Shopping for an inexpensive laptop means considering your needs and your must-have features. Fortunately, a variety of brands produce low-priced laptops that are suited to work or leisure. Budget laptops may come with Windows, Apple, or Chrome operating systems, so it isn't hard to find a laptop with your preferred OS in this price range. While any budget laptop is equipped for web browsing or running a word processor, not all can handle memory-intensive tasks like gaming or video editing. You should also consider the form factor of your laptop, particularly if you plan to carry it with you regularly. For working away from an outlet, consider the battery life of your laptop as well. Budget laptops may be affordable, but that doesn't mean they're lacking in features or power. For example, our Best of the Best pick can still handle all the same applications as a higher-priced computer, like Photoshop.
Considerations when choosing budget laptops
Windows 10 is the most common operating system on budget laptops and is compatible with a number of applications. If you are replacing a Windows computer, you may be able to transfer your program licenses to your new laptop.
Mac OS X is the operating system of the MacBook Air, the only Apple laptop that falls in the budget range. Though its programs are more limited than Windows 10, if you are comfortable with Mac OS X or have an iPhone or other Apple products, this may be your best option.
Chrome OS is the ideal operating system for working in the cloud. Since the operating system relies heavily on the G Suite (which includes Google Drive, Google Docs, Gmail, and other Google products), all of your work is saved online and can be easily accessed across your devices or by multiple users at once. The learning curve for Chrome OS is forgiving, especially if you are used to working primarily in a browser.
You should also consider the size and weight of the laptop if you have a long commute and plan to carry your laptop with you.
Searching for a budget laptop may mean cutting out features you won't use, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't search for a laptop that meets your performance needs.
The GPUs of budget laptops are often limited, making tasks like video editing or playing video games challenging. While some models on the higher end of the price range may be able to handle these tasks, many budget laptops do not have GPUs up to the job. Similarly, budget laptops rarely have the fastest CPUs, but some may have moderately powerful CPUs like Intel's i3 or i5 processors.
Don't forget to consider screen resolution and whether a touchscreen model is right for you. Using your laptop like a tablet is useful for some but may not be a feature you absolutely need; the same goes for high-resolution screens.
For $250 to $500, you'll find mostly smaller laptops with 2GB to 4GB RAM and slower processors--resulting in a slower overall computer. If you are just looking for a laptop for web browsing and word processing, there's no need to spend more for a faster computer.
Laptops in the higher end of the budget range cost $500 to $1,000 and often have up to 8GB RAM and processors capable of a variety of programs and tasks. These laptops may also feature larger screens and longer battery life.
Q. How long do budget laptops last?
A. Laptops in this price range can be expected to last around three years, but some high-end models may last five years or longer.
Q. Can parts of budget laptops be replaced?
A. This depends on the manufacturer and the particular laptop model. Replacing individual parts can be challenging in some laptops, like the MacBook Air.
Budget laptops we recommend
Best of the best: Acer Aspire E 15
Our take: This mid-range laptop offers 8GB RAM and features a brilliant 15.6-inch HD screen, making for a machine that can handle many of today's games and demanding programs like Photoshop.
What we like: The specs of this laptop make it well-equipped for a variety of tasks. If you aren't sure what programs you will be using, this is a safe option.
What we dislike: This laptop is on the bulkier side and is fairly heavy at 5.27 pounds. Lemons have been reported, but they are uncommon.
Best bang for your buck: Lenovo Ideapad High Performance
Our take: This is a lower-priced laptop that comes loaded with Windows 10. With 2GB ram, this computer has limited processing power, but its rotating touchscreen makes it a versatile option.
What we like: The rotating screen makes this laptop feel like a tablet, and HD video is a useful feature for video calls.
What we dislike: Despite its small size, this laptop has a fairly limited battery life.
Choice 3: Apple MacBook Air
Our take: The lowest-priced Apple laptop makes for a reliable machine for a variety of programs and tasks. Features OS X El Capitan and sports 8GB RAM.
What we like: For Apple users, this basic laptop works well with iPhones and other Apple products.
What we dislike: There are several less expensive budget laptops available.
Peter McPherson is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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