Editor’s note: The sudden rise in working from home has created unanticipated demand for laptops. As a result, many models that used to be inexpensive are now pricier. Our list of good buys is shorter as a result, but we still care about your limited budget and want to help you make good choices.
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—and doesn’t saddle you with features (or lack thereof) that you’ll regret in a year. 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.
Note: Our latest update marks the first time we’ve included a laptop powered by Intel’s latest “Ice Lake” CPU, so check out the “HP 15-inch Premium Laptop” from Amazon, below. We’ve also featured a gaming laptop that costs $150 more than our usual $500 limit, but we still think it’s a bargain given its discrete graphics card.
The best cheap laptops on Amazon
Acer Aspire 5 A515-43-R19L
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, 1920×1080 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 A515-54-59W2
Acer’s Aspire 5 has stepped up its game in this model, bringing a 10th-gen Intel CPU to a world where most bargain laptops still carry 8th-gen parts. The Core i5-10210U Comet Lake CPU is a solid four-core, eight-thread chip which is already proven to handle mainstream workloads capably, and even a bit of video editing. Another future-proofed perk: Wi-Fi 6, the latest standard for wireless networking.
We also liked its roomier 8GB of RAM for smooth multitasking performance, and a decidedly spacious 256GB SSD. It’s a bit heavy and battery life appears to be on the short side at 5.5 hours, but this would still work well as a laptop largely for home use.
CPU: Intel Core i5-10210U
Memory: 8GB DDR4 SDRAM
Storage: 256GB SSD
Display: 15.6-inch diagonal width, 1920×1080 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, 802.11ax Wi-Fi (Wi-Fi 6), Gigabit ethernet, HDMI
Dimensions: 14.3 x 9.9 x 0.7 inches
Weight: 5.75 pounds
Lenovo Flex 14 81SS000DUS
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
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 10th-gen mobile CPUs are here, we’re seeing more and more discounted laptops with perfectly good 8th-gen parts in them. Look in particular for the Core i5-8250U and the (modestly revamped) i5-8265U, a pair of quad-core processors that can ably juggle mainstream tasks. You may also see some 9th-gen Intel CPUs in the mix, and we’ve even had a laptop with a 10th-gen processor sneak onto our list; that said, we currently consider 8th-gen chips to be a much better value.
At the bargain-basement price points, however, you’re still going to see more 7th-gen, dual-core Intel Core processors; lower-end Intel chips like the Celeron and Pentium Gold; and a sprinkling of AMD’s older mobile CPUs. Those lower-end Intel and older AMD parts tend to have anemic performance, 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—too skimpy for viewing documents or videos. An HD resolution of 1366×768 suffices for an 11-inch or 13-inch display, but starts to look grainier on 14-inch displays and upward. Get Full HD (1920×1080) 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 with these discounted models, 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—you’ll probably have a tough time telling a refurbished item from a brand-new model. Amazon even 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 kinds of cheap laptops we’d actually recommend, 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.