Highest gaming performance:
However, the problem is usually the lower end display quality, in my opinion. Better 1080p screens start to appear in the $600 range and you should consider adding $50-$100 and getting one of gaming laptops under $600 options (check here to see recommendations).
1. [Refurbished] Dell 3540 (15.6″), $500-$600 with 1080p display (TN, but nice one), Radeon 8850M, 4GB RAM, basic 500GB HDD. Currently, a very good deal for such a laptop with rather good display, low temps and good battery. The 8850M / M265X provides good enough 3D performance for $550-$600 and at least as good as the Y40, for example. Review.
2. [DEAD] Acer V5-552PG (15.6″) for $380! A8-5557M, Radeon 8750M, 4GB RAM, 720p. Screen is lousy, build quality and speakers are average at best, but for $380 you can’t beat it in terms of gaming performance per money in the $500 section. If you are looking for something cheap, that’s an excellent option! Good battery performance of 5-6 hours under light load is also expected, with actual users backing up.
2. Many refurbished laptop with some dedicated GPU from eBay. I can’t keep track, but you can find a GT 740M/745M, sometimes with an IPS display, Radeon 8750M/8850M, GT 650M and more.
The two best options are above $500, so I would suggest waiting for some other deal or bite it and get another $50-$100 for one of the $500-$600 gaming laptops and getting one of the more interesting options.
If you are restricted to $500 tops, I would wait for some deal on the Acer V5 (was selling for $470-$500 for a week or two) or on the HP 15z-j100. The laptops in this list, however, are the fastest you’ll get for such a price.
(???) What can you do with such a configuration? Most games on medium settings at least and too few on high settings – CS:GO, Torchlight 2, F1 2012, CoD: Modern Warfare 3, Deus Ex Human Revolution, Dirt 3 and more. See how the Radeon 7660G manages Skyrim and or how the 7670M handles Skyrim too on high setting. Note: You could get some 20%-30% higher performance with the 600$ gaming laptops offers currently.
Saving money – 400$ gaming laptop
There are many options refurbished or used with warranty on eBay – link. The links will lead you to search with laptops with an A8-4500M/A10-4600M or A10-5750M. The last two come with a pretty good integrated GPU. If you can snatch those for like $300, then it’s a good deal for very light gamers. The A10s come with an integrated GPU that comes close to ome $500-$600 current offerings, that’s why I’m suggesting those.