You might be looking for one, but the hard truth is: the best cheap gaming laptop under $500 doesn’t exist—except on eBay, which is the only place where $500 can get you a real gaming laptop with proper a one-year warranty.
This article explains why used gaming laptops cost very little, and we’ll walk you through the process of buying a cheap gaming laptop that isn’t complete junk.
Why Are Used Laptops So Cheap?
Moore’s Law, loosely defined, theorized that computers double in complexity (and speed) every 2 years. But Moore’s Law died around 2012. Since then, each following processor generation saw declining improvements. In short: computers aren’t obsoleting as fast anymore. (In fact, if you own a slow computer, it probably needs malware removal.)
Just like CPUs, graphics processors (or GPUs)—the heart and soul of a gaming rig—aren’t getting much faster either.
Older Graphics Processors Are Still Fast
Game developers know better than anyone that computers aren’t getting much faster. Look at free-to-play games, like Fortnite. The required hardware isn’t just old—it’s a midrange graphics processor from 2012. Even AAA titles, like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, only need an ancient GTX 660 GPU.
But how do you know which laptop GPU can run a game?
Which Laptop GPUs Are Worth Buying?
Every two years, Nvidia releases a new graphics processor architecture and they give it a name. The last three major releases were as follows:
Maxwell (2014): Maxwell represented a significant performance improvement over the previous generation, Kepler. Maxwell saw around 20% better gaming performance, even though it used the same technology node. Maxwell processors have a seven, eight, or nine at the front of their name.
Pascal (2016): Pascal represented an unusually big jump in performance over Maxwell due to its denser 14nm technology node. Pascal processors have a 10 in the front of their name, like the Nvidia GTX 1050.
Turing (2018): For the purposes of gaming, Turing offers a tiny performance advantage. Turing processors have a 20 in front of their name, like the GTX 2060.
Of the three architectures, the best bang-for-your-buck on eBay is Maxwell. Pascal and Turing are too new and expensive on used markets. And Kepler, from 2012, is starting to get less attention from developers.
Nvidia’s Maxwell Is a Good Deal
Maxwell was designed specifically around performance-per-watt, an advantage for laptops. Its former popularity also makes it less expensive on used marketplaces, like eBay.
On a mobile gaming computer, the most important part is the GPU. But sellers rarely list the graphics processor in the title of the auction—which leads to used gaming laptops selling for less than what they’re worth.
How to Identify a Maxwell GPU on Gaming Laptops
As mentioned earlier, eBay sellers rarely list the graphics processor. That means you’ll need to look that information up yourself.
Maxwell GPUs are identified by an eight or nine at the front of its model number. For example, look at a former midrange GPU, the GTX 950M:
The second number in a GPU model number indicates its power. For example, the GTX 950M about equals the modern Nvidia MX150, which is today’s entry-level gaming GPU. And that means the GTX 950M, or better, is what you need in a used laptop.
In case you want a beefier GPU, a mobile GTX 870M/970M equals a desktop-class Nvidia 1050Ti. And a GTX 880M/980M falls between a 1050Ti and a GTX 1060.
Getting back to the Maxwell GTX 950M, it plays modern games well enough. In benchmarks, it equals the MX150—which is today’s entry-level gaming GPU for laptops. More or less, when you’re buying from used markets, the GTX 850M or 950M are good starting points for a cheap gaming laptop. The benchmarks show it offers good enough performance on most free-to-play games, without costing an arm and a leg.
Fortnite Benchmarks for the GTX 850M
Fornite runs at 30+ frames-per-second (FPS) on an Nvidia GTX 850M with medium settings at 1080P. That’s the minimum acceptable speed for most games:
For reference, the 950M is slightly better than the 850M. But they are about comparable to each other. What you really need to pay attention to is anything with a higher tier.
The Disadvantages of Buying a Used Laptop
There are some disadvantages to buying a used laptop: First, old technology uses more power so it requires a heavier cooling solution and a larger (and heavier) battery.
Second, and this is a big one, the hardware has three or four years of wear and tear on it. Most components are relatively long lasting—with two exceptions: the lithium-ion battery and the hard disc drive (ways to use old HDDs).
Third-party warranties do cover HDDs, but they do not cover laptop batteries. Even so, if you do buy a laptop with an HDD, I recommend replacing the HDD with a Solid State Drive (SSD). And while laptops don’t need a working battery, most laptop replacement batteries cost very little.
While a warranty isn’t required, particularly if you know how to work on a computer, it can provide peace of mind.
Warranties for Used eBay Laptops
Third-party warranty companies used to not cover used electronics purchased on eBay. However, eBay and SquareTrade partnered together and now offer special warranties on used electronics.
How to Buy the Best Cheap Gaming Laptop on eBay
There are three basic steps to buying used on eBay.
Step 1: Find an Older Top-Ranked Gaming Laptop
Search the internet for phrases like “best gaming laptops of 2014” (2013 and 2015 also work). One of the best cheap gaming laptops, for the money, is the Asus G750. But really any good gaming laptop from this era works fine.
If you don’t like the G750, there are other examples of once-popular gaming laptops:
- Alienware M14x
- Razer Blade
- Lenovo IdeaPad Y500
- Alienware M18x
Because it released between 2013-2014, the laptop comes with a Haswell quad-core CPU and anywhere from an Nvidia Maxwell GTX 860M to a 970M GPU (avoid any 700-series GPUs). The average used price on eBay comes in for around $400. But if you purchase an $80 one-year SquareTrade warranty, that comes out to less than $500 for a gaming laptop that’s significantly better than anything you could buy new in that price range.
Step 2: Search eBay Completed Listings
Now search for that model on eBay. For example, a search for the Asus G750 returns dozens of results.
Unfortunately, when people sell their laptops they oftentimes don’t describe graphics processor in the laptop. And because they don’t list the most important part of a cheap gaming laptop, that means lower prices for you.
But don’t buy it yet. You’ll want to find what the G750 sold for in the past—that will give you a good idea of what the Asus G750 sells for today.
After navigating to eBay.com and searching for “Asus G750”, in the left column, under Show only, check the box for Completed Items. These indicate what prices people are buying similar laptops for.
Once you have an approximate price, pick any auction offered by a reputable seller (our best eBay buying tips) and buy it.
Step 3: Buy a Used Laptop Warranty at Checkout (Optional)
If you purchase using Buy It Now, you can also buy a SquareTrade warranty. The warranty has three important requirements. Pay careful attention.
First, the laptop must function at the time of purchase. Second, you have to use the Buy It Now option on checkout. Meaning you can’t buy a laptop using a traditional high-bid auction. Third, the warranty does not cover the lithium-ion battery. Fortunately, laptop batteries are usually very easy and inexpensive to replace. For example, a G750 replacement battery (with a substantial markup) costs very little.
If the laptop meets these requirements, you’ll see the following message after clicking on the Buy It Now button:
The SquareTrade warranty is overpriced, especially for a $400 laptop. But if you aren’t comfortable doing your own laptop repairs, it’s worth the peace of mind.
What’s the Best Cheap Gaming Laptop?
Some people (not me) say that a “cheap gaming laptop” is an oxymoron or self-contradicting term. That’s because new gaming laptops cost at least $600—and usually more. What those people forgot is the used market.
The best cheap gaming laptop is always used.
The major disadvantages to buying older, used laptops aren’t severe. Buying used means heavier laptops with greater component wear-and-tear, and greater battery drain—but you offset these problems if you purchase a warranty.
For many lightweight esports titles—such as Fortnite, DOTA 2, or even games like Grand Theft Auto V—the hardware requirements are fairly minimal. Even an Nvidia GTX 750M plays these games credibly well, but go up a tier and you can even play AAA games.
Furthermore, note that you can squeeze even more performance using these tips for improving gaming performance on any laptop. To take your experience to the next level, you might consider buying a gaming projector or an ultrawide gaming monitor, too.