Contrary to popular belief, saving cash on a laptop doesn’t require that you hold out for the inevitable end of the year sales. Even at the beginning of every calendar year, there are hidden gems just begging to be bought that don’t cost an arm and a leg. Budget laptops are an omnipresent, inescapable force to be reckoned with. And, they’re threatening top PC makers into rethinking their business models.
That’s especially the case with the Chromebook lineup, a series of cheap laptops inspired by Google designed around the limitation of being browser-first. This, in turn, makes some budget laptops faster than their premium counterparts. At the same time, Microsoft is making great strides to bring Windows 10 into the 21st century with its thin, light and cloud-based operating system. Rumor has it, Windows 10 S is due for a drastic shake-up when it’s inevitably rebranded as a ‘mode’ within the existing Windows 10 Home and Pro.
These technological advancements aside, below we’ve denoted the best cheap laptops in no particular order. In doing so, we’ve had to go hands-on with every clamshell notebook we could find for an ultra-low price to determine which models bring affordability without compromise. For those looking to save their tax returns rather than spend them, you can take solace knowing that the following arrangement of recommendations comes from a place of experience and calculated research.
Acer Swift 3
The bigger, better value proposition
CPU: Intel Core i3 – i7 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 620 | RAM: 4GB – 8GB | Screen: 14-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) ComfyView IPS | Storage: 128GB – 256GB SSD
Here we have one of the few budget laptops with a processor nearly equivalent to the MacBook Pro, that is, if you opt for the Intel Core i5 configuration. The best part? It’s roughly half the cost of its Apple-branded rival. 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 midrange model will get you by just fine.
Read the full review: Acer Swift 3
Acer Switch 3
Spiritual successor to the Surface 3
CPU: Intel Pentium Quad Core N4200 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 505 | RAM: 4GB | Screen: 12.2-inch (1920 x 1200) IPS LCD | Storage: 64GB
Hear ye, the Acer Switch 3 is a feat to behold. This cheap laptop 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. That only scratches the ‘surface’ of the inspiration it’s taken from Microsoft’s hardware too.
Read the full review: Acer Switch 3
Asus Transformer Mini T102HA
Small, portable and flexible
CPU: Intel Atom x5-Z8350 | Graphics: Integrated Intel HD Graphics | RAM: 4GB | Screen: 10.1-inch HD (1,280 x 800) LED touch display | Storage: 64GB
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
Samsung Chromebook Pro
First in a new generation of Chromebooks
CPU: 0.99Ghz Intel Core m3-6Y30 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 515 | RAM: 4GB | Screen: 12.3-inch, QHD (2,400 x 1,600) touchscreen | Storage: 32GB eMMC
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
- This product is only available in the US as of this writing. UK and Australian readers: check out a fine alternative in the Asus Chromebook Flip.
Lenovo Yoga Book (Windows 10)
The netbook of the future – the ultra netbook?
CPU: 1.44GHz Intel Atom x5-Z8550 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 400 | RAM: 4GB | Screen: 10.1-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,200 resolution), IPS touchscreen | Storage: 64GB flash storage (plus 128GB with microSD)
The Lenovo Yoga Book, and the Windows 10 version of it in particular, is the sort of futuristic fodder you would find in an episode of Black Mirror. It has a keyboard that doubles as a Wacom touch panel and, best of all, it’s cheap as hell. Now, of course, that comes with the caveat of a weak Intel Atom processor, but the rest of the Lenovo Yoga Book should go down in the history books.
Read the full review: Lenovo Yoga Book
Acer Chromebook 14
Meet the anti-MacBook Air
CPU: Intel Celeron N3160 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 400 | RAM: 4GB | Screen: 14-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) display | Storage: 32GB SSD
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
- This product is only available in the US and UK as of this writing. Australian readers: check out a fine alternative in the Samsung Chromebook Pro.
HP Pavilion 15
The de facto learning laptop lives on
CPU: AMD dual-core A9 APU – Intel Core i7 | Graphics: AMD Radeon R5 – Nvidia GTX 1050 | RAM: 6GB – 16GB | Screen: 15.6-inch HD (1,366 x 768) – FHD (1,920 x 1,080); touch optional | Storage: 512GB SSD – 1TB HDD
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
Dell Inspiron 11 3000
Colorful can be cheap, too
CPU: Intel Celeron N3060 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics | RAM: 2GB | Screen: 11.6-inch HD (1366 x 768) anti-glare LED-backlit display | Storage: 32GB eMMC
For those who like their laptops as colorful as they are affordable, the Dell Inspiron 11 3000 is a no-brainer. Although some users might find that it’s 11.6-inch display is too small, we would argue that this budget laptop is the perfect fit for your portable workspace. Plus, its bright and vibrant color scheme is loud enough that no one on your flight will confuse it for their own.
Lenovo IdeaPad 110s
A simple and reliable laptop
CPU: Intel Celeron N3160 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 400 | RAM: 2GB | Screen: 11.6-inch HD (1366 x 768) anti-glare | Storage: 32GB
The Lenovo IdeaPad 110s isn’t the company’s most high-end model of its signature laptop, but it does sport one of the most recognizable designs in all of computing. Even if the screen is only 11.6-inches small with a resolution hardly a step up from a 15-year-old TV, you can at least take solace in the fact that it is anti-glare. That goes without mentioning the port lineup, which accounts for everyone’s tastes.
HP Stream 14
Big and colorful for cheap
CPU: Intel Celeron N3060 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 400 | RAM: 4GB | Screen: 14-inch HD (1,366 x 768) SVA BrightView WLED-backlit | Storage: 32GB eMMC
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.
Acer Aspire E5-575
Mighty impressive for the price
CPU: Intel Core i3-6100U | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 520 | RAM: 4GB – 32GB | Screen: 15.6-inch HD (1,366 x 768) display | Storage: 1TB hard drive
This little number Acer has brought forward is a real stunner for how little it costs. The full-on Intel U-series Core i3 processor is rare to see in a budget laptop. But frankly more uncommon is the 1TB of storage space you’ll get from this well-designed machine. You may suspect there were concessions made to the battery life as a result, but you couldn’t be more wrong, as Acer promises you can leave the charger at home – at least for 12 and a half hours.
Watch the video below for the top 7 things to consider when buying a laptop.
Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article