April 17, 2024


Sapiens Digital

The Best Budget Laptops for 2020

How to Choose the Right Laptop

Gone are the days when a decent laptop would cost you north of $1,000. In this market, manufacturers are inventing new ways to outsell each other, including aggressive price cutting. It’s now possible to pick up a full-size or ultraportable Windows 10 notebook with a processor powerful enough for use at home, school, or work, for around $500 to $600. It’s also easy to find full-featured Chromebooks and hybrid systems that give you both laptop and tablet functionality in one device for as little as $300.

You should be prepared to compromise, however. While it’s certainly possible to find a powerful laptop with a 15-inch screen, you might have to make do with a flimsy keyboard and touchpad. Likewise, you could buy an impeccably made ultraportable that uses an underpowered CPU and a tiny hard drive to achieve its low price.

Components and Connectivity: What to Know

The good news is that you’ll have to accept fewer compromises with the budget laptops of today than you did in the past. Intel’s Atom, Celeron, and Pentium processors (which power most of the under-$400 laptop set) have evolved to the point that they can support most of your web browsing and basic productivity needs without feeling sluggish. The newest integrated GPUs can hold their own in browser-based Flash games and even some online games like World of Warcraft. The higher demands of AAA titles, though, still require a discrete GPU, which you won’t find in this price range. (If money is no object, check out our top-rated gaming laptops and ultraportables.)

In years past, many of the barest-budget Windows laptops would come with just 2GB of main system memory, but most nowadays come with 4GB. In terms of batteries, an ideal budget laptop has one with six cells or more. The battery life for a cheap laptop should come in at a minimum of five hours, and these days, many will last quite a bit longer. (A lower-resolution screen, which is a feature of some of these machines, can consume less power, all else being equal, and end up being a benefit of sorts.)

The Best Budget Laptop Deals This Week*

*Deals are selected by our partner, TechBargains

Acer laptop

When it comes to storage, many inexpensive systems offer up to 500GB of hard drive space. Others, particularly Chromebooks, will have only a small allotment (16GB or 32GB) of local storage, but compensate for it with generous offers of additional free cloud storage. Of course, as with anything cloud-based, you’ll need to be online to access it. Also, know that some budget machines, including many Chromebooks, use what is called “eMMC memory” as their main storage. This is not the same as the flash memory used in a true solid-state drive (SSD), and it will feel a tad sluggish if you’re used to an SSD.

In terms of features, budget laptops will come with (almost always) at least one USB 3.0 port, and possibly a USB 2.0 port or two. You also may get an SD card slot. A Wi-Fi radio that uses the speedy 802.11ac protocol is also a possibility, although the older 802.11n might still be found in machines in this price range. An HDMI output and a USB-C port are definite pluses, and you can find these on even some of the very cheapest models. You shouldn’t always expect a touch-screen display, however. (See our picks for the best touch-screen laptops.) Any 2-in-1 convertible machine, though, will by definition have a touch screen, as having one is necessary for using the machine as a tablet or in other orientations where the keyboard is covered up.

Chromebooks: The Crème de la Cheap?

Chromebooks used to be little more than glorified netbooks running Google’s Chrome OS. While these Chrome OS–based laptops are still resolutely web-centric, they now have fuller feature sets. If you spend most of your working hours in the cloud, a Chromebook will offer you much of the functionality of a regular Windows 10 or macOS laptop, and it may well deliver longer battery life, depending on the model.

Chromebook laptop lid

It will also likely cost you a lot less than other types of notebooks, as many Chromebooks come in at less than $300. Just be sure you have easy access to stable Wi-Fi wherever you’ll use one, as Chromebooks have limited offline functionality and scant local storage.

Tablets and Hybrids: 2-in-1s on a Budget

Tablets rose in popularity throughout the 2010s, and though we have plenty of reviews of those—take a look at our overall roundup of the best tablets, as well as our favorites running the Windows 10 and Android operating systems—they are sufficiently different from traditional clamshell-style laptops that they don’t make good substitutes. Some come with detachable keyboards, but even these are far less comfortable for typing on your lap than a conventional laptop.

Tablet hybrid

Convertible 2-in-1s, however, do make a good substiute for traditional clamshells. These machines let you flip between a laptop and a tablet, by folding the keyboard out of the way. You should consider one of these convertible systems if you primarily want the typing capability of a laptop, but occasionally would appreciate the lie-back, passive-consumption convenience of a tablet.

Asus Vivobook

See our guide to the best 2-in-1 convertible and hybrid laptops for more information about this popular segment of the market. In part because of their added complexity compared with traditional clamshell designs, you won’t find many affordable ones, but there are a few Windows 10 and Chrome OS-based models that cost $500 or below. They come in both permanently attached (generally 360-degree-rotating-hinge) designs, and in detachable-keyboard designs. Make sure when looking at one of the detachables that you know what comes in the box. In some cases, like with Microsoft’s spiffy Surface Go, you need to buy the keyboard base separately, and the total cost may not be as low as it first appears.

Ready for Our Recommendations?

If you’re on a strict budget, don’t lose heart. You can definitely find PCs that will offer you enough performance to tackle your day-to-day tasks without a stutter. The best ones are listed below, and we update this guide constantly, so you’re always seeing our top recommendations for the highest-performing affordable laptops.

For further in-depth breakdowns of our budget picks, take a look at our roundups of the best laptops for college students, the best laptops for kids, and the best Chromebooks.

For more general factors to consider when choosing a laptop, on the other hand, take a look at our buying guide with our top laptop picks overall.  

Where To Buy

  • Asus VivoBook S15 (S533)

    Asus VivoBook S15 (S533)

    Pros: Great value for feature set
    Snappy performance for the price
    Stylish, slim design with multiple color options
    Long battery life
    Strong port selection and useful extras (fingerprint reader, microSD slot)

    Cons: One component configuration only

    Bottom Line: The Asus VivoBook S15 is not only an excellent value for the price, but an excellent laptop all around. We found lots to love about this sleek, affordable notebook for everyday users.

    Read Review

  • Asus Chromebook C523

    Asus Chromebook C523

    Pros: Bargain-basement price for a large-screen Chromebook.
    Sleek, part-aluminum design.
    1080p panel looks crisp.
    Comfortable keyboard and touchpad.

    Cons: Glossy screen coat is a glare magnet.
    Mediocre battery life.
    No keyboard lighting.
    Poor audio output.

    Bottom Line: With its sleek design and big 1080p touch screen, the 15.6-inch Asus Chromebook C523 is a unusual bargain: a budget-friendly big-screen Chromebook.

  • Lenovo Chromebook Duet

    Lenovo Chromebook Duet

    Pros: Low price includes keyboard
    Handy tablet gestures and Android phone integration
    Decent cameras
    Good battery life

    Cons: Tepid performance
    Only one USB port and no headphone jack
    Cramped keyboard
    No memory card slot

    Bottom Line: Budget-strapped consumers and students with light computing needs will be captivated by Lenovo’s Chromebook Duet, a detachable 2-in-1 that tops better-known 2-in-1 tablets on value.

    Read Review

  • Lenovo Yoga C640

    Lenovo Yoga C640

    Pros: Great battery life
    Webcam privacy cover
    Built-in fingerprint reader
    Thin and light
    Sturdy aluminum and fiberglass chassis

    Cons: Poky performance from Intel Core i3 CPU
    Lacks legendary Lenovo typing comfort
    Frequent fan noise
    Cramped touchpad

    Bottom Line: The Lenovo Yoga C640 is a 2-in-1 convertible laptop with tepid performance, but also a reasonable price, above-average build quality, and an exceptionally long-lasting battery.

    Read Review

  • Microsoft Surface Go 2

    Microsoft Surface Go 2

    Pros: Thin, light design with excellent build quality
    Nifty built-in kickstand
    Impressive audio volume
    Face-recognition camera with 1080p quality
    Fanless, silent operation

    Cons: Keyboard cover not included
    Pricey once kitted up with accessories and ideal components

    Bottom Line: The markedly improved Microsoft Surface Go 2 offers better computing performance, a larger display, and longer battery life than the original, making it a solid work-from-home (and idle-time) companion among Windows tablets.

    Read Review

  • Acer Chromebook 714

    Acer Chromebook 714

    Pros: Handsome aluminum design.
    Comfortable keyboard.
    Google Assistant onboard.

    Cons: Too-brief battery life.
    Screen isn’t the brightest.
    Fingerprint reader not useful for cold startup.

    Bottom Line: Sorrowfully short battery life is the only thing that keeps Acer’s 14-inch, Core i3-based Chromebook 714 from setting a new standard for business-ready Chrome OS laptops.

    Read Review

  • Dell Inspiron 13 5000

    Dell Inspiron 13 5000

    Pros: Smart partial aluminum construction.
    Skinny display bezels help create a modern, compact look.
    Solid application performance.
    Comfortable keyboard.
    Has both USB-A and USB-C ports.

    Cons: No more than 256GB of SSD storage available.
    Display on the dull side.

    Bottom Line: With its stylish, mostly aluminum design and peppy everyday performance, the Dell Inspiron 13 5000 offers solid-enough ultraportable value. We’d just like a sunnier screen and roomier storage options.

  • Dell Inspiron Chromebook 14 2-in-1 (7486)

    Dell Inspiron Chromebook 14 2-in-1 (7486)

    Pros: Snappy performance.
    EMR touch display.
    Stylish, sturdy aluminum design.
    Included pen fits inside chassis.
    Comfortable backlit keyboard.

    Cons: Heavy for its size.
    Ho-hum battery life.
    Display hinges are overly stiff.
    Loud touchpad clicks.
    No dedicated video-out connector.
    No cable lockdown slot.

    Bottom Line: Dell’s Inspiron Chromebook 14 2-in-1 delivers a top-notch look and feel with premium features, but its battery life falls short of the bar, and it could stand to lose a pound.

  • Dell Inspiron 14 5000 (2019)

    Dell Inspiron 14 5000 (2019)

    Pros: Modern 10th Generation Core processor.
    Fingerprint reader integrated into power button for easy, secure login.
    Comfortable keyboard with backlighting.

    Cons: Plastic enclosure feels flimsy.
    Dull display.
    No USB Type-C ports.
    Wide bottom bezel adds to laptop’s bulk.

    Bottom Line: Dell’s Inspiron 14 5000 is peppy enough for most productivity use, but an uninspired, plastic-heavy design dampens its appeal.

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