Not everyone needs a top-of-the-line laptop when your online activities are limited to email, web searches, and the occasional Word document. You can save a bundle with one of the best cheap laptops and still do everything you need to.
These inexpensive models might be a few gens behind on their processors, but they’ve got the computing power, memory, and durability for light, everyday use. Keep in mind that what one person considers cheap (anything under $1,000 falls into the cheap category for gamers) might be at the top of the range for a student. We’ve included inexpensive models in different categories, like gaming and students, to meet a wide range of budgets.
How We Picked the Best Cheap Laptops
We considered what features are most important when you’re looking for a laptop on the cheap, namely the screen size and display, weight, processor, and durability.
Screen Size and Display: We looked for models with a quality display in a comfortable screen size. An 11-inch screen can provide great visuals if the display is of good quality and brightness. We considered the screen’s nits (which indicate light’s brightness), looking for those over 400. However, if a model had great performance and only 300 nits, it might still make the list.
Weight: Just because a laptop is cheap doesn’t mean you want to carry around a sack of bricks. We looked for models that saved weight but didn’t cut back too far on performance.
Processor: You’re going to sacrifice some processing speed when you’re looking at budget machines. However, the laptops on our list offered faster than average speeds for the price.
Durability: Cheap laptops might take a beating on their way to school or when passed around the family. We looked for metal chassises (outer shells). If a model was otherwise impressive, we made sure to point out if the plastic chassis flexed or not.
Related: Pair your laptop with one of the best budget gaming monitors.
The Best Cheap Laptops: Reviews & Recommendations
Best Overall: Google Pixelbook Go
Why It Made The Cut: The Pixelbook Go looks good, keeps things lightweight, and offers the power of an 8th-Gen Intel Core processor to straddle the line between Chromebook and laptop.
— Screen Size: 13.3 inches
— Weight: 2.3 pounds
— Hard Disk: 64 GB
— Durable, magnesium body
— Long battery life
— Excellent 1080p camera
— Impressive audio
— Doesn’t support digital stylus
— Expensive for a Chromebook
— Few ports
The Google Pixelbook Go falls on the expensive side for a Chromebook, but it makes for one of the best cheap laptops. This pint-sized device has a 13.3-inch screen and weighs only 2.3 pounds. A textured bottom and magnesium body make it feel and look much more high-end than the price suggests.
For those who spend a good deal of time in online conferences or classes, the 1080p camera makes you look good, especially for a Chromebook. This machine also offers an impressive 12-hour battery life. It speeds through startups and updates. In fact, it breezes through them much faster than similarly priced Windows and Apple laptops. You can use apps to access Microsoft Word, DropBox, and other third-party programs, making it a great option for students, professionals, or home use.
The small size limits the number of ports, and the price is a bit much for a Chromebook. Also, the screen doesn’t support use with a digital stylus. However, if you’re looking for a speedy Chromebook to do the majority of your online work, the Pixelbook Go is one of the best out there. If you're looking for a refurbished option, Amazon carries a renewed Google Pixelbook Go i5 Chromebook.
Best for Gaming: Acer Nitro 5
Why It Made The Cut: The Acer Nitro 5 offers extra storage potential and a powerful processor that lets you dip your toes into gaming without blowing your budget.
— Screen size: 15.6 inch
— Weight: 5.07 pounds
— Hard disk: 256 GB
— Powerful 10th Gen Intel Core i5-10300H processor
— Relatively long battery life
— High refresh rate
— Build feels cheap
Gaming laptops don’t come cheap, but the Acer Nitro 5 provides a way to enjoy games without sacrificing performance making this model the best cheap gaming laptop. A high-resolution 15.6-inch LED display and a 144 Hz refresh rate offer great visuals for the price. With an 80 percent screen-to-body ratio and NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3050 graphics coprocessor, images are sharp and clear from edge to edge. Performance gets an extra boost from the 256 GB SSD hard drive, which outpaces many similar laptops in the entry-level gaming class. That’s fully backed by a powerful 10th-Gen Intel Core i5 processor, which keeps up with the demands of intense gaming.
For the price, you get one of the best cheap gaming laptops, a lot of ports, and surprising performance. Keep in mind that you can upgrade many of the Nitro 5’s features, but they can seriously inflate the price. However, it doesn’t have a Thunderbolt port. Also, no matter the upgrades, they all come with the same somewhat flimsy plastic body. An Amazon Renewed version of the same model is available at a lower price, too.
Best Windows: HP Stream 11
Why It Made The Cut: The HP Stream 11 is a barebones model that lets you keep up on email and surf the web on a tight budget.
— Screen size: 11.6 inches
— Weight: 3.2 pounds
— Hard disk: 32 GB eMMC
— Attractive design
— Lightweight and portable
— SD card slot expands storage
— 12-hour battery life
— Uses eMMC (embedded multimedia card) instead of SSD, meaning it’s slower
— Poor camera
The HP Stream 11 gets the award for the best Windows laptop because it does the basics very well. The Intel Celeron N4000 processor, 4 GB RAM, and 32GB of internal storage are enough for everyday email and internet access. You can expand the storage using the SD card slot. It provides an HDMI output to connect to a monitor or other device. It also gets high marks for the 11-hour battery life.
If you’re only emailing and surfing the web, this machine can do it. However, too much more, and it slows way down. It’s also not the best choice if you do a lot of video conferencing. The poor camera doesn’t do you any aesthetic favors. Finally, if you’re planning on downloading apps, watch out. The 32 GB internal storage can’t handle many modern apps. If you want even more bang for your buck, opt for a refurbished device.
Best for College: Acer Swift 3
Why It Made The Cut: The Acer Swift 3 features a sturdy build that can handle time in a backpack but has the AMD Ryzen 7 processor that powers through the basics with precision.
— Screen Size: 14 inches
— Weight: 2.65 pounds
— Hard Disk: 512 GB
— Powerful AMD Ryzen 7 processor
— Lightweight design
— Multiple ports
— Lackluster display
— Poor webcam
The Acer Swift 3 is one of the best cheap laptops for college because of the lightweight but durable chassis and the impressive processor options. The Acer can come with an AMD Ryzen 7 processor, which packs in more processing power than the price suggests. Of course, you can save a few dollars and get the AMD Ryzen 5, which is still faster than similarly priced Intel processors. That speed lets students do research and access online classrooms more easily (and quickly).
Students often lug around a laptop from home to class or the library. The Swift 3’s 2.65-pounds won’t weigh you down. It also supports multiple ports — including USB-C, USB 2.0, and HDMI — which students often need to transfer pics or charge other devices. Overall, it’s a lightweight package that can withstand heavy, everyday use. The downsides are the display and webcam. Neither of them are particularly impressive. Expect a grainy picture for online meetings or classes, and you might notice some lag in the display. An Amazon Renewed version of the same model is also available at a lower price.
Best 2-in-1: Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 Chromebook
Why It Made The Cut: The Flex 5 has great processing speed for the price and works well for casual gaming, presentations, and general online use.
— Screen size: 13.3 inches
— Weight: 2.97 pounds
— Hard disk: 32 GB
— Impressive performance for the price
— Can charge from either side
— Pen-enabled display
— Pen not included
— Display is too dim for bright light
The Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 Chromebook combines great processing speed with a lightweight design and versatile uses. Its 10th Gen Intel i3 Core processor works with surprising efficiency. A 13.3-inch touchscreen also works with a compatible USI pen for those who like to take handwritten notes or do the occasional doodles. That display may not be the brightest (one of the few downsides), but it’s large and bright enough to watch streaming videos, do presentations, or surf the web, just not in bright light.
We also like that it has a USB-C port on either side, so you can charge where it’s most convenient for you. The Flex 5 offers around 10 hours of battery life, depending on what you’re doing. One issue to point out is that the built-in memory is soldered into place. That means you can’t upgrade later on. You can also get a pre-owned version of the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Cheap Laptop
Chromebook vs. Laptop
The least expensive laptops are typically Chromebooks. Chromebooks run on Chrome OS and let you connect to the internet for searches using Chrome. They also offer Google Drive with all of its collaborative options.
You might hear sales reps say that Chromebooks only work online, which isn’t quite true. Google Docs and Sheets can both work offline, as can many apps you download onto the Chromebook. Some models allow you to save documents or photos to an SD memory card or local SSD. However, Chromebooks are more limited in their use than traditional laptops. But if all you’re doing is email and internet searches, a Chromebook might be all you need.
A cheap laptop offers full on- and offline functionality. Laptops offer more memory than a Chromebook, making it possible to store documents, photos, and videos on the hard drive. However, space might be limited on an inexpensive model.
This is probably the biggest factor in your decision. If you just need a laptop to check email, shop online, and do general internet searches, a Chromebook might be all you need. You can take things a step further with an inexpensive laptop that can do everything a Chromebook can while also offering better graphics for streaming, presentations, and accessing a work network.
Students can sometimes get by with a Chromebook since many schools use Google Classroom for their online work. However, if you need to use word processing software, an inexpensive laptop will make typing out those term papers much easier.
Gamers, photographers, and videographers might be hard-pressed to find a laptop in the cheap category with the processing speed they need. However, you can find models that work well for less than $1,000.
Ports and WiFi
Cheap laptops typically have fewer ports than more expensive models. The number and types of ports make a difference in the devices and technology you can use with the laptop. A basic USB port or two and an HDMI port will let you connect to a monitor. You can use a USB hub or similar device to expand port availability.
WiFi 6 is now the latest, greatest WiFi technology. Some laptops under $500 include it, but keep an eye on other specs. You don’t want to sacrifice something else, like memory or display quality, if that’s more important than internet speed.
Memory and Storage
Cheap laptops may have very limited storage, anywhere from 32 to 64 GB. Others can reach up to 1 TB of storage. However, those limits are often compensated with cloud storage offers or options, essentially broadening the storage limits. Cloud storage means you’ll need to be online to upload or download anything from that storage to the laptop.
Some budget laptops and Chromebooks have eMMC memory. This memory type is slower than a solid-state drive (SSD) that you’ll find on more expensive machines, but it’s more affordable.
Q: Are laptops under $500 any good?
In general, laptops under $500 can be good as long as you know what you’re getting. Laptops at this price offer speeds and displays that work well for email, general online navigating, Word processing, and streaming videos. But they have their limits. For example, gamers will need to spend more than $500. Budget gaming laptops start around $800-$900. Photographers or videographers will also have to increase their budget to get a laptop with the memory, graphics, and display quality for their work.
Q: Do budget laptops have good battery life?
Budget laptops can have excellent battery life. Many can go for 10 to 15 hours on a single charge. Keep in mind that energy-eating activities like streaming videos will go through the battery faster than keeping up with email.
Q: Is AMD better for budget laptops?
AMD can be better in some budget laptops. It depends on the laptop's other specs, like the GPU used and the CPU power rating. Intel and AMD go back and forth on who’s processors offer the best speed, so keep an eye on the processor model and year to determine if you’ll get more speed with the equivalent Intel processor or an AMD model.
Related: Set up your system with one of the best HDMI cables.
Final Thoughts on the Cheap Laptops
The Google Pixelbook Go has the looks, durability, and speed of more expensive laptops. For a Chromebook, it’s one of the best options available. If you want a PC to go back and forth to school, the Acer Swift 3 has a Windows OS and is lightweight and durable enough for a little jostling on the go.
This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.
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