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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 August 15, 2019.)

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...

One of the best laptop deals from Amazon Prime Day is still a tempting buy at $310. 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 you might want to consider upgrading the preinstalled S Mode version of Windows 10 to the full version.

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

 

Flex 14 81SS0005US

lenovo flex 14 81ss0005us

The Lenovo Flex 14 81SS0005US 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 that 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 the claim is that AMD Is giving you more power for your money. 

The configuration is generally good, with generous RAM and storage, and a pen included to use with the touchscreen. This is a 360-degree convertible, so you can use it as a clamshell laptop, tablet, or portable movie screen. A digital pen is included. The weight is reasonable. 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: 8GB DDR4 SDRAM

Storage: 256GB NVMe SSD

Display: 14-inch diagonal width, 1920x1080 resolution (FHD) 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, fingerprint reader

Dimensions: 12.9 x 9 x 0.7 inches

Weight: 3.52 pounds

 

Acer Aspire 5 A515-54-51DJ

acer aspire 5 51dj main

A step-up model of the $310 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

Asus VivoBook F512FA-AB34

asus vivobook f512fa ab34 2

If you’re wondering why this appealing Asus VivoBook is selling for south of $370, look no further than the cramped 128GB solid-state drive, which won’t go far when it comes to storing your media or installing big programs. You’ll be fine if you stick to cloud storage, but don’t expect to import your massive iTunes library or a large photo collection.

Once you get past the paltry storage (and hey, it’s an SSD, which means it’s much faster than a traditional spinning hard drive), there’s a lot to like here, including an 8th-generation Intel Core i3 processor, which (even though it's only a dual-core CPU) offers more than enough horsepower for web browsing, Office, and other day-to-day desktop chores. And not only is the Vivobook relatively thin and light, it’s also got a roomy 1080p “NanoEdge” display, which is just Asus’s way of saying that it has thin bezels.

One last thing: this version of the VivoBook comes preinstalled with Windows 10 in S Mode, which is basically a pared-down version of Windows that’s optimized for performance, and it only lets you run programs from the Windows Store. You can always upgrade to the full version of Windows for free, but doing so may take a toll on the laptop’s performance, and once you upgrade, there’s no going back.

CPU: Dual-core Intel Core i3-8415U

Memory: 8GB DDR4 RAM

Storage: 128GB SSD

Display: 15.6-inch 1920x1080 LCD with “NanoEdge” design

Graphics: Integrated Intel UHD Graphics 620

Connectivity: One USB 3.0 Type-C port, one USB 3.0 Type-A port, two USB 2.0 Type-A ports, HDMI, microSD card reader, 802,11ac Wi-Fi

Dimensions: 3.75 pounds

Weight: 14.1 x 9.1 x 0.75 inches

 

HP Pavilion 15

hp pavilion 15 1

It’s a sliver above $500, but this HP Pavilion 15 is a solid investment given its price tag. Its quad-core Intel Core i5-8250U is a proven workhorse for web browsing and producticity, and it’ll even hold its own when it comes to more CPU-intensive tasks such as video encoding. You also get 8GB of RAM, which should let you run multiple programs simultaneously without hitting any speed bumps. The USB-C port is ideal for connecting the latest external hard drives and peripherals, and there’s even an ethernet port for wired networking. Let’s not forget the roomy Full-HD (1920x1080) display, which just happens to be a touchscreen.

Now, the downsides. Slim though it is at just 0.78 inches, this version of the HP Pavilion 15 tips the scales at nearly four and a quarter pounds, so you’ll definitely feel it in your backpack. Also, the integrated graphics core means you’ll be restricted to the most basic of games, such as Minesweeper and Sudoku. (To be fair, you shouldn't expect to find a quad-core laptop with a discrete graphics card in this price range.) Finally, the spinning hard drive isn't nearly as peppy as a solid-state model, but at least its 1TB of storage is big enough for a good-sized photo or music collection.

CPU: Quad-core Intel Core i5-8250U

Memory: 8GB DDR4 RAM

Storage: 1TB HDD

Display: 15.6-inch full-HD (1920x1080) IPS touchscreen

Graphics: Integrated Intel UHD Graphics 620

Connectivity: One USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C port, two USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A ports, SD media card reader, ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth

Dimensions: 14.9 x 9.9 x 0.78 inches

Weight: 4.21 pounds

 

The best cheap laptops on Best Buy

Acer Aspire 5 NX.H8AAA.003

acer aspire 5 intel core i5 21

There’s a lot to like about this 15.6-inch Acer laptop, but first things first: It’s refurbished, which is a nicer way of saying “used.” Such refurb models are generally restored by the manufacturer or reseller to an “as-new” condition, so it’s highly unlikely you’ll see any scuffs or dings. That said, the warranty for a refurbished laptop is usually far shorter—90 days in this case—than for a new model, so keep that in mind.

Refurbished or no, the laptop offers a lot for the $447 price tag, starting with a rare quad-core Intel CPU in this price range, which means it could venture beyond mainstream computing chores and handle some more processor-intensive tasks like, say, video encoding or database crunching.

You also get a roomy 15.6-inch “ComfyView” (think anti-glare) display with a full 1080p resolution, an ethernet port for wired networking, a USB Type-C port that's ideal for connecting speedy external storage drives, and a peppy solid-state drive with a reasonable 256GB of storage space.

This particular model of the Aspire 5 is just 0.7 inches thick, which qualifies as slim in our book, but at 4.2 pounds it’s a bit on the heavy side.

CPU: Quad-core Intel Core i5-8265U

Memory: 8GB DDR4

Storage: 256GB SSD

Display: 15.6-inch 1920x1080 “ComfyView” LED

Graphics: Integrated UHD Graphics 620

Connectivity: One USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C, one USB 3.0 Type-A, two USB 2.0 Type-A, HDMI, SD memory card reader, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Gigabit ethernet, Bluetooth 5.0

Dimensions: 9.7 x 14.3 x 0.7 inches

Weight: 4.2 pounds

 

HP Pavilion x360 2-in-114M-DH0001DX

hp pavilion x360 14

This laptop gives you a decent configuration for mainstream productivity, with the bonus of convertible versatility. The catch? The display resolution. 

The 14-inch touchscreen on this laptop has a resolution of just 1366x768. That's okay on an 11-inch laptop, but a bit grainy on this larger screen size. Still, if you're just browsing the web and handling documents and spreadsheets, it'll do. 

Everything else about this machine is fine. The dual-core Core i3-8145U and 8GB RAM are a good pairing for everyday use. The 128GB SSD is on the small side, but at least it'll run faster than a traditional hard drive. 

CPU: Intel Core i3-8145U 

Memory: 8GB DDR4 SDRAM

Storage: 128GB SSD

Display: 14-inch diagonal width, 1366x768 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, SD card reader

Networking: 802.11ac Wi-Fi, HDMI

Dimensions: 12.7 x 8.8 x 0.8 inches

Weight: 3.48 pounds

 

Lenovo 330S-15IKB 81F5018TUS

This laptop has been discounted from $580, so you’re getting some nicer features for the price. The Core i5-8250U processor is a proven quad-core workhorse. The 8GB of RAM that comes with it offers plenty of room to load up a bunch of browser tabs and a few hefty documents. The 128GB SSD is on the small side, but it's also much faster than a traditional hard drive--something you'll appreciate when you're booting up your system or loading a big application. 

We especially like the 1920x1080-pixel display, which is a good all-around resolution—and a sight better than the 1366x768 resolution you more often see in this price range. Even its bezels are impressively slender for this price range. 

Connectivity covers all the bases. There's a USB-C port along with USB-A; full HDMI; and gigabit ethernet plus Wireless-AC.

The caveats include a 4.12-pound weight, which will begin to feel a little heavy if you tote it all day. You'll need to haul the AC adapter as well, as the best-case battery life (per Lenovo) is about 6 hours, not quite enough to make it through a full day at school or work.

CPU: Intel Core i5-8265U 

Memory: 8GB DDR4 SDRAM

Storage: 128GB SSD

Display: 15.6-inch diagonal width, 1920x1080 resolution

Graphics: Integrated Intel UHD 620

Connectivity: One USB 3.1 Type-C, two USB 3.0 Type-A, one USB 2.0 Type-A, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, HDMI

Dimensions: 14.1 x 9.6 x 0.8 inches

Weight: 4.12 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

 

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. 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. 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 by going the refurbished route, 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, which means you’ll probably have a tough time telling a refurbished item from a brand-new model. Indeed, Amazon 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’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.

This story, "Best cheap laptops: We rate the best-sellers on Amazon and Best Buy" was originally published by PCWorld.

  
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