The best budget laptops for 2021: We’ve reviewed hundreds of laptops, so we know what to look for in the best laptops regardless of price. The best budget laptops you can buy do everything the same as laptops costing hundreds of dollars more, and in some cases even better.
But if your laptop budget is a little smaller, or if you want to be able to play on a laptop, we’ve included options for you as well. We have options for the best laptops under $500 and laptops under $300, which is as cheap as you can get. If you want to save money, you can also check out some of the best laptop deals.
Acer Swift 3
Why you should buy it: This is the best budget laptop.
Who it’s for: Anyone who doesn’t mind sacrificing style for power.
Why we chose the Acer Swift 3 (AMD):
Finding a fast, well-built laptop for $650 isn’t easy. Typically, one of the things you give up is processing power, which comes down to low-end and/or latest-generation Intel Core processors, in addition to a build that’s plastic and lacks confidence in its long-term viability.
Fortunately, Acer has released the Swift 3, featuring the latest AMD Ryzen 7 4700U processor. For around $650 (prices fluctuate), you get an eight-core laptop with AMD Radeon integrated graphics. This helps the laptop not only perform performance tasks with ease, but also handle demanding tasks such as video encoding. The display isn’t the best we’ve seen, but you’ll forgive that when you see how well this budget laptop performs.
The $650 Acer Swift 3 also gets 8GB of RAM and a large 512GB SSD. It’s by no means a sleek or modern laptop, but it’s very well put together, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a faster or better made laptop for that kind of money.
Microsoft Surface Laptop Go
Why you should buy it: This is the best budget laptop for students.
Who it’s for: Students, buyers on a tight budget.
Why we chose the Microsoft Surface Laptop Go:
Students usually want a few things from a laptop — something that’s easy to carry around, that provides enough performance to do their homework, and something that won’t embarrass them when they pull it out to take notes. Oh, and it should be affordable. Microsoft’s new Surface Laptop Go meets all of these criteria, making it one of the best laptops for college.
To start with, this is the first Surface device offered at a budget price — in this case, $550 for a 10th-generation Ice Lake Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 64GB PCIe solid-state drive (SSD). You can spend a little more, namely $700, and double the amount of RAM and storage. These are surprisingly low prices for a Surface laptop, and they should appeal to students of all levels.
The next Surface Laptop go is a very mobile device with a 12.4-inch IPS display that, while not FHD resolution, is still very high quality and enjoyable to use. It’s great for both productivity and multimedia viewing.
Finally, the Surface Laptop Go is a cute device that comes in a variety of colors, allowing students to choose exactly what they want. It’s just as well made as all Surface devices and has an overall aesthetic – it will look great on a desk.
Lenovo Chromebook Duet
Why you should buy it: It’s the best budget Chromebook.
Who it’s for: Any budget user who doesn’t mind sacrificing performance for high value.
Why we chose the Lenovo Chromebook Duet:
Chromebooks have become a popular budget choice over the past few years, and many have won us over as well (see our list of the best Chromebooks). One style that hasn’t been as good as others is the removable Chrome OS tablet. That has changed with the Lenovo Chromebook Duet, which is not only a very comfortable tablet, but is a great value thanks to the included stand lid and removable keyboard.
The low price of the Lenovo Chromebook Duet does impose some limitations – for example, the performance isn’t the highest, although it’s good enough for the tasks you’ll want to do on it. The display is very good, but not great, with a 16:10 resolution of 1,920 x 1,200, not as crisp as Apple’s basic iPad, which the Duet competes with.
However, if you need a tablet for web browsing, light productivity and multimedia viewing, the Duet will suit you. It’s a very comfortable size tablet – although it’s a little bulky with a stand lid and attached keyboard – and it’s great in the hand. Not only is it the best budget Chromebook, but it’s also one of the best budget laptops you can buy.
The Chrome OS will take some getting used to, too. It’s not as functional as Windows, and it works best when you have an active Internet connection, but it’s more functional today than in the past. If you use Google Web services and streaming services like Netflix a lot, the Lenovo Chromebook Duet could be a great way to save a lot of money on your next upgrade.
Dell G5 SE gaming laptop
Why you should buy it: It’s the best budget gaming laptop.
Who it’s for: Gamers, and only gamers.
Why we chose the Dell G5 SE:
While the best gaming laptops are usually expensive, the Dell G5 SE is a great example of why they don’t have to be. Starting at just under $900, you get an AMD Ryzen 5 4500H processor, AMD Radeon RX 5600M graphics chip, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. You can buy a faster processor, more powerful graphics, additional and faster storage and memory if you don’t mind spending a little more. Each model comes with a 15.6-inch IPS display with 1080p resolution. For $1,049, you get a fantastic machine with 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD and a faster Ryzen 7 4800H.
With decent build quality and surprisingly good gaming performance that rivals laptops with Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 2060 GPU, the G5 SE offers an all-around solid gaming package at an impressively competitive price. It has its weaknesses, most notably the less-than-stunning display — it’s dim, but offers a high 144Hz refresh rate, which is great for gaming.
The keyboard is surprisingly good and offers RGB backlighting for $30, and overall it had to make fewer sacrifices than expected to lower the price for such a capable gaming machine.
There are much better gaming laptops out there, but we would have struggled to find one as powerful as the Dell G5 SE for this price. This is a fantastic, budget gaming machine.
HP Envy x360 13 (Ryzen)
Why you should buy it: This is the best budget laptop for video editing.
Who it’s for: Video and photo editors who need high performance and low price.
Why we chose the HP Envy x360 13 (Ryzen):
Finding a laptop for video editing under $1,000 isn’t easy. When it comes to video editing, the more cores the better. The best laptops for video editing, such as the Dell XPS 15 and 16-inch MacBook Pro, will cost you well over $2,000.
Fortunately, HP has released the Envy x360 13 with AMD’s latest Ryzen 5 4500U processor. For $730, you get an eight-core machine with AMD Radeon graphics that can handle demanding video and photo editing tasks, unlike many other laptops in this price range — or even higher. The Envy x360 actually outperforms many $1,000+ premium laptops in tasks such as video rendering.
The Envy x360 even has a great display with a pretty wide color gamut (71% of AdobeRGB and 96% of sRGB) and a DeltaE of 2.26 (not the most accurate, but not terrible either). But it’s also a bright screen with 399 nits of brightness and an excellent 1110:1 contrast ratio (we think anything over 1000:1 is very good).
For $730, you also get 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD that can be upgraded to 256GB for just $40. In addition, the Envy x360 is a great looking 360 convertible 2-in-1 laptop with pen support, giving you some creative flexibility. It’s a great laptop for creativity at an almost unbelievable low price.
Dell Inspiron 13 7000
Why you should buy it: This is the best budget-friendly business laptop.
Who it’s for: Office workers who want to play in their free time.
Why we chose the Dell Inspiron 13 7000:
Whether you’re typing up another spreadsheet or diving into a game at the end of a long day at work, the Dell Inspiron 13 7000 is a great balance as a business laptop. It has powerful and efficient general-purpose computing power, such as a ninth-generation Intel processor — options include Core i5, Core i7 and Core i9 chips — and up to 16GB of RAM, and this laptop has a dedicated graphics chip. The standard model comes with an Nvidia GTX 1050 3GB for entry-level gaming, but there’s also a new-generation 1650 option that can play all kinds of games if you tweak the settings enough.
With typical Inspiron build quality, we expect this system to borrow some great design features from the more premium XPS line, but make them available in a more affordable form. It’s not the lightest laptop at just over four pounds, but it has a great spill-resistant keyboard, full Wi-Fi 5 and Bluetooth connectivity, and a top-mounted 720p webcam for conferencing.
The Dell Inspiron 13 7000 also comes in an attractive white paint job, which helps it stand out from all its silver counterparts.
Microsoft Surface Go 2
Why you should buy it: It’s the best budget 2-in-1.
Who it’s for: Anyone who needs the mobility of a small 2-in-1 on the go.
Why we chose the Microsoft Surface Go 2:
The Surface Go 2 may be limited by its small size and, at an entry level, a low-power Intel Pentium processor — which can be upgraded to an Intel Core m3 for $130 — but it offers something unseen in the Windows world: A truly budget 2-in-1 laptop. Its build is every bit as good as its big brother, the Surface Pro 7, and it boasts a beautifully bright display on top. And the best part? It’s thin and light enough to be held in one hand like a regular tablet.
While the performance isn’t as smooth as on an iPad or even a Chromebook, these devices can’t do as many things as the Surface Go 2, which runs a full version of Windows 10. As far as battery life goes, however, it’s a bit lacking. This is a most unfortunate compromise, as this device is built for portability. In addition, we would have liked to see the excellent Type Cover keyboard and Surface Pen included.
But even with its share of flaws, the Microsoft Surface Go 2 is absolutely the best budget 2-in-1 device you can buy. Competitors in this price range don’t have high build quality and often have a less impressive display or keyboard.
Are budget laptops good?
Absolutely! Depending on what you need your laptop for, budget options can be just as good as their expensive counterparts. If you only need a laptop to watch Netflix and answer emails, a budget Chromebook can save you hundreds of dollars and perform just as well as a $2,000+ laptop.
However, you need to be careful when choosing a system. Budget laptops tend to make some sacrifices where expensive options don’t, so make sure the system you’re interested in can perform all the functions you need before you buy.
Do budget laptops have Thunderbolt 3?
Some features are not often found in budget laptops, and Thunderbolt 3 is one of them. A lot of budget laptops offer USB-C support, but only a few support Intel’s Thunderbolt 3 standard, such as the Dell Inspiron 13 7000.
Do budget laptops have good battery life?
Some do, some don’t. Models that prioritize portability tend to offer a bit more, and you’ll want to give up a dedicated graphics chip if you want maximum battery life.
However, you can find plenty of budget systems that provide a full day or more on a single charge. In some cases, an option like the Asus ZenBook 13 UX333 provides better battery life than many laptops that cost several hundred dollars more. Many Chromebooks also provide impressive battery life thanks to the ease of software.
Is it possible to find a good display in a budget laptop?
Definitely, but as with battery life or specific ports, you’ll have to choose the right laptop. A good display should be a key component of a laptop, as color accuracy and contrast can be some of the areas you can save money on in certain systems.
The best looking screen among our budget laptops is the HP Envy x360 13, which is another reason we picked it as the best laptop for video editing.
Is AMD better for budget laptops?
AMD’s release of the Ryzen 4000 line of processors has shaken up the budget laptop space. In short, the fastest machines we tested that weren’t based on 45-watt powerful Intel processors were running on AMD, and that’s serious progress. Intel is still the more dominant force in the notebook space because of the wider range of options available, but as far as processors that are installed in budget and even premium thin and light notebooks go, the Ryzen 4000 tops the performance rankings.
We highly recommend that you look to AMD when choosing your next budget laptop. If you can find a processor that fits your needs, you’ll get much better performance for the dollar.