- Today’s budget laptops don’t have to sacrifice power in order to sell at a low price.
- As a prime example, just look at our top pick, the Acer Aspire 5, which offers lots of power but for little money.
The smartphone may be the hub of our digital lives, but the computer still plays a key role. In fact, there’s still plenty that’s far easier to do on a laptop than on anything else, while tablets aren’t yet fully capable of replacing them. That’s especially true if you’re getting a laptop for work, home, or school.
It used to be that if you want a laptop with power and features, you would need to spend more than $1,000. That’s still the case, but today’s budget laptops are now plenty capable of doing what most people need – word processing, web browsing, and emailing – thanks to improvements in processors, graphics, and other chipsets, as well as standardization in features like USB and HDMI.
Of course, this is not to say all budget laptops are great – some are definitely better than average, while others aren’t worth your hard-earned cash – so you need to consider a few key things before you purchase:
Operating system: There are a few major computer operating systems out there. You’re probably most familiar with Windows, as it’s by far the most-used operating system, but there’s also Apple’s macOS, which is found on the company’s Mac computers (we didn’t include any Macs because they didn’t meet our price requirement for a budget laptop). And, the newest, there’s Google’s Chrome OS, which is targeted to those with basic computer needs revolves around Google’s web-based apps (Chrome OS relies heavily on cloud computing, meaning that a lot of the processes happen online).
Specs and features: Some computers are more powerful than others. Things like the processor and amount of memory (RAM) will dictate how quickly your computer runs, while the amount of storage indicates how many files you can keep on your computer at once. There are also other factors, like the graphics chipset being employed. The type of software you run could also dictate how well a laptop’s components perform; for example, Google’s Chrome browser is notorious for being a memory hog.
The features have also improved. Premium components like a touchscreen and high-speed ports, like USB 3.0 and USB-C, have trickled down from high-end laptops to budget models. As you research, look for these or if the laptop is still utilizing older tech.
Size: Laptops come in a range of different physical sizes, however, the smaller ones generally sit in the 10- to 11-inch range, while the larger ones can get as big as 17-inches. That’s handy for watching movies, but it comes at the cost of portability.
Then, of course, there’s cost. For this guide, we consider a “budget” laptop to be a laptop that costs about $800 or less – we aimed to recommend those that fall below $600. However, if you can afford to spend more than that, you will be able to get something more powerful and arguably better than the computers on this list.
Here are the best cheap laptops:
- Best budget laptop overall: Acer Aspire 5
- Best budget Chromebook: Asus Chromebook Flip
- Best budget gaming laptop: Dell G3
- Best budget 2-in-1 laptop: Asus VivoBook Flip
Updated on 10/31/2019 by Monica Chin: Added new picks and what else to consider. Updated formatting and adjusted prices.
The best budget laptop overall
The Acer Aspire 5 may not be the sleekest laptop around, but if you’re looking for sheer power for money, it can’t really be beaten in this price range.
If you’re simply looking for the most powerful laptop you can buy in the $600 or less budget range, then the Acer Aspire 5 is probably the way to go. It boasts decent specs in any price range, should offer enough ports and connectivity for most, and more.
Let’s start with the specs. Under the hood, the computer boasts an 8th-gen Intel Core i5 processor, coupled with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive. On top of that, the laptop even comes with a dedicated Nvidia GeForce MX150 graphics card. Safe to say, while it’s probably not going to be able to handle high-power games, it can definitely hold its own in most other situations.
The design of the laptop may not be as sleek as stylish as some high-end ultrabooks, but it’s definitely functional. With the Acer Aspire 5, you’ll get a total of four USB ports, including one USB-C port, one USB 3.0 port, and two USB 2.0 ports. You’ll also get an HDMI port.
There are a few trade-offs to buying this computer. For starters, the battery inside the computer isn’t all that big. It comes in at 3,220mAh, and Acer says it’ll last up to 7 hours, though it’ll probably last a little less under normal use. Still, plenty of reviewers like the computer – Trusted Reviews gave it 8/10, while TechRadar gave it a still respectable 3.5 stars. – Christian de Looper
Pros: Powerful for the price, plenty of ports, dedicated graphics card
Cons: Not very stylish, small battery
The best budget Chromebook
- ASUS//Business Insider
The Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA is sleek and stylish, it runs Android apps, has a touchscreen, and tops the charts as the best Chromebook you can buy.
Asus has long offered a number of great laptops at a reasonable price, and it was pretty quick to jump onto the Chromebook train when Google launched Chrome OS. In particular, the Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA-DHM4 is an excellent computer, offering great value for money. We named it the best Chromebook in our buying guide.
For starters, the raw specs are really quite good. The laptop has an Intel Core m3-6Y30 processor, coupled with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of flash storage. Now, that might not sound like much compared to other computers on this list, but Chromebooks are a little different. For example, they largely use web-based apps rather than local apps, meaning a lot of storage isn’t all that necessary, and the computer doesn’t really need to process intensive apps.
On top of that, the battery life on this device is good, too. You’ll get more than 10 hours of use from the computer, which is more than many other computers on the market. It even boasts a backlit keyboard coupled with a touch-sensitive display, so you can use it like a tablet if you so choose. It also runs Android apps, so it can double as a tablet.
So what’s the downside? Well, the laptop is a little more expensive than other Chromebooks, and while we like the fact that it has two USB-C ports, it does mean that you might need to use some adapters until all your peripherals make use of the new connectivity options. – Christian de Looper
Pros: Light, usable as a tablet, powerful for a Chromebook
Cons: Pricey, may require adapters
The best budget 2-in-1 laptop
The ASUS VivoBook Flip is a thin and powerful 2-in-1 machine that won’t break the bank.
The Asus VivoBook Flip’s reasonable specs and low price make it a great 2-in-1 laptop for budget hunters.
Asus’ machine has 4GB RAM, 64GB storage, and an Intel Core M3-7Y30 processor. You can also get a 128GB version for $50 extra. The Core M3 is low-powered, as processors go, but you can certainly do worse for $350. And while you won’t be doing any high-end gaming, you shouldn’t have trouble with browsing and video.
The Flip features a 1,920 x 1,080-pixel touchscreen, which is uncommon for laptops at this price. Plus, it comes with a stylus for writing and drawing. Reviews found the display to be sharp and detailed.
You’ll also find quite a few ports. There’s a Micro USB 2.0 port (which is uncommon to find on a laptop), an SD-card slot, a micro HDMI, a USB-C port, a headphone jack, and a DC connector. You’ll be able to connect the Flip to a TV or pop in a memory card from your digital camera, without buying any extra adapters. – Monica Chin
Pros: Converts to a laptop, compact build, comes with stylus, touchscreen
Cons: Underpowered processor
The best budget gaming laptop
The Dell G3 is an affordable gaming laptop with Nvidia GeForce discrete graphics.
If you enjoy gaming, but don’t want to shell out $1,000 for a gaming PC, the Dell G3 might be a decent option for you. The laptop has multiple configurations, but the base model is just $799, and it comes with Nvidia discrete graphics.
A few factors make the G3 a solid option for gamers. The base model comes with an Nvidia GTX 1050 GPU, an Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB RAM, and a 1TB hybrid hard drive. Those are solid specs that should be able to smoothly run most games you want to play, though you’ll want something more powerful if you’re trying to run more demanding tasks like VR.
At 5.2 pounds, the G3 lighter and more compact than most budget gaming laptops.
In terms of ports, you have a power jack, an HDMI 2.0 port, an RJ-45 port, two USB 3.1 ports, a USB 2.0 port, an SD card reader, and a headphone jack. That will allow you to plug in a TV, as well as most peripherals you might want to use.
However, for a computer of this price, you’ll be missing out on some features of higher-end gaming rigs. For example, reviewers found the display to be a bit dim, and the colors to be washed out. The keyboard and touchpad are also a bit shallow, something that might be important if you’ll be spending a lot of time gaming. – Monica Chin
Pros: Compact design, specs on par with more expensive models
Cons: Shallow keyboard and touchpad, dim screen
Other budget laptops we considered
- Acer Predator Helios 300: It’s impressive to see as sophisticated a gaming rig as the Acer Predator Helios 300 clock in under $1000. At 5.1 pounds, it’s more portable than a lot of gaming laptops and produces a very high refresh rate for many games, and an excellent keyboard and touchpad. It holds its own against much pricier gaming laptops in real-world gaming tests. However, while $955 is cheap among capable gaming PCs, we felt it was too close to the $1000 mark to name the Predator Helios 300 a top budget pick.
- Asus ZenBook 13: Though it’s only $879, the Asus Zenbook 13 can easily compete with laptops in the $1000+ range. With a Core i5 processor, 8GB RAM, and a 256GB solid-state drive, it delivers very strong results in benchmark tests, and packs in battery life that lasts over a day. It’s an exceptionally low price for a premium device. However, at $879, we felt it was a bit too expensive to include as one of our top budget picks.
- Asus VivoBook F510UA: The Asus VivoBook is far from the cheapest laptop on this list, but if you’re looking for something with the look and feel of an ultrabook, the VivoBook gives you good bang for your buck. It’s thin and light, at just 3.57 pounds, and with a Core i5 processor and 8GB RAM, it performs about on par with more expensive competitors in benchmark tests. However, it lacks some key features that our cheaper recommendations have, including a touchscreen and all-day battery life.
- Acer Aspire E 15: The Acer Aspire E is a bit more expensive than some of our top picks, but it offers excellent value for its price tag. It has a ton of ports, almost 9 hours of battery life, and beats most of its competition in benchmark tests. But a bulky plastic design, lack of a touchscreen, and somewhat washed-out display keeps us from recommending the Aspire E as the best value for your money.
- Lenovo Ideapad 320: For folks on a very tight budget, Lenovo’s Ideapad 320 is one of the cheapest Windows laptops you can buy. It comes with an Intel Core i3 processor, 4GB RAM, and a 1TB hard drive – usable, but not great specs. And with an Ethernet port, HDMI, headphone jack, USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 port, it should have enough ports for most people’s accessory needs. That said, if you can afford something better, we recommend going for that instead. The 1,366 x 768-pixel display is quite low-resolution, and the battery only lasted a measly 4 hours in battery tests. – Monica Chin. Prices listed are based on info at time of posting.
Other Chromebooks we considered
- Samsung Chromebook Pro: Samsung’s flagship Chromebook has an excellent 2,400 x 1,600-pixel touchscreen display, and comes with a stylus to boot. It also weighs just 2.38 pounds, making it one of the most ultra-portable laptops you can buy. However, it has an underpowered Core m3 processor and just 32GB storage, and you can find those same specs or better in much cheaper machines, including the Asus Chromebook Flip.
- HP Chromebook x2: The HP Chromebook X2 is convertible, but it’s not a foldable 2-in-1 like other 2-in-1s on this list. Instead, it’s detachable, like Microsoft’s Surface Book 2. It sports an excellent 2,400 x 1,600-pixel touchscreen and lasted almost nine hours in battery tests. But at 3.2 pounds, it’s heavier than most Chromebooks, and its specs (Core m3, 4GB RAM, 32GB storage) can be found in cheaper models.
- Acer Chromebook 514: The Acer Chromebook 514 is a solid Chromebook with an ultrabook-like design. It sports adequate ports, a 1,920 x 1,080-pixel touchscreen display, and impressive battery life. However, it doesn’t convert to a tablet, and its performance on benchmark tests wasn’t superb for its price range.
- Acer Chromebook Spin 11: Acer’s Chromebook Spin 11 is an absolute bargain at just $229. It sports a 2-in-1 touchscreen and an included stylus, and it has a particularly rugged build to stave off jostles and spills – so it’s a particularly good purchase for kids and students. Unfortunately, we don’t recommend it as our top Chromebook overall because it looks very much like a toy, and the 1,366 x 768-pixel resolution makes for a weak display. – Monica Chin. Prices listed are based on info at time of posting