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 February 17, 2019, with new picks.)

The best cheap laptops on Amazon

HP Pavilion x360 15-cr0037wm

hp pavilion x360 15 cr0037wm

The Pavilion x360 15-cr0037wm is one of several low-end HP’s you’re likely to see on Amazon’s bestseller list. This one seems to offer the best bang for buck, even with a few compromises.

Its 8th-gen Intel Core processor is the lowest-end dual-core model, but still a step up from the 7th-gen Core or Pentium and Celeron CPUs you’ll see on other low-cost systems. It has meager RAM, but cutting-edge Optane Memory to make your hard drive feel faster. Its display is Full HD (1920×1080), when most bargain laptops offer mere HD (1366×768). The touch capability, 360-degree hinge, and included pen are also hard to find in this price range. Note that there’s no ethernet, however, and battery life is a brief 7 hours. 

CPU: Intel 8th-gen Core i3-8130U

Memory: 4GB DDR4 SDRAM

Storage: 1TB 5,400rpm hard drive with 16GB of Optane Memory

Display: 15.6-inch diagonal width, 1920×1080 resolution, touchscreen. HP Digital Pen included.

Graphics: Intel UHD 620

Networking: Intel 802.11b/g/n/ac (2×2) Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2 Combo (MU-MIMO supported)

Connectivity: One USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C (5Gbps), two USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type A, HDMI 1.4, media card reader (SD, MMC, SDHC, SDXC)

Dimensions: 14.1 x 9.6 x 0.8 inches

Weight: 4.6 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, 1920×1080 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

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 the latest 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, 1920×1080 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

Lenovo Ideapad 15.6″ HD High Performance Laptop

Ideapad 15.6" HD High Performance Laptop

This laptop caught our eye because its AMD A12 mobile CPU is about equivalent to Intel’s lower-end 7th-gen Core mobile chips—in other words, it’s a competent processor for mainstream tasks. It comes with a USB-C port, whereas some other budget laptops stick with USB-C. The numeric keypad is handy. It’s big and heavy, though.

CPU: AMD quad-core A12-9720P

Memory: 8GB DDR4 SDRAM

Storage: 1TB, 5,400rpm SATA hard drive; DVD-RW drive

Display: 15.6-inch, 1366×768 LED

Graphics: Integrated AMD Radeon R7

Connectivity: Two USB 3.0 Type A, one USB 3.0 Type C, HDMI, media card reader (SD, SDHC, SDXC), Gigabit ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi

Dimensions: 14.9 x 10.2 x 0.9 inches

Weight: 4.85 pounds

The best cheap laptops on Best Buy

Lenovo 330-15IKBR 81DE

lenovo 330 15ikbr 81de

This laptop could be a good home or student buy, assuming your needs are basic. The highlights are its generous RAM and storage (including an optical drive), and broad connectivity including ethernet. The display resolution is adequate for everyday computing. Don’t take this too far from home base, though, as it’s heavy, and the battery life is rated at a mere 5.5 hours. 

CPU:  Intel Core i3-8130U

Memory: 8GB DDR4 SDRAM

Storage: 1TB HDD, DVD-RW drive

Display: 15.6-inch, 1344×768 widescreen LED

Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620

Connectivity: Two USB 2.0 Type-A, one USB 3.1 Type-C, HDMI, Gigabit ethernet, Wireless-AC, Bluetooth, media card reader

Dimensions: 14.9 x 10.2 x 0.9 inches

Weight: 4.85 pounds

330S 15IKB 81F500NSUS

lenovo 330s 15ikb 81f500nsus

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 1TB hard drive may seem pedestrian, but it comes with 16GB of Optane Memory, which acts like a cache to help files load faster. 

We especially like the 1920×1080-pixel display, which is a good all-around resolution—and a sight better than the 1366×768 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 minor 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.

Acer Nitro 5 515-42-R5ED

A gaming laptop this close to $500 is worth mentioning. We liked the Intel Coffee Lake version of the Acer Nitro 5 budget gaming laptop. This version, based on AMD.s Ryzen 5 2500U mobile chip, aims to compete with Core i5 and Core i7 mobile chips—but at a lower price, natch. 

Looking at the specs, we see just one big caveat: the roomy, but slow 1TB hard drive. Everything else checks out pretty well for the price. You get 8GB of RAM, plus Radeon RX Vega graphics with 4GB of dedicated GDDR5 memory. The 15.6-inch, full HD (1920×1080) display has Acer’s ComfyView technology to reduce glare, but note that we found the one in our review unit to have limited brightness.

Connectivity includes one USB-C port plues three USB-A, though two of the latter are of the sloweUSB 2.0 variety. Wireless-AC and gigabit ethernet cover networking nicely. 

Yes, this laptop is a bit heavy (5.95 pounds) and thick (1.1 inches), including chunky bezels that make the chassis bulky. But a decent gaming machine for this little money is worth a few compromises.

HP Notebook 14-cf0013dx

hp notebook 14 cf0013dx

We know the real sweet spot in budget laptops is around the $350 price point, where you can get a decent laptop for everyday use at home or school. This HP Notebook stands out for us because it has an 8th-gen Intel Core CPU rather than an older 7th-gen model. Bettery life is adequate at 8.75 hours, per the vendor’s spec (your mileage may vary).

CPU: Intel Core i3-8130U 

Memory: 8GB DDR4 SDRAM

Storage: 1TB, 5,400rpm SATA hard drive

Display: 14-inch diagonal widescreen LED, 1366×768 resolution

Graphics: Integrated Intel UHD 620

Connectivity: One USB 3.1 Type-C, two USB 3.0 Type-A, one USB 2.0, ethernet (RJ-45), HDMI

Dimensions: 14.8 x 9.7 x 0.9 inches

Weight: 4.03 pounds

HP Pavilion x360 14m-cd0001dx

hp pavilion x360 14m cd0001dx

Student and home users may welcome the chance to get a 360-degree convertible laptop with a touchscreen for $500, though other features may be modest to compensate for the pricey design. In the case of this Pavilion x360, the CPU is the lowest-end 8th-gen Intel Core you can get, but at least it’s not 7th-gen (still widely available in bargain laptops). The HD (1366×768) display resolution is adequate. Connectivity is good, and battery life is rated at a nice 10.5 hours

CPU:  Intel Core i3-8130U

Memory: 8GB DDR4 SDRAM

Storage: 500GB, 5400rpm HDD

Display: 14-inch, 1366×768 widescreen LED

Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620

Connectivity: Two USB 3.0 Type-A, one USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C (5Gbps), HDMI, Gigabit ethernet, Wireless-AC, 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 1366×768 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, 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. 

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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