Gaming Laptops For Zwift Under $800 USD

When buying a laptop to run Zwift there are several technical specs to consider and a bewildering number of machines to choose from. Based on data collected by zwiftalizer.com here’s a short list of best buys for 2019 - 2020.

The Zwift game engine is a 3D world with 100+ players rendered in real-time. Therefore, a dedicated graphics processing unit (GPU) will make the biggest difference to the system’s ability to display smooth animation with high detail.

The central processing unit (CPU) is also important for fast processing of network data and player positioning before offloading the drawing to the GPU preferably fast enough for drawing a complete scene containing millions of polygons once every 16 milliseconds (60 frames per second). Phew!

Random access memory (RAM) and disk storage are essential components of a computer but adding more RAM and storage do not make any significant difference to in-game performance. Loading the game in the first place is much faster when using a solid state disk (SSD), which is a nice convenience given that you must quit the game to start a new session (current November 2019). And if you’re anything like me, there never seems to be enough time to get settled in and ready to go for a race or group ride start.

An $800 desktop tower computer will have greater performance than a laptop. If you’re looking for a PC as a permanent fixture in your training pain cave, then a desktop tower PC will give you much better performance for the same price. You would want a wall mounted TV, so the built-in screen of a laptop is surplus to requirements, and unlike a desktop PC, you will not have an upgrade path. With a laptop, you can still output to a TV via HDMI or mini display port, and it has the obvious advantage of being portable, which may be important if your pain cave is your garden shed, but you are paying extra for the convenience of miniaturization.

Laptops are designed to run on battery power and have less cooling capacity to dissipate heat, which is why their performance is not comparable to a desktop at the same price point. It is possible to get very high-performance gaming laptops but I will not consider those here.

Minimum Specs

With those factors in mind, I’ve picked laptops based on the following minimum specs:

  • CPU - 8th generation Intel Core i5 quad core
  • GPU - Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050, GTX 1050 Ti, or GTX 1650 with 4GB DDR5 dedicated graphics memory
  • RAM - 8GB
  • Storage - 256GB SSD
  • Display - 15” - 1920 x 1080 High Resolution, Ultra Profile
  • Ports - 2 x USB3, HDMI Out, Mini display port nice to have
  • Networking - WiFi, Bluetooth, Ethernet

Not Considered

I have not considered battery life, weight, thinness, body material, or display sharpness because I expect the laptop to be plugged in to the mains and hooked up to a full HD (1080p) TV.

Bluetooth is not considered because until Windows 10 has better Bluetooth support, I am assuming all sensors for Zwift will be paired using an ANT+ USB2 stick.

Will they do 4K Ultra?

Yes! Laptops with Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 or GTX 1650 are capable of 4K TV output but you could find the frames per second (FPS) is not quite high enough for smooth action at that resolution. It will likely be between 30 and 40 FPS according to logs collected by zwiftalizer.com. All laptops on this list will however get the Ultra profile (high polygon models, all the lighting effects & shadows, etc) at 1080 resolution with high frame rates.

Some of these laptops are already on sale at Walmart, BestBuy and Amazon during November 2019 Black Friday sales.

1. Lenovo Ideapad L340 Gaming Laptop, 15.6 Inch FHD (1920 X 1080) IPS Display, Intel Core i5-9300H Processor, 8GB DDR4 RAM, 512GB Nvme SSD, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650

$708.00

Lenovo Ideapad L340 Gaming Laptop, 15.6 Inch FHD (1920 X 1080) IPS Display, Intel Core i5-9300H Processor, 8GB DDR4 RAM, 512GB Nvme SSD, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650
  • 9th Generation Intel Core i5-9300H Processor
  • 8GB 2400MHz DDR4 RAM
  • 512GB Solid State Drive
  • 15.6 inch FHD Screen (1920 x 1080)
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650
  • 2 x USB 3.1
  • USB-C
  • HDMI
  • RJ45 Ethernet
  • Headphone / microphone combo jack

This is my top choice because it meets all the specs while being discrete enough to be used as a business laptop. Lenovo is a very reputable brand. There are no downsides. I would upgrade the RAM to 32GB for work, but for Zwift 8GB is fine.

Walmart has the Lenovo Ideapad L340 with GTX 1050 configuration on sale for Black Friday.

$599.00 $750.00

2. MSI GF63 Thin 9SC-614 15.6” Gaming Laptop, Intel Core i5-9300H, NVIDIA GTX 1650, 8GB, 512GB NVMe SSD

$799.00

MSI GF63 Thin 9SC-614 15.6 Gaming Laptop, Intel Core i5-9300H, NVIDIA GTX 1650, 8GB, 512GB NVMe SSD
  • Display: 15. 6 inches FHD (1920 x 1080), IPS-Level, 60Hz, 45 percent NTSC, Thin Bezel
  • Processor: Intel Core i5-9300H 2. 4 - 4. 1GHz
  • Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 [MaX-Q] 4G GDDR5
  • Memory: 8GB (8G x 1) DDR4 2666MHz, 2 Sockets; Max Memory 64GB
  • Storage: 512GB NVMe SSD

MSI is a well-known brand of gaming PC hardware. The GL63 Thin ticks all the boxes and has a 9th generation Core i5 processor, which is above my minimum spec. The Core i5 has 4 cores. Fun fact, when I tried Zwift VR with an Oculus headset in Seattle back in 2016, it was running on an MSI Dominator Laptop with a mobile GTX 1080 GPU.

The Nvidia GTX 1650 GPU is the latest Turing Architecture chip design with 4GB DDR5 memory

512GB Storage is very nice to have as well.

3. MSI GF63 Thin 9SCX-615 15.6” Gaming Laptop, Intel Core i5-9300H, NVIDIA GTX 1050Ti, 8GB, 512GB NVMe SSD

$729.00

MSI GF63 Thin 9SCX-615 15.6 Gaming Laptop, Intel Core i5-9300H, NVIDIA GTX 1050Ti, 8GB, 512GB NVMe SSD
  • Display: 15. 6 inches FHD (1920 x 1080), IPS-Level, 60Hz, 45 percent NTSC, Thin Bezel
  • Processor: Intel Core i5-9300H 2. 4 - 4. 1GHz
  • Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050Ti 4G GDDR5
  • Memory: 8GB (8G x 1) DDR4 2666MHz, 2 Sockets; Max Memory 64GB
  • Storage: 512GB NVMe SSD

Same as the above, but the GPU is the previous generation Pascal Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti GPU also with 4GB DDR5 memory

That’s quite a saving for a GPU that is almost as good as the previous gen GTX 1050. If this goes below $700, buy it.

4. MSI GL63 8SC-059 15.6” Gaming Laptop, Intel Core i7-8750H, NVIDIA GeForce GTX1650, 8GB, 256GB Nvme SSD

$795.48

MSI GL63 8SC-059 15.6 Gaming Laptop, Intel Core i7-8750H, NVIDIA GeForce GTX1650, 8GB, 256GB Nvme SSD
  • Display: 15.6” Fhd wide view NTSC Color Anti-Glare, RGB
  • Processor: Core i7-8750H 2.2 - 4.1GHz
  • Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX1650 4G GDDR5
  • Memory: 8GB (8G*1) DDR4 2666MHz, 2 Sockets; Max Memory 32GB
  • Storage: 256GB NVMe SSD

The GL63 (not thin) has a slightly older 8th generation Coffee Lake Core i7 processor, which has six cores. That’s not going to make a lot of difference to Zwift, but I have included this model because it is an excellent buy and I expect it to go on sale.

I really like that it has 4 USB3 ports, Type-C USB3, HDMI and a mini display port.

4 USB3 ports, 1 Type-C USB3, 1 HDMI and 1 mini display port

The Nvidia GTX 1650 GPU is the latest Turing Architecture chip design with 4GB DDR5 memory

The slight tradeoff is that this laptop has only has a 256GB NVMe SSD A full Windows 10 installation might not leave a whole lot of space for data files. (I have a 256GB SSD in my laptop and have not run out of space in over 18 months). If you do intensive photo, video or music creation you’d want to use external storage anyway.

5. Acer Nitro 5 AN515 Laptop: Core i5-8300H, 15.6inch Full HD IPS Display, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, NVidia GTX 1050 Ti 4GB Graphics

$665.00

Acer Nitro 5 AN515 Laptop: Core i5-8300H, 15.6inch Full HD IPS Display, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, NVidia GTX 1050 Ti 4GB Graphics
  • 8th Gen Intel Core i5-8300H quad-core mobile processor
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 Ti 4GB Graphics Card
  • 15.6inch Full HD IPS Display
  • 8GB DDR4 RAM
  • 256GB Solid State Drive
  • Backlit Keyboard / Wifi AC / Bluetooth / Windows 10

With the Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti GPU and 4GB DDR4 dedicated graphics memory, the Acer Nitro 5 provides the top level Ultra graphics profile in Zwift that ordinary business laptops can not. This is the real sweet spot at the moment - the GTX 1050 and 8th gen Core i5. Now that the GTX 1650 replaces the 1050, and the 9th gen Core i5 replacing the 8th, there should be some good deals on this spec during the 2019 - 2020 Zwift season.

6. Acer Nitro 15.6” FHD Gaming Laptop PC, Intel Core i5-7300HQ Quad-Core, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050, 8GB DDR4, 1TB HDD+128GB SSD

$749.99

Acer Nitro 15.6 FHD Gaming Laptop PC, Intel Core i5-7300HQ Quad-Core, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050, 8GB DDR4, 1TB HDD+128GB SSD
  • Intel Core i5-7300HQ Quad-Core processor, 2.3 GHz
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 Graphics Up to 4 GB GDDR5 Dedicated graphics
  • 128GB SSD (boot);
  • 1TB HDD (data)
  • 8GB DDR4 SDRAM upgradable to 32GB SDRAM,
  • 15.6-inch Full HD 1920 x 1080 Comfy View IPS display,
  • 1 x HDMI, 2 x USB 2.0, 802.11ac, 1280 x 720 webcam, 1 x USB 3.0, 1 x USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C, Network (RJ-45)

The Acer Nitro brand has some good value added features - like throwing in a 1TB magnetic hard drive for data along side a 128GB SSD boot drive. That’s a nice mix if you need a lot of local storage for photos, videos, or other types of games that have large graphics texture libraries. 128GB boot is small by today’s standards though. The tradeoff is the 7th gen Core i5 CPU.

The 7th gen Core i5 is still a good CPU. The HQ suffix refers to high quality graphics, which won’t be utilized anyway because the Nvidia GTX 1050 with be doing all the graphics work.

7. Dell Inspiron 15 7567 Laptop: Core i5-7300HQ, 256GB SSD, 8GB RAM, GTX 1050Ti, 15.6inch Full HD Display

$748.00

Dell Inspiron 15 7567 Laptop: Core i5-7300HQ, 256GB SSD, 8GB RAM, GTX 1050Ti, 15.6inch Full HD Display
  • 7th Generation Intel Core i5-7300HQ Quad Core 2.50 GHz
  • 8GB 2400MHz DDR4 RAM,
  • 256GB Solid State Drive
  • 15.6 inch FHD Screen (1920 x 1080)
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 Ti

With almost identical specs as the Acer Nitro 5, the Dell Inspiron 15 7567 is on the list because it is a brand and model you might be able to get as a business laptop from your employer. Same great specs, higher price tag.

8. Asus TUF Gaming Laptop FX504 15.6” Full HD IPS-LEVEL, 8th Gen Intel Core i5-8300H (Up to 3.9GHz), GeForce GTX 1050 Ti, 8GB DDR4 2666MHz, 256GB M.2 SSD

$759.00

Asus TUF Gaming Laptop FX504 15.6” Full HD IPS-LEVEL, 8th Gen Intel Core i5-8300H (Up to 3.9GHz), GeForce GTX 1050 Ti, 8GB DDR4 2666MHz, 256GB M.2 SSD
  • 8th Gen Intel Core i5-8300H (Up to 3.9GHz)
  • GeForce GTX 1050 Ti
  • 120Hz 15.6” Full HD (1920x1080) IPS-Type Display Thin Bezel
  • 256GB M.2 SSD
  • 8GB DDR4 RAM

There is a version of the Asus TUF with a Quad-core AMD Ryzen 5 R5-3550H Processor and more desirable GTX 1650. However, there are some user reports of AMD Ryzen 5 3xxx processors affecting how Zwift recognizes and assigns a profile to the GTX 1650 so I can not recommend it at this time.

I will update this post if any of the laptops mentioned go on sale during November Black Friday and New Year sales.

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Mike Hanney
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