Unlike some pretentious coffee shop snobs, you don’t need the fastest or the thinnest or even the most stylish laptop money can buy. There are those who care about having the best of the best everything, and then there’s you. Some people would be inclined to call you cheap, but you would firmly deny the allegation, offering the correction that you’re ‘frugal’. For our economically conscious readers, the best budget laptops will suffice.
It goes without saying that there are consequences for spending too much on a laptop. Maybe you’ll have to worry about the interest rates that come with financing a computer that costs over a grand. Another e-Bill would be an annoyance and a financial burden. Otherwise, perhaps you aren’t fond of risking spillage on a pricier laptop. Insurance is another factor we too often don’t care to consider. That’s why we’ve put together a list of the best cheap laptops on the market.
In doing so, we’ve put the following budget laptops through rigorous testing and – in some cases – fully reviewed every make and model to determine our top picks. From brand names as well known as Dell, HP and Samsung, you don’t have to skimp to land an affordable clamshell notebook. Some are colorful, others are subdued, but they’re all under $500. Here they all are, along with their respective pricing, below.
Acer Swift 3
The bigger, better value proposition
CPU: Intel Core i3 – i7 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 620 | RAM: 4GB – 8GB | Screen: 14-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) ComfyView IPS | Storage: 128GB – 256GB SSD
Powerful for the price
Stellar battery life
Here we have one of the few budget laptops with a processor nearly equivalent to the MacBook Pro, that is, if you opt for the Intel Core i5 configuration. The best part? It’s roughly half the cost of its Apple-branded rival. Now given that it sells at a range of different prices, the Acer Swift 3 can be an obtuse purchase, but lucky for you, the midrange model will get you by just fine.
Read the full review: Acer Swift 3
Acer Switch 3
Spiritual successor to the Surface 3
CPU: Intel Pentium Quad Core N4200 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 505 | RAM: 4GB | Screen: 12.2-inch (1920 x 1200) IPS LCD | Storage: 64GB
Excellent build quality
Tricky hinged stand
No good for games
Hear ye, the Acer Switch 3 is a feat to behold. This cheap laptop uses a low-power, albeit astoundingly efficient, Intel Pentium processor. However, internal specs are the least of its appeal. No, that honor goes to the Acer Switch 3’s novel ability to detach its screen from its keyboard. That only scratches the ‘surface’ of the inspiration it’s taken from Microsoft’s hardware too.
Read the full review: Acer Switch 3
Asus Transformer Mini T102HA
Small, portable and flexible
CPU: Intel Atom x5-Z8350 | Graphics: Integrated Intel HD Graphics | RAM: 4GB | Screen: 10.1-inch HD (1,280 x 800) LED touch display | Storage: 64GB
Tablet and laptop in one
Sizable hard drive
Tiny size could be tough
Its name is alphabet soup to the average reader, but then again this convertible laptop has always been about function over form. For one minuscule transaction, you’re getting a tablet equipped with an included keyboard and even a fingerprint scanner for more secure logins. Along with reliable performance and a magnesium-alloy chassis, it’s built to last.
Read the full review: Asus Transformer Mini T102HA
Samsung Chromebook Pro
First in a new generation of Chromebooks
CPU: 0.99Ghz Intel Core m3-6Y30 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 515 | RAM: 4GB | Screen: 12.3-inch, QHD (2,400 x 1,600) touchscreen | Storage: 32GB eMMC
Stunning, vivid screen
Stylus support on Chrome OS
With Android apps now supported on every new Chromebook released, it only makes sense to craft a Chromebook with a 12.3-inch QHD touch display, with a 360-degree hinge and pen support to boot. The Samsung Chromebook Pro may have a keyboard that’s a bit too compact for comfort, but it more than makes up for it, going as far as to master pen input on the first try.
Read the full review: Samsung Chromebook Pro
Lenovo Yoga Book (Windows 10)
The netbook of the future – the ultra netbook?
CPU: 1.44GHz Intel Atom x5-Z8550 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 400 | RAM: 4GB | Screen: 10.1-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,200 resolution), IPS touchscreen | Storage: 64GB flash storage (plus 128GB with microSD)
Insanely thin and light
Keyboard surprisingly accurate
Dated microUSB port
If you thought the Android edition of the Yoga Book was impressive, imagine using Windows on a laptop sporting inputs that double as a Wacom digitizer. The Windows 10 version of the Lenovo Yoga Book is exactly that, and while its on-paper specs leave something to be desired, the purely touch-based keyboard is so revolutionary we can’t believe nobody has copied it yet.
Acer Chromebook 14
Meet the anti-MacBook Air
CPU: Intel Celeron N3160 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 400 | RAM: 4GB | Screen: 14-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) display | Storage: 32GB SSD
Top-notch build quality
Solid keyboard and touchpad
Full HD display
Flaky HD video playback
With its slick lines and a slim silhouette, the Acer Chromebook 14 makes for a subtle, snazzy laptop. Although its display isn’t the most attractive we’ve seen, it’s still acceptable for full HD. On top of that, the keyboard and trackpad adhere to the principle of ‘it just works.’ The battery life is satisfactory as well despite falling a bit south of Acer’s 12-hour claim in real-world use.
Read the full review: Acer Chromebook 14
HP Pavilion 15
The de facto learning laptop lives on
CPU: AMD dual-core A9 APU – Intel Core i7 | Graphics: AMD Radeon R5 – Nvidia GTX 1050 | RAM: 6GB – 16GB | Screen: 15.6-inch HD (1,366 x 768) – FHD (1,920 x 1,080); touch optional | Storage: 512GB SSD – 1TB HDD
Thinner and lighter
Tons of options
Shallow, squishy keyboard
Frankly, this is a broke college student’s laptop, so as long as you go in with that in mind, you won’t be disappointed with the HP Pavilion 15. Possessing all the power you’ll need to get you through the semester, this laptop bears all of the essentials for an affordable price, so that you can save the rest of your cash for the crushing financial aid debt yet to come.
Read our hands-on review: HP Pavilion 15
Dell Inspiron 11 3000
Colorful can be cheap, too
CPU: Intel Celeron N3060 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics | RAM: 2GB | Screen: 11.6-inch HD (1366 x 768) anti-glare LED-backlit display | Storage: 32GB eMMC
Lots of color choice
Barely HD screen
For those who like their laptops as colorful as they are affordable, the Dell Inspiron 11 3000 is a no-brainer. Although some users might find that it’s 11.6-inch display is too small, we would argue that this budget laptop is the perfect fit for your portable workspace. Plus, its bright and vibrant color scheme is loud enough that no one on your flight will confuse it for their own.
Lenovo IdeaPad 110s
A simple and reliable laptop
CPU: Intel Celeron N3160 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 400 | RAM: 2GB | Screen: 11.6-inch HD (1366 x 768) anti-glare | Storage: 32GB
Full SD card slot
Barely HD screen
You could argue that, with the IdeaPad 110s, Lenovo has one-upped the Dell Inspiron 11, at least as far as 11.6-inchers go. You’re still getting an HD screen and a Celeron processor, but you’re also getting the added bonus of a full-size SD card reader and a 7-hour battery life – that’s more than you can say for most Ultrabooks. It costs a little more, but it’s worth it.
HP Stream 14
Big and colorful for cheap
CPU: Intel Celeron N3060 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 400 | RAM: 4GB | Screen: 14-inch HD (1,366 x 768) SVA BrightView WLED-backlit | Storage: 32GB eMMC
Larger than most budget options
Free 25GB of Dropbox for 1 year
Barely HD screen
With a starting price of just above 200 large, the HP Stream 14 is a fine value for those seeking a strong if basic web browsing machine. It’s cheaper than even some Chromebooks while offering a bigger screen and the fullness of Windows 10. Other 15-inchers lack the ergonomics and aesthetics of HP’s cheapest Windows laptop yet.
Acer Aspire E5-575
Mighty impressive for the price
CPU: Intel Core i3-6100U | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 520 | RAM: 4GB – 32GB | Screen: 15.6-inch HD (1,366 x 768) display | Storage: 1TB hard drive
Intel Core processor
Still barely HD screen
Not super portable
Available in a variety of colors, this number from Acer brings things into practically a whole new class, with a 15.6-inch HD display powered by an Intel Core i3 processor. The metallic frame should make using this device feel more like a luxury without the sticker shock. Plus, with up to 12.5 hours of claimed battery life, this should last at least once forgetting to charge it.
- Reluctant to use a trackpad? Don’t worry, we’ve found the best mice to buy too
- Want to see more cheap laptop deals? Check out our US, UK and Australian guides.
Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article