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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 October 10, 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...
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

 

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

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

 

HP Pavilion 15

hp pavilion 15 1
MSRP $529.99
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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

 

Lenovo Ideapad L340 (81LK00HDUS)

lenovo ideapad l340 81lk00hdus
MSRP $969.99
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Yes, this 15-inch Lenovo gaming laptop is a couple hundred bucks over our typical $500 ceiling, but look at what’s under the hood: a quad-core, 9th-gen Intel processor, no slouch when it comes to CPU-intensive tasks; a positively roomy 512GB solid-state drive, enough to store a small collection of games; and best of all, a discrete Nvidia graphics card that can crank out buttery 1080p visuals once you fiddle with your graphics settings. The 8GB of memory gives you room for multitasking, and you can connect external storage for additional games using the speedy USB-C port. Yes, this Lenovo is nearly an inch thick and it tips the scales at a hair below five pounds, but that’s actually pretty good as far as gaming laptops go.

CPU: Quad-core Intel Core i5-9300H

Memory: 8GB DDR4 RAM

Storage: 512GB SSD

Display: 15.6-inch 1920x1080 IPS display

Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650

Connectivity: One USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C port, two USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A ports, HDMI, Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac), Bluetooth 4.2, ethernet, combo audio jack

Dimensions: 14.3 x 10 x 0.9 inches

Weight: 4.84 pounds

 

The best cheap laptops on Best Buy

Lenovo L340-15API

lenovo l340 15api

This 15-inch Lenovo packs in some solid mainstream horsepower given its bargain price tag, but we have a few reservations. Let’s focus on the good first, starting with a dual-core AMD processor that’s more than up to such day-to-day computing tasks as web browsing and Office. You’ll also get some multitasking chops thanks to the installed 8GB of RAM, while the USB-C port will let you connect a speedy external storage drive. And let’s not forget the roomy 15.6-inch full-HD display. So far, so good.

No Windows 10 laptop that costs $380 comes without compromises, however, and this Lenovo has its fair share. Take the 1TB hard drive, a traditional spinning model that lacks the pep you’ll see in solid-stage storage—and adding insult to injury, the drive spins at a pokey 5,400 rotations a minute, which means you can expect Windows to take its sweet time starting up in the morning. This laptop is also nearly an inch thick and close to five pounds, making it more of a desktop replacement than something you’d want to toss in a knapsack. We’re also disappointed by the lack of a memory card reader.

One final point: This particular Lenovo comes with Windows 10 in S-mode, a pared-down, performance-optimized version of Windows that only runs apps from the Windows Store. You can switch to the full version of Windows 10 Pro for free (but remember you can’t change your mind and go back to S-mode afterward).

CPU: AMD Ryzen 3 3200U

Memory: 8GB of RAM

Storage: 1TB hard drive (5,400 rpm)

Display: 1920 x 1080 full-HD LCD

Graphics: Integrated AMD Radeon Vega 3

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

Dimensions: 14.3 x 10 x 0.9 inches

Weight: 4.85 pounds

 

Lenovo 330S-15IKB 81F5018EUS

lenovo 330s 15ikb 81f5018eus

Best Buy is labeling this budget Lenovo laptop as a budget pick for students, and that sounds about right. Its 8th-generation, dual-core Intel CPU isn’t a hot rod, but it’s more than enough for taking notes, performing research on the web, and writing term papers. The integrated graphics core is good for some casual gaming (we’re talking Chess here, not Fornite), while the USB-C port will let you connect the latest storage devices and peripherals. With a width of just 0.76 inches, the laptop should fit easily in a backpack.

As far as the downsides go, the Lenovo is a tad heavy at 4.12 pounds, and with just 4GB of RAM, it may start to chug if you have too many applications running at once. You'll also have to make do with a cramped 128GB SSD, which will fill up fast unless you stick to cloud storage and a bare minimum of programs. The 15.6-inch display sounds roomy, but its 720p resolution means you’ll see some daylight between pixels. All that said, there’s still that enticing $280 price tag to consider.

CPU: Dual-core Intel Core i3-8130U

Memory: 4GB

Storage: 128GB SSD

Display: 15.6-inch diagonal width, 1366 x 768 resolution

Graphics: Integrated Intel UHD Graphics 620

Connectivity: One USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C port, two USB 3.0 Type-A ports, microSD memory card reader, HDMI, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth

Dimensions: 14.1 x 9.6 x 0.76 inches

Weight: 4.12 pounds

 

HP Pavilion x360 2-in-1 14M-CD0003DX

hp pavilion x360 2 in 1 14m cd0003dx

We’re pretty impressed with this particular HP convertible given its $450 price tag. Besides its 2-in-1 form factor (which means you can tent it on a tabletop or even bend its display all the way around for tablet use), the Pavilion features a full-HD touchscreen, a quad-core processor (dual-core is usually all you get in this price range), and a multitasking-friendly 8GB of RAM. True, its 128GB solid-state drive is a bit cramped, but you could always connect an external hard drive using the HP’s speedy USB-C port. The laptop is also relatively thin, and it weighs in at a reasonable three-and-a-half pounds. Heck, you even get a fingerprint reader, a rarity in a budget laptop like this one.

CPU: Quad-core Intel Core i5-8250U

Memory: 8GB of RAM

Storage: 128GB SSD

Display: 14-inch, 1920x1080 IPS touchscreen

Graphics: Integrated Intel UHD Graphics 620

Connectivity: One USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C port, two USB 3.0 type-A ports, HDMI, SD memory card reader, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, combo 3.5mm audio jack

Dimensions: 12.7 x 8.8 x 0.8 inches

Weight: 3.53 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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