CPU, GPU, RAM, SSD and more – there’s a lot of hardware you’ve got to consider when buying a gaming laptop. On a budget, the problem’s only amplified, as you must pick-and-choose to maximise your performance. Let’s run down a couple of our tops picks for the best budget gaming laptops in 2022, and what you should be looking out for.
ASUS TUF Gaming F15
- Intel Core i5 11400H
- NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3050
- 8GB RAM
- 512GB SSD
- 15” 1080p 144Hz Display
Powered by a hexa-core CPU with hyper-threading technology for a total of 12 threads, the Intel Core i5 found in this machine gives you a bit more breathing room in modern multi-threaded games, compared to most quad-core budget gaming laptops.
In esports games you can expect the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3050 to saturate the high refresh rate display for fluid and responsive gameplay. Optimise the graphical options in the latest games, engage a 60 frames-per-second cap and you’re in for a great experience, with the display’s variable refresh rate technology smoothing over any dips in frame rate.
It ships with a single DIMM of 8GB RAM and a M.2 form-factor SSD, both of which are easily upgradable. There’s one empty DIMM slot for dual-channel memory and an additional M.2 for expanding the laptop’s internal storage. ASUS knows PC gamers appreciate being able to get hands-on and tinker with their own hardware. To gain access to the memory slots and storage bays, all you need is a screwdriver while a pop-open screw lifts up the panel.
Over on the Ebuyer YouTube channel (get subscribed), guest presenter James calls this one of the best value gaming laptops he’s even seen. Make sure to check out the video below for an unboxing of the ASUS TUF Gaming F15, as well as some gaming tests in popular esports games Splitgate, Valorant and Counter Strike: Global Offensive.
- Intel Core i5 10500H
- NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060
- 16GB RAM
- 512GB SSD
- 15” 1080p 144Hz Display
Although this budget gaming laptop is equipped with a last-gen CPU, it’s undoubtably worth the trade-off for the considerably more powerful NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060. While you’ll find most gaming laptops with a 50-tier class of GPU, you can step up to a full-fat RTX 3060 if you make some smart compromises.
Working in conjunction with NVIDIA’s DLSS, the RTX 3060 can pull off high graphical pre-sets and high frame rates in the latest big-budget games. An extra 2GB of VRAM sounds trivial, but it makes a stark change in the high-res textures you’re able to load, often the most important graphical option for gamers.
The hexa-core Intel Core i5 is no slouch, either. Don’t mix it up with the quad-core 10300H synonymous with budget gaming laptops, the couple of extra cores of this chip come in handy. Compared to a current-gen Intel Core i5, you’re losing some single-threaded and multi-threaded performance, but that’ll mostly impact productivity-lead applications.
For a purely gaming-focused laptop, it keeps pace with the RTX 3060 admirably. You can witness the Gigabyte G5 in action, below, running Ebuyer’s favourite benchmark Forza Horizon 4.
What to look for in a budget gaming laptop
While this is valid advice for any gaming PC, it’s doubly relevant to a laptop as it can’t be upgraded. Excluding rare outliers, a laptop’s CPU and GPU are soldered directly to a mainboard, unlike other socketed components. As such, stretch your budget as far as it’ll go and secure the best possible CPU and GPU. Even if means compromising on the rest of the laptop’s hardware. You can always upgrade components like the SSD and RAM further down the line.
Take two budget gaming laptops. For argument’s sake, they’re priced the same. One is equipped with a NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3050 Ti GPU, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD. While the other’s powered by an RTX 3060, but only 8GB and a 500GB. We may feel more inclined towards the former as it’s a more well-rounded spec. However, the RTX 3060 machine is the one we’d choose, even if it contradicts PC building wisdom.
The unbalanced spec may lead to ‘bottlenecking’ in the present, but it’s worth it for the considerable step-up in performance the RTX 3060 affords. If the ongoing hardware shortages are anything to go by, as detailed in ‘Gaming in 2022 – what you need to know’, who knows how long you’ll be keeping hardware around. Prioritise the hardware that’s set in stone now for years of gaming, and upgrade the RAM/SDD later when needed. Spreading your budget out over time gives you more buying power and options as you can consider the entire breadth of budget gaming laptops on offer.
You’ll find most budget gaming laptops ship with 8GB of RAM, and that’s a fair amount for their price tag. 16GB is recommended for care-free gaming, freely multi-tasking and not having to keep tabs on your background processes. 8GB is enough if you’re careful and maintains a lean operating system and meets most game’s minimum requirements. Fortunately, RAM is one of the easiest upgrades to perform, as long as it isn’t soldered.
It’s safe to assume most 8GB RAM laptops come in a single-channel config, using a single DIMM or ‘stick’. Due to the way AMD Ryzen is architected, single-channel RAM has a profound negative impact, up to a 30% degradation in performance in report cases compared to dual-channel RAM. If you’re picking up an AMD Ryzen-based gaming laptop, you’ll want to upgrade RAM for performance’s sake too.
As for SSDs, they’re also a straightforward upgrade. In most cases, laptops have switched over to the space-saving M.2 connector, dropping the conventional 2.5” SATA drive bay in favour of expanded batteries and cooling. Even on budget gaming laptops you don’t see mechanical hard drives much anymore. From here on, it’s all SSDs for laptop storage. It won’t be as super-fast as a PCIe Gen4 NVMe SSD in a high-end gaming laptop, but you’ll experience the benefits an SDD affords. From snappier OS navigating, to shortened boot and loading times.
We’d recommend a gaming laptop with at least 500GB. That’s in line with the Xbox Series S, another budget-focused machine. It should be enough to comfortably house the laptop’s operating system and a few big-budget games which sometimes swell to over 100GB alone! External HDDs always remain an option if you need a sizable back-up storage solution.
Let’s whittle down this advice even further. Think of the CPU as the brain of a PC, whereas the GPU is the muscle. From AI pathfinding to executing the game’s logic, the CPU keeps thing running behind-the-scenes. It spends quite a lot of time scheduling commands for the GPU to execute. If it isn’t fast enough, this leads to a ‘bottleneck’ in which the GPU is waiting idle for the CPU’s next batch of commands.
You need a careful balance of CPU and GPU to ensure one is not outpacing another’s performance, but games are inherently a visual medium. Games push the boundaries of real-time graphics and the demands placed on the GPU are comparatively much higher than the CPU. Out of the CPU and GPU, pay closer attention to the GPU. Both are essential to a laptop’s function, but most modern triple-A games are GPU-bound long before the CPU.
AMD Ryzen CPUs
There are two long-standing CPU producers in today’s market: Intel and AMD. If you asked last year which one’s preferred for a budget gaming laptop, we would’ve picked AMD. Before AMD’s presence, middling quad-core CPUs were the norm. The high core count and multi-threaded performance on their AMD Ryzen mobile CPUs, notably ones from the ‘4000’ and ‘5000’ series, revolutionised the gaming laptop space.
While AMD’s market share continues to grow, Intel remains the dominant force in budget gaming laptops. Intel Core i5 ‘10300H’ and ‘11300H’ are ubiquitous on low-end machines, with AMD scarcely popping up. They’re quad-core chips, but made up by their decent single-threaded performance, which most popular games likes Counter Strike: Global Offensive heavily rely on. A budget gaming laptop equipped with an Intel 10th or 11th Gen mobile CPU is more than adequate for most gamer’s needs.
Intel 12th Gen Alder Lake
However, in 2022 it looks like Intel may claim the performance crown once again with their 12th Gen mobile CPU – codenamed Alder Lake. Debuting late last year on desktop platforms, Alder Lake was astonishingly good and represented a long-awaited revival for Intel. The defining feature is its ‘hybrid architecture’, combining conventional performance ‘P cores’ with efficiency ‘E cores’.
P cores are what you’d find on past CPUs and they’re Intel’s fastest yet, crushing any hardware-intensive task. To ensure they run undisturbed, lowered-powered E cores handle your PC’s background processes. This set-up translates perfectly to a gaming laptop as the E cores can be used on-the-go for extended battery life. Intel or AMD, either way there’s going to be great choices for budget gaming laptops in 2022.
Two major players of GPUs compete in the gaming laptop space: AMD and NVIDIA. Like CPUs, AMD doesn’t have the greatest market share, so you’ll mostly be looking at NVIDIA GPUs like the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3050, RTX 3050 Ti and RTX 3060 on a budget gaming laptop.
It doesn’t give the consumer much choice, but it helps simplify choosing a budget gaming laptop. Plus, we would’ve picked NVIDIA regardless for one hugely important reason – NVIDIA Deep Learning Super Sampling, or ‘DLSS’ for short.
Implemented in an ever-growing list of games, including 2022’s biggest releases like Dying Light 2, DLSS leverages the dedicated AI co-processors of RTX GPUs to smartly reconstruct your games from a lower resolution to a higher one. The results are indistinguishable from native rendering – often times sharper than temporal anti-aliasing’s smeary blur – but with a massive boost in performance.
DLSS could produce a 1080p-like output, yet the game’s internal resolution is only 720p or even a sub-HD 540p depend on the pre-set used. This frees up GPU resources to pusher higher frame rates and graphical pre-sets, enabling budget gaming laptops to punch way above their weight.
As mentioned, the only slight downside is DLSS’s game integration. It isn’t open-source and requires work on the developer’s part to support it in their games. NVIDIA is hashing out deals to get DLSS integrated into as many games as possible, but there’s a chance you favourite game might not have it.
Notable outliers include Microsoft first-party games – Halo Infinite, Forza Horizon 5 and more – even though newcomers to the PC platform Sony have integrated it in their recent PC ports, but we digress.
You could argue AMD’s got its own resolution upscaling with FidelityFX Super Resolution, or ‘FSR’ for short, but it’s nowhere near comparable to DLSS in terms of technology or results. In short, FSR is a spatial upscaler which doesn’t use AI algorithms or information accumulated over previous frames to reconstruct the image like DLSS does.
It’s not entirely fair to match them against each other. We’re hoping FSR follows in the footsteps of DLSS, with a ‘2.0’ version that overhauls the underlying technology sometime in 2022.
On budget gaming laptops, you’ll want to look at the GPU’s video memory, or ‘VRAM’. This mostly dictates how high you can crank up a game’s texture resolution. This can greatly enhance the appearance of a game has a marginal impact on performance – a win-win. However, the high-res textures of modern triple-A games overwhelm the VRAM of budget gaming laptop GPUs.
The RTX 3050 and RTX 3050 Ti are equipped with 4GB of VRAM. This is enough for less VRAM-hungry esports games and older releases, but in newer ones, you’ll have to turn down textures to medium-high to avoid periodic freezes. Allocate your budget and you might be able to squish in an 6GB of VRAM RTX 3060.
Intel GPUs in 2022
There’s one last development on the horizon to shake up the long-established GPU market – Intel. Soon, this renowned CPU producer is making a foray into the discrete GPU space and could be exactly what’s needed for budget gaming laptops.
As it’s Intel’s first line-up of dGPUs, it’s not aiming for an unrealistic target straight out of the gate. Intel is positioning itself as a worthy alternative at the low to mid-end of the market. Between NVIDIA’s dominance and the hardware shortages, Intel could make quite a splash. Showing it means serious business, Intel’s also teased its own AI-powered resolution upscaling Xe Super Sampling, or ‘XeSS‘. This immediately puts it ahead of AMD in the GPU race and against fierce rival NVIDIA. Intel has some serious sway over budget gaming laptops, will we see competitive all-Intel ones? Keep an eye on Ebuyer and the Ebuyer Gaming Hub for future drops!