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The best cheap laptop you can buy

The best cheap laptops will make you wonder why anyone spends more

A “cheap” laptop does not mean a poorly-made laptop. It doesn’t mean a hand-me-down laptop and it doesn’t mean a knockoff brand or a used computer from a thrift store. What budget laptops do mean are affordable, new computers that get the job done without digging too deep into your pockets.

While high-end models tend to get the glitz and marketing pictures, many brands also release another set of laptops with lesser specs that sell at affordable prices. Asus, in particular, is known for this — and the Asus Zenbook UX305UA may be the best budget-friendly laptop ever produced.

Our pick

Asus-Zenbook-UX305UA-screen

Why you should buy this: it’s fast, portable, affordable — and it even has a 256GB solid state drive.

Who’s it for: Everyone except gamers.

How much it will cost: $750

Why we picked the Asus Zenbook UX305UA

Asus has long been a top competitor in the budget space, but over the last five years the company has upped its quality, resulting in fantastic systems across a range of prices. The Zenbook line has become the flagship, and the Asus UX305UA — available for $750 (and often a bit less than that, on sale) — is the best value yet.

You might not expect quality from a laptop that barely costs more than a new iPhone 7 Plus, but this Zenbook is a pleasant surprise. Its metal, unibody chassis is barely more than six-tenths of an inch thick, and its overall weight is around three pounds.

Better still, the laptop is a real pleasure to use. Its has an excellent keyboard — one of the best on any 13-inch laptop, in fact. It also offers a spacious touchpad and a 1080p non-touch display with a matte coating that nearly eliminates glare. This isn’t a 2-in-1, so you won’t be swinging the Zenbook UX305UA’s display around for use as a tablet, but its focus on conventional use helps Asus offer this system’s excellent design at a budget price.

If you think it’s what inside that counts, you’ll find even more reason to love this laptop. It has a Core i5-6200U processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB solid state drive. This selection of hardware is the best you can expect to receive for $750, and easily exceeds other systems like the Dell XPS 13. Though we love that laptop, it only offers a Core i3 and 4GB of RAM in its $800 base configuration.

And the Zenbook UX305UA won’t leave you stranded when you’re on the move. It has a large, 54-watt-hour battery which, in our testing, delivered more than five and a half hours of battery life when browsing. An extra few hours can be squeezed out with more conservative use.

Weaknesses? Uh… well, the configuration options are very limited. An alternative version with a more powerful processor and even higher resolution is technically available, but tends to be hard to find given Asus doesn’t offer made-to-order laptops. The standard configuration is the only configuration.

Other than that, there’s nothing to complain about. The Asus Zenbook UX305UA is good or great in all important metrics, which is why we gave it our Editor’s Choice award. It’s not just one of the best budget laptops. It’s among best laptops at any price.

Our full review

The best Chromebook

Acer Chromebook 15

Why you should buy this: It’s extremely affordable, yet still quick.

Who’s it for: Those who want a very basic, but still enjoyable, PC.

How much it will cost: $200 to $350

Why we picked the Acer Chromebook 15

Chromebooks — laptops that run Google’s Chrome OS — have become a popular budget laptop over the last few years, and we quite like them at Digital Trends. The Acer Chromebook 15 is a great example of their strengths. It has a 1080p display, fast Intel processor, and plenty of memory, all starting at $200. No Windows notebook comes close to touching its value.

If you’re looking for a budget laptop, Chromebooks are a good choice. But these systems rarely sell for north of $500, with the obvious exception of Google’s Chromebook Pixel, which is too niche for us to recommend. The price brings limitations, of course. You won’t find a Chromebook with a quad-core processor, a fast solid state drive, or an optional discrete GPU.

Still, the Chromebook 15 is well equipped for the category. The base model has 1,366 x 768-pixel resolution, 2GB of RAM, and a 16GB solid state drive. That’s good for $200, but we recommend going at least for the $280 upgrade. It has a 1080p display, 4GB of RAM, and 16GB of storage. Upgrading to the $350 model affords you a 32GB solid state drive.

Aside from its price, the Acer Chromebook 15’s success is due to its Intel Celeron 3205U dual-core processor. Unlike many other Celeron chips, this one is based on the same Broadwell architecture used in Intel’s 6th-generation Core brand. Though its clock speed is less than even a Core i3, it’s still quick — and much quicker than the average notebook sold for $300 or less.

The downsides? Well, it’s not the most portable system, as the 15-inch display might suggest. You’ll also have to get used to ChromeOS. It’s not as functional as Windows, and works best when you have an active internet connection.

Our full review

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