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Best cheap laptops: We rate the best-sellers on Amazon and Best Buy

When you’re looking for a good, cheap laptop, knowledge is power. Every budget machine (which we’re defining as Windows laptops costing $500 or less) is the product of compromise—corners carefully cut here and there to hit a price point.

Your job is to find the one that checks off the most boxes for your needs. We’ll show you what to look for by highlighting which budget laptops among the best-sellers currently listed at Amazon and Best Buy are worth buying. We haven’t necessarily tested these specific machines (we’ll let you know if we have), but we’ve seen enough similar ones to have a good idea of the pros and cons. We’re also focusing on 14-inch and larger laptops, because part of the great deal should be getting a decent-sized display.

Both retailers’ lists change constantly, so we’ll recheck the top sellers frequently to update you on the trends. Keep reading to learn about the features that matter for any budget laptop you’re eyeballing. (This article was updated July 1, 2019.)

The best cheap laptops on Amazon Lenovo IdeaPad 130-15AST lenovo ideapad 130 15ast

The IdeaPad 130-AST has risen to the top of the rankings for an obvious reason: It's dirt-cheap. This laptop's configuration is as basic as it gets, from its AMD A9 CPU to its USB-A ports and DVD drive. It has an SSD, but it's very small. If your budget is tight, though, it will do the job.

CPU: AMD dual-core A9-9425

Memory: 4GB DDR4 SDRAM

Storage: 128GB SSD

Display: 15.6-inch, 1366x768 WLED

Graphics: Integrated AMD Radeon R5

Connectivity: Two USB 3.0 Type A, HDMI, media card reader (SD, SDHC, SDXC), 10/100 ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi

Dimensions: 14.8 x 10 x 0.9 inches

Weight: 4.63 pounds

Aspire E 15 E5-576-392H acer aspire e15

It’s clear why this one’s been on top for a long time—you get a fair amount for the money. (See our review of the latest model.) What’s nicest is the large, high-resolution display, a rarity in this price range, even if the brightness is mediocre. It’s also nice to see an 8th-generation CPU in this bargain box, rather than a leftover from a prior era. Add to that the large hard drive and the 10-key keypad, and there’s a lot to like.

It is very heavy, though.

An ease-of-use note: The DVD-RW drive takes up most of one side, crowding most of the ports onto the other side. This could become annoying if you’re trying to hook up a lot of devices at once.  

CPU: Intel Core i3-8130U 

Memory: 6GB DDR4 SDRAM

Storage: 1TB, 5,400rpm SATA hard drive and 8X DVD-RW drive

Display: 15.6-inch diagonal width, 1920x1080 resolution

Graphics: Integrated Intel UHD 620

Connectivity: One USB 3.1 Type-C, two USB 3.0, one USB 2.0, ethernet (RJ-45), HDMI

Dimensions: 15 x 10.2 x 1.2 inches

Weight: 5.27 pounds

Acer Aspire 5 A515-54-51DJ acer aspire 5 a515 54 51dj

Acer's bringing on a new generation of value-priced Aspire 5 laptops. This new model's not quite as high on the list as its predecessors, but it's giving you a good deal for around $500.

What we like most about this model compared to the older one are its quad-core Core i5 processor, its roomier 8GB of RAM, and the jump from a slow, rotating HDD to an SSD—and a decently spacious one. It's a bit smaller and noticeably lighter, too. You lose ethernet, but Wi-Fi is far more commonly used these days. 

CPU: Intel Core i5-8265U 

Memory: 8GB DDR4 SDRAM

Storage: 256GB SSD

Display: 15.6-inch diagonal width, 1920x1080 resolution

Graphics: Integrated Intel UHD 620

Connectivity: One USB 3.1 Type-C, two USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A, one USB 2.0 Type-A, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, HDMI

Dimensions: 14.3 x 9.9 x 0.7 inches

Weight: 3.97 pounds

HP Pavilion 15T hp pavilion 15t

This Pavilion consumer laptop hits a lot of high notes. Its touchscreen display is a room 15.6-inch diagonal with a good 1920x1080 resolution. The Core i5-8250U processor is a proven workhorse for mainstream applications, and the 8GB of RAM is plenty. (Many low-cost laptops try to stick you with just 4GB, which isn't enough.) Connectivity is also good, with USB-C, ethernet, and HDMI.

The cons are the weight, which is heavy, and the slow, 5,400rpm hard drive. At least it's spacious at 1TB.

CPU: Intel Core i5-8250U

Memory: 8GB DDR4 SDRAM

Storage: 1TB, 5,400rpm HDD

Display: 15.6-inch diagonal width, 1920x1080 resolution (FHD) touchscreen

Graphics: Intel UHD 620

Connectivity: One USB-C, two USB-A, HDMI, ethernet, mini SD Card reader, audio jack, 802.11ac Wi-Fi

Dimensions: 9.9 x 14.9 x 0.8 inches

Weight: 4.21 pounds

Lenovo Ideapad lenovo ideapad

This laptop caught our eye because its AMD A12 mobile CPU is about equivalent to Intel's lower-end 7th-gen Core mobile chips—in other words, it's a competent processor for mainstream tasks. It comes with a USB-C port, whereas some other budget laptops stick with USB-C. The numeric keypad is handy. It's big and heavy, though.

CPU: AMD quad-core A12-9720P

Memory: 8GB DDR4 SDRAM

Storage: 1TB, 5,400rpm SATA hard drive; DVD-RW drive

Display: 15.6-inch, 1366x768 LED

Graphics: Integrated AMD Radeon R7

Connectivity: Two USB 3.1 Type A, one USB 3.0 Type C, HDMI, media card reader (SD, SDHC, SDXC), Gigabit ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi

Dimensions: 14.9 x 10.2 x 0.9 inches

Weight: 4.85 pounds

The best cheap laptops on Best Buy Lenovo L340-17IWL 81M0S00000

A 17-inch laptop for $350? This we have to see. It’s not fancy, but if all you want is more screen, it could be worth considering. 

No surprise, the resolution of the display is just 1400x900, which is bare-bones for a display this size. Still, it will suffice for web browsing and productivity, if not photo and video editing or gaming.  

The CPU is a mere dual-core Core i3, but that can handle most mainstream tasks just fine. More importantly it has 8GB of RAM, so you can load up on software and browser tabs without a hiccup. The 1TB hard drive and integrated graphics are similarly adequate. 

Just remember that this laptop will be bigger and heavier, so not something you’d tote farther than your kitchen table. Finally, note the DVD-RW drive, an increasingly rare feature on a laptop—and something you might not want. 

CPU: Intel Core i3-8145U 

Memory: 8GB DDR4 SDRAM

Storage: 1TB HDD

Display: 17.3-inch diagonal width, 1400x900 resolution

Graphics: Integrated Intel UHD 620

Connectivity: One USB 3.1 Type-C, two USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A, one USB 2.0 Type-A, HDMI

Networking: ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi

Dimensions: 16.3 x 11.2 x1 inches

Weight: 6.17 pounds

HP Pavilion x360 2-in-114M-DH0001DX hp pavilion x360 14

This laptop gives you a decent configuration for mainstream productivity, with the bonus of convertible versatility. The catch? The display resolution. 

The 14-inch touchscreen on this laptop has a resolution of just 1366x768. That's okay on an 11-inch laptop, but a bit grainy on this larger screen size. Still, if you're just browsing the web and handling documents and spreadsheets, it'll do. 

Everything else about this machine is fine. The dual-core Core i3-8145U and 8GB RAM are a good pairing for everyday use. The 128GB SSD is on the small side, but at least it'll run faster than a traditional hard drive. 

CPU: Intel Core i3-8145U 

Memory: 8GB DDR4 SDRAM

Storage: 128GB SSD

Display: 14-inch diagonal width, 1366x768 resolution

Graphics: Integrated Intel UHD 620

Connectivity: One USB 3.1 Type-C, two USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A, one USB 2.0 Type-A, SD card reader

Networking: 802.11ac Wi-Fi, HDMI

Dimensions: 12.7 x 8.8 x 0.8 inches

Weight: 3.48 pounds

Lenovo 330S-15IKB 81F5018TUS

This laptop has been discounted from $580, so you’re getting some nicer features for the price. The Core i5-8250U processor is a proven quad-core workhorse. The 8GB of RAM that comes with it offers plenty of room to load up a bunch of browser tabs and a few hefty documents. The 128GB SSD is on the small side, but it's also much faster than a traditional hard drive--something you'll appreciate when you're booting up your system or loading a big application. 

We especially like the 1920x1080-pixel display, which is a good all-around resolution—and a sight better than the 1366x768 resolution you more often see in this price range. Even its bezels are impressively slender for this price range. 

Connectivity covers all the bases. There's a USB-C port along with USB-A; full HDMI; and gigabit ethernet plus Wireless-AC.

The caveats include a 4.12-pound weight, which will begin to feel a little heavy if you tote it all day. You'll need to haul the AC adapter as well, as the best-case battery life (per Lenovo) is about 6 hours, not quite enough to make it through a full day at school or work.

CPU: Intel Core i5-8265U 

Memory: 8GB DDR4 SDRAM

Storage: 128GB SSD

Display: 15.6-inch diagonal width, 1920x1080 resolution

Graphics: Integrated Intel UHD 620

Connectivity: One USB 3.1 Type-C, two USB 3.0 Type-A, one USB 2.0 Type-A, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, HDMI

Dimensions: 14.1 x 9.6 x 0.8 inches

Weight: 4.12 pounds

Microsoft Surface Go (4GB/64GB) Microsoft Surface Go alt primary

You could argue the Surface Go is a tablet rather than a laptop, but once you add the optional keyboard it's a nifty little productivity machine for an affordable price. It runs Windows 10 S, which gives you Windows productivity with a lighter touch so it doesn't weigh down performance (but you are limited to Windows Store apps). 

We reviewed the higher-end Surface Go with more memory and better storage, but that's not budget. The entry-level model is just $400, and a $99 black Type Cover will have you squeaking in right at $500 total. 

Display: 10-inch (1800x1200) IPS technology, 217 ppi, 3:2 ratio, 10-point touch

Processor: Intel 1.6GHz Pentium 4415Y (Kaby Lake)

Graphics: Intel HD 615 (integrated)

Memory: 4GB

Storage: 64GB eMMC

Ports: 1 USB-C, 1 Surface Connector, microSD, headphone jack

Wireless: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, LTE later in 2018

Cameras: 5MP front (Windows Hello-capable), 8MP rear (with autofocus)

Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.9 x 0.33 inches

Weights: 1.14 pounds (tablet), 1.68 pounds (tablet plus keyboard), 1.98 pounds (tablet, keyboard and charger), as measured

Budget laptops: The features that matter

Based on the current top-selling budget laptops on Amazon and Best Buy, here’s what you should expect to see in the major components: 

CPU: Huzzah! Now that Intel's 9th-gen mobile CPUs are here, we're starting to see discounted laptops with perfectly good 8th-gen parts in them. Look in particular for the Core i5-8250U, a quad-core processor that can ably juggle mainstream tasks. At the bargain-basement price points, however, you're still going to see more 7th-gen, dual-core Intel Core processors, and a sprinkling of AMD’s older mobile CPUs. Those older AMD parts tend to perform badly compared to their Intel rivals, so manage your expectations (and stick to basic computing needs).

Memory: You’ll see 4GB or 6GB of RAM, but our top picks focus on 8GB, which will give you better capacity for running multiple applications or browser tabs simultaneously. 

Storage: You’ll see a lot of hard drives and some lower-capacity (128GB) SSDs. If you’re on a budget, a slow hard drive with greater capacity could be a better deal than a fast SSD that’s barely got room for the operating system and a few applications.  

Display: Display quality is one area where vendors often skimp to hit a price point. Do your best to balance size with resolution. We advocate for a 14-inch or 15.6-inch display size, but a 13.3-inch display results in a more portable unit. An 11-inch display size is a compromise--skimpy real estate for viewing whatever you're using. A

n HD resolution of 1366x768 suffices for an 11-inch or 13-inch display, but starts to look grainier (albeit still usable) on 14-inch displays and upward. Get Full HD (1920x1080) resolution if you can. You won’t always see a maximum brightness spec, but we consider 250 nits to be a reasonable level. Anything less will limit your ability to work in brighter environments (let alone outdoors). Viewing angles could be limited, which is tolerable unless you routinely need to share your screen. 

Graphics: Expect integrated graphics that will manage everyday imagery well, but not gaming or other graphics-intensive tasks. 

Connectivity: Good news: The bulkier laptops you often see in this price range have plenty of room for ports. You should see USB-A ports, but note that those using the USB 2.0 spec are more limited in capability than those using the USB 3.0 or USB 3.1 specs. You might not see USB-C, full HDMI, or ethernet, but we look for models that have those ports.

Dimensions and weight: Many cheaper laptops are larger, heavier models. Anything over 3.5 pounds may not be something you’ll want to carry past the living room. 

Know what you want and shop smart

After seeing what’s popular among cheap laptops, you should have enough knowledge to shop for yourself. Keep in mind your priorities, whether it’s display size, storage capacity, weight or more, and you should be able to find a good deal. 

This article was originally published November 14, 2017, by Gordon Mah Ung.

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