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Best Budget Laptops

Updated April 2018
Why trust BestReviews?
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 we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. 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.

  • 20 Models Considered
  • 68 Hours Researched
  • 1 Experts Interviewed
  • 155 Consumers Consulted
  • Zero products received from manufacturers.

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

    Shopping guide for best budget laptops

    Last Updated April 2018

    Shopping for a budget laptop can be tricky, because every manufacturer has a different idea of what constitutes an “affordable” price. Thankfully, as technology has evolved, even so-called “low-end” laptops are still quite powerful and suitable for everyday use.

    Whether you’re looking for a Windows-based laptop for crunching numbers at work or a Mac for surfing the web at home, we’ve got you covered with the best laptop options that keep costs down. At BestReviews, our mission is to provide honest, unbiased reviews on the products that matter most to our readers. As we prepared this budget laptop review, we did not accept free products or compensation of any kind from manufacturers. In fact, all of the products we buy for our test labs are purchased with our own funds.

    As you’re deciding which budget laptop to buy, use our shopping guide to help you understand the must-have features you need and the gimmicks you can live without. Then check out the featured products above to see which of our budget laptops is best for you.

    Manufacturers typically keep budget laptop prices low by using entry-level graphics cards. As a result, budget laptops aren’t great for gaming beyond the occasional farming game or hand of solitaire.

    Budget laptop operating systems

    Each of the major operating systems – Windows, Mac OS X, and Chrome OS – is available on a budget laptop, but there are a few nuances and pitfalls to be aware of.

    • Most budget laptops run Microsoft Windows 10. If your budget is $500 or under, a Windows-based laptop will provide the best value, especially if you already have money invested in third-party, Windows-only applications.

    • If you’re looking for a budget Mac OS X laptop, investigate the MacBook Air. Apple’s MacBook Air is consistently their most affordable portable machine and is usually the only one sold for less than $1,000. If OS X is a must for you, but the MacBook Air isn’t the right machine for you, consider other MacBooks. 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’re migrating from Windows or Mac – especially for those who spend most of their computer time in a browser anyway.
    EXPERT TIP

    If you’re buying a budget laptop that runs Chrome OS, search the internet to determine when it was first released. Google guarantees support for Chrome OS for five years from the day a Chrome OS model laptop is released (not the day it’s purchased). If there are less than three years of support left, look at more current models.


    Staff  | BestReviews

    Limitations you can live with

    Naturally, a “budget” laptop is one that’s more affordable than cutting-edge machines, and in the majority of cases, a lower price means less-powerful internal hardware. That’s 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’re shopping for budget laptops, consider the most common hardware compromises you’ll encounter.
     

    • Video Hardware: Most budget 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 editing videos.

    If you’re thinking about buying a budget 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.

    • Screen Resolution: Because many budget 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’ll see in the budget laptop category are Intel’s i3 or i5 lines. Celeron processors typically offer the next step down in terms of both power and price.
    EXPERT TIP

    When you purchase a budget laptop, keep the packaging and paperwork. You may need it in the event of a problem, and if you eventually decide to upgrade, having the original materials will boost the machine’s resale value.


    Staff  | BestReviews

    Budget laptop prices

    There are two main price ranges to consider when shopping for a budget laptop.

    • In the $250 to $499 price range, you’ll find a mix of competent, but not amazing, laptops and off-brand knock-offs. Laptops in this price range typically feature second-rate processors and only 4GB of RAM (which, these days, is the bare minimum). If you’re OK with using a laptop that’s a little slow from time to time, or you only need a machine for casual or infrequent use, there’s no need to spend more than this. Most 11.6-inch budget laptops fit this category.

    • In the $500 to $900 range, budget laptops feature heftier processors that can be relied upon for work, along with perks like longer battery life and more USB ports. Best of all, the screens in this price range are larger (usually 13.3 or 15.6 inches), which for many users makes the difference between a laptop they only use sometimes and one they can use all the time.
    EXPERT TIP

    When budgeting for your laptop purchase, take peripherals and accessories into account, especially if you plan on buying any cases, bags, screen protectors, keyboards, or mice with it.


    Staff  | BestReviews

    Tips

    When shopping for a budget laptop, consider these tips.

    • Pay attention to the types of processors found in different budget laptops. Comparing processor power across brands can be tricky because speed ratings are rarely consistent from manufacturer to manufacturer. If you encounter an unfamiliar processor, search for comparisons to known brands online. If a budget 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 budget 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’ll 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’ll need and how many of each. If you have trouble finding a budget laptop that meets all of your port requirements, consider buying a compatible dock or port replicator to add more.
    Ventilation is key to helping your budget laptop last a long time. Note where your laptop vents are, and make sure they remain unobstructed when you’re using the machine to allow for proper air flow.

    FAQ

    Q. Do budget laptops have touchscreens?
    A.
    Laptops that feature touchscreens, sometimes referred to as two-in-ones, cost more to make, so it’s 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 budget laptop that has one?
    A.
    There are two types of computer hard drives: traditional hard-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. Why do most budget laptops running Windows 10 use Windows 10 Home Edition?
    A.
    Microsoft produces several variations of each Windows operating system. Two popular versions are Windows 10 Pro and Windows 10 Home. Windows 10 Pro adds a handful of features that are commonly used in business applications, including Remote Desktop, Group Policy Management, and Microsoft’s Device Guard service. Because most consumers don’t typically use these features, budget laptop manufacturers often opt for the more affordable Windows 10 Home version.

    The team that worked on this review
    • Alice
      Alice
      Web Producer
    • Devangana
      Devangana
      Web Producer
    • Jaime
      Jaime
      Writer
    • Jennifer
      Jennifer
      Writer
    • Katie
      Katie
      Editorial Director
    • Melissa
      Melissa
      Senior Editor