Best Budget Laptop 2023: Our Top 6 Picks Starting at $300
Best Budget Laptop 2023: When you’re spending several hundred dollars on a device, you want to make sure you get something that meets your performance needs, but you also don’t want to spend big money on features you don’t need.
The best budget laptop models can handle all your everyday tasks like checking emails, scrolling through social media, typing up documents and more, and they can be available for less than $500.
The chip shortages of the past couple of years have made finding a good budget-friendly laptop a little trickier, though. With fewer chips available, PC makers made more midrange and premium laptops than lower-end models made to handle essential, day-to-day tasks. Inflation has driven up prices, too. So while it’s possible to find a good laptop under $500, you may need to shop around and wait for a discount. Otherwise, you may need to spend closer to $700 to get a laptop that’ll last you several years.
The good news is, we’re here to help. If you’re searching for a laptop under $500, here are the best budget laptops you can buy right now that we’ve tested and reviewed. Not sure what to look for in a good budget laptop?
This advice is based on our years of testing and review experience to figure out what to expect from a laptop priced under $500. It will also let you know what to look for if you want to continue your budget laptop hunt on your own.
Use these picks to sort through the competition. Because there are a lot of cheap laptops that aren’t worth it, try not to make rash decisions when buying.
Best budget laptops
HP Laptop 17
The HP Laptop 17 is a good pick if you want everyday performance and a bigger display. It’s perfect for home office tasks, entertainment and just general computing. Battery life is also good at nearly 9 hours in our tests. Plus, HP offers many configuration options so that you can balance price and performance to match your needs. And if you’d rather have a smaller laptop, HP makes both 14- and 15.6-inch models in this line too.
Acer Aspire 5
The Acer Aspire 5 continues to be one of the best laptop deals available. Available in 14-, 15.6- and 17.3-inch sizes, I am partial to the 15.6-inch size because it’s relatively compact and lightweight but still full-featured. Acer has a wide range of configurations to choose from starting under $400. This budget laptop also features a USB 3.2 Gen 1 USB-C port, two USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 ports, Ethernet and an HDMI port. The Acer Aspire 5 regularly includes a backlit keyboard and fingerprint reader for quick sign-ins — rarities at this price.
Lenovo Flex 5i Chromebook
This Lenovo 13-inch Chromebook two-in-one has a full-HD display as well as excellent performance and battery life for the money, thanks to an Intel Core i3-1115G4 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB solid-state drive. Battery life is great, too, at nearly 11 hours.
While it’s not overflowing with extras, the Flex 5i Chromebook does have a privacy shutter on the webcam so you can physically block it when it’s not in use. The touch display is also pen-enabled so you can write or draw it with a USI pen. It is definitely one of the best Chromebook models for its price, power and size.
Lenovo has another two-in-one option on our best budget laptop list, the Lenovo Duet Chromebook. The Lenovo Duet Chromebook is similarly priced to the Flex 5i but is a detachable two-in-one — i.e., a tablet with a removable keyboard cover. If you need a Chromebook for full-day use, go with the Flex 5i. The Lenovo Duet Chromebook is better as a secondary device for on-the-go productivity tasks and entertainment.
Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5i 14
The Windows version of the 14-inch Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5i is also an excellent value. Along with the latest 12th-gen Intel processors, Lenovo includes higher-end features like a Thunderbolt 4 USB-C port, an SD card reader, a 1080p webcam with a privacy shutter and a fingerprint reader. Plus, it reached nearly 11 hours of battery life in our tests. It regularly sells for around $700, though, so it’s definitely one you’ll have to wait for a sale to get it for $500.
HP Pavilion 14
The HP Pavilion 14 is a budget laptop that looks and performs above its price. At 3.2 pounds (1.4 kilograms), the laptop can easily be a daily carry for school or work. It could also be a good home office laptop that can be easily connected to a monitor, keyboard and mouse at a desk, but also has a screen that’s comfortably large enough for full-time use. It’s just a solid everyday laptop with a clean design. The starting price is $650, and the configuration we tested is normally $800, but it goes on sale for much less (most recently it was $550).
Lenovo Duet Chromebook
The Lenovo Duet Chromebook (aka Chromebook Duet 3) is an awesome little 11-inch ChromeOS tablet with a detachable keyboard and touchpad. Its small size and performance aren’t ideal for full-time use. But the Chromebook Duet 3 is a good pick if you’re looking for an affordable ultraportable device to get some work done on the go, sketch or jot down notes in class, or do simple stuff like email, web browsing, gaming, reading and streaming video.
The original 10-inch version of the Duet Chromebook is also still available for $300 or less.
Budget laptop FAQ
Are laptops under $500 any good?
As a rule of thumb, resist buying out of desperation — don’t spend $500 because you can’t find a cheaper laptop deal available, for example. Buying a need-it-now laptop can be like shopping for food while hungry.
Even for a laptop, $500 can be a lot of money, and you’ll likely be holding onto it for at least three years, if the statistics Intel and PC manufacturers hurl at us are correct.
You can also try to make your current laptop last a little longer. If you need something to tide you over for a few months, dig into possible places to buy refurbished machines and explore nonprofit or educational discounts if you’re eligible.
Also, if there’s something you really want in a laptop, like a touchscreen, a backlit keyboard, DDR4 RAM, an HD webcam, Intel UHD Graphics, AMD Radeon Vega Graphics or an HDMI port, check the manufacturer’s specs closely to make sure it has it. You’ll regret it if you don’t.
If you suspect you’ll be holding onto your new laptop for a while, see if you can stretch your budget to buy a slightly more expensive laptop to accommodate more than 8GB of RAM or a processor with more cores than you were otherwise considering.
If you haven’t thought about it, look at AMD Ryzen processors as alternatives to Intel Core for Windows laptops or alternatives to Intel Celeron and Pentium for Chromebooks.
Even better, if you’re comfortable with it, think about an affordable laptop with a replaceable battery (if you can find one), upgradable memory, graphics card and storage, or all of the above.
Remember to consider whether having a lighter, thinner laptop or a touchscreen laptop with a good battery life will be important to you in the future.
When it comes to storage, you can always add an external drive or two (or five, if you’re me) at some point down the road or use cloud storage to bolster a small internal drive. You can frequently set a system to boot from an external solid-state drive if necessary, too. You may see references to Intel Optane in less expensive laptops; Optane is fast solid-state memory that acts as a temporary storage space for frequently accessed files on the hard drive to speed things up. It helps, but not as much as an SSD drive.
And finally, if you’re replacing an old Windows laptop that’s not up to running Windows anymore, consider turning it into a Chromebook.
What are the trade-offs on laptops under $500?
As long as you manage your expectations when it comes to options and specs, you can still get quite a bit from a budget laptop model, including good battery life and a reasonably lightweight laptop body.
A bright spot is you don’t have to settle for a traditional clamshell laptop with a fixed display and keyboard. You can also get a convertible laptop (aka a two-in-one), which has a screen that flips around to turn the screen into a tablet, to position it for comfortable streaming or to do a presentation.
Keep in mind that all convertibles work as both laptops and tablets. A touchscreen is a prerequisite for tablet operation, and many support styluses (aka pens) for handwritten and sketched input. Don’t assume a stylus is included, though.
One thing you won’t find at these cheap laptop prices: a MacBook or any other Apple laptop. An iPad will run you more than $500 once you buy the optional keyboard (though it might work out to less if you look for sales on the tablet or keyboard), which is above our budget here. A base-model iPad with an inexpensive Bluetooth keyboard and cheap stand for the iPad might suffice.
You’ll see a lot of cheap laptops listed as coming with Windows 10 S, a stripped-down and locked-down version of the operating system intended for use by schools — it only allows you to install applications from the Windows Store, forces you to use Microsoft’s Edge browser and includes a subset of the administrative tools in Windows 10 Pro. You can upgrade to the full version for free, though.
It’s easier to find inexpensive Chromebooks than Windows laptops, making them one of the most popular budget laptops on the market, though we’re also seeing a lot more Chromebooks in the $500-to-$1,000 range.
Google’s ChromeOS isn’t nearly as power-hungry as Windows (check the specs), so you can get by with a lower-end processor, slower storage and less screen resolution or RAM — just a few of the components that make a laptop expensive.
But the flip side is Chrome and Google apps are more of a memory hog than you’d expect, and if you go too low with the processor or skimp on memory, the system will still feel slow.
ChromeOS is also a much different experience than Windows; make sure the applications you need have a Chrome app, Android app or Linux app before making the leap. Since Chromebooks are cloud-first devices, however, you don’t need a lot of storage built-in.
That also means if you spend most of your time roaming the web, writing, streaming video or playing Android games, they’re a good fit. If you hope to play Android games, make sure you get a touchscreen Chromebook.
For a cheap gaming laptop, though, you’ll still have to break the $500 ceiling to support most games. The least expensive budget laptops suitable for a solid gaming performance experience — those with moderately powerful discrete graphics processors — will run you closer to $700. Here are our recommendations if you’re looking for the best gaming laptop under $1,000.
Although, if you like to live on the bleeding edge, cloud gaming services such as Nvidia GeForce Now and Microsoft Xbox Game Pass Ultimate’s Cloud Gaming will let you play games on laptops with specs that hit the under-$500 mark.
What to look for in laptops under $500
While Chromebooks can run ChromeOS-specific and Android apps, some people need the full Windows OS to run heftier applications, such as video-editing suites. With that comes a need for a faster processor with more cores, more memory — 8GB RAM is the bare minimum — and more storage for applications and the operating system itself.
A lot of sub-$500 laptops have 4GB or 8GB, which, in conjunction with a spinning hard disk, can make for a frustratingly slow Windows laptop experience.
- A lot of Windows laptops in this range use AMD Athlon and lower-end A series or Intel Celeron and Pentium processors to hit the lower price. I don’t recommend going with an Athlon instead of a Ryzen or a Celeron/Pentium instead of a Core: Windows is too heavy for them, and in conjunction with the 4GB memory a lot of them have, you may find them abysmally slow at best.
- Because of their low prices, 11.6-inch Chromebooks are attractive. But we don’t recommend that size for any but the youngest students.
- SSDs can make a big difference in how fast Windows performance feels compared with a spinning hard disk. However, not all SSDs are equally speedy and cheaper laptops typically have slower drives. Still, even a slower SSD is faster than a slow 5,200rpm hard-disk drive.
- In the budget price range, you have to watch out for screen terminology when it comes to specs: An “HD” screen may not always be a truly high-definition screen. HD, which has a resolution of 1,920×1,080 pixels, is called “Full HD” so marketers can refer to lesser-resolution displays (1,280×720 pixels) as HD. In Chromebooks, HD usually refers to a screen with a resolution of 1,366×768 pixels. On the upside, the boom in 14-inch laptops trickles down to this price range, which allows for more FHD options in the size.
- A frequent complaint I see is about “washed-out” looking displays with poor viewing angles. Unfortunately, that’s one of the trade-offs: A lot of these use TN (twisted nematic) screen technology, which is cheap but meh. Look for IPS (in-plane switching) LCDs which are better for off-angle viewing.
- Pay attention to networking. Inexpensive models with older chipsets may only support Wi-Fi 5 (aka 802.11ac) or the older Wi-Fi 4 standard (802.11n). For the sake of longevity, look for at least 802.11ac but you can find inexpensive laptops with the latest wireless standard 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6).
Considering all specs and options — battery life, storage space, screen resolution, screen size, core processor performance, general machine and battery performance — you’ll find some of our top picks for 2022’s best Windows laptops and Chromebooks under the $500 budget in the list above, along with their pros and cons.
How we test computers
The review process for laptops, desktops, tablets and other computer-like devices consists of two parts: performance testing under controlled conditions in the CNET Labs and extensive hands-on use by our expert reviewers. This includes evaluating a device’s aesthetics, ergonomics and features. A final review verdict is a combination of both those objective and subjective judgments.
Leave a Reply