While premium laptops have gotten more expensive over time, cheap and budget options have improved significantly in quality. You can easily find some great devices that provide a satisfying user experience, from dirt cheap, under $300 Chromebooks to budget gaming laptops with a dedicated GPU costing up to $1,200. The list is short for now, but it'll grow as we review more laptops.
We've tested more than 45 laptops, and below you'll find our recommendations for the best cheap and budget laptops you can get. You can also check out our recommendations for the best laptops under $300, the best laptops under $400, and the best laptops under $500.
If you're looking for a school or work laptop on a limited budget, you might want to consider a Chromebook, like the Lenovo Chromebook C340 15 (2020). It's slightly over the $300 mark, but considering its build, performance, and features, it's worth spending a little extra. Its Intel Core i3 is powerful enough to provide a smooth experience on Chrome OS. However, you can only get a maximum of 4GB of memory, so you have to be fairly conservative with the number of applications or Chrome tabs you open at once.
For a cheap laptop, the build quality is truly impressive as the chassis feels sturdy and has a finish that doesn't scratch easily. It's very portable, and the battery lasts a little over 12 hours of light productivity, so you don't need to bring the charger with you. On top of that, it's a 2-in-1 convertible, which means you can flip the screen around and use it as a tablet. The keyboard feels great to type on for extended periods, and while the touchpad is a bit small, it tracks all movements and gestures well. If you're often on video calls, the webcam's video quality is passable, but the microphone sounds staticky.
Unfortunately, the display is where Lenovo cut corners as it doesn't get very bright and looks slightly washed out. It's decently sharp, though, and provides enough space for split-screen multitasking. For those new to Chrome OS, it's best to check that you can do all of your assignments or work through a Chrome browser or Android apps first since it doesn't support x86 applications. If the answer is yes, this is a good option that won't cost an arm and a leg.
Because most manufacturers compromise on the display quality on low-end devices, it's hard to find a cheap laptop with a nice, sharp screen for media consumption. In comes the Lenovo Chromebook Duet (2020), the best cheap multimedia laptop under $300 we've tested. It's a compact device sporting a sharp 10.1 inch screen with a pixel density that rivals Apple's Retina displays. It's a 2-in-1 convertible with a kickstand and a detachable keyboard, so you can use it as a tablet to make it easier to carry around or save space.
Now, let's talk more about that display. On top of being sharp, it gets pretty bright, enough for use in well-lit settings but not outdoors in broad daylight. It can display all the colors in SDR content as it has full coverage of the sRGB color space, and colors look reasonably accurate out of the box. It's an IPS panel with good viewing angles, which is great for sharing content with others, but it isn't the best for dark rooms because blacks look gray in dim settings.
Here comes the bad stuff: the speakers. They sound quiet, unnatural, and treble-heavy, with almost no bass whatsoever. It also doesn't have a 3.5mm headphone jack, so you'll have to use the included USB-C audio adapter or Bluetooth headphones. On the upside, the battery lasts nearly seven hours of video playback, enough time to get through a couple of full-length movies. You can use this laptop to get some work done, but the performance isn't that great, and the keyboard is pretty uncomfortable to type on. For media consumption, though, this is a good option to consider.
If you often view content in a dark setting, you should consider a device with an OLED panel, like the Lenovo Chromebook Duet 5 (2021). It's also a 2-in-1 Chrome OS tablet with a kickstand and detachable keyboard, but unlike its smaller sibling, the Lenovo Chromebook Duet (2020), you get a larger 13.3 inch OLED screen that displays deep, inky blacks and punchy, saturated colors. Despite its larger screen size, it's still a very compact device, and its USB-C power adapter is tiny and easily fits into most bags.
This laptop is fantastic for dark room viewing because OLED panels can turn off individual pixels to produce perfect blacks, with no uniformity issues like backlight bleed or clouding. It gets bright enough for use in well-lit settings but not enough for outdoors in broad daylight as the screen's glossy finish struggles with direct reflections. If you want to get some work done, just know that the keyboard feels cramped, and the touchpad isn't very responsive, so it's okay for responding to short emails but not ideal for typing out a long paper.
As for the quality of the speakers, they're only passable at best as they sound slightly harsh and unnatural, and they don't get very loud. There isn't a 3.5mm headphone jack or a USB-C audio adapter either, so it's best to get a pair of wireless headphones. Nonetheless, this is a great multimedia device for anyone looking for a stunning OLED display at an affordable price. It's a bit more expensive than the smaller Duet, but it's worth it if you care about picture quality.
If our cheap recommendations don't interest you and you can afford to spend a little more, the budget range has some great options. The Acer Swift 3 14 (2020) is the best budget laptop under $650 for productivity that we've tested. It's a 14 inch Windows laptop with a very capable Intel 11th Gen processor and 8GB of memory, powerful enough to handle tasks like web browsing, text formatting, and spreadsheets with ease. You can upgrade to a model with more memory if you multitask heavily; however, expect to pay more.
Admittedly, this is a pretty bland-looking laptop, but it feels well-built for its price and is very portable. It has a near 14-hour battery life, so you don't need to lug the charger around with you. The display looks sharp and colorful; however, it doesn't get bright enough for use in well-lit settings or outdoors in broad daylight. The keyboard is decent; the keys have a lot of travel and are easy to actuate, but their tight spacing causes fatigue over time. The touchpad tracks well but is small and doesn't always respond to actions like dragging and dropping.
Most budget laptops compromise on some features, and in this case, it's the webcam. The image looks soft, underexposed, and noisy, and the microphones are far too loud, causing distortion. On the upside, it has a great port selection that includes a full-size HDMI, two USB-As, and a USB-C port with Thunderbolt 4 support. Last but not least, it has a fingerprint sensor so that you can log in quickly. Overall, whether you're looking for a laptop for school or work, this is a good option worth checking out.
Gaming laptops tend to be quite expensive, with top-end options costing thousands of dollars. However, you can find some pretty good budget options that perform well enough to satisfy most gamers, like the HP Victus 16 (2021), the best budget gaming laptop under $1,200 we've tested. Unlike most gaming laptops, it has a fairly understated and clean design, so it doesn't look out of place if you use it for work in a professional business environment. It isn't very portable, though, as it's a 16 inch device and is quite heavy.
Configuration-wise, you can choose between an Intel Core i5 or i7, various NVIDIA dedicated GPUs up to an RTX 3060, and various display options. For the best gaming experience, it's best to opt for a 144Hz 1080p panel with a Core i5, an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3050 or 3060, and 16GB of RAM. With an RTX 3050, you can get around or above 60 fps in graphically intensive games at medium or high settings, more if you go with an RTX 3060. The memory and storage drive are user-replaceable, meaning you can get a cheaper configuration first and upgrade it later on, which might end up being cheaper.
The 144Hz panel has a fast response time to deliver a clear image in fast-moving scenes, the keyboard feels comfortable to type on for extended periods, and there are plenty of ports, including Ethernet and HDMI 2.1. Unfortunately, the battery lasts less than 2 hours while gaming, so you have to use it plugged in most of the time. The fans are loud under load, but you can tweak their profile through software if they bother you. All in all, it's a great budget gaming laptop to consider.
Apr 26, 2022: Verified accuracy of picks; no change in recommendations. Added Lenovo IdeaPad Gaming 3 (2021) to Notable Mentions.
Our recommendations above are what we think are currently the best cheap and budget laptops you can get. We factor in the price (a cheaper laptop wins over a pricier one if the difference isn't worth it), feedback from our visitors, and availability (no laptops that are difficult to find or almost out of stock everywhere).
If you prefer to make your own decision, here’s the list of all of our laptop reviews, sorted by price from low to high. Keep in mind that most laptops are available in various configurations, and the table only shows the results of the model we tested, so it’s best to see the full review for information about other variants.