Sub-$500 laptops that can handle some games

Hi, folks! Partly because I need it for work, and partly because I’m turning 40 and think I deserve a present, I’m in the market for a laptop. It ABSOLUTELY needs to come in at less than $500. It doesn’t necessarily need productivity software, since I’ll be moving in a Googledocs direction, but it needs the very basic things a PC laptop needs (wifi, Windows, etc.). Refurbished, off-lease, etc. are okay. I’d like to be able to game on it, but I’m not a graphics junkie and am kind of disillusioned with FPS games anyway. If it can run Divinity: Original Sin I’ll be thrilled, but if it can’t run anything better than Minecraft I’ll also be fine.

I’m thinking about two models: this Dell Inspiron and this HP Elitebook.

The Dell is a 17" monstrosity, about 6.5 lbs. I don’t think that’d be a problem, since I don’t mind lugging weight around with me (I get precious little exercise as is and can use every bit available). It has 8 gb memory and a 1 Tb hard drive–but it’s a 5400 rpm HD, which I understand can be a real bottleneck.

The HP is smaller in every way: 14" screen, 4 gb memory, 120 gb hard drive. But it’s a solid-state hard drive. I don’t mind having only a couple of games loaded at any one time.

Do folks have any recommendations between these two systems, or can recommend a different system that might satisfy my needs? Remember, I’m not looking for something that can run the latest and greatest (if Divinity is a graphics hog, leave that out of my post), but I would like something that can run fun indie games and older games effectively.

I’d love to make my purchase by Monday or Tuesday evening.

Thanks!

I didn’t look too hard so there is probably a better machine out there, but this one offers better trade-offs for what you want than either of those: http://outlet.lenovo.com/outlet_us/itemdetails/59RF0401/445

The lower resolution screen and beefier gpu will make gaming better. I’d’drop an mx100 SSD in it too. The smaller screen sucks for general use, but that’s the $500 laptop world for you. I have no experience with the Lenovo outlet site so many some horrible catch exists.

The GPU makes sense–is there anything in particular I should look for in GPUs? I find their nomenclature totally useless, and websites reviewing GPUs give me way TMI.

The link you gave no longer works–do you remember the name of the machine you suggested, or how you searched for it?

Thanks for the help!

It was a Lenovo G505s, but no longer seems to be available. I went to the outlet site and just filtered for less-than-$500 laptops and looked at the GPUs. Nothing looks very interesting on the site now.

Laptop GPUs are hard to evaluate, since no one really benchmarks them. If they do bench them, it’s just worthless synthetic benchmarks. A good rule to follow that is for a particular OEM (Nvidia, AMD, or Intel) the higher the second number, the better the GPU. For example, a 660 is better than a 752. Comparing across manufacturers is too complicated to have a quick rule.

Try notebookcheck.com for benchmarks on laptop GPU’s. They almost always include a sampling of current games. Just google notebookcheck + gpu so: “notebookcheck 740m” for example.

I would look for a relatively modern low end discreet GPU setup like an 740m or 830m.

Really hard to find something that’s not refurbished at the $500 price point.

I’m totally fine with the refurbished thing. And I looked at notebookcheck.com at some point–that’s the site that was TMI for me. 740m and 830m are, what, Radeon cards? Does the “m” mean something? "M"obile?

Also, a lot of the laptops I’ve looked at have Intel HD Graphics 3000 for GPU–any thoughts on this?

It’s old and busted, even by integrated GPU standards. You’d want something 4000-series at minimum, preferably 4600. If you can’t find such a laptop, then just give up on running games (except for some 2D indie games maybe.)

The notebookcheck site is good information. To keep it simple, just look at this page: http://www.notebookcheck.net/Mobile-Graphics-Cards-Benchmark-List.844.0.html The Intel 4600 is ranked at 230. Avoid anything listed below it on the page. The highest it’s listed on the page, the better.

Have you ruled out a tablet? It sounds like a tablet would meet a lot of your requirements and it would make for a great present.

I can access a tablet through work, but it doesn’t really meet my productivity needs (I find it very hard to create new stuff on an iPad) or my gaming needs (I have a Steam account with a ton of games and don’t need to go buying new tablet games). I went ahead and got the Inspiron from my OP: its graphics look middle-of-the-road low-end according to notebookcheck, and I think it’ll do what I need it to do.

Thanks all, for your input!