Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Cheapest Entry Level Gaming Laptops for Gamer Kids and Teens


We've taken a look at budget gaming laptops, and almost gaming laptops for tweens and teens. I've recently gone through this process for my older son as he started to outgrow his previous laptop and began to appreciate the value of more powerful graphics.

So your child or teen has asked for a gaming laptop? What does that mean? Do they really need one? How much is it going to cost? Let's take a look.

Entry Level Gaming Laptops


What is a gaming laptop?

A gaming laptop typically has a dedicated graphics card, a high spec, and extra cooling. It's also likely to have a light up keyboard, but these are getting more common on other laptops too. 

A gaming laptop is designed to be able to cope with playing video games that require a lot of processing power. 

Many gaming laptops combine a smaller SSD drive for fast start-up and loading with a larger traditional hard drive for storing games. (Some modern games have huge storage requirements.)

A gaming laptop is going to cost more than an equivalent desktop gaming machine. But it makes sense for a lot of young people. One of our reasons is that we'd rather have our son in the same room as us rather than disappearing into his bedroom to a desktop computer. It also means he can meet with cousins and friends for gaming sessions and take his laptop to coding events. We also have a shared gaming desktop which is more powerful, but the laptop gets used much more.

Do you need a gaming laptop for Minecraft?

Not all games need a gaming laptop. Minecraft will actually run well on fairly low spec computers by modern standards. There are advantages to a faster laptop especially if you run a lot of complex mods. But you can usually just turn down the settings a bit for Minecraft. You don't usually need a gaming laptop for Minecraft. 

What about Scrap Mechanic?

Yeah, Scrap Mechanic does have some specific requirements. We may see wider support as the product matures, but at the moment Scrap Mechanic needs an external graphics card. Scrap Mechanic was one of the reasons my son wanted a new laptop. 

What about Ark Survival?

Ark Survival doesn't require a gaming laptop, but it will make a big difference to the graphics. Quite a few games fall into this category. You can play them on a lower spec machine but the experience won't be as appealing. 

Virtual Reality

Virtual reality does require a gaming laptop. The entry level processor for the Oculus Rift is the GTX 1050 Ti which is just about good enough. The GTX 1060 is recommended for a better experience. 

If you think VR is a requirement or may be soon then this is worth considering so that you don't end up with a laptop that's not up to the job. This will increase the spec beyond the most basic budget laptops though. 

Choosing a Gaming Laptop

We'll highlight some choices below but be aware that there are often lots of different variants of a particular model so check the spec carefully.

Getting a certified refurbished model can be a money saver. Do check the processor and graphics card specs though, if they're last year's then make sure the saving is worth it. Kids don't always need the very latest machine but newer ones will tend to last longer before they need to be replaced. 

Graphics Card

The graphics card is probably going to be the most important factor for a gaming laptop. Other features are important too but they are likely to improve in line with the graphics card. If you're not an expert then the graphics card is a good indicator.

At the moment, graphics cards are likely to be one of Nvidia GeForce GTX 950M, 960M, 1050, 1050ti or 1060, increasing in power.

Processor

The processor or CPU is also important but they are usually in proportion to the graphics card. 

You'll be looking for an i5 or i7 processor from this year, or possibly last year. 

Our laptop processor buying guide goes into more detail, but this year's processors will start with i5-7 or i7-7 (more powerful.)

i5-7200U and i7-7100U are mainstream laptop processors and may be included in the most basic gaming laptops. 

You can pay extra to get a higher spec processor such as the i5-7300HQ or i7-7700HQ. 

Gaming laptops with i5-8 and i7-8 processors will come out in late 2017 / early 2018. 

RAM Memory

Then check for RAM memory (at least 8GB preferably 12 or 16), the processor (a recent i5, an i7 is even better) and a decent amount of storage.

SSD vs HDD

Solid State Drives (SSD) are much faster and great for loading quickly. But they are typically small because they are more expensive per GB. 

Traditional hard drives are slower but available in much larger sizes. 

The ideal setup for a gaming laptop is to have both and many newer models offer a small SSD and a larger HDD for storing large games. 

Some games are enormous so unless you're really sure about your child's requirements don't choose a gaming laptop with only an SSD unless you are planning to upgrade it later.

Acer Aspire F15 with External GTX Graphics Card

The Acer Aspire F15 is a great option that's pretty much into the bottom end of the gaming laptop category. We chose this laptop for my son who loves PC gaming. His old IBM Thinkpad was a lovely computer in its day but really not up to modern gaming or many of the things I get him to try out for Tech Age Kids. The built-in graphics card just wasn't up to the job. 

He wanted to be able to write mods (we never got this working on his old laptop), load Minecraft up with mods, play Scrap Mechanic and Ark Survival (on a server with his Dad, not a public server!) and use 3D modeling tools. 

We've been very happy with this laptop. It looks really smart, the build quality is fantastic and it meets all his requirements including Ark Survival on medium graphics (looks much better than on his Dad's laptop!)

The screen looks really nice. It's not as bright as some laptop screens, but he likes it. The keyboard and trackpad work well. 

Lots of people would say that this isn't really a gaming laptop. But a lot of tween and teens don't really need a gaming laptop. And you may not have the budget available for one. This is a really good machine and will be 'good enough' for a lot of young gamers. 

The lower spec also means longer battery life which is a bonus. 

Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming Laptop

A next step up is Dell's Inspiron 15 7000, marketed as an entry-level gaming laptop. 

This has a GTX 1050 graphics card which puts it firmly in the budget gaming laptop category in 2017.

Note that 7th Gen means the processors that are the latest for most of 2017. 

MSI GL62M

MSI is a brand known for gaming computers including laptops. It makes some amazingly powerful laptops. But it also has entry-level gaming machines like the GL62M. 

I actually have a higher spec MSI gaming laptop myself. I do use it for some gaming but mostly it just offered the best spec for the price. 

MSI laptops are stylishly designed with a fancy dragon badge, but honestly, I'd say the look and physical build quality of my son's Acer Aspire F15 is better. 

You can often find 17" screen versions of MSI laptops for not much more than the 15.6" versions so if a big screen is important it's worth checking out MSI. 


Lenovo Legion Y520

The Lenovo Legion Y520 is another entry-level gaming laptop with a great spec and value for money. 

You can get a model with a Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti graphics card, which makes it suitable for basic VR, for a reasonable price.

Summary

If your child spends a lot of time using a laptop for gaming or 3D graphics work then a gaming laptop could be a worthwhile investment. 

If they're just playing a bit of Minecraft and Roblox and not developing extensions themselves then they probably don't need such a high specification. 

As with all computers, choosing a higher spec can mean that you can put off replacing the device bit a bit longer. 








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