Best Budget Laptops

Updated July 2021
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

30 Models Considered
8 Hours Researched
2 Experts Interviewed
150 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best budget laptops

Shopping for a low-cost laptop is tricky because there are a ton of available options, and it can be tough to find a good value in a sea of disposable tech. To complicate matters, everyone has a different idea of what “budget” means. To us, budget laptops cost around $600 or less (sometimes a lot less), and these are the laptops we will be focusing on in this buying guide.

Whether you are looking for a new laptop for work, school, or casual use, there are plenty of reliable options for a few hundred dollars. You will need to make some smart compromises to get the low price, though. For example, most laptops of this caliber include graphics hardware that is capable but not fast enough to keep up with video games that require a powerful video card.

Here is everything you need to know when scouring laptop deals for the right one for your budget. Through our discussion of the specs to compare, the must-have features, and the most reliable brands, we will help you find the best buy in your price range.

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Operating systems

Each of the major operating systems – Windows, macOS, and Chrome OS – is available in the lower price tiers. That said, there are a few nuances and pitfalls to be aware of.

  • If you are looking for a budget Apple laptop with Mac OS X, investigate the MacBook Air. The MacBook Air is consistently their most affordable portable machine, and it is usually the only one Apple sells for less than $1,000. If macOS is a must but the MacBook Air is not the right machine for you, consider other MacBooks as well. Usually, the next models up are only slightly more expensive.

  • If you live your life in the cloud, consider a Chrome-OS-based laptop. Chrome OS is a relatively new operating system from Google based on their popular web browser, Google Chrome. For laptops running Chrome OS, the browser is the entire interface, and instead of running local software, everything is in the cloud. (For example, while you can’t install Microsoft Office on Chrome OS, you can use Microsoft’s “Office Online” suite of web-based equivalents.) Surprisingly, there isn’t much of a learning curve for Chrome OS if you are migrating from a Mac or Windows laptop – especially for those who spend most of their computer time web browsing, anyway.

If you are thinking about buying a laptop with an 11-inch screen, make sure the diminutive size isn’t too small for your hands. Some users complain that there isn’t enough room to comfortably type on the corresponding keyboard.

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Limitations

Naturally, a “budget” laptop is one that is more affordable than cutting-edge machines, and in the majority of cases, a lower price means less-powerful internal hardware. But that is not a bad thing. For example, if you spend most of your computer time browsing the web or watching movies, chances are you don’t need the latest-generation processor or an ultra-powerful video card. You can save a lot of money by finding a budget laptop that makes reasonable compromises.

As you shop, consider the most common hardware compromises you will encounter.

  • Video hardware: Most low-cost laptops either use underpowered graphics processing units (GPUs), or they power their video by sharing resources with the main processor (the CPU). In these cases, video on the laptop will be adequate, but that’s about it. Watching Netflix will be fine, but your laptop will struggle with more intense video tasks such as playing video games and video editing.
  • Screen resolution: Because many of these laptops come with reduced graphics resources, it’s not uncommon to see screen resolution capped at a middle-of-the-road resolution like 1080p. If you absolutely need a laptop with a higher screen resolution (like 1440p or even 4K), you may need to consider looking at more traditionally priced laptops.
  • Processors (CPUs): This is a big one. The CPU determines the overall speed of the machine and can’t be upgraded after purchase. The CPU is one of the most expensive components of any computer, so when you see an inexpensive laptop, that generally means that CPU power may be questionable. To make things even more confusing, different classes of CPUs are hard to compare. In general, the fastest CPUs you will see in the budget laptop category are Intel’s i5 or i3 processor lines. Intel Celeron processors typically offer the next step down in terms of both power and price.

A word about Chromebooks

The best budget laptops are, in some cases, Chromebooks. What is a Chromebook? These “cheap laptops” arrived on the scene in 2011, and at first, people were skeptical because they are inexpensive computers that run on the Chrome OS and are dependent upon WiFi connectivity to operate. They are great for web browsing and other WiFi-reliant tasks.

Nowadays, these affordable laptops have earned a place at the table. The reason: consumers have realized that there are situations in which a Chromebook is the best buy. For example, they are great for students. If a cash-strapped student simply needs to access lessons, tests, or other educational content online, this is a very economical purchase indeed.

There are a couple of Dell products that we’d like to draw your attention to to illustrate the point that Chromebooks come from all sorts of manufacturers and not just the “low-end” ones. For example, if your budget were super tight, you could get this Chromebook from Dell for under $100. It’s got 4GB of RAM, Bluetooth, and a small 11.6-inch screen that may be just right for a small dorm room desk. Another Dell option we’re intrigued by is this touchscreen option with 4GB of RAM. It too has a smaller screen, but again, it proves the point that long-respected brands are making these affordable laptops, and you needn’t spend a fortune to get one of the best Chromebooks.

budget laptops
EXPERT TIP
Are you thinking about buying a Chromebook? Lots of companies make them, from Dell to Asus, from HP to Acer, and many are quite affordable.
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Essential accessories

Every laptop needs some extra gear. Here are the peripherals you will want to start with. We’ve picked the best budget-friendly options. 

Backpack: KOPACK Slim Laptop Backpack
KOPACK’s laptop backpack is one of our go-to favorites because it doesn’t cut any corners but still manages to have a minimalist appearance while giving you convenience and portability. Plus, it comes in several different colors. It’s soft and cushy, so it’ll keep your laptop safe and scratch-free. It’s got a built-in organizer with enough room for a tablet, a notebook, pens, and your laptop’s plug. Best of all, it’s got a slot to slide a USB cable through so you can charge your phone while you’re out on the go (although you’ll have to buy a separate power bank to do that). At this price point, it’s hard to find a better value in laptop backpacks.

Mouse: Microsoft Arc Touch Mouse
Microsoft doesn’t get enough credit for their hardware. Ever since the launch of Microsoft Surface, they’ve been churning out high-quality gear and accessories. One of our favorites from them is the Arc Touch Mouse, which looks more like a surrealist sculpture than it does a mouse. It is simply one of the most comfortable models we have ever used. The shape of the Arc Touch Mouse helps maintain proper wrist positioning and makes precision pointing easy. When you need to travel, it flattens so you can put it in any pocket for the ultimate in portability. It is definitely funny looking, but once you get used to the comfort and portability of the Arc Touch Mouse, other models will feel outdated.

Webcam cover: Trobing Webcam Cover
Keep yourself safe from prying eyes and always use a webcam cover with any laptop you own. We like Trobing’s webcam covers because they’re thin, easy to apply, and can last the entire lifespan of a laptop. Thankfully, basic safety is affordable, making this an easy decision.

Pricing

The best laptops with a “budget” price point cost between $250 and $600. On the low end of the range, you will find smaller machines with modest specs that are good for working in a browser or streaming video. For example, this Acer Chromebook comes with Intel Celeron N4020 and an 11.6-inch screen; the price can’t get much lower. And, for just a little bit more, the 2021 Acer Chromebook has a 15.6-inch screen and an Intel Celeron N4000 processor.

On the high end of the $250 to $600 range are models that run faster, have more built-in memory and storage, and in some cases, have improved screen resolutions. The Samsung Chromebook Plus is one of our favorite newer laptops, and because it is a Chromebook, the price is not exorbitant. If the Samsung Chromebook isn’t for you, note the 2021 HP Pavilion with its 15.6-inch screen, Intel Core i3 processor, 720P webcam, and Window 10 S operating system.

If you find a laptop with an unbelievably low price, it may be underpowered and worth avoiding. If you are open to spending more than $600, take a look at the most modern laptops or MacBooks.

If you’re waiting for the laptop of your dreams to go on sale, pay attention to online events around the time of Amazon Prime Day, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday. Of course, there will be sales during other parts of the year as well.

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Tips

  • Pay attention to the types of processors found in different laptops. Comparing processor power across brands can be tricky because speed ratings are rarely consistent from one manufacturer to another. If you encounter an unfamiliar processor, search for comparisons to known brands online. If a laptop is marketed with a processor that either doesn’t list its speed or doesn’t provide any comparison data, don’t buy it.
  • Buy a model that has as much RAM as you can afford. Random-access memory, better known as RAM, affects how many tasks a computer can take on simultaneously. While having more RAM doesn’t actually make a computer faster, computers with more RAM generally feel faster because background tasks aren’t slowing them down. Many low-cost laptops come with 4GB RAM on board, which really isn’t enough to provide a satisfactory experience. We recommend getting one with at least 8GB of RAM, if not 16GB.
  • Count your peripherals to determine how many ports you will need. Make a list of all of the things you may need to connect to your machine at the same time, including your monitor, mouse, keyboard, speakers, printer, and phone. Note the different ports you will need and how many of each you will need. If you have trouble finding a laptop within your price range that meets all of your port requirements, consider buying a compatible dock or port replicator to add more.
  • Note the stated battery life. A good battery life can mean the difference between a leisurely day spent out and about with your laptop (at the beach, in nature, on an airplane) and a stressful day where you wonder constantly whether you’re going to run out of juice and if there is an outlet or cord nearby for you to use.

FAQ

Q. Do these laptops have touchscreens?

A. Laptops that feature touchscreens, sometimes referred to as two-in-ones, cost more to make, so it is rare to see a laptop with a touchscreen in the budget category. If you need a laptop that also functions as a tablet, a two-in-one laptop may be a better choice for you.

Q. What is an SSD? Should I buy a laptop that has one?

A. There are two types of computer hard drives: traditional disk drives (HDDs), which have moving parts, and solid-state drives (SSDs), which store data in flash memory. SSDs have no moving parts and are several orders of magnitude faster than HDDs. Solid-state drives are more expensive to manufacture than hard-disk drives, so expect the price difference to be reflected in laptop prices. If you can afford one, an SSD is one of the biggest speed increases you can make, and they are a worthwhile investment both in terms of user experience and hardware longevity.

Q.How long can I expect my new laptop to last?

A. It will depend on the model you go with, but in most cases, you can expect it to last between three and five years. Tech advances quickly, and even web browsers require more resources each day, so like all machines, a budget laptop eventually won’t be able to keep up with your work.

Q. How important is screen size and resolution?

A. It depends on your intended use of the laptop. A larger screen (measured on the diagonal from corner to corner) is obviously easier to see. For the sake of portability, however, you might want something smaller. Keep in mind, too, that while there are some larger screens (over 15 inches) in the “budget” category, many are closer to 11 inches.

In addition to size, take note of the screen resolution of any laptop you are considering. Does it have an anti-glare coating? LED backlights? Further, find out if the resolution is HD, Full HD, or something even greater. In the budget range, screen resolutions may not be as well-defined as they are in the high-end range.

Q. Can I get a good gaming laptop in the budget price range?

A. Gaming laptops are great in their own right, but a quality laptop for gaming is going to cost more than our stated price range of $200 to $600 for low-cost laptops. A good budget laptop will still deliver when it comes to working with office apps, streaming video, and performing tasks that rely on a WiFi connection and web browser. If you’re interested in a device for hardcore gaming, though, expect the price minimums to be higher.

Q. Should I just get a tablet instead?

A. Tablets can be less costly than laptops, but will a new tablet give you the functionality you need? It depends, of course, on what your situation is. Tablets have touchscreens, which you may or may not appreciate, and they are great for using social media and web browsing. They tend to get very good battery life, and they score big points in the portability department. You can find a tablet that costs far less than a laptop, but there are also high-end tablets that cost far more than the budget laptops discussed here.

Laptops have more memory, more ports and connectivity points (HDMI, USB), and larger screens than tablets. You can easily type on your laptop keyboard and save or print documents as needed. Notably, many laptops in the budget range do not have touchscreens, and the battery life may be lackluster as compared to a tablet.

 

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