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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—and doesn’t saddle you with features (or lack thereof) that you’ll regret in a year. 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.

Note: Our latest update marks the first time we’ve included a laptop powered by Intel’s latest “Ice Lake” CPU, so check out the “HP 15-inch Premium Laptop” from Amazon, below. We've also featured a gaming laptop that costs $150 more than our usual $500 limit, but we still think it's a bargain given its discrete graphics card.

The best cheap laptops on Amazon

Acer Aspire 5 A515-43-R19L

Acer Aspire 5, 15.6" Full HD IPS Display, AMD Ryzen 3 3200U, Vega 3 Graphics, 4GB DDR4, 128GB SS...
MSRP $349.99
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One of the best laptop deals from Amazon Prime Day is still a tempting buy at $315. This surprisingly thin Acer Aspire 5 comes with a 15.6-inch 1080p IPS display, a good-enough AMD Ryzen 3 3200U CPU, and an integrated Radeon Vega 3 graphics core capable of light gaming (“light” being the key word). You’ll have to settle for a meager 128GB of SSD storage and just 4GB of RAM, though, and in our review of this particular A515-43-R19L system, we found that similar laptops in the Acer Aspire 5 line (such as the Core i5-packing A515-54-51DJ) had significantly better battery life.

CPU: AMD dual-core Ryzen 3 3200U

Memory: 4GB DDR4 SDRAM

Storage: 128GB SSD

Display: 15.6-inch, 1920x1080 IPS LCD

Graphics: Integrated AMD Radeon Vega 3

Connectivity: One USB 3.0 Type-A port, two USB 2.0 Type-A ports, HDMI, Gigabit ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi

Dimensions: 14.31 x 9.74 x 0.71 inches

Weight: 3.97 pounds

 

Lenovo Flex 14 81SS000DUS

lenovo flex 14 81ss000dus
MSRP $579.99
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The Lenovo Flex 14 81SS000DUS is priced a little above our maximum, but we wanted to mention it anyway because of what’s inside: a Ryzen 5 Pro 3500U processor. This AMD CPU is a little hard to find—Lenovo is one of the few companies using Ryzen mobile CPUs so far. AMD claims the Ryzen 5 Pro 3500U is faster than Intel’s Core i5-8250U, a stalwart CPU that can easily handle mainstream productivity.

What the Ryzen chip has that the comparable Intel chip doesn’t is an integrated Vega GPU, which should be a lot more powerful than the Intel UHD 620 graphics that comes with the Core i5-8250U. We won’t know until we test it, but AMD claims its Vega graphics core gives you more power for your money.

The configuration is generally good, with generous RAM (12GB is a rare treat) and storage, plus an included pen for the touchscreen. This is a 360-degree convertible, so you can use it as a clamshell laptop, tablet, or portable movie screen. The weight is reasonable, and while the display resolution is a tad shy of 1080p, we’ve seen worse. We noticed there’s no ethernet, but if all you use is Wi-Fi it’s a small loss.

CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 Pro 3500U

Memory: 12GB of DDR4 RAM

Storage: 256GB NVMe SSD

Display: 14-inch diagonal width, 1440 x 900 touchscreen

Graphics: Radeon Vega 8 Graphics

Connectivity: One USB 3.1 Type-C, two USB 3.1 Type-A, HDMI, SD Card reader, audio jack

Dimensions: 12.9 x 9 x 0.7 inches

Weight: 3.52 pounds

 

ASUS TUF FX505DT

asus asus tuf fx505dt

Here’s something we don’t often see on our cheap laptops list: a cheap laptop that can actually play games! A member of ASUS’s “TUF Gaming” line, this laptop features a rock-solid quad-core AMD processor, which should be able to breeze through everyday computing chores as well as take on some CPU-intensive tasks, while 8GB of RAM gives you headroom for multitasking. Best of all, we have discrete graphics from Nvidia, with the GeForce GTX 1650 perfectly capable of cranking out 60 fps visuals provided you dial down your graphics settings to “medium” or so.

The ASUS FX505DD also comes with a roomy full-HD display and an eye-catching RGB-backlit keyboard. While its peppy 256GB solid-state drive will fill up quickly if you install too many games, you could always connect a speedy external storage drive using the USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A port. (Missing in action, unfortunately, is a USB-C port for attaching newer peripherals.) At nearly five pounds and slightly more than an inch thick, the ASUS FX505DT is no ultralight, but it’s not ridiculously huge for a gaming laptop.

CPU: Quad-core AMD Ryzen 5 3550H

Memory: 8GB of DDR4 RAM

Storage: 256GB SSD

Display: 15.6-inch 1920 x 1080 full-HD LCD

Graphics: Discrete Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650

Connectivity: One USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A port, two USB 2.0 port, HDMI, Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac), Bluetooth, ethernet

Dimensions: 14.2 x 10.3 x 1 inches

Weight: 4.85 pounds

 

HP 15-inch Premium Laptop

hp 15 inch premium laptop

This 15-inch HP laptop (which has been customized by a reseller, hence the generic “premium” moniker) makes the first laptop in our bargain roundup with a brand-new 10th-gen Intel “Ice Lake” processor. Exciting, right? Well, that depends on what you’ll be using this laptop for.

Those needing to perform CPU-intensive video encoding and editing chores stand to reap the greatest benefits from an Ice Lake processor. If you’re only using this HP for such day-to-day duties as web browsing and Office—in other words, the kind of everyday tasks that run just fine on a single processor core—then the performance gains of the Ice Lake CPU will be far more subtle, if they’re noticeable at all. Indeed, for most of us, a laptop with an older, cheaper, but still reasonably powerful 8th-gen Whiskey Lake CPU is (for now, at least) a much better bargain.

All that said, this HP system has plenty of other appealing features, including a roomy 512GB solid-state drive, an impressive 16GB of RAM (double what we typically see in this price range), and a reasonably light 3.75-pound form factor. Not bad, but the HP’s 1366-by-768 display is disappointing given the largish 15.6-inch display. Ideally, we would’ve preferred a sharper full-HD (1920 by 1080) display.

CPU: Quad-core Intel 10th-gen Core i5-1035G1

Memory: 16GB DDR4 RAM

Storage: 512GB DDS

Display: 15-inch 1366x768 touchscreen

Graphics: Integrated Intel UHD Graphics

Connectivity: One USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C port, two USB 3.0 Type-A ports, HDMI, SD memory card, Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac), Bluetooth 4.2

Dimensions: 9.53 x 14.11 x 0.71 pounds

Weight: 3.75 pounds

Acer Aspire 5 A515-54-51DJ

acer aspire 5 51dj main

A step-up model of the AMD-powered Aspire 5 that's currently topping our list of best bargain-priced laptops, this particular configuration (which we've recently reviewed) is decidedly pricier at around $500, but it's an impressive value if you're looking for a little extra productivity power.

A highlight feature in this model is its quad-core Core i5 processor. We found it to be a tad sluggish compared to some of its similar competitors during CPU-intensive tasks (blame thermal throttling), but hey, we're still talking a quad-core CPU in a $500 laptop.  We also liked its roomier 8GB of RAM for smooth multitasking performance, and a decidedly spacious 256GB SSD, versus the skimpier 128GB drive in the cheaper model.

As with other newer Aspire 5 laptops, this Core i5 model feels pleasingly slim and trim, and its nearly all-day battery life is right on the money.

CPU: Intel Core i5-8265U 

Memory: 8GB DDR4 SDRAM

Storage: 256GB SSD

Display: 15.6-inch diagonal width, 1920x1080 resolution

Graphics: Integrated Intel UHD 620

Connectivity: One USB 3.1 Type-C, two USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A, one USB 2.0 Type-A, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Gigabit ethernet, HDMI

Dimensions: 14.3 x 9.9 x 0.7 inches

Weight: 3.97 pounds

The best cheap laptops on Best Buy

Dell Inspiron I3583-3867BLK

dell inspiron i3583 3867blk

There’s plenty to like about this 15.6-inch Dell Inspiron, particularly its price tag. We don't find many laptops this cheap that we'd actually recommend, but we'd have no problem suggesting this model to a budget-conscious student or family looking for a basic computer for everyday use. Still, it's important to be aware of the corners Dell cut to make this laptop so affordable. 

This Dell gets off to a solid start with its dual-core, 8th-gen Intel CPU, which will certainly do the job when it comes to everyday computing tasks. Many laptops in this price range come with Intel Pentium or Celeron chips, or AMD A-class chips, which we don't recommend for most people. The 8GB of RAM is notable—most products we've seen at this price point have a paltry 4GB.

But then we come to the caveats, beginning with the display. It's physically roomy and touch-enabled, but stuck at the lowest bearable resolution of 1366x768. Again, it will do for basic work, but anyone working a lot with photos or videos will get frustrated fast. It's great to have a peppy solid state drive, but the 128GB capacity is small. You get three USB Type-A ports for legacy key drives and peripherals, but there's no USB-C, closing off the newer, faster generation of connectable devices. The convenient wired ethernet port achieves only “fast” (100Gbps) throughput speed, rather than gigabit speeds. And while the Inspiron is relatively thin, it weighs in at nearly 4.5 pounds.

So no, we don’t see any deal-breakers here given the sticker price. And given how disappointing most laptops in this price range are, this model, compromises and all, is still one of the very few we'd suggest you buy.

CPU: Dual-core Intel Core i3-8145U

Memory: 8GB of DDR4 RAM

Storage: 128GB SSD

Display: 15.6-inch, 1366x768 (HD) touchscreen

Graphics: Integrated Intel UHD Graphics 620

Connectivity: Two USB 3.0 ports, one USB 2.0 port, HDMI, media card reader, Wi-Fi 5, fast ethernet, Bluetooth

Dimensions: 15 x 10.2 x 0.78 inches

Weight: 4.41 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

 

Acer Aspire 5 A515-54-597W

acer aspire 5 a515 54 597w

We've reviewed a few different configurations of Acer's Aspire 5 laptops, and they rate among our favorite bargain laptops. This particular model comes with an Intel quad-core 8th-gen processing workhorse under its hood, along with a typical 8GB of RAM and a not-so-typical 512GB solid-state drive, which is a pretty generous size considering the price. You also get a full-HD 15-inch display (not a touchscreen, but we'll live), a USB-C port for attaching a speedy external storage drive or newer USB-C peripherals, and gigabit ethernet for those who prefer wired networking. The Aspire 5 is a bit on the heavy side, but its sleek shell makes it feel thinner and lighter than it really is.

CPU: Quad-core Intel Core i5-8265U

Memory: 8GB of RAM

Storage: 512GB SSD

Display: 15.6-inch 1920x1080 LED

Graphics: Integrated Intel UHD Graphics 620

Connectivity: One USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C port, two USB 3.0 Type-A ports, one USB 2.0 port, HDMI, SD memory card slot, Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac), Bluetooth, gigabit ethernet

Dimensions: 14.3 x 9.9 x 0.7 inches

Weight: 4.19 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 10th-gen mobile CPUs are here, we’re seeing more and more discounted laptops with perfectly good 8th-gen parts in them. Look in particular for the Core i5-8250U and the (modestly revamped) i5-8265U, a pair of quad-core processors that can ably juggle mainstream tasks. You may also see some 9th-gen Intel CPUs in the mix, and we’ve even had a laptop with a 10th-gen processor sneak onto our list; that said, we currently consider 8th-gen chips to be a much better value.

At the bargain-basement price points, however, you’re still going to see more 7th-gen, dual-core Intel Core processors; lower-end Intel chips like the Celeron and Pentium Gold; and a sprinkling of AMD’s older mobile CPUs. Those lower-end Intel and older AMD parts tend to have anemic performance, 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—too skimpy for viewing documents or videos. An HD resolution of 1366x768 suffices for an 11-inch or 13-inch display, but starts to look grainier 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. 

Condition: Some cheap laptops are affordable because they’re “refurbished”—in other words, they’re used. You actually stand to save a tidy sum with these discounted models, and you needn’t worry that it’ll arrive on your doorstep with greasy fingerprints and a crack in the screen. They’re generally cleaned, tested, and restored by the manufacturer or reseller to “like-new” condition—you’ll probably have a tough time telling a refurbished item from a brand-new model. Amazon even has its own “Renewed” program, with stringent standards for selling refurbished products on the site. Keep in mind, however, that refurbished laptops usually have a much shorter warranty than new ones—think 90 days or so, rather than a year or two.

Know what you want and shop smart

After seeing what kinds of cheap laptops we’d actually recommend, 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 story, "Best cheap laptops: We rate the best-sellers on Amazon and Best Buy" was originally published by PCWorld.

  
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