Cheapest laptop able to play Steam?
June 17, 2016 7:50 AM   Subscribe

Over the last couple of years I've bought a good many Steam game keys for my son, who is turning eight next month and ready (I think) for an ultra-cheap laptop. Anyone have any suggestions for the cheapest one that could handle those games? Thanks!
posted by michaeldunaway to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Corollary -- If you tell me that I'll get much more bang for the buck going with a desktop, I'm open to that, too.
posted by michaeldunaway at 7:53 AM on June 17, 2016

Each game is going to have its own system requirements. Just because it's on Steam doesn't mean that it will necessarily play on a computer of a given configuration.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:56 AM on June 17, 2016 [5 favorites]

You say "Steam Games" but they really run the gamut from little lightweight puzzles to huge graphic-intense behemoths. Considering your son's age, I'm assuming you've mostly bought the former, but a quick list of some titles might help people make better recommendations!

I've got no tips re: laptops, but if you're feeling DIY and crafty, googling "build a gaming PC for [budget]" will likely give you some idea of what's possible. Plus, it'd be cheaper and easier to swap/add parts, which might mean a computer that lasts a lot longer before needing total replacement.

Good Luck!
posted by sazerac at 7:58 AM on June 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I recently bought a Acer Aspire One Cloudbook 14" Laptop (2GB RAM) and, while it plays all the games I like to play just fine, I wouldn't expect it to do very well with any recent AAA title.

But this laptop is about as dirt cheap as it can get.

If you can name the most graphics intense game on your list, I'll be happy to try downloading a demo of it or something similar and see how the Cloudbook fares.
posted by 256 at 8:02 AM on June 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

How cheap is cheap? If you're willing to spend $400 and wait for the right sale, you can get a refurb Dell laptop with a current (sixth) generation i5 that will play a lot of games quite well, especially ones a few years old.

If you're looking at $200, you can look around locally for a used desktop with a third generation i5 and then add a better video card. For most games, the GPU is the limiting factor - you can take almost any reasonable desktop and make it game worthy by upgrading the GPU. No such luck with laptops.
posted by Candleman at 8:08 AM on June 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Having a list of the games that you have purchased for your son would let us determine the minimum specs required to run all of them.
posted by isauteikisa at 8:55 AM on June 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

I've been eyeing them for myself recently. What's the budget look like for this? I think you'll see diminishing returns under $500.

Again, depending upon how much you want to spend – but for laptops, this Acer at $549, is probably the best for its price point. i5-6200U, an nVidia 940MX, an apparently pretty-good full HD screen, 8GB DDR4, 256GB SSD; a solid 6-cell battery, Windows 10.

Candleman's got it for desktops – but upgrade that power supply to about 600W, you'll need it. The R9 380/370 GPUs are solid.
posted by a good beginning at 9:07 AM on June 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Consider a refurbished Dell laptop. Intel (i.e. built in) graphics have gotten very good in the past few years.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 8:10 PM on June 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

List the games please and your budget for a sensible answer.
posted by Iteki at 2:23 AM on June 18, 2016

Thanks for the feedback and sorry for my slow response! Here are the Steam games I want my son to be able to play:

LEGO Batman 2 DC Super Heroes
LEGO Batman
LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham
LEGO The Hobbit
LEGO The Hobbit - The Big Little Character Pack DLC
LEGO The Hobbit - The Battle Pack DLC
LEGO Marvel Super Heroes
LEGO Marvel Super Heroes: Asgard Pack DLC
LEGO Marvel Super Heroes: Super Pack DLC
Sid Meier's Civilization® III: Complete
Sid Meier's Civilization IV: The Complete Edition
Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol
Sid Meier’s Ace Patrol: Pacific Skies
Sid Meier's Railroads!
Sid Meier's Civilization V
Sid Meier's Civilization® V: Gods and Kings DLC
Sid Meier's Civilization® V: Brave New World DLC
Sid Meier's Civilization V: Scrambled Nations DLC
Sid Meier's Civilization V: Scrambled Continents DLC
Ticket to Ride
World Of Goo
Toki Tori
Dead Island: Game of the Year Edition (maybe!)
Llamas with Hats: Cruise Catastrophe
Mines of Mars
Time Surfer
Bridge Constructor Playground
Cubemen 2
Don’t Move
Quest of Dungeons
Small World 2
Thomas Was Alone

And more as he matures, of course.

We really can't spend more than $300 or so, which is ridiculous, I know. Would it be better at this point to go desktop? To get something like this and upgrade graphics card or whatever as needed?

Thanks all; I really do appreciate it.
posted by michaeldunaway at 5:59 AM on June 29, 2016

I don't know about all of those games, but I can say that Civ V:BNW runs fine on the 2012 Macbook Air which I'm typing this on. That desktop you link to appears to have a decent-to-good cpu, but the seller hasn't told you any real information about what GPU it has aside from 'AMD'. Here's how you get a guess about whether your games will work or not:

1) Ask what graphics card it has. You want the exact model number.
2) Look up the graphics card's rating on Just enter the model number into the search box.
3) Civ V: BNW's min spec is listed as 256 MB ATI HD2600 XT or better/256 MB nVidia 7900 GS or better. Those cards score a GPUmark of 220 and 299 respectively. If the graphics card on your target machine gets a number a fair bit higher than that you should be fine, although this is not a precise science. For reference, the GPUmark of my Mac's graphics is 451.

PS: The Civ V min spec also says that the integrated graphics on an Intel Core i3 or better will be good enough. Your target machine has an Core i5 (which is better in theory), but is 6 years old (so might not actually be better in practice), so let's not rely on that.

PPS: Dead Island is M rated for a reason.
posted by Urtylug at 2:28 PM on July 4, 2016

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