Not everyone needs the fastest CPU and the highest-quality high-resolution display. Sometimes, a machine with a last-gen CPU and a decent Full HD display is plenty for the web browsing, email, and Office applications that make up many users' workflows. This can be true for students, and sometimes buyers are looking for a secondary machine to augment one of the best laptops you can buy.
That's where budget laptops come in. The definition is a loose one, with some machines costing a bit more but offering a lot more to go with it. But they'll save you hundreds over midrange and premium laptops that are overkill for what you need. This list will provide several options, including for gamers and those with the lowest budgets. You can check out our best laptops under $500 and best laptops under $300 lists for even more affordable options.
Dell XPS 13 (9315)
A surprisingly affordable 'premium' Windows laptop
- Aggressive price
- Very compact design
- Great battery life
- Comfortable keyboard
- Display is bright and high quality
- No headphone jack
- Performance is lacking
Why you should buy this: It's an amazing laptop for under $1,000.
Who it's for: Anyone who wants a premium laptop for much less money,
Why we picked the Dell XPS 13 9315:
Yes, the XPS 13 9315 costs $849 for its entry-level model, which is at the high end of the budget range. But it makes this list because you simply won't find a Windows laptop for less than $1,000 that can match the XPS 13's excellent build quality, attractive aesthetic, and outstanding battery life.
For that low price, you get a 9-watt Intel Core i5-1230U CPU with 10 cores and 12 threads that delivers competent productivity performance. It's not the fastest laptop we've reviewed, but it's sufficient to get your work done. As a lower-watt part, though, it affords outstanding battery life. You even get a 512GB SSD, which is a lot at this price, with a build quality and good looks that are unusual without spending a lot more.
Asus ZenBook 14 OLED
Best budget laptop
- Excellent value
- Competent productivity performance
- Great battery life
- Comfortable keyboard and NumberPad 2.0 touchpad
- Solid build and attractive aesthetic
- Outstanding OLED display
- Creative performance is lacking
Why you should buy this: The features and battery life are game-changers at the price.
Who it's for: Anyone who wants a beautiful display for less money,
Why we picked the Asus ZenBook 14 OLED:
Sometimes, companies have to cut corners to fit a laptop into a $700 price. The display is often one casualty, with a panel that might suffer in terms of color quality and contrast. The ZenBook 14 OLED is an exception, offering a spectacular OLED display that's bright, colorful, and displays inky blacks. It's equal to displays on laptops costing twice as much.
But that's not all. The AMD Ryzen 5 or 7 CPUs on offer provide competent productivity performance to go with great battery life. And, the laptop's build quality is excellent, with a great keyboard and touchpad with an LED numeric keyboard. It's a tremendous value all-around, landing it on our list of best laptops.
Surface Laptop Go 2
An excellent budget laptop for students
- Thin and light
- Comfortable keyboard and trackpad
- Good port selection
- Good performance
- No backlit keyboard
- Display's pixel density is low
- No Surface Pen support
Why you should buy this: It's the best budget laptop for students.
Who it's for: Students, buyers on a budget.
Why we picked the Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2:
Students usually want a few things in a cheap laptop — something that's easy to carry around, that provides good enough performance for getting their homework done, and something that's not going to embarrass them when they pull it out to take notes. Oh, and it needs to be affordable. Microsoft's new Surface Laptop Go 2 meets all those criteria — making it one of the best laptops for students in college.
We've linked to our Surface Go review above because the biggest change to the Surface Go 2 is the upgrade to 11th-gen Core CPUs. Graphics have been upgraded to Intel Iris Xe, the entry-level storage has been doubled to 128GB, there's an improved webcam, and the laptop ships with Windows 11 Home instead of Windows 10 in S mode. The Surface Laptop Go 2 is also a highly mobile device with a 12.4-inch IPS touchscreen display that, although it's not quite FHD resolution, is still of very high quality and a pleasure to use.
If you want a newer version, the Surface Laptop Go 3 is available, but we weren't very impressed.
Lenovo Chromebook Duet 3
A Chromebook 2-in-1 that won't break the bank
- Good enough productivity performance
- Excellent battery life
- Surprisingly good display
- Folio kickstand and keyboard included
- Strong value
- Keyboard is too cramped
- Limited to Wi-Fi 5
Why you should buy this: It's the best budget Chromebook.
Who it's for: Anyone on a budget who doesn't mind sacrificing performance for extreme value.
Why we picked the Lenovo Chromebook Duet 3:
Chromebooks have become popular budget choices over the last few years, and many have won us over as well. One style that hasn't done as well as some others is the detachable Chrome OS tablet. That changed with the introduction of the Lenovo Chromebook Duet, now in its third generation, which not only is a very usable tablet but one that represents tremendous value thanks to the included kickstand cover and detachable keyboard.
The Lenovo Chromebook Duet 3's low price brings some limitations and basic specs. Its Qualcomm Snapdragon 7c Gen 2 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of storage don't deliver stellar performance, although it's good enough for the kinds of tasks you'll want to run on it. The display is very nice, with a 15:9 2K (2000 x 1200) resolution that's not as pixel sharp as Apple's baseline iPad that the Duet competes against. If you want a tablet for web browsing, light productivity work, and consuming media, then the Chromebook Duet 3 and Chrome OS have you covered.
HP Victus 15
Solid gaming for less than $1,000
- Solid productivity performance
- Decent 1080p gaming performance
- Good keyboard and touchpad
- Conservative good looks
- Confusing configurations
- Poor battery life
- Ho-hum screen
Why you should buy this: It's the best budget gaming laptop.
Who it's for: Gamers and only gamers.
Why we picked the HP Victus 15:
Although the best gaming laptops are typically expensive, the HP Victus 15 is a great example of why they don't need to be. Often priced at less than $900, you get some impressive specs. That includes a 13th-gen Intel Core i5-13500H, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 GPU, 8GB of RAM, and a 512GB solid-state drive (SSD), with options for faster CPUs, more powerful graphics, extra and faster storage, and memory if you don't mind spending a little more. Every model comes with a 15.6-inch, 1080p IPS display, and for just a little more, that display can run at a refresh rate of 144Hz.
With a decent build quality and surprisingly good gaming performance, the Victus 15 offers an all-around solid gaming package at an impressively competitive price. It does have its weak points, most notably that the starting graphics card isn't as powerful as what you'll see in more expensive laptops, but it's still enough for entry-level gaming.
Dell Inspiron 15 3000 Laptop
A business laptop for less
- Large display
- Good keyboard and touchpad
- Solid build quality
- Spill-resistant keyboard
- Display is only Full HD
- CPU is one generation behind
Why you should buy this: It's the best budget business laptop.
Who it's for: Office workers who want to save the cash for other investments.
Why we picked the Dell Inspiron 15 3000:
Whether you're typing up another spreadsheet or winding down with a game at the end of a long workday, the Dell Inspiron 15 3000 strikes a great balance as a business laptop. It features powerful and efficient general computing power, like a 12th-generation Intel Core i7-1255U CPU, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD. That's a lot of computer for just $700, even if Intel did just announce their 13th-gen Core processors.
With the typical Inspiron build quality, we'd expect this system to borrow several great design features from the more premium XPS range but make them available in a more affordable form. It's not the lightest laptop at just under 4 pounds, but it has a great, spill-resistant keyboard, Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth connectivity, and a top-mounted 720p webcam for conferencing.
The Dell Inspiron 15 3000 also comes in an attractive business black paint job, which helps it fit in with any setup.
Microsoft Surface Go 3
The all-around best 2-in-1 for less
- Excellent build quality
- Superior display for a budget machine
- Great Active Pen support
- Small and light
- Surprisingly good real-world performance
- Can get expensive
- Mediocre battery life
- Keyboard and touchpad are cramped
Why you should buy this: It's the best budget 2-in-1.
Who it's for: Anyone who needs the on-the-go mobility of a small, 2-in-1.
Why we picked the Microsoft Surface Go 3:
The Surface Go 3 may be limited by its small size and, at the entry level, by a low-powered Intel Pentium processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of storage — the processor can be upgraded to an Intel Core i3 and twice the RAM and storage for $230 more — but it offers something never before seen in the Windows world: A truly budget-minded 2-in-1 laptop. Its build is every bit as solid as its bigger sibling, the Surface Pro 8, and it boasts a beautiful, bright display to boot. The best part? It's actually thin and light enough to be held in one hand like a proper tablet, which is a key reason why we see this as the best budget 2-in-1 laptop.
While performance doesn't feel as smooth as on something like an iPad or even a Chromebook, those devices can't do quite as many things as the Surface Go 3, which runs a full version of Windows 10. On the battery front, however, it's a bit lacking. That's its most unfortunate compromise since this is a device made for portability. Also, we still wish the excellent Type Cover keyboard and Surface Pen came bundled in.
Apple MacBook Air M1
The only MacBook that could be considered 'cheap'
- Apple's M1 blows Intel away
- Phenomenal battery life
- Excellent keyboard and touchpad
- Rock-solid build quality
- Simple good looks
- Supports only one external display
Why you should buy this: It's the only modern MacBook you'll find for well under $1,000.
Who it's for: MacBook fans who don't want to pay thousands for a newer model.
Why we picked the Apple MacBook Air M1:
The MacBook Air M1 isn't the latest and greatest MacBook, but it still holds it own in a number of ways. Its performance is still excellent, competing easily with recent generation Windows laptops. It also sports impressive battery life, with close to 20-hours between charges. In typical MacBook fashion, too, the build quality is excellent, and the display is Apple's usual Retina-grade with a high resolution and crisp, bright picture.
The design is lightweight and portable, making it good for use in transit or when commuting, and it supports the fastest possible Thunderbolt 3 connections (up to 40 Gbps) so will work well with any external display or accessory. There's not a lot of storage space in this base model, but there's enough there to get you started and external or cloud storage can make up the short fall.
This model is a few years old, but still holds its own well. Grab one while you still can.
Acer Aspire 3
Best cheap Windows laptop
- Great performance from the CPU
- Lots of storage space
- Wi-Fi 6 fast networking
- Good selection of ports
- Lacks a dedicated GPU
- Display is a little dull
Why you should buy this: It's performance is impressive for the price.
Who it's for: Anyone who wants a capable laptop for a fair price.
Why we picked the Acer Aspire 3:
For basic business and entertainment use, you'll find little better than the Acer Aspire 3. It's a very affordable laptop using a new CPU design – although based on an older Zen 2 architecture – with four cores and support for eight simultaneous threads. It has some fast DDR5 memory and a full half terabyte of SSD space, which gives you plenty of room for documents, films, and and for backing up your important data.
The onboard Radeon GPU is fine for the most casual of gaming, but it won't be powerful enough for anything taxing. With Thunderbolt 3 you could attach an external GPU if you wanted, although that's a very expensive add-on for this affordable machine. The Thunderbolt 3 ports are super handy, though. With support for up to 40 Gbps data transfer speeds, you can attach anything from an external monitor to a high-speed external storage drive.
There's fast networking on this laptop too, thanks to its Wi-Fi 6, though you'll need to use an adapter if you want Ethernet.
Absolutely! Depending on what you need your laptop to do, budget options can be just as good as their high-end counterparts. If you only need a laptop for watching Netflix and answering emails, a budget Chromebook can save you hundreds of dollars and perform no worse than something that costs $2,000 or more.
That said, you do need to be careful about which system you pick. Budget laptops tend to make some sacrifices where the expensive options don't, so be sure to make sure that the system you're interested in can do what you need it to before buying.
Certain features are less common in budget laptops, and Thunderbolt 4 is one of them. Plenty of budget laptops offer USB-C support, but only some provide Intel's Thunderbolt 4 spec. This is changing, however, and future budget laptops are more likely to include it. Good Thunderbolt 3 ports are just as good, too, so look out for them.
Some do, and some don't. The models that prioritize portability tend to offer a little more, and you'll want to skip a dedicated graphics chip if you want the most battery life. The MacBook Air M1 is amazingly efficient, offering close to 20 hours of battery life.
However, you can find plenty of budget systems that offer a full workday and beyond on a single charge. In some cases, budget laptops offer better battery life than many laptops that cost a few hundred dollars more. Many Chromebooks also offer impressive battery life thanks to how lightweight the software is.
Definitely, but as with battery life or specific ports, you'll need to pick and choose the right laptop. A good display will need to be a key component of the laptop, as color accuracy and contrast can be some areas where savings can be made on certain systems.
AMD's release of the Ryzen 4000 line of CPUs shook up the budget laptop space, and since then AMD has released the Ryzen Ryzen 6000 range and, just recently, the Ryzen 7000 series. In short, the fastest machines we've tested that aren't based on Intel's 45-watt powerhouse CPUs have been running AMD, and that's a major advance. Intel is still a far more dominant force in the laptop space with a wider range of options available, but as far as the CPUs that go into budget — and even premium thin and light — laptops, Ryzen chips rule the performance roost. That's changing, though, as Intel's 12th-gen Alder Lake CPUs make their way into budget machines even as Intel's 13th-gen Raptor Lake CPUs have been introduced.
Even so, we strongly suggest that you consider AMD when picking your next budget laptop. If you can find one that matches your needs, you'll get much better performance per buck.
- Need a new laptop? Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 is $400 off right now
- Best laptop deals: Save on HP, Lenovo, Dell and Apple
- One of the best laptop deals I saw on Black Friday is still available
- 10 best laptops of 2023: tested and reviewed
- Best Dell laptop deals: Get the Dell XPS 13 for less than $600