Not everyone needs or can afford the latest, most powerful laptop out there. For simple tasks, such as running web-based apps such as Google docs, browsing the Internet, or sending an email, a low-powered, low-priced laptop fits the bill. That's where budget laptops come in..
In most cases though, you get what you pay for. Budget laptops often come with barebone specs: minimal drive space, memory, and slow processors. You won’t be able to use them to run the latest graphics-heavy computer games, but for giving your kids access to the web, sending a teen off to college with a computer for their studies or for you to stay up to date with Facebook, a budget laptop could be an ideal purchase.
But everyone has a different budget, so we’ve selected some of the best laptops you can get in any price range under $1,000. Our top pick is the MacBook Air M1(available at Amazon for $899.99), which we love for its near-thirteen hours of battery life, speedy processor, and thin and lightweight chassis. (It holds the top spot in most of our other laptop guides, too.)
While many of the budget laptops we tested weren’t very fast, most were more than capable of handling everyday tasks like web browsing and text editing with ease. We tested a mix of Windows laptops, MacBooks, and Chromebooks to find the best laptops for every given price point.
These are the best budget laptops we tested, ranked in order:
MacBook Air M1
Dell Inspiron 3501
HP Envy x360 15
Acer Aspire 5
Microsoft Surface Laptop 4
Lenovo Chromebook Flex 5
Asus Zenbook 14 (2020)
Asus Chromebook Flip
Gateway 15.6 (2021)
HP Stream 14
Apple MacBook Air (2020)
With nearly 13 hours of battery life, a crazy-powerful M1 processor, and an incredibly smooth trackpad and keyboard, it should be no surprise that the MacBook Air M1 shoved our previous top laptop out of its spot.
Compared to the mid-2020 MacBook Air, the M1 version is almost identical. The only changes are the switch from Intel to the Apple-made M1 processors and the total lack of fans. Apple claimed this new M1 chip would be so amazing that we’d want to ditch our old Intel Macs. They delivered, with the M1 processor packing 7,667 points in Geekbench 5, over 1,000 points higher than our third-highest laptop of 2020, the Dell XPS 15 7390 with a 9th gen Intel Core i9 processor. Basically, this $1,000 laptop performs better than most laptops twice its price.
But it’s not all about performance. The most astonishing feature of the MacBook Air is its battery life. Our battery test always pulls fewer hours from the laptops than they claim to give, so we expected the claimed 15-hour battery life to turn into nine hours—instead, we got over a dozen hours. In short, it shattered the record for the longest battery life we’ve seen from a laptop running Chrome (the previous record was nine hours and 44 minutes from the Lenovo Chromebook Flex 3). We went days on end without charging this laptop.
The MacBook Air M1 comes with the same aluminum chassis and Retina screen we loved in the earlier 2020 Intel MacBook Air, although we’d love to see a redesign for the MacBook Air’s next iteration (thinner bezels, perhaps?). This is one of the most surprising releases we’ve seen in years, and we can’t imagine anyone not falling in love with the M1 MacBook Air.
While this laptop currently retails for about $580 to $600 due to supply chain issues, it regularly goes on sale for $500 or less.
Finding a good budget laptop that can keep pace with the premium ultrabooks is no small feat. The Dell Inspiron 3501 accepts it with grace: it’s thin, lightweight, and powerful enough to run any productivity task without issue.
While the Inspiron won’t win any beauty awards, the body feels rugged and does a great job of warding off fingerprints. The full-sized keyboard offers responsive keys that perfectly toe the line between soft and bouncy. Meanwhile, the decently large trackpad is smooth and has no issue picking up your finger’s movements. Unlike many of its budget peers, the Inspiron also manages to offer power without sacrificing battery life—it can go for almost eight hours before needing a recharge.
Our Intel Core i5 model was a workhorse, performing the same (or better!) as laptops that cost hundreds of more dollars. Whether you need dozens of Chrome tabs at the ready or find yourself working with Photoshop several times a week, this laptop will perform reliably. The only issue we had with the Inspiron was its dim screen, which may not be bright enough for those who work outside traditional office spaces. It’s not the fanciest, but boy does it get the basics right, offering a comfortable experience that won’t cost a fortune.
We're currently evaluating the latest version of this laptop as the model we reviewed here appears to be no longer available. If you must get a laptop now we recommend checking out one of our other top picks.
Fast, beautiful, and affordable, the 15-inch HP Envy x360 is a dream for those in need of a larger laptop that won't break the bank. We're usually wary of $500 laptops, but this one proves that you can get great laptops without making sacrifices. Inside its beautiful body, the 15-inch Envy packs an AMD Ryzen 5 processor that trades blows with laptops twice its price—perfect for photo editing, light gaming, and even a bit of video editing.
What's even more impressive is that it can hit all the marks while still delivering almost seven hours of battery life. While it doesn't outdo the MacBook Air, it stands on par with the Air's competitors, like the HP Spectre 15 or the Dell XPS 15. It's undoubtedly the best 15-inch laptop in its price range, and we doubt we'll see a worthy contender for its crown anytime soon.
The Aspire 5 packs a lot of value into a small price tag. With a sleeker profile and a midrange processor, the Aspire 5 is ready to take on basic productivity tasks at home, work, and school. While its build isn’t as nice as pricier laptops, it has almost as much power and is perfect for someone that needs something just for writing papers, making Cricut cutting machine designs, or checking emails. Should you take it with you to your office or a coffee shop, you can squeeze a little over six hours of battery life out of the Aspire 5 before you’ll need to run to a power outlet.
Being such a low-priced laptop, the Aspire 5 had to make compromises to keep the budget so low. Its display is mediocre, with dull colors and brights that bloom the darks on-screen. Meanwhile, its mostly plastic chassis flexes under moderate pressure and may have trouble if you give it the rough treatment. The keyboard and trackpad are usable, although the keycaps have a gritty texture that’s off-putting. But, a surprising perk of the Aspire 5 is its large port selection, which includes USB-A, USB-C, Ethernet, and HDMI ports.
Despite its flaws, it’s a machine that can keep kicking for a few years if you treat it well. With a free storage drive bay inside, you can upgrade your storage later too, an option that’s become less common across laptops currently. The Dell Inspiron still stands above the Aspire 5 for our best laptop under $500, but if you want to spend the lowest amount of money possible on a machine that’s still convenient enough to use all day, then the Aspire 5 is a great choice, provided you are okay with its shortcomings.
Microsoft’s mainline Surface Laptop 4 packs just about everything you could need in a slim, portable machine. It has a beautiful high-resolution display with a 3:2 aspect ratio perfect for web browsing, a smooth and accurate trackpad, and a quiet backlit keyboard with 1.3mm of key travel—not quite as deep as we’d like, but good enough for typing longer documents. Plus, eight hours of battery life assures us that you can get through just about the whole workday on a single charge.
You also get face recognition for near-instantaneous login, a touchscreen, a USB-C, and a USB-A port—which is awfully nice during this transition period between the two standards. Plus, you get a Windows installation free of manufacturer bloatware. It does still have Windows 10’s usual pre-installed games like Candy Crush and Farm Heroes, but at least those aren’t bothering me with notifications all the time (like the antivirus trials that come on oh-so-many laptops these days).
We have quibbles with the Surface Laptop 4, but they’re small. The keyboard has just a bit of flex to it and Microsoft’s proprietary charger is more annoying to use than a standard USB-C charger would be. The charger does, however, have an extra USB port in the power brick, so you can charge your phone at the same time—a very nice touch. I also worry about the fabric keyboard discoloring over time—but these are minor nitpicks and, to their credit, Microsoft claims the fabric keyboard can be cleaned with soap and water once every month or two. We tested the Intel Core i7 model, one of the fastest laptops we’ve reviewed so far, but an AMD Ryzen model is also available with even better performance and battery life. We only managed to squeeze eight hours of battery life from our unit, but many users claim they can get north of ten hours or more. This inconsistency holds it back from being the best Windows laptop we’ve tested, but it’s still a darn good laptop.
Lenovo's Chromebook Flex 5 is a perfect mix of power, sophistication, and value. This 13-inch 2-in-1 laptop, usually found for under $400, uses quality mid-range components and has a stellar build quality that can rival laptops twice its price.
The Flex 5 we tested packs a 10th generation Intel Core i3 processor that makes ChromeOS run quickly, with no hesitation; you can open several apps and dozens of Chrome tabs before its performance takes a hit.
The gunmetal grey chassis is nothing short of stunning. The hinges are firm, and the body feels like it can take some roughhousing. The 1080p touch display is vibrant and bright and is also stylus compatible, although you have to find your own stylus. The keyboard and trackpad both feel comfortable and enjoyable to use for long periods of time.
The Flex 5’s biggest drawback is its middling battery life, which falls well below most Chromebooks’ eight-plus hour battery life. The audio is tinny and thin, making voices sound distant and muffled. Even though its webcam is only 720p resolution, its image is reasonably clear in low lighting, and the color stays neutral. However, none of these flaws are deal breakers, and the laptop offers incredible value for the money.
Compared to the 2019 Zenbook 13, the AMD-based Zenbook 14 trades in its 8th gen Intel processors for markedly better performance and battery life while maintaining the Zenbook line’s admirable portability. We were a little disappointed to see the premium build quality go on the cheaper models, but this is still a good midrange buy with some of the best battery life and weight in its class.
When you open the laptop, the comfortable keyboard stands out. It’s deep and easy to type on, and it’s not as cramped as the Zenbook 13’s keyboard. The extra inch makes a difference. This model’s trackpad isn’t the glassy glider from, say, a Macbook, but it’s nonetheless comfortable to use thanks to its width and its excellent fingertip detection.
However, we were not impressed with the Zenbook 14’s screen. This matte 1080P panel gets darker than last gen’s glossy screen, but it’s also 70 nits dimmer at max brightness. Its colors are also a bit more washed out than those of the Zenbook 13’s display.
One aspect where the Zenbook 14 far surpasses its predecessor is in performance, arguably the aspect that most affects your experience with a laptop. Its new Ryzen 5 4500U processor is blazing fast, crushing the old Intel Core i5-8500U in benchmarks, and its lower power consumption means the Zenbook 14 has a battery life of almost eight and a half hours. Overall, this is a great budget laptop for those in need of a powerful but uber-portable traveling companion.
If you’re a young professional, you should definitely check out the Asus Chromebook Flip. Its performance is good enough for everyday tasks like surfing the web and checking email, its 2-in-1 form factor lends itself well for reading and movies, and its bezels are practically nonexistent (this means you’re getting a ton of screen).
However, its sophisticated design elevates it past similar Chromebooks. With its aluminum finish and chrome trim, the C434T looks and feels like a premium product (minus the premium price tag). It’s one of the most elegant-looking Chromebooks we’ve seen in a while.
Sadly, its trackpad isn't on par with the rest of the Flip's excellent design. It’s not as responsive as a MacBook touchpad, and it could take some time to get used to. It's not a deal-breaker, per se, but it’s something to be aware of.
If you’re on a barebones budget, the 15.6-inch Gateway may catch your eye in the aisles of Walmart. The 4GB of RAM and build quality on our test model were big setbacks, but its useful selection of ports and extra storage solutions make up for it. Its Core i3 processor and 4GB of RAM have just enough power to run Windows 10 and do some light web browsing, but it will chug if you run too many tabs simultaneously.
You can’t expect too much from a sub-$400 laptop, but the Gateway does have some surprises. If you quickly find yourself running out of storage, you can either get a microSD card for the slot on the left, or you can install a second SSD stick in a hideaway compartment on the bottom. Other ports include a USB-C port, an HDMI port, two USB-A ports, and a headphone jack. There’s even a fingerprint reader at the top left of the trackpad, a rare feature for this price range.
Sadly, the build quality is not up to par. The chassis itself is all plastic, and flexing it behind the display distorts the laptop’s screen. While the screen is full HD, it’s also dim and muted even at its brightest setting. The audio, keyboard, and trackpad are about the same: serviceable, but disappointing. The sound is tinny, the keyboard is stiff, and the trackpad is rough.
If you just need a laptop that works for checking your email or writing up some documents, this Gateway laptop will meet your needs. This is a good starter laptop for many, and the fun color choices (sky blue, forest green, hot pink) make it a particularly good choice for kids.
If you’re looking for something under $300, you should look at our top pick in this category, the HP Stream 14. We’ve been testing $200 and $300 laptops for years, and while it’s a challenge to find worthwhile machines, we’re always excited to share the gems we dig up.
The HP Stream 14 won’t blow anyone away with its performance, but it works. Its 1366 x 768P display is washed out, but comfortable enough to read on and watch an occasional video. Similarly, the trackpad and keyboard will get you through any reports or emails you may need to type, but it may not be the best for your next big novel.
While our top laptops pack a punch with super-fast processors, the Stream 14 offers something closer to a gentle nudge with its performance. We run Cinebench to test most Windows 10 laptops, but the Stream only rendered about half the image after an hour of chugging (an entry-level, $400 Lenovo Ideapad 3 finished rendering the image in less than 15 minutes).
In real-world applications, even the most basic web pages took a couple of seconds to load, and anything beefier than a single Chrome tab was just a nightmare. The Stream 14’s measly 4GB of RAM and 32GB of storage mean that it can barely chug through the basic Windows processes, and adding anything else on top will notably reduce performance.
If you don’t need to buy a new laptop right now, I’d advise you to save a little more money and buy a more capable laptop. Even if you don’t mind the slow performance, the storage isn’t upgradeable and a 32GB drive will fill itself up with Windows patches alone. However, if you do need a new Windows laptop ASAP, this is one of the best laptops we’ve tested at this price range.
I'm Joanna Nelius, Senior Editor of Electronics at Reviewed. I've been reviewing gaming products and laptops for the last several years, having written for PC Gamer, Maximum PC, and Gizmodo in the past. In addition to gaming desktops and laptops, I also specialize in CPU and GPU reviews.
Hey there, I’m Adrien Ramirez, tech staff writer here at Reviewed. I’ve been working professionally with tech and PCs for six years, from game development to reviewing and everything in between. Before I came to Reviewed, I had worked with Lifewire and the MIT Game Lab. I’m passionate about all things tech, although I especially enjoy working with PCs. It takes a lot to make a great PC, and it takes a lot to know what a great PC looks like. It’s not just power—it’s build quality, touchpad sensitivity, keyboard ergonomics, display accuracy, aesthetics, and more. We all want our laptops and desktops to last as long as possible while giving us all the performance and comfort we asked for. When I’m not testing and evaluating laptops, I’m planning new keyboard and small form factor desktop builds.
Our tests for these devices aren’t based purely on processing power. Instead, we look at the overall usability of the laptop, which also depends on the quality of the screen, the keyboard, what interfaces it offers, and many other factors. We test all of these factors and assign a score for each. Then, we rate the overall usability of the laptop as a combination of all of these factors by creating an overall weighted score.
First, we look at how well each laptop performs. Because the laptops in this guide are mostly designed for running web applications like Google Docs, we utilize the web-based benchmarks Basemark and Speedometer in the most popular web browser (Google Chrome). We also test with Geekbench 5 and Cinebench R23 in order to compare its potential processing power across any app.
Most laptop displays do well in a dark room, but what about outdoors? Is a glossy screen better than a matte one? To figure out this information, we test the brightness of the display. We do this with a colorimeter like the SpyderX or X-Rite i1Display Studio, small, plug-and-play USB devices that measures luminance and color accuracy. We measure the white levels and black levels at max brightness and then again at 50% brightness.
Next, we tested the battery life of each laptop to see how long you can use them between charges. With their displays adjusted to a brightness of 200 nits, we set them to continuously cycle through popular websites, simulating the way you would use the laptop when idly browsing the web.
What You Should Know About Budget Laptops
When you purchase a cheap laptop, you’re investing in a series of compromises. They are usually equipped with low-end processors, memory, storage, displays, and keyboards—all in the name of providing consumers with the lowest-priced laptop possible. That’s not to say that these laptops are bad: Laptops that sell in the price range covered by this guide are still more than adequate for completing many tasks.
Their processors are fast enough to provide a smooth web browsing experience, allowing you to use many web apps and browser plugins, run uncomplicated software or play simple games. Using Google Docs or creating simple documents in Microsoft Word or Excel are reasonable tasks to ask of a sub-$500 laptop. Every one of the computers in this guide could handle writing essays for homework, researching schoolwork online, or making a presentation to show in class.
If you have a bit more space in your budget, many of the laptops we tested offer upgrade models that have faster processors and more drive space, which can make them more flexible for more demanding tasks. While you may not be able to run recently released major studio games on a budget laptop, you may be surprised to know how much more powerful these laptops have become in recent years.
If you want to be able to play complex computer games or plan on using your computer to run power-hungry applications like Photoshop CC, we recommend spending more money on a laptop. You don’t need to own the best computer out there for these tasks (our best under $1,000 pick, the MacBook Air M1, can handle it), but spending a little more on a midrange gaming laptop or ultrabook can land you a Windows 10 computer that you’ll be happy with for years to come.
Chromebooks versus Windows/Mac Laptops
As you compare Windows and Mac laptops to Chromebooks, you’ll notice that the budget laptops running ChromeOS are snappier than their full operating system counterparts, even though the Chromebooks tend to have lower-end processors or less RAM. This is because ChromeOS was built from a lightweight framework that takes a minuscule amount of processing power to run in comparison to Windows or macOS.
However, this does not mean that ChromeOS isn’t as capable as a Windows or Mac machine. ChromeOS’s seamless integration with the Google cloud services allows it to take advantage of Google’s powerful suite of productivity tools and platforms, such as Docs, Sheets, YouTube, Stadia, and the Play Store. There is very little you can’t accomplish without a simple web browser these days, but if you feel somewhat limited by ChromeOS’s default settings, you can develop or install custom Unix programs by putting your Chromebook into Developer mode.
What Windows and macOS offer over ChromeOS is compatibility with many legacy apps. You can download Microsoft Office on ChromeOS these days, but if you want to use something like Scrivener, you’d have to have Windows or macOS. Additionally, finding new Windows and Mac apps is easier, since you can download apps directly from developers’ websites instead of having to scrounge the Play Store or App Store in search of an app that meets Google or Apple's criteria for approval.
11-inch laptops: These tiny laptops are perfect for tossing in your bag and whipping out whenever. They’ve become less popular than they used to be, but they’re still a great choice for people who are constantly moving around.
13- and 14-inch laptops: These smaller laptops are also great for carrying around, and more than suitable for light work like writing papers and browsing the web. Their slightly larger size makes them easier to use for longer periods of time than 11-inch laptops.
15- and 16-inch laptops: Mid-sized laptops are a bit less portable, and won’t necessarily work in space-constrained spaces like airplane seats. But the larger display is useful for photo editing and watching videos.
17-inch laptops: This is very large, and only recommended if you are doing video editing or other intensive work that requires a lot of screen real estate—and you don’t mind lugging it around.
There can still be varying sizes within those categories—for example, the XPS 13’s smaller bezels make it much smaller than most 13-inch laptops—and sizes in between, like the 14-inch Lenovo Yoga C930. But in general, picking a size range you’re comfortable with can help narrow down the field.
Under the Hood
Finally, we need to discuss a computer’s base specifications: the hardware that determines how powerful your computer can be. For budget laptops, the most important hardware is the central processor (CPU), the working memory (RAM), and the storage drive.
The central processing unit is kind of like the brain of the computer. Nearly every operation the computer makes runs through the CPU. A good CPU excels at multitasking so that it can run several operations at once. This is why you’ll see CPU makers constantly trying to add more cores, or “brain parts” with each new model. Generally, more cores are better, but it’s also important to keep in mind that core speed will be more important if you’re not running anything super complex like a video game.
At this price, you’ll usually see the CPU take charge of the graphics processing; many higher-end laptops and PCs have their own dedicated graphics processor (GPU) on top of the CPU’s integrated graphics processor. For browsing the web and using office software, lower-power mobile chips like Intel’s Pentium line or AMD’s A6 chips are adequately powerful, although you’ll get the snappiest performance out of entry-level mainline processors, like the Intel Core i3 and Core i5 chips or the AMD Ryzen 3 and Ryzen 5 chips.
If, on the other hand, you run more intense workloads—whether that means heavy photo and video editing or running the latest PC games—you’ll want something with a bit more “oomph.” The high-end Intel Core i7 and Core i9 chips and the AMD Ryzen 7 and Ryzen 9 chips will make video encodes run noticeably faster, and a dedicated graphics card, like the Nvidia Geforce RTX 2060, will ensure your games run smooth as butter (instead of choppy like a bad flipbook). You may want to check out our guides for the best gaming laptops, best laptops under $1,000 or best laptops overall right now.
Meanwhile, the RAM is the information that the computer needs fast access to (your open web browser, the file you’re currently using, etc.). If the storage drive is your computer’s file cabinet, think of RAM as the files sprawled on your desk. 8GB is the sweet spot for RAM since this gives the computer enough space to breathe without adding needless costs. 4GB can work on ChromeOS laptops but expect to only run a couple of browser tabs at a time.
Finally, the storage drive contains all of your data—applications, documents, caches, the operating system, everything. While you want a lot of storage space, you also need to remember that a faster storage drive means a faster computer, and you can usually expand your storage space with micro SD cards and external storage drives. There are two main kinds of storage drives: hard disk drives (HDD) and solid-state drives (SSD). An SSD runs several times faster than an HDD, so it can make booting up programs much quicker and add to a laptop’s snappiness. They’ve gotten cheap enough that it’s more common to find an SSD than an HDD in laptops these days, but you may still find an HDD useful as secondary storage for files you don’t regularly access (old photos and videos, for instance). You’ll want at least 128GB of storage space on a Chromebook and 256GB of storage space on a Windows laptop for optimal performance.
Decoding the Naming Schemes
For CPU manufacturers, their naming scheme shows what kind of power is in the CPU. For Intel’s Core series, a Core i3 is the entry CPU, and a Core i9 is the flagship. In the sub-$500 market, it’s rare to see anything more powerful than an Intel Core i5. Their budget CPUs are called Celeron, and like with the Core CPUs, a higher number at the end means it’s newer or more powerful. We’re currently on the 10th generation of Intel CPUs, and the latest Celerons all start with 4000 (N4000, N4020, etc). Getting an older Core CPU (like an 8th gen Core i5) is usually fine for budget laptops, but you will notice worse performance from an older Celeron CPU.
AMD is much the same as Intel: A higher number in the name means a newer or more powerful CPU. AMD’s CPU lineups include the main Ryzen series and the budget A series. AMD processors are just as powerful as Intel processors. For AMD’s A-series, you may see A6, A8, and A10 processors. For AMD’s Ryzen series, you’ll likely see Ryzen 3, Ryzen 5, and occasionally Ryzen 7 processors in the sub-$500 range, but never a Ryzen 9. A Ryzen 3 is about as powerful as an Intel Core i3, and so on.
Meanwhile, RAM is usually named by its data transfer rate. Most modern laptops have DDR4 DRAM, which stands for “double data rate fourth-generation synchronous dynamic random-access memory.” But DDR5 is the latest standard becoming more prevalent as more laptops with Intel 12th-gen and AMD Ryzen 6000-series chips hit the market. However, there is still not much benefit from going with DDR5 over DDR4, currently. For most people, RAM speed doesn’t make a big difference, but if you need something to run blazing fast, you’ll want to consider RAM that’s 3600MHz or faster, and try to get at least 16GB of RAM if you plan to do any gaming or heavy multitasking.
Joanna specializes in anything and everything gaming-related and loves nerding out over graphics cards, processors, and chip architecture. Previously she was a staff writer for Gizmodo, PC Gamer, and Maximum PC.
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