Ultrabook reviews 2014, scoops and comparisons

Best ultrabooks under $800 (or $1000) – top 8 cheap ultrabooks in 2014

By Andrei Girbea - @andreigirbea , updated on July 11, 2014

If you’ve reached this post, you’re probably after an ultrabook and don’t want to spend a lot of money on it. That’s why I’ve put together a list of the best ultra-portables you can get for under $1000, $800 and $600 these days, and you can read all about them below.

Now, these laptops check all the Intel imposed ultrabook requirements, so they are still good looking, thin, fairly powerful and able to last for a few hours on each charge. However, the lower your budget, the more compromises you’ll need to make with your potential device, and that includes the materials used for the cases, the overall build quality, the screens, the performance and a few other features.

But hey, no laptop is perfect, and if you’re after a price-conscious ultrabook, you’ll have to learn to accept these shortcomings and choose the machine that best suits your needs and taste.

With that in mind, let’s have a look at the best budget ultrabooks you can get these days. Keep in mind that I’m mostly including modern notebooks here, powered by Intel’s Haswell platforms or later, with a few older exceptions that are still worth it today.

Best ultrabooks under $600

You can get these brand new ultrabooks for less than $600 these days, some even under $500, as long as you shop for them online and hunt down the periodical discounts.

Asus Vivobook X200LA / X200CA/ X202E

The Asus Vivobook X200LA (or S200LA as it’s known in Europe) is one of the the most interesting such cheap ultraportable. It’s a compact machine (1 inch thick, weighs roughly 3 lbs), packing only an 11.6 inch touchscreen with a TN 1366 x 768 px panel, but the overall image quality is not utterly bad.

The whole thing is built from plastic, but it’s fairly solid and sturdy. Inside you’ll find a Intel Core i3 Haswell processor, 4 GB of RAM and a 500 GB HDD, so not the most powerful hardware platform, but enough for casual everyday tasks. Of course, swapping the regular HDD for an SSD will make the whole thing a lot faster, and it’s easy to do that yourself. On top of that, there’s a 3 Cell battery on this Vivobook, which unfortunately is only enough for about 4 hours of daily use on this configuration.

The Asus Vivobook S200LA sells for roughly $499 these days (an you might find it even cheaper online), which is a pretty good price. The screen quality and the short battery life do draw it down though, but you’\ll hardly find anything similar for this kind of money, anything packing a Haswell Core platform.

Asus Vivobook S200LA - 11.6 incher with Intel Haswell hardware inside, for under $500

Asus Vivobook S200LA – 11.6 incher with Intel Haswell hardware inside, for under $500

If you don’t need this kind of hardware and only plan on using the computer for basic everyday activities, you’ve got better options, like the Asus Vivobook X200CA (same everything, but a lower-power Intel Pentium platform, for under $300), the Asus Transformer Pad T100 or the Acer Aspire Switch 10, both very compact 2-in-1 laptops that go for under $400, or maybe some of the available Chromebooks and the other 11.6 inch ultra-portables available these days. If you do need the extra power though, the S200LA is a great buy.

The Vivobook X202E series is the S200LA’s predecessor, similar in most ways, with a few exceptions: it is powered by an Intel Ivy Bridge Core i3 processor, the cased is mostly made from metal, it only features a 2 Cell battery and is available in a Light Silver color scheme, while the newer model goes in a few different color schemes. But it sells for around $400 or even less, which might be enough to get it on your radar. I did review the X202E a while ago, and you can find my detailed review over here, if interested, and the video review below.

And while we’re speaking of Asus laptops, you might want to have a look at the Vivobook S400CA (14 incher, IvyBridge hardware – detailed review over here) and the sleek Zenbook UX32A (13.3 incher, aluminum body, IvyBridge hardware – detailed review here), as you’ll find several configurations on both of these for under $500.

Other laptops that go for between 500 and 600 bucks these days are the:

  • Lenovo IdeaPad U310 (detailed reviewlatest discounts) – 13 inch laptop – you’ll get a Core i5-3317U processor, with 4 GB of RAM and 500 GB of storage for roughly $590 right now;
  • Toshiba Satellite E55T (latest discounts) – a larger 15 incher with a touchscreen, that weighs about 4.7 pounds; the Core i5-4200U CPU (Haswell!) with 4 GB of RAM and a 500GB HDD sells for under $600;
  • Acer Aspire S3 (detailed reviewlatest discounts) – a first generation ultrabook, but still, a thin and light 13 incher that goes for about $450, for a Core i3-2367M configuration, with 4 GB of RAM and a 320 GB HDD, which might be good enough for basic use.

Best ultrabooks under $800

You’ll find a fair selection of modern ultrabooks for between 600 and 800 bucks these days. You can either get a modern Haswell laptop, but settle for a entry-level configuration or/and a rather poor screen and bulky body, or you can get some of the previous generation premium IvyBridge devices, but compromise for poorer performance and battery life. The choice is yours.

- this section is currently updated. check out the post in a few days –

Lenovo IdeaPad U330 / U430

Lenovo's IdeaPad U310 - a budget ultrabook for students

Lenovo’s IdeaPad U330 – a budget ultrabook for students

While a bit heavy and thick, the Lenovo IdeaPad Haswell series (U330 – 13 incher and U430 – 14 incher) are some of the best ultrabooks in this price range, mainly thanks to their sturdy bodies, excellent keyboards and good hardware configurations.

You can get Intel Core i5-4200U combos with 4 GB of RAM and 500 GB HDDs for under $700, while the Core i7-4500U models sell for around $750. The HDDs are going to bottleneck the overall performance, but can be easily replaced with SSDs.

On the other hand, you’ll have to settle for 1366 x 768 px TN panels on these Lenovos, either non-glare non-touch ones, or touchscreens. And while the two are fairly heavy for their segments, they don’t pack very large batteries, so don’t expect to push them for longer than about 5 hours each day.

Regardless, if you need solid built and powerful machines, the IdeaPad U330 and U430 ultrabooks are definitely worth checking out. I consider them great budget ultra-portables for students and school, as they provide the punch to handle all sorts of software and the rigid bodies to tackle the daily hassle, and you might find them discounted if you’ll follow these two links: one and two.

If you do need lighter devices or a higher quality screens though on your future laptop, you’d better look somewhere else.

You'll get solid bodies and powerful hardware for a fair amount of money with the Lenovo IdeaPads U330/U430

You’ll get solid bodies and powerful hardware for a fair amount of money with the Lenovo IdeaPads U330/U430

HP Envy 6t ultrabook and 6z sleekbook

Unlike the laptops above, that feature a 13 inch screen, the HP Envy 6 comes with a 15.6 inch display, so it’s in fact an everyday laptop, just thinner and lighter than the average laptop.

You can find more about it in my review, but in just a couple of words, this computer is able to deal with most basic tasks and even a bit more, as it can be equipped with dedicated graphics. The overall built quality is good, the keyboard and trackpad are decent and the laptop can run for more than 4 hours on a charge.

We are of course talking about the Envy 6t ultrabook here, but if you want a cheaper laptop with the same body, you should have a look at the Envy 6z sleekbook as well, which starts at around $600, but packs some slower and less efficient AMD hardware.

Of course, you can get all these via HP’s website, or see this article that will show you where you can find these HP laptops slightly discounted.

HP Envy 6 - price-conscious ultrabook for the mainstream laptop user

HP Envy 6 – price-conscious ultrabook for the mainstream laptop user

Asus Zenbook UX32A

This one is right now the cheapest of the Zenbooks. And while it lacks some of the features of the Primes, it does compensate when it comes to price tags, as it only starts at about $600.

Of course, for this kind of money you only get a standard 13 x 7 screen, hybrid storage and a lower-power Intel Core i3 processor, but still part of the latest Intel Ivy Bridge platform. As a result, the laptop is going to be decently snappy for daily use, although if you plan to push it a bit harder, you’re going to be better with the Core i5 version, that goes for about $200 extra.

With the cheaper version of the UX32A you still keep the most of the looks and the thin-and-light body of the other Zenbooks, a decent keyboard and trackpad and you get 6+ hours of battery life on average daily use, which is just great. On the other hand, the laptop is a bit noisy and Asus bundles it with plenty of bloatware.

All in all, the Asus UX32A has a list price of around $750, but you can find it cheaper online these days.

Asus UX32A budget Zenbooks - keeps the looks, body and battery life of the more expensive Zenbook Primes

Asus UX32A budget Zenbooks – keeps most of the looks, body and battery life of the more expensive Zenbook Primes

Best ultrabooks between $800 and $1000

If you’re willing to extend the budget a tiny bit, you’ll find a bunch of other good laptops in this class, but I’m only going to mention some of them, the ones that menage to stand out from the crowd.

Acer Aspire M5

Acer Aspire M5 - sleek, fast and fairly affordable

Acer Aspire M5 – sleek, fast and fairly affordable

Both the M3 and the M5 Aspire lines from Acer have something in common: they are fast. The M5 is the newer breed, built on Intel’s Ivy Bridge hardware, with hybrid storage and Nvidia’s GT640M dedicated graphics. Add a 14 inch screen and 5+ hours of daily battery life, plus a price tag of around $800, and you’ll get a bit of the whole deal.

Of course, the Acer’s are not without issues, as they come with rather heavy plastic bodies and are in no way as well finished as most of the other ultrabooks you can get in stores today. Plus, that 14 inch screen is glossy and only offer 1366 x 768 px resolution.

But for the money, if you want a sleeker than average laptop that can deal with games and some heavier tasks, the Acer Aspire M5 has no competition right now.

See this link for more details and up-to-date prices.

Toshiba Portege  Z930

Toshiba Portege Z930 - the same old thin and light laptop, brought to 2012

Toshiba Portege Z930 – the same old thin and light laptop, brought to 2012

Last year’s Toshiba Portege Z830 was amongst one of the most appreciated ultrabooks of its time. The Z930, its successor, is just as good, but now packs up-to-date Intel Ivy Bridge processors and a redesigned cooling system, less noisier than it used to be.

The under 2.5 pounds body is here as well, but unfortunately Toshiba did nothing to reenforce the screen’s frame, as that one is flexible and feels like it could crack sooner than latter. Toshiba say that’s not going to happen, but if you want this ultra thin and ultra light ultrabook, you’d better treat it with extra care.

The Portege Z930 starts at about $900 right now, but you’ll probably find it cheaper online.

You should look at the Spectre XT if you want a fancy looking ultrabook

You should look at the Spectre XT if you want a fancy looking ultrabook

If you’re willing to pick between the previous generation ultrabooks, you should also have a look at the HP Folio 13, Dell XPS 13 or the Asus UX31E, you’ll find those for less than one grand these days. Just make sure you read the reviews and understand their strong points and their flaws.

HP’s Spectre XT is also an ultrabook you could consider, starting at $999 (but once again discounted online) and impressing with its astonishing looks and overall build quality.

Best ultrabook alternatives

We’re not going to focus on this matter in this post, I’ve already written a detailed post on what I consider to be the best ultrabook alternatives available right now, which includes cheaper mini-laptops that go for between 300 to 700 bucks, but also powerful ultra-portables that can offer an extra punch and more features.

And then, there’s also the Macbook Air you must consider, as you’ll find out from this post comparing Ultrabooks with the Apple MBA.

Last but not least, you can find some other good ultrabooks in our list of Top 25 ultrabooks of the moment.

Wrap up – are the cheap ultrabooks good enough for you?

The first thing you might ask yourself is whether a budget ultrabook is worth your money or not. I’d say yes, but it depends.

Do you really need a thinner and lighter laptop? Are you willing to pay a bit more for it than you’d pay for a similarly equipped regular notebook?  Do you need a laptop mainly for daily tasks and not so much for gaming or heavy duty activities? If you’ll answer yes to these questions, then an ultrabook will do fine for you, but you’ve seen that all the machines listed above have their more or less annoying issues.

In the end, it’s up to you to choose. For a portable everyday computer, I’m confident you’ll be satisfied with at least some of the units mentioned above. Some will also do fine as laptops for school, laptops for your kids or laptops you’ll just use when traveling. And one or two can even go as business or light-gaming machines.

That’s about it for now. I’ll update this list of budget ultrabooks under $1000 and I’ll keep it up-to-date, adding new models as they reach the stores. In the meantime, leave a comment if you have anything to add or if you have any questions.

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Andrei Girbea, aka Mike, Editor-in-Chief and a huge fan of mobile computers. Since 2007, I've only owned smaller than 12.5" laptops and I've been testing tens, if not hundreds of mini laptops. You'll find mostly reviews and guides written by me here on the site.

89 Comments

  1. Courtney

    July 18, 2014 at 12:51 pm

    Hi! I was browsing through great affordable ultrabooks and I found your list. So far, I’ve been eyeing the Dell – Inspiron 7000 Series 15.6.

    I just need to know if that is enough for Adobe softwares. I’m an Advertising Art student and we use A LOT of Photoshop, Illustrator, even occasional video editing (I mainly use sony vegas) and 3D modeling.

    I have a good desktop at home so mainly I just need it when I’m out. I would love to know if you have a better (and cheaper) suggestion. Thanks for your time! :)

    • Andrei Girbea

      July 18, 2014 at 4:28 pm

      Hi Courtney. What’s your max-budget and what configuration of the 7000 Series are you looking at right now? Since you have a desktop already, have you considered getting a smaller device. It’s not going to be as powerful for the money as a 15 incher, but it’s going to a be a lot easier to carry around. The 7000 is almost as heavy as a standard laptop

  2. kaycee

    July 29, 2014 at 7:52 pm

    Pls what do you think of the dell inspiron 14 7000 series. I want an ultraportable for moderate gaming and I do a lot of adobe programs too

    • Andrei Girbea

      July 30, 2014 at 7:52 am

      I haven’t personally tested it but seems like a good laptop,from the reviews I’ve read. Don’t like the Silver keyboard (no contrast, and mushy from what I’ve read) and the screen is reported to be a bit dim, which could be problematic in bright conditions.

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