War 2, Resident Evil 5 and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare can play at medium game settings. Its data storage is served with a 500 GB SATA hard drive running at 5400 rpm, a DVD read-write optical drive, WiFi 802.11 b/g/n, a couple of USB 3.0 and a single USB 2.0 ports. It has the Windows 8 OS preloaded. A pricier G500 at $651.24 comes with 6GB system RAM and a 1TB 5400 SATA drive.
This Dell Inspiron Ultrabook is only 0.8” thin and packs great value with its 3rd generation Intel Core i3-3227U processor clocked at 1.9GHz. It is supported by a system memory of 6Gb DDR3 shared with the Intel HD Graphics 4000 graphics engine to drive the 14-inch LED backlit display with low 1366 x 768 HD resolution. Data storage is served by a modest 500GB SATA hard disk running at 5400 RPM and complemented by a 32GB mSATA solid state drive, an 8x DVD optical drive, a 3-in-1 media card readers, stereo speakers and a host of wired and wireless data connectivity options, along with a bundled Windows 8 OS and a preinstalled McAfee Security Center on a 30-day trial.
This 15.6-inch Lenovo is powered by the 3rd generation Intel dual; core i3-3120M with a 3MB L3 cache and clocked at 2.5 GHz, Its 15.6″ LED backlit screen sports a low 1366×768 pixels HD resolution driven by the Intel HD 4000 Graphics integrated with the CPU and sharing an 4GB DDR3 system RAM upgradeable to 8GB on two DIMM slots. Several highly sophisticated games will not play, but many, especially older games can play at low to medium game settings at the default resolution. World of Warcraft, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare can play at medium game settings while mass Effect 3, Fifa 12 and 13, and Trackmania Nations Forever even plays at high settings. Data storage is served by a 320 GB SAYA hard disk running at 5400 RPM, a DVD RW optical drive, a 720p HD webcam, stereo speakers each with 1.5 watts of audio amplification driven by a Dolby Advanced Audio system, 802.11 b/g/n WiFi, one USB 3.0 port and 1 x USB 2.0 port, VGA port, 2in1 Card Reader (SD, MMC), HDMI out and RJ45, 1 stereo headphones / microphone in combo jack.
This Dell model is powered by a 3rd generation Intel Core i3-3227U engine with 3MB cache and a 1.8GHz clock rate supported by a 6 GB DDR3 system RAM that is shared with the Intel HD Graphics 4000 driving a 13.3-inch display with low HD resolution (1366 x 768). Several high performance games can be played at low to medium resolution especially older games. It comes with a modest 500 GB SATA hard disk running at 5400 rpm, an 8-in-1 media card reader and stereo speakers housed in a slim 0,82-inch body weighing a light 3.8 lbs. In addition to being among the lightest gaming laptop, it also boasts a battery life that can last up to 7 hours from a single charge. It comes bundled with a 64-bit Windows 8 OS.
This Acer Aspire is powered by the 3rd generation Intel Core i3-3120M with 3 MB L3 cache and clocked at 2.5GHZ. It comes with a 4 GB DDR3 system RAM< Its graphic engine is the Intel HD Graphics 4000 integrated with the CPU bus has an allocated 128MB video memory to drive its 15.6-inch LED backlit CineCrystal display with low HD resolution (1366 x 768). Its gaming muscle is modest but playing many of the high performance games at low to medium game settings at the default resolution can delight even the casual gamer. Its 1.3-inch slim body weight just 5.5 lbs houses a modest 500GB SATA hard drive running at 5400 rpm, an 8x SuperMulti DVD optical dive, a multiple card reader, a webcam, stereo speakers and a host of wired and wireless data connectivity ports. It is preloaded with the Windows 8 OS.
This Asus can be considered a good value laptop for casual and not-so serious gamers. It is powered by a quad core AMD A-Series A8-4500M clocked 1.9 GHz with 6GB DDR3 system RAM. Its 15.6-inch LED backlit screen sporting a low HD resolution (1366 x 768) is driven by a competent Class 3 category midrange GPU – the AMD Radeon HD 7640G, significantly more muscled than our threshold Intel HD 4000 Graphics and 12% faster than the Intel HD 4400 Graphics integrated in many midrange Haswell CPUs. It can play sophisticated RPG and FSP games released recently in the low game settings at the default HD resolution while older games like Dirt 3, CoD: Modern Warfare 3 and Fifa 12 can play at medium game settings. Less demanding game titles should have no problem playing at medium to high game settings. It comes with a 750 GB SATA hard drive running at 5400 rpm, a dual layer DVD optical drive, a media card reader and a host of standard data connectivity ports, all housed in a 1.4-inch thick body weighing just 5.3 lbs. It is preloaded with the Windows 8 OS.
With an MSRP of $409.99, this 15.6-inch Lenovo is powered by the Intel Pentium Dual-Core B980 processor clocked at 2.4 GHz and comes integrated with the Intel HD Graphics 4000 sharing a 4GB DDR3 system memory. While most recently released high performance RPG and FSP games won’t play at all, some like Splinter Cell: blacklist, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, Tomb Raider and StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm can play at low game setting. Dead Space 3, Grid 2 and several older games like Far Cry 3, Diablo 3, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, Counter-Strike: GO can play from low to medium settings. Even Fifa 12 and 13 can play at high game settings. Its data storage is served with a 500GB SATA hard drive running at 5400 RPM. It comes with a Dolby Advanced Audio system for crisp clear surround sound, a DVD read/write optical drive, an integrated 720p HD webcam, WiFi 802.11 b/g/m, HDMI out, two USB 3.0 ports and one USB 2.0 port. . It comes bundled with the Windows 8 OS.
Acer Aspire V3-551-8469
The Acer Aspire V3-551-8469 retails for just $439.91 with free shipping at Amazon and what’s amazing about it is the quad core engine and a separate GPU one can expect only from laptops at a high higher price point. Under the hood is a 1.9 GHz AMD A8-4500M with a 4GB SDRAM and a distinct AMD Radeon HD 7640G graphics engines with its own 512 MB video RAM. Modest by gaming laptop standards with their own GPU and video RAM, this Acer certainly packs 20% more muscle than any with integrated HD Graphics 4000. Sophisticated games will remain a challenge but at least most of them will play smoothly at low game settings. In addition, this Acer comes with a 15.6-inch LED-backlit display with a 1366 x 768 resolution , a 500GB SATA drive running at 5,400 rpm, an 8x multilayer optical drive all house and a 1,3 megapixel HF webcam with Dolby speakers all housed in light 5.74 body. It also gets bundled with the Windows 8 and a 6-cell; Lithium Ion battery that can power you up for 5 hours. check our in depth review of acer aspire v3 551
Acer Aspire E1-571-6811
The Acer Aspire E1-571-6811 is priced around $10 cheaper and is powered by a 2nd generation Intel Core i3-2328M with a 3MB L3 Cache and clocked at 2.5GHz. It is inteegrate4d with the Intel HG Graphics 4000 with a 128 MB dedicated video RAM while its system RAM is a single module 4GB DDR3. It spots the same 15.5-inch LED-backlit display with 1366 x 768 resolution, 500GB DATA drive running at 5,400 rpm, an 8x multi-layer optical drive, 1.3 megapixel HD webcam and a 6-cell lithium-ion battery that gets you going up to 4.5 hours before the next charge. It weight slightly lighter at 5.3 lbs.
HP Pavilion G7-2220us
At a slightly higher price, gaming gets a bit better with the $458.99 HP Pavilion G7-2220us powered by 2.7GHz AMD dual core A6-4400M and a 4GB DDR3 system RAM. Its dedicated Radeon HD 7520G graphics engine enjoys a dedicated 2GB video RAM. It sports a higher than average 17.3-inch LED-backlit display with a high definition 1600 x 900 resolution. You get a 500 SATA hard drive running 5,400 rpm, a multilayer DVD burner, an HD webcam, Dolby audio, and a 6-cell Lithium ion battery can last 3 hours and 15 mins on a single charge. Bundled with Windows 8, this HP is just 1.22 inches thick and weighs about 6.6 lbs.
At a comfortable price of $369, this Asus sports a standard 15.6 inch LED backlit screen with 1366 x 768 HD screen and powered by the A-Series AMD quad core A8-4500M clocked at 1.9 GHz with 4GB DDR 3 system RAM and comes bundled with a 64-bit Windows 8. The Asus K55N is built solidly using premium aluminum chassis and with only a 1.3-inch thick profile, it weighs a back-pack friendly 5.4 lbs despite housing a 500 GB SATA drive that runs at 540 rpm and an optical DVD drive. The graphics card is a respectable AMD Radeon HD 7640G which is roughly 20% more muscled than the HD Graphics 4000 which is the minimum GPU to qualify as a gaming laptop for casual gamers. It won’t play Battlefield 3, Torchlight 2, Risen 2: Dark Waters or Dishonored, but it can play Sleeping Dogs, Anno 2070, Elder Scrolls V at low to medium game settings, while Counter Strike: Go and Fifa 12 can be played at high game settings..
With a list price of $449 now discounted to just $365 ( some at $399), the Lenovo G580 is at the bottom of what can be considered a casual gamer’s laptop powered by an Intel Pentium Dual core B980 processor clocked at 2.4 GHz with 4GB DDR3 system RAM and an integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU that can play several sophisticated games at low game settings.. It offers a standards 15.6-inch LED backlit display with 1366 x 768 HD resolution, an optical drive and a basic 320 GB SATA hard drive. With a 1.35-inch profile and weighing 5.6 lbs, this Lenovo comes bundled with Windows 8 and boasts of a battery life of 5 hours.
Unless you are looking for slightly used or refurbished laptops with decent gaming capability, there are just a few notable laptops below $400 that can be considered decently muscled enough to serve as gaming laptop even for casual gamers. Don’t expect the most demanding RPG and FSP games of recent releases to be played seamlessly at medium to high game settings which is what the integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 or equivalent can’t do. At best, some can play at low to medium game settings while requiring you to go down the a notch in resolution setting. Some models had enjoyed some discounts to fall below the $400 price point, though. The other three specimens are close enough with the most expensive at $458.99.