The Best Cheap Laptops of 2018 | Tech News
How to Get the Best Laptop Under $500
Gone are the days when a decent laptop would cost you north of $1,000. In this market, manufacturers are inventing new ways to outsell each other, including aggressive price cutting. It’s now possible to pick up a full-size or ultraportable Windows 10 notebook with a processor powerful enough for use at home, school, or work, for around $500. It’s also easy to find full-featured chromebooks and hybrid systems that give you both laptop and tablet functionality in one device for as little as $200.
You should be prepared to compromise, however. While it’s certainly possible to find a powerful laptop with a 15-inch screen, you might have to make do with a flimsy keyboard and touchpad. Likewise, you could buy an impeccably made ultraportable that uses an underpowered CPU and a tiny hard drive to achieve its low price.
Components and Features
The good news is that you’ll have to accept fewer compromises with the budget laptops of today than you did in the past. Intel’s Atom, Celeron, and Pentium processors (which power most of the under-$500 laptop set) have evolved to the point that they can support most of your Web browsing and basic productivity needs without feeling sluggish. The newest integrated GPUs can hold their own in browser-based Flash games and even some online games like World of Warcraft. The higher demands of AAA titles, though, still require a discrete GPU, which you won’t find in this price range. (If money is no object, check out our top-rated gaming laptops and ultraportables.)
In years past, many of the barest-budget Windows laptops would come with just 2GB of main system memory, but most nowadays come with 4GB. In terms of batteries, an ideal budget laptop has one with six cells or more. The battery life for a cheap laptop should come in at a minimum of five hours, and these days, many will last quite a bit longer. (A lower-resolution screen, which is a feature of some of these machines, can consume less power, all else being equal, and end up being a benefit of sorts.)
When it comes to storage, many inexpensive systems offer up to 500GB of hard drive space. Others, particularly chromebooks, will only have a small allotment (16GB or 32GB) of local storage, but compensate for it with generous offers of additional free cloud storage. Of course, as with anything cloud-based, you’ll need to be online to access it. Also, know that some budget machines, including many chromebooks, use what is called “eMMC memory” as their main storage. This is not the same as the flash memory used in a true solid-state drive (SSD), and it will feel a tad sluggish if you’re used to an SSD.
In terms of features, budget laptops will come with (almost always) at least one USB 3.0 port, and possibly a USB 2.0 port or two. You also may get an SD card slot. A Wi-Fi radio that uses the speedy 802.11ac protocol is also a possibility, although the older 802.11n is more common in machines in this price range. An HDMI output and a USB-C port are a definite plus, and you can find these on even some of the very cheapest models. You shouldn’t always expect a touch-screen display, however.
See How We Test Laptops
Chromebooks used to be little more than glorified netbooks running Google’s Chrome OS. While these Chrome OS–based laptops are still Web-centric, they now have fuller feature sets. If you spend most of your working hours in the cloud, a chromebook will offer you much of the functionality as a regular laptop, and it may well deliver longer battery life, depending on the model.
It will also likely cost you a lot less than other types of notebooks, as many chromebooks come in at less than $300. Just be sure you have easy access to stable Wi-Fi wherever you’ll use one, as chromebooks have limited offline functionality and scant local storage.
Tablets and Hybrids
Throughout the ’10s, tablets have risen in popularity, and though we have plenty of reviews of those—take a look at our overall roundup of the best tablets, as well as our favorites running the Windows and Android operating systems—they are sufficiently different enough from traditional clamshell-style laptops that they don’t make good substitutes.
If you’re deciding between a laptop and a Windows tablet, however, there is an alternative you’ll want to examine closely: the laptop/tablet hybrid. These machines let you flip between a laptop and a tablet, either by folding the keyboard out of the way or by docking the tablet portion on a keyboard accessory to get laptop-like functionality. You should consider a hybrid system if you want both the typing capability of a laptop and the convenience of a tablet. See our guide to the best 2-in-1 convertible and hybrid laptops for more information about this popular segment of the market. A few models cost $500 or below. A few vendors have begun shipping inexpensive chromebook hybrids, as well.
The Right Balance
If you’re on a strict budget, don’t lose heart. You can definitely find PCs that will offer you enough performance to tackle your day-to-day tasks without a stutter. The best ones are listed below, and we update this list frequently, so you’re always seeing our top recommendations for the highest-performing affordable laptops.
For more budget picks, take a look at our roundups of the best laptops for college students, the best laptops for kids, and the best chromebooks. For more general factors to consider when choosing a laptop, take a look at our buying guide with top laptop picks overall.
Asus Chromebook Flip C213SA Review
Bottom Line: Students or parents looking for a laptop that will survive an intense day at school will like the Chromebook Flip C213SA’s all-day battery life, sturdy build, and multiple viewing modes.
Lenovo Flex 11 Chromebook Review
Bottom Line: The Lenovo Flex 11 Chromebook is a well-equipped and semi-rugged convertible-hybrid laptop that offers just enough features to make it a strong bargain over other budget laptops.
Lenovo IdeaPad 120s Review
Bottom Line: Lenovo’s petite IdeaPad 120S is a budget ultraportable that offers good-for-the-cost performance, but you can find better screens and keyboards by stepping up to the next highest class.