Not everyone wants (or needs) to spend a boatload of money on a new laptop. Depending on how you use your notebook, it may not be necessary to drop thousands on a top-of-the-line model with an OLED screen, extra-fast refresh rates and other high-end specs. Good laptops at low price points do exist, even if they don’t get as much attention as their flagship counterparts. If you’re looking for the best cheap laptop that will suit your needs, we’ve got a number of top picks for you to consider. After testing a number of budget models, we found the best cheap laptops available right now and gathered some shopping advice that can help you before you go to make a purchase.
Apple MacBook Air Laptop with M1 Chip
Best budget laptop overall
HP Pavilion Aero 13
Best budget Windows laptop
Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5i Chromebook
Best cheap Chromebook laptop
Acer Aspire 5 A515-56-347N Slim Laptop
Best laptop under $500
What to look for in a budget laptop
First, we at Engadget consider anything under $1,000 to be “budget” in the laptop space. The reason for this is twofold: even the most affordable flagship laptops typically start at $1,000 or more, and if you go dramatically lower than that (say, $500 or less), that’s where you’ll really start to see compromises in performance. You’ll typically find the best balance of power and price in the $500 to $1,000 range. But in this guide, we’ll cover top picks at a wide range of prices — there are a number of excellent options on the low and high end of the budget spectrum.
Arguably the biggest thing to look for in a cheap laptop is a decent spec sheet. You might be able to find configuration options with the latest generation CPU chipsets, or you may have to go for one that has a slightly older processor. We recommend trying to find a notebook with the most up-to-date internals as possible, but know that if you pick a machine with a CPU that’s one generation behind, it probably will not significantly affect performance.
Along with processors, you should also consider the amount of memory and storage you need in a daily driver. For the former, we recommend laptops with at least 8GB of RAM; anything with less than that will have a hard time multitasking and managing all those browser tabs. The latter is a bit more personal: how much onboard storage you need really depends on how many apps, files, photos, documents and more you will save locally. As a general rule of thumb, try to go for a laptop that has at least a 256GB SSD (this only goes for macOS and Windows machines, as Chromebooks are a bit different). That should give you enough space for programs and files, plus room for future operating system updates.
After determining the best performance you can get while sticking to your budget, it’s also worth examining a few different design aspects. We recommend picking a machine with a mostly metal body, a screen that has at least a 1080p resolution and a keyboard and trackpad area that’s relatively spacious. Any affordable laptop worth purchasing will have a built-in webcam, but most of them top out at 720p. A few of the latest models have 1080p webcams, but you may want to consider a standalone peripheral if you spend a ton of time on Zoom meetings.
Be sure to check out the port situation as well. Many laptops closer to $1,000 will have fewer ports than their more affordable counterparts (as counterintuitive as that may seem). You’ll find at least one or two USB-C ports on the newest machines, which means you may need a separate dongle if you frequently have to connect to SD cards.
A note about refurbished laptops
Refurbished laptops are another option to consider if you need a new machine and don’t want to spend a ton of money. Buying refurbished tech can be tricky if you’re unfamiliar with a brand’s or merchant’s policies surrounding what they classify as “refurbished.” But it’s not impossible — for laptops, we recommend going directly to the manufacturer for refurbished devices. Apple, Dell and Microsoft all have official refurbishment processes that their devices go through before they’re put back on the market that verifies the machines work properly and are in good condition. Third-party retailers like Amazon and Walmart also have their own refurbishment programs for laptops and other gadgets as well.