Looking for a competent laptop and don’t plan to spend an arm and a leg for it? This article is here to help you, as it gathers the budget ultrabooks and all-day laptops that we recommend based on our 10+ years of experience with reviewing and testing these computers.
We’ve included traditional notebooks, ultrabooks, 2-in-1 convertibles and some performance-models that can handle gaming and demanding work/school chores. Our choices primarily focus on the options available in the United States, but the article is relevant no matter if you’re living in Europe, the UK, Australia, Asia or anywhere else, albeit some of the options might be more expensive in your region.
All the computers check the right boxes we’d expect from a good 2021 device: fair build quality, fast and accurate keyboard, decent screens, performance, and battery life. Of course, the lower the budget, the more compromises you’ll have to accept, and we’ll explain which are those compromises, so you’ll know what you’re getting into.
With that in mind, let’s have a look at the best budget laptops you can get these days. You can go through the entire article or jump straight to the section of interest:
- under $500: compact 10-14 inch ultraportables and full-size 15 and 17-inch laptops;
- $500 to $1000: allround multimedia laptops, competent gaming options, and mid-tier ultrabooks.
Affordable laptops under $500 in 2021
You’ll find a fair bit of good laptops available for $500 or less, especially if you shop online and hunt for occasional discounts. Given the multitude of choices, we’ve further split this section into two parts. First, we’ll talk about options with full-size 15 and 17-inch screens, and then we’ll talk about the lighter and smaller variants in this class.
Budget ultraportable options (10 to 14 inchers) under $500
This section is reserved for the more portable options you can get for under $500 these days, but if you’re in the market for an ultra-compact laptop, you should also check out our dedicated posts on the best ultrabooks of the moment, as well as this one that exclusively focuses on 12-inch and smaller models.
We’ll mention these first, before getting to the Windows options, simply because you’ll hardly get the same experience with a Windows computer in this price range.
There are a lot of good-quality Chromebooks in the $150 to $400 price range, just make sure, and I cannot stress this enough, you understand what a Chromebook is and what it can and cannot do. In a few words, Chromebooks are excellent for web-based activities: browsing, social media, streaming, text-editing, etc. but they’re most useful when connected to the Internet and can’t run the specialized software available on Windows.
We’d recommend aiming for devices with at least 4 GB of RAM and an FHD IPS screen, you’ll find them for as low as $200 in the smaller options, and from $250 if you’re also looking for a touchscreen and convertible form-factor.
Compact Windows laptops
You’ll find quite a few Windows mini laptops that sell in the $150 to $500 price range at the time of this update. They’re fine for basic tasks like browsing, streaming, music, text-editing and make for good travel computers, small and lightweight options for your kids or inexpensive secondary computers. However, while the fact that they’re running Windows makes them more competent than the aforementioned Chromebooks, they’re nor as snappy or as nice looking or as affordable.
Nonetheless, if you must go with a Windows computer and you’re fine with the limitations (lower-performance hardware, limited storage, cramped keyboards and not always the nicest designs, among others), I’d look into these options (follow the links for more details, user reviews and buying options):
- HP Stream 11 – available for under $180, it’s compact, light (2.4 lbs) and made out of plastic, gets a non-backlit keyboard, 11-inch HD TN screen, Atom hardware, 4 GB of RAM and 32 GB of eMMC storage, as well as 38Wh 6+ hours battery. The HP Stream is also available as a larger 14-inch model, but there are better options at that size.
- Lenovo 130S – available for under $170, still compact, light (2.6 lbs) and made out of plastic, gets a non-backlit keyboard, 11-inch HD TN screen, and slightly faster Celeron hardware, 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of eMMC storage, but a smaller 32Wh 5+ hours battery.
- Asus VivoBook L203MA – available for around $200, a little bit smaller and lighter than the others (2.2 lbs), still made out of plastic and with an 11-inch HD TN screen, same Celeron hardware, 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB eMMC, but 38Wh 6+ hours battery.
We’ve also included a few budget 13-inch models, in a few different price-segments.
- Acer Swift 3 13 – reviewed here – available for around $300, larger than others (2.9 lbs) and nicer built, gets the same hardware, but a larger keyboard, a FHD IPS display and 48 Wh battery. Good value for what it is.
- Dell Latitude 13 – available for under $200 as refurbished, significantly chunkier and heavier than the other options (3.9 lbs), but with Core i3/i5 hardware, upgradeable RAM and storage, and a 43 Wh battery. Excellent value, but not as portable.
- Chuwi AeroBook 13 – available for around $450, slim and light for its class, aluminum build, backlit keyboard, IPS screen, better specs than the other options (fanless Core m3, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB storage, 38 Wh battery). Nice option for what it is, but questionable support.
Some of the better 13-inch ultraportables in the $150 to $450 range
Compact 2-in-1s and tablets
A budget of between $250 and $500 will get you a compact 2-in-1 with a touchscreen and convertible/tablet form factor. Most of these options are still built on lower-power hardware and are primarily meant for basic daily activities, but aside from the touchscreen, you’re also getting improved craftsmanship, IPS panels, and extra features.
As far as tablets go, you’ll see a lot of cheap Windows tablets from unknown manufacturers out there, but I wouldn’t recommend any, due to the questionable quality-control and post-sale services. Still, a solid deal from Amazon or Best-buy or other reputable store might be worth the risk. I’d also consider the veteran Asus Transformer Pads and Acer Switch 10s if you can still find them, but make sure to get them with at least 4 GB of RAM.
There is, however, one competent mini Windows tablet out there, the Microsoft Surface Go. The excellent build quality, the good QC and support, the 3:2 high-resolution screen with pen-support and the nice speakers are among its top selling points. It’s still powered by a low-performance platform, though, yet it can handle daily chores and you can get it with 4-8 GB of RAM and enough storage, which is hardly possible with other such tablets.
However, a better configuration sells for $400+, and the keyboard folio and the pen are not included. You can opt for the expensive, and solid quality, Microsoft versions, but there are also a bunch of good and much more affordable third-party alternatives.
The HP Elite 12 X2 (our review of a similar model) is another excellent Windows tablet, larger than the Surface Go, but also more affordable because it’s an older product based on an older Intel Core m hardware platform. Right now you can find renewed models for under $300 with 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of SSD storage, including the keyboard, and you won’t find anything even closely similar at this price-point. Follow this link for more details. I’m sure this deal won’t last for long.
Tablets aside, you can also opt for a convertible 2-in-1 in this segment. While those are not as portable as the Surface Go and don’t get the same kind of display, they are also significantly cheaper. These are our favorites:
- Acer Spin 11 – review – a compact 11-inch convertible built on Intel Apollo Lake hardware. Gets an HD/FHD IPS screen with pen support, eMMC storage and 36 Wh battery, all tucked inside a sturdy metallic build;
- Lenovo Flex 11 – Lenovo’s alternative to the Spin 11, with similar hardware and a more affordable price, but with an HD touchscreen, M.2 upgradeable storage, plastic build, and 36 Wh battery.
- Dell Inspiron 11 3000 2-in-1 – More affordable than the others, plastic build and available in multiple colors. Built on AMD A9 hardware with Radeon 5 graphics, with eMMC storage, TN HD screen and only a 28 Wh battery.
Full-size cheap laptops under $500
Budget full-size laptops have come a long way in recent years. Yes, you’re still sacrificing on some features and they’re not as nicely made as the more premium options, but you can get competent all-day computers for well under $500 these days.
Just be careful about a few things. The most affordable versions get dimmer and poorer-quality screens with TN, IPS-level or IPS panels, and some get rather small batteries and lack a backlit keyboard. These aside, you’ll most likely only find low-tier Intel Core or AMD APU hardware in this segment, but that’s OK, just make sure to get 8 GB of RAM and SSD for storage. However, if you need extra performance or want a gaming laptop, you’ll most likely have to increase your budget. We’ll talk about those options in the next section of this article.
Back to our cheap options, I’d recommend at least an Intel Core i3 configuration or one of the recent AMD Ryzen APU builds. You’ll also find Celeron/Pentium and older AMD models for under $300, but the performance gap is significant and I wouldn’t consider those on a full-size computer. On top of that, I’d go with Intel notebooks for the longer battery life and increased efficiency, or the with the recent AMD APUs for the extra graphics performance that will allow you to run some games. Be aware AMD implementations are not as efficient, though, and are also available in fewer numbers.
How about some actual recommendations? Well, here’s what we’d consider in the sub-$500 price range:
- AMD Ryzen 3 models (dual-core) – available for $300 to $450 – Acer Aspire 3, Acer Aspire 5, Asus VivoBook 15 Thin, Dell Inspiron 15 5000, HP Laptop 15, Lenovo IdeaPad L340.
- AMD Ryzen 5 models (quad-core, better graphics) – available for $450 to $500+ – Acer Aspire 3, HP Laptop 15, Dell Inspiron 15 5000.
- Intel Core i3 models (preferably Core i3-8145U or later, dual-core with HyperThreading) – from $350 – Acer Aspire 5, Asus VivoBook 15, Dell Inspiron 14 and 15, Lenovo IdeaPad S340.
- Intel Core i5 models (preferably Core i5-8265U or later, quad-core with HyperThreading) – from $400 – Acer Aspire 5, Dell Inspiron 15, HP Laptop 15, Lenovo IdeaPad S340.
These are mostly the same laptops with different hardware specs, and you should follow these links for more details on each unit: Acer Aspire 3, Acer Aspire 5, Asus VivoBook 15 Thin, Dell Inspiron 15 5000, HP Laptop 15, Lenovo IdeaPad S340.
At the same time, if you’re shopping for a basic all-day computer that you plan to primarily use for browsing, video streaming, Youtube, email and so on, you should also consider one of the existing 14 and 15-inch Chromebooks available for around $300 to $400. Go through this article for more details and recommendations.
You’ll have a harder time finding something good with dedicated graphics in this price range, or a hybrid with touchscreen and 2-in-1 form-factor. Some GeForce MX150 laptops dip below $500 at sales, though, as well as some of the basic convertibles like the Lenovo Flex, Acer Spin 3 or Asus VivoBook Flip. Follow this link for more details on the existing affordable hybrids.
Best-value ultrabooks under $1000
There are many ultrabooks selling for between 500 and 1000 bucks these days, and we’re going to mention the better ones in this section. In this budget, you can either look for a powerful laptop with solid specs, or look for an ultraportable with mid-tier specs, but a slimmer and nicer quality build. We’ll cover both cases below.
Multimedia allrounders under $1000
In this section, you’ll find either refined mid-range laptops built on Core U hardware, or better-specked versions of the lines mentioned in the sub-$500 category, with extra RAM, more storage and faster CPUs.
Our recommendations include primarily devices in the former subcategory, as compact and nicely made all-day multimedia laptops with IPS screens, backlit keyboards, as well as good hardware specs and no major flaws. Performance-wise these can smoothly handle daily chores, but also more demanding applications if needed, as well as some light games. They are not primarily gaming machines though, but rather a balanced mix of performance, portability, and features.
Here are some of the models I’d have on my radar, listed alphabetically:
- Acer Swift 3 14-inch and 15-inch – 14/15 inch all-rounders with metallic builds, Core U hardware, optional Nvidia graphics, IPS matte screens with small bezels, fast keyboard, 48 Wh batteries, from 1.45 kg / 3.4 lbs, competitively priced;
- Asus VivoBook S15 – compact and slim 15-inch all-rounder with colorful designs, metallic build, Core U hardware, optional Nvidia MX250 graphics, IPS matte screen, just a 42 Wh battery, from 1.75 kg / 3.85 lbs, competitively priced;
- Dell Inspiron 15 7000 – compact and slim, metallic build, but heavier than the other options, Core U hardware, optional Nvidia MX250 graphics, IPS matte screen, just a 42 Wh battery, from 2 kg / 4.4 lbs, rather pricey in most regions;
- HP Envy 17 – one of the very few good mid-range 17-inchers, Core U hardware and Nvidia MX250 graphics, IPS glossy screen, 56 Wh battery, from 3 kg / 6.7 lbs, fair priced;
- Lenovo IdeaPad 530s and S540- compact and slim 14/15-inch all-rounders, metallic build, Core U hardware, optional Nvidia graphics or Ryzen APUs, IPS matte screen, 45 Wh battery, from 1.7 kg / 3.75 lbs, competitively priced;
You’ll find a few more suggestions in this list of recommended 14 and 15-inch laptops, as well as in this list of notebooks with Nvidia MX250 graphics.
Those of you interested in sub $1000 allrounders with a convertible touchscreen should also consider devices like the Acer Spin 5, Dell Inspiron 14/15 2-in-1, HP Envy x360, Lenovo Yoga 730 or some of the other options mentioned in this dedicated article.
Gaming notebooks under $1000
If you’re interested in a budget gaming laptop, your options are to either go for one of the full-size devices with powerful specs you can get for under $1000 these days, or put the performance on a secondary plan and go for one of the very few sub-$1000 ultraportable laptops.
In the former case you’ll end up with 14 and 15-inch laptops built on Core H hardware and Nvidia GTX 1650, 1060 or even 1660Ti graphics, while in the latter you’ll mostly have to settle for Core U laptops with MX250 and maybe GTX 1650 graphics, but in smaller and nicer built packages. It’s up to you, and both sub-sections are covered in-depth in this dedicated article.
Mid-tier ultrabooks under $1000
If you’re after a premium thin-and-light ultrabook, $1000 can buy you base-level versions of the ultra-compact Dell XPS 13 and Microsoft Surface Laptop, the convertible HP Spectre X360 or the ultra-lights LG Gram 14 and Asus Zenbook UX391 series, to name just some of the top options. Those should be good enough for most users, as long as you can get a Core i5 configuration with 8 GB of RAM and preferably at least 256 GB of storage.
On the other hand, if you’d rather get better specs for your money or you’d rather spend less, there are many other great options you could consider instead.
- Asus Zenbook UX333 (13-inch) and 433(14-inch) – from $899 – light and compact options with narrow bezels, matte or touch screens, Core U hardware and optional MX150 graphics, 50 Wh batteries, from 1.1 kg (2.4 lbs);
- Asus Zenbook UX331 – from under $800 – 13-inch ultralight and slim model, matte IPS screen, Core U hardware and MX150 Max-Q, 50 Wh battery, 1.15 kg (2.5 lbs) ;
- Acer Swift 3 SF314-55 – from $799 – 14-inch model, slightly heavier than others, but sturdily built, matte ISP screen, Core U hardware and MX150 Max-Q, 48 Wh battery, 1.35 kg (3 lbs);
- Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 – from $949 – 13-inch convertible with 360-degrees IPS touchscreen, compact metallic build, Core U hardware, 38 Wh battery, 1.4 kg (3.1 lbs);
- HP Envy 13 – from $799 – 13-inch light and compact model, matte or touch IPS screen, Core U hardware and optional MX150 Max-Q, 53 Wh battery, 1.25 kg (2.8 lbs) ;
- Lenovo IdeaPad 720s – from $899 for a top-specced version – 14-inch model, well built and compact, but a bit heavier than the other options, Core U hardware and MX150, 55 Wh battery, 1.45 kg (3.5 lbs) ;
- Lenovo ThinkPad T480 – from $849, but the base versions are poorly specked – 14-inch business laptop, highly configurable, solid build quality and great keyboard, Core U hardware and optional MX150, from 48 Wh battery, from 1.6 kg (3.6 lbs);
- Microsoft Surface Pro – from $899 for base model without the keyboard – 12.3-inch tablet with high-resolution 3:2 touchscreen, Core U hardware, 38 Wh battery, from 1.75 lbs (.8 kg) without keyboard;
- MSI Modern 14 – under $900 for the base model with Core i5/MX250 hardware, compact and ultra-light, 52 Wh battery, from 2.6 lbs (1.2 kg).
All in all, there are a lot of great laptops available for under $1000 these days and quite a few good ones selling for between $200 and $500. You’ll still have to make some sacrifices if you go into the lower tiers, that’s true, but you can find something good-enough no matter what your budget is, as long as you have the right expectations.
We’ve mentioned some of our favorite recommendations above, but there are also others you might want to consider in certain regions, so if you need any help picking the best option for your needs and budget, don’t hesitate to get in touch in the comments section below, or check out some of the other articles on the site:
- my lists of recommended 11 inch, 13 inch, 14 and 15 inch ultrabooks;
- my selection of 2-in-1 hybrids;
- my selection of affordable Chromebooks that sell for between $199 and $399;
- my selection of powerful ultraportables able to handle games and complex software (programming, photo/video editing, etc).
Keep in mind that I’m constantly updating this list of budget laptops under $1000, adding new models as they are launched and retiring the older versions as they become obsolete. We’re a small team, though, and there might be some delays, so if spot any units that should be in here and are not, just let us know in the comments section.