The best budget laptops are good enough for basic work and play. They don’t cost an arm and a leg but they also don’t feel cheap, offering decent performance, nice screens and battery life that’s good enough.
They aren’t all stodgy grey clamshell laptops, either. Many of the best laptops under $500 are Chromebooks or tablets with detachable keyboards, and if you’re willing to spend a bit more you can get an affordable premium laptop from the likes of Asus or Apple.
We’ve tested and reviewed dozens and dozens of laptops from the top manufacturers to find the best options for those on a budget. What follows is a list of the best budget laptops on the market right now, across a range of budgets and designs.
What are the best budget laptops right now?
Right now our top recommendation for the best budget laptop you can buy is the Samsung Chromebook 2. It’s a premium 2-in-1 Chromebook that delivers a 13.3-inch 1080p touchscreen, enough power to handle daily tasks and 8 hours of average battery life. It retails for just over $500, but these days you can often find it on sale for as low as $199.
If you want something more affordable, we recommend the Lenovo Chromebook Duet. Technically it’s a Chrome tablet, but since it comes with a detachable keyboard for no extra charge, it also doubles as a serviceable laptop. And with a sub-$300 price tag, it shouldn’t be too hard on your budget.
For those who want an affordable Windows machine we recommend the Microsoft Surface Go 2, a very strong successor to the original cheap Microsoft hybrid device. While its specs won’t set the computing world on fire, it still offers the power needed to get some work done on the move. And its design and keyboard cover are very impressive.
And if you prefer Apple products, the iPad 2021 with its Smart Keyboard is a surprisingly usable budget laptop. That’s thanks to improvements Apple has made to iPadOS to make it a more laptop-like experience. Granted you won’t be doing a huge range of tasks on such a device, but you can do a lot with access to one of the best app stores around.
The best budget laptops you can buy
The Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2 is a budget laptop that doesn’t feel like one, with a slick ultraportable design, a sharp-looking QLED touchscreen, and solid 8-hour battery life. It’s also going to sound great, plus its Core i3 configuration provides a ton of speed for Chrome OS.
We weren’t as happy with the vertical travel in its keyboard, which is a bit shallow. This creates a slight learning curve you’ll adapt to over time. But to get a Chromebook that looks this good (the Fiesta Red color option stands out in a sea of silver and black laptops) and feels this premium for under $500 is a great deal.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2 review.
The list of great budget laptops is dominated by Chrome devices, and the Lenovo Duet 3 (or Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 3, depending on where you buy it) is the best Chrome tablet that can be yours for as low as $359. This is effectively a bigger, more expensive follow-up to the Chromebook Duet Lenovo released in 2020, a surprisingly capable and inexpensive Chrome tablet that’s still on this list.
We loved the original Duet for its great battery life, solid performance and decent packed-in keyboard cover, all of which could be had for roughly $250. Lenovo’s new 11-inch Duet 3 costs a bit more, but it also delivers a bigger, brighter display, more ports, and the added power of a beefier Qualcomm Snapdragon 7c Gen 2 chip. It’s one of the best Chrome tablets you can buy, and the fact that Lenovo includes the keyboard cover at no extra cost helps it double as a surprisingly effective 2-in-1 Chromebook.
While the original Duet further down this list is a better buy if you’re short on cash, those who can afford it will be well-served by this excellent Chromebook.
Read our full Lenovo Duet 3 Chromebook review.
The Microsoft Surface Go 2 is a remarkably capable Windows 10 tablet that does double duty as a budget laptop replacement. On its own its a solid Windows tablet, with enough power for basic browsing and battery life that won’t leave you always hunting for a charger.
But the tablet really comes into its own when the optional Type-Cover accessory is added into the mix. That takes the entry-level $299 Surface Go 2 up to $359, but in the process turns it into a dinky laptop that’s surprisingly capable. But to keep things below $500, you have to put up with an Intel Pentium Gold processor, only 4GB of RAM and 64GB of eMMC storage. That’s hardly a mighty set of specs, but it should be enough for people who want a 2-in-1 device for reasonably lightweight productivity tasks — think web browsing, word processing, and firing out a healthy batch of emails.
Read our full Microsoft Surface Go 2 review.
If you’re looking for a good budget laptop and don’t mind the idea of a hybrid tablet/Chromebook, the Lenovo Chromebook Duet could be for you. Currently on sale for $189, you can get both the tablet and the detachable keyboard, rather than needing to pay for them separately as is the case with the Microsoft Surface Go — though that hybrid Windows 10 machine does offer a more premium experience.
The Duet isn’t as powerful as its larger sibling the Duet 3, but it’s enough for most of what you can do on a Chromebook these days. Plus. the low spec means it won’t chew through battery power. It also has an impressively sharp and bright 1920 x 1080 display that works just as well for binge-watching YouTube as it does for zipping through emails and browsing the web.
Read our full Lenovo Chromebook Duet review.
Acer’s Spin 311 is exactly what many people expect of a Chromebook: Small, inexpensive, and capable enough to handle work and light play every day. The keyboard is excellent for a Chromebook of this size and price; the battery life is solid, too, and although performance isn’t great, it’s enough to handle light, day-to-day tasks.
For students, children, or anyone looking for an extremely portable machine that gets the essentials right, the Spin 311 is one of the best Chromebooks for kids that can also compete with some of the best Chromebooks of comparable price.
Read our full Acer Chromebook Spin 311 review.
OK, the iPad isn’t really a laptop. But for roughly $449 it can be equipped with an optional Apple Smart Keyboard that turns the tablet into a form of hybrid laptop for under $500. In that way, it’s a little like the Microsoft Surface Go.
If you need to do some email work, draft up a word document, or do some light photo and video editing, this iPad is reasonably capable. Granted it’s not a powerhouse machine but few laptops on this list are. And while iPadOS has its limitations, it’s still capable of getting through a good suite of everyday tasks. And then you’ve got the rich curated ecosystem of apps to pick from in the Apple App Store, making the basic iPad a solid device for light work and serious play — even if it looks a little dated compared to the more expensive iPad Air 5.
Read our full Apple iPad 2021 review.
The Acer Aspire 5 is a full laptop for under $500, and it’s a great little machine as long as you don’t plan on unplugging it very often. It offers a good port selection, a nice 15.6-inch 1080p display, and a keyboard that’s comfy to type on. However, it isn’t the budget all-star its predecessor was thanks to its disappointing battery life: it lasted less than 7 hours in our lab testing, and under real-world conditions, it regularly started to run low after just a few hours of streaming video.
While the Acer Aspire 5 is a good deal if you need a new laptop now for not a lot of money, many of its quirks may be hard to ignore — particularly its poor battery life. That being said, it hits all the points for your basic computing needs, including steady performance and a wealth of ports.
Read our full Acer Aspire 5 review.
The AMD-equipped Asus Zenbook 13 OLED is an excellent value, offering an eye-catching 1080p OLED display and exceptional battery life in a slim, lightweight package for less than a thousand bucks.
Sure, the speakers aren’t amazing, the webcam leaves something to be desired, and there’s no headphone jack, but these are stumbling blocks you can work around. If you need a zippy little Windows ultraportable with a great screen that will last you all day long, you can’t do better than the OLED-equipped Asus Zenbook 13 at this price.
Read our full Asus Zenbook 13 OLED review.
How to choose the best laptop for you
It can be tricky to weigh up how much one can expect from a cheap laptop. You’re not going to get bleeding-edge performance or a super premium design. And you might have to make a few compromises on the display, such as how well it handles colors and how bright it gets. But that doesn’t mean you have to make do with a laptop that feels cheap; rather, you’re looking for one that’s affordable. So here are a few things to keep in mind when shopping for a laptop.
Chrome or Windows? Unless you have a budget of $1,000 or more, even the cheapest MacBook Air 2020 will be way out of your price range. As such you’ll probably need to decide whether a Windows laptop or Chromebook better fits your needs.
Chrome OS offers a lightweight operating system that will run on even the most basic hardware, yet still offers a comprehensive suite of abilities and web-based apps to get a lot of day-to-day computing tasks done. Furthermore, it now supports Android apps.
Windows, on the other hand, requires a little more power to ensure it runs smoothly. But it supports a huge range of software, far more than Chrome OS can currently dream of. And Windows is being improved upon on a regular basis, meaning you’ll be able to get the best software Microsoft can offer years after you’ve bought your laptop.
Clamshell or convertible: Budget laptops generally come in two varieties — traditional clamshell laptops or dynamic 2-in-1 convertibles. Clamshells are usually the cheaper of the bunch, and provide a traditional laptop experience with a keyboard and a non-touch screen. But if you want a touchscreen device that can also double as a tablet, convertibles (or detachables, like the Surface Go), are worth considering.
Don’t settle for less than 1080p: Unless you’re truly strapped for cash, you shouldn’t settle for most laptops with a 1366 x 768 display. These days plenty of affordable notebooks start with a display resolution of 1080p, which will make a difference when it comes to streaming Netflix shows or staring at webpages for hours on end.
How we test laptops
To find the best laptop, we run every machine through a rigorous suite of benchmarks and real-world tests to gauge how it will perform during everyday use.
We measure the average brightness and color quality of each laptop’s display using our in-house light meter and colorimeter. For general performance, we run our machines through tests that include Geekbench 5 (CPU performance), as well as various 3DMark tests to measure graphics capabilities. We also run a file transfer test to measure how fast a machine’s hard drive is, and a custom battery test that has the machine browse the internet over Wi-Fi until it runs out of juice.
When testing dedicated gaming laptops, we run benchmarks for popular games such as Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Far Cry 6 and Red Dead Redemption 2.