“a consumer reports for the cheap” — the new york times
In this review:
  1. Best Cheap Laptops
  2. Laptop Reviews
  3. Battery Life, Display, and Weight
  4. OS, Memory, Storage, and Ports
  5. How to Find Laptop Deals
  6. Discount Cheap Laptops Features Comparison Table

Cheap Laptops Buying Guide

Laptops continue to get better and more affordable than their forbears as hardware components evolve and advanced features drop through the ranks to cheap laptops. Consumers generally still must pay around $1,000 or more for a stylish brand name such as Apple or Sony, but that kind of expense isn't necessary for someone looking for a good everyday device.

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Today, a laptop under $500 will satisfy many users' requirements. Manufacturers such as HP, Dell, Toshiba, and Lenovo balance good performance with reasonable cost. These producers also offer lots of options and configurations, so you should have no problem finding just the right set of features without busting your bank account.

Our picks among the best cheap laptop computers are the Dell Inspiron 15 3521 (starting at $350) and the Lenovo G500 (starting at $330). Both models offer a good combination of performance, features, and value. The Toshiba Satellite C855D (starting at $220) is about the cheapest traditional laptop you'll find that's still worth buying. If you're curious about a Google Chromebook, experts seem to agree the Samsung Chromebook (starting at $249) is a good model to check out, although all Chromebooks have some core limitations potential buyers should be aware of. One cheap laptop we don't feel comfortable recommending is the Asus X54C (starting at $360). It looks nice enough on paper, but we saw quite a few complaints in consumer reviews about this laptop breaking down, which is disconcerting.

Many other cheap laptops have specs that promise good value and performance even if they haven't attracted enough online reviews for us to make a judgment. In fact, consumers may feel a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of budget laptops and assortment of configurations available these days. Manufacturers offer a wide array of models, many of which are nearly identical. Some are sold exclusively by certain retailers and you may find almost the same system at another vendor under a different model number. To reduce at least some of the confusion, we've specified the key components of the best cheap laptops and highlighted critical performance criteria so you know what to look for.

Expect a cheap laptop computer to run Microsoft's Windows 8, as almost all our picks do. The exception is the Samsung Chromebook, which runs Google's Chrome OS and offers a low-cost alternative to a Windows machine. Most budget laptops use Intel CPUs (or central processing units, a.k.a. processors), although some models, such as the Toshiba Satellite C855D, are equipped with AMD processors. Experts highly recommend looking for an Intel Core i3 CPU over an Intel Celeron or Pentium processor. Some of the cheapest laptops rely on Celeron CPUs, but you can often upgrade to a Core i3 for about $50 more. The standard for a laptop these days is 4 gigabytes of RAM (or random access memory), which is sufficient memory for most users' needs. Hard drives vary in size, but most of the top budget systems offer 500GB of storage for software and files.

Battery life can vary quite a bit; some of the best cheap laptops exceed five or six hours on a single charge. Perhaps the most popular display size in this price range is 15.6 inches, which is big enough that many desktop converts won't miss their monitors. Users who put a premium on portability may want to look for something smaller and lighter, such as Toshiba's fancy Portege Z930 Series ultrabook (starting at $700 for the Z935), which has a 13.3-inch display, or the Samsung Chromebook, with an 11.6-inch display. Regardless, the screen resolution should be good enough for high-definition video. Most laptops have numerous useful connectivity options, such as USB 3.0 ports, memory card readers, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, and an HDMI port for connecting a HDTV. Make sure you see the ones you want listed in the specs.

The best strategy is to use the model numbers of the top cheap notebooks simply as a rough starting point. Mail-in rebates and other discounts can put other models in play that normally fall hundreds of dollars outside the budget range. When you see an attractive offer, take a close look under the hood at the computer's key features -- processor, memory, hard drive size, and battery life -- and check for desirable extra features such as an HDMI port and at least one USB 3.0 port. Ideally, get your hands on a laptop before you buy to check out the display, test the weight, and try out the keyboard and touchpad.

Review continues below

by Michael Sweet (Google+ Profile)

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Best Cheap Laptops

Dell Inspiron 15
Gold Medal

Dell Inspiron 15

One of the latest in the company's long line of Inspiron-branded budget laptops, this model (3521) has plenty of up-to-date features, including Bluetooth support, and runs well, especially if you upgrade to an Intel Core i3 processor.

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Lenovo G500
Gold Medal

Lenovo G500

Lenovo's reputation for producing reliable, well-made systems seems to extend to the entry-level G500. It houses a capable six-cell battery and two USB 3.0 ports with fast transfer speeds. Consumers who opt for an Intel Pentium or Core i3 processor over a Celeron should find this laptop fast for the money.

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Good Cheap Laptops

Toshiba Satellite C855D
Gold Medal

Toshiba Satellite C855D

The Satellite C855D is fairly slow compared with other laptops and lacks features such as USB 3.0 and HDMI ports, but it's incredibly cheap and has demonstrated battery life of more than five hours. If you need a spare system for basics such as web surfing and email when you're on the go, the C855D will work just fine.

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Samsung Chromebook
Gold Medal

Samsung Chromebook

A Chromebook is not everyone's cup of tea, but for those who feel at home in the Google universe, it's a nice option that's cheaper and lower-maintenance than most laptops. The ultra-light Samsung Chromebook has plenty of pep to do what it needs to and its battery lasts six hours or more.

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Don't Bother

Asus X54C

The Asus X54C would be a decent laptop if its build quality was better. It's fairly fast for a budget machine with typical features, but we read a lot of complaints from users about this system breaking down.

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