Yes, the situation is dire. A reasonable laptop adequate for low graphics 3D gaming is hard to find. By “reasonable” I mean that for $500 you’d probably get the most basic hardware – slow HDD, only 4-8GB RAM, usually crappy display and keyboard. Even the secondhand and refurbished markets didn’t offer much, unless you dug the web for a long time to get a used laptop. It seems that manufacturers are reluctant to offer anything fun for less than $600 or so and even then it’s tricky.
The new AMD Ryzen mobile APUs, 2200U, 2300U, 2500U, 2700U offer a performance level significantly higher than the current Intel iGPUs. A laptop with a Ryzen 2500U 15W and dual channel memory configuration, should be able to perform around the same level of a Intel I5 + Nvidia GT 940MX setup and doubling the latest Intel iGPU performance, in gaming workload. Fore example, via the Intel UHD 620 it would run Rocket League@1080p at 40FPS vs 20FPS, Bioshock@1080p, Ultra at 20FPS vs 10FPS and Metro Last Light@1080p, medium settings at 32FPS vs 17FPS (source, source, source). So, generally, many games are not playable at 30FPS with the Intel iGPU, now are.
The problem is that to get these results, you’d have to get an optimized system – dual channel memory configuration (otherwise the iGPU and CPU competition on memory resources will bottleneck). Moreover, as I said before, you’d probably want to get a laptop that doesn’t suck in other aspects other than the gaming performance. Moreover, pricing is an issue. These models are cost efficient for $500 price point or less.
I do hope that we’ll see the Ryzen 2300U APU in laptops. It is a more modest APU with 4C/4T vs 4C/8T and iGPU having 384 stream processors vs 512 in the 2500U. should be cheaper than 2500U, less hot, offer the same gaming performance or better, while leaving some extra watts to the GPU.
The AMD Ryzen mobile APUs have been released quite some time ago, but only we now a variety of laptops start to show up. Some of the interesting available and upcoming models are:
- New: Acer A315-41, 2500U ($500). It’s unclear right now if it employs a dual channel memory configuration and also what is the quality of other components.
- HP Envy 15z x360. New ($750) and refurbished ($550-$600). Review
- Lenovo Ideapad 720s-13. New and New ($750). Review. Quite TDP limited.
- Upcoming: Lenovo Thinkpad E485 and E585. The Thinkpad “E” series laptops are usually cheaper and after a while can be found for even lower price. I bet they will be available for $500-$550 at some point, with an IPS display.
These are not all of them. More should come from Dell, Asus, HP (Elitebook) and Lenovo.