A cheap laptop isn’t the same as a poorly made laptop. They aren’t hand-me-downs, knockoffs, or used computers from thrift stores. The best budget laptops are affordable, brand-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, 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 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 costs less than a new iPhone, but this ZenBook is a pleasant surprise. Its all-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.
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.
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. Better yet? Asus recently released an updated version, the UX331UA with thinner bezels and improved battery life.
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: $380-$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 8th-generation Core i5 CPU and 8GB of RAM. If you opt for the version with the Nvidia MX150 discrete graphics chip, then it even works well for entry-level gaming too.
Yes, its bezels are thick, but they wrap around a full HD display with surprisingly 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 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 many have won us over too. The Acer Chromebook 15 is a great example of their strengths. It has a 1080p display, a 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 — you won’t find a budget Chromebook in this price range with a fast solid-state drive or an optional discrete GPU — but they aren’t necessities for some users.
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 the newer $400 model is a real treat. It features a higher-end aluminum finish, a quad-core Pentium N4200 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 32GB of flash memory.
The downside is that it’s not the most portable system, as the 15-inch display might suggest. You’ll also have to get used to Chrome OS. It’s not as functional as Windows, and it works best when you have an active internet connection.
Our full Acer Chromebook 15 review
The best budget gaming laptop
Dell G3 Gaming Laptop
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 $750.
Why we picked the Dell G3 Gaming Laptop:
Although gaming laptops are typically quite expensive, the Dell G3 Gaming Laptop is a great example of why they don’t need to be. Starting at just $750, you get an Intel Core i5-8300 CPU, a GTX 1050 graphics chip, 8GB of RAM, and 1TB of hybrid-HDD storage, 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.
With decent build quality and good performance in a relatively light chassis, the G3 offers an all-round solid gaming package at an impressively competitive price. It does have its weak points, most notably a less than stunning display — it’s dull, but still looks good enough if you crank up the settings. Similarly, the storage options aren’t the quickest, but those are sacrifices that are worth making to keep the price down on such a capable gaming machine.
There are far better gaming laptops out there, but we’d struggle to find one that’s as powerful as Dell’s G3 at this price point. It’s a fantastic, budget gaming machine.
Our full Dell G3 Gaming Laptop review
The best budget 2-in-1
Microsoft Surface Go
Why you should buy this: It’s quick, lightweight, and versatile.
Who’s it for: Anyone who needs the on-the-go mobility of a small, 2-in-1.
How much it will cost: Starts at $400
Why we picked the Microsoft Surface Go:
The Surface Go may be limited by its small size and low-powered Intel processor, but it offers something never before seen in the Windows world: A truly budget-minded 2-in-1. It’s build is every bit as strong as its older brother, the Surface Pro, 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 as a proper tablet.
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, which runs a full version of Windows 10. On the battery front, it’s a bit lacking. That’s it’s most unfortunate compromise since this is a device made for portability. Also, we still wish the excellent keyboard and Surface Pen came bundled in.
But even with its fair share of faults, it’s absolutely the best budget 2-in-1 you can buy.
Our full Microsoft Surface Go 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.