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Best cheap laptops: We rate the best-sellers on Amazon and Best Buy

We found good deals for $500 or less.

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When you’re looking for a good, cheap laptop, knowledge is power. Every budget machine (which we’re defining as Windows laptops costing $500 or less) is the product of compromise—corners carefully cut here and there to hit a price point.

Your job is to find the one that checks off the most boxes for your needs. We’ll show you what to look for by highlighting which budget laptops among the best-sellers currently listed at Amazon and Best Buy are worth buying. We haven’t necessarily tested these specific machines (we’ll let you know if we have), but we’ve seen enough similar ones to have a good idea of the pros and cons. We’re also focusing on 14-inch and larger laptops, because part of the great deal should be getting a decent-sized display.

Both retailers’ lists change constantly, so we’ll recheck the top sellers frequently to update you on the trends. Keep reading to learn about the features that matter for any budget laptop you’re eyeballing. (This article was updated May 23, 2019.)

The best cheap laptops on Amazon

Aspire E 15 E5-576-392H

acer aspire e15

It’s clear why this one’s been on top for a long time—you get a fair amount for the money. (See our review of the latest model.) What’s nicest is the large, high-resolution display, a rarity in this price range, even if the brightness is mediocre. It’s also nice to see an 8th-generation CPU in this bargain box, rather than a leftover from a prior era. Add to that the large hard drive and the 10-key keypad, and there’s a lot to like.

It is very heavy, though.

An ease-of-use note: The DVD-RW drive takes up most of one side, crowding most of the ports onto the other side. This could become annoying if you’re trying to hook up a lot of devices at once.  

CPU: Intel Core i3-8130U 

Memory: 6GB DDR4 SDRAM

Storage: 1TB, 5,400rpm SATA hard drive and 8X DVD-RW drive

Display: 15.6-inch diagonal width, 1920x1080 resolution

Graphics: Integrated Intel UHD 620

Connectivity: One USB 3.1 Type-C, two USB 3.0, one USB 2.0, ethernet (RJ-45), HDMI

Dimensions: 15 x 10.2 x 1.2 inches

Weight: 5.27 pounds

Acer Aspire E 15 (E5-576G-5762)

Acer Aspire E 15, 15.6" Full HD, 8th Gen Intel Core i5-8250U, GeForce MX150, 8GB RAM Memory, 256...

Yes, this mid-range model of Acer's budget Aspire E15 line is a little thicker and heavier than an ultraportable, and we wish its 15.6-inch display were brighter. But it delivers supple performance courtesy of its quad-core, eighth-generation Intel CPU, plenty of ports for everyday users, a discrete graphics card for casual gaming, and even a DVD drive. That's a great value, even if it means toting around a couple extra pounds.

We tested the $600 version of the Acer Aspire E15 (E5-576G-5762), which packs in an 8th-generation, quad-core Intel Core i5-8250U processor, a 15.6-inch 1920x1080 display, 8GB of DDR4 RAM, a 256GB solid-state drive, a discrete Nvidia GeForce MX150 graphics card, and yes, an 8X dual-layer DVD-RW optical drive. That all adds up to a reasonably powerful productivity-minded laptop that can do a little gaming on the side.

Asus Tuf Gaming FX505DY-ES51

asus tuf gaming laptop

This gaming laptop, with its current discount, is one of the lowest-priced we've seen, worth a closer look. 

The specs are pretty good. The Ryzen 5 processor and Radeon RX 560X graphics should provide decent gaming performance. That 256GB SSD could fill up fast if you store games locally. In that case, you might want to go for a 1TB HDD instead, even though it'll be slower. 

The bezels around the display are nicely thin. The keyboard is red-backlit. 

For a gaming laptop, it's reasonably compact, though definitely not a thin-and light. We noticed the battery is very small at 48Wh. Battery life is not a priority with gaming laptops, but a pack that small is going to wind down quickly. 

CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 3550H

Memory: 8GB DDR4 SDRAM

Storage: 1TB, 5,400rpm SATA hard drive

Display: 15.6-inch, 1920x1080 LED

Graphics: Radeon RX 560X

Connectivity: One USB 2.0 Type-A, two USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A, HDMI 2.0,  ethernet, 802.11ac Wave 2 Wi-Fi

Dimensions: 14.2 x 10.3 x 1 inches

Weight: 4.85 pounds

It has an Anti-Dust Cooling System that, according to Asus, actively blows dust outof the system via two tunnels.  

Lenovo Ideapad

lenovo ideapad

This laptop caught our eye because its AMD A12 mobile CPU is about equivalent to Intel's lower-end 7th-gen Core mobile chips—in other words, it's a competent processor for mainstream tasks. It comes with a USB-C port, whereas some other budget laptops stick with USB-C. The numeric keypad is handy. It's big and heavy, though.

CPU: AMD quad-core A12-9720P

Memory: 8GB DDR4 SDRAM

Storage: 1TB, 5,400rpm SATA hard drive; DVD-RW drive

Display: 15.6-inch, 1366x768 LED

Graphics: Integrated AMD Radeon R7

Connectivity: Two USB 3.1 Type A, one USB 3.0 Type C, HDMI, media card reader (SD, SDHC, SDXC), Gigabit ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi

Dimensions: 14.9 x 10.2 x 0.9 inches

Weight: 4.85 pounds

HP Pavilion 15T

hp pavilion 15t

This Pavilion consumer laptop hits a lot of high notes. Its touchscreen display is a room 15.6-inch diagonal with a good 1920x1080 resolution. The Core i5-8250U processor is a proven workhorse for mainstream applications, and the 8GB of RAM is plenty. (Many low-cost laptops try to stick you with just 4GB, which isn't enough.) Connectivity is also good, with USB-C, ethernet, and HDMI.

The cons are the weight, which is heavy, and the slow, 5,400rpm hard drive. At least it's spacious at 1TB.

CPU: Intel Core i5-8250U

Memory: 8GB DDR4 SDRAM

Storage: 1TB, 5,400rpm HDD

Display: 15.6-inch diagonal width, 1920x1080 resolution (FHD) touchscreen

Graphics: Intel UHD 620

Connectivity: One USB-C, two USB-A, HDMI, ethernet, mini SD Card reader, audio jack, 802.11ac Wi-Fi

Dimensions: 9.9 x 14.9 x 0.8 inches

Weight: 4.21 pounds

The best cheap laptops on Best Buy

Asus X555QA Laptop

asus x555qa laptop

This laptop is on sale and a real steal, because its AMD A12 mobile CPU is about equivalent to Intel's lower-end 7th-gen Core mobile chips (so it's a competent processor for mainstream tasks). It comes with an SSD, though on the small side. In other ways it's almost adorably retro, with a VGA port and three USB-A ports, but no USB-C. The numeric keypad is handy. The laptop is big and heavy, though.

CPU: AMD quad-core A12-9720P

Memory: 8GB DDR4 SDRAM

Storage: 128GB SSD

Display: 15.6-inch, 1366x768 LED

Graphics: Integrated AMD Radeon R7

Connectivity: Two USB 3.0 Type A, one USB 2.0 Type A, HDMI, VGA, media card reader (SD, SDHC, SDXC), Gigabit ethernet, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi

Dimensions: 15 x 10.1 x 1 inches

Weight: 5.07 pounds

HP Pavilion x360 14m-cd0001dx

hp pavilion x360 14m cd0001dx

Student and home users may welcome the chance to get a 360-degree convertible laptop with a touchscreen for $500, though other features may be modest to compensate for the pricey design. In the case of this Pavilion x360, the CPU is the lowest-end 8th-gen Intel Core you can get, but at least it's not 7th-gen (still widely available in bargain laptops). The HD (1366x768) display resolution is adequate. Connectivity is good, and battery life is rated at a nice 10.5 hours

CPU:  Intel Core i3-8130U

Memory: 8GB DDR4 SDRAM

Storage: 500GB, 5400rpm HDD

Display: 14-inch, 1366x768 widescreen LED

Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620

Connectivity: Two USB 3.0 Type-A, one USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C (5Gbps), HDMI, Gigabit ethernet, Wireless-AC, media card reader

Dimensions: 12.7 x 8.8 x 0.8 inches

Weight: 3.73 pounds

 

Microsoft Surface Go (4GB/64GB)

Microsoft Surface Go alt primary

You could argue the Surface Go is a tablet rather than a laptop, but once you add the optional keyboard it's a nifty little productivity machine for an affordable price. It runs Windows 10 S, which gives you Windows productivity with a lighter touch so it doesn't weigh down performance (but you are limited to Windows Store apps). 

We reviewed the higher-end Surface Go with more memory and better storage, but that's not budget. The entry-level model is just $400, and a $99 black Type Cover will have you squeaking in right at $500 total. 

Display: 10-inch (1800x1200) IPS technology, 217 ppi, 3:2 ratio, 10-point touch

Processor: Intel 1.6GHz Pentium 4415Y (Kaby Lake)

Graphics: Intel HD 615 (integrated)

Memory: 4GB

Storage: 64GB eMMC

Ports: 1 USB-C, 1 Surface Connector, microSD, headphone jack

Wireless: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, LTE later in 2018

Cameras: 5MP front (Windows Hello-capable), 8MP rear (with autofocus)

Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.9 x 0.33 inches

Weights: 1.14 pounds (tablet), 1.68 pounds (tablet plus keyboard), 1.98 pounds (tablet, keyboard and charger), as measured

 

Asus VivoBook 15 X540UADB52

asus vivobook

This laptop is a bit long in the tooth, but it offers a good display and lots of memory and storage for the price. 

The CPU hails from Intel's 7th generation (the latest CPUs are 8th and 9th generations, with 10th generation around the corner). What this means in practical terms is that you're getting a dual-core processor instead of the newer quad-cores. However, if you stick to mainstream productivity applications, you'll likely not notice much of a difference. 

The hard drive and three USB-A ports are also legacy technology, but for basic computing they will suffice. The hard drive is big!

CPU:  Intel Core i5-7200U

Memory: 8GB DDR4 SDRAM

Storage: 1TB HDD

Display: 15.6-inch, 1920x1080 widescreen LED

Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620

Connectivity: Two USB 2.0 Type-A, one USB 3.0 Type-A, one USB 3.1 Type-C, HDMI, SD card reader

Networking: 802.11ac

Dimensions: 15 x 9.9 x 1.1 inches

Weight: 4.41 pounds

Budget laptops: The features that matter

Based on the current top-selling budget laptops on Amazon and Best Buy, here’s what you should expect to see in the major components: 

CPU: Huzzah! Now that Intel's 9th-gen mobile CPUs are here, we're starting to see discounted laptops with perfectly good 8th-gen parts in them. Look in particular for the Core i5-8250U, a quad-core processor that can ably juggle mainstream tasks. At the bargain-basement price points, however, you're still going to see more 7th-gen, dual-core Intel Core processors, and a sprinkling of AMD’s older mobile CPUs. Those older AMD parts tend to perform badly compared to their Intel rivals, so manage your expectations (and stick to basic computing needs).

Memory: You’ll see 4GB or 6GB of RAM, but our top picks focus on 8GB, which will give you better capacity for running multiple applications or browser tabs simultaneously. 

Storage: You’ll see a lot of hard drives and some lower-capacity (128GB) SSDs. If you’re on a budget, a slow hard drive with greater capacity could be a better deal than a fast SSD that’s barely got room for the operating system and a few applications.  

Display: Display quality is one area where vendors often skimp to hit a price point. Do your best to balance size with resolution. We advocate for a 14-inch or 15.6-inch display size, but a 13.3-inch display results in a more portable unit. An 11-inch display size is a compromise--skimpy real estate for viewing whatever you're using. A

n HD resolution of 1366x768 suffices for an 11-inch or 13-inch display, but starts to look grainier (albeit still usable) on 14-inch displays and upward. Get Full HD (1920x1080) resolution if you can. You won’t always see a maximum brightness spec, but we consider 250 nits to be a reasonable level. Anything less will limit your ability to work in brighter environments (let alone outdoors). Viewing angles could be limited, which is tolerable unless you routinely need to share your screen. 

Graphics: Expect integrated graphics that will manage everyday imagery well, but not gaming or other graphics-intensive tasks. 

Connectivity: Good news: The bulkier laptops you often see in this price range have plenty of room for ports. You should see USB-A ports, but note that those using the USB 2.0 spec are more limited in capability than those using the USB 3.0 or USB 3.1 specs. You might not see USB-C, full HDMI, or ethernet, but we look for models that have those ports.

Dimensions and weight: Many cheaper laptops are larger, heavier models. Anything over 3.5 pounds may not be something you’ll want to carry past the living room. 

Know what you want and shop smart

After seeing what’s popular among cheap laptops, you should have enough knowledge to shop for yourself. Keep in mind your priorities, whether it’s display size, storage capacity, weight or more, and you should be able to find a good deal. 

This article was originally published November 14, 2017, by Gordon Mah Ung.

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