Update

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 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. 

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 July 17, 2018, with new picks.)

The best cheap laptops on Amazon

Lenovo IdeaPad 320-15ABR

Lenovo IdeaPad 320-15ABR

The Lenovo IdeaPad 320 could be a good starter PC for a student, or a basic home-office PC. Its specs are modest, especially the CPU: In PassMark’s comparison based on user-submitted benchmark numbers, it’s just barely passing an Intel Core i5 processor from 2013. The display, while large, is not high-resolution and likely also has limited viewing angles and brightness. But the RAM is generous (many budget laptops have just 4GB or 6GB of RAM rather than this one's 8GB), as is the large hard drive.

While it's a laptop and portable by definition, its weight and bulk will likely deter you from taking it far beyond your home or dorm room.

An ease-of-use note: The DVD-recordable drive takes up all of one side, meaning all the other ports are crowded on the other side. This could become a hassle if you have a lot of things to connect simultaneously. 

CPU: AMD A12-9720P quad-core processor with 2.7GHz clock speed

Memory: 8GB DDR4 SDRAM

Storage: 1TB 5,400rpm hard drive and DVD-recording drive

Display: 15.6-inch diagonal width, 1366x768 resolution

Graphics: AMD Radeon R7 integrated

Connectivity: One USB Type-C, two USB 3.0 Type A, HDMI, media card reader (SD, MMC, SDHC, SDXC), ethernet

Dimensions: 14.9 x 10.2 x 0.9 inches

Weight: 4.85 pounds

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 last year's 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

Asus VivoBook F510UA

VivoBook F510UA

The Asus VivoBook F510UA caught our eye because you don’t normally see a laptop with specs this nice in the budget price range. (The official price is much higher.) The 1080p touchscreen is likely the lower-end of two options Asus offers (the other has a wide 178-degree viewing angle), but the resolution and touch capability are still good perks. The full 8GB of RAM is notable given that many budget laptops have just 4GB or 6GB.

The narrow bezels add refinement to the design and allow the large screen to fit into a slightly smaller chassis. The weight is reasonable. Despite the slender profile you still get a good helping of USB-C and USB-A ports, plus full HDMI. The only noteworthy thing missing compared to others in this price range is a 10-key numeric keypad.

CPU: Intel Core i5-8250U 

Memory: 8GB DDR3 SDRAM

Storage: 1TB, 5,400rpm hard drive

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

Graphics: Integrated Intel UHD 620

Connectivity: One USB 3.1 Type-C (Gen1), one USB 3.0 Type A, two USB 2.0 Type A, HDMI, SD card slot

Dimensions: 14.2 x 9.6 x 0.8 inches

Weight: 3.7 pounds

 

Dell Inspiron 3000 15.6 A6

dell inspiron 3000

We understand some budgets are very, very tight, especially if you’re a student. If you can spare only $250 or so for a laptop (and your needs are basic), this particular model looks like a better deal than some others in this price range among Amazon’s bestsellers.

The best spec is the display, a generous 15.6 inches diagonal, whereas other super-cheap laptops we’ve seen have smaller 11-inch or 14-inch screens. Here’s the price compromise: The display resolution is a minimal 1366x768—a better resolution for the screen size would be 1920x1080.

Sure, there are compromises. All other major components, including the CPU (based on PassMark data) and integrated graphics, and RAM and hard drive, are just adequate. Connectivity does not include the latest USB-C. It’s also heavy. But for $250 this is surprisingly decent bang for buck. 

CPU: 7th-gen AMD dual-core A6-9220

Memory: 4GB DDR3 SDRAM

Storage: 500GB, 5,400rpm SATA hard drive; DVD-RW drive

Display: 15.6-inch, 1366x768 LED

Graphics: Integrated AMD Radeon R4

Connectivity: One USB 3.0, two USB 2.0, HDMI, media card reader (SD, SDHC, SDXC), ethernet RJ-45

Dimensions: 14.9 x 10.2 x 0.9 inches

Weight: 4.41 pounds

 

Apple MacBook Air MJVM2LL (Certified Refurbished)

apple macbook air mjvm2lla

Apple may have officially killed the 11-inch MacBook Air in 2016, but it lives on in refurbished form, including this offering that hovers around $500 (we saw $499 during our research, but the price has bobbed up a bit since then). 

The 11-inch MacBook Air offered an affordable thin-and-light laptop at a time when  Windows competitors were far clunkier. Its 13-inch cousin remains popular. This refurbished model is older, and its features are modest, but if portability is a priority for you (and you’re a Mac fan), this is a good deal for basic computing. It can be upgraded to OS X High Sierra now and OS X Mojave when it comes out this fall.

CPU: 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5

Memory: 8GB of 1,600MHz LPDDR3 RAM

Storage: 128GB of flash storage

Display: 11.6-inch, 1366x768 LED

Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 6000

Connectivity: Two USB 3.0 Type A, one Thunderbolt 2

Dimensions: 11.8 x 7.56 x 0.11-0.68 inches

Weight: 2.38 pounds

 

The best cheap laptops on Best Buy

Lenovo 330-15IGM 81D1

lenovo 330 15igm 81d1

Wow, a $200 Windows laptop with a 15.6-inch display. If your budget is this tight, this PC is worth considering even with its compromises. 

The larger screen real estate is the reason to buy it. Note that the resolution is the minimum you’d want at this size, and it’s likely also limited in brightness and viewing angles. 

The CPU and graphics are low-end. Taken with the rest of the configuration—the RAM, hard drive size, and connectivity—you have a PC that’s adequate for basic email, web browsing, and productivity. Not bad for the money.

It’s fairly heavy, so it’s a laptop you’d more likely carry around your home than around campus or the coffee shop. 

CPU:  Intel Celeron N4100

Memory: 4GB DDR4 SDRAM

Storage: 500GB hard drive, DVD-RW drive

Display: 15.6-inch, 1366x768 LED

Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 600

Connectivity: One USB 2.0 Type A, one USB 3.0 Type A, HDMI, ethernet

Dimensions: 14.9 x 10.2 x 0.9 inches

Weight: 4.85 pounds

Dell Inspiron 15 3567

dell inspiron 15 3567

Here's another bestseller that likely owes its popularity in large part (no pun intended) to its 15.6-inch display. Getting a screen of this size on a bare-bones laptop, even if it's low-resolution and likely also low-brightness and limited viewing-angle, is a good thing. It's also nice to have three USB ports, even if none are USB-C. 

A word of caution about the CPU: It's one of AMD's prior-generation mobile parts. While it'll get basic jobs done, based on Passmark's data it's an uninspired performer. If you can find a Celeron-based model in this price range with otherwise similar specs, that could be a better deal. 

Finally, this is a heavy laptop, so don't plan to put it on your actual lap, or take it far.

CPU: 7th Gen AMD dual-core A6-9200

Memory: 4GB DDR4 SDRAM

Storage: 500GB, 5,400rpm SATA hard drive; DVD-RW drive

Display: 15.6-inch, 1366x768 LED

Graphics: Integrated AMD Radeon R4

Connectivity: One USB 2.0 Type A, two USB 3.0 Type A, HDMI, ethernet

Dimensions: 15 x 10.2 x 0.9 inches

Weight: 5.07 pounds

Lenovo 330-15IKB

lenovo 330 15ikb

We’ve seen this model of the Lenovo 330 in a $200 version, so it’s interesting to see what you get for almost twice the price—but still well within a budget range. 

For starters, the Core i3 CPU is a big step up from the Celeron N4100 we saw in the $200 cousin. It’s a dual-core part running at twice the clock speed, with a significantly higher TDP and better integrated graphics. It’s simply a better chip. You’re also getting twice the RAM and twice the hard drive capacity. Sensing a pattern? 

Although Lenovo is using what looks like the identical chassis and display, the vendor also slipped in a USB-C port along with two USB-A. Here’s one more subtle, but substantive perk: Gigabit ethernet, instead of boring old 10/100. 

This is a budget laptop with more staying power and fewer compromises than most. You could probably get through all four years of high school or college without wanting to throw this out the window (it’s a bit heavy to toss anyway), or you could use it for your home business or small business, as long as you stuck to mainstream productivity and light entertainment.

CPU:  Intel Core i3-8130U

Memory: 8GB DDR4 SDRAM

Storage: 1TB hard drive, DVD-RW drive

Display: 15.6-inch, 1366x768 LED

Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620

Connectivity: One USB 3.0 Type C, two USB 3.0 Type A, HDMI, Gigabit ethernet

Dimensions: 14.9 x 10.2 x 0.9 inches

Weight: 4.85 pounds

HP 15-bs113dx

hp 15 bs113dx

This budget laptop is heavy and probably not the best choice for constant travel. Given that, it’s still worth considering because of its touchscreen. It’s a nice feature for the price even if the resolution is nothing special, and the viewing angles and maximum brightness are likely to be limited. 

The configuration is solid in most other ways, though, with a good CPU and plenty of RAM for mainstream productivity. You don’t get USB-C, but you do get Gigabit eithernet. Its 10-key numeric keypad confirms that it could serve a small business as well as a student or home user.

CPU:  Intel Core i3-8130U

Memory: 8GB DDR4 SDRAM

Storage: 1TB hard drive, DVD-RW drive

Display: 15.6-inch, 1366x768 touchscreen LED

Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620

Connectivity: One USB 2.0 Type A, two USB 3.0 Type A, HDMI, Gigabit ethernet

Dimensions: 15 x 10 x 0.9 inches

Weight: 4.52 pounds

HP Pavilion x360 14m-cd0001dx

hp pavilion x360 14m cd0001dx

We’ve seen other 360-degree convertible laptops in the budget range, but very few with a display as big as the 14-incher on this Pavilion x360. Screen real estate matters, so this is a worthy find even if the resolution, brightness, and viewing angle are just average.

It’s a deal in other ways as well: an 8th-generation Intel Core CPU for starters, and plenty of RAM. There’s a USB-C port. The system is compact and not too heavy. 

The price is near the top of the budget range, but you’re getting good performance and versatility for the money.

CPU:  Intel Core i3-8130U

Memory: 8GB DDR4 SDRAM

Storage: 500GB hard drive

Display: 14-inch, 1366x768 touchscreen LED

Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620

Connectivity: One USB 3.1 Type C, two USB 3.0 Type A, HDMI, media card reader

Dimensions: 12.7 x 8.8 x 0.8 inches

Weight: 3.73 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: You should expect to see lower-end dual-core Intel Core processors, and a sprinkling of AMD’s older mobile CPUs (not the company’s latest and far more interesting Raven Ridge mobile processors). 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 try for 8GB if you can, so you can run more applications or browser tabs simultaneously. 

Storage: You’ll see a lot of hard drives and some lower-capacity 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. An 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. 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 want 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 spec. You might not see USB-C, full HDMI, or ethernet. 

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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