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The Best VR Headsets for 2021

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There are a handful of quality virtual reality headset options, whether you’re looking for a standalone model or one that tethers to your PC or console. Jack into another dimension with these top-rated VR headsets and platforms.

Virtual reality is a fascinating way to travel using nothing more than the power of technology. With a headset and motion tracking, VR lets you look around a virtual space as if you’re actually there, or play a game as though you’re in it. VR’s been gaining traction in recent years thanks to compelling games and experiences, though it still seems very much in a state of flux, with headsets coming and going fairly rapidly. We’re tracking the best of what’s currently on the market here.

Oculus is focusing its efforts on a standalone VR headset, the Quest 2, but providing the option to connect it to a PC. HTC has the tethered Steam-friendly Vive Cosmos and Vive Pro 2. Sony has the PS4-compatible PlayStation VR. Valve has its own expensive Index headset. Even Microsoft is (sort of) supporting its Windows Mixed Reality platform with a scant few third-party headsets. Here’s what you need to know about all of them.

The Big Question: Which VR Headset Is the Best?

Modern VR headsets now fit under one of two categories: tethered or standalone. Tethered headsets like the HTC Vive Pro 2, PlayStation VR, and Valve Index are physically connected to PCs (or in the case of the PS VR, a PlayStation 4 or PlayStation 5). The cable makes them a bit unwieldy, but putting all of the actual video processing in a box that you don’t need to directly strap to your face means your VR experience can be a lot more complex. Either external sensors or outward-facing cameras provide full 6DOF (six degrees of freedom) movement tracking for both your head and your hands, thanks to motion-sensing controllers.

The least expensive tethered options are currently around $400, and that’s before you address the processing issue; the Valve Index, Vive Cosmos, and Vive Pro 2need pretty powerful PCs to run, while the PS VR requires a PlayStation 4.

Standalone headsets offer the greatest physical freedom by completely removing the cables and not requiring an external device to handle processing. The Oculus Quest 2 uses similar outward-facing cameras to the now-discontinued Oculus Rift S to provide 6DOF motion tracking, and similar 6DOF motion controls. The Quest 2 lacks a dedicated gaming PC’s processing power, but its high-end mobile processor can still push detailed, smooth graphics.

Oculus Quest 2

The Oculus Rift was the first big name in the current wave of VR, and Oculus is still a major player in the category. The company’s bowing out of the dedicated, tethered VR headset, though, discontinuing the Rift S in favor of focusing entirely on the standalone Quest 2. This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy PC VR on the company’s new headset; you’ll just need to get an accessory cable for it.

The Oculus Quest 2 is a $300 standalone VR headset powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 chipset, a considerable upgrade in power over the original Quest and its Snapdragon 835 chipset. It offers a comprehensive VR experience in a single package with no wires needed (except to charge the headset), and currently provides the highest resolution of any consumer VR headset at 1,920 by 1,832 per eye. It has two motion controls for full 6DOF head-and-hand motion tracking, and offers a surprisingly robust library of VR software in its onboard store.

This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy tethered VR with the Quest 2, though. The $79 Oculus Link cable is a five-meter USB-C cable that lets you connect the Quest 2 to your PC and use it just like the tethered Rift S to play PC-specific VR games like Half-Life: Alyx. The cable is expensive, but considering the Quest 2 is $100 less than the original Quest, it still comes out ahead in value even after adding the accessory.

Valve Index

Valve’s own PC-tethered VR headset, the Valve Index, is one of the priciest. It costs $999 if you buy everything you need for it to work (except the computer, of course). That’s hard to swallow, even if the Index features a 120Hz refresh rate, notably higher than most of its competitors (with an experimental 144Hz mode). Yet, the Valve Index is currently our favorite tethered VR headset.

Although the headset itself isn’t that impressive, its controllers are revolutionary. They can track individual finger movements, making games (that take advantage of them) much more immersive than the standard trigger grips on other controllers.

It’s very impressive technology, and wowed us enough to recommend this headset. The Index’s higher refresh rate makes for smoother action, as well, which is another nice bonus. If you already have an HTC Vive or Vive Cosmos Elite, and their base stations (not the regular Cosmos), you can buy only the controllers for $280 to breathe new life into your VR experience without investing in the full Valve Index system.

HTC Vive Pro 2

If you want the highest-resolution VR experience, the HTC Vive Pro 2 is the headset to get. This high-end PC VR headset targets both enthusiasts and professionals, with the sharpest picture available at 2,448 by 2,448 pixels per eye. It easily offers the best visuals we’ve seen in VR so far. It’s also very pricey, at $799 for just the headset; you still need to add the base stations and controllers (but on the bright side, you can use the Valve Index controllers with it).

The Vive Pro 2 (and Vive Cosmos below) works with SteamVR just like the Oculus Quest 2, and has its own VR software store in the form of Viveport. Viveport offers the Viveport Infinity membership that provides unlimited access to VR experiences through a subscription service instead of a la carte software purchases.

HTC Vive Cosmos

HTC’s Vive Cosmos is the upgraded version of the original Vive, and the company’s more affordable VR offering. It features a higher resolution, and replaces the external base stations with outward-facing cameras for motion tracking. It’s a comprehensive package for whole-room VR, and is one of the more affordable PC-tethered setups at $699 for the whole package.

For even better motion tracking, the Vive Cosmos Elite brings back external base stations to augment how it follows your head and motion controllers, though it’s more expensive at $899.

Sony PlayStation VR

The PlayStation VR is compelling thanks to Sony backing its development, plus the PlayStation 4’s affordability and availability compared with gaming PCs. All you need is the headset, a PlayStation 4, and a PlayStation Camera (now included with most PlayStation VR bundles). PSVR’s also compatible with the PlayStation 5, but you’ll need to request a free adapter from Sony for the PlayStation Camera to work.

There are some excellent games on PS VR like Moss, Rez Infinite, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood, and Five Nights at Freddie’s: Help Wanted. Many PlayStation VR games work with the DualShock 4, so you don’t even need motion controls. However, those motion controls are where the PlayStation VR lags behind; the headset still uses the PlayStation Move wands from the PlayStation 3 era, and they aren’t nearly as capable or comfortable as the Oculus Touch controllers. They’re also expensive, and not always included in PlayStation VR bundles.

Sony is working on a new PlayStation VR system for the PlayStation 5, with redesigned controllers. The new headset hasn’t been revealed yet, but the company has released a preview of the new controllers.

Windows Mixed Reality

Microsoft has been promoting its partnership with multiple headset manufacturers to produce a series of Windows 10-ready “mixed reality” headsets for the last few years. The distinction between virtual reality and mixed reality is so far dubious, but it indicates an integration of augmented reality (AR) technology using cameras on the helmet.

From the different headsets we’ve tested, the hardware is sound and the setup is simple, but position tracking isn’t as accurate as tethered headsets with external sensors or the Quest 2 with its outward-facing tracking cameras. Also, the Windows Mixed Reality store doesn’t have as many compelling VR experiences as the Rift and SteamVR stores, though you can use SteamVR games on Windows Mixed Reality headsets, again with some software wrestling.

While several third-party manufacturers have worked on Windows Mixed Reality headsets over the last few years, the only current-generation consumer Windows Mixed Reality headset is the HP Reverb G2.

What Happened to Phone-Based VR?

VR headsets that use your smartphone to serve as both the brains and display of the system were once commonplace, with Google Cardboard and the Samsung Gear VR letting anyone with a compatible phone get a VR experience for under $150.

These headsets have slowed to a trickle, and Google has discontinued its Daydream View headset while Samsung hasn’t updated the Gear VR since the Galaxy S9’s arrival. You can still find cheap shell headsets, but the software ecosystem and support for them is almost nil. For now, phone-based VR is effectively dead.

The Best Augmented Reality Headsets

You might have seen some other famous visual headsets pop up over the last few years, including the Microsoft HoloLens and the Magic Leap One. They aren’t on this list for a few reasons, but the biggest one is that they’re augmented reality (AR) headsets, not virtual reality headsets. And yes, there’s a difference.

Basically, these AR headsets have transparent lenses that let you look at your surroundings instead of completely replacing your vision with a computer-generated image. They project images over whatever you’re looking at, but those images are designed to complement and interact with the area around you. You can make a web browser pop up in the middle of a room, for instance, or watch animals run around your coffee table. It’s fascinating technology that could hint at the future of computing.

The emphasis here is on the future, as in several years away. That brings us to the second biggest reason the HoloLens and Magic Leap One aren’t in this list: They aren’t consumer products. Both devices are purely intended as development hardware, so AR software can be made for their platforms. Considering each headset costs several thousand dollars, you shouldn’t expect a large library of AR experiences for a while. Outside of specific enterprise and education uses, AR headsets are an early adopter playground at best, and not for most users.

With that in mind, we’ll continue to track the best new VR headsets as they are released, so make sure to check back soon for updates. And after you find the right headset, check out our best VR games list.

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The best gaming chair – Review Top 8 best gaming chair 2021

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The best gaming chair is about more than just making your PC gaming setup look like the ultimate streaming pod; picking the right chair is about making sure your most precious possession is safely looked after. And no, I’m not talking about the RTX 3080 you somehow managed to bag at MSRP, I’m talking about your fragile human body. We spend probably far too long sat at our desks, so it’s important you make the right choices about the seat you’re sat in. If you’ve spent thousands of dollars on an extreme gaming PC build, it’s only fair to give your gaming chair just as much attention.

If you’re simply looking for everyday comfort, the best gaming seats may seem over the top. With wannabe-racer bucket seats, and gaming chairs covered in satanic runes running rampant, we’ve made sure to include a few sleek office-style chairs in here too. Whichever route you go down, keep your posture in mind. It may be the last thing on your mind as you embark on a ten-hour raid, but we implore you: Don’t disregard ergonomics.

We’ve tested tens of gaming chairs from today’s most well-known companies to find luxurious and affordable places to park your rear. Check those out below. And if the chairs are a bit rich for your butt, then our cheap gaming chair roundup may be more up your street.

Top 8 Best gaming chairs 2021

1. Secretlab Titan Evo 2022

The best gaming chair made even better

SPECIFICATIONS
Seat type: Racing back, levelled seat base
Recline: 165 degrees
Weight capacity: Up to 180 kg (397 lbs, XL size only)
Weight: 37.5 kg (83 lbs)
Warranty: 3-year
REASONS TO BUY
+Magnetic cushion and covers+Very comfortable+Everything we want in a gaming chair feature-wise
REASONS TO AVOID
-Pricier than older Secretlab chairs-3-year warranty isn’t a match for some ergo chairs

The Secretlab Titan Evo 2022 is everything we’ve been looking for in a gaming chair. That’s why it’s rightfully taken the top spot in our best gaming chair guide from the previous incumbent, the Secretlab Titan. It was an easy decision to make, though. The Secretlab Titan Evo 2022 does everything the Titan, and Omega below, can, except better.

User-friendly ergonomics make the Titan Evo 2022 a great fit for long nights gaming or eight hours tapping away for work, and that comes down to its superb built-in back support. It’s highly adjustable, which means you can nail down a great fit with ease. There’s also something to be said for the 4D armrests, comfortable seat rest, and magnetic head cushion.

You read that right, a magnetic head cushion. A simple solution to fiddly straps, the Titan Evo 2022 does away with all that with a couple of powerful magnets.

Secretlab also reckons its new Neo Hybrid Leatherette material is more durable than ever, though there’s still the option for the Softweave fabric we’ve raved about in the past.

The chair is available in three sizes: S, R, and XL.

As a complete package, then, the Secretlab Titan Evo 2022 is the archetype of a great gaming chair. It is a little pricier than its predecessors, but we think it’s worth the price tag. And anyways, that higher price tag is why we still recommend the Omega below for a cheaper option while stock lasts.

The more affordable Secretlab chair

SPECIFICATIONS
Seat type: Racing seat
Recline: 165 degrees
Weight capacity: 109 kg (240 lbs)
Weight: 30 kg (66 lbs)
Warranty: 3-year
REASONS TO BUY
+Velour memory foam pillows+Versatile tilt mechanism
REASONS TO AVOID
-Lacking height adjustment on head pillow

The Secretlab Omega is one of the most finely constructed chairs we’ve tested, and although it has largely been replaced by the Titan Evo 2022 above nowadays, the higher price tag of that chair might see the Omega remain a popular option for those looking to save a little cash.

From the casters to the base, the lift mechanism, armrests, and seat back, Secretlab has used some of the best materials available. The Omega was upgraded with Secretlab’s 2020 series of improvements, which includes premium metal in the armrest mechanism, making it silky smooth to adjust and even more durable, and adding the company’s ridiculously durable PU Leather 2.0.

The chair features a high-quality, cold-cured foam to provide support. It feels a little firm at first but gets more comfortable after extended use. The Omega stands out from the crowd with its velour memory foam lumbar and head pillows. These are so comfortable that we could smoothly fully recline the chair and take a nap if we wanted to. Though that’s not a great look in the office… If you’re looking to treat your body with a chair that will genuinely last, the Secretlab Omega is worth every penny.

3. Logitech G x Herman Miller Embody

The best ergonomic gaming chair

SPECIFICATIONS
Seat type: Task chair
Material: Multi-layer fabric
Seat height: 17–22 inch
Weight capacity: 136 kg (300 lbs)
Weight: 23 kg (51 lbs)
Warranty: 12-year
REASONS TO BUY
+Stimulates blood and oxygen flow+Unrivaled back support+12-year/24hr use warranty
REASONS TO AVOID
-Jaw-droppingly expensive

Perhaps you’ve heard of the Herman Miller Embody. It occupied a top position in our best office chair roundup for a long time, but that has come to an end. Not for lack of comfort or acclaim, simply because the famed chair manufacturer has partnered up with Logitech to create something tailor-made to our gaming rumps.

Admittedly, the Logitech G x Herman Miller Embody doesn’t differ much from its commercial cousin. That’s hardly a mark against it, however. The Embody’s cascading back support design and absurdly high quality make a welcome return but now comes with a few more flourishes to win over gamers. Specifically, extra cooling material designed to support a more active gaming position.

It’s not so much the changes that make the Embody stand out as one of the best gaming chairs going. It’s what’s been kept the same. The tried and tested Embody design is simply one of the best chairs for office work or gaming. It’s incredibly comfortable over prolonged use, supports an active and healthy posture, and is easily fitted to your frame.

The warranty, too, is a standout feature. At 12 years, including labor, and rated to 24-hour use over that time, it’s a chair that is guaranteed to last you over a decade, if not longer. So while the initial price tag may seem steep, and that it is, the reality is you’re certain to get your money’s worth in the long run. And your back will be thankful for it, too.

4. NeueChair

The best office chair for gaming

SPECIFICATIONS
Seat type: Task chair
Recline: 85–130 degrees
Weight capacity: 108 kg (240 lbs)
Weight: 29 kg (64 lbs)
Warranty: 12-year
REASONS TO BUY
+Ridiculously sturdy and well made+Comfortable and supportive+Highly adjustable
REASONS TO AVOID
-Uninspiring design

If you’re the sort of person who prioritizes functionality over flash, the NeueChair is an excellent option. This isn’t to say it’s not stylish—quite the opposite; the NeueChair comes in a sleek, muted obsidian or flashy chrome/silver, both with bold, sweet curved supports on the back and an attractive black mesh. But, more importantly, the NeueChair is built to last, with a heavy, sturdy industrial construction. Even the chair’s weight in the packaging indicates a solid piece of carefully constructed industrial art: it’s heavy and substantial.

Assembling it is a breeze, as it comes in two discrete pieces and is simply a matter of inserting the casters and then pushing the two parts together. Almost every aspect of the seat is adjustable, from the armrests to the lumbar support system that lets you change the height depth of the backrest. It’s one of the best office chairs I’ve ever had the pleasure to sit in, and if you can afford the admittedly steep price tag, well worth the investment.

5. AndaSeat Kaiser 2

The best gaming chair for a larger frame

SPECIFICATIONS
Seat type: Racing seat
Recline: 90–160 degrees
Weight capacity: 180 kg (397 lbs)
Weight: 33 kg (73 lbs)
Warranty: 5-year
REASONS TO BUY
+Sturdy+Perfect for big and tall gamers+Extra large lumbar support and neck pillow
REASONS TO AVOID
-Bulky-Lackluster armrests

If you’re a big and tall gamer, you might have noticed that there aren’t many gaming chairs that can support your unique build. Whether it’s a lower weight capacity or too short, or even feels like it’ll break as soon as you sit in it, finding a chair for you might seem nearly impossible.

The AndaSeat Kaiser 2 screams large and in charge, supporting gamers up to 397lbs and 7ft tall. The Kaiser 2 is built on a solid steel frame with oversized bars to provide support.

Covered in premium PVC leather and extra thick memory foam cushioning, the Kaiser 2 manages to look more like a gaming chair for grownups. Available in black and a lovely maroon, no more will have to stuff yourself into a tiny gaming chair hope for the best. The Kaiser 2 manages to do both the function, comfort, and style you want in your premium gaming chair.

6. Noblechairs Hero

The best gaming chair for back support

SPECIFICATIONS
Seat type: Racing seat
Recline: 90–135 degrees
Weight capacity: 150 kg (330 lbs)
Weight: 28 kg (62 lbs)
Warranty: 2-year
REASONS TO BUY
+Great for lumbar support+Ideal for larger frames+Has a firm seat and back-rest…
REASONS TO AVOID
-A bit firm-Armrests could be comfier

When buying a gaming chair, it’s easy to forget your health. After all, most are advertised as luxurious, cushioned thrones that soothe your every ache as you smash the crap out of your foes in Apex Legends. But that isn’t true, and for some, it’s important to pick a chair that takes back support seriously. With some of the team have used it daily for almost a year, we can thoroughly recommend the Noblechairs Hero in uPVC leather. While not the most exciting of chairs, or the sportiest, it certainly does a good job of taking care of your back.

The Hero is easy to assemble, except for the bit where you attach the back to the seat, so make sure you have a buddy for that. It’s firm and supportive, and extremely sturdy. As a word of warning: it is substantial, so if you prefer a softer chair that isn’t as good for your lumbar, this maybe isn’t for you.

Aside from that, it has a decent recline, can withstand frames of up to 330 lbs, and has fully adjustable armrests. It’s heavy but glides pretty easily on the supplied casters. It’ll look just fine in both an office or gaming setup, so you’re getting a chair that can do both. Not bad, if you can afford it.

7. Corsair T3 Rush

A simple gaming chair with style

SPECIFICATIONS
Seat type: Racing seat
Recline: 90–170 degrees
Weight capacity: 120 (265 lbs)
Weight: 23 kg (50 lbs)
Warranty: 2-years
REASONS TO BUY
+Breathable soft fabric+4D armrests+Memory Foam Lumbar Pillow+180-degree recline
REASONS TO AVOID
-Not for the tall or large-framed

Corsair’s latest addition to its lineup of premium gaming chairs, the T3 Rush, has gotten a much-needed facelift. The T3 Rush is an insanely comfy chair thanks to its memory foam lumbar pillow but, more importantly, uses a breathable soft fabric in place of faux leather. The benefit of this is that it retains less heat, keeping you fresh and comfy instead of sweating in your squeaky pleather.

The Rush also reclines to a ridiculous 180 degrees in case you wanted to lie back and take a comfy cat nap before you take on another marathon streaming session of Apex Legends or CS: GO.

The only major downside of the T3 Rush is it is designed for smaller-framed users. If you require a little larger seat, the T3 will be an uncomfortably tight fit. Other than that, the T3 Rush is an impressive-looking gaming chair that doesn’t need a loud color to make a statement.

8. DXRacer Master

A real money-no-object option

SPECIFICATIONS
Seat type: Racing seat
Recline: 155 degrees
Weight capacity: 160 kg (353 lbs)
Weight: 34 kg (74 lbs)
Warranty: 2-year (accessories), lifetime (frame)
+Modular+Built-in lumbar support+Sturdy and comfortable
REASONS TO AVOID
-Headrest lacks much adjustment-Assembly will require help

The DXRacer Master is a chair for people with money to spend, but it justifies the price by being an extremely luxuriant and comfortable chair. What’s more, the DXRacer Master can be customized with modular parts (sold at an added cost) like mesh seat and backrests, leg rests, and even a rotating arm that bolts onto the base and can hold anything from a laptop to your phone.

Choosing not to invest in these extra parts won’t compromise the chair itself, though, because DXRacer went all out on its features. Built-in lumbar support and an adjustable, rail-mounted headrest are great features, along with 4D armrests. The microfiber leather is especially nice, and much of the chair is made of metal, which makes it feel sturdy.

It’s clear that the DXRacer Master was built to last, and its understated look is great if you’re not into the flashy designs seen on most other gaming chairs. But, boy, it will cost you for all this luxury: The DXRacer Master is still $80 more than the Secret Lab Omega, our favorite chair. But it’s worth considering if you want to go all out and get something with all the bells and whistles.

The best gaming chairs FAQ

Are gaming chairs actually bad?

Between recent articles about the effects of sitting down on your body and our experimentation with standing desks, you might think PC Gamer has fallen out of love with the humble chair. That could not be further from the truth. As gamers and office workers, we spend a significant chunk of each day sitting on our money makers in front of screens. Given that most of us don’t plan to change that anytime soon, it only makes sense to do so in a great chair. So that’s what I set out to find.

We wanted to find chairs that maximized comfort, support, and value. We spoke with Melissa Afterman, MS CPE, a Senior Principal Ergonomist with VSI Risk Management & Ergonomics, Inc., who specializes in workstation setups.”Absolutely, chairs are still okay,” she told me. “Yes, we know that sitting too long is bad for you. The reality is that standing too long is just as bad for you, so the answer is movement. Taking breaks, getting up at least every hour and moving, or changing your position from standing to sitting every hour so that you’re not standing too long either.”

“If you’re typing and working at the computer, you really want more upright support so that you can maintain neutral spine posture and let the chair hold you up,” she said. “But when you switch to a gaming mode, you may want to recline a little bit to relax your lower back while still having good support in that position. So a locking backrest and/or some tension control is important.”

Another feature to look for, though it tends to be found on more expensive models, is a seat pan slider. This enables you to slide the positioning of your butt forwards or backward relative to the backrest.

Are gaming chairs really worth it?

The best gaming chairs will complete your PC setup, not just from an aesthetic point of view, but because you will likely be spending hours sat in front of your machine, they will give you the support needed to keep your spine healthy too.

Is a gaming chair better than an office chair?

Nope! You can find good or bad examples of both, and believe us there are plenty. That said, some office chairs are great for gaming and vice versa, and there are ‘office chairs’, like the Herman Miller Embody, that blend the line between both.

Really it’s about finding what’s right for you, and a lot of the time that’s a gaming chair because, let’s be honest, you like the look of it. That’s a perfectly good reason to make that decision, just make sure you’re not sacrificing comfort and ergonomics for style and flair.A cheap office chair can be a great pick if you want to save cash and be comfy.

Are gaming chairs good for your posture?

The best gaming chairs look out for you and your back. When it comes to chair design, lumbar support is vital. The first thing you should look for in a new gaming chair is whether it has any built-in support to help your body maintain an ideal posture. Some even come with lumbar support pillows that work to some extent. Multi-adjustable arm-rests, upholstery, and general style are also important; note these features aren’t cheap.

Does every gaming chair fit every body type?

Different chair models accommodate different heights and weights, so make sure to check your fit. Look at the width and depth of the seat, too. Some chairs claim that you should sit cross-legged, but that depends on your size and legs’ length.

5/5 - (2 votes)
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Best mechanical keyboard for typing 2021

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Ready to experience best-in-class typing? A mechanical keyboard delivers the feel and feedback that your typical keyboards lack. This guide features the top performers in our testing.

If you’re a computer user of, shall we say, “a certain age,” you remember a time when a room-filling cacophony of clicking was synonymous with typing as words appeared…uh, on a sheet of paper. Typewriters were, in a sense, the original mechanical keyboard, and generations of 20th-century office workers and aspiring novelists honed their typing chops on them.

But as the hardy, ribbon-based machines gave way to computers, a different kind of mechanical keyboard came to the fore: the battlewagon keyboards of the early days of computing. And they were beasts. They used keys that clicked and rattled, and many of them felt like they would last forever. (Indeed, some of them are still in service.)

That’s the appeal of today’s mechanical computer keyboards: They feel like products built for the ages, in these days of disposable tech. Even throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, mechanical keyboards were as common a part of computer setups as floppy disk drives—because the people who were creating and using them knew what typing could, and should, be. Sadly, with the explosion of the home PC market in the 1990s and into the early 2000s, sturdy mechanical boards fell out of favor, as manufacturers looked for cheap, mass-market ways of getting tens of millions of people on their machines and online. Typing, that most basic of computing activities, became something you and your fingers had to endure, not enjoy, on subpar gear.

Luckily, the keyboard-quality pendulum has swung back in the other direction over the last decade. Mechanical keyboards are once again viable, even popular, alternatives to the bundled cheapie. They cost more, but they are far more rugged than a run-of-the-mill model. And keyboard makers now make them in lots of flavors to serve most major subclasses of buyers: productivity-minded users (with plain models), gamers (with keyboards replete with LED bling and macro features), ergonomically minded folks, and more.

A mechanical keyboard is a bit of an investment, though, so here’s what you need to know in order to make the right choice.

At the Heart of Mechanical: The Key Switch

First and foremost, the thing that defines a mechanical keyboard is the key switch it uses. Most budget keyboards today use dome-switch technology, which registers a keypress when you type and push down a silicone dome and connect two circuit-board traces. (This technology is also sometimes referred to as “membrane switch” or “rubber dome,” with minor variations in the essential design.) Though this style is easy and inexpensive to manufacture, pressing the keys requires a relatively large amount of force, which can result in a heavy, mushy feel to the fingers and a lack of either tactile or auditory feedback when you type. Plus, after a fairly “short” time (five million keystrokes, give or take), the domes can lose their springiness and either work less well or stop working altogether. So, you’ll probably have to replace the keyboard at least once or twice over the life of the computer that you use it with.

Mechanical switches, by contrast, get rid of the silicone altogether. Pressing down on the key activates a real, physical switch, usually involving a spring as the pushback mechanism, that registers what you type. Because the parts used are much more substantial than those in dome-switch keyboards, mechanical keyboards typically have a much longer life span. (Many boast ratings of 50 million keystrokes or more per switch, and may well outlast the first—or fifth!—computer you use them with.) The typing feedback also creates a more direct relationship between your fingers and what appears on the screen. Because of the hardware involved, mechanical keyboards tend to be thicker, heavier, and more expensive than their dome-switch counterparts. They are more of an investment, but one that will pay off in sheer satisfaction if the quality of typing really matters to you.

When shopping for a mechanical keyboard, you will want to pay attention, above all else, to the kind of switch it uses, and whether it offers auditory feedback (in other words, a click you can hear) or tactile feedback (a “bump” you can feel), or both. Also important is the amount of pressure that the switches require to activate (the “actuation force”). That will greatly affect its functionality and the possibility of finger fatigue.

The Classics: Cherry MX Switches

The best known and most frequently encountered mechanical key switches come from a company called Cherry Industrial. These “Cherry MX” switches come in a range of styles that offer different operation and feedback to better match with your own personal preference, and the work or play you plan to do most on them. (Note that most have an actuation point of 2mm.)

The different types of Cherry MX keys are named for colors. This rundown of the most common Cherry switches will help you better match what you need with the mechanical keyboards you can buy. Keep in mind that some keyboard makers use switches of a similar style, made by companies other than Cherry. But almost every manufacturer maintains the same basic “color” scheme and related traits to help keep confusion down. (So, for example, Cherry MX Blue switches, and Blue-“style” switches from other makers, both tend to be clicky.)

Cherry MX Blue

A close approximation of the old-school buckling-spring switch (see below), but with a new-style mechanism, Cherry MX Blue switches are both tactile and clicky. With Blue switches, you feel as well as hear the completion of a keystroke (via a bump when it activates, and a distinct click). These switches are ideal for serious typists (many of whom insist that the switches deliver a turbocharging bounce you can’t get anywhere else), but they are not best for gaming applications, as they have a rather higher actuation force (50 centi-Newtons, or cN) than you might prefer for a fast-twitch gun battle.

Another potential downside of the Blues: Some people find the keys’ audible click quite loud (and possibly, annoying), which may cause problems in close quarters, whether at the office or at home. An office full of Cherry MX Blue keyboards will sound suspiciously like a big-city newsroom, circa 1935.

Cherry MX Black

With the highest actuation force of the standard Cherry varieties (60cN), the Cherry MX Black switch can come across as stiff. This type is thus less suitable for the kind of nimble key work most speed and touch typists depend on, and fast-fingered gamers tend to shun it. But this makes Black an excellent switch for cases where precision is paramount: entering mission-critical data (say, for an accountant or at a point-of-sale terminal) or for certain kinds of more deliberate gaming, as you will seldom have to worry about accidentally striking a key twice. Cherry MX Black switches are also neither tactile nor clicky.

Cherry MX Red

Similar to MX Black, Cherry MX Red switches lack both tactile and auditory feedback. But they have a lower actuation force (45cN), so they can be hit more quickly and more often, giving you the edge in any game demanding ultra-quick input.

MX Red keyboards tend to be favored by gamers who play games that require fast-twitch actions. These same qualities, however, keep them from being a good choice if typing is your primary activity, as they make it easier to register more keystrokes than you intend or to trigger typos on a slightly stray stroke. Certain highly precise typists, though, will appreciate their light touch.

Cherry MX Brown

If you spend about as much time scribing emails and Word documents as you do mowing down charging zombies in first-person shooters, the Cherry MX Brown switch may be for you. Its 45cN actuation force is identical to what you get from the Red switch and, like it, the switch isn’t clicky, but it gives you the same typing-boosting tactile bump you get from Blue. It’s often cited as a good balance for gaming and typing between the clicky MX Blues and the “fast” MX Reds.

Cherry MX Speed Silver

Much like MX Reds, Cherry MX Speed Silvers demand the same 45cN actuation force, albeit with a shorter actuation point of just 1.2mm. (Reds have a 2mm actuation point.) The total travel distance is shorter too, at 3.4mm as opposed to the 4mm travel distance of the Cherry MX Reds. Having to press down less of a distance contributes to these switches’ namesake trait: speed. As a result, the delay between pressing down a key and performing an action is kept to a minimum, making Speed Silvers a refreshed favorite for gamers.

Other Cherry MX Switches

The above switches are the kinds you’re most likely to find in a keyboard you purchase today, but Cherry’s rainbow does extend a bit further, to a few much less common types. Cherry Clear switches are tactile like Brown, but possess a higher actuation force; Green switches can be considered stiff Blues, both tactile and clicky; and White switches are quieter Greens. Several other types have specialized uses (such as just for space bars), but they will seldom be identified as such on any package or marketing material.

The Non-Cherry Brigade

A number of companies make switches that either mimic or try to improve on the Cherry MX switch functionality. Some gaming-keyboard switches, for example, have shorter actuation points to register your keypress action more quickly. Razer, for one, recently developed a hybrid “Mecha-Membrane” variety that uses mechanical means to activate a silicone dome switch. We’ve seen this used in the likes of the Ornata Chroma, as well as in the Cynosa Chroma and its underglow-laden twin, the Cynosa Chroma Pro. But we’d consider these spinoffs as opposed to true mechanicals. (Cooler Master and SteelSeries have offered similar “hybrid” switches.)

Razer also offers true mechanical switches, known as Razer Green (tactile and clicky), Razer Orange (tactile and silent), and Razer Yellow (linear and silent). Here’s where one vendor goes off the color rails: The Razer Greens are most similar to Cherry MX Blue switches, Razer Oranges are closest to Cherry MX Browns, while Razer Yellows are congruent to Cherry MX Reds. Razer key switches exhibit unique travel distances and actuation points, too: Greens and Oranges are 4mm deep and actuate at 1.9mm, and Yellows are 3.5mm deep and actuate at 1.2mm. You’ll want to try these before you buy as they are a world of their own.

Logitech’s mechanical keyboards, on the other hand, have become increasingly popular for their homebrew Romer-G switches. These come in both Tactile and Linear flavors and are rated for a whopping 70 million keystrokes. Romer-G switches are outfitted with an actuation distance between that of the Cherry MX Reds and Silvers, and they require the same 45cN force to actuate. Furthermore, Logitech now posits GX Blue switches as an alternative to Cherry MX Blues.

None of these has become quite as popular or as widespread as the Cherry MX switches, though, so for the most part they’re not worth discussing in depth. If you come across a keyboard brand using an unfamiliar switch type, try to determine both its actuation force (explained above) and its actuation point (at which depth of the keypress what you type is registered).

Compare these values with those of the Cherry switches, and you should get an idea of what you’re in for. Trying them in person is also recommended; we’ve tried imitation Blue, Brown, and other switches, and noted some subtle and not-so-subtle differences in feel from the Cherry standard. One major, common maker of Cherry-like key switches is Kaihua Electronics, better known by its subsidiary brand Kailh. Kailh switches are often used in lower-cost mechanical models, and indeed, if you yank a keycap off a late-model mechanical keyboard and don’t see the word “Cherry” on the switch, “Kailh” is the next most likely branding you might see.

One of the most unusual switches you can find is, in fact, a quintessential mechanical example. The buckling-spring switch was used in the now-legendary IBM Model M keyboards that made such an impact in the 1980s—some of which are still in use today. It can still be found in keyboards from Unicomp, the company that acquired the manufacturing rights to it. (The Unicomp Ultra Classic definitely lives up to its name.) Buckling-spring keyboards use a genuine spring to activate the switch; when it buckles in the middle as you press it, it causes tactile and aural feedback (the latter from the spring hitting the sidewall of the switch enclosure). Keyboards using this style of switch are rare these days, but they’re prized for their unparalleled typing capability and psychological satisfaction.

Additional Features

Their switches aside, mechanical keyboards have the same feature considerations as other kinds of keyboards. You may want key backlighting, whether of one color or an entire spectrum you can program at your whim. (“Per-key” RGB backlighting, in which you can program each key across the whole RGB spectrum, is the ne plus ultra of key backlighting, but it adds to the cost. See our favorite RGB keyboards.) Multimedia controls, whether they’re activated by pushing separate buttons or using a Function key to access a secondary ability on one of the standard keys, can make it easy to adjust volume or move backward and forward in your track list while playing music.

Look for convenience features such as a volume dial or roller. (Corsair is well known for nifty volume rollers on some of its high-end mechanical boards, but other makers have adopted them, too.) And dedicated macro buttons can be a real boon for gamers, saving you the trouble of executing tricky key combinations or menu manipulations every time you want to perform a common action.

Most mainstream and gaming models offer a 10-key numeric pad, which laptops frequently lack and is a necessity for anyone who needs to tally numbers or enter data into a spreadsheet. So-called “tenkeyless” models slice off the numeric pad in the interest of space savings and keeping your typing and mousing hands closer together. Bear that in mind if you’re looking at gaming keyboards, as tenkeyless models are a recent trend especially in that subclass. If you want to go even smaller, 60 percent keyboards eliminate even more keys. Check out our 60 percent keyboard guide for everything you need to know about the category.

So, Which Mechanical Keyboard Should I Buy?

In any case, whatever you want from a keyboard, you can find a mechanical keyboard capable of making it a reality—with more heft, longevity, and style than you may have thought possible. Mechanical keyboards are back and here to stay, and likely to only get better as more and more buyers realize the benefits they offer to laser-focused typists, hardcore gamers, and everyone in between.

If you’re not wedded to mechanical key switches, check out our overall roundup of the best general-purpose keyboards we’ve tested, as well as the best gaming keyboards. And if you’re in the market for a pointing device to go with your keyboard, check out our looks at the best computer mice and the best gaming mice.

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Laptops

The best budget gaming laptops for 2021

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Grab power now! For right around $1,000, you have your choice of fierce, fast-running gaming laptops. Check out the best low-cost, GeForce- and Radeon-equipped gaming notebooks we’ve tested in our labs. We’ve got all the buying advice you need to land a bargain.

How do you define what makes for a “real” gaming laptop? We don’t consider any laptop a true gaming machine unless it comes with a dedicated graphics chip (aka, a “GPU”), as opposed to the integrated graphics built into the PC’s main processor. For us—and for sellers of laptops—that’s the bright line that divides a gamer from a pretender.

Still, depending on the kind of games you play and how fussy you are, sometimes a laptop doesn’t have to pretend. On some level, almost any recent notebook PC can work as a gaming laptop. Current general-use laptops with Intel’s 9th, 10th, or (more recently) 11th Generation Core i5 and Core i7 CPUs can play basic games passably if you roll back the screen-resolution and graphical-detail settings far enough.

These chips have modest graphics acceleration built in, and that’s all you need for casual or Web-based games. Plants vs. Zombies, here you come. The best 11th Generation “Tiger Lake” CPUs have changed the calculus on this somewhat, as they have notably improved integrated graphics and can run real games at low-to-moderate settings. Ultimately, though, they too are still well short of the performance of a discrete GPU.

A True GPU Is the Difference-Maker

We assume you want to do more than harvest potato mines and pea-shooters, or play games at low settings—you have a Steam account, and you ache to play some of the latest AAA titles in all their glory: the newest rev of the Battlefield series, the latest Tom Clancy-fest, the newest iteration of Tomb Raider or Far Cry. Or, you’re looking to play the latest mega-trending online titles—Fortnite, Apex Legends, Valorant—at the highest possible frame rate that your gaming laptop’s panel supports. That’s where a dedicated graphics chip comes in. It’s the starting point for getting serious about gaming on a notebook.

If you’re truly serious, and insist on playing all your games at very high detail settings and the highest possible screen resolution (for most laptops, that’s 1,920 by 1,080 pixels, assuming you’re playing on the laptop’s screen and not an external display), you’re just going to have to shell out some bucks, especially if you want that laptop to stay game-viable at those settings for more than a couple of years.

High-end future-proofing like that demands top-end graphics silicon: Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 2070 Super or RTX 2080 Super were the latest and greatest by the end of 2020, and the mighty RTX 3070 and 3080 launched on laptops in early 2021. Getting one of those GPUs means big spending, though, and at current prices, $1,500 or more is outside of budget range. You’re more likely to find the GTX 16-Series, or the newer RTX 3050 family, at this price level—you’ll find more detail on this in the GPU section below.

Take comfort, though, that times have changed. You don’t necessarily need one of the top-line GPUs (in 2021, that means a GeForce RTX-branded GPU) for solid gaming performance. With a little compromising, you can enjoy some very respectable gaming at 1080p in machines a notch or two down from the GeForce RTX elite, with models starting as low as $800. There are even some RTX 2060 laptop options as low as $999 (more details on this breakdown in the GPU section below). Budget-priced gaming laptops are now an established category, not outliers, and have been embraced by the major players. We’ve tested models from Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and MSI.

Here’s how to make sense of their components—and get the most for your money.

Budget Gaming Laptops: What to Look For, Part by Part

Our first bit of advice? If gaming’s your primary focus and your budget really does dead-stop at $1,000, get the best GPU you can for the money, and let everything else follow from there. That may be at the expense of another spec or two—a little less storage, say, or a Core i5 processor instead of a Core i7.

That said, notebooks aren’t upgradable, apart from their primary system memory (RAM, not to be confused with the graphics memory) and in some cases, the storage. You’re going to be stuck with the screen, the graphics chip, and the processor you buy now, so evaluate these parts wisely. If you can stretch your budget a bit to get the next-tier-higher component, it can pay dividends in terms of usable life.

The Processor: Yes, It’s Important, But Don’t Overbuy

Some of today’s games, especially in the MMORPG and real-time-strategy (RTS) categories, tend to hammer the processor. New gaming notebooks no longer come with dual-core processors, for good reason: Some AAA games call explicitly for quad-core CPUs as a minimum.

That said, a maxed-out Core i7 or Core i9 CPU is less crucial for gaming than it is for processor-intensive tasks such as video editing and media-file production work. With the 10th Generation Intel CPUs that dominate budget gaming laptops at the moment, you’ll get plenty of pep even from Core i5 CPUs. A Core i7 of the same generation is actually a hefty six-core or eight-core processor that, we’d argue, is overkill for casual gamers who need to mind what they spend. So, our bottom line: Opt for a Core i5 or i7 chip with four true cores if you can; a six-core chip is gravy.

Currently, Intel’s 10th Generation “Comet Lake” mobile processors are making way for Intel’s 11th Generation “Tiger Lake” processors in 2021 models. The Tiger Lake-H processors have also launched in more premium gaming laptops, but are only starting to filter down to laptops priced below $1,000. You can often configure up laptops that start around $1,200 to include those chips, but then you’re leaving budget pricing territory. In the meantime, many new machines still use the 10th Gen Comet Lake Core-H processors.

Meanwhile, on the AMD side of the fence, things are looking up, big time. Previously, AMD processors and GPUs were rarely seen in midrange and high-end laptops, but were good fits for budget laptops (because the components were generally cheaper value plays to begin with). Even then, there weren’t too many laptops with AMD chips. That started to change in 2020 across all price tiers with the release of laptop chips based on the company’s Zen 2 microarchitecture. As the Zen 2 processors did on desktop, these Zen 2-based “Renoir” processors challenged Intel on laptop in 2020. The first chip we tested was the Ryzen 9 4900HS, which proved both a great performer and value. That’s a higher-end chip, so less relevant here, but there are other Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 7 CPUs available in budget laptops, like the Ryzen 7 4800H in the Dell G5 15 SE (2020).

AMD continues to up the ante in 2021 with the launch of the Zen 3-based Ryzen 5000 mobile CPUs. We’ve tested just a few laptops with these processors so far, and were not surprised to see very good performance. Look for more of these CPUs in all types of laptops as 2021 rolls to a close.

System Memory: In This Range, Go Eight

Given an around-$1,000 budget, 8GB is the minimum RAM you should settle for. (We haven’t seen less than 8GB of main system memory in a machine with dedicated graphics for some years now.) Most sub-$1,000 machines with dedicated graphics won’t go any higher, but that’s an adequate amount for most moderate use and mainstream gaming. The occasional cheap gaming laptop manages to squeeze in 16GB of memory these days, but it’s still the exception to the 8GB norm in this price range.

Whether the laptop’s RAM is user-upgradable later on, and what the ceiling is, are further facets to investigate. That said, even if you can upgrade the memory, the laptop may come with memory modules occupying both slots, which would mean replacing them both when upgrading later. It’s best to get what you need up front.

Storage: SSDs Rule, But a Mix Is Better

You’ll see both ordinary hard drives and swifter (but lesser-capacity) solid-state drives (SSDs) in under-$1,000 laptops. The occasional 15.6-inch-screen model might offer a small-capacity SSD boot drive alongside a secondary-storage platter hard drive, though this is more common with 17-inch laptops. (Note that most budget gaming laptops under a grand will be 15.6-inchers.)

Opt for this dual-drive approach if you can find it and afford it. The smaller SSD would be home to the operating system and a few favorite games, and the larger, more economical hard drive would host the rest of your games and other programs that don’t need quick loading times. (It’s possible to split your Steam and other game libraries across drives.) Some budget gaming laptops let you add the second drive yourself inside an empty internal 2.5-inch bay. That can be the most economical choice, as 2.5-inch hard drives of significant capacity can be had for well less than $100.

In a gaming laptop, an SSD plus a hard drive is the best of both storage worlds. This is especially recommended given how large modern game installations have become, ballooning over 100GB at times. Your small SSD will fill up quickly. In terms of gaming performance, the storage subsystem affects game load times and in-game level changes. It can be of special importance in MMORPGs, where huge environments are loaded in real time. Thus, having at least some fast, SSD-based storage is desirable. To our eyes, you should only opt for an SSD boot drive at this point in time. The difference in performance “feel” between a hard drive and an SSD boot drive is too big to ignore. (See our picks for the fastest SSDs.)

Optical drives are just about extinct on gaming models at any screen size these days. Even if you have lots of games on disc, know that you can always use an external USB DVD/CD drive in a pinch, and they cost just $20 or so.

Display Details, Part One: Size and Resolution

You should keep four specs in mind when looking at a given gaming laptop’s display panel: the screen size, the native resolution, the refresh rate, and the panel type.

As we noted earlier, 15.6 inches is the general screen-size rule for most under-$1,000 gaming laptops. This size is a good compromise in ways that extend beyond cost. Sometimes, gaming on the biggest laptop screen possible—and with a few exotic exceptions, that’s the 17-inch class—is the way to go. But if you’ve ever tried carrying one of these machines, or shopped for a laptop bag that can fit both it and its gigantic power adapter, you may have second thoughts. Many of these notebooks weigh six pounds or more, and the lightest ones tend to be far from the cheapest.

A 15-inch gamer still won’t be an ideal daily traveler, but most are a lot more manageable than their larger kin. Also, today’s 15-inch gaming rigs are better suited for use in true mobile fashion—that is, off an AC power plug—than those of past years. We’ve seen a few hit six or more hours of battery life, albeit in everyday productivity use or playing back video; gaming will trim that number considerably. (See our picks for the laptops with the best battery life.)

As for the screen’s native resolution, 1,920 by 1,080 pixels (commonly called 1080p) is now the norm in budget-priced and mainstream gaming machines. The more pixels you need to push, the more graphics power you need, and a savvy maker of gaming laptops won’t outfit a laptop with a screen whose native resolution the GPU can’t do justice. So the scarcity of higher-than-HD screens in budget gaming machines is no accident. Not only do such screens cost more and sap more battery life, but the graphics chips found in under-$1,000 gaming rigs wouldn’t power gameplay on them very well. (Screens with resolutions much higher than 1080p tend to look small and squinty at the 15-inch size, anyway.)

Display Details, Part Two: Refresh Rate and Panel Type

Like the native resolution, you should take note of the panel’s refresh rate, even if, these days, it may be the same—that is, 60Hz—across some older budget models.

If the refresh rate (which is measured in hertz, or Hz) is being called out as a feature on a given laptop, that means it’s likely higher than the norm. Most laptop screens, including those in most non-gaming-oriented budget models, stick to 60Hz, which means they redraw the onscreen image 60 times per second and thus can display up to 60 frames per second (fps) of in-game performance. (In other words, if your graphics chip can produce 90fps in a given game, you’ll see only 60 of them.) Some notebook screens these days, though, can display at 75Hz, 120Hz, or more. These high refresh rates can be beneficial for some extremely fast-paced games, particularly titles played competitively online, including stalwarts such as CS:GO, DOTA 2, and Overwatch, and the more recent trio of Fortnite, Apex Legends, and Call of Duty: Warzone.

Still, unless you’re attempting to become a professional gamer or get ranked globally in a particular popular title, a 60Hz screen will suffice. Nearly all gamers are still “stuck” with 60Hz displays, after all, if they haven’t bought a new PC in the last few years. Still, high-refresh panels are becoming the norm even in budget gaming machines, and the lack of one now indicates an older model you probably want to avoid.

Another spec to watch for is panel type. You’ll want to go for an in-plane switching (IPS) panel if possible, as they generally offer the best off-center viewing angles and colors. Some gamers are content with cheaper twisted nematic (TN) panels, which make you settle for narrower viewing angles—but then, you’re probably seated directly in front of the screen, so that’s not an issue. TN panels can offer slightly faster response times.

A final note, about touch input. Despite the undeniable convenience of touch screens for Windows, they are not the norm on gaming machines, and we don’t know of any GeForce- or Radeon RX-based gaming models in the under-$1,000 zone with touch.

The Graphics Processor: Now Here’s Where to Spend

The dedicated graphics chip is the backbone of any gaming computer. In budget gaming machines, Nvidia’s GeForce GTX line dominates the market, and the latest chips at this writing are part of the company’s GeForce GTX 1600 series, or “Turing” family, which rolled out in April 2019 in mobile versions of the GeForce GTX 1650 and GTX 1660 Ti. A GeForce GTX 1650 Ti joined the family in April 2020, fitting in between those two.

However, due to some changes in Nvidia’s stack, it’s not just about GTX at this price. When Nvidia launched the GTX 1650 Ti (and the aforementioned high-end RTX Super GPUs) on laptops in April 2020, it also lowered the starting price for laptops with its RTX 2060 GPU to just $999. The RTX 2060 will only be found in laptops at the very top of the “budget” price range (around $1,000), and even then, only in a couple of selected models. But still, it technically brings the RTX line and its signature ray-tracing capabilities to this category. This means gaming at high settings (or even maximum, depending on the game) on an entry-level laptop is more attainable than ever.

Meanwhile, this spring, Nvidia rolled out the new, mainstream GeForce RTX 3050 and RTX 3050 Ti GPUs for gaming laptops. So far, they have only barely tipped into laptops under $1,000; we’ve seen just a few RTX 3050-based machines starting at around $999.

Until 2019, the go-to entry-level gaming chip was the “Pascal”-based GeForce GTX 1050, typically found in models starting around $700 to $800. The GTX 1050 is capable of playing most of today’s games at 1080p resolution with medium to high settings, and, while you may still see it around, will no longer be sold in modern laptops. The GeForce GTX 1650 is now the main offering in the least-expensive new gaming laptops, and a better performer.

If you have a little more cash, the GTX 1650 Ti will boost you more comfortably over 30fps (and maybe to 60fps depending on the game), while the GTX 1660 Ti is a genuine 60fps performer. You’ll find those in laptops from $899 to $1,200 depending on which other components they’re paired with. The dominance of the GTX 1650 and GTX 1660 Ti (and the newer GTX 1650 Ti) in the budget tier is now complete.

The older GTX 1060 is still listed as the baseline for using your laptop with a virtual reality (VR) headset. (See our picks for the best laptops for VR.) But know that the GTX 1660 Ti is the newer equivalent in that regard, and it will only give you better performance. Expect the RTX 3050 line to start to elbow in on the GTX 1660 Ti’s space, in turn, as 2021 runs to a close, but component shortages through 2021 have kept prices high.

As stated, the RTX 2060 can now be found in a few laptops as low as $999, which should be mouthwatering for budget shoppers. Ray tracing is an advanced lighting technique that only GPUs with the RTX moniker carry the hardware to pull off. The elite RTX 2070, 2080, and (as of early 2021) the RTX 3070 and 3080, are superior for performing this technique, as it will drag down your frame rates, but the RTX 2060 (and presumably the RTX 3050s, as they get into cheaper machines) is capable. This is especially true with DLSS 2.0, an Nvidia visual feature that helps performance in a handful of games. Being able to pull this off on budget laptops at all is an impressive feat, and shows how this category is healthier than ever, even if RTX isn’t quite yet a budget staple.

It’s worth noting that, unlike prior generations, the Pascal and Turing mobile GPUs are much closer to their desktop counterparts. The desktop GPUs still have an edge, but older generations only saw roughly 70% to 80% of desktop performance. (See our picks for the top desktop gaming graphics cards for 1080p play.) Turing and Pascal mobile chips deliver almost equivalent performance to their desktop counterparts of the same name, assuming they are implemented in machines with a complementary CPU, and in designs that do the GPU’s thermal needs justice. (Most do.)

The “Ampere” RTX 30-Series GPUs, though, diverge again from their desktop counterparts. As mentioned, the pricing on those GPUs means they won’t dominate budget gaming laptops for some time, but we have more details on their complicated performance nuances if you want to read more.

To muddy the performance waters further, Nvidia in 2017 introduced a technology called Max-Q Design that squeezes a slightly detuned GeForce chip into thinner and lighter notebooks than would normally be possible, at the expense of 10% to 15% of the chip’s performance. Because Max-Q tends to be implemented in thin, premium machines, it’s seldom a factor among the under-$1,000 brigade. But it’s good to know what it is, in case you encounter the term when shopping. (A few models just above the one-grand line incorporate the tech.) You may be interested in a Max-Q rig if maximum portability—not a trait usually associated with gaming laptops!—matters to you.

As for Nvidia’s competitor AMD, its dedicated graphics chips are less common in budget gaming laptops (or higher-cost ones, for that matter), even as its Ryzen processor success rises against Intel. That said, its most recent GPU efforts are seeing more traction than earlier ones. The Radeon RX 5500M and RX 5600M have showed up in a few late-model laptops we’ve tested, and you’ll want to look at individual reviews of those machines to see how these new Radeon GPUs stack up. (We haven’t reviewed enough of them yet to draw firm across-the-board conclusions.) Recently introduced Radeon RX 6000M Series GPUs are not likely to be a big factor in cheap laptops for a while.

Don’t Forget the Keyboard: Lighting and Layouts

One of the typical features that sets apart a gaming laptop is a colorful, backlit keyboard. These vary quite a bit from model to model, with more elaborate backlighting going hand-in-hand with higher prices and a higher general level of other components.

Almost all budget gaming laptops will employ single-color backlighting (most often, red or white) to keep costs down. The next step up is lighting programmable by zone, with three or four blocks of the keyboard independently customizable in different colors, but this is not common in budget machines. Keyboards with per-key, individually programmable lighting are the province of high-end machines only.

Also look at the key layout. Models with an isolated cluster of arrow keys or well-defined WASD keys get bonus points, in our book. Also, because most budget gaming laptops are 15.6-inch models, check for a dedicated number pad to the right of the main key area, if you prefer to have one—or not, for that matter. Some machines of this screen size will have one, some won’t. (A 17-inch laptop almost invariably will, however.)

So, Which Cheap Gaming Laptop to Buy?

At the top of this article and below, we’ve mapped out our top-rated models to investigate. Note that a few of the configurations sent to us for testing were a bit above $1,000; some remain so, while others have fallen below the one-grand line since. Also, note that most of these models are a single version of a machine in a varied line. So use the linked reviews as guidelines, not absolutes, when assessing each laptop family. You may not get quite the level of performance we did, if key components were downgraded to get the price below $1,000. But you should get a solid idea of the various laptops’ screen, build, and input quality from our reviews.

In addition to poring over our reviews and checking out the vendors’ sites, using the price filters at a reseller like Newegg.com can help you see different configurations at different price points. Some manufacturers offer lots of differently weighted versions of the same laptop (say, more storage in one config, a better GPU in another). Playing with the filters on these sites can be an illuminating exercise in give-and-take.

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