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It wasn’t long ago that you could walk into a store, pick up a modestly-priced laptop off the shelf and afford to pay for it in cash without the need for special financing hindered by sky-high interest rates. The best budget laptops were prevalent and in high demand, mostly because the thin and light, yet high-performance notebooks of today didn’t exist yet, outside of Apple territory.
Now, the climate is different, and with so many computers to choose from, even the best cheap laptops fly under the radar more often than not. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth your time. Quite the contrary, actually. After getting our grubby little hands on all of the latest and greatest machines on the market, it became crystal clear that the value presented by budget laptops was drastically understated.
In ranking the following range of budget laptops, we’ve tested 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.
Take the Acer Swift 3. This is a budget laptop with a processor nearly equivalent to the MacBook Pro if you opt for the Intel Core i5 configuration. The best part? It’s roughly half the cost. 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 $500 model will get you by just fine.
Read the full review: Acer Swift 3
Hear ye, the Acer Switch 3 is a feat to behold. It 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. If that sounds familiar, it’s because this laptop follows in the footsteps of the now-defunct Microsoft Surface 3.
Read the full review: Acer Switch 3
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
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
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.
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
- From Australia? Try a fine alternative in the Samsung Chromebook Pro.
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
Going for under 200 bucks on a regular basis, this 11.6-inch laptop with an HD screen should serve you well as a budget companion device. With 32GB of storage, it’s twice as capacious as most Chromebooks, though the 2GB of slower RAM is something to watch out for. Available in several colors and complete with a microSD card slot, this is one versatile device.
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.
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.
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