A cheap laptop isn’t the same as a poorly made laptop. They aren’t hand-me-downs or knockoffs, or a used computer from a thrift store. The best budget laptops are affordable 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, and gaming laptops may draw oohs and aahs from your friends, 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 UX330UA may be the best cheap laptop ever made.
Asus Zenbook UX330UA
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 UX330UA
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 UX330UA — 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 8 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. The latest version even packs a surprising amount of horsepower into such a small, and inexpensive package. Featuring an 8th-generation Intel Core i5 processor, the ZenBook easily outperforms its nearest competitors running last year’s hardware — comparable 7th-generation ‘Kaby Lake’ processors.
Better still, the laptop is a real pleasure to use. It has an excellent keyboard — one of the best on a 13-inch laptop at this price. 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 UX330UA’s display around for use as a tablet, but its focus on conventional use helps Asus offer this system at a budget price.
And the ZenBook UX330UA 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? Well, the Asus ZenBook UX330UA is good or great in all important metrics, which is why we gave it our Editors’ Choice award. It’s not just one of the best budget laptops. It’s among the best laptops at any price.
Our full Asus Zenbook UX330UA review
The best entry level option
Acer Aspire E 15
Why you should buy this: Great performance for the price, with plenty of hardware options.
Who’s it for: Those who want a full Windows laptop, without the hefty price tag.
How much it will cost: $350-$800
Why we picked the Acer Aspire E 15:
Typically, the lower down the pricing scale you go with laptops, the more sacrifices you have to make. With the Acer Aspire E 15 though, those sacrifices are surprisingly minor. Sure it might have a pretty heavy chassis compared to many of its lightweight contemporaries, but for the kind of performance you get for this price, it’s an excellent budget laptop.
In our testing we found it surprisingly productive for its price point thanks to its eighth-generation Core i5 CPU and 8GB of RAM. If you opt for the version with the Nvidia MX150 discrete graphics chip, it even works well for entry-level gaming too.
Yes, its bezels are thick, but they wrap around a full HD display with great contrast. It also has decent battery life, a comfortable keyboard, and easy upgrade paths through more and faster RAM and expanded storage, so you don’t even need to buy the top configuration right from the start.
All in all, the Acer Aspire E 15 is a great, full Windows laptop that costs as little as some Chromebooks. You can’t ask for much more in a budget Windows laptop.
Our full Acer Aspire E 15 review
The best budget Chromebook
Acer Chromebook 15
Why you should buy this: It’s extremely affordable, yet can handle your everyday PC needs.
Who’s it for: Those who want a very basic, but still enjoyable, PC.
How much it will cost: $200 to $400
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 they’ve really won us over in the past few years. 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. These systems rarely sell for north of $500, with the obvious exception of Google’s Pixelbook, which is a bit too expensive for this category. The Acer Chromebook 15’s low price brings limitations, of course. You won’t find a budget Chromebook in this price range with a fast solid state drive, or an optional discrete GPU.
Still, the Chromebook 15 is well equipped for the category. The base model has a 1,366 × 768-pixel resolution, 2GB of RAM, and 16GB of flash memory. That’s good for $200, but you’ll really get something you’re happy with the newer $400 model. It features a higher-end aluminum finish, a quad-core Pentium N4200 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 32GB of flash memory.
The downside? 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 Acer Chromebook 15 review
The best for gaming
Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming
Why you should buy this: It offers solid gaming performance for less than $1,000.
Who’s it for: Gamers, and only gamers.
How much it will cost: Starts at $700
Why we picked the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming
In late 2015, we reviewed the Dell Inspiron 15 7000, expecting it to be a typical mid-range laptop. Instead, it turned out to be a gaming powerhouse despite its $850 price tag. Since then, Dell has appropriately changed the name to the Inspiron 15 Gaming.
Hardware is paramount in a gaming laptop, and that’s where the Inspiron 15 Gaming stands out. Though it’s affordable, the system crams in an Intel Core i5 quad-core processor alongside 8GB of memory and a GTX 1050Ti graphics card. This combination is more than enough to power modern games at the laptop’s native 1080p resolution and high-detail settings. Less demanding titles, such as Battlefield 1 and Heroes of the Storm, can easily be enjoyed with most of the eye candy turned on.
Dell has compromised a few other elements in pursuit of performance, however. The display is demonstrably poor, with colors that appear distorted even to the naked eye, and the keyboard and touchpad leave much to be desired. It’s one of the worst displays we’ve tested on a laptop in years.
Still, at this price, the Inspiron 15 Gaming offers performance that just can’t be beat. There is also a 4K display option available, but we recommend against it — the GTX 1050Ti performs better when paired with a 1080p screen. And, of course, going 4K adds hundreds to the price.
You can find a few other laptops with discrete graphics for around $850, but you’ll be hard pressed to find one that offers a better overall value.
Our full Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming review
The best for work
Dell XPS 13 (2017)
Why you should buy this: It’s slick, stylish, and robust.
Who’s it for: Business travelers, anyone who needs a reliable performer for less than $1,000.
How much it will cost: Starts at $800
Why we picked the Dell XPS 13
Business laptops and budget laptops are often mutually exclusive categories. People who buy work systems tend to expect a fast processor, good battery life, and amazing build quality — which quickly inflates the price. The Dell XPS 13 is an exception to the rule.
As much as we adore the new 2018 version of the Dell XPS 13 though, the 2017 version is still a better budget choice, because it offers an Intel Core i3 iteration that starts at the much lower price point of $800, compared with the new version’s entry level $1,000.
Despite being a little outdated though, the 2017 version of the XPS 13 is still an excellent all-around performer. It’s lightweight, quick, and features excellent battery life. It’ll keep up with you no matter where you are — in the office or on the road. It’s one of our favorite laptops for a reason, it’s well-built, durable, and gets the job done.
The XPS 13 also has a number of configuration options available, offering the latest 8th-generation Intel Core i7 processors on the top-end options, and quick, reliable Core i3 and i5 options on the entry-level models. If you just need a laptop for Microsoft Office and emails, the Core i3 option is the least expensive and still provides everything you’ll need to get some work done on the go and if you have a larger budget and want newer hardware, the 2018 version is always available. No matter the configuration though, the XPS 13 is a reliable workhorse.
Our full Dell XPS 13 review
The best budget 2-in-1
Samsung Chromebook Pro
Why you should buy this: It’s quick, lightweight, and versatile.
Who’s it for: Anyone who needs a little more than a typical laptop — but doesn’t mind being tied to Chrome OS.
How much it will cost: Starts at $550
Why we picked the Samsung Chromebook Pro
The Samsung Chromebook Pro may be limited to Chrome OS, but with a super low price of entry and solid performance as a tablet, there’s more to this little 2-in-1 than meets the eye.
Not only does the Samsung Chromebook Pro save you money, it offers a degree of flexibility you don’t really get out of the other options on this list. Sometimes you don’t need a bunch of extra horsepower. If you need a tablet for light creative use and a laptop for checking your email and browsing the web, the Samsung Chromebook Pro is a compelling choice.
It’s a bit limited, in that you’ll only be able to run web apps and the occasional Android app, but you won’t find a better 2-in-1 at this price.
Not to mention, the Samsung Chromebook Pro is the thinnest, lightest laptop on this list, and it has enough battery life to see you through most of a workday.
Our full Samsung Chromebook Pro review
Should you buy now, or wait?
Intel’s 8th-generation Core processors are showing up in more and more laptops today and make for a small, but noticeable improvement over their predecessors. Those gains were achieved by cramming more cores into the processors, which is why we now have quad-core Core i7 chips in much smaller laptops than we had in the past. That’s great news for anyone in the market for a mid-range laptop, and as we’ve seen with the Asus Zenbook UX330UA, those processors are already finding their way into low-priced models.
The only reason you might want to wait to upgrade, is to see whether some of AMD’s new Ryzen mobile-equipped laptops offer better graphical performance. Those Vega-equipped APUs have proven quite effective at the low-end of the desktop chip range.
How do we test laptops?
We judge laptops on a wide variety of factors including processor, hard drive, and graphics performance, battery life, and display quality. We test these components with objective tools, rather than trying to rely on our subjective impressions. For more information on our test procedures, check out our full guide to how we test laptops.