Best Budget Laptops of 2016
In recent years, budget laptops have morphed from clunky gray slabs of plastic with creaky hardware to efficient Chromebooks and Microsoft Windows-based systems that offer respectable specs, increasingly sleek styling, and significant cost savings. While the performance of cheap laptops is still decidedly modest, the best ones are quite capable of most everyday computing tasks: emailing, web surfing, creating documents, and streaming movies and shows online.
Now that consumers are getting used to cloud computing, laptop makers are content to sacrifice on-board storage. Gone are large mechanical hard drives, replaced by faster, more compact eMMC drives. The result: Even cheap laptops are getting leaner and lighter. Some manufacturers also offer clearer, crisper displays with full 1080p high definition, and a few are incorporating relatively new technologies such as USB-C ports and support for 802.11ac Wi-Fi, both faster than their predecessors.
Cheap laptops may not impress serious techies looking for feature-packed machines with lightning-fast processors, but their low prices, able productivity, and easy portability will entice many thrifty yet discerning shoppers, particularly students heading off to school. Cheapism.com's top picks under $500 include traditional laptops, Chromebooks, and even a convertible laptop/tablet hybrid with touchscreen technology.
Related: Considering a Chromebook? Read This First
Dell's Inspiron 11 3000 2-in-1 isn't particularly remarkable in terms of its specifications, which are about average for a laptop at this price. The base configuration has only 2GB of RAM and a 32GB eMMC drive, and its 11.6-inch display has standard 720p HD resolution. Don't expect any fancy USB-C ports or the latest Wi-Fi connectivity. The battery life is average at best. What makes this system uncommonly appealing is that it's a convertible laptop with a touchscreen starting at $250. For consumers looking for a cheap laptop to take care of everyday computing needs while doubling as a tablet, this is one of the few to be found at such a low price. The Dell Inspiron 11 3000 Series also comes in a variety of colors.
With an Intel Celeron quad-core processor and 4GB of built-in RAM, the Acer Chromebook 14 (starting at $299) handles most web-oriented tasks quite well and shouldn't have any trouble with online documents, videos, and the like. It's not designed for more graphics-intensive tasks, however. Another drawback is the smallish 32GB eMMC drive, and no media card reader for extra storage. Users must rely heavily on cloud storage. On the plus side, this Chromebook's 14-inch screen sports a full HD 1080p display, so expect clear, vibrant colors and text. The battery should run all day on a single charge, so this is a good choice for those who do most of their work on the go. A brushed-aluminum lid adds durability and a more expensive look.
The 14-inch VivoBook E403SA is a half-step ahead of most budget laptops in terms of its hardware. It's available with an Intel Pentium quad-core processor rather than a slower Celeron, 4GB of RAM, a comparatively large 128GB eMMC drive, and a USB-C port (starting at $369). Its performance is solid, with a sharp-looking full 1080p HD display and a battery that has run for as long as 10 hours in expert testing. The keyboard is said to be comfortable and the touchpad earns points for exceptional responsiveness. Add to this a thin, aluminum frame -- still not that common in a budget model. The Asus VivoBook E403SA comes cleanly loaded with the Windows 10 Home OS and skips that inessential software that many users just end up erasing or never using.
Chromebook fans who crave a fancier computer will like the HP Chromebook 13 (starting at $499). It's on the pricier end of the budget range, but it has a drop-dead-gorgeous 13.3-inch display, according to reviews. The base configuration comes with 4GB of RAM, a 32GB eMMC drive, and a memory card slot for extra storage. It also has two USB-C ports -- practically unheard of among the cheap competition -- in addition to a USB 3.1 port. Although some experts say the keyboard doesn't have the best feel, many late-night users will appreciate that the keys are backlit. Weighing in at a fairly svelte 2.86 pounds, this laptop is lighter than a MacBook Air, with an aluminum lid and sleek, eye-catching design.
Lenovo's ThinkPad 13 (starting at $591.75) falls a little outside the Cheapism price range for a truly "cheap" laptop, but this is a case where the extra dollars would be well spent. The base model uses an Intel Core i3 CPU, which is faster than the Intel Celeron and Pentium processors found in most budget laptops. At 256GB, the solid-state drive provides far more storage than a typical budget system. The laptop has a generous array of ports and connectivity options, including a USB-C port and support for 802.11ac Wi-Fi connections. Experts also enthuse that the keyboard is as good as you'll find on any laptop, with excellent tactile feedback. Like many computers, the ThinkPad 13 is customizable, allowing users to upgrade features at a cost, but even the base configuration promises a level of performance that's hard to find in an affordable laptop.